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Tuesday How To: Piss People Off By Telling Them The Hard Truths

November 20, 2012

First of all, new site design! I see it as cleaner and easier to read but I’ve been looking at Worpress themes for two hours so maybe I need a fresh set of eyes. Drop me a comment and tell me what you think.

So yesterday I said

Color blindness is the new racism. it is, in fact, the primary problem exemplified in the bad writing of The Walking Dead. Ignoring something is not the same as respecting that thing and treating in equally.

which is true but it hit a lot of people in a tender spot. Many of my friends and readers were not happy at hearing this. (As an aside, seriously people COMMENT FUNCTION. Employ it.) A group of genuinely well intentioned people responded thusly,

If we keep making racial issues a big deal the problem will never go away! We’re all the same!

Factually yes, we’re all functionally the same in a physiological sense.  Race has no biological foundation as a way to categorize people. But otherwise, no. Just no.

Your ability to ignore my experiences is not something to be lauded. It’s not something that I have to accept in order to make you comfortable. Why? Because it hurts me. No matter the intent colorblindness is not something that brings us all together. It’s an active attempt to make PoC invisible.

One of the most insidious aspects of systemic racism in America is the rejection of the individual experiences of PoC. Because white people can, if they choose to, embrace the “we’re all the same” ideal and that can be a good thing for them. PoC can never, ever do that. We may all be the same but we can’t all safely act the same. Even if I am accepted as a part of the group with my fiends I can’t be with the police or with a person in the store or any member of the public whom I don’t know.

This is part of the reason so many PoC react with disdain or anger when white parents or mixed race or black kids talk about “raising their children to be color blind.” Only white people can afford to be color blind. Colorblind can kill a a non-white child. If they don’t learn the dangers and the rules they can be killed in America and many people will say it was the child’s fault.

I so very much value the lessons my mother taught me. I have perfect recall of the moment I finally got what she was trying to explain to me. She told me “You can be colorblind if you want to, but other people won’t be. If you assume that everyone is going to think like you do you’re putting yourself in danger. I taught you better.” Mom was not always easy, but often right.

The same is true of adopted children. Raising them as colorblind does them a huge disservice and can put them in positions wherein they compromise their safety, wherein they think they can join groups and be a member and not the token, wherein they need to join groups to feel safe to have conversations about how things are sometimes hard to deal with and how it is sometimes nice to be able to relax and not have to conform every second, without being accused of being part of the problem.

That’s what is most difficult for me, personally. When I and other PoC point out racism we are accused of being the problem. You know what I say to that? Fuck right off.

Noticing racism is not the fucking problem. Actual racism is the fucking problem. Anyone who attempts to silence those who suffer from racism is part of the fucking problem. “Why can’t we all be colorblind,” is an attempt to silence those who suffer. STOP DOING THAT RIGHT THE HELL NOW!

As a PoC, I have to be constantly aware of the fact that I’m not of the norm because if I’m not that lack of awareness could get me very, very killed. That is not a flaw in my character or a blind spot in my awareness. That is a problem with the society I live in.

You want to be a good ally, and I believe that people really want that, unpack your invisible knapsack, stop demonizing the people most damaged by racism for recognizing and talking about that damage and get your shit together.

 

 

 

 

12 Comments leave one →
  1. November 20, 2012 8:48 PM

    First … love the new design; it is SO much easier to read. I was willing to read the old design because your writing proved to be worth the effort, but this is so much easier.

    Second, I just had this exact conversation in a group of friends — I was one of two white people among seven. I made the naive statement, “I don’t think of you as black, or you as Egyptian, or your husband as Hispanic…” And I was cut off — “Well, you damn well better, girl!” (I’m 52, btw) “Because being Black is part of who I am, part of my identity. And if you don’t see my blackness, you don’t see all of me.”

    It was such an eye-opener. My generation of white people was taught — if they had liberal parents — to be color-blind, to *try* to be color-blind. I was schooled in no uncertain terms that to do so was to ignore a big chunk of who a person is.

    • Anonymous permalink
      July 15, 2013 2:57 PM

      I, too, was raised by progressive white parents to be “colorblind”. I didn’t realize race was a category that made people different, so I just assumed, as people tend to do, that everyone was like me–essentially, that everyone was white. As a direct result, I have a collection of what I like to call my “stupid race stories”…like the time I was told by one of the boys in a high school class that he’d been pulled over more than 30 times that year, and asked–aghast at what must be his terrible driving skills–“WHY?” (His response: “Because I’m black.” My redundant response: “WHY?”) Not noticing that he was black did not make us equal. It would have left me assuming he was a terribly reckless driver, reinforcing stereotypes I didn’t even know I had because I was taught it wasn’t nice to acknowledge difference.

  2. November 20, 2012 11:32 PM

    It’s a tough lesson to learn and I think the problem is that people really mean well when they say/try to act color blind. What they MEAN to be doing is treating everyone with the same level of respect. I get that and as a PoC I appreciate it. The problem comes when color blindness comes as a response to noticing racism. Because then the question is fundamentally “why can you not ignore color like I can.” The answer is, of course, “because I do not have the same privilege you have.”

    It’s those moments when Caucasian’s invisible knapsack starts busting out all over when people get their feelings hurt.

    • November 21, 2012 7:01 AM

      Respect. I think it’s a measure of the friendships in the above-mentioned group that my friend was able to smack me upside the head and set me straight. She respected me enough that she wanted me to be my best self, and she knows that I respect her enough to not get defensive and launch a counter-strike.

      (That made sense when I thought it; not sure that the sense it made in my head carried through to the words I wrote.)

  3. November 21, 2012 2:58 PM

    This is an interesting topic and you make many important points, but I am concerned with one aspect of your argument: That whites should make a conscious effort to avoid being colorblind.

    No one can tell anyone else how they “should” react. We can only react to something organically; otherwise we are lying to ourselves.

    For example, I live in a bi-racial household. Have I been robbing my wife of her true identity all these years by not seeing or thinking about her ethnicity? She hasn’t complained. At my previous place of employment, where I worked for four years, we had a pretty even mix of whites, blacks, Hispanics, and Asians (about 50 people altogether, I estimate). We took lunches together, went for drinks after work together, gave each other rides when our cars were in the shop, and so on. It would have been very artificial to put “Other” labels on each other out of some need to walk within the boundaries of some thought construct.

    It would also be a lie to say we’re never color blind. If I’m watching a boxing match between a red-headed guy named O’Mallory and a guy with an afro named Washington, it’s pretty obvious first guy is a white Irishman of European descent and the other is an African-American who whose ancestors were slaves. Ignoring obvious difference is pretense as well. I do think, however, our differences fade once we get to know each other.

    From my experience, differences in economic status stand out more than skin color.

    • November 21, 2012 5:01 PM

      I know you work in humor so I assume what you are saying is meant to be satirical. In which case, well played.

      In the event that you were actually serious, and in an effort to school up the people who read my blog, thought the same things you wrote but didn’t have the fortitude to post, let me school you up on some things.

      “No one can tell anyone else how they “should” react. We can only react to something organically; otherwise we are lying to ourselves.”

      Sure I can, watch. You should avoid the false assertion that you are color blind. See how easy that was? But I get what you are saying..

      You need to get why you’re wrong. Unless you are actually, physically blind you are not color blind in terms of race. You see that the person with whom you are interacting is of a particular race and societal conditioning informs your reactions to that person. Part of the reason that the color blind assertion is so problematic, and why so many PoC find it insulting is because IT IS A BLATANT LIE. It is a lie that only Caucasians can construct for themselves and they can only do so in one of two ways. Either they can live in a largely Caucasian world, which is possible for the dominant group, or they can consciously ignore substantive portions of other people’s identity. Either way, they are modeling the problem, not a solution.

      “Have I been robbing my wife of her true identity all these years by not seeing or thinking about her ethnicity? She hasn’t complained.”

      I’m telling you that if you think that her race and yours do not inform how you interact with each other and how you interact as a couple with the world, you are delusional.

      I too live in a biracial home and while my girlfriend is always the woman I love first and foremost, her race informs our interaction. Her experience is different than mine. We have to address and compensate for that. She is white and I am seen as black by society at large and we deal with the world differently because of that. Fact.

      “At my previous place of employment, where I worked for four years, we had a pretty even mix of whites, blacks, Hispanics, and Asians (about 50 people altogether, I estimate). We took lunches together, went for drinks after work together, gave each other rides when our cars were in the shop, and so on. It would have been very artificial to put “Other” labels on each other out of some need to walk within the boundaries of some thought construct.”

      Neat. If you failed to even acknowledge the differences in their experiences then you fail at being a good ally and need to school yourself up. No one is saying that you have to constantly label people. I’m saying THAT LABEL HAPPENS WHETHER YOU WANT TO BELIEVE IT OR NOT. Pretending otherwise is both a lie and an example of exactly the problem I was writing about.

      “From my experience, differences in economic status stand out more than skin color.”

      Two things: First, with some very specific exceptions, race is the largest determinant of class in America. Second, as a white person, which is how I assume you identify based on context, your experience IS NOT RELEVANT in a conversation about race and the experiences of PoC.

      Mr. Baker, you privilege is hanging out. You might want to look to that. I suggest you start here and move on to this and then check this. Then sit on your hands for a few hours, possibly overnight, and think about whether or not you want to be the guy who tells the PoC what conversations on race are really about or that they have a black friend (or spouse) who doesn’t agree or why not considering people’s race is the correct decision rather than acknowledging and respecting their differences or that differences are pretense rather than actual.

      If you want to be a good ally, and I assume you do, your job is to assimilate the information given above and then STOP TALKING. Stop telling PoC that your privileged view is the one they should adhere to. If you want to be a good ally, your job is to LISTEN.

      .

      • November 21, 2012 6:38 PM

        Of course I am not trying to be funny. Someone is telling me my authentic reaction is inauthentic. My response was that you can want me to react a certain way, but that won’t change my genuine reaction.

        Given my brief experience with reading you, I would expect you to value straightforward honesty, yet you are telling me I should sit quietly and not respond when I disagree with someone. That’s not how it works. If you are going to offer strong opinions, I am permitted to respond.

        So, backing up, I didn’t say that I never see people’s ethnicity. Talking from my experience – and mine only – I don’t think much about people’s ethnicity once I get to know them. Apparently you think I should, as if I’m denying their experience by not thinking about it. They probably don’t think about mine either. Should I be insulted?

        Please, tell me what it looks like when a white person is around people of color and acknowledges their experience and ethnicity. Especially people I’ve known for over a decade. Really, describe what that’s like, because it doesn’t make sense.

        Your words: “Neat. If you failed to even acknowledge the differences in their experiences then you fail at being a good ally and need to school yourself up.”

        Please explain what that means. I didn’t acknowledge their experience? You weren’t there. You keep saying esoteric, philosophical things about ignoring people’s identity, but you don’t explain what acknowledging it means in practical terms.

        As for me and my wife, yes, our different cultural backgrounds influence our relationship, and we’ve both adapted to it. That’s it. No argument to be made.

        Regarding my comment about socio-economic status… You keep talking about how I should respect the experience of people of color, yet you keep telling me my experience means nothing. Yes it does, because you can’t have discussions only with people who agree all the time. My experience… I’m not talking about a cultural/philosophical experience, but practical observation… socio-economic strata, regardless of ethnicity, creates a bond. Two guys who work in a factory making the same wage and living in the same neighborhood, one white and one black, will feel a closer bond than either of them will with the millionaire owner of the factory who lives in the Hamptons, regardless of whether that millionaire is black or white. My experience, and this IS relevant, is that I get along fine with my wife’s family, because we come from the same socioeconomic stratum and relate to the same day-to-day things. That has not been the case at all when dating girls of my own ethnicity who came from wealthy families.

        I almost laughed when you said my privilege was hanging out. You can’t be talking about money, because we didn’t have any growing up. But then I figured you are talking about the advantages that come simply from being in the white majority. Although I don’t see how I, individually, come across as privileged to you, I fully recognize and agree with you that white people aren’t not subjected to the same prejudices as African Americans. Yes, we don’t get followed around Macy’s by security guards for no reason. No we don’t get pulled over all the time for no reason. No we aren’t subjected to stop-and-frisk laws. Etc. Etc.

        You think I don’t know that stuff happens all the time? I’m not blind (see, you were right, I’m not blind). You think I don’t know about institutionalized racism?

        So what now? You said I am a liar if I claim that don’t see race (I said I do). You implied I am simultaneously oblivious to racism. You implied I can’t possibly understand the PoC experience in America (Correct. Never said I could). You implied that I haven’t tried, which you can’t possibly know. Are you saying I’m a racist for not being a racist? Sorry if I’m not willing to play along.

        I think you gave me a veiled compliment by mentioning my fortitude for making my previous comments. Perhaps I am misreading you, but are you implying that I should be afraid of the PC police? Because I don’t see anything shocking in what I’ve said. You wrote an essay, a lot of which I agreed with, and I responded critically to the part I did not agree with.

        Apparently you can’t see how condescending it is to say things like “(you should) sit on your hands for a few hours, possibly overnight, and think about whether or not you want to be the guy who tells the PoC what conversations on race are really about.”

        Conversations are exchanges, not monologues. If you want to explore controversial social issues and make statements about how people you don’t know should think, be prepared for a response. It’s called discourse.

  4. November 22, 2012 12:12 AM

    No, Mr. Baker, just no. Do me a solid. Scroll up to the very top of this blog. See what it says there on the left under the title, before the break? Was there some confusion?

    I’m not telling you your reaction is inauthentic. I’m telling you that the authenticity or lack thereof, of your reaction is not relevant . It’s not about you. This one is important so I’ll say it again to everyone.

    Dear White America,

    It’s not about you. Conversations about the experiences of PoC in America are not about you. Conversations about the perspective of PoC when it comes to race? Not about you. Trying to make it about you is wrong. It is derailing. It is an exercise in your privilege. Stop doing that right now .

    Love,
    isobel

    I do admire you fortitude in stepping forward but the fact is you are still expressing your privilege and frankly, as a PoC, I don’t really need another example of this behavior.

    In regards to the specific subject on which I was writing, the way that PoC view race in America, everyone is welcome to read and everyone is welcome to contribute. However, not everyone’s contribution is relevant. That’s just how it is. One of the very few privileges of being non-Caucasian is the ability to speak with authority about what it is like to be non-Caucasian, One of the very few things that Caucasian’s lack is that same authority.

    “Given my brief experience with reading you, I would expect you to value straightforward honesty, yet you are telling me I should sit quietly and not respond when I disagree with someone.”

    I did that on the assumption most people would want to avoid modeling the behavior I was specifically writing about. Being not of the dominant group informs every minute of every day of the lives of PoC. That is reality, as I’ve already stated in detail and at length. Since I’m talking about the experiences of a group of people to which you do not and can never belong your disagreement with those experiences is not acceptable. It is wrongheaded. It is an expression of privilege. Really, stop doing that.

    Caucasians can have a conversation about what race looks like from the point of view of Caucasians. That is a different conversation. That conversation happens every moment of every day in, around and through PoC. We get it.

    By the way, since you mentioned it, what I value is knowledge. You should too. everyone should. On the specific subject of how PoC view race and the things we have to deal with as a result of race and racism in America, you have zero knowledge to contribute. Sorry, but that’s a fact. I mean, unless you’ve been on some Black Like Me Odyssey, in which case maybe some contribution but still, not as much as people would think.

    You do however, have a hell of a lot to glean. As such, in conversations about race, racism, the experiences of PoC and/or the way in which PoC view things Caucasians have two choices. They can sit quietly and listen to the voices, experiences and views of PoC thereby taking the opportunity to expand their knowledge and understanding or they can try to interject their voices, experiences and views. They can embrace and be thankful for the educational opportunity or they can try to steal the attention from the voices, experiences, and views of PoC, succeed, and sit there with their privilege hanging out in public.

    Decide

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