April 14, 2008

Thinking, talking, blogging about race

Posted in Musings, Racial issues at 4:59 pm by The Lizard Queen

Required pre-reading for this post: Cara’s post (where I first heard about this issue), Holly’s post, the letter at Shakesville.

I don’t know what to say about, as Melissa put it, “the fissure happening in the feminist blogosphere right now between some prominent white feminists and feminists/womanists of color.”  I read Pandagon and had just recently started reading La Chola (Brownfemipower’s blog), but fell behind in my blog reading in general over the past few months (personal stuff), and ended up not learning about the events that triggered this fissure until well after they’d happened (at least in blog-time), and in general I just feel really ill-equipped to comment on those events in specific.

However, I did want to address some of the issues that this fissure points to.  I’d like to think of myself as I want to be an ally to women of color (and people of color in general).  I read posts like the Angry Black Woman’s “Thank You, White People” (follow. the. links.) and agree with the whole damn thing, and want to bang my head against the desk when the Nice Whites (à la Nice Guys) show up in the comments and go, “But I’m not a racist!  And my family totally never owned slaves!  Why do you hate me so much?”  I hear celebrities of color say things like “George Bush doesn’t care about black people,”* and think “too damn true.”  I look at the way my friends and colleagues of color are treated, the casual racism and essentialism they have to face every single day, and it hurts me.  It makes me angry.  I want to do what I can to combat that racism.

But knowing that I have indeed benefited from racism gives me pause when the issue of race comes up, at least insofar as blogging is concerned.  I worry about being thought a hypocrite.  That time when I overheard my landlord telling the person with whom I lived at the time that he was glad we weren’t like the other people in the neighborhood — in fact, I think he specifically said something about being glad that, with us around, his wasn’t the only white face in the building, something like that — I didn’t rush out of the bathroom, pants around my ankles, to chastise him.  Indeed, had he said it to my face, I don’t know what I’d have done.  What do you say when your landlord, someone in a position of authority over you, says something so blatantly racist?  I guess maybe you move out, which we did, but for other reasons.  I was less aware then, less active, but still.

And then I think sometimes there’s a fuzzy line, or maybe some people just perceive the line to be fuzzy, between, as Holly put it, “stand[ing] by those who aren’t called on” and appropriation, or at least pretending one understands another’s pain when that’s simply not possible.  I remember seeing, a few days or maybe weeks after the Katrina fundraiser, a woman — pale white skin, red hair — wearing a shirt proclaiming “Kanye was right.”  I wondered about her motivation for buying and wearing that shirt.  And then I wondered about my wondering.

I haven’t come to any conclusions.  I do, however, think the resolutions in the letter at Shakesville are a good place to start.  I can “write about, discuss, advocate, and recognize as integral to the central tenets of feminism/womanism issues our sisters of color bring to our attention.”  I can link to women of color.  I can “endeavor always to be aware of [my] privilege, and, in moments of failure, …remain open to criticisms and suggestions, resolve to think twice before responding defensively, and apologize when [I] fuck up.”

And I can listen.

*And I think it’s telling that that one phrase is all people remember about what Kanye West said that night.  “Nevermind all that other stuff he said — he called the President a racist!!  ZOMG!!!11!”

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1 Comment »

  1. DavidD said,

    While driving yesterday I came up behind a car at a stoplight. It had two bumper stickers. One was the words “FAMILY CAR” on a background of colored stripes I associate with gay rights. The other had the words “I WANT MY COUNTRY BACK” on a background that was part of a US flag. The latter comes from a local radio personality who is a lot like Lou Dobbs.

    So what was this, an anti-immigrant who otherwise favors diversity or maybe just gay rights? Other possibilities come to mind. Maybe I’m wrong in seeing a conflict in the two. Maybe they don’t see those rainbow colors as the antithesis of an exclusionary attitude. Maybe they don’t see them as being about gay rights but just something pretty. Maybe they thought they were displaying messages that were both exclusionary in the typical conservative way, a pretty one in rainbow colors supporting one’s own family and another opposing anyone very different from that family.

    Even if it were practical for me to have had a dialog with them to figure out what they meant, I don’t know that I would have. I don’t feel like teaching anyone that this is not their country, that it is whatever country it becomes, a process of cultural evolution to which any one family is meaningless. As an individual, I have to adapt, not the world. Even groups have to adapt, maybe not for centuries, but eventually they do. The world is far beyond the reach of any single group. Ask me about why I say that and I’ll explain it, but not to just anyone who doesn’t care enough to ask.

    There has to be some common ground to have a dialog. Then there has to be a real give and take to be a dialog. 300 comments to the cleverest of blog post is not a dialog, not the way I use that word. A real dialog takes a lot of work, not just letting someone else have his or her say, but engaging what they say, honestly challenging what they say, not as a partisan, but as someone willing to risk stepping on someone’s toes to find the truth of some issue together, if that’s what the other person really wants.

    It’s a tricky business. I wouldn’t want to try it with just anyone, certainly not someone with an anti-immigrant bumper sticker. Maybe that’s just as well. Time will prove most of our words are dead ends. And if any of my words are better than that, I’ll hear about it from someone.


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