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.