“The focus on individuals as racists is a dangerous distraction from the real systemic problem of racism”

This whole post including the title is basically swiped from Feministe. Except the lolcats which I is inkluded for gigguls. Ahem.

In this “gotcha!” post, Holly lists sixteen (er, nineteen since I swiped another three from the comments section) behaviours that white people use to deny racism or white privilege and avoid responding to the challenge of recognising and being unable to escape from our white supremacist patriarchy.

In a fit of Liberal White Guilt I’ve starred the ones that I personally do or have done to some degree – or feel and then have to physically restrain myself from doing – although I like to think that my reactions and actions are less whiny and obvious, more subtle – read, more insidious, more deniable. Yes, as you will see, I am and have been very much a white person in denial. Hum. I am resolving to check this list whenever I feel upset, attacked, threatened, put in the wrong or otherwise defensive when challenged about racism or privilege.

(HT: NOLA Radfem.)

The Bootstrap Myth
“Racism is a thing of the past… this is a free country, and anyone who works hard can make it in America.”

The Backtrack *
“Hey, wait a second, that’s not what I meant… I mean… you took my words out of context, don’t make it try to sound like I’m racist!”

The Remove the Right To Be Angry *
“You’re too sensitive… if you weren’t so aggressive, vocal, hostile, angry, or upset, people would listen to you and you wouldn’t get in trouble!”

The Utopian Eye-Gouger *
“I’m colorblind, personally… why can’t we all just ignore race, it’s not like it’s even real… it’s not like I tangibly benefit from being white every day or anything! Can’t we all just get along?”

Turning the Tables
“You’re being just as racist against white people, you realize. You’re being racist against me right now, you reverse-racist hypocrites!”

The Good White Person * (not like those obvious racists!)
“Whoa, that guy over there is SUCH a racist, unlike me… I know exactly the right things to say and I’m never racist. By which I mean overtly offensive about it. Hold on, I think I’m going to go spit on that guy. I hate him.”

The Unblemished Family History *
“Hey, my family never owned slaves, so it’s not like I, as an individual, get any benefit from racism!”

The Bending Over Backwards * (makes you look flexible, but accomplishes little else)
“You people of color are so right. I agree with everything you say. Because you’re right, of course… not just because I’m guilty and white and wrong!”

The Personal Justification
“But a black person, Mexican, mean old Asian lady, or Native American once cut in front of me in line, said something stupid, mugged me, or took my hubcaps! So as far as I’m concerned, they proved all of my prejudices!”

The Loophole of Escape *
“I can’t possibly be a bigot or a racist… I’m part of the oppressed due to the fact that I’m a woman!” (or gay, poor, young, trans, etc.)

The Culture Appropriator *
“Damn, bro! You know I’m down with the homies, I ain’t no wack racist cracker, shiznit.”

The Lean On You When I’m Not Strong *
“Teach me, help me. I’m just a white person, so I need your wisdom as a person of color to show me how not to be racist. Wait, is what I said earlier racist? How about this shirt I’m wearing? Can you come with me to this party, so they know I’m not a racist?”

The Pause for Applause *
“Unlike all those other white people out there, I’m an anti-racist.” (…) “I do anti-racist work and I try to educate other people about anti-racism.” (…) “Wait, did you hear me?”

The Smoke and Mirrors *
“I totally agree. Racism is one system of oppression among many interlocking ones, that specifically awards more privilege and power to all white people, whether they like it or not, and serves to keep the existing power structure in place. Oh… what? You want me to volunteer in a community organization, contribute money, do security for your protest march? Uh… yeah maybe next time, I’ve got to wash my hair tonight. And walk my dog, see the latest episode of Lost, manage my stock portfolio…”

The Penitent Paralysis * (will not truly absolve you)
“Oh my god… that is so awful. I’m so sorry. Sorry. I can’t imagine what it must be like… I’m sorry. That’s so awful. I feel so bad for you. Sorry.”

Whipping Out Your Best Friends * (or children, adds Maia, ruefully)
“Hey, I’m not a racist, OK? Some of my best friends are black. See?”
Best Friend: “Yeah, I’ve known him since we were kids, and he’s never said anything racist to me!”

…and one bonus one for all your folks of color out there.

It Doesn’t Matter What Comes Out of My Mouth, Just Look at My Skin
“What? I can’t possibly be racist. I AM a person of color. How can I be racist against myself, huh? No, I haven’t heard of internalized racism, and I still think affirmative action is reverse racism!”

The Tiger Lily
“I can’t be racist. My mom says I’m 1/16th Cherokee. So I’m a minority, too, and I’m exempt. What? You say I’m blond and blue-eyed, grew up in the suburbs, have no connection to Native culture, and know of no actual Cherokee relatives? Well, one of my Grandmas was adopted. She might have been Cherokee. Or half-Cherokee. Nobody knows, right? Anyway, I’m exempt.”

The Lost in Translation *
“I went to Japan/China/Mexico/Uganda/Malawi/Bangladesh/the neighborhood a couple miles away with the good barbecue joints one time on a tourist jaunt/mission trip/cruise/lunch break, and I was the only white person there. So I get what it’s like to be a minority, you know? I can’t be racist. And man, is it ever scary to be surrounded by black(/etc.) people.”

Throwing Up Your Hands *
“What do you mean I’m part of a racist system no matter how I try to distance myself from it or prove that I think differently?! That’s ridiculous… I guess I might as well give up and join the Aryan Nation!”


Justice for the New Jersey 4

nj42.jpgThere’s a new website dedicated to the New Jersey 4 where you’ll find ways we can help the four imprisoned young women. There’s also a moderated discussion board, so you can share your opinions, ideas, experiences, announcements, and any actions you plan to take on behalf of the NJ4.

They’ll be adding more to the site soon, including:

* additional ways to help the 4 and their families
* upcoming events in support of the 4
* more information about the case, including the media coverage
* updates about the young women and their legal appeal
* personal messages from members of the 4 and family members

Please check in from time to time, and also, please help spread the word about our sisters! (Thanks, Amy, for pointing there.)

White privilege, satirically drawn by Ruben Bolling

Ruben Bolling’s cartoon

Saw this over at Alas, a blog.

From discourse to action

I started digging around the net to see what anti-racist actions I can do. There are a couple of articles that I’m linking to here. Interestingly, the woman I’m quoting, Catherine Jones, suggests to white people who want to be useful to look for the “less sexy” duties that are so needed by individual women of color, such as child care so that they can do their OWN work for for their OWN liberation:

The Work Is Not The Workshop: Talking and Doing, Visibility and Accountability in the White Anti-Racist Community, by Catherine Jones

“After I started going to lots of anti-racist workshops, I spent a lot of time pondering where exactly it was that I fit into the whole anti-racist picture. At the same time a whole bunch of low-income women of color weren’t even able to get to their meeting a few blocks away ’cause no one was around to watch their kids. A few friends and I decided to start a group that provides childcare for meetings and events held by people-of-color-led organizations in our city. We showed up consistently and we took considerable direction from the moms around the tone, goals and rules of the childcare. At the same time, we also spent a lot of time as a group developing our own principles- around childcare, our group structure, strategies for leadership development, and standards around which groups we would support and why. I learned a lot from that experience about taking leadership from people of color, and developing my own anti-racist principles and sticking to them, and about the variety of ways in which white folks can be in legitimate solidarity with people of color who are fighting for liberation.

Interestingly, when I was working with the childcare collective, one of the biggest challenges we faced as an organization was around getting a group of high profile mostly male white anti-racists to take childcare seriously. Even though in larger anti-racist circles childcare had come to be recognized as legitimate political work, we ran into consistent issues with people who had committed to do childcare regularly but who were ‘too busy’ when we actually called them. One person even told me he thought he had moved ‘beyond’ doing childcare; that childcare was a good introductory activity for people getting to know more about anti-racism, but that he had surpassed that level. This opened up a whole lot of questions to me about where the priorities lie in the white anti-racist community.

Lots of white anti-racists talk about how doing anti-racist work means often taking on the tasks that are ‘not sexy.’ Yet our same community, which advises doing the unsexy work, continues to reward the work that is more high-profile and glamorous. We probably know at least a little bit about the work of folks who put on workshops and travel around the country speaking about racism. This is important work. But what do we hear about the tons of people who even now are driving the family members of a prisoner to visit their incarcerated relative, or making phone calls to housing project residents to let them know when the next community meeting is, or providing translation at an organizing meeting so that recent immigrants can participate in a cross-race struggle for workers’ rights?

That white anti-racist culture places such strong rewards on high-visibility work, like conducting workshops or speaking and writing about racism, while it ignores other aspects of anti-racist work, is dangerous for a variety of reasons. Most obviously, this dynamic contributes to an overall sentiment that if we talk about or think about being anti-racist we are in fact being anti-racist. This idea, in turn, can help to create an anti-racist culture that puts more importance on talking and learning about the work than on actually doing it. An overwhelming critique from organizers of color who work alongside white folks in struggle is that white folks talk too much and do too little. If we are to be truly accountable to revolutionaries of color we need to create a culture that prizes the doing, as much as we prize our abilities to educate each other. Both are crucial if we want to build an effective movement. Look around, is what I finally realized. There are as many, if not more, ways for white anti-racists to plug into the struggle for racial justice as there are white anti-racists.’

And, from Paul Kivel, who suggests some of the “sexier,” more visible actions in his article, Accountability: Who Benefits from Our Work?

– fight for affirmative action
– fight for immigrant rights
– fight against environmental dumping in communities of color
– fight against police brutality
– fight for access to health care
– fight for anti-racist policies and practices in our own workplaces

If not discourse, then … what, exactly?



Following up on Maia’s response to a commenter, Barbara Karens, who had commented the day before on my post here quoting Jeff Hitchcock, I would like to ask you, Barbara …

– if you hate white supremacy, and if so,
– if you engage in action (not discourse) to help end it, and if so,
– if you can describe your action, and
– if you would like to make constructive suggestions, or
– if you would like to point us to any constructive discourse (!) that might inspire us toward constructive action?

I am asking these questions sincerely. What kind of actions will promote justice better than whites talking to whites to end supremacy?

The two rules of white advantage

The two rules of white advantage*
by Jeff Hitchcock

Ever since Hitler’s race-based, genocidal empire was defeated, an explicitly articulated white supremacy has been discredited in the United States and Canada. It lingers even today, but in its place mainstream white America has adopted a different set of rules. White supremacy has gone underground, yes, but white advantage, the essence of white supremacy, remains.

White advantage (supremacy) is maintained by two simple rules:

1. You can do anything you want to maintain and enhance white advantage so long as you do not name race.

2. When a person names race, you must immediately admonish and discredit that person as a racist.

These are cultural rules. No one has written them down. Most white people don’t even know when and how they learned these rules-they seem so intuitive to white folks. People of color often do not understand where the rules came from either, and find themselves baffled by the logic white people trot out in opposition to racial dialogue and change.

But the rules have a subtle genius that only folk wisdom can produce. At one and the same time they discredit avowed white supremacy and undermine the moral authority of movements for racial justice by people of color, all the while preserving white advantage (their very purpose) and keeping white people satisfied they represent all that is good and right, racially speaking.

Want to use tax dollars to build a new recreation center in your town? Simply locate it where there are good transportation routes and nearby restaurants and shops. If someone points out it’s in the “white section” of town, brand that person a racist and deny any such motive on your part.

Are you a novice teacher who treats every child the same in your inner city classroom because you don’t see color? In a few years when you live in a big house and send your own kids to a good school in the suburbs, after your teaching experience gains you a transfer to a suburban school system, you probably will continue to not see color. Why should you?

Not everyone is buying this approach nowadays, not even every white person. WACAN members violate these rules simply by joining WACAN. You get your first white anti-racist stripes by having another white person call you a racist for bringing up the topic of white privilege.

Still, it helps to know what’s going on. We react because we see injustice, but we may not understand the rules used by the opposition to keep racial justice movements in their place. Knowledge is power.

Memorize these two rules, watch them operate, and then expose them. Repeat them to anyone who uses them. Repeat them to anyone whose philosophy (colorblindness, for instance) tacitly supports them. Repeat and expose them until they become common knowledge because then they will no longer work.

Cultural rules can only operate when unnamed. Once exposed, they lose their potency and become ineffective. Expose them. Then maybe we can talk about who the real racists are.

* Permission granted to reprint this essay anywhere provided it contains the following credit: Copyright 2008 Jeff Hitchcock. Originally printed in WACANupdate, 2/6/2008. WACANupdate is an electronic periodical published by WACAN.