Wednesday, August 26, 2015

"I Don't See Color" and Other Stupid Remarks

Look, I get it. I was raised in the South, not too long post-desegregation, when the divisions between black people and white people were no longer enforced officially but definitely were policed socially. In the aftermath of such a visible dismantling of legal apartheid, and when the actual incidents visible to you as racism are mostly interpersonal, it can seem logical to conclude that racism as such persists mainly in the form of people being assholes to one another.  And since you can only control your own behavior, and the main way to influence others is by example...well the solution there is obvious.  Don't be a jerk.  Combat stereotypes by seeing people as individuals.  Object when racist language (that you understand to be racist language, never mind that some of that is subtle and keeps shifting around) is used.  Befriend some people different from yourself to demonstrate your open-mindedness (never mind the awkwardness of trying to be friends with someone on that basis).  Problem solved!  If everyone would do the same, things would be great! 

Why are you still talking about it?  Why can't you just move on?

I'm getting a little snarky.  I hasten to point out that I actually do think that in the end, personal relationships and the way we treat one another are an important key to this mess. I got up and made a speech about it at the Athens Human Rights Festival one time, even.  I said, "Justice begins between you and me."

The problem is, that isn't enough.  Justice begins between you and me, but it ends somewhere else.

Racism is not just a personal moral failure; you're thinking of prejudice, which can exist both independently of and interwoven with systemic racism (though the impact when bolstered by the weight of social institutions and widespread pervasiveness is different). Racism is a collective and social evil, and therefore can only be addressed in collective and social ways.  In related news, people in the same society can have widely different experiences of it, and those experiences can be largely invisible to people who aren't in the same position. 

It is a fine thing to see someone as an individual.  However, when you are seeing them that way, you might take into consideration that their experiences as an individual may include things like regularly being followed around in a store.  (This happened to my major professor.  In the same town where he teaches college.)  And it's ok, even, that you might be unaware that this sort of thing happens to people...because it doesn't happen to you, and the people it DOES happen to are probably tired of talking about it.  What is not ok is when someone starts to explain this or another circumstance of their ordinary daily life and you interrupt, dismiss, change the subject or otherwise clearly indicate that you don't believe them and/or don't want to talk about it.  Because that, my dear, is an asshole move.  Even if you say it nicely, and express vague wishes for a better world that don't happen to place any taxing burden on you.  Trite solutions ("I don't see color!") are condescending as well. Among other issues, it shows that you don't have the slightest grasp of the depth and complexity of the problem.

It is deep and complex because it is social, collective, and systemic rather than individual.  For mostly good reasons we tend to take our social institutions and customs for granted and not think about them too much; consequently, when they are screwed up it can be hard to even see the problem much less analyze it.  Change requires even more effort, and meanwhile new people keep wandering into the conversation saying things like, "But I don't see color!  Why can't we all just get along!" which keeps knocking the framing of the question back to the individual level...which demonstrably does not work.

Your lack of prejudice is admirable, in precisely the same way as your avoidance of peeing in public or kicking puppies.  It does not, however, actually solve the problem. If individual moral choices could solve the problem, we would have had this one tied up a long time ago.  We do not, which indicates it can't be solved by your individual moral choices.  You are not the Chosen One.

Unless you are the Chosen One, in which case I have to ask...where the hell have you been?

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

I Am Not Your Goddamn Justification

"I have noticed a great disdain for race mixing White women within the White nationalists community, bordering on insanity it. These women are victims, and they can be saved."--from Dylan Roof's apparent manifesto

"You're raping our women."  --what Dylan Roof reportedly said at the scene after shooting nine people, six of whom were women

"There is a centuries-old notion that white men must defend, with lethal violence at times, the sexual purity of white women from allegedly predatory black men. And, as we saw yet again after this shooting, it is not merely a relic of America’s hideous racial past. American racism is always gendered; racism and sexism are mutually dependent, and cannot be unstitched."-- Chloe Angyal, "I Don't Want to Be an Excuse for Racist Violence Anymore" 

"My mother used to say that the black woman is the white man's mule and the white woman is his dog. Now, she said that to say this:  we do the heavy work and get beat whether we do it well or not. But the white woman is closer to the master and he pats them on the head and lets them sleep in the house, but he ain't goin' treat either one like he was dealing with a person."  -- Nancy White, quoted by Patricia Hill Collins

I have to admit, when I first read Roof's rambling screed I blocked that part out.  In that way that you kind of can't see something because to look at it too hard will blind you with rage. I'm writing through that rage now, with varying success, so please bear with me.

This is an old poison. I don't think there's a clear estimate of how many times white men have used white women as a justification for the murder and oppression of black people, one way or another.  Black men are described as a threat to white women, either in general or in specific.  We, white women (sometimes glossed as "families" or "homes"), must be protected.  The threat must be dealt with...generally, violently. Or corralled into a different part of town. Or locked up.

Never mind that, historically speaking, black women have been many times more likely to be the victims of rape at the hands of white men, than the reverse.

Never mind that, because like other forms of violence rape is most often done to you by people you know, if you are a white woman you are far more likely to be raped by a white man.

I won't speak about my relationship with an actual, not mythical, black man, because then I really won't be able to say anything that isn't incoherent with rage.

It was never about reality or anything remotely connected to facts or truth anyway.  It was never about us.  Not as human beings. Only as possessions:   "Our" women.  And if you stop being "their" woman...if you date or marry someone who is not white, or not a man, if you have a thought in your head, if you defy, or if you simply refuse to go along with the bullshit....then you will be an object of contempt.  Or a "victim."  But you will never be a human being to them. Not ever.

Because this is about power, and the brutal exercise of it, and only persons have power.  You are not a candidate for that even if you wanted to be.  Not really, not in the end-game. The best you can hope for is to be a prize in a choreographed display.  Not even a real fight, because the game is carefully rigged, but a sham.

If you collude with that, as countless white women have, you are a fool.  Perhaps a victim of the peculiar version of Stockholm Syndrome that women have been burdened with for millennia, or perhaps filled with short-sighted malice, but a fool all the same. 

I believe though that it is not enough to merely infuriating as our would-be rescuers/putters-in-our-places will find it. And it's not enough to simply express horror at the most extreme iterations of the White Knights of Swooping In to Save You Racist Patriarchy Division. We have to speak up...which means educating ourselves about the myriad insidious ways our collective brains have been washed in the first place.  We have to do something.

Other people have clearly been thinking along the same lines; there's a veritable spate of articles on the topic, which I find heartening.  And then there's Debbie Dills, who spotted the shooter's car, called it in, and tailed him until he was apprehended.  And Emma Quangel, who put up $49 for a reverse whois search...which is how the manifesto quoted above was found, along with a trove of photographs which are likely to seriously undermine any insanity defense. That is what you call putting your money where your mouth is.

I don't know Emma Quangel's ethnicity and I am not saying Debbie Dills was thinking about the intersections of racism and sexism at all.  I am just saying...This is how it is done.