Saturday, June 28, 2008

Progressives and Racism

Back when I was first invited to take this spot on Sunday mornings it was because I had started a weekly series titled Blog Voices This Week wherein I tried to summarize interesting information I had found in the diversosphere. I eventually wandered into other territory on Sunday mornings, but this week I'm going to go back to those roots and pull some long quotes from a couple of the people who have alot to say about progressives and racism.

The two people I'll be quoting are Donna from The Silence of our Friends (that blog title is powerful and tells you alot about what Donna has to say) and Nezua at The Unapologetic Mexican.

First, a little background. The diaries I'm going to quote were posted in February/March 2007. They were sparked initially by some things Glenn Greenwald said in Awkward Discussions of Race and Obama.

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 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 discussion of hidden and unwarranted premises.

Nezua wrote a response to this titled Speech Rules or Beliefs and Attitudes.

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.

The whole diary Nezua wrote is interesting, but even more so the thread of comments. Glenn Greenwald showed up to comment and most of the people of color involved felt they were dissed by him. I'll let you go read it if you're interested to see for yourself. But the exchange started a whole series of discussions all over the diversosphere about progressives and racism. It's fascinating stuff and any of the articles I'm linking to here will take you to much of it.

Donna had a lot to say about it all and its hard to pick just one quote, but here's something that I think might summarize it best from her post titled Bewildered Part III (scroll down for this post on March 6th).

Dammit! This is so fundamental and it makes me want to scream when those friendly to us don't get it! You can't give someone a pass to hold racist ideas because you like them, you can't give them a pass because they are nominally liberal and on your side, you can't give them a pass because they're unaware celebrities. You can't give anyone a pass even if they do not INTEND to be racist. You are asking too much of us; you are asking us to spot clean when this blight is ingrained in the entire fabric of our existence. To be honest, I could more easily live with the spots, which are the declared haters like the Klan, if I could get you and all the nice people like you to let go of your grain of racist ignorance. For every visible spot there is a ton of invisible dirt, crumbs, dust, mold, and mildew.

That's why you hurt us more than the declared haters. You don't intend it but you do it anyway and when you are called on it, you minimize the damage you do. It doesn't affect you negatively, so what's the big deal?

And here's just a bit from a long post by Nezua titled The Skin of My Soul. If you'd like to read just one thing on the diversosphere that will give you a clue about what white progressives need to hear from people of color...this is it. I'd suggest reading the whole thing, but here's just a bit.

If people are Progressive, why do they not make progress on this term?

Because RACIST paints the picture of a person none of us feel we have to identify with. And it's far too easy to talk about non-things than to dig down, or wrap your hands and heart right around that grain of harm that we all fear to touch. So let's make some progress. Let's kick this shit all vulgar-like and common. Hell, let's even forget the word entirely. (Pow! How ya like me now?) Maybe it's not even useful. Maybe it's a word we only apply to others, while at the same time others never accept it. See a problem here? See an eternal word war? See a divide that we not only try to recognize with a word but then exacerbate by warring over a word? See a Symbol being mistaken for Essence?

So what are we talking about when we use the symbol "Racist," anyway? What is the Essence we intend to describe? During my recent conversations on the subject (and I know you have a feel for how many of these conversations I have) it occurred to me that the problem is not the dreaded Racist tribe that lives somewhere yon, it is attitudes in everyday people who think they know more about what is Right than others; who think they are superior to others; who are just plain ignorant on matters of history; who are afraid of people who live differently or look differently; who want to be better than others with no real grounds.


Mi novia says that it really frustrates White people that no matter how much they know or want to know, there may be an area of experience or knowledge that they cannot access. Bingo, Gringo.

This is another way of saying White Privilege.

How dare the world harbor some sort of Thing that I cannot experience! How dare you insinuate that you possess knowledge I may have to ask you about in humility! How impertinent of you to even imagine that I cannot, with study and great wisdom and effort, also know what it is like to grow up Brown™ in America!
The voice of privilege thinks no seat is unavailable, no land unconquerable, no food untasteable, no right deniable, no experience out of reach. It is a slap in the face to this line of thought that there exists an area that cannot be known, even to a WHITE person. Gasp.

Tough stuff??? Yeah. But stuff I think we need to hear.


  1. my lord. need he be so confrontational about the whole thing? heavens.

    i'm so glad we are going to elect obama so we can get away from all this racial discussionz!

    (thank you so much for this trip to the olden days, and the salute)

  2. Excellent. Thank you for the links to bloggers that will provide new and refreshingly open thoughts and ideas for my old tired brain to chew.


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