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Thoughts on Racism and RaceFail 09 - Synchronicity swirls and other foolishness

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March 5th, 2009


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08:03 pm - Thoughts on Racism and RaceFail 09
For those of you who haven't been following the SF fandom race debate/debacle, popularly known as racefail 09, here's an excellent summary.

I rarely talk about racism, because I largely have no place doing so. I grew up in an exceptionally racist and segregated part of the US (the suburbs of Northern Virginia), and most of the time since, I've either lived in regions that were equally segregated and racist (Los Angeles) or astoundingly white (Madison WI & Portland OR), the only exception was the 7 years that I lived in St. Louis MO, where I went to an exceptionally white university, but lived in a very racially mixed lower middle class neighborhood, and learned a little bit about my own racism (notes on how I define both terms racism and bigotry). In any case, it's worth noting that everything I say applies specifically to white people in the US. I am not remotely competent to comment of race relations anywhere else in the world, just as I do not know enough to speak about racism among non-white people in the US.

However, I have recently observed some impressively egregious commentary on racism. My first reaction is to urge everyone with any remote interest in this to read this excellent post on white (or other dominant culture) reactions to racism and the misplaced sympathy that can often result.

Beyond this, I have also recently seen far too many utterly indefensible reactions to accusations of racism – The first, and most common is white people getting upset at being called racist and hiding behind their emotional reaction to having their racist behavior pointed out to them. In addition to the obvious confusion about the difference between being a bigot (who are thankfully not all that common, even in the US) and regularly engaging in racist behavior (which is true of pretty much all white people in the US), feeling attacked because someone points out racist behavior does not in any way justify racist behavior, nor does it justify attacking the person because they were mean to you (assuming that the person merely pointed out racist behavior and why they objected to it, but did not engage in various sorts of personal attacks.

Also, while it's perfectly reasonable to defend yourself against accusations of racism that you consider to be unjust, I've recently seen an impressive lame array of excuses that are in now way defenses against some comment or behavior being racist, including:

"But I didn't mean it to be racist" or (far more lamely) "but I can't be saying anything racist, I have lots of black friends &/or I and my family have done lots of civil rights work" – once again, the distinction I made between bigotry and racism is important. Racism is often unintentional, bigotry is (as I definite it) deliberate and conscious racism. Even someone who is not a bigot is perfectly capable of racism. Just because you didn't mean to hit someone with a car doesn't mean you shouldn't have be driving more carefully.

The other defense I've recently seen used as a defense against both racism and homophobia is: "but the people I know who belong to X minority group didn't think that X was offensive". The problem is that no one person or even one organization speaks for all members of a particular minority population, and while such an occurrence can be a perfectly honest mistake, the obvious response to someone else finding something offensive is an apology not telling them that X isn't offensive because for some reason the opinions of some members of a particular minority matter more than their opinion. Too many people belonging to the dominant group in the mainstream US (be that white, straight, or whatever) seem to assume that there is some singular minority opinion for any minority group and is thought and discourse treat most or all members of these groups as some singular (and often potentially threatening) "they". None of this is particular difficult, complex, or even remotely non-obvious, but I've seen a remarkable amount of all of this of late, even among people who seem to be well-meaning progressives. It's enough to make me want to start playing racism bingo (click this link, it's wonderful) on my n810.
Current Mood: thoughtfulthoughtful

(15 comments | Leave a comment)

Comments:


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From:kitten_goddess
Date:March 6th, 2009 04:43 am (UTC)

on a tangent

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Actually, bigotry is quite common in the US. I could be easily considered a bigot. I have mouthed off about evangelical Christians often enough on LJ, and so have most people I know.

Wouldn't that be considered bigotry, if you want to get technical?
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From:kitten_goddess
Date:March 6th, 2009 04:49 am (UTC)

Re: on a tangent

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NOTE: I am not disputing what you are saying on race. I have no clue on this issue, so I'm keeping quiet about it. I'm disagreeing with your assertion that bigotry in all forms is rare in the US.
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From:heron61
Date:March 6th, 2009 11:29 am (UTC)
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I have absolutely no clue, but it seems well beyond the ability of far too many people.
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From:heavenscalyx
Date:March 6th, 2009 02:15 pm (UTC)
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To give the initiating author credit, she did attempt to say that. But her (white) buddies all piled on to Defend! her from these Outrageous! accusations, and I think she and a bunch of her fans got caught up in the mob mentality, and it just went mad from there. The whole thing has reached the proportions of a riot, with several inciters to to riot (and even, one might suggest without too much hyperbole, to symbolic lynchings) who don't know when to pull their heads out of their asses and just stop.
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From:cusm
Date:March 6th, 2009 07:13 pm (UTC)
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Its a terrible catch 22. There are distinctly different cultures in America and they are rooted in race. Humans naturally stereotype as a part of the cognitive process of abstraction, and so develop observations that might be based on culture but being that the culture is rooted in race the observations become racist. While bigotry may be seen as applying racist observations negatively, any racist observation is seen as offensive in todays sensitive environment due to a long history of bigotry. So one can not help but see it due to the natural process of cognitive abstraction, but one is not allowed to speak of it because racism itself, regardless of intention, is taboo. I can see where the frustration grows in this, as one is required by social standard to override their natural inclination to identify patterns in favor of sensitivity to the negative connotations their observations will bring. No doubt a difficult process for many.

The other catch here being that assuming that a racial comment is bigoted is itself a racist response that in turn is taken as bigoted, hence the indignation at being called a racist (and thus bigot) for saying something insensitive. Being then put on the defensive in turn can bring a bigoted response, worsening the problem. Its no wonder race-fail then when the only win option is to say nothing at all in the first place regardless of what you think you see.
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From:heron61
Date:March 9th, 2009 05:57 pm (UTC)
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Stereotypes aren't rooted in race or culture. They're rooted in the befuddlement of ignorant outsiders who don't have anything to lose in being wrong about the people they affect.

That, and also occasionally they are they deliberate creations of powerful people who find racism to be a convenient way to support their efforts
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From:cusm
Date:March 10th, 2009 04:32 am (UTC)
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"It may be a stereotype, but it's based on truth."

No, its based on perceived patterns or traits. "Truth" in this case in an entirely relative thing. You said it well on describing why stereotypes are developed, only you are more specific in emphasizing the perceived difference. It is after all differences we pattern match on. Ignorance doesn't cause one to perceive patterns or differences. Ignorance is in how we react to them. People are different. There's some truth for you. The fault in bigotry is in assuming that difference is a bad thing.
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From:heron61
Date:March 9th, 2009 05:58 pm (UTC)
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Well said indeed my wise friend!
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From:cusm
Date:March 10th, 2009 04:40 am (UTC)
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Quite missing the point. The correct thing is to not speak of differences because they cause social offense. Apologizing certainly helps but not saying it in the first place is better. Not speaking of perceived things is difficult as it is in our cognitive nature to both perceive and communicate. Thus, it requires some degree of self control and refinement, class if you will, to not say the offensive thing. That is, its hard. A lot of people don't manage it. Hence continued difficulties.
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From:sythyry
Date:March 7th, 2009 04:19 am (UTC)
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I am so not writing stories with any humans in them.
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From:rjgrady
Date:March 8th, 2009 06:03 pm (UTC)
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I keep thinking I have something useful to add here, but I must confess I'm just not coming up with a lot. Although racism is a sociological puzzle, it often seems to contain very explosive personal psychology. I often wonder if racism grows in part like a cyst within the lining of our conscience.
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From:waterfire741
Date:March 8th, 2009 09:58 pm (UTC)
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I gotta agree with your definitions of racism and bigotry. Racism is that invisible,unseen capitulation in your brain, and bigotry is when you decide to actively play in the sandbox.

Although it still makes me alternately laugh and want to scream when I hear someone use the nonsensical word "reverse-racism".
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From:teaotter
Date:March 11th, 2009 05:45 am (UTC)
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This is something I ran into (I'll look up the post link if you want me to). It's a matter of your definition of "racism." If your definition is simply a difference in opinion or treatment that is related to race, then there is no such thing as "reverse-racism," because there's no distinction among races. Prejudice against any race is therefore racist.

If you define racism to include differences of opinion or treatment related to a cultural framework of sytematic oppression and mistreatment, then there is a distinction among races. The ones who are usually on the top of the power hierarchy can experience individual instances where their race is a problem, but they don't (usually) experience it with the same consistency or with the same long-term effects.

I'm not trying to argue either definition here, by the way. I just want to point out that there are some definitions where "reverse racism" exists, and some where it doesn't.
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From:teaotter
Date:March 11th, 2009 06:25 am (UTC)
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*facepalm*

And that was me entirely missing the point, wasn't it? Sorry about that.

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