Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Ally School Ia: Responses and Clarifications

In the comments to my earlier post, heckthecat wrote:
This reminds me of a book I read, it seems like a long time ago now, called "The Death of the Great Spirit: An Elegy for the American Indian". I don't remember much of it now, but one part that had a great impact on me was the way the Native American author described the "loving kindness" of the well-meaning white american activists as a sort of slow, suffocating, endlessly kind way of killing his people; from the missionaries running schools where children were plucked from their tribes and reformed of their "heathen" ways to modern activists pushing to preserve those same ways, nobody asks for or listens to the opinions of the people whose lives they are butting in to. It's a hard truth to face, but I don't think there's a person on the planet who hasn't been guilty of well-meaning but ultimately unnecessary and unwanted 'helping' at some point or another, while the person or people they are trying to 'help' protest that what they are doing is REALLY unneeded and it's "REALLY" ok to stop now.... I know I have, and I am ashamed.
This can be a hard lesson to learn. As you become aware of injustice and inequity, you feel compelled to do something about it.  But often the best thing you can do is step out of the way.  Gene Roddenberry was on to something when he gave Starfleet a Prime Directive to "refrain from interfering in the natural, unassisted development of societies, even if such interference was well-intentioned." Sometimes it really is best to limit your involvement no matter how strongly you feel about a topic. Consider how relief agencies regularly expend precious resources on volunteers who travel to disaster sites to "help."

And in a Facebook comment, James Jones said:
For me, at least, the extreme discomfort around this type of discussion centers around the word "racist". 
For a lot of people who do work with anti-racism, racist seems to have an extremely broad definition, broad enough that every single white person on Earth is racist.  
In my case, on the other hand, the word "racist" is very, very specific. A "racist" is someone that is so much of a violent loser that they have to be proud of their race because they have nothing else to be proud of(Nazi skinheads, klansmen, that type of person). 
Because of this and a few other things I very rarely participate in that type of dialog and even when I do it is on the outskirts(like now).
I see where you're coming from.  But I also see where you're buying into a very common false dichotomy on the subject. We all agree that WP Skinheads, Klansmen, white supremacists & c. are racists.  But is that the only form of racism?  A black man's chance of getting beat up by Confederate Hammerskins is far lower than his chance of being hassled by police for "driving while black." He is much less likely to find a cross burning on his lawn than to encounter redlining from his mortgage lender. When we concentrate overmuch on the behavior of a few mental midgets, we run the risk of minimizing more pressing and important concerns.

It is definitely worthwhile, even necessary, to explore and deal with ingrained prejudices and preconceptions. But that's really not what I'm trying to do with these posts.  I'm assuming that my readers don't see themselves as racists and don't wish to be perceived as racists.  And so I'm trying to help them avoid behaviors which might get them pegged (fairly or not) as bigoted or clueless.  How they think or feel is up to them: all I offer are suggestions on how they might want to act.