Sunday, August 06, 2006

Required Reading For Beginner Allies

After Granny posted this on the defensiveness of White folks in discussions about racism, Professor Zero reposted some of it with clarification of her own, creating a context for a truly interesting thread of comments involving Toasted Suzy, the G Bitch, and the Professor here. Definitely worth reading, especially if you're a European-American trying to learn how to learn about the dynamics of the socially-constructed, political notion of race and how it positions us all in a racially-obsessive and oppressive society.

25 comments:

Clampett said...

Take Changeseeker's word for it, the stuff is USDA prime goodness.

a morsel:

ZERO: "I think the reason white people are so afraid of being confronted by Black people is, they are afraid said Black people might be right. Or maybe it is because they (we) are so aware, at some level, of our unconsiousness that we don't trust ourselves to distinguish, fairly, between a fair criticism and that (really rather rare) instance where someone does try to play the 'racism', 'sexism', 'homophobia', etc." card in an unfair way?"
-----------------------------------

cough cough,whites aren't impartial observers when they study a system that benefits them unjustly, cough cough.

Changeseeker said...

cough cough, whites aren't impartial observers when they study a system that benefits them unjustly, cough cough."

:^)

Gosh. Ya think?

betmo said...

holy crap- i have a lot of catching up to do. i fancied myself open minded and have been really incensed- in my white bread way- at the treatment poc are receiving at the end of the current regime's stick. now- that sounds so pretentious and ridiculous. it is a challenge to myself to read and learn as much as possible.

Professor Zero said...

Yes, Kafir, that's the thing: whites aren't impartial observers, and then they seem to want POC's to be impartial ... and then it turns out that the white definition of impartiality is, major confirmation of their convictions / experience / point of view.

ToastedSuzy said...

Where did the idea of "impartial observation" come into the discussion?

I'm having trouble making the connection between the quote from zero and the impartial observations comment.

Also, what does "cough cough" mean? Does it mean: "like, duh" or does it mean "pardon me, but...."?

I've seen it a few times, but I'm not sure what it's meant to suggest.

TS

Professor Zero said...

TS, impartiality, fairness, objectivity, balance, saying things directly, etc.

I don't know whether Kafir's 'cough cough' and 'duh' were meant to indicate he thought I was stupid, or whether he thought others were. I doubt he's trying to be rude to me, although, if I hadn't 'met' him before, I might wonder.

If you ignore the 'cough cough' and 'duh', and stop trying to figure out where he is coming from on this, and just take what he says at face value, or focus on what it clarifies, then it's a useful comment.

This is why I am against the use of 'duh', 'cough cough', 'er', 'um', etc.
in comment threads -- too hard to interpret. In the interest of communication in a purely written context, I just ignore those syllables. It saves me getting into arguments.

Professor Zero said...

Changeseeker, there is a post at Bitch|Lab about why she is not an ally.
Rachel, of Rachel's Tavern, likes this post, and says Bitch|Lab is the most theoretically sound of bloggers.

I have numerous thoughts on this. I think both Rachel and Bitch|Lab might misunderstand the term 'ally', and believe antiracism is only about race and color, ending what used to be called 'prejudice' - etc. Don't know.

Would be curious to know what you think. I don't want to be mean about Rachel, she is smart and everything, but I get the impression she's missing a lot of info, or maybe experience, on race in the U.S., despite theoretical
sophistication and so on.

[In high school, we'd roll our eyes at people who made officious statements and say, oh my God, s/he is so white. Part of what we meant about people who were super-white was, they always had to be right, designate what was best, know the most, be in control at all times, etc.]

Anyway, something I'm curious about now, because of having seen that post, is limits (or not) of 'ally' work - a term which is new to me.

Just musing.

ToastedSuzy said...

Whites cannot be impartial, fair, objective or direct and so they should not expect people of color to be impartial, fair, objective or direct?

Or I guess, what you are really saying (ProfZ) is that when most whites say they want people of color to be impartial, what they mean is that they want them to confirm what the white people believe--what they, the white people who desired impartiality, have been saying.

But, at any rate, white people are incapable of being impartial observers of the system because their whiteness makes them, inexorably, a part of that system (like I said, I think, only I was talking about rhetoric--not in actuality, not in thought). Is this what you mean, Kafir?

I think it probably sounds like I am being a smartass, but I am honestly trying to understand what is being said or implied. I can only keep saying I am honestly trying to understand.

You are right. I should just ignore "cough cough" and what not. I will take your advice on that. But I was honestly trying to understand that too.

Peacechick Mary said...

Really this is all about how to love one another and love well. My head is swimming like it is full of snakes trying to swallow something too big. I always get that way when I come up against ideas that take more thought and smash up against culturally ingrained thought. It takes work and it's sometimes painful to face, but it must be done if we are ever to have the kind of world we all want. Peace.

sailorman said...

I would agree that nobody is especially good at analyzing their own position within any system. Whites are certainly not exempt from that; neither are POC, I imagine.

Clampett said...

Ok, I have some explaining to do.

The coughs were indicating that most white people don't want to hear the message.

I think that change seeker 'got it '=), although I'm going to take Zero's advice (thanks Zero) and avoid them in the future as they clearly hampered my ability to communicate.


Hey Toasted Suzy.

You wrote,

"But, at any rate, white people are incapable of being impartial observers of the system because their whiteness makes them, inexorably, a part of that system (like I said, I think, only I was talking about rhetoric--not in actuality, not in thought). Is this what you mean, Kafir?"

That's exactly what I meant!

I'm glad that you see that!!

Sorry for starting the fuss!!

Ok, I’ll guide you through my elementary logic (I really mean ‘elementary’; for example, changeseeker was fighting against racism 20 odd years before I was even born) .

"we don't trust ourselves to distinguish, fairly, between a fair criticism and that (really rather rare) instance where someone does try to play the 'racism', 'sexism', 'homophobia', etc." card in an unfair way?"

As you must know, TS, There is an oppressive system that unjustly benefits Anglos. That oppressive system has been legitimized in our society to appear normal.

I say that that we Anglos have the DUTY to destroy it because Anglos and Anglo males in particular are the only ones powerful enough to STOP it (that idea inspired if not flat pirated from KC Sheehan http://kcsheehan.blogspot.com/)

I think a lot of whites don't want to hear that.

They want to say that racism is over and want to hide their heads in the sand of the American dream, thinking they can be like the overlords that look like them if they work hard enough (according to KC, this must be a huge joke among the overlords)

Hence the coughs indicating that most whites would NOT take kindly to the message that their ability to judge and observe is tainted by their tacit approval of a racist system.

Again, KC Sheehan has some marvelous insights here. Sometimes I like to stroll through her archives and just learn.

Changeseeker said...

Wow! What fun to be gone a while and return to find such interesting comments! Not that you need me to chime in, but...

kafir, I like "cough, cough"'s and so forth a lot (they make me laugh), but I do understand what Professor Zero is talking about, too, and I see how someone new to the process might be concerned about misunderstanding. I guess you and I have enough of an understanding by this point that I "get" you. I'll have to check out KC Sheehan.

betmo, humility is a very helpful ingredient in the process of beginning to recognize reality--of any kind, don't you think?

Professor, the way I saw it, kafir was giving you props, then drawing a line and making a wry comment to "White" folks (you're European-American, by my lights).

As for BitchlLab's post and the thread of comments, I liked the post and have scanned (very superficially) the comments and got excited because I need the input of a rollicking discussion on the nexus of race, class, and gender in the interest of stirring my muse and getting the race chapter done for my book on capitalism. As for "theoretical discourse", as you know, I am more likely to be intimidated or disinterested than involved in those types of discussions, whether you do the posting or Rachel does or whoever. It's not that I don't think it's important or cool. It's just not where I'm at for whatever reason. But if it can get me to thinking, then that's a good thing.

Suzy, you're doing a great job here of listening and processing. Good for you and good for all of us! It means we're all communicating as we are trying to do. Thanks for being a part of that.

Mary, I know exactly what you mean. There seems to be no end of the learning process and it can be rigorous. But so satisfying in the end, don't you think (rather than sort of sensing that you're being resistant and knowing you're going to continue to feel uncomfortable until you surrender to the truth)?

Sailor, while I would agree that it is often difficult to critique one's position from one's position, I would also suggest that European-Americans, in particular--because they are in a position of dominance--enjoy and suffer from a whole rash of additional encouragements to avoid facing reality. The difference, then, between being an oppressed person who does not recognize what's going on and an oppressor who does not recognize what's going on, is that in both cases, the oppressor benefits and the oppressed is harmed. This is why I have many of the perspectives I have.

sailorman said...

I agree entirely: The motivation to understand one's position, and results of a failure to understand, are completely linked to oppressed/oppressor. Sorry, I thought you were saying something else re ability to critique accurately being linked to status as oppressor/oppressed.

ToastedSuzy said...

changeseeker,

Thanks for the kudos. But my experience in this discussion has not given me such an optimistic view of the way “we” are communicating.

I want to say this about *cough cough*, because you and kafir express what seems to be a sincere desire to communicate with people outside of your group of “allies."

I read kafir's original comment in the same way you did. He was citing profZ and then agreeing with her via a *cough cough* nudge nudge mockery of--I assumed me--or at any rate those outside of your group of allies.

That's the way I saw it. I also saw ProfZ's answer to my question, "When did the idea of impartiality enter the conversation?" with a definition of the word “impartiality” as an insult to my intellect--although at first I thought maybe it was just that she didn't understand my question.

I’m guessing the connection between Kafir’s comment about impartiality and the block of text he quoted from her comment was painfully obvious. I’m sorry that I still do not see it.

I suppose that I am being treated in this way because I am one of "those white people" that you talk about. I am not sure what I have said to give you this impression, and perhaps someone will clarify that for me, but either way, I have decided that I do not have the emotional fortitude to go through the process of winning my way onto the "ally’s" side.

(Please note that my quotation marks are not meant to call the validity of the term “ally” into question–only to emphasize the word’s specific meaning in this context. You define “ally” differently than I might define it.)

It has done me some good to leave the computer and walk into the world and speak to real people and see what real work I can do. That is where I intend to spend my time and energy in addressing these issues from now on. These message boards–they cause real pain, but I can’t see any real benefit. *I* can’t–I’m sure many can.

Thanks for reading what I've said, at any rate.

TS

Clampett said...

TS, the idea is this:

The reason many whites aren't aware of their privledges and whatnot is because racism is legitimized in the society.

It's the idea of not understanding the minority 'call-out' because of socially reinforced attitudes that harm POC, attitudes most whites think are normal and ok.

here's an analogy.

If a POC tells me I'm parking in his driveway, I'm going to move my car, even if i thought previously that it was public parking.

That's kind of like white supremacy.

I'm parking my car in a POC's driveway of rights because society tells me that's ok, but when the POC tells me that it's not ok, I get confused at first, i'm like, no you just want to steal MY driveway of rights. But then I see he's a person and I should share the driveway with my brother, and besides there's enought driveway to go around.

do yo see, TS?

Changeseeker said...

Suzy: You clearly are personalizing everything being said in my blog, even when it may have nothing to do with you. I don't know why you would do that, but you have a choice to read it all that way if you want to, of course.

As far as a "group of allies" is concerned, there is none. I have used the term "ally" in this post generically to mean any European-American who chooses to open his or her mind to the possibility of viewing life from the perspective of men and women of color. Which can only be done by listening to people of color with all guards down. This is very difficult for European-Americans to do, but the only way. One doesn't "win" one's way "onto the ally's side." One simply decides to be open to the new perspective, a process that never ends and is a daily struggle to overcome the historical and continual socialization that insulates White people from learning.

Feeling that you have been "treated" in a particular way is based on messages in your own head, not in things communicated in these comments or my post, and that is why you are in pain. How could I imagine that you are one of "those" White people I talk about when I don't know who you are? Do you see yourself as one of "those" White people?

None of this is about you, Suzy, but you have perceived it to be about you and now claimed it is about you and decided that you can't bear the pain of its being about you. That sounds very exhausting and I can understand why you wouldn't want to continue to communicate under those circumstances. That's your decision, too. But I would suggest that until you accept the difficulty of opening to a series of new realizations on the socially-constructed, political notion of "race," your progress and participation in activities either on-line or in the "world" (as you put it) that are intended to reduce oppression against people of color will be slow and largely ineffectual because they will still eminate from a closed mind. And this is not personal. It would be the same for anyone who shares your mindset. There's no way to the other side but through.

ToastedSuzy said...

I will take what you have said into consideration, changeseeker.

I hope you will take into consideration some of the things that I have said.

kafir, I do see.

Thanks, both of you.

BeerMan said...

Speaking of great reading, "Enough" by Juan Williams is highly recommended and very relevant to the topics in your blog.

sailorman said...

changeseeker: communication is pretty much always a 2 way street. If you're getting people who interpret your comments in a certain fashion--suzy and others seems to think so--it's a bit dishonest to claim it's all in their heads. Sure, SOME of it may be in their heads. But some of it is clearly in your own choice of words. Accept that what you say, and how you choose to say it, has consequences.

Changeseeker said...

I beg to differ, Sailorman. Communication can be a two-way street or it can just be two people talking at each other, which I don't consider to be communication. If either person is not really hearing the other, communication is stifled.

I know words have power. That's why I blog. That's also why I suggest sometimes that people who feel very strongly about race (for example) and oppose my perspective might themselves blog. I'm not being snarky. I mean it. It's an option--and, frankly, I think an important one.

But when it just comes to European-American readers who "cannot" bring themselves to realize that people of color suffer daily beyond our wildest imaginations all over the world because "White" folks got it like that, I draw a line. Unapologetically. I don't like "Black" people better than "White" people. I just think the gentle sensibilities (feelings) of European-Americans are not more important and more worthy of concern than the fact that half of the African-American children in this country are living in abject poverty (my code for "let's face reality about this viciously one-sided system of benefits and attacks").

To take it to a more psychological (rather than sociological) arena for a moment: if I have (for example) low self esteem (for whatever reason), I will "hear" people saying negative things about me, even when they are not. The problem then for the communication is that until the low self esteem is addressed and resolved, the sufferer will continue to "hear" negativity. I would argue that there's nothing the speakers in that case can do to help the listener to "feel better." Unfortunate, but that's the way it is. And in such a case, it is not the speaker's responsibility to "save" the listener from themselves. In fact, until the listener does the reflective and introspective footwork to make it possible for them to be free of whatever impediments they have to the hearing process, there's really nothing anybody else can do.

I understand that there are many levels of conscious awareness when it comes to the socially-constructed, politically notion of race. But there are at least thousands of excellent books, films, articles, workshops, and opportunities for folks to aprise themselves of increased understanding. My blog is just one mechanism for raising awareness. I can't do it all, nor would I attempt to do so.

Let them that have ears to hear, hear.

ToastedSuzy said...

This is what I hear:

Racism exists. It actually hurts people and will continue to do so until the system is dismantled. White people are too white to fully understand what is wrong with the system and why. White people, who, by virtue of being white, are incapable of looking honestly and objectively at the system, are the only ones who have the power to change it.

(This is what Kafir says. G Bitch points out, quite reasonably, that a person needn’t divorce herself completely from her cultural context in order to comment on her culture; if this were a necessary part of critical thinking, nobody would be able to look critically at anything. [I said that the rhetoric of some of the discussions about race I’ve encountered will not permit the white participant to *rhetorically* stand apart from the society being examined, and I believe this makes it difficult for white people to speak about it in an impartial, objective or direct manner, which makes it impossible for white participants to see it clearly.] There are subtile, but interesting and important differences.)

White people aren't listening, refuse to listen. they "'cannot' bring themselves to realize that people of color suffer daily beyond our wildest imaginations all over the world because "White" folks got it like that." Or, as Kafir says, "They want to say that racism is over and want to hide their heads in the sand of the American dream" (nice figure, by the way).

You aren't talking about me, but you keep saying the same things in response to what I have said.

You keep saying that I need to listen to you--that I need to realize that racism is and that it is bad and that white people (you're not necessarily meaning me, but...just white people) are in denial about it.

That is what I hear. What do you hear me saying?

Professor Zero said...

Changeseeker, you're brilliant, and dedicated.

But when it just comes to European-American readers who "cannot" bring themselves to realize that people of color suffer daily beyond our wildest imaginations all over the world because "White" folks got it like that, I draw a line. Unapologetically. I don't like "Black" people better than "White" people. I just think the gentle sensibilities (feelings) of European-Americans are not more important and more worthy of concern than the fact that half of the African-American children in this country are living in abject poverty (my code for "let's face reality about this viciously one-sided system of benefits and attacks").

Yes.

To take it to a more psychological (rather than sociological) arena for a moment: if I have (for example) low self esteem (for whatever reason), I will "hear" people saying negative things about me, even when they are not. The problem then for the communication is that until the low self esteem is addressed and resolved, the sufferer will continue to "hear" negativity. I would argue that there's nothing the speakers in that case can do to help the listener to "feel better." Unfortunate, but that's the way it is. And in such a case, it is not the speaker's responsibility to "save" the listener from themselves. In fact, until the listener does the reflective and introspective footwork to make it possible for them to be free of whatever impediments they have to the hearing process, there's really nothing anybody else can do.

[I needed to hear that for other reasons: I've got this problem in some areas, and my new ex has it BIG time, which is why it makes it virtually impossible to discuss anything with him: it all turns into a debate where somebody might win or lose, but no common ground is reached.]

Toasted Suzy, there are a couple-three 'race' bloggers, some Black and some white, with whom I'm just not comfortable getting into it with on blog threads. In person, I'm sure we'd do fine (except for one who I actually have met in person, she's working through some stuff around race and which she'd rather do without my input
right now, I think). The others just come from experiences so different than mine, that blog threads just aren't the right place to get into everything with them. For those cases, I just let it alone: read what they say, comment sometimes saying 'this is interesting' or 'yes, that clarifies something', and leave it at that.

Changeseeker said...

Suzy: I hear you parroting back (very adeptly) what you've read. When you did that before, I thought it meant that you had internalized a reasonable understanding of what I had been trying to say. But then you doubled back, personalized it all, and appeared to get your feelings hurt. In the meantime, I'm spending part of every day responding to you specifically instead of focusing on the topic in general. And not at all sure where this is going ultimately, since, as I already said, you doubled back before and I still sense a certain defensive quality about the way you "present your case," a certain breathless hard-edgedness that makes me reticent to take your words at face value. I keep waiting for the other shoe to fall. And I have to withdraw for now to spend the next couple of days reading papers. It's not personal. It's my job.

thepoetryman said...

We will have to start by understanding that it is not the men marching down the streets wearing bedsheets for clothing and idiotic pointy hats or the knuckledragging loud racist at a bar or church function, we at least know where these bigotted racist fools stand on the issue. Where it need begin to face racism in this country and around the globe, is to recognize that it is not language that is the problem. That is like saying "we can win a war on terror" when in reality its poppycock, foolish and a counterproductive sentence, much like saying "all white people" or "all black people are this or that"...We know that that is not the case. It does not aproach the truth.
We need change our icons. Change our visual stimuli. Change the easiness with which we believe lies such as "all black people are such and such". "Saddam has Nuclear Weapon Capabilities". We need first cease being so damned ignorant of the world around us. Change the icons, the visual stimuli, and we're on to something. By changing those...we change dreams.

The rest is pure folly.

Changeseeker said...

Poetryman, we've been warned and warned, have we not, in book after book and now blog after blog that being locked into whatever the party line is is, as you say, pure folly. I'm reminded of George Orwell's Animal Farm where the dictum du jour was placed up on the wall. And then, of course, in almost no time, all the critters forget it was ever anything else.

"We need first cease being so damned ignorant of the world around us."

Indeed. Indeed.