Monday, September 04, 2006

A European-American Sets Me Straight (1)

In the middle of all my recent fun, I received an email to which I simply didn't have time to respond instantly. I did answer the writer briefly, noting that she, like many others who cannot receive what I write, didn't sound interested in any response anyway, but rather just wanted to set me straight. I assured her that I would respond eventually on my blog, however. And now that the fog is lifting, that's what I'm going to do. But keep in mind that I'm neither captured by her rhetoric nor trying to convince her of anything. I don't argue with people who don't "get it" because it's a waste of everyone's time--mine and theirs. And it's perfectly okay for her to have any opinion she wants. How could I argue with that?

The point is that what she puts forward, as is so often the case, is based on (in Harlan Ellison's words) "bleached-out baby shit." That is to say, what makes her as a White person, and she is White, whether she means to be or not, so White is that she doesn't have the knowledge, the understanding, the empathy, the sense of perspective, or (apparently) the willingness to acquire any of these things that would make it possible for her to "get it." And again, that is, in fact, her right. Just as it would be her right to refuse medical attention even in the face of a dire illness. Just as it would be her right to turn down lottery winnings. Just as it would be her right to walk out onto a freeway in the middle of the night wearing dark colored clothes. Stupid, maybe. Hard to comprehend, certainly. But her right? Absolutely.

So then, why answer her at all? Well, first of all, because I want to. I mean, I can, right? Her email was a direct response to one or more things I have written on this blog. She sent it to me (signed, actually) and I can, then, of course, use the email however I see fit. How I see fit to use it is to give those who want to be allies some ideas to consider for when they might find themselves being "straightened." Out of concern that this post might run to book length all by itself, however, I'll respond to the email in question in pieces. And, since they'll all be written to would-be allies rather than racists, these "responses" will be installments in the series on how European-Americans can ally themselves with people of color in their own best interests.

And heeeere we go!

"Hello,
While I agree that in utopia there would be no racism..."


(an interesting way to begin a long treatise on why racism is reasonable)

"...in all fairness it is the non-whites themselves who are now the worst perpetrators of this social malignancy. Case in point, the special interest groups who cater to specific minorities and work exclusively on their behalf rather than the behalf of all human beings. We are all supposed to be equal yet certain minorities segregate themselves out by clinging onto their separate cultures, languages, traditions, frequenting their own institutions and media and supporting only their own kind. I guess that doesn't qualify as racism in your mind. White people don't have large national organizations dedicated to their needs, non-whites do..."

This reference to "self-segregation" is one of the prime indicators of cluelessness. Europeans created the socially-constructed, political notion of "race," in the first place, just before the Industrial Revolution for the express purpose of exploiting people of color and their resources. If one's purpose is to exploit--boldly, brutally, continuously, and without apology--and one manages to set up a system within which this exploitation is acceptable and even supported by the ritualized norms of the societies using it, at what point would those benefitting from the exploitation decide voluntarily that they had benefitted enough? A hundred years? Two hundred? Four hundred years? So far in history, to the best of our knowledge, those who use power (and especially those who use force) to dominate others typically sit on that power until they become convinced that those they dominate are about to successfully unseat them OR until they become so dysfunctional with weakness, they simply collapse under the weight of their own poor choices.

But the writer of this email--let's call her "Ms White" (not to be confused with the character in the parlor game, Clue, which was one of my favorite games as a youth)--would have us believe that White folks set up this fabulous system, sucking the very life out of millions of people for hundreds of years, but giving up all the benefits of that system...uh...at what point exactly? That is to say, all the social institutions in the United States were set up by property-holding White men for the benefit of property-holding White men and these same social institutions have continued to be maintained and controlled by property-holding White men throughout the duration to the present moment.

So at what point exactly could Ms White possibly believe that people of color, and African-Americans in particular, suddenly became the recipients of equal access to all that power? And if they did have equal access to all that power (and all the goodies that accompany it), wouldn't they, of all people, know it? And if they had equal access to all the power and all the goodies, why would they need to or want to "self-segregate"? Why in the world would they form "national organizations" outside the mainstream if they had equal access to everything in the society?

As for the assertion that "White people don't have large national organizations dedicated to their needs," the fact is that White people have almost all large national organizations dedicated to their needs. Virtually everything in the society is calculated to meet the needs of White people, even poor White people, either overtly or covertly, while people of color are forced to organize to keep from drowning or watching others drown in the backwater. White folks have the most of the best and the least of the worst throughout the society. African-American men are four times more likely than European-American men to be unemployed at every educational level and only receive 68-76% of the wages of a White man when they do pull off getting hired. For example. What would Ms White have people of color do? Sit quietly? I'll bet.

I wish I had a nickel for every time I've heard an African-American say in an overly polite voice, "No, that's all right, go ahead..." when acquiescing to a bullish White person who has taken over a situation in one way or another, whether it's to get waited on first or listened to first or even through the door first. White folks are so used to being...well..."White" and, God knows, treated as "White," (with all the attendant accompaniments), they don't even realize (or admit) it's going on. Consequently, I will do everything but lay my coat over a mud puddle to show respect for African-Americans, even strangers (and maybe especially strangers). Do I catch myself "acting White" sometimes anyway, or worse yet, get caught occasionally by a person of color doing so? Of course. I look "White." I was socialized as "White." I am approached in hundreds of ways daily as "White." And I have to be stringently vigilent to avoid the default positions.

There are organizations where European-Americans and people of color are fully represented and equal, but they are notable for their infrequency. When I enter a conference or a meeting where there are few, if any, African-Americans, I know I'm coming into a space that is not safe or welcoming to people of color. People of color have to enter such spaces on a regular basis in the United States--out of necessity. If they want a job. If they want to know what's going on in their field. If they live in the suburbs. If they attend (or send their kids to) a public university. They can't take their clothes to the cleaners, go to the grocery, walk into a major department store, visit a mainstream museum, or even walk down the street without having to steel themselves against possible rejection, insult, or ignorance. The most rudimentary activities of daily life hold multiple opportunities for European-Americans to be validated and people of color to be made to feel reduced. Organizations--national or otherwise--are just one arena in which these validations and reductions are carried out. To cast aspersions on African-Americans and other people of color for bonding together in the interest of making a safe space for themselves is to be so mean-spirited that one wants them not only to suffer, but to be unable to exhale for even a minute. Tsk, tsk, Ms White. Tsk, tsk.

17 comments:

Each-1-Teach-1 said...

Has she heard of the National Alliance? Glad to she you're getting into the rythm of things. As always, you keep on doing what you do best. Your ally work is of infinite value to me and I'm sure to many others, that's real. You need to take care of yourself though, rest whenever possible, we can't have you running out there on low batteries. Much success this semester...

Peacechick Mary said...

I am so glad Mrs. White wrote what she did so we could read your response. Very enlightening and I caught myself visualizing instances in my life where POC's were put down, made to wait, or treated with disdain for no reason at all. I'm feeling angry about that right now - angry because I didn't take steps to intervene. As a white woman of some power (not great) I could have done more and will be on the alert hereafter to do so. I'm very sorry about the past. Thanks. Take care. We need you.

Changeseeker said...

I'm very moved at the obvious love and respect you two offer. And you know it is returned. I do take care. I know pace is important and nurturing and sustenance and...wisdom. I am so blessed and so on the journey to be and do whatever I'm here for. Thanks for making it such a lovely, lovely journey. xo

Clampett said...

lol.

Perhaps Ms. White should ask REPRESENTATIVE david duke PHD about her 'case' and 'point'.

Changeseeker,

It's good to see you back.

Changeseeker said...

With each-1 teach-1 trying to send her to the National Alliance folks and you sending her to David Duke, Clampett, poor Ms White is having a rough time. And we're only one paragraph into the email. It gets better. Stay tuned.

Oh, yeah. And it's good to be back, too. Thanks.

Frederick said...

"There are organizations where European-Americans and people of color are fully represented and equal, but they are notable for their infrequency."

I happen to belong to one of those, or as close an orginization as possible. I've seen that it is possible for people to be judge by their merits, and how when that happens it's for the better for the whole. It's to bad your e-mailer may never know what that's like.

Professor Zero said...

good post! and re next (that is, last) post - the hustle-bustle will calm down soon...you're doing well. :-)

Changeseeker said...

Professor Zero: welcome back from SF. I'll be over to see you later on today--perhaps from my new office. :^) In the meantime, suffice it to say that hearing those particular words ("the hustle-bustle will calm down soon...you're doing well") soothes my frazzled soul in some way I'm almost embarrassed to admit. Thank you.

delux said...

This post is *poetry*. Thank you.

Changeseeker said...

Thanks, delux. I needed to know that I hadn't lost my edge. Much, much appreciated.

Hillary For President said...

OGM,

Its so cleer. I meen, if whitie aint feelin ya flows, how you can even talk to ? I meen, try to convict someone something they don't already bleeif?

It so ovious, they don't agree with you they is too stupit to ever get ya. And people like us is nefer rong. With Hillary Clinton for presidnet things will improuve for people of colur (POCs). you will see.

betmo said...

this journey for me has been eye opening- i am obviously still on it- because i grew up in upstate new york and the area i lived was much like whole milk. it never occurred to me that i was 'white' because well- i was and so were most other people. it didn't occur to me that i had been socialized to be white- because it never came up. i moved with my husband 10 years ago to a little bit more diverse city- we have many immigrants from eastern europe, asia, east asia, africa, etc because we are a hub from new york city on the bus route and a sister city to many places in the greater world. because of our connection to new york city- we are 4 hours away- we have many poc here as well. small diverse melting pot in upstate new york. it has given me a lighting bolt out of the blue into my 'white' world- and the things that you and your fellow bloggers- notably black amazon- talk of make sense. anyhoo- that is my long winded way of saying thanks- and keep up the good work. it does make a difference even if it is one person at a time.

JoshuaJDrew said...

this is clearly a woman after my own heart. Honestly I agree with a lot YOU had to say too (ironically) but I still really like to see that some people agree with me

pragya said...

I read your blog from time to time and this is an excellent post. I had someone make similar comments on my blog some time ago and was so flabbergasted that someone would take the time to read through a blog that's so obviously opposed to their views and then complain about us awful people of colour daring to segregate ourselves, that I really didn't know how to respond. This person went so far as to claim that the Jews were responsible for the Holocaust because they segregated themselves from the rest of Germany. I'M NOT EVEN KIDDING.

So, thank you for this post. I don't know how you keep your head relatively cool, but good on ya.

Clampett said...

Changeseeker...hello?

Did Ms. White kidnap you or something....

I like to take people for their word before publicly berating them and whatnot, for all I know, she might have a point or two, her hammer might not have fallen yet....where's part 2?

Changeseeker said...

All right, all right, Clampett... :^) I've not been kidnapped. I'm just earning my keep these days, but I will get better over time. The take-off has just been a bit rigorous. Part 2 is on its way.

H4P: Your girl made it through the primary, so I'm sure you're somewhere celebrating. Haven't seen you for a while. Trust you're okay.

betmo: It sounds as if you are moving quickly through the levels. Most impressive, really. The bottom line, I think, is a willingness to open one's mind to reality after living in fantasy for so long. It's similar to coming out of a long period in a very dark space into bright sunlight. We must squint for a bit, but ultimately we can open our eyes. Still, one must be willing and not all are.

Right, Josh?

Pragya: Welcome to my house. Always glad to "meet" a new commentator with a clue. I agree that it's hard to grasp how folks can cling to a perspective as bizarre as the one you describe, but I guess that just demonstrates how deeply they feel the need to avoid reality...which, of course, is still reality no matter how hard they work at avoiding it.

*shakes head with a wry expression*

Writer on Board said...

You're a trouble maker. I like it.