To the broader political world, most folks will rightly say, "so what?" But the context should provide us with some lessons to learn. That's because one of the biggest battles going on there was about people of color (mostly African Americans) speaking up when they heard racist things being said by other commentors. The "OMG you're calling me a racist?" reactions where overwhelming and the pushback was severe. After months of this, some black participants and their supporters got angry and said so. It was in the midst of this that Markos came in and lowered the ban hammer without taking the time to look at the context. As a result, about 1/3 of the punishments were given out to either African American participants or their supporters. You can read about Adept2u's (one of those banned) experience here.
What I observe is something I've been talking/hearing about on progressive blogs for years now. It comes down to the fact that if we want to have dialogue about the issue of racism, white people are going to have to get used to the idea that its going to make us uncomfortable.
Interestingly enough, the first time I ran into this issue online it was in a discussion between Glenn Greenwald and Nezua from The Unapologetic Mexican back in the summer of 2008. I wrote about it here.
It starts out with a post by Greenwald where he says this:
It is always preferable to have views and sentiments -- even ugly ones -- aired out in the open rather than forcing them into hiding through suppression. And part of the reason people intently run away from discussions of race... is because it is too easy to unwittingly run afoul of various unwritten speech rules, thereby triggering accusations of bigotry. That practice has the effect of keeping people silent, which in turn has the effect of reinforcing the appearance that nobody thinks about race (which is why nobody discusses it), which in turn prevents a constructive discussions of hidden and unwarranted premises.
And here is Nezua's response to that:
In this analysis (or this part of his post at least) the problem is the various unwritten speech rules. But guess what? There really aren't any. There are just poor attitudes we keep about people who look different. Or who we've been taught to think of differently. And there is a "White" attitude of deciding for everyone else how they should live, be, self-identify, and do many other things. There are old slurs and old tropes that hurt people. These are the things that are flushed out when people speak: attitudes, thoughts, beliefs, manners of speaking that hint at lurking attitudes.
People avoid talking about race because they are scared of exposing their thoughts and views on race. They are afraid they are A RACIST. They are not afraid of "unwritten speech rules." They are afraid that what they really think and feel will cause them to be ridiculed or ostracized in public, or that they may see a part of themselves they have to feel bad about. So they keep the potential to themselves.
But if we keep the focus on Speech Rules, we miss the opportunity to change ourselves...
I would just end by saying what people have to get over is the shame of admitting they are not perfect as-is; admitting that they soaked up some terrible views and thoughts and ideas while growing up absorbing American culture. We have to get over our idea that the work of becoming a Grownup is over—the work of improving ourselves, of continuing the climb toward being a helpful and healthy human being. We should search out these grains of harmful thoughts in ourselves like joyful detectives. Because when you can find them, you can change them. Just seeing them begins that change. Just wanting to see them is a part of that change. This is my idea of changing the world for the better.
Amen! I thought that was the whole point of being a progressive...changing the world for the better. But to do so we've got to get over this fear of feeling bad about what we might have done/said that was racist and be prepared to deal with some genuine anger on the part of those we've hurt.