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.