Assumptions, Biases & Irrational Fantasies



4 Results For: Racism

 

I’ve been reading a particular conversation online about racism and ‘reverse racism’ and the denial of white privilege. It’s got me thinking about the definitions of words and how the general populace has no working definition, no reasonable common vernacular with which to discuss systems of oppression. So when we start arguing, we’re not really ever arguing about the same things.

Of course, now that I think of it, this is true with most systems of meaning. We skim the surface with each other, taking connotations for granted and not examining the roots of the language we use, sharing little in regard to the subtleties and deeper meanings of the words and phrases we toss around.

 

I try to be precise in my use of language – often failing, but usually trying. I get lazy like everyone, I fall back on “You know what I mean.” You know what I mean. You know what I mean? I pause and wonder ‘Will they get what I’m trying to say?’ and ideally I’ll slow down, clarify, ask questions. Less-than-ideally, I’ll plow forward, hoping that they’ll figure it out.

 

Feminism and racism are explosive kinds of words. Loaded. These words are rarely able to sneak into a conversation, especially when converted into their related noun and adjective forms: eyebrows raise, blood pressure begins to rise, and the way is laid for explanations, arguments, defenses, accusations, denials, subject changes and uncomfortable silences. I wonder, though, how often do we use these words (and others like them) and really try to make sure our partners in conversation know what me mean. You cannot be responsible for another person’s understanding, but you can at least work hard to be clear about what you mean. For example, when I refer to feminism, I seldom say “…meaning the struggle against sexist oppression.” Such a description might be helpful toward keeping the conversation going, as many people begin to search for a way out of a conversation where the concept of feminism is introduced, because for them it signifies irrational, angry women on a mad rampage (among other things).

 

I should probably be explaining myself better. I should be asking more questions, like “What do you know about feminism?” or “What does ‘feminism’ mean to you?”

 

I should probably be talking less in general. I am one of those people who can talk themselves into a downward-spiraling vortex if I don’t watch myself.

 

So, anyway, I’ve been reading this heated blog conversation about racism and as usual, the participants and commenters each appear to have a different understanding of what the word ‘racism’ means, and what the difference is between racism and prejudice. In regard to ‘reverse racism’ participant, a highly intellegent and reflective woman named Kali made this point:

 

“The bottom line is that your argument about “reverse racism” is unsupportable. It’s been ably refuted in the literature on race relations by everyone from Omi & Winant, to Patricia Williams, to bell hooks, to Derrick Bell, to Beverley Daniels — historians, legal scholars, humanities scholars and psychologists. No one with any credibility in the field of race relations believes in it. It’s the racial equivalent of men crying out they’re being oppressed by “feminazis.” As a diversity trainer, you should know better than to repeat that sort of nonsense.”

 

In response to that, someone made this valid point:

 

“And surely you are not saying that simply because past and present “historians, legal scholars, humanities scholars and psychologists” have refuted what DG said, that we should all just say, ‘Hey, everything that can be said about this has been said…no need to talk any further on the subject…dead topic…’ “

 

So, who gets to define what these words mean – in this case, ‘racism’? Obviously there are dictionary definitions. But American english as we speak it has its own forms of oppressiveness, and any dictionary that defines racism will more than likely be doing so through the cloudy lens of racism. American Heritage actually has a Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, which I was hopeful about, until I read within their definition of racism that

“…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.”

The problem here is that this definition suggests that the civil rights movement emliminated the institutionalization of white domination over black people. This is inaccurate. Dictionaries are viewed as documents of high authority, often deemed as the height of accuracy. So when the dictionary tells people that white domination is no longer institutionalized due to the civil rights movement, what does that mean? It means it is a source that we cannot trust to define these terms.

As Kali referenced, there are many great minds who have put forth functional definitions of terms in the lexicon of race relations, but while those are valid and useful for some of us, how do we convince others that such definitions could be valid and useful for them, too? Can we have a conversation using common terms? Is it even possible?

There is much more to be said, but we’ve got places to go and I’ve kept my child waiting long enough. To be continued…

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  1. First, I enjoy reading your post.
    I. Trying to respond? The usage of “common terms” fall within prejudiced practices:
    “As Kali referenced, there are many great minds who have put forth functional definitions of terms in the lexicon of race relations, but while those are valid and useful for some of us, how do we convince others that such definitions could be valid and useful for them, too? Can we have a conversation using common terms? Is it even possible?”
    The obvious answer is no. However, I am not really sure if the issue is about being able to use “common terms” as much as it is about how well it is possible for us to interpret “common terms” in relationship to the context these terms surface up in ordinary conversations and in conversations in general (In my personal experience, the conversations that I choose to engage myself in, do become racialized and feminized not only in times when racialized and feminized “common terms” are used either by the other speakers in a given conversation or by me, but also because I am a female and an ethnic minority engaged in the given conversation. Of course, it can also be said that a conversation about racialized and feminized “common terms” can occur between persons without the use of verbal language).
    Based on what you write on this blog post and based on my interpretation of your blog post, I have the feeling that you are trying to claim that effective conversation may not be possible if the usage of “common terms” is based on prejudices (my assumption is that racism is a type of prejudice. So I assume that sexism is a type of prejudice and rather not a type of racism). If the interpretation of “common terms” is based on prejudices then either these “common terms” are not well defined or it is the case that effective conversations and conversation that are well argued for are just not possible. Of course, it could as well be none of the above.
    If what I said about your post reflects in-part your concerns, then I depressively have these concerns as well.
    If I may make another set of generalization, I have the feeling that a problem might be that the perception, presentation and representation of “common terms” is that they are assumed to be “definite and define,” whereas the interpretation and the understanding of “common terms” is that they are assumed to have “indefinite” meanings. Yet, I doubt that we can even realistically speak of concepts (normalized as “common terms”) stripped off of their constructed meanings?
    To me, the issue is not just an issue of language but it is also an issue of lack of sensible and of sensitive cultural imagination as well. Unfortunately, precisely because I am subjected to many crazy projections on the daily basis, I refuse to believe that the control and the realization of language are mutually exclusive from sense perception and our other senses.
    II. Just Venting: Are you talking about, for the lack of better words, the perpetual habits of “divide and conquer”?
    “I’ve been reading a particular conversation online about racism and ‘reverse racism’ and the denial of white privilege. It’s got me thinking about the definitions of words and how the general populace has no working definition, no reasonable common vernacular with which to discuss systems of oppression. So when we start arguing, we’re not really ever arguing about the same things.”
    Seriously, there are times when I just do not know what to do and yet I am not quite ready to give up. Are we talking about the same thing through different usage of “common terms”? Are we talking about the different things through a limited set of words? Are “common terms” deferring us to speak about our primary motives? Are “common terms” about our secondary motives, and thus completely irrelevant to what matters? How do we relate to our “common terms”? How do you relate to “common terms”? How do I relate to “common terms”? What is the relationship with all of this? When do “common terms” become contradictory? Or is it none of the above?
    Here is a blog post I wrote out of frustration, in search of metaphors and in hope that one among my many nuanced views on racist-sexist practices may be understood the way I interpret it? I am doing this simply because I feel that I am trying to give a possible textured answer that these thoughts and some of these practices of socialization deserve. Of course, my views are changing on the daily basis.

    The Guerila War Against Non-Whites: a Grass-roOt HiStoriCal reCcOrd

    | Reply Posted 10 years, 6 months ago
  2. * Anu says:

    I love your blog!

    | Reply Posted 10 years, 6 months ago
  3. Atena,

    I hope that you will end interpreting that my personal blog posts is neither an act of scapegoating or community empowerment. It is just one of my many ways to understand the numerous layers that are built in racist “race conversations.” As a half-American citizen, it is my way of reflecting on how I acted or on how I will act.

    My use of the Thomas Piece’s theory in relationship to the irrational and racist cases that most members on campus face, is my personal (implicit) way of understanding how Freud’s cousin theory on war propaganda and on advertisement, influences racists practices on the public media. And it also my way of understanding how racist conversations take place. But, you should know I do not find any piece of my blog funny. All events happened. However, as it is for most cases on racism, how the case is being interpreted and being listened to is what matters? I hope that I am not making a generalization but, blacks are guilty until proven not guilty…and then they will still be self-projected as being guilty.

    And the main focus of my personal blog, is how to communicate racism? I believe this the point that attracted me to your post.

    By the way, the note above, “I love your blog!” is very unclear. I cannot tell if the comment was directed at my personal blog or was the comment directed at your blog? And whenever I find a comment unclear, I tend to make sure to find the time to bring it up. In general, I do not respond to these comments because I am concerned about the amount of excessive attention minorities seems to receive for no particular reason.

    Atena, I do believe that conversations are also based on timing. So here is the rest of my personal actions on one of the numerous cases of racism on the campus I am moving out of to a better academic department.

    “(note to myself (the second one)): I was reading this blog, “MultiCultClassics”. I noticed something in that blog that made me re-think about this case. Yes, in effect, this is a case of HATE CRIME. I assumed it was a hate crime case… yet, I should have said this explicitly. I should have said this directly and at first hand. But, I have to admit that this case has been making me think more about the contradictions regarding the prejudices that minorities “physically” face within activist-practices. (To me, HATE CRIME is a word that tend to create blow backs.
    However, there other ways of implying that a HATE CRIME is taking place without the word. Case in point, black men are the ones who are most likely to stopped on by the campus police despite the fact that most black male prof. have a PhD.) Our objective, plain and simple, we want the female student to finish her educations.

    …I am always concerned with the amount of undesirable attention that minorities seem to receive, within unwanted context, for no particular reason other than their physical features and then get completely mis-interpreted and mis-read because that. If I am making a generalization, then at least this happens to the student who is concern of this monologue, to the minority individuals that I know of and to me as well. Most of my black girlfriends and working partners do experience these undesirable attentions. That is why we participate in our local politics.

    However, one thing that I noticed either from my teaching experiences on my campus, from volunteer teaching experiences and free math tutoring to any black students who asks me in my town, is that the targets of hate crimes are given public attention which to my knowledge tends to backfire. For one thing, these students start acting out and get into the kind of trouble they have never image doing on their own. There is not a day that passes by and minorities are not discriminated against. But, when an (educational) institution wants to make example out of one single minority for no unjustified reason other than the usual prejudices, then the ball game changes.

    This particular student is a third year in the humanities. I have had multiple conversations with her. She seems to be very together and on the mellow side. However, ever since this case has started, she has been sounding very distracted (Again there is controllable distraction and there is un-controllable distraction).

    All in all, I hope that she is going to find the concentration to finish her studies next academic year. I know too many stories of individuals who quit college a semester right before they were due to graduate… (I am an academic… one of my objective objective is that I want all minorities students to graduate with a degree.) I wish that I were able to change my mind and post the link to the articles and petitions about this case and yet, I am always concerned with the trouble I find with un-desirable attentions. If she was the only one at the protest who was targeted for protesting non-violently, then to me, that kind of attention is ill-faithed. (Since I was there at the protest with other older minority women, this female student is still young, and she is in denial of the kind of social constraint that are imposed on her body. It would explain why she end up being the only one that was arrested. Nevertheless, we were on her side.) Personally, I have no interest whatsoever in activities, habits, gaze and social relations that are based on ill-faithed intentions. My question then is, if hate crimes do happen on a regular basis, how are we to construct our lives given that it is something that we cannot deny? Campus university’s law are not minorities sides. And trust some of us are fighting like “dorks” to change that. Did you know about a black male student who got zapped by the campus police at UCLA? I can go on and on… Would it be best if this student graduated with a BA and then moved on to participate within local activist movements? Finally, she also has the agency to decide what she wants. She wants her privacy and continue her education.

    My objective, I hope that she continues to voice her concerns regarding the racist-sexist prejudices wherever the context as well as I want her to find the balance to also focus on her studies. But, I hope that she will get back in shape pretty soon. I just hope that her friends do not use her as a “protest-mascot” while they make sure to keep for themselves the balance that is required to earn a Bachelor degree and achieve more personally significant oriented goals. Do I seem to root more for “individual” justice than for “group ” justice?, or maybe should I think of these supposedly separated goal as being tangled up? Yet, those goals are tangled up in complicated “unspoken?” ways. When individuals are given a hand, they will eventually extend the offer… This is common sense to me.

    Anyhow, thank you for your MultiCultClassics monologues’ post.”

    I am a person who is not the best small talker. However, when it comes to standing up for someone, I am there and I do not know why it should be regarded as me taking any credit. Atena, I assumed you do activist work, so I assumed you might have some back assumption about what is happening in those kinds of context. I was writing on my personal blog. But, it is only later that I realized the kind of attention my personal (space) was attracting. When it comes to racism, I think it is just foolish for any of us to even dream that they might be receiving any credit. Personally, James Baldwin knew about this more than anybody else. And he was never silent about racism.

    I prefer to never have to deal with racism, yet I cannot not have to. This particular black student is part of my community.

    Then my question, why is the presentation of a “black self” (I have to think about my word choice on this one, so please use it as a place holder, “black self”…For one thing, to what extend do we want to racialize self-hood?) is automatically regarded as a staged joke, as a piece of pop-culture and therefore looked at as not being valid? I have the feeling that I receiving a contradictory message. Yeah, I do remember, when Kayne West spoke about New Orleans and I am not supporting Jay-Z for boycotting Cristal bubbly.

    Did my reference to “James Baldwin” made me a funny looking black woman? Are my “dorky experiences” not real enough? Is it funny to say that I have been “booby trapped?” What is funny about the word, “booby trapped?” I hope will be allowed to have something left to keep as my private space. Or do I have to list all of my local community achievements in order to be granted a personal space?

    Atena thanks for making me talk in my private life. I am only reflectively vocal on campus… I have to in order to breathe. When it comes to communication I prefer to be direct or remain silent. What would be the objective to be engaged in political zigzag?

    | Reply Posted 10 years, 6 months ago
  4. * mamablossom says:

    To Anu: Thanks – I appreciate it!

    To AnonymousA: Thanks very much for your thoughtful responses to my writing. Forgive me for not immediately responding – I have been busy with school and family and life in general.

    A quick note: I would prefer – for ease in reading – that instead of re-posting entire blog content here, that you provide a link to your blog instead. I will do that for your initial response (don’t worry, I won’t alter any content, just link it to make reading easier).

    You have shared many interesting ideas – I’m afraid I won’t be able to respond point-by-point right now. I will have more to share about your thoughts later, but in the meantime I want to say thanks for participating and offering your ideas.

    Atena

    | Reply Posted 10 years, 5 months ago


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