Assumptions, Biases & Irrational Fantasies



4 results for racism, Part 2 (Finally!)

 

rac·ism [rey-siz-uhm]
–noun

1. a belief or doctrine that inherent differences among the various human races determine cultural or individual achievement, usually involving the idea that one’s own race is superior and has the right to rule others.
2. a policy, system of government, etc., based upon or fostering such a doctrine; discrimination.
3. hatred or intolerance of another race or other races.

 


[Origin: 1865–70; racisme. See race2, -ism]

—Related forms

racist, noun, adjective

Dictionary.com Unabridged (v 1.1)
Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2006.
rac·ism (rā’sĭz’əm) Pronunciation Keyn.

  1. The belief that race accounts for differences in human character or ability and that a particular race is superior to others.
  2. Discrimination or prejudice based on race.

rac’ist adj. & n

racism
noun
1. the prejudice that members of one race are intrinsically superior to members of other races
2. discriminatory or abusive behavior towards members of another race

racism

The belief that some races are inherently superior (physically, intellectually, or culturally) to others and therefore have a right to dominate them. In the United States, racism, particularly by whites against blacks, has created profound racial tension and conflict in virtually all aspects of American society. Until the breakthroughs achieved by the civil rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s, white domination over blacks was institutionalized and supported in all branches and levels of government, by denying blacks their civil rights and opportunities to participate in political, economic, and social communities.
[Chapter:] American Politics

The American Heritage® New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition
Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Company.
Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved

As time goes on, I am confronted with many issues of bias that I generally think are important topics for discussion. The main topic of this blog is to inform my personal practice of anti-bias advocacy, especially in regard to working with young children. I find this topic to be of particular significance because it speaks to the dynamics of engaging in discussions about racism, which are essential to developing effective anti-bias education and training for adults who are in positions to influence the lives of children.

I don’t know how much anyone is keeping up with the various controversies in race and culture these days, but there seem to be quite a lot of ‘blackface parties’ going on. A lot of white people dressing up and acting out stereotypes of black people (or other races), getting caught with pictures posted on the internet, and then maybe sort of apologizing. Apologies range from reasonably sincere “I didn’t think I was doing anything wrong – I’m really sorry” to the indignant “I don’t see what the big deal is – we didn’t do anything wrong and we’re not racists, and why are you so offended, we’re just having fun, etc.”

And then there’s Shirley Q. Liquor. More on that later.

Anyway, I have been reading blogs about these blackface parties, most recently involving two religious organizations – a christian school and a church. Riverdale Christian Academy hosted a graduation party for students with a Southern Plantation theme. Adult employees of the school put on a pageant of the antebellum era, painting themselves brown and dressing up as slaves. There was a skit during which a runaway slave was retrieved. At the church in North? Carolina, during a church fundraiser, a group of members got brown to celebrate some traditional black spirituals that they love so well.

That these things happen at all is disheartening to me. But I’ve become pretty accepting of (though not complacent in) the fact that there’s a lot of fucked-up stuff going on in this great country of ours (and the world at large).

What gets to me, though, is what goes on in the ‘comments’ sections whenever anyone reports or blogs about these things. Even knowing that blog commenters aren’t necessarily representative of the majority opinion (though I have no proof that they aren’t), I find it truly disturbing how many people are totally removed from the fact that this kind of behavior is offensive. And hurtful. And harmful. Here are some quotes from discussion of Riverdale’s party on Tate Hill’s blog, Urban Knowledge

“Who is hurt from what happened???? Nobody was hurt or offended unless they chose to be. Stop venting these vendettas against people of a different race. It has already been said, it’s not offensive for the roles to be reversed. Get over what happened. People do skits and depictions of bad things that have happened in history. There have been plays about the holocaust, no one would be offended. If anything, it would raise awareness of what happened, to act as a reminder. There are things that happen every day that could be “offensive” some just choose to not wear feelings on their sleeves. This is not Michael Richards screaming the “N” word in a crowded theatre. To my knowledge there is no accusation of inappropriate words or actions other than their faces painted black.

And….hasn’t this church already issued a statement saying that they are sorry if they offended ANYONE. That is a very blanket apology. Raise your hand if you want them to come visit your house and kiss your feet. Perhaps that would make you feel better.

By Anonymous, at 5:28 PM

One thing makes me really suspicious of these comments, though, is the fact that essentially, they’re all the same. Or rather, they’re mostly the same. There are about 7-10 variations on a theme going. Personally, I read that as people who are uncomfortable confronting their won discomfort falling back on slogans and ideas they’ve picked up over the years to justify or hide their prejudices, which they don’t know how to come to terms with. That example that actually features several of the variations, including

  • ‘They chose to be offended,’
  • ‘Get over it,’ (i.e. ‘This is uncomfortable, please stop talking about it’),
  • ‘The “Role Reversal Theory” (i.e. ‘Why aren’t white people entitled to do the same things minorities do in exactly the same ways?’),
  • and the very popular “Nobody said ‘n——‘… what’s the problem?”

This quote was also noteworthy, and segues well into my next point:

 

“I am so confused, I thought racism was saying or at least acting like you hate someone or something. I am missing the racism in what these people did. They depicted a time in the past and how it was reconciled. HOW WAS THAT RACIST????? Is there anyone on this blog that was a slave???? I don’t think so. You’re blaming these people for something that happened…what!??? not to you???Amazing. Taking on someone else’s burden, how…how.. Christian of you. While you’re at it, go for blood.

By Anonymous, at 5:08 PM

I had a friend in high school whose mother claimed that she herself couldn’t be a racist because she did not spit on black people. Which brings me to my next point – and back to the discussion of definitions and semantics: in these blog conversations about racism, it is clear that there are a few distinctly different ways of defining racism, and 2 particular ways emerge:

1) Racism is intentional acts of hate and discrimination. Racism is evil, and racist people are bad. People espousing this idea seem to believe that they must approve their own personal participation in racist behavior, and therefore if you didn’t try to or mean to hurt anyone, then you haven’t done anything racist. Conversely, racism is context-specific, so if it is not directed at you, then it does not affect you. This idea centers on intentionality, and fits nicely with the general American ideal of autonomy and the notion that the only person who can tell you who you are is YOU.

2) Racism is a system of oppression backed by institutional power. People behind this idea have generally heard it described in this specific way through some academic or social justice-based encounter. In this context, racism is described as a harmful social structure that must be ‘deconstructed.’ In this view, people of color cannot be considered racist, as their prejudices are not backed by institutional power. This definition often leaves people in the Notion 1 group baffled and alienated, thinking Notion 2 espousers to be irrational and unfair, as it seems to place all responsibility for racism squarely at the feet of white people and goes against the commonly held (and seemingly more comfortable) belief that “everyone’s a little racist,” as racism is seen more as emotive than socially constructed. Also, Notion 2 resembles the dictionary’s definition less than Notion 1, rendering it useless for many.

And of course there are gradations in-between. But these are the principle views that come out from what I’ve read. And I think this misunderstanding is a large part of the breakdown of conversations about racism and race relations – how meaning can make or break a conversation: is racism individual, intentional and context specific, or is it systemic and unavoidable – something you must try NOT to be a part of? These are dramatically different ideas, and if people are going to attempt to engage in any kind of dialog on racism, let alone work to stop, then the differences in their ideas about racism must be addressed and to some degree resolved. Otherwise, where one sees a problem, the other does not.

My opinion is that we’ve really got to stop raising children to believe that racism is evil, and that people who do racist things are necessarily bad people. Children who grow up thinking that only bad people participate in racism will become adults who are unable to recognize their own prejudices (that they are bound to have at some point) without having a crippling identity crisis that stops their potential for anti-racist development dead in it’s tracks. And they won’t be able to recognize racism in others constructively, without judgment and blaming, effectively closing the ears of the accused to any potential lesson. This happens again and again. And it’s more than unproductive – it is counterproductive. It is harmful. This system of meaning perpetuates a cycle of silence and misunderstanding.

In addition to paying particular attention to our meanings, we also need to examine our goals in conversations about racism and other forms of oppression. Why are we engaged in dialog? What outcome do we want? Is it to address problematic behaviors? Or is it to out someone as “a racist”? Are we making the effort to clarify someone’s position, or perhaps just reassert our own? Will we shame others into silence, or listen, and perhaps see their hearts revealed?

This might be a good time to bring up Shirey Q. Liquor. When I initially heard of this character (a white man portraying a black “welfare mother” in blackface) I was incensed and horrified. The more I read about it, the more convinced I was that this performer was on some serious bullshit. Than I brought it up with my husband, who is my biggest devil’s advocate. He got me to pay attention to the information I was reading, and then eventually watch some of the performances (thanks, YouTube), to develop a truly informed opinion.

Now I am certain that Shirley Q. Liquor is disrespectful, ill-informed, harmful, and extremely problematic. But because I listened to my husband and watched the performances, I know why I feel that way. Before it was based on a purely visceral reaction and I dismissed the act out of hand. Now I can articulate that the contrived “ebonics” accent and blackface makeup create a farce that does not reference itself, only the behavior it mimics. I can say that this performer might have created a character that creates empathy for single, black mothers in poverty if he had treated the character with more genuine respect, instead of mocking vulnerable women and their families for the sake of making money and garnering public attention.

Now I can see that initially, I wanted to assert my opinion about this performance without seeing it firsthand, and I wanted anyone I spoke with to assume that because it was me saying it, that my critically uninformed opinion would be enough.

My point is, that not only do we have to clarify and articulate our own meanings, but we also have to find out where other people are coming from, and make sure they are saying what we think they are saying. In fact, the act of listening will help us explain our own thoughts more clearly and relevantly.

The universe gives me so much to write about – I’ll try not to get overwhelmed and post again soon.

About these ads

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

Comments

  1. “In addition to paying particular attention to our meanings, we also need to examine our goals in conversations about racism and other forms of oppression. Why are we engaged in dialog? What outcome do we want? Is it to address problematic behaviors? Or is it to out someone as “a racist”? Are we making the effort to clarify someone’s position, or perhaps just reassert our own? Will we shame others into silence, or listen, and perhaps see their hearts revealed?”

    I am glad to know that you raise these questions. How are dialogs about racism possible if we haven’t already been taught what is being said and if we do not have some basic assumption and prejudices about what is being said? What creates space for effective communication?… I am always concerned about how dialogs on racism ends up revealing themselves in spaces of silence and turn into something else that is beyond the discussion on practices of racism. How are we to open up discussions on racism if the political setting of racism is based on extreme form of binary oppositions? Since the construction of racist discourses are based on projected divide among supposedly distinct ethnic groups, how are we to alter our ways of approaching racism if our perceptions of those participating in these discussions are already based on the overt practices of (direct and indirect) racism? How can we approach spaces of tensions within dialogs of racism if we are so ready to directly point the finger at the perpetrators without allowing them to come to term with the racists practices that are being embodied?

    My “feelings”(in general since these standpoints are unclear to me, I do not make the distinction between objective and subjective standpoints, or other distinction that are based on mind-body dualism) about the relationship between dialogs of racism and spaces of silence, is that those moments and spaces of silence seems to hint at contradictory impressions about ethnic relations that can be easily denied through the control of language. Yet, how are we to make these visible contradictions surface up given that racism is not something that we can be exempted from despite our serious engagement with anti-racist practices?

    “My opinion is that we’ve really got to stop raising children to believe that racism is evil, and that people who do racist things are necessarily bad people. Children who grow up thinking that only bad people participate in racism will become adults who are unable to recognize their own prejudices (that they are bound to have at some point) without having a crippling identity crisis that stops their potential for anti-racist development dead in it’s tracks. And they won’t be able to recognize racism in others constructively, without judgment and blaming, effectively closing the ears of the accused to any potential lesson. This happens again and again. And it’s more than unproductive – it is counterproductive. It is harmful. This system of meaning perpetuates a cycle of silence and misunderstanding.”

    First, most topic on education tends to remind me of, Paulo Freire’s the pedagogy of the oppressed. His approach to power relationships are very similar to that of Foucault. Yet, Paulo Freire is very concerned about how education can mis-educate. Within the tradition of American pragmatism, John Dewey writes about mis-education. And since Cornell West is concerned about how democracy matters, I am sure you could find some references on Cornell West’s views on education.

    Sometimes, I ask myself, what if the “cycle of silence and misunderstanding” was intentional? Can silence speak? Is the issue about “active” racism or is the issue about “passive” racism?

    Sherry Marx, an assistant professor in the Department of Secondary Education at Utah University, wrote a book title, Revealing the invisible.

    Her book examines and confronts passive and unconscious racism in the classroom. She talks about confronting racism in teacher education.

    However, my teaching experience as well as my field of research allows me to deny any relationship between the unconscious and racism.

    Since I view racism as a political rhetoric, I doubt the possibility of the “political unconscious. “Our political unconscious,” is implicitly about the political state of affairs that we prefer not to deal with (a specific research focus of mine). I personally call for us to question our “pre-reflective consciousness.” It is Sartre’s term in “Being and Nothingness” and it is further explored by Fanon’s critique of Freud’s conception of the unconscious (By the way, Fanon was the first one to question the limits of psychoanalysis on black bodies). Although not as well as he should, Robert Gooding-Williams discusses this in “Look, A Negro.” So my question again, sometimes I ask myself, what if the “cycle of silence and misunderstanding” was intentional? In short, I doubt that we can pretend to not be aware of something if they leave traces around. If racism is about affirming prejudices that are based on ethnic differences, then anti-racism ends up being about not not denying racism (the double negative is intentional).

    In most event, I prefer to avoid analysis that are based on psycho-analysis. I have observed that psycho-analysis, especially if it is applied to ethnic minorities tends to easily lead into the realization of typified-selves. I do not why I always have to repeat that “our collective experiences of racism” cannot sufficiently account for our specific existence as persons living within specific geo-political spaces. If discourses on race were founded on binary oppositions, I doubt that White and Black would be both granted a conception of the Self. By default “blackness” is supposedly about “non-Self.”

    Anti-racism dialogs ultimately amounts to resisting prejudices. I find myself having a greater problem with how specific persons behave more than with what these specific persons are saying? What if specific persons preferred to interpret a dialog on racism to their advantage? Personally, I do believe that the relationship between mis-understanding and understanding are related to one another.

    Another person that I find really helpful is Kristen Myers.

    Here is the reference:
    Myers Kristen , Racetalk (New York: Rowman & Littlefield publishers, Inc, 2005)

    Thank you again for the engaging conversation.

    PS: I have to admit that personally, I find it socially impolite to just drop academic names and references in conversations. In most cases, I find that academic names dropping kind of shuts down effective and responsible conversations on racism. There are many ways of being engaged in conversations on racism besides validating ourselves with our credentials. Moreover, I cannot assume that you do not know about these references already (this is the reason why I do not name drop academic references). What would that mean? So, please let me know if you do mind.

    To me conversation on racism are about attempts to break-away from prejudices on the daily basis and learn how to realistically live with them (unfortunately, I do not make the distinction between practice and ideas). Yet, it can be such a challenge to achieve such a place since our perception is design so that we end up inevitably seeing what we already believe.

    Finally, I hope that I am not mis-understanding your post.

    | Reply Posted 7 years, 4 months ago
  2. * 40weeks says:

    years ago, when I attended a lecture by bell hooks, she was kind of throwing around the term “enlightened” in reference to how one could be about racism and sexism: in her talk, she referred to “enlightened” men and “unenlightened” white people. Someone in the audience challenged her on her use of this term: how could she make this sort of pronouncement about the state of someone’s consciousness? Wasn’t that presumptuous of her? hooks admitted that the term “enlightenment” was shorthand and may sound flip, but she did not back down: it was shorthand, she said, for “one who has done one’s homework” on the particular “ism” that is under discussion. And, hooks added, someone who has done one’s homework can always recognize someone who has not. So no, she said, it wasn’t presumptuous of her to refer to someone who has not done their homework as “unenlightened,” it was merely stating what she observed.

    In checking in with myself about my own internalized racism, sexism, anti-Semitism and homophobia, I find it useful to think in terms of “doing my homework.” It doesn’t threaten my ego (should said ego rear up her head and try to demand extra attention), and it doesn’t assign guilt. It also hooks right into my ingrained Judeo-Protestant work ethic–it’s like I’m a character from the Matrix and “doing my homework” is the secret code that opens the channels in my brain-catheter thingy that pokes out of the back of my neck. (sorry for the nerd tangent). Anyway I just wanted to say that your post got my engine cranking again, scrutinizing some of my internal monologues that reflect a racist culture and a hetero-normative media. So thank you for that–it’s coming at a good time for me in my particular circumstances.
    –Mariya

    | Reply Posted 7 years, 3 months ago
  3. * Anon says:

    Have you seen this?

    “A company that provides translation services and cultural sensitivity training to other organizations is being accused of sex discrimination and racial insensitivity in its own ranks.”

    “To bolster her discrimination complaint with the state, Kelly included photos allegedly showing the company’s top two human resources executives dressed up for the 2005 corporate Halloween party as a black pimp and a white prostitute. The “pimp,” a white woman wearing blackface and sporting a fake gold tooth, won the prize for best costume, the complaint said.”

    http://ads.businessweek.com/ap/financialnews/D8PMRCTO0.htm

    | Reply Posted 7 years, 3 months ago


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

%d bloggers like this: