Tuesday, February 9, 2010

eRaceable?

Politics generally consume my thinking to the exclusion of other issues. But it's not an all-consuming preoccupation. Yet, if you're a regular reader of this blog, you'd not know that, because it is a primary focus.

That's because politics frame so many of the issues which face us as a nation: healthcare insurance reform, financial regulatory reform, climate change, terrorism, two wars, and putting brakes on what still threatens to be a runaway a recession.

But today, I'm going to diverge, and travel a road less traveled by, and see where I end up.

Not too long ago, I read a post on a blog I frequent occasionally. The commenter is white. The post was naked in a way that caught me off guard. I wouldn't have been anymore startled had a person walking ahead of me, stopped suddenly, turned, and belted me. It had that kind of impact.

That's enough of a buildup. I promise: Your patience will be rewarded, because I'm going to share that post with you. I don't think the person will mind. He (I think the person's male) doesn't visit my blog, at least not to my knowledge.

I copied the post, thinking that at some point I'd share it in a blog entry of my own. In preparation of that, I returned to the blog and learned that the person left other posts in response to several queries for more information, and clarification. The person leaving the posts seemed sincere, and is a regular on the blog. Here's the first of three posts:

"OK I'm sorry to change the subject but I have to bring this up, I'm sorry.

"I realized last night that I'm racist. You see, I was watching a reportage on the French channel about this (white) French-Canadian family so eagerly and lovingly adopting a little girl from Haiti (black), waiting at the airport with tears of joy with the entire white-as-rice extended family in tow. They're all so moved and so happy. I see the new daddy hugging her tightly carrying her off, such a tender scene.

"And I felt revolted, like it was gross or something. It was visceral, I couldn't help it. In fact I'd even go so far as to say it's not my fault because I was very alarmed by my honest reaction.

"Now mind you I don't see this child as undeserving or inferior in any way and I would never dream of denying her opportunity or what have you based on the color of her skin. But my God I can't believe it!!!

"Well there you have it. I'm sorry.
"

Yes. There. You have it! It's quite an admission. And for the record, I didn't respond, but others did. I wasn't at a loss for words, just momentarily stunned, and not quite sure how to respond. How do you respond to one's admission of being a possible "racist." I say possible, because the reaction may have come from another place in that person's psyche that had nothing to do with racism. His next post seems to suggest that possibility:

"The more I think about it the more I think it also had to do with the poor little girl herself, she had these annoying pig tails, no expression of any kind on her face, and she looked pretty unhealthy and skinny and stuff so she wasn't cute. Today I saw pictures of more children being adopted and they were real cute so I dunno. Maybe if it had been some gangly un-cute slavic kid I'd have been revolted too but I doubt it. It just seemed forced and unnatural or something. I guess that makes me racist. What can I do? Sorry folks. At least I admit it."

Okay. He doesn't mention color. Or that the little girl reminded him of a monkey, or an ape. Only that she wasn't "cute," appeared "unhealthy," and was "skinny." Nothing out of the ordinary there. And one of the responding posts pointed that out, and suggested that perhaps he has an aversion to unattractive children, and that he wasn't actually racist. What I can say with some certainty is that the juxtaposition of black and white in an intimate setting seemed to be "forced and unnatural" for him. He practically admits that, and assumes he must be racist.

Let's move on. The third installment. The third, and final, post:

"I guess the question is not whether one is inherently racist but whether they act on it to discriminate. I think the term racist implies that the discomfort with POCs automatically means they are intolerant and discriminate. I do not discriminate.

"It's like a psychopath who has urges to murder people, well that's not his choice, he can't help it. But if he gives in and goes on a spree then he can be condemned. Same with people who are attracted to children. As long as they never act on it then it's merely a thought crime.

"So what can you do about racists and these other people? Send them to re-education camps, clamping their eyes open like in A Clockwork Orange to try to change their wiring like in A Clockwork Orange? Some would argue then that gays have the same malfunction that needs repair (not me.)

"So maybe the term racist has been overloaded, is there a term that describes someone with a visceral discomfort for something (or an unusual liking for things) but does not act upon it to discriminate or break the law? An asshole? But doesn't being an asshole require a will to be the thing that makes one an asshole?"


Okay, some good questions. The images invoked are a little disturbing (a homicidal psychopath, and child molesters), but then it's his account, using examples that resonate for him. Alright. I'm still in the game.

So to the question: Can you call yourself, or another, a racist, if you, or they, never act upon said racism? Is racism a thought, a belief, or merely an act, or both? And if it's an act only, and a person never indulges that act, can he be said to be a racist?

To fill in the blanks a bit: The person posted to a black blog, and, for the most part, wasn't helped much with his perplexity, because no one seemed able to unravel the knot of his problem, or to satisfy his knowing one way or the other--that is, whether he's a racist or not.

He implies discomfort around people of color, but wasn't squeamish about posting to a black blog, nor being found to be a racist, nor sharing the revelation of learning that he is one. Certainly, being anonymous, even with a handle, can make a difference.

Here's a working definition of racism:

rac·ism (rā'sĭz'əm)
n.
The belief that race accounts for differences in human character or ability and that a particular race is superior to others.
Discrimination or prejudice based on race.


I can't say that this person is truly a racist or not, and will take him at his word. I'm not sure if he's all that certain. Yet, if you're truly racist, believing that your race is superior to another, then, in my book, that makes you a racist, whether you act upon that knowing or not, just as a person who believes that he's Baptist, will accept that definition of himself, whether he does anything to show that outwardly or not, and Catholics a Catholic, whether they attend church, or follow any other practices expected of those of that faith.

Help me out with this one. Give me your thoughts. And feel free to disagree.

I could be wrong, but I don't think there's such a thing as benign racism (as implied by the comments in the posts above). I agree that racism is not always overt, not always in your face. But that's only one kind of racism. The harm of overt racism is clearly seen. And the victim and the perpetrator easily identified. Here's what I think: People can believe in certain faiths, believe themselves to be a serial killer, or a child molester, or a racist, and, whether those people go beyond those beliefs and indulge their self-definition through actions, those beliefs will color their attitudes, their behavior, and their words.

If they can control the urge not to kill a person (which I doubt), a psychopathic killer will kill something: cats, dogs, or goldfish. Or the goodness, love, hope, joy, or peace of another. A child molester will molest something. Insinuate feelings for children, whether they touch them inappropriately, or not: with looks that may be disturbing, words that are suggestive, and body language that may make children and adults uncomfortable. Racist may not discriminate in ways that we'd call racist, but in other ways that show their racism. What I call passive racism, racism of avoidance: not attend a movie, a sporting event, live or do business in a certain part of town, not stop to help someone in need, avoid a sales clerk--inactions, of a sort (not openly racist), when it involves those of the wrong color.

And then there's racism that purports to do good. Frantz Fanon speaks of it in his writings, I think in one of two books, Black Skin, White Masks, or The Wretched of the Earth, where he makes the following observation: White colonials marry black women (an ostensibly harmless act), believing that their offspring will improve the black race, elevate it by virtue of the two races coming together, one race benefiting the other, because of its natural, evolutionary, superiority.

And then there's paternalism, the need to guide, correct, and govern the behaviors of others, because of the mistaken belief that they lack the civilizing means to conduct their own affairs in fruitful ways, or in accordance with proper social standards, and expectations. This tendency of some peeks through the racial clouds from time to time, in both the real and virtual world. It can be subtle, or it can be bold enough to make you wince.

In none of the racial instances above, would the people I described necessarily be called racist. The instances are too ambiguous. Yet, the racist knows. In all the examples above, whether the person's a psychopathic killer, a molester, or a racist, the person ultimately victimizes him or herself, whether, or not, he or she acts on his or her pathology.

There's always victims.

15 comments:

Blinders Off said...

I had some sincere conversations with many white people that admitted they were taught at an early age to be dislike blacks. It is when they became emancipated from their parents rule and experience life they come to the conclusion that they do not see black the way their parents and grandparents feel about black people. In their conversation about how they were brought up, they admitted how their parents and grandparents have ostracize them for having black friends and threaten them if they ever tried to bring a one home for dinner or to a family social event they would regret it.

I think the poster is struggling with what he has been told about blacks all his life and is questioning himself if he is or if he is not a racist. In his heart maybe he feel he is not, but from what has been embedded in his mind about blacks all his life, he is accepting the realization that maybe he really is a racist.

I really do know the answer this is just my opinion, from candid conversations I have had with white people.

Black Diaspora said...

Blinders Off, I believe he's hiding something, and calling it something else.

He's bluntly honest about his supposed "racism," but, at the same time, suggesting that it may not be racism at the heart of his repulsion.

Your take on it helps, because I've never had those frank conversations with whites.

I don't quite know what to make of his admission, but feel he's struggling to find answers--either from himself, or from others.

He just sort of blurted it out, as you can tell from his opening line, apologizing for being off topic.

Ernesto said...

Perhaps, like a lot of people in our still segregated society, he has certain prejudices that he simply cannot help. These prejudices will be revealed in certain situations. For instance, I'd like to see him act as an impartial juror in a case involving ethnic minorities versus caucasians. Would he be truly impartial or more prone to side with whiteness, regardless of the evidence?

Black Diaspora said...

@Ernesto: "For instance, I'd like to see him act as an impartial juror in a case involving ethnic minorities versus caucasians. Would he be truly impartial or more prone to side with whiteness, regardless of the evidence?"

Good point. This is support, again, for condemning all racism, whether it's covert, or overt, or whether persons holding such views believe that they're only racist, if they act on that belief.

Racism can bleed through no matter how much one may think it's under control.

I worked in the prison system many years ago. There were Latinos, blacks, whites, and Asians. The prison guards and support staff usually aligned themselves with one group another, depending on their own ethnicity.

Although I played no favorites, regardless of ethnicity, it was truly frustrating to find that I was alone, most of the time, in doing so.

Seda said...

It's worth noting that we are constantly taught racism in myriad, often subtle ways, through our interactions with various media and culture. Your previous post is just one small example, far more blatant than some.

So, in my case, going by the definition of racism above, I'm not a racist. Yet, because my culture constantly instills certain messages about blacks (particularly black men), I also have to constantly bring those messages to my awareness and correct them. I think I'm pretty good at it, but then, I've taken in the message that ALL people are perfect children of God from youth. Makes me glad my mom was a Christian Scientist.

Seda said...

BTW, I linked to your last post in a new post - http://silknvoice.blogspot.com/2010/02/roots-of-racism.html

Black Diaspora said...

@Seda: "I think I'm pretty good at it, but then, I've taken in the message that ALL people are perfect children of God from youth. Makes me glad my mom was a Christian Scientist."

You were taught well. We are God's perfect children.

I believe education is the key: starting early, and reinforcing often. The messages are ubiquitous, and, as you say, often subtle: some stressing ideals of beauty, while others stressing intellectual prowess.

c.c. said...

"And then there's racism that purports to do good. Frantz Fanon speaks of it in his writings, I think in one of two books, Black Skin, White Masks, or The Wretched of the Earth, where he makes the following observation: White colonials marry black women (an ostensibly harmless act), believing that their offspring will improve the black race, elevate it by virtue of the two races coming together, one race benefiting the other, because of its natural, evolutionary, superiority."
_____________
In reading your post, Black Diaspora, I was struck by the totally paradoxical nature of the image created, the blogger feeling revulsion, but isn't is possible that the adoptive parents are also feeling that they are "saving a child" or "heathen" or will "improve the race" of the Haitian child? Another interesting moment, as I just recently met a person who assists in placing Black and Latino foster children in the US, he commented that it was easier to place Latino children, then he went on to say that "people want good looking children" and just shrugged this statement off without a blink of the eye. I supposed he believes that he is doing a good work, but wouldn't that point of view affect those children he is trying to place?

I think there are some white people who are able to recognize the internal racism inside ourselves and work to eradicate it by, first of all, recognizing it, or being open to ways in which we might act in a racist way without being aware of it, or just listening for a while?
In addition to the role that family life contributes to racism, there is also books, pop media, and education and teachers that also instill racism in everybody, imo.

Perhaps the white blogger was thinking that he wasn't a racist, and then recognized something inside of himself that he didn't know what to do with, so he thought he would find answers from a Black blogger?

Black Diaspora said...

All good points, c.c. I'm glad that I didn't replace this blog entry before getting your insights.

"isn't is possible that the adoptive parents are also feeling that they are "saving a child" or "heathen" or will "improve the race" of the Haitian child?"

Very possible, and that's one of the concerns many blacks have about these adoptions: They can do incredible psychological harm to children at a point when they're least able to defend themselves--their maturation years.

I'm hoping and praying that that is not the case, and that the children will find homes filled with love, and acceptance.

But I have to be aware that what you say is a very real possibility.

"he commented that it was easier to place Latino children, ... "people want good looking children" ... I supposed he believes that he is doing a good work, but wouldn't that point of view affect those children he is trying to place?"

Absolutely. Kids know when they're wanted, and whether they're valued.

And the implication that children who are black, and have strong Negroid features, somehow make them hard to place, is probably true (given our ideals of what constitute beauty in our culture), but his internalization of that makes him, the worker "who assists in placing Black and Latino foster children," ill-equipped for the job.

He has to be an advocate for these children, and if he's holding these views as well, he's not going to place too many black children.

"I think there are some white people who are able to recognize the internal racism inside ourselves and work to eradicate it"

I have nothing but total respect for those who recognize a flaw, and are willing to work toward its eradication. The recognition of it alone is half the battle. Very few, I feel, are willing to go this far, but are in perpetual denial.

The number of contributors to racism is legion, which makes it all the more important that it be identified and confronted.

What I'm seeing, instead, is this resistance to racism being identified and confronted.

And those who call racism out are as likely to be labeled a racist as the racists themselves.

It's a troubling trend, because it means that racism becomes more entrenched. People will do almost anything to be right.

"he thought he would find answers from a Black blogger?"

Considering the posts that followed, I think he's still as befuddled as he was before the revelation.

c.c. said...

"The number of contributors to racism is legion, which makes it all the more important that it be identified and confronted.

What I'm seeing, instead, is this resistance to racism being identified and confronted.

And those who call racism out are as likely to be labeled a racist as the racists themselves."
________________
So true, and amazingly enough, it seems that the worst thing for a white person is be called out, even using the term White people can be offensive to some white people, it sure is mixed up and surreal.

Black Diaspora said...

@c.c.: "even using the term White people can be offensive to some white people, it sure is mixed up and surreal."

Which makes progress on this front slow at best and, for some, perhaps not at all.

c.c. said...

"Which makes progress on this front slow at best and, for some, perhaps not at all."

I was sitting on a crowded bus last week in San Juan,PR, it really and truly seems surreal to me, sometimes I feel like we are living in a concocted nightmare, that's why I also try to remain focused on the good and beautiful in life, like you, Black Diaspora.

Ernesto said...

"Racism can bleed through no matter how much one may think it's under control."

BD...Yes it is very insiduous and I appreciate people who are above all, honest about their own feelings. What bothers me is when people swear they aren't racist, yet still harbor racism deep within their psyche. Some of them seem totally unable to even recognize their own symptoms of racism.

You mentioned the aspect of paternalism, which to me is one of the most pervasive forms and one that makes it painfully obvious that the vestiges of colonialism still live on. It would be funny if it weren't so damn annoying, but there are sooo many instances I can cite of older white men, usually WASPs (who swear they are enlightened liberals) yet still carry on as if the world belongs exclusively to them and people of color are incapable of appreciating, much less attaining, their level of "civilized discourse".

Black Diaspora said...

"You mentioned the aspect of paternalism, which to me is one of the most pervasive forms and one that makes it painfully obvious that the vestiges of colonialism still live on."

Ernesto, it is pervasive. Yet, this form of racism is rarely discussed. I have encountered it often over the years, and it still sends this harsh message on matters of race: "Listen to me. Let me tell you how it's done. You're seeing it all wrong. This is how you should see it. I should know. What's wrong with you people? Why are you behaving this way?"

The implications are: You need to be guided. You need to be directed. You need to be assisted. You need to be taught. You need to be monitored, supervised, advised, and supported, because you're incapable of doing what's needed for yourselves.

There are other paternalistic messages.

"WASPs (who swear they are enlightened liberals) yet still carry on as if the world belongs exclusively to them and people of color are incapable of appreciating, much less attaining, their level of 'civilized discourse'".

This form of "paternalism" keeps us looking behind us as a nation, wondering who's going to take exception to our national "exclusiveness," and teach us a thing or two.

How many billions have been spent, and are still being spent to defeat a low-tech enemy which this nation's military might and leadership have taken for granted?

Remember: "Mission Accomplished"?

For every hundred dollars the enemy spends, we spend millions.

This war on terror is not a sustainable war. But our national ego, our paternalistic hubris, where we diminish, and occasionally dismiss those who don't look like us, will be our undoing, just as it was in Vietnam.

Why has it taken this nation so long to learn this simple lesson: The power of a belief is stronger, and, more powerful, than tanks, and war planes?

Ernesto said...

"The power of a belief is stronger, and, more powerful, than tanks, and war planes?"

BD...I was watching Rachel Maddow the other night and she was talking to Malcolm Nance about his book "An End to Al Quaeda". I haven't read the book but here's the clip:

http://maddowblog.msnbc.msn.com/_video/2010/02/16/3907091-a-more-effective-weapon-against-al-qaeda

I'm pretty much convinced that the U.S., or more precisely the military industrial complex are in a symbiotic relationship that neither one wants to see ended anytime soon.