since most of us progressive white dudes do not really don’t feel safe being talked to about race by anyone else, I felt compelled to say my piece on this issue as a card carrying white progressive dude.
(note: if you feel compelled to tell me that “not all white progressive dudes are like this and that you are one of the good guys…please don’t. like, ever.)
if you are white, male ID’d and progressive - this letter is addressed to you.
stephen colbert was wrong. he said some racist ass shit and no, it does not matter if “it was just a joke”. colbert’s response should or could have been
"I am sorry. That was racist. I was wrong to say that. It’s not funny."
and then moved on.
instead, he blurted out in bravado, vanity, pomp and circumstance a bit about michelle malkin (the GOP asian girl) in what amounted to him saying "but I’m only joking and republicans are actually bad people"
it was a fauxpology of sarcasm that people would understand if they had a sense of humor. and for this, stephen colbert continues to be wrong.
now, white dudes, it’s our turn. our response has been to deny, obfuscate, insult, threaten, demean and belittle @suey_park. and that’s some racist ass bullshit.
it doesn’t matter one bit about @suey_park or her hashtag or any other hashtag. what matters to us is whether or not we can admit that another white progressive said something racist. and so far, we cannot.
here’s the good news: it’s human and none of us invented being attached to something and rushing to defend it because we attach our own identity to that thing or that person. it’s instinctive and invisible. we’ve been taught to defend racism for our entire lives.
here’s the bad news: it’s still racist and we’re still doing it and it never goes away. we won’t get a certificate some day that says "no longer racist, for the rest of my life".
when stephen colbert said that awful racist joke, we make excuses, we deny and we make counter-accusations. we swear on a stack of non-denominational meditations that because we mean well, that this is OK. it’s never OK.
so, stephen colbert has to come clean. he may or may not and only time will tell. but there are a lot more of us out here, making excuses for our own racist actions in this chain of events and talking about anything under the sun except our own culpability and the impact that has on the world that we say that we care about.
that leaves us: the white progressive dudes. we can either keep denying, defending, changing the topic to anything but our role in perpetuating racism or we can turn the lens on our own actions.
if we are not looking at, acknowledging and interrupting our own racism as individuals and as members of the white progressive male groups we gather in - then how fucking “progressive" are we anyway?
p.s. oh yeah, and to all the white progressive dudes threatening rape to @suey_park - we’re not just talking about addressing our racism here.
I got into a conversation the other day with my friend, about this post:
I said that a good strategy would be to give up on whitespace ever coming around, tell the bastards to fuck off smartly and carve out some posts in languages other than english because the thieves are too lazy to translate or learn another language.
I read all of it and I disagree at the same spot I usually do
"If Brown bodies create social streams in their own cultures…"
The onus is on us (again) to escape such colonial forms of knowledge production
this really set me off emotionally. I tried to restate my ideas, and that didn’t assuage me. I didn’t want to prove her wrong, I didn’t think she was wrong, I just wanted to not have to agree with her. then I realized that I wanted to deny that she was right. and I thought, “oh my…” and I knew that I had to question my motives.
why was I so attached to fleeing from whitespace? I wanted to believe that I was cynical, resigned and willing to leave whitespace. I wanted to avoid confronting my own active participation in sustaining whitespace and benefitting from it. I wanted to leave whitespace and I did not want to admit that there is no way to leave, no place to run.
whitespace can only be maintained or dismantled. that’s it. there are no other choices. and no one can do your work or my work for us.
social media sites have been talking about brown words being taken from them in whitespace. there are hashtags and blog posts and livestream events discussing how white voices takes the labor from brown voices and say them in whitespace, as if they were their original, white ideas.
this isn’t new or news. and it’s been happening for hundreds of years, in law, in language, in science, in music, in art, in mathematics, in journalism and in academia. as time has marched on, these disciplines have framed, formed, and codified by european whites. these spaces are steeped in whiteness, they are whitespace.
the internet, formed in whitespaces is no exception. what’s a little different with the internet is that aren’t enough gatekeepers to see that only white voices are published. so, where brown voices rarely reached whitespace book shelves or newsstands in the past, brown voices who can afford a device, electricity, language and time - can log onto the internet and say something for the world to see. and just like our white forebearers went abroad to steal land and life from brown spaces in the past, white voices look abroad to steal brown voices today.
colonialism is alive and well, and living with a wifi password.
the process of whitespace taking brown voices and claiming them as white, is part of the daily chores of maintaining whiteness. appropriation is not merely taking someone else’s work and getting credit for it - a simple matter of greed and thievery. appropriation is a linguistic genocide, it eliminates the brown voices altogether and this is what whiteness does.
white people will gladly accept a white voice talking about race, even if the words were completely stolen from a brown voice because white listeners believe and trust that the white voice will not be taking away any of the benefits of whiteness. white voices do not undo whiteness. when white listeners hear white voices, we assume that we will not be challenged or lose status, lose privilege, lose power. white voices will not undo whiteness because that would undo whitespace and their power within it.
we deny the role of white listening in our burning desire to be told without our having to ask for it, that we will not lose power - not lose whiteness. we simply do not listen to anything that undoes whiteness.
white voices in whitespace take the world and package it in whiteness.
if a brown voice talks about race in whitespace, it is a threat, it is denied, ignored and opposed. if white voices say those same words in whitespace, the threat is removed, the discussion of race is labelled as ‘ground breaking’ or something to that effect, but the real message is: ‘don’t worry, we will not change anything’.
we want to be told that whiteness is good and that everybody is better off with things the way they are. in fact, we are told, if things were more white - things would even be better. in the marketplace of ideas, whitespace exists because we buy it by the metric tonne.
we want to pretend that we are not racist, but we are. we want to say that maybe we were racist in the past, but that we are no longer racist, but we are.
if brown voices did not scream about the theft of their words, would whitespace even be discussing it?
leaving it to brown voices to make this topic even exist, is to leave the responsibility for ending whiteness square on the shoulders of the people who have no control of whitespace. where are the hashtag storms, blog posts and global criticism of whitespace that were started by white voices?
whitespace reactions to hashtags and links to blog posts by brown voices when they discuss the theft of their words into whitespace is in no way equivalent to pointing a white finger at whiteness and saying that “racism is alive because we keep it alive”.
I’m saying that we white people need to decolonize whitespace because we built and run the fucking thing. brown people will engage in whatever ways they engage, but they are not responsible for the actions of white people. until white people are actively dismantling whitespace, it stays in place.
wiifm (what’s in it for me?) why will white people dismantle whitespace and whiteness?
will white people admit that whiteness not only exists but that each of us takes an active role in perpetuating whiteness every day while we refuse to admit how we benefit from whiteness? honestly, we can’t undo what we refuse to see. denial is the fuel for the engine of whitespace.
why will tarzan decolonize Britain?
will we dismantle whiteness or will we have it taken from us?
can we say: "this is some racist ass shit that I am a part of, that has actual death, suffering, violence, disease, malice and greed at its core and that I benefit from it"?
can white people start and maintain the effort to dismantle whitespace, with equal or greater effort than we spend to maintain it?
can white people dismantle whitespace without painting ourselves as heroes?
there are no cookies or rewards for admitting our racism and our ongoing complicity in racism. maybe the only reward for choosing to actively dismantle whitespace is to be free of the fear and panic of being honest with ourselves about ourselves, and to live with and love others doing the same.
I want to preface this by saying that throughout this reflection, when I use “whiteness” I mean it as shorthand, inspired in bell hooks’ definition, for “white supremacist, heteronormative, cissupremacist, capitalist, Imperialist patriarchy” (see here Trudy’s compiled list of origins of definitions and here for bell hooks’ own usage of these ideas in one example of her own writing). I understand that “whiteness” usually means different things to different people but this is what I have in mind when I speak about it. Whiteness as “system of interlocked oppressions”.
Yesterday I shared Sarah Kendzior’s excellent post about media cruelty and exclusion. A number of people objected to the ableism in the piece, mostly, the conflation of sociopathy to racism/ misogyny/ transphobia, etc (you can see it in the reblogs of my post but I also saw the objections pop up on Twitter). Last week, a woman of color, in a private space, asked if people thought that referring to racism as sociopathy was ableist. The question was based, I presumed, in the definition of sociopathy as one in “which a person has a long-term pattern of manipulating, exploiting, or violating the rights of others”. The responses (all of them), said yes. Equating racism to sociopathy was ableist. In all these instances described, the respondents pointing out the ableism were white.
I realized in these incidents that there seems to be a disconnect and lack of understanding of the framework to explain what we are experiencing as PoC. The ableism highlighted in these situations might be technically correct. These could be interpreted as ableist ways of describing social problems, unless the “observer” was implicated by virtue of being on the receiving end of these behaviors. I am not trying to gloss over the implication for mental health and for the stigmas associated with mental illness. Yet, I also realized that for many of us, myself included, whiteness can only be described as a social disease. We lack words to explain this in ways that do not further stigmatize people. I am aware that saying racism is sociopathic could be interpreted as ableist and yet, how do we describe a culture wide phenomenon that kills us? how do we describe a political system founded on our shared inhumanity? how do we describe an oppression that is rooted in lack of empathy and love towards us? Again, this is not to gloss over ableism but what words do we have to pick from? One of the consequences of epistemic injustice is that we do not have accepted frameworks to explain our lives. By “accepted”, I mean, frameworks that are society-wide accepted and recognized as valid throughout academia, mainstream media and public discourses including but not limited to policy and laws. So, in this denial of our knowledge and theories, we are left gasping for air. Here we stand looking for words that would encompass the gravity of what we experience.
Tim Wise, someone whose work is awful, has spoken about the pathology of privilege and this is where Tim Wise’s phony and shallow activism comes through. Privilege is not the pathology. Privilege is the symptom of whiteness as a social disease that kills us. The outcome of our systemic Othering and eventual deaths is the privilege. Wise, ever the apologist, falls into the white trap I’ve written about this past week claiming that racism is bad not because it kills PoC, racism is bad for white people because it causes them mental illnesses:
That’s what white privilege does to white folks. But that’s not all. It also creates an intense anxiety, like a mental dysfunction, an emotional anxiety, and distress. If you are privileged after all, if you are the top dog, if you have all the advantage, you are constantly afraid of who’s gaining on you. You’re constantly afraid of who’s coming to take what you have. You’ve got to close the border. They’re coming to take our stuff. We’ve got to worry about terrorists. They’re coming to take our stuff. We got to get them before they get us; preventative war. We’ve got to stop them. That’s what privilege will do for you because those who have it are constantly anxious. A study in June of 2004, in the journal of the American Medical Association, which received very little attention, found that in the United States the rates of anxiety disorder, depression, and substance abuse related mental disorders are twice the global average, five times the rate in Nigeria. How is it that the most powerful and privileged people on earth can have so much more anxiety than people who live in war torn areas, civil war, political corruption, amazing problems, often famine, all kinds of hardships, that for the most part, we don’t see at least in the same abundance, let’s say, in the United States? And yet, it is here that the greatest level of anxiety exists. I would suggest that the reason that happens is because it’s the privilege that generates the anxiety.
See? White folks suffer more than those Black folks in Nigeria or in war thorn, famine suffering countries! (really? how did he get away with the inherent white supremacy of this statement?! and worse, how did he become mandatory reading material in educational institutions across the Western world?! I know the answer, these are the rhetorical questions I ask myself in disbelief).
How do we, as PoC define a system where you are viewed and treated as the disease and as the reason for the disease (which is what Tim Wise implies, by proximity, in his statements above)? Because if white folks experience anxiety and mental health issues due to a desperation to preserve their privilege, aren’t we somewhat responsible for their perceived suffering as well? How do we steer clear of this language to explain “whiteness as a system that immunizes itself from our existence”? Yes, these are all disease related metaphors and yet, which other metaphors do we have to illustrate something that kills us? Moreover, how do those of us who bear the marks of this whiteness while simultaneously dealing with mental health issues and the associated stigmas find an appropriate framework that doesn’t stigmatize us in one of our intersecting oppressions?
In the Journal of Disability Studies Quarterly, Phil Smith writes about “Whiteness, Normal Theory, and Disability Studies”. From his paper:
Racism is defined bluntly and cogently as “an ideological ethnocentric diseased set of beliefs
“A diseased set of beliefs”. And then, further on, this:
It is very true that minorities are at greater risk for acquiring disability labels and losing ability capacities, often as a result of impoverishment (O’Connor 1993). Difficulty in obtaining services for African Americans may include issues including impoverishment, discrimination, and services that are not culturally competent.[…]
And race has been tied in basic ways to understandings and metaphors of developmental disability. For example, prior to the label of Down syndrome used by modernist medical science, the term Mongolism was the dominant term. The construction of people with disabilities as freaks is “steeped in racism, imperialism, and handicapism…”. Psychiatric survivors have also experienced a “potent fusion of insanity and blackness” as the result of racialized terror felt by Whites.
Race and disability have resided in the same social terrains throughout their history, especially so in educational territories. Eugenicist, modernist science has been instrumental in conflating the cultural topography of disability and race. For example, research has shown over and over that there is a relationship between eligibility for special education services and race […]
One of the most recent of these studies revealed that “…black public school students are three times as likely as whites to be identified as mentally retarded and in need of special-education services…” (Tato 2001, Paragraph 4). Another source notes that African-American students are mis-identified as being mentally retarded or emotionally disturbed at much higher rates than whites […]
I could go on quoting more race based ableist stigmas from this paper but I won’t. My point is made: ableist discourses rest on a foundation of racist Othering. This is not to say that white people are not oppressed by ableism. This is to say that whiteness (see my first paragraph for the working definition) will do away with their own if, by proximity, they can be linked to “us”. And if that is not the textbook definition of a culture that exhibits a “long-term pattern of manipulating, exploiting, or violating the rights of others”, then what other words are we left to use to define it?
Chris Sanders (from the Tennessee Equality Project)
Oh but them blacks and hispanics are SOOO HOMOPHOBIC!
Why folks can miss me with that bullshit(via sourcedumal)