Assumptions, Biases & Irrational Fantasies

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Speaking Up/Speaking for?

What am I doing up here, anyway?

I have to start by sincerely thanking commenter Leslie for causing me to reflect on these issues. Seriously. The last time I thanked her, I was being a smartass, but I actually mean it this time. It’s like fighting with my husband – he pisses me off, but he also makes me think things through more than I would’ve. I appreciate that.

I took this anti-bias work on knowing that I’d feel like I was banging my head against a wall a lot of the time. And honestly, I have to work very hard not to start basking in feelings of superiority regarding people who rail against my opinions and observations. I admit, I feel so confident that they don’t get it. They are so typical, so ignorant, so clueless and I’m so much more “with it.” It’s a kind of schadenfreude – feeling stronger in the face of another’s shortcomings.

Feeling superior helps nothing, advances nothing that I claim to be fighting for. It is a waste of my time, and there is more productive energy for me to harness elsewhere. It’s hard, though. Reading the angry comments on my blog, I think of dozens of snarky responses, little digs that I can use to insult, tease or frustrate the commenter. It takes an enormous effort not to say just one little thing in response – maturity is an ongoing process, I guess. I suppose I do this out of frustration, because I feel so powerless in the face of the multitudes of people who don’t think that prejudice is a huge problem, who attack the victims of oppression, and who accuse me and others of “playing the race card.” (Oh GOD that makes me mad!) But I have to remember how much I’ve learned in the past year, and how learning has changed my opinions. I would appreciate forgiveness or understanding for the prejudicial, stereotype-based, generally ignorant things I’ve certainly said and done (some more recent than others). So my challenge is to be gracious, and extend that forgiveness and understanding to others. My compromise is to address some issues that this discourse has brought up.

If you defend someone else’s humanity, is that the same as speaking for them? In standing up for those whose story you do not share, do you take something away from them?

I guess I have to start by saying I have a problem with the concept of “Every man for himself.” The idea that we must stand alone and “fight our own battles” is glorified in our stories (including what we refer to as “history”). We live in a highly individualist society. We’re taught that if we do for ourselves and make our own way, then we have succeeded. We have grown up. We have made it. On our own, we’ve truly made it.

By that logic, it would make sense that African Americans should not take a stand against injustice against other groups. After all, we’ve got enough of our own problems, right? We’ve got plenty to worry about without taking on other people’s issues, right?

But are the issues we refer to as “our own problems” really solely ours? Police brutality, job discrimination based on skin color or cultural affiliation and disregard, ridicule and misunderstanding in the educational system happen to all oppressed people, not just African Americans. These are everyone’s problems.

Racial justice is more than a black-white issue. It’s multifaceted, involving not only multiple races, but also power dynamics, which are informed by class, gender, ability and the shifting circumstances of bias and inclusion. To that reasoning, I cannot claim to agree that it’s a good idea to stand alone and fight “your own battles.” To some this may brand me as a baby or a coward, fearful and powerless. Such branding, is a very clever trick. It tricks us into doing the work of keeping ourselves and each other down, snatching crumbs from each other, instead of looking for the loaf, as it were.

If we stand alone, ruggedly individual, accepting no assistance, how many of us will actually succeed? A few. Precious few. And those few success stories often learn on their way up that they should guard what they’ve got, because goddammit, they’ve earned it, and no one else deserves it.

I think if we stand together, help each other and approach problems with each other in mind, we may go more slowly and we may not get to the same place if we’d been traveling alone. But I think more of us will have more success (instead of a small few of us having moderate-to-lots of success), and we’ll enjoy it more. Imagine if all of the people who suffered from police brutality stood together, in solidarity, and attacked the system that supports that kind of abusive behavior. Imagine what would happened if individuals stopped attacking individuals, and networks of people started attacking systems of oppression.

Which brings me to this point: If I see racial injustice being perpetrated against someone who does not share my ethnicity, culture, religion, skin color, etc., I’m going to do my best to say something against that behavior. Not because I think that others are incapable of speaking for themselves, or that I know something that the target group doesn’t know.

I just think that injustice for anyone is injustice for everyone. If something is wrong, it’s wrong whether it happens to me, my sister, my neighbor or my enemy. I can only speak for myself, and I personally find injustice worth speaking against in any situation. I think that if you justify silently watching (or participating in) others be mocked, abused, disregarded, etc. simply because it’s not happening to you, that is fear in action. Cowardice if you will. I’m trying to be stronger, to defeat the cowardice that lives in me that would stand by and say “Sorry, not my problem.”

I know my little blog is a drop in the bucket of millions of voices. As far as I know, I have more success sorting out my own mind than changing anyone else’s. This blog is a record of my personal process, and the work that I do to be a less-biased, more justice-centered human being. It is flawed and imperfect. I am doing this publicly, because my hope is that someone can look at my process, with its flaws and problems and occasional successes and possibly feel better about taking some step toward decreasing the injustice in the world, no matter how small and imperfect.




4 results for racism, Part 2 (Finally!)


rac·ism [rey-siz-uhm]

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 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

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


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.

Anti-Bias Work…

I’ve got some really important, hard work to do that involves looking closely at my own biases and how they affect my interactions with other people. This blog is to document/chronicle some of my ideas and reactions.

The purpose of anti-bias curricula is to provide a structure to educate people to examine their feelings and treat each other compassionately and humanely, to minimize oppressive and discriminatory behaviors and to generally promote acceptance. This is hard to do, mostly because it requires a lot of looking at one’s self. It requires admitting to our own shortcomings. It means hanging out and smelling our own ugly, shameful shit to see why it stinks so bad, instead of immediately flushing it down the metaphorical toilet of social relations.

In spite of the public nature of this forum, the purpose of this blog is not to ask forgiveness for my prejudices. It’s a way for me to own them, observe them and work on them.

For more on anti-bias curricula, you can start by investigating these (I’ll provide links later – until then, a Google search should be sufficient):

Anti-bias curriculum/education
Louise Derman-Sparks
Teaching Tolerance
‘Words Can Hurt You’ by Barbara J. Thomson
‘Confronting Our Discomfort’ by Tamar Jacobson