Friday, October 26, 2012

DBTWP 10.2.2 Wherein VanUlfur and Violentacrez teach us about Privilege

Taking umbrage at my earlier posts wherein I speculated on reasons why he might take Mr. Brutsch's situation so personally, Gawker personality VanUlfur commented:
VanUlfur @Kenaz_Filan
Lol, you're so incredibily butthurt. Congratulations on your blog, I bet its a huge hit online. Glad I contributed to your self-righteous path to the truth. You're the perfect example of how bigotry and the misinterpretation and displacement of sentencens can lead to a faulty and mischeavous conclusion. But you know what, VanUlfur is someone you don't even now, and to use my sentences and judge me like a perv is somthing ou have the right to. Go and be happy with it you assless nun.

VanUlfur @VanUlfur
I should've said assless monk. Completely forgot you were a guy and not a fat lesbian.
Apologies as required for my "bigotry... misinterpretation and displacement of sentencens." (The last presumably meaning "taking comments in their entirety and providing links to the conversation from whence they originated.")  I do hope my direct quoting of his words does not lead people to "judge [him] like a perv," or even like a slope-browed monkey-spanking misogynist.  But since he serves as such an excellent bad example let's unravel his latest comments.
VanUlfur @defiler2k
But dude, then you have to shut down sites that show gore and decapitations and shit. Because reddit does allow those things to be posted. And this is truly about free speech, and most of these commenters are treating this as if the guy commited any crime. Because he had his lofe destroyed by what gawker did, and if his villeness was indeed to such an extent, he would have been imprisioned for it. Nothing he did was illegal, and to judge him based on moral values, is indeed concerning in a democratic society. 
I've avoided talking about privilege so far.  It's definitely an important topic when discussing race relations, but it's also a nebulous one.  An individual holds or lacks privilege across any number of different axes.  A Latino man might have heterosexual privilege to marry and kiss his partner in public without fearing violence  and the male privilege of walking alone in public without fear of sexual assault without having white privilege.  As a result discussions about privilege often get sidetracked into tiresome theoretical arguments.  Thankfully, Violentacrez and his defenders provide an opportunity to show the ways this theory plays out in practice.

VanUlfur's argument is that "[n]othing [Brutsch] did was illegal" and that he is being treated "as if [he had] committed any crime." Brutsch has made similar arguments, and with some justification.  Violentacrez was tolerated largely because he was removing upskirt photos, child pornography and other clearly illegal content.  (It also helped that /r/jailbait/ was one of the site's most popular subreddits).  As Adrian Chen noted in his original article:
Administrators realized it was easier to outsource the policing of questionable content to Violentacrez than to dirty their hands themselves, or ostracize him and risk even worse things happening without their knowledge. The devil you know. So even as Jailbait flourished and became an ever-more-integral part of Reddit's traffic and culture—in 2008 it won the most votes in a "subreddit of the year" poll—administrators looked the other way. "We just stayed out of there and let him do his thing and we knew at least he was getting rid of a lot of stuff that wasn't particularly legal," Slowe said. "I know I didn't want it to be my job."
Most of the photos I have seen listed as "creepshots" are disembodied close-ups of breasts or backsides. They are definitely creepy and inappropriate and make many people, particularly women, feel uncomfortable. But while they are certainly in a legal grey area, it would be difficult to get an arrest warrant for the person moderating the community -- or even, in many cases, for the people taking the surreptitious photograph. This isn't necessarily so much about "free speech" as about limited police resources and a certain degree of cluelessness and misogyny among many law enforcement professionals.  But Brutsch and his defenders took this inaction as a sign that so long as they followed a few rules they had a right to post whatever they wished -- and to do so anonymously.

Meanwhile, some of the women who objected to the creepshot community -- and to the dark underbelly of Reddit in general -- started taking matters into their own hands. Tracking down the people who post creepshots, they not only posted their personal information but began contacting employers, family members and others about the "predditors" in their midst.  This was greeted with outrage by the creepshotters, who insisted they were doing nothing illegal and that this was a violation of Reddit's long tradition of supporting free speech and anonymity.

And here is where they made their first mistake.  Anonymity has been an important part of online culture for decades.  Today every online outlet from major media to your grandfather's blog features commenters opining passionately behind pseudonyms.  The Internet has provided many with a safe space to explore sexuality, gender, spirituality and other topics: the artifice of online identities has allowed them to express their true selves.  Given all that, it's easy enough to think that there is some right to online anonymity. But that anonymity is not a right but a privilege, what Merriam-Webster defines as "a right or immunity granted as a peculiar benefit, advantage, or favor."

Brutsch took that privilege for granted, and made little effort to separate his online and offline identities.  So did other "creepshotters" who suddenly found their Facebook and OKCupid profiles appearing on Predditors. And when they complained they found few defenders ready to stand up for their rights.  Tumblr took the Predditors blog down briefly, but soon reinstated it and is presently taking the same hands-off approach Reddit takes toward its subreddits: this includes ignoring complainers. As "Samantha," the 25 year-old woman behind Predditors, explains:
Reddit's defense of [CreepShots] is that it's 'technically legal.' So I'm doing something that's technically legal, but will result in consequences for their actions. These fuckers think they can get away with it scot free, which is one of the reasons why sexual violence is so prevalent around the world.
And once Gawker Media got involved Brutsch's privilege of anonymity ran headlong into real First Amendment rights.  As law professor Richard T. Karcher explains in "Tort Law and Journalism Ethics:"
The duty owed by the press to private figures under defamation law tends to be more in line with the duty of the press under journalism ethics principles because both duties generally seek to ensure the truthful and accurate dissemination of information to the citizenry.  However, there frequently exists an inherent conflict between tort law and journalism ethics codes when the press reports on matters involving public figures and public officials.  The conflict arises from the actual malice burden created by the seminal 1964 decision in New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, where the United States Supreme Court articulated the oft-cited standard: 
The constitutional guarantees require,  we think, a federal rule that prohibits a public official from recovering damages for a defamatory falsehood relating to his official conduct unless he proves that the statement was made with ‘actual malice’—that is, with knowledge that it was false or with reckless disregard of whether it was false or not.
The Supreme Court thereafter extended the New York Times actual malice standard to public figures—those who “by reason of their fame, shape events in areas of concern to society at large”—including entertainers and sports participants, such as athletes, coaches, league officials, athletic directors, and front office personnel.
One can (admittedly with some effort) feel a certain sympathy for Brutsch.  When he said on CNN that "I treated Reddit as a game," he was likely telling the truth.  The "shock and gore" school of trolling has many avid adherents who compete to post the most outrageous material.  /picsofdeadbabies/ and /niggerjailbait/ were a ploy to gain attention, not a statement of belief.  Violentacrez was just fooling around and if anyone didn't get the joke, that was their problem.  He played by the rules and his opponents didn't: they ignored a cherished social contract and ruined his life.  (More precisely they cost him a job, but in this economy and with this publicity one can forgive Brutsch for a bit of hyperbole).

It's easy enough to ignore privilege and to assume your prejudices and preconceptions are the default standard.  In fact, one of the best ways I can explain privilege is to point out that you can safely ignore just about everything I've written on the subject.  You can spend the rest of your life being That White Person and surrounding yourself with Those White People.  Chances are good you'll never get called on your acts or your attitudes by anyone with the power to do anything about it. Then again you just might.  And when and if that happens you'll find privilege can be granted or taken away at will.

Monday, October 22, 2012

DBTWP 10.2.1 More commentary on Violentacrez: for Tony Sidaway

First, I thought I'd provide some more sample comments from VanUlfur.  You remember VanUlfur from our previous installment: he's the guy who can't understand why nobody blames the teens who pose provocatively in lingerie and the 12 year-old girls who take nude self-portraits.  Well, here's VanUlfur responding to a Gawker article entitled "Camera Catches Men Staring at Women's Asses, Much to No One's Surprise."
phunkshun 1 of 130 replies @Louis Peitzman  Reply 2 months ago
Guilty as charged. Every single ass too, I do not discriminate. If you are a woman and you're in my general vicinity, yes I have looked at your ass. I can't help it. 
John Coctostan 1 of 4 replies @phunkshun  Reply 2 months ago
I kinda take pride in being a connoisseur of nice asses and appreciate a fine looking derrière. The lines of a Ferrari, the beauty of a fairway, they get treated as sights of beauty because they resemble the shape of a females curves and nothing adds to sightly bends like a perfectly toned gluteus maximus. 
VanUlfur 1 reply @John Coctostan   2 months ago
I just looove the internet. Thank you.
Gee, to think this is the same guy who said of Brutsch and his /creepshots/, "Would I do what he did? No, I was taught otherwise." But wait! There's more! Here are some further thoughts from VanUlfur on the Violentacrez scandal.
VanUlfur 1 reply @Ginmar Rienne  Reply 3 days ago
My god, it's like talking to a fucking stack of bricks... Where did I blame girls for guys like this? And when will you learn that girls nowadays are pretty aware of what might happen if they post their butts online? Should they not be held account? And you call pthers hypocrites? Such idiocy... And who advocated him to go you ignorant twat? I only said that it could have been resolved lawfully without him being exposed like this. Go get a dildo or something. Hey, and don't forget to post it online because your free to, and if anyone uses it for jacking off creepness its their fault, not yours. So go ahead.
Ginmar Rienne 1 reply @VanUlfur  Reply 3 days ago
You're blaming girls for being preyed upon, and when you run out of the paltry supply of words you have you resort to insults. Fuck off, Bieber.
VanUlfur 1 reply @Ginmar Rienne   3 days ago
that's just ma thang gurl. Now show me some tits
Nope, no misogyny or issues with women here.  And yes, this is the general level of discourse from the people who are standing up in support of Brutsch. Which brings us to an objection Tony Sidaway made on G+ concerning that earlier post.
It's a weak argument because you first surrender the privacy right of the victim
I'm not surrendering the privacy rights of victims.  I'm choosing not to explain why victims should have those rights. Because anybody who needs that explanation is most likely incapable of understanding it.  And because time I spend explaining is time we're not focusing on the real issue here.  Which is the creep(s) who violated those rights while demanding that their own be respected.

Teaching VanUlfur and pals about the morality of creepshots would be like teaching music theory to the congenitally deaf.  So I accepted their premise.  Then I applied the same standard to Brutsch that they applied to the "camwhores" whose photos he distributed.  Because if we are going to demand that women (underage and otherwise) protect their privacy and blame them when it is violated, we can hardly expect any less discretion from a middle-aged computer programmer.  And that's generally when  I'm met with stony silence, or with obscenities.  (I suppose I should be happy I, unlike Anita Sarkeesian, have to date received no rape threats).

Let me let you in on a little secret: despite my earlier disclaimer I am not entirely unfamiliar with the fine art of Internet trolling.  In skilled hands the troll is a formidable weapon.  A well-crafted troll can spark discussion or shut it down.  It can spread across forums or it can be aimed with devastating effect at a carefully chosen target.  Which is exactly what happens when these proponents of teen responsibility and beacons of Internet freedom are hooked on their own lure.  The polite sneer vanishes and you get to see the bile and the misogyny behind that oh-so-rational questioning.

Because they were trolling too, you see.  They just wanted to rile up the feminazis and dykes, to prove those bitches took everything too seriously. And when their game gets turned against them by somebody who was trolling back in the halcyon days of alt.fuck.the.skull.of.jesus, they flop about in a most delightful fashion.  This is the kind of verbal sparring that drives the best online discussions.  It combines the fine arts of polemics, satire and abnormal psychology in a blend which can be infuriating, offensive, and impolite but is rarely boring.

Here I must disagree with many (including my favorite war criminal) who have called ViolentAcrez a troll.  What Brutsch did wasn't trolling: it was shock and gore ala  It aimed at triggering the gag reflex: it pushed the envelope for the sake of pushing. Jonathan Swift's "Modest Proposal" is the quintessential example of a well-done troll.  /niggerjailbait/, /picturesofdeadbabies/ and /beatingwomen/ are the efforts of an overgrown toddler finger-painting with his own feces.  One provides fuel for intelligent and passionate conversation: the other just attracts flies.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

DBTWP 10.2 Violentacrez, Trolling and the "Right to Anonymity"

Yet another claim which has been raised in Brutsch's defense is:

If women don't want their pictures distributed they shouldn't post them online, and if women don't want men taking sexy shots of them they shouldn't dress sexy. 

Here is a typical comment in this vein:
From Vanulfur: Now stop and think about jailbait. Why do you so adamantly call "rapists" fat sweaty dudes who make sexualized comments on photos posted by teens online? You want the freedom to post your breasts online, or to pose in "sensual" lingerie positions with your teen friends and freely post those pics on social networks, and you seriously expect guys will see it and do nothing? Come on...
Let us put aside the fact that Facebook's privacy settings are notoriously opaque (not to mention leaky).   Let us even ignore the moral issues with blaming naive teens rather than the middle-aged men masturbating to their bikini pictures. For the sake of this argument, we will accept that the girls and women whose photos appear in /jailbait/ and /creepshots/ are responsible for any embarrassment they may suffer.  And, accordingly, we will assume that Michael Brutsch was responsible for protecting his anonymity and keeping his secret identity as Violentacrez, well, secret.

Here's Adrian Chen, from the article which originally revealed Violentacrez' name:
I had initially told Violentacrez I was interested in profiling him in light of the new controversy surrounding creepshots. I arranged the Gchat interview without hinting that a former online friend had tipped me off to his real identity during the Jailbait scandal, after the friend had become disgusted with his obsession with underage girls. Since then, Violentacrez had recorded the geek podcast The Drill Down with other high-profile Reddit moderators, outing his voice. All I had to do was call up Michael Brutsch and match his voice to Violentacrez's. My plan that Wednesday was to have the chat with Violentacrez before calling Brutsch. I didn't want to risk calling Brutsch first, only to have him shut down completely once he realized he was outed. 
Unfortunately, I've never been good at keeping secrets. My poker face is so bad it can be read even through a computer screen, apparently. In our Gchat, I pressed Violentacrez about his anonymity enough that he grew suspicious. We were chatting about why he feels comfortable attending IRL meet-ups of Redditors if his anonymity was so important to him when he caught on.
Brutsch shared his offline identity with several online friends.  He attended and was photographed at numerous Reddit meetups in his area.  He even appeared on a popular podcast as a call-in guest, and apparently made no effort to disguise his voice.  If we're going to cast aspersions on the "camwhores" and "teen sluts" who distribute risque pictures, surely we must acknowledge the role Brutsch played in his own downfall.

Herr Reichsmarshall Adolf Grossenstrudel (affectionately known as "Der Reichsmarshall") had a long if not necessarily honorable career on Usenet.  Upon hearing a despised member of alt.satanism was terminally ill, Der Reichsmarshall offered condolences and called dibs on his gold teeth.  He chastized the Holohoaxers of alt.revisionism, telling them he won all his medals fair and square.  Later he showed up on a Burner list, informing them that he had heard of this "Burning Man" and wanted to offer his expertise.  ("Ein camp full of artists, degenerates, drug addicts and anarchists in der middle of novhere? Zis ist not unfamiliar to der Reichsmarshall.")

I've been talking about relying on the experience and expertise of others when discussing cross-cultural issues.  Given my *cough* limited experience with trolling, I am going to allow Der Reichsmarshall to provide his thoughts on the Violentacrez story.  I should also note that there has been some idle and utterly untrue speculation that I am Der Reichsmarshall. But. Zey. Can.  Prove.  NOTHING.... *ahem*

Anyway, here's Herr Grossenstrudel.
It is mein pleasure to be on der Internet again.  Money vas tight after mein layoff at Blackwater.  (Vaterboarding? PAH! No one told der Reichsmarshall zis vas amateur hour!) But  mein grandson -- der Third Reichsmarshall -- introduced his Grandpa to der Etsy.   Und so de Reichsmarshall has a new market for mein varehouse full of vintage eyeglasses.  But ve digress.
Herr Brutsch, your heart ist in der right place.  (You could skip der miscegenation, but nobody's perfect.)  Trolling ist like genocide: go hard or go home. But vhile you go hard, you do not go smart. Does der Reichsmarshall go to meetups und say "Guten Tag.  Ich bin ein var criminal. But you can call me Adolf?"  NEIN!  Der Reichsmarshall ist just an aging drummer boy, und in der vars he used to play; und Herr Knopfler, it stops THERE.
But der Reichsmarshall ist not ein gloomy Gestapo.  Herr Brutsch vill return to his Violent Acrez as surely as ve vill return to der Champs-Elysees.  Ve Germans take a licking und keep on ticking.  (Und no, Herr Brutsch, I do not vant to hear again about your stepdaughter).  However zis reminds me: mein grandson says der steampunks of Etsy might have ein interest in slightly used pocket vatches.  Und so it's back to mein other varehouse.  Until der next time I remain
Herr Reichsmarshall Adolf Grossenstrudel
Der Original Net.Nazi
In the immortal words of Gilbert Gottfried, "I'm sorry. That last one was in poor taste."

My Paraguayan expatriate acquaintance does have a point.  If you want to be anonymous, you need to take steps to preserve your anonymity.  And you have to remember that your "culture of anonymity" means nothing to people outside that culture.  They did not sign on to your social contract or agree to your clubhouse rules; they have no vested interest in protecting you from the consequences of your actions.  If you push their buttons they may push back in ways which you did not expect: the results may range from embarrassing to catastrophic.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

DBTWP #10.1: On Violentacrez and the Fine Art of Trolling

Judging from his internet footprint, Brutsch, 49, has a lot to sweat over. If you are capable of being offended, Brutsch has almost certainly done something that would offend you, then did his best to rub your face in it. His speciality is distributing images of scantily-clad underage girls, but as Violentacrez he also issued an unending fountain of racism, porn, gore, misogyny, incest, and exotic abominations yet unnamed, all on the sprawling online community Reddit. At the time I called Brutsch, his latest project was moderating a new section of Reddit where users posted covert photos they had taken of women in public, usually close-ups of their asses or breasts, for a voyeuristic sexual thrill. It was called "Creepshots." Now Brutsch was the one feeling exposed and it didn't suit him very well.
Brutsch lost his job soon after being outed.  (Given EEOC regulations about hostile work environments this is hardly surprising.  How many women or people of color are going to feel safe with the moderator of subreddits like /creepshots/, /chokeabitch/ and /niggerjailbait/ in the next cubicle?)  Outraged at this Threat To Free Speech, many Redditors responded by banning all links to Gawker. Meanwhile other Redditors have begun naming and shaming creepshot posters and other "sexual predators." This has caused one writer at Manolith (which describes itself as "the ultimate portal for all men and best place to get your testosterone on!") to complain:
Predditors is a Tumblr site that is currently posting names, addresses and photos of men that it says are active in the Reddit creeps community. The site doesn’t really offer much in the way of proof and seems destined to falsely implicate at least one innocent person, but this is the Internet and people don’t really think about the potential ramifications of their actions.
I presume it is clear that "Don't be THAT White Person" includes "Don't be THAT White Person who takes upskirt photos of strange women and posts them on the Internet" and "Don't be THAT White Person who moderates forums like /beatingwomen/."  But for those who missed that - and even for those who didn't - there are many lessons to be gleaned from the strange sad saga of Violentacrez.   Let us consider the objections raised on Brutsch's behalf.

He wasn't doing anything illegal!

The 1986 case United States v. Dost established a six-point "Dost Test" to determine whether pictures of a minor could be considered child pornography.  The sixth point, "Whether the visual depiction is intended or designed to elicit a sexual response in the viewer," would be pertinent here. One could easily make a case that photographs of bikini-clad fourteen year-olds in a subreddit entitled /jailbait/ would fail that tast, and that the posters to and editor of that subreddit could be liable for prosecution.

In a 2009 Virginia case, Earl Dupree Wilson was convicted of a misdemeanor for "attempting to unlawfully photograph a non-consenting twenty-year-old female’s “intimate parts or undergarments covering those intimate parts” not visible to the general public." His conviction was affirmed on appeal, with Judge Elizabeth A. McClanahan noting:
Guided by these principles, we reject Wilson’s argument that Code § 18.2-386.1 does not criminalize acts committed against a person in a public place because such a person cannot possess a reasonable expectation of privacy.  Under our construction of the statute, a person may, in fact, possess a reasonable expectation of privacy when being victimized in public.
Brutsch is in Texas: here's what the Texas Penal Code has to say on the subject: 

(a)  In this section, "promote" has the meaning assigned by Section 43.21.
(b)  A person commits an offense if the person:
(1)  photographs or by videotape or other electronic means records, broadcasts, or transmits a visual image of another at a location that is not a bathroom or private dressing room:
(A)  without the other person's consent; and
(B)  with intent to arouse or gratify the sexual desire of any person;
(2)  photographs or by videotape or other electronic means records, broadcasts, or transmits a visual image of another at a location that is a bathroom or private dressing room:
(A)  without the other person's consent; and
(B)  with intent to:
(i)  invade the privacy of the other person; or
(ii)  arouse or gratify the sexual desire of any person; or
(3)  knowing the character and content of the photograph, recording, broadcast, or transmission, promotes a photograph, recording, broadcast, or transmission described by Subdivision (1) or (2).  [emphasis added]
(c)  An offense under this section is a state jail felony.
Brutsch's conduct falls in a legal grey area at best.  There is absolutely no question that Chen had the right to out Violentacrez.  The identity of the person behind /creepshots/ and /jewmerica/ is certainly a newsworthy concern.  What's more, Brutsch is a public figure who even sells merchandise connected to his Violentacrez persona.  Brutsch has no recourse in any civil court, nor can he claim that Chen was "stalking him."  And while Reddit culture treasures anonymity and holds strong taboos against people who "out" other redditors, those taboos do not have the force of law behind them.

Which brings us to a warning which I'm going to be repeating several times in this series: don't assume the rules and morés of your culture apply everywhere you go.  What is acceptable (or at least tolerable) on your favorite forum may still get you in trouble with your spouse, your family, your community,  your employer or even your local law enforcement officials.   And while you may think your secret identity as HeManWomanHater or PoliticallyIncorrectAngryCaucasian is safe, you could well be in for an unpleasant surprise if you push the envelope too far.

Of course, there's also a silver lining to this cloud.  Some will point to Brutsch as an example of "political correctness" at its worst: an innocent man with unpopular hobbies crucified by an army of self-righteous feminist harpies.  But while Brutsch is suffering some temporary inconvenience, it is only after years of posting ever more offensive material for his rabid fan club.  If you're worried about getting called on the carpet for your political views, ask yourself if they involve pictures of dead babies, creepshots, jailbait, domestic abuse, and stories (now deleted) about the time you performed oral sex on your 19 year-old stepdaughter. If not, chances are you've got nothing to fear.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

DBTWP 9: Affirmative Action: Myth, Reality and Texas

whatshername has expressed concern that I was not challenging the underpinnings of white racism.  I can understand where she is coming from, and I want to address her comments in greater detail as time allows.  But for now I wanted to take some time to look at what most white people consider the most egregious example of "reverse racism" -- affirmative action programs that favor blacks and other minorities over white people.

I've met quite a few white people who believe that federal and state laws force companies to choose any black applicant over far more qualified whites.  Many others assume any POC in a position of authority was put there to fill a quota and remains there despite being spectacularly incompetent.   In an article I referenced earlierGeorge Will suggests liberal guit will drive whites will re-elect Barack Obama even though "administration is in shambles." From the other side of the conservative bell curve Donald Trump has combined Birther rants with repeated allegation that Obama was only admitted to Columbia and Harvard because of his race.

This term the Supreme Court will be hearing Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, a case which is likely to have a significant impact on Affirmative Action programs no matter how the court decides. Even before they hand down their decision, the documents at hand can help illuminate the real impact race-based preferences have had on white people.

A talented cellist and Honor Roll student with a family legacy at UT, Abigail Joan Fisher "dreamt of going to [the University of Texas] ever since the second grade." When she was rejected and saw others in her class admitted with lower scores and "the only difference between us was the color of our skin" she decided to take a stand:
I was taught from the time I was a little girl that any kind of discrimination was wrong. And for an institution of higher learning to act this way makes no sense to me. What kind of example does this set for others? A good start to stopping discrimination would be getting rid of the boxes on applications -- male, female, race, whatever. Those don't tell admissions people what type of student you are, or how involved you are. All they do is put you into a box, a theoretical box. 
I didn't do this for recognition. I just want to stand up and say this isn't right, because it isn't. I hope that by doing this other students in years to come won't have to worry about the color of their skin when applying to college. If people say anything about me, I hope they say I didn't take this sitting down. I didn't accept the process, because the process is wrong.
Several of the justices have raised pointed questions about the role race plays in determining admission to UT.  Justice Stephen Alito mockingly asked:
How do they figure out that particular classes don't have enough? What, somebody walks in the room and looks them over to see who looks Asian, who looks black, who looks Hispanic? Is that how it's done?
Among the people presenting amicus curae briefs in support of the University are the family of Heman Sweatt, whose 1950 Supreme Court case forced the University of Texas to integrate its law school; the ACLU; the United Negro College Fund; and the American Bar Association. Briefs in support of Fisher have been offered by (among others) the Falwell family's Liberty University;  Congressman Allen West, a black conservative; and the Asian American Legal Foundation, which argues
In the name of racial diversity, racial preferences in college admissions programs in general, and at the University of Texas at Austin (“UT”) in particular, discriminate against Asian-American applicants by deeming them overrepresented relative to their demographics in the population and thus less worthy of admission than applicants of underrepresented races. At highly selective schools, such discrimination imposes an admissions penalty on Asian Americans equivalent to hundreds of SAT points relative to Hispanic and African-American applicants, and a lesser, but still significant, admissions penalty relative to White applicants.
Amidst all these arguments it may be easy to miss an important point: the "racial preferences" used by the admissions office play a very small role in determining who does and not  attend the University of Texas.  This is not the first time UT has been in court over the issue: in 1996 Cheryl J. Hopwood successfully challenged race-based preferences at UT's law school in Hopwood v. University of Texas.  In response to this, the University of Texas announced a new policy: they would now offer automatic admission to all Texas high school students who graduate in the top 10% of their class.

Texas neighborhoods (and thus Texas schools) are largely segregated. This meant that the top 10% of all students in a largely black neighborhood in Houston or a largely Mexican town near the border would be admitted alongside the top 10% from a lily-white Dallas suburb.  Thanks at least in part to this policy, there is now a large "minority" presence at the University of Texas. In UT's incoming Class of 2010, only 47.6% of incoming students self-identified as white.

80% to 85% of all freshman slots are filled by students admitted through this "Top 10%" policy -- and competition is extremely keen for the remaining spaces. Evette Dionne explains further in her excellent "Open Letter to Abigail Fisher"

You knew that the institution automatically accepts the top 10 percentile from every high school in Texas and that the average SAT score is in the 1200s. It is common knowledge that UT is one of the most prestigious institutions in the United States, so it is challenging to gain admission.
Before securing those letters of recommendation and forking over that expensive application fee, you knew that despite your legacy as the child of UT graduates, a spot on the coveted honor roll and a lifelong affair with the cello that admission wasn’t guaranteed. 
In blaming affirmative action for that denial letter, you have failed to mention that you graduated number 82 in a class of 674 with a 3.59 grade point average on a 4.0 scale, which alienated you from the automatic admissions bunch. You conveniently omit that you scored an 1180 on your SAT, which is way below UT’s average, so that automatically diminished your chances of being accepted.
Even Fisher's attorneys estimate that race was decisive for, at most, 33 of the 7,478 students admitted in 2008, and that 96 percent of the African-American and Hispanics who got in that year were admitted because they’d graduated at the top of their high-school classes. For its part, the University of Texas argues that Fisher would not have qualified for admission even if she had received extra points for "special circumstances" like socioeconomic status and race.

People of good will can arge the benefits and drawbacks of race-based preferences. In the case at hand it seems beyond debate that Fisher was at best a marginal candidate and that the vast majority of African-American and Hispanic students at UT neither benefitted from nor required any sort of affirmative action.  Fisher's attorneys not only concede the latter point but have made it a major part of their defense:  the fact that race matters so little in UT admissions proves to them that it should not matter at all.

Friday, October 12, 2012

DBTWP #7C: And if you go carrying pictures of Chairman Mao...

Replying to DBTWP #7A, whatsername said:
See, the things that The Professor is talking about, is not what I'm talking about in my comment, and isn't the way I've seen other white people mean when they say "reverse racism" (which I've seen the most of in discussions about affirmative action/ethnicity based scholarships and the like).
If anyone wants to come in and discuss how they experienced reverse racism because of affirmative action and ethnicity-based scholarships, they are welcome to do so.  I will listen to their accounts seriously and provide what thoughts I can.  I will not question their experiences, but I reserve the right to be critical of actions and assumptions or point out ways they may have handled the situation better.  They may find those thoughts valuable and applicable to their situation.  Or they may disagree completely and find other venues.  It's a free Internet.

On Facebook James Jones made this comment.
I think that it goes to the idea of the "other". Many people treat their "other" badly. When a PoC does it to a white person it isn't institutional but it is something that white people experience on a daily basis. Also, as you pointed out, the idea of bigoted, prejudiced, and racist meaning three very different things is an extremely fine hair to split for most people. 
"Othering" is an excellent term for much of what I have seen reported as "reverse racism."  It's that moment when you become conscious you are reduced to an object, to somebody else's idea of what, not who, you are. It's an uncomfortable feeling, and when you're part of the majority culture it's something you don't often experience. And when you are in a racially tense situation -- and I think most would agree there is a great deal of racial tension in contemporary America -- it's easy to look at someone on the other side and see The Enemy.

So I don't find it all surprising that people of color and white people experience mutual feelings of hostility and suspicion on a daily basis.  And I think it's worthwhile for everybody to talk about those feelings honestly and with the expectation they will be heard.  "Being heard" doesn't mean unconditional agreement.  But it does mean that you can speak without being told that your experience never happened because it cannot happen and you are a racist for even thinking it happened.

Returning to whatsername:
And I absolutely do think we should talk about the kinds of thing you're talking about Professor, in the context of inter-racial relationships those sorts of things are really important. That is NOT what I was talking about in my comment that Kenaz is responding to. I was talking about the Tufts survey and similar things to that. Not about dismissing personal stories out of hand, but about hearing them and having the conversation about them in a critical/analytic/knowledge producing way. That's not always going to mean the story is patently ridiculous. The Professor's surely isn't. But that Tufts survey? Yes, yes it is.
So the Tufts survey is "patently ridiculous."  How so? What specific problems do you have with its methodology? Bear in mind that "We should ignore this survey because I don't like the results" is not a specific problem with methodology.  At least not with the survey's methodology. The survey was measuring white beliefs on discrimination: it was not concerned with whether or not this discrimination is real but whether it was perceived as real.  You may say the beliefs which the survey reported accurately (or within a reasonable margin of error) are patently ridiculous.  But that still doesn't speak to the fact that they are widely held and thus need to be addressed.

If I am hearing you correctly, you are concerned because I am willing to let white people talk about their experiences of "reverse racism" instead of cutting them off at the pass and telling them there is no such thing.  The fact that I provided excerpts from and links to two different pages laying out the problems with the term seems unimportant.  Simply opening the discussion is enough to make my motives questionable.
But the way I'm reading this series, and the whole "Don't be that White person" idea, is that this isn't about challenging people in a real way, it's just about informing them about things that might piss other people off, which in my view teaches them how to avoid those things, but I don't really know if it at all develops an understanding about why those things are important enough to piss people off in the first place, particularly if we're not going to challenge misconceptions and RACISM inherent in -some- of the responses one is surely to get about a topic like "reverse racism". And that concerns me.
Another comment from James Jones sums up what I am trying to do with reasonable accuracy.

When someone is learning table manners they don't have to know that the reason one doesn't put one's elbow's on the table is because in the middle ages one didn't have as much room as we do now at the dinner table and putting your elbows on the table deprived people of much needed room to eat. You just need to know not to put your elbows on the table. 
Not all of us have any interest at all in becoming activists or allies or are activists in completely different areas. Some of us just want to know the inter-racial equivalent of which fork is the right one for salad so we can learn it, use it, and get on with our lives. No personal transformation, no racial dark night of the soul, no deep introspection.
I have no intention of making DBTWP a list of "Dos" and "Dont's" for being a Good White Person.  In fact, I want to make it very clear that it is up to the individual person of color to say what is or is not racist.  If a POC complains about your statement or action, you know at the very least that you have made this individual uncomfortable and you should avoid this behavior in their presence in the future. And if this person gives you information as to why it is offensive, or you hear similar complaints from multiple POCs, you may want to consider avoiding this behavior altogether.  This means listening to criticism and acting upon it. Because in the end the only way to not be "That White Person" is to be sensitive to the needs and feelings of others.

Frankly, I think the "consciousness-raising" school of activism has all the strengths and weaknesses of its Maoist antecedents.  Before anyone thinks I've gone all Fox News, let me note that the Communist Party's record on the civil rights movement was exemplary and its contributions to the struggle greatly underappreciated.  But consciousness-raising has been co-opted by the bored bourgeois for decades.  It has largely become Anti-Racism Performance Art that makes the white folks feel virtuous but does little else.  Besides that, I have an inherent distaste for systems which raise your consciousness by browbeating you with slogans until you admit the error of your ways. So while I acknowledge this school has many strengths and use it as a model for dealing with racism, I do not consider it the only or even necessarily the most desirable one.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

DBTWP 6B: more White Guilt and Reverse Racism

Asking further about my entry on Reverse Racism and White Guilt, V.V.F. said:
"It's the fear of being misunderstood and of misunderstanding, the nagging suspicion the abyss between you is impassible." I think there is something going unsaid here. To me, this sounds like a simple recognition of the fact that you may not understand everything about someone else's life experience. In what way is this an instance of someone discriminating against you for your race? You say that there is "a layer of caution" on your part. Why? Do you feel that there is a layer of suspicion on their part? 
You've probably encountered scores of "invisible"/"passing" minorities in your life, without knowing it. Did any of these anxieties prove to be a factor in your interactions with them?  
As a genderqueer person, do you feel that there is any reason for cisgender people to be cautious around you? Do you tend to expect hostility from them? Why or why not?
I may have let my flair for poetic language get in the way of my point, as I sometimes do. Let's see if I can make this clearer.  When I meet a person of color for the first time, I feel that person may not like me for reasons which are beyond my control. This is not entirely ungrounded.  Some people of color genuinely don't like white people. Quite a few others find dealing with white people exasperating and irritating.  If my new acquaintance happens to be one of those people I'm already starting out at a disadvantage.

No, I am not whining about the great unfairness of it all.  I'm not a new penny and ain't everybody gonna like me.   It doesn't help that I (like most white people) tend to read people of color in general, and black people in particular, as angry. Now add to this the fact that I, like every other white liberal I know, hate being accused of racism.  And the fact that I, like every white liberal I know, know their resentment is not unfounded and so expect them to be resentful of my presence.

I don't know if this answers your "invisible/passing" question, but this nagging doubt is considerably worse when we are separated not just by race but by class and language.  I've seen a lot of white liberals who are very happy to be around fellow college-educated middle-class travelers of all colors.  Put them in the presence of a black social justice activist with an Ivy League degree and they'll talk shop until sundown.  But take them for a Sunday walk through Flatbush, Brooklyn and they're clutching their iPhones in terror as elderly Jamaican ladies stroll past in their churchgoing finery. The more we obviously have in common, the less of a problem this angst will be. It's when those commonalities diminish and we're forced to rely on race signifiers that this becomes worst.

To be perfectly clear, I do not call this "reverse racism."  Everything I've described here is my own stuff, but I suspect I'm not alone. I wonder how much of what is perceived as reverse racism can be chalked up to those kind of fears and that sort of projection.  Somebody is short-tempered because of a headache, a past-due phone bill or something else totally unrelated and we assume he was angry with us because he doesn't like white people.  But I'm not here to explain away anybody else's experiences, just to share my own.  Take what you want, leave the rest behind, etc.

As a genderqueer person, cisgender people (especially cisgender males) can be pretty fucking scary.  Gay- and trans-bashing is a constant threat every time you want to use a public restroom.   Meanwhile, many friendly cispeople feel no compunction about asking intimate questions about what you do in bed, what you plan to do with your body, &c.  You come to expect a certain amount of violence and cluelessness.  As far as systematic oppression goes, I'm not expressing genderqueerness at this point because, among other reasons, I have a daughter.  A gender non-conforming male-bodied person walking with a child is likely to attract unwanted attention, especially if they go anywhere near a playground.   So yes, I'd say genderqueer people can expect hostility from cisgender folks.

P.S. responding to your comment about Pat Buchanan in another message: whether or not I find Buchanan trustworthy is irrelevant.  I trust Buchanan about as far as I could throw a blue whale.  What matters is that many, perhaps a majority, of white Americans would find his message believable.  Which is why I keep talking about reverse racism despite finding the term problematic and unhelpful: if you're going to reach the people, you've got to speak their language.

DBTWP 7B: Reverse Racism and Interracial Romance

In response to one of my posts on reverse racism, The Professor said:
I don't really think this counts, I wouldn't exactly use the phrase "reverse racism" for it, and I'm hesitant to even mention it, but I (who am white) sometimes catch shit from some of my (black female) friends about "stealing their man" because my partner is West Indian. I think they're mostly joking, but sometimes (mostly when we're not entirely sober) there's some real vitriol behind it that makes me uneasy. Now, I am IN NO WAY comparing that to actual racism, but its still not ok.
I know that many white people see interracial relationships as reaffirmations of a post-racial America, and are surprised to find that many people of color are cool to the idea.  They expect to catch flak from bigoted white people but  are caught off-guard when POCs start criticizing their relationship.  Alas, just about all I know concerning your situation comes from skimming through my ex-girlfriend's Essence magazines over a decade ago. That's more than enough to know that this is a really loaded subject and that many black women have strong opinions about it.   While I wait for their thoughts, I can tell you my experience as half of an interracial couple in mid-to-late 90s New York.

Diane and I occasionally got dirty looks and passing comments from black men.  We were never physically accosted or assaulted, and even the glares weren't all that common: it certainly wasn't an overwhelming theme that pervaded every facet of our existence.  I can't recall any black women, or any white people, reacting negatively to us.  I'm not saying that we never saw white racism - I remember Diane calling out shopkeepers for following her around on a couple occasions, for example - but it wasn't focused on us as a couple.  They were worried she was a thief on account of her skin: they weren't chastising us for miscegenation.

Like you, this isn't anything I would call "reverse racism." For the vast majority of people we met it was a complete non-issue.  And I can certainly see where a white man with a black woman triggers a whole lot of painful history in the black community.  From the plantations to the quadroon balls and beyond, there's a long history of white men raping and exploiting black women.  And the same men who craved black female sexuality were terrified of black male sexuality and took violent steps to make sure their womenfolk didn't cross the color line. Perhaps this is one of the reasons I've seen more reports of open hostility and white racism from white women with black male partners.

I've heard several describe being called "nigger lovers" for dating or, in one case, talking to a black man.  I've also heard discussion amongst white guys on the subject. Invariably these conversations revolve around how black men are oversexed and over-endowed.  (Straight white guys are fascinated with large black penises: they find it nearly as interesting as the animals gay men insert into their rectums).  Then somebody explains that's why the girl in question likes black men even though they treat their women -- yes, it's always "their women" -- like bitches and hos. For some reason this combination triggers latent white racism in a major way.  I'm wondering if you or other readers have experienced this firsthand?

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

DBTWP 7a: Responding to Whatsername

(NOTE: Changing up title because "Ally School" doesn't really match my final goal.  Now called DBTWP or "Don't be THAT White Person.").

In a comment to my earlier post on reverse racism whatsername said...
Well, we want to let people tell their own stories, and let white people say things that are patently ridiculous (like the results of that Tufts survey) so we can debunk it and show how fucked up and wrong it is...right? Cuz I mean, every measure of discrimination shows that white people are still advantaged, and usually puts Black or Native people as the least advantaged. So whatever these people are feeling or thinking, they're factually fucking wrong. And that's really important in the context of ally-ship and racial consciousness, right?
I'm not here to debunk anyone's story, especially not before I've heard it.  I asked for personal anecdotes about white people who have encountered reverse racism.  It's hardly fair to start with the assumption those comments will be patently ridiculous, fucked up and wrong.  Or to show them a bunch of charts and statistics which disprove their lived experience after they have given me an honest reply. I am telling people to listen to POCs when they talk about racism and avoid minimizing or denying their experiences: it behooves me to model good behavior.

A few months back I went round and round with Wade Long, who insisted that there was no such thing as "black culture." The same thing I said then applies now. The term "reverse racism" conveys meaning for pretty much every English-speaking American.  Those poor unenlightened privilege-choked racists who disagree with all those measures of discrimination may be "factually fucking wrong." They still outnumber you by a considerable margin and once outside a dozen or so urban areas they have a great deal more political clout.  And if you don't think their concerns are worth hearing there are plenty of demagogues who will lend them a sympathetic ear.  Here's Pat Buchanan, who was once a fringe figure but is now pretty firmly in the Republican center-right, with some of his thoughts on anti-white racism.
As for racism, its ugliest manifestation is in interracial crime, and especially interracial crimes of violence. Is Barack Obama aware that while white criminals choose black victims 3 percent of the time, black criminals choose white victims 45 percent of the time? 
Is Barack aware that black-on-white rapes are 100 times more common than the reverse, that black-on-white robberies were 139 times as common in the first three years of this decade as the reverse? 
We have all heard ad nauseam from the Rev. Al about Tawana Brawley, the Duke rape case and Jena. And all turned out to be hoaxes. But about the epidemic of black assaults on whites that are real, we hear nothing.
To date the accounts I've seen of reverse racism differ considerably from reports of the way POCs experience racism.  And of course the concept is problematic: the two articles I linked to earlier and the quote from Buchanan should make that abundantly clear. But I am not in charge of the dictionary. And if a majority of white people (who are after all my target audience) believe reverse racism exists, then I might want to hear what they are talking about rather than dismissing their accounts out of hand.

Besides, I'm not so sure I'm in the business of making "allies" anyway.  The people I am aiming for are the well-meaning white people who genuinely want to be nice to people of color.  They don't want to be perceived as racist and they aren't, at least not in the "violent skinhead Nazi" way most Americans use the word.  And so I'm providing pointers on things which POCs are likely to see as racist, along with some historical and social context as to why.  I'd be thrilled if this leads to them becoming more politically conscious.  But if it leads to less moments of awkwardness and miscommunication between them and the POCs they encounter, I still chalk it up as a net gain.

Ally School 8: To Writers Asking Me Questions About Vodou

I just answered this question on one of our Yahoo groups, American Voodoo Forum.  This is not the first time somebody has asked for information about voodoo curses, voodoo spells, voodoo dolls, etc.  Generally I've ignored these messages: at best they show sloppy scholarship and an inability to JFGI first.  But since the issue keeps coming up, and since we're dealing with the topic here, I decided it was time to respond.

Hi, I know little about Voodoo. I'm doing research for a fictional story I'm writing about a woman living in Haiti just prior to the slave revolt. I want to write about a curse placed upon her but I want to be sure such a curse would even be possible in the Voodoo religion. It would be a curse made out of anger and retaliation. The curse would be that she would live for 200 years without love and to be barren. Is this anything a voodoo priest using black magic could put upon a person?
Here's my input as a writer and as an initiated priest of Vodou.

First, the island was called "Saint-Domingue" during the period you mention, not Haiti . You need to research the history of Saint-Domingue during the Haitian Revolution (1791-1804) That should provide you with plenty of interesting material to create a convincing and compelling background. Placing your characters in that setting will provide plenty of opportunities for anger and retaliation on any side of the fighting. You will also find many chances to create alliances and counter-alliances to advance the plot. For most of Saint-Domingue's history it was socially divided between wealthy French plantation owners, a French working class composed primarily of artisans and small farmers, free blacks and mulattos, and slaves. There were also escaped slaves who formed settlements in the mountainous countryside and who played a very important role in the fighting for independence. All these groups engaged with each other in any number of friendly and hostile ways: lots of opportunity for heroism and romantic tension, not to mention some truly nasty villains.

Curses are definitely a part of Haitian Vodou and of most African and African Diaspora traditions. But the curse you are describing is a convenient story trope which has little to do with any living magical or spiritual tradition.  You can set your story pretty much anywhere and have someone curse your protagonist to loveless, barren centuries. A vengeful Egyptian priestess of Isis, an offended Elf-Queen, an evil sorcerer -- the possibilities are endless.

Which brings us to some of the thorny issues with your request.

It sounds like you're writing a romance or fantasy tale complete with a spooky spell and a plucky leading character who struggles against its effects. And you're looking to Vodou and Haiti to provide the scary elements and a suitably exotic backdrop. You're not the first writer to do this, nor will you be the last. Vodou is a showy and dramatic religion, which combines the over-the-top baroque weirdness of Catholic art with dancing, drumming and spectacular trance possessions.

It is also a living religion, with millions of adherents who may not be thrilled to find their spirituality used as some writer's local color. Not to mention American readers (black and otherwise) who may object to yet another tale of natives casting dat ol' jungle juju on the white folks. There's a very good chance those people are going to find your story an offensive rehash of some toxic stereotypes. This is a culture which has been the subject of books like Cannibal Cousins and movies like I Walked with a Zombie. Your "voodoo curse" has a long literary history and we have no reason to expect your witch doctor plot device will be any better than the many which have come before it and the many which are yet to be penned.

Let's assume you don't want to repeat those tired and ugly cliches. You want to treat the issue fairly and use Vodou respectfully. You want to have an accurate backdrop upon which you can present your narrative.

If you are going to set your story in Saint-Domingue, you will need to talk about race and class. Is your cursed protagonist white, black or mulatto? Is she the daughter of a plantation owner or the wife of a poor French artisan? Is she a dark skinned fieldhand in love with a brave runaway or the quadroon mistress of a dashing French soldier? People who complain that Americans are race-obsessed. We've got nothing on a culture which regularly used terms like "quadroon," "mulatto" and "octaroon" to define people. Your character's race and social status are going to determine how she interacts with everyone else in Saint-Domingue and how she gets cursed. Because these topics are controversial, because some of us like to believe we live in a postracial society while others know all too well we don't, you're going to have many opportunities to piss people off.

Are you ready to deal with the sexual politics on an island where slaves were considered their master's property? It was not uncommon for a black slave to endure repeated rapes by her owner, combined with ongoing brutal abuse from his resentful wife. Most young white men on the island had one or more mulatto mistresses, with whom they dallied until their return to France and a pre-arranged marriage. During the Revolution, as in many wars, rape was a tool of degradation and conquest. If your heroine doesn't experience this firsthand she will certainly be dealing with women who have. You really can't write a story set in Saint-Domingue with a female protagonist and not address this issue. And if you don't handle it sensitively you're going to end up with the bastard child of Gone with the Wind and Fifty Shades of Grey.

Of course, you don't have to take my advice. Quite a few people will tell you I am overly sensitive, that I should lighten up and stop taking things so seriously. You can certainly write and probably even sell a story featuring a dreadlocked savage with rattle in hand and bone in nose, complete with bare-breasted black women gyrating to the primitive drumbeat. For all the talk about humorless liberals stifling free speech, there is no shortage of outrageously offensive, exploitative and stupid material available in every medium. There's no law mandating that you show concern to the feelings of the Haitian people and their culture: there's no requirement that you act with sensitivity or avoid stereotypes which should have faded with the last minstrel show.

On the other hand, you did ask for advice concerning your story and voodoo, and so here we are.

TL/DR: If you're going to write about Vodou and the Haitian Revolution do your research and get at least a basic understanding of its history and the underlying social and cultural issues. Otherwise, set your story somewhere else and spare everybody the mess.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Ally School 7: Unpacking Reverse Racism

It is generally a bad idea to complain about reverse racism around people of color. The most positive response you are likely to get is quiet sighing and eye rolling: many will be more forceful in their objections.  Consider A.D. Song and Mia McKenzie's "How to be a Reverse Racist." Some of its highlights include: 
Ship them from Germany, Sweden, and other exotic countries. Force them to build entire cities, roads, bridges. Force them to plant and harvest all the food everyone eats. Let an entire economic system be built on their backs, with their blood and sweat. Later, deny them access to the system they have been used to build, and accuse them of being extremely lazy.
* * * 
Do everything you can think of to make it so that white people make less money; their children are shot by cops; white women are at higher risk for assault and they are exotified until they no longer seem human; white men are beaten and thrown into jails because they look “suspicious” and “threatening”; they are racially profiled everywhere they go.
You may find "How to be a Reverse Racist" disturbing.  It scornfully dismisses all your experiences as whining from "[w]hite people who are confronted with their white privilege and the white supremacist acts they perpetuate." Song and McKenzie pull no punches and paint with broad strokes: they appear unconcerned that their humorous piece could be read as an attack on all white people, you included.  You're no white supremacist, and lumping you in with klansmen and skinheads reduces you to an ugly, hateful stereotype. It's offensive, demeaning, even (sorry) reverse racist.

I see why many white people have a hard time wrapping their head around the idea that reverse racism is impossible. I know racism involves prejudice plus power, bigotry plus social and political mechanisms of control and oppression.  But outside of a fairly small circle of activists and allies, most white people don't see it that way.  They see racism as disliking a person based on race, creed, etc. and acting on that dislike.  The "prejudice plus power" definition of racism is the most workable , but it's not the only or even the most widely accepted one. For most racism is prejudice and bigotry period.

So when they get treated badly because they are white, they assume it's racism. Then they're told that it's not, and that furthermore only white people can be racists.  Which is, by everything they've been taught, a racist idea.  The dynamics of racist oppression are invisible if you're not experiencing them: privilege is invisible if you are. It's not surprising that a lot of well-meaning white people have trouble with this idea, or that the Usual Suspects use it as proof that white anti-racists and white liberals in general suffer from racial self-hatred and constantly make excuses for minorities.   
I'm not here to point out racists, condemn whiners or declare anybody guilty or innocent of the sin of privilege.  I don't know your backstory, what you brought to the table when you read that post or what experiences you have had with reverse racism. Neither do I know the life experiences which led Song & McKenzie to write this piece.  What I can do is provide some context which may help you to consider alternate interpretations of this article.

Consider first that Black Girl Dangerous defines itself as "a place where queer women and trans* people of color can make our voices heard on the issues that interest us and affect us." While BGD does not block white people from commenting, our presence there is neither necessary nor especially desired.  (To abuse another term from the Civil Rights era, they aren't running an affirmative action outreach to white readers).  They are under no obligation to educate white people or to show special concern for our feelings.

Remember that the authors of Black Girl Dangerous are activists.  Activists generally favor the loud and direct over the quiet and subtle.  They are hoping to get your attention and rub your face in a problem. Since Song & McKenzie are both women of color, chances are they have experienced the silencing other people of color have reported here and elsewhere.  When they are polite they are ignored: when they speak up they are accused of anger.  And while we're on that subject keep in mind that white people tend to read people of color in general, and black people in particular, as angry or hostile.

And if you have a problem grasping humor and satire (a real possibility for Aspies or people who speak English as a foreign language, among others), perhaps you will find a more serious analysis useful. In his "Myth of Reverse Racism," Tim Wise has pointed out some of these differences.
Power is much more potent when it can be deployed without having to break the law to do it, or when doing it would only risk a small civil penalty at worst. So discrimination in lending, though illegal is not going to result in the perp going to jail; so too with employment discrimination or racial profiling.

There are plenty of ways that more powerful groups can deploy racism against less powerful groups without having to break the law: by moving away when too many of "them" move in (which one can only do if one has the option of moving without having to worry about discrimination in housing.)

Or one can discriminate in employment but not be subjected to penalty, so long as one makes the claim that the applicant of color was "less qualified," even though that determination is wholly subjective and rarely scrutinized to see if it was determined accurately, as opposed to being a mere proxy for racial bias. In short, it is institutional power that matters most.
I've talked about taking people at their word when they perceive racism, and so I assume those who say they have encountered reverse racism are telling the truth, or at least their truth.  They encountered some words, some action, some situation which they perceived to be anti-white discrimination aimed specifically them.  Instead of explaining what they did or did not really experience, I'd rather let people tell their own stories.  Whatever is taking place under the rubric "reverse racism" appears to be a real problem.  At least a lot of white people think so: a 2011 Tufts University study suggests that most white Americans believe that anti-white discrimination is a greater problem than anti-black discrimination. 

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Ally School 6a: More White Guilt, now with Reverse Racism

In a G+ comment to my earlier post, Lisa Allen replied
Wow Kenaz!  I actually think it may be due to reverse racism even more than "WLG" hehe!  To me, it has nothing to do with our president's genetic/ethnic background - and when people talk about what he actually DOES being wrong, the immediate excuse is that the one calling the wrongdoing is a "racist" when it is clear it is they who are racists.  Separation allows them to skirt the real issue and perpetuate their oppressing agenda and I do not think this projection is inadvertent.  In fact, I believe it is rather deliberate because it has become a tool that in no other time would be useful for throwing a wrench into those who would wish to fix things actually wrong.  Great post!
There are people who claim every Obama critic is a racist: there are people who claim every Obama supporter is a communist. They argue on various news sites and political blogs. We're a polarized nation and we have all cyberspace for our personal bathroom wall. This sparring may give us a glimpse at the American id and help us plumb the depths of our lowest common denominator.  But I'm not sure how it applies in other arenas.  Let's take a look at mainstream media and the blogosphere.

Here's Jonathan Chait writing in New York magazine:
If we trace liberal disappointment with President Obama to its origins, to try to pinpoint the moment when his crestfallen supporters realized that this was Not Change They Could Believe In, the souring probably began on December 17, 2008, when Obama announced that conservative Evangelical pastor Rick Warren would speak at his inauguration. “Abominable,” fumed John Aravosis on AmericaBlog. “Obama’s ‘inclusiveness’ mantra always seems to head only in one direction—an excuse to scorn progressives and embrace the Right,” seethed Salon’s Glenn Greenwald. On MSNBC, Rachel Maddow rode the story almost nightly: “I think the problem is getting larger for Barack Obama.” Negative 34 days into the start of the Obama presidency, the honeymoon was over.  
I've seen liberal criticism of the CIA Predator drone strikes, the administration's position on outsourcing, Guantanamo Bay and Homeland Security abuses and many other issues. Many liberal essayists express dissatisfaction with Obama: I don't see them being silenced by accusations of racism.  Now let's look at the guys on the other side. I haven't seen any evidence at all that conservative media personalities fear the "R-word" or care about the sensibilities of nonwhite people.  If anything, they flaunt charges of racism as a sign of their Political Incorrectness. I have seen the "Obama Bucks Food Stamp" issued by a California women's GOP organization and similar material called racist, but that isn't censorship so much as truth in advertising.

In any event, I'm very interested in your comments about "reverse racism." I frequently hear that reverse racism doesn't exist. Yet I see so many white people talk about reverse racism and how it affects their lives. If I am going to take these experiences at face value, and I always try to do that, the there is something going on which is worth exploring.   I'd like to hear more about how this reverse racism is experienced and consider some ways we can address it.  Hell, I'd like to see more conversation on the subject in general.  Toward that end, here's an anecdote about how being white affects my life.

If I am writing an article about a black multimillionaire I will avoid calling him a tycoon. When discussing a Chinese intellectual's theory I might describe flaws in his argument rather than chinks in his armor. And I'm damn sure not going to talk about how a lesbian crisis manager has a gift for sticking her finger in the dike at just the right moment.  I also try to avoid feeding into stereotypes. I might criticize the cynical way in which Obama achieved a particular goal, but I wouldn't call him a pimp.  I also wouldn't refer to an Italian-American executive as a corporate hit man, or describe a Jewish financier as beady-eyed and grasping. I write to get a point across, not to generate tedious side discussions and feed trolls.

Is this self-censorship? More like removing a sentence fragment or fixing a grammatical error.  I write to get a message across.  These things would distract from that: therefore they need to be fixed or replaced.  And it's really not an incredible effort, certainly nothing that requires more than a quick read-through.  It doesn't mean that I have to shy away from controversy or tiptoe on eggshells so that I never offend anybody. But I want it to be the controversy I choose and the offense I intend.

Text comes easy for me: my real challenge comes when I step away from the keyboard. In first meetings with people of color, there is be a layer of caution which won't be there if I'm dealing with another white person.   A white person might dislike me: our conversation might explode into an argument or become a passionate meeting of the minds at any minute.  But there's not the feeling that at any moment, that either of us could step on mines laid centuries before we were born.  It's not the classic and oft-parodied white liberal fear of getting mugged.  It's the fear of being misunderstood and of misunderstanding, the nagging suspicion the abyss between you is impassible.

It's not something hard-wired into my DNA, nor is it insurmountable. The wariness fades, usually and mostly, as we get to know each other. But I'd be lying if I said it didn't exist, and I doubt very much I'm the only white person who has experienced this.  We like to say "race doesn't matter." In those moments of first contact, in that place when there is nothing between us but history and possibility, we become painfully aware that it matters very much indeed.

Ally School VI: George Will and White Liberal Guilt

Conservative columnist George Will has figured out Obama's secret: white liberal guilt.  According to Will, the liberal media have been uncommonly gentle with America's first black president.  They put the kindest possible spin on his every blunder: they make excuses for his failings because they want so very much for him to succeed.  And all this well-meaning negrophilia may bring him back to the White House for a second term despite his numerous inadequacies.

(As an added bonus, he  combines his election handicapping with one of the most interesting takes I've yet seen on civil rights history. Who would have thought Jackie Robinson was less important than a black guy who established a business owner's right to fire at will?)
A significant date in the nation’s civil rights progress involved an African American baseball player named Robinson, but not Jackie. The date was Oct. 3, 1974, when Frank Robinson, one the greatest players in history, was hired by the Cleveland Indians as the major leagues’ first black manager. But an even more important milestone of progress occurred June 19, 1977, when the Indians fired him. That was colorblind equality. 
Managers get fired all the time. The fact that the Indians felt free to fire Robinson — who went on to have a distinguished career managing four other teams — showed that another racial barrier had fallen: Henceforth, African Americans, too, could enjoy the God-given right to be scapegoats for impatient team owners or incompetent team executives.
His beliefs on baseball may be his own, but Will's ideas on liberal self-loathing are shared by many white conservatives.  In their world white liberal guilt makes judges coddle black thugs and causes politicians to ignore the rampaging immigrant hordes.  White liberal guilt drives academics to label as "racist" anybody who dares speak truth about minority crimes and shortcomings.  And white liberal guilt led a well-meaning but naive America to elect an obviously unqualified black man.  But in my decades of experience as a white liberal, I've seen white guilt manifest quite differently.

What these critics are calling "liberal guilt" is more liberal etiquette.  It's not political correctness so much as politesse, standards of behavior and speech which mark one as properly enlightened.  One tries to avoid saying offensive things about minorities not because of some desire for redemption as because it is impolite.  (Overt racism is also a huge class delineator: there's a reason many jokes about white racists involve missing teeth and trailer parks). 

In my experience white guilt manifests not as slavish devotion to minority causes but as a bristling defensiveness. Liberal etiquette provides monologues for uncomfortable situations. You can recognize your privilege, acknowledge the benefits you receive from an oppressive society, and express sincere appreciation of the daily struggle your critic faces. White guilt goes way deeper than that. It's the nagging worry those rituals you perform to reaffirm your color-blind world aren't enough, that maybe you haven't escaped the sins of history.   It asserts "My family never owned any slaves!" when no one has mentioned reparations: it declares all critics to be anti-white bigots trying to stir up ancient history.  Far from groveling in the face of criticism, white guilt circles the wagons. 

I have no doubt that some white people voted for Obama because electing America's First Black President gave them a warm and fuzzy feeling.  It certainly was a draw for campaign volunteers: who doesn't want to be a part of history, after all?  I am equally sure that a fair number of people did not vote for Obama because he is black, whether they said so outright or found soothing excuses to tell themselves and others.  I have no idea of how many votes Obama gained from the first group or lost from the second group: neither, so far as I can tell, does Mr. Will. Yet he seems to believe that the latter group was insignificant while the former controls enormous chunks of the electorate and media.  For Will the real threat to America is not white racism but white self-loathing.  

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Ally School Va: The Overwhelming Silence

Responding to my last post, V.V.F. said.
As a POC, I can say that I have never been paid any heed when I've tried to tell a Caucasian friend when they've said something that isn't okay with me. And I'm talking face-to-face conversations here. 
Not once has anyone ever said, "Oh, I didn't mean it like that, I don't mean to upset you, etc." My words are just laughed off and dismissed. Sometimes, even by invoking the approval of other POC they know. As soon as I speak up, my feelings don't count anymore. So, even if these rhetorical friends are real, I'm sure they know that any complaints they might make would fall on deaf ears too. 
A few months back Pythia Theocritos (and several commenters) discussed some of the issues she has faced in dealing with white Pagans:
[U]nless I am willing to be the Mammy to another’s Scarlet, my presence is threatening. I can smile, laugh, offer witty comebacks with a hint of “sista-speak”, but never, ever, disagree or venture to correct.
Not only have I heard many similar accounts, I've seen this firsthand. POCs are welcomed (or at least tolerated) so long as they act like living proof that Nobody Sees Color Anymore. But as soon as they mention race things turn sour.  (I was going to say "things go south" but decided against it). It doesn't matter how mild the criticism, how egregious the offense, how liberal and tolerant the audience. Suddenly these once-beloved embodiments of Diversity are just too militant. They see racism where none exists. They misunderstood and we tried to explain but they just wouldn't listen, why are they always so angry?

Alternately, their complaints are simply ignored.  I've seen POCs talk about their issues with the Pagan community. They describe being followed around vendor rooms like potential shoplifters. They complain of being challenged as to why European gods would have African followers.  (Let the same POCs suggest African gods don't want European followers and cries of "reverse racism!" will echo throughout cyberspace alongside assurances that deity sees no color).  They provide reasons why they feel uncomfortable and unwelcome and give us plenty of information we could use to alleviate some of their concerns.

I've then seen white readers enter the same discussion and offer their own theories, argue amongst themselves, or declare they have no idea why they see so few black people at their events.  I've complained before about white people who are fascinated by black spirituality but uninterested in finding black teachers.  In this case nobody needs to learn a new language, engage with a new community or travel to a new location. They don' t even need to do a Google search: these comments are right there on the screen from whence they post.  Yet even with all that we still get a conversation about black people where black voices are ignored.

I have been watching this series of entries to see where it goes: depending on interest I may turn it into a website or even a book.  I feel almost guilty for spending all that time to convey the great secret, "listen to what people have to say and take their concerns seriously."  But it really does appear to be just that simple.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Ally School V: Your "Black Friends"

Criticism stings, especially when you had no idea you were doing anything wrong.   Your friends of color are around you all the time and know you better than some random stranger.  They have never objected to your jokes, to your comments on political and social issues, to your attitudes or your behavior.  And so when you suddenly get called out for something you've done many times before, it's tempting to trot out your friends in your defense.  Tempting but, alas, rarely helpful. 

The "black friend" (who may alternately be Latino, gay, Muslim, etc. as circumstances require) is a common trope in discussions.  For a few examples, let us turn an Atlantic Wire article about the recent "Obama phones" flap.  There are so, so many things to say about this controversy - and I hope to return to it in an upcoming post - but let's start with two commenters and their "black friends." 

From user Carl6352:
@CitizenKK: you are right i am happy to be called a racist all my black friends dont mind. why because i live in the real world not the pc world this clown wrote about. actually racism does not exist as the definition is written it is used to keep black people down and a few to get rich off the definition. whats funny is the biggest slander is to be called a oreo cookie a traitor but we have one sitting in the white house now black on the out side and white on the inside. could this be why he dispises rich white people so much?after his indoctrination at harvard i would not be surprised that he learned to hate his mother for being white!
From user Strongmind:
carl6352: my black friends have long ago left "their community." Why? because they wanted more out of life, and they did not want to be dependent on anyone except themselves. they are no different than myself!
Carl6352 has the approval of all his black friends "in the real world not the pc world this clown wrote about." They presumably agree with him that Obama "dispises rich white people" and may even "hate his mother for being white." Strongmind's black friends have made something of themselves by leaving "their community" and its toxic dependency on free cell phones.  Even black people (those who opinions matter, anyway) agree with them: those who say otherwise are obviously just white-hating welfare queens.

One might reasonably suspect that Carl6352 and Strongmind's "black friends" exist only in their fevered imaginations. Given online anonymity, it is impossible to say for certain.  It is equally difficult for a stranger to verify whether or not your friends are real.  But it's not hard at all to find numerous examples of "black friends" like these alongside Mexican co-workers against illegal immigration, gay relatives against same-sex marriage, etc. This means that even true anecdotes about your friends are likely to be seen as a sign the lurkers support you in e-mail.

Even if we take you at your word, we have no way of knowing how your friends really feel. Maybe they are unperturbed by your comments: perhaps they look skyward and sigh every time you open your mouth. And their reaction has little bearing on the situation at hand anyway. Oppression is both depersonalizing and intensely personal: everyone experiences differently the act of being reduced to a stereotype. What one person may find tolerable or mildly annoying may be a painful trigger for another.      There is no Big Golden Book of Racism which details every problematic word or deed. Nor is your friend a Grand High Person of Color who can grant you absolution in every situation.

Instead of using your friends as a well-worn and generally counterproductive defense, you might try seeking their advice.  Discuss the incident with them and ask for their input -- and then listen rather than interrupting with apologies, justifications and other distractions. Your friendship has survived you being tactless: it's not going to fall apart because you finally got a clue. You now know what not to do in a particular social situation. You know that a certain number of people find your t-shirt distasteful, your joke offensive, your turn of phrase troubling.  And you can use this information to guide your future behavior.

If your friend sees nothing wrong with your action that is also useful data, but it is not the end of the matter.  One Jewish person may see amusing sarcasm where another sees anti-Semitism: one woman may find alarming misogyny in what another woman calls "boys being boys."  You now know some people take offense to your behavior while others do not.  At the very least you should probably avoid it in formal and business situations or when dealing with strangers and casual acquaintances.

A protestor huffs indignantly.

"So you're telling me I'm supposed to be worried about somebody I don't even know.  Even though all my black friends are OK with me? Sounds like you have a lot of white guilt."

There's nothing wrong with giving extra weight to a friend's opinion. But you're not always dealing with your friends. When interacting with people you don't know you probably want to be especially cautious.  You also need to recognize the difference between environments: something which may be acceptable among friends may be very not acceptable in your workplace.  It's not "white guilt" so much as "white desire not to be seen as an asshole" and "white desire to stay gainfully employed."

And how often do you find yourself in these situations anyway? If you're accused of racism or insensitivity regularly you may want to consider why so many thin-skinned militants and feminazis are determined to give you grief.  If you occasionally put your foot in your mouth, how hard is it to avoid saying something inflammatory a second time? This isn't about sackcloth and ashes, it's about making a reasonable effort to treat people courteously.