thoughts on accidental racism and passing as “normal”

Someone in my FB feed posted this Sun Magazine article, “Some Thoughts on Mercy,” by Ross Gay. It’s a poetic and gripping read; both relatable and thought-provoking.

I especially like his points about how suspicion — of ourselves, of others — taints our daily interactions. He calls it suspicion, I think of it more as the white fear of accidentally appearing discriminatory — the microaggression perceived, rather then intended. What is interesting is that he points out that this suspicion (of self, of others) seems to be pervasive in all interactions, regardless of skin tone.

For example, when we lived in Centralia, there were a series of robberies. During that time, John and I went to the reservation store to buy smokes (because cigs were cheaper at the rez). While we were at the store, John and the cashier were making small talk about the robberies, and John made an off-handed comment about, “Well, what else do you expect around here?”

The cashier slammed the cigarettes and change down on the counter and snapped, “The robberies were committed by white guys.”

John blinked, confused by her sudden change in demeanor, took the smokes, and walked out of the store with me. As we got in the car, he wondered at her sudden bad attitude, and we realized she thought when he said “around here,” he meant specifically the reservation (and the Chehalis tribe residents). In fact, he meant the predominantly poor white tweakers that Centralia is sort of infamous for.

That’s the type of situation I call “accidental racism,” and I believe it occurs because we live in a cultural moment that — as this article explores — perpetuates suspicion of ourselves and others.

I do not have a solution or idea on how to address this. I wouldn’t for a moment even dream of suggesting that people should “just stop being so sensitive.” It is absolutely necessary that we speak out against discriminatory language and behaviors, even the ones that are often performed by rote and not out of a desire to be discriminatory. I mean, if we didn’t point out and object to discriminatory language and behavior, things would be a hell of a lot worse in our society right now.

Btw, I know some people complain about this change in language as too “p.c. (politically correct). I’m always amused by that, because as far as I can see, so-called “p.c.” language is just polite language. It’s a teensy bit like how I don’t see any problem with swearing and I think religious strictures against it are childish and silly … but I am still respectful to my religious friends and family who abhor swearing by choosing to abstain from the language they deem offensive while in their presence.

Anyway, back to accidental discriminations … I may enjoy the privileges society affords cis-gender straight educated white women, but I have also run into my fair share of stereotypes. After all, I am still a woman, and I did grow up diagnosed as having bipolar (and being treated for it).

I’m lucky. All I have to do is cut my hair and shut my mouth, and I start to disappear into the crowd, androgynous and unnoticeable. Small-breasted and short-haired, I am often mistaken for a young man. If I keep quiet and keep my head down, I don’t get hassled for being female, or for being a mental health ally. I can glide through life almost invisible, untouched by the stereotypes that swirl around about women and mental illness. On my motorcycle, with my full-face helmet, gear, and tall frame, I am even more androgynous. I can hide in my blandness, however temporarily, escape the stereotypes that define women and the mentally ill.

I do not wear cultural markers of “otherness” in the texture of my hair and the color of my skin. A cop will not pull me over for being bipolar while driving — a cop will not even realize I am bipolar. I have this respite from the discriminatory beliefs our culture still holds about people like me. Yet the tastes I have had of being stereotypes and “othered” have allowed me the space to imagine and empathize how awful it would be to deal with that every single day; to expect it. To have it be so common that it becomes a default understanding of the world, read even into neutral or benevolent interactions.

More times than I can count, I learned that if I shared my family background with mental illness, I would be told that mental illnesses aren’t real. I would be told to just focus on being happy, to sleep more, to eat right. To go on a strict fruitarian diet. To buy lights that mimic the sun. I would be told that medications and therapy are useless, that it’s all just a state of mind. Implicitly and explicitly, I would be told that mentally ill people are weak and selfish — that my mom, who was the greatest mom ever, was a bad mom. Weak and selfish for having bipolar, for committing suicide, for giving in.

When mom was alive, she told me never to tell anyone I was diagnosed with bipolar. She said people wouldn’t understand. She said they would treat me differently. She was right, but I didn’t care. I figured it was a test. Anyone who learned mental illness ran in my family and shunned me for it wasn’t someone I wanted as a friend anyway.

I didn’t learn to shut my mouth about bipolar until my mom died. I can handle the slings and arrows and suspicions when they’re hurled at me. But there’s no cause, no reason, no heart in speaking ill of my mom. She suffered enough. We suffered enough. There’s no need to hear people call her weak, call her selfish. She was the strongest woman I’ve ever known. She battled bipolar for 20 years. She was amazing.

All I have to do is shut my mouth, and I don’t have to hear it. I listen, I observe, I decide if the person to whom I am speaking is compassionate about mental illness or not, and then I can decide whether or not to risk it. Whether or not opening up will result in being lashed at with idiocy and discrimination, or met with compassion. It’s like my own version of a closet. I pull the door shut time and “pass” as normal for a little bit, just long enough not to deal with uneducated bigots.

But people of color, they don’t have a closet to hide in. They can’t pull down their melanin and shake their hair free of texture in order to slide by uneducated bigots. They have to face it all head on, the bad, the neutral, and the good. And I know I have a hard time reading neutral or well-intended jokes/ sarcasm as harmless or teasing when I’m having a bad day. When my period cramps are acting up, and I’m on edge from noise, and I just want the world to recede for 30 goddamn minutes, but I have to go to the store to get this stupid thing I forgot. I can only imagine what it would be like to be having an already fucking shitty day, and then you go to work and some white guy makes a crack about crime in the neighborhood … yeah. I can see how sometimes when the world sucks balls, miscommunications like that happen, and its no-ones fault.

All I know is that sometimes I spout things without realizing possible alternate interpretations, and that I am grateful when grace and understanding is extended to me — so I feel it is only right that I extend grace and understanding when I speak clumsily or in ignorance and am met with frustration and anger.

I am not fond of libertarian politics

So I was responding to this comment on FB:

strong programs that encourage consumerism over production make me frustrated. go MAKE something. stop complaining about other people’s attempts to make something, and CERTAINLY don’t let a self-interested entity like government “regulate” businesses that they meddle with based solely on maximizing profitability for the gov’t. perfect examples: ANY farm vs monsanto. that organic cleaning supplies company vs the FDA. the WHOLE documentary “Farmageddon”. on one hand, the little guys can’t compete with government regulations that are only in place to keep mega corp kickbacks coming. on the other hand, if more people joined “the little guys” we could stop bitching about who’s paying what wages and start worrying about what WE will pay OUR employees.

… and I ended up writing such an incredibly long response that FB told me it was too long and I had to try again. I’m actually embarrassed to admit this happens to me regularly. I could try posting it over several comments, but it’s late and I’m lazy. So instead … tadum! I post it here, and then cross-post this entry to the FB comment. Problem solved!

So, my response …

Corporations that encourage throw-away consumption over sustainable production frustrate me, too. I don’t complain about other peoples attempts to make something. I object to shipping jobs overseas, not paying living wages, and utilizing discriminatory tactics to divide the working class against itself. Production, I encourage. I buy locally made and produced foods and items whenever possible. If I can’t buy Washington-made, I try to buy American made.

I believe in government. I believe that government can be used on behalf of the people, to strengthen the nation and the community. We tried states rights immediately after the Revolutionary War, and the fledgling country almost tore itself apart. That’s why we had the constitutional convention and created the constitution — because we tried to make a go of it without a strong federal government, and nearly failed.

Over the history of our country, government programs have done horrible things (the American Japanese concentration camps, Native American extermination programs, encoding slavery into the Constitution), but they’ve also done admirable and great things (ending slavery, even at the risk to our internal cohesion; ending the Great Depression; entering WWII; constitutionally protecting the civil rights of women and people of color). I believe that in a functioning democracy, government can be a boon to the people.

I also believe we do not currently live in a functioning democracy, and we need to limit the power of corporations which are currently influencing legislation, government, and the courts to the extent that we can no longer call America a country with democratic capitalism. It is a capitalist oligarchy.

In the 1800s, the government passed a series of Homestead Acts, which allowed many working class Americans (mostly white males) the opportunity to go out West and claim a plot of land. This was not (and is not) seen as government welfare, but as “encouraging growth” and “helping small businesses.” That land passed down or was sold, and the money used to fund businesses or the education of later generations. Wealth was passed on through families and businesses because of that government program.

In the early 1900s, white Southerners restricted voting rights and employment/ living opportunities for people of color. Across America, practices like redlining, color bars in unions, and employment discrimination systemically impoverished people of color. Sometimes when a town or area (like black Tulsa) did well, the neighboring white community would raid the town and take their businesses, homes, and accumulated wealth. This benefited the whites, not just of that generation but for generations after. This harmed the people of color, not just those who immediately lost their businesses and goods, but the generations that came after and lost that intergenerational wealth.

In the 1950s, thousands of returned (white) GIs acquired their college degrees and went into white collar industries. The veterans of color were overwhelmingly denied that same benefit. Labor union membership (still rife with color bars) plataued. So all this created a history where people of color were systemically discriminated against, not protected by their government, unable to even access government programs, and unable to build the wealth/ businesses/ productivity that you trumpet. Credit for inventions by people of color was taken by whites, as well as the wealth.

And this happens over and over and over with communities of color — hell, the Japanese concentration camps were part racism, part jealousy. Japanese immigrants ran most of the small farms in Eastern Washington and had actually started the Pike Place Farmers Market. When the US gov’t shuffled the Japanese (but not Germans or Italians) into concentration camps, their neighbors stole their businesses and farms, and few gave them back. Japanese Americans were eventually given reparations of 10 cents on the dollar.

So you sit here and say, “People should be paid what their work is worth, and the government shouldn’t get involved,” and I’m sitting here going, “Dude, we have a 200+ year history of people getting enslaved and imprisoned and discriminated against because the corporate interests in our country were more interest in producing cheap sugar/ cotton/ tobacco/ labor than they were in ‘paying what people were worth’.”

And that’s not all! We have a 200+ year history of the government turning a blind eye to this shit because the corporate interests were successful in a) buying off government representatives and b) convincing the white working class that they were the real hard workers, and everyone else was just a bunch of lazy fucks sucking off the teat of the government and the taxes of the working class.

When the government DID get involved, rare as it was, THINGS CHANGED. When the gov’t DID say, “Fucking enough with this slavery,” they passed the Emancipation Proclamation, fought a war, gave black people the vote, and even passed a Civil Rights Act. Yeah, the 1964 Civil Rights Act was the SECOND civil rights legislation we passed — the first one was ignored because they used colorblind language, instead of specifically saying, “Do not discriminate against black people.”

And when the gov’t said, “Enough with this fucking wealth inequality and child labor,” THEY CHANGED THINGS. They passed laws to make child labor illegal, and they set a minimum wage, and they set required safety protocols so children wouldn’t be dying in anymore factory fires.

And when the gov’t said, “Enough with these fucking Nazis,” they went into WWII and THEY CHANGED THINGS. And when they said, “Fucking enough with this Jim Crow bullshit,” THEY CHANGED THINGS. They passed a law guaranteeing equality.

So you sit here and tell me the government is useless, and I sit here and think they’re only useless because people like you are convinced it’s all a scam and have given up and let the corporations have their oligarchy. You won’t even fight back. You’re just rolling over and crying about how much government and consumerism sucks, while at the same time saying how you wanna be a millionaire and the rest of us are lazy because we believe in community and country and government.

But! But here’s the thing — the government didn’t just sit up one day and say, “Huh, what were we thinking protecting slavery and all that fuckery? Man, we must have been smoking crack — let’s fix that shit right up!” No! They resisted, at first. But the people, the American people, they pressured their government to do the right thing. They pressured the government to free the slaves. They educated other people. They stood on street corners and lectured, they passed out pamphlets, they rioted, they took photographs of the people being harmed by colorblind and discriminatory government policies, and they engaged in often-unpopular and decades-long campaigns to force their government to act in the interests of the people. To protect the people. To be a government, not a military puppet hand of corporate greed.

The problem here is not government. Government is supposed to be shaped and formed by the people. The problem is that people gave up on the government. In the 1950s, suburbia and post-war wealth meant there was a television in every home. Vietnam was the first war where the news coverage was televised on screen, in your living room. Over the next few decades, televisions and internet and interconnected media everywhere gave us all a 24/hour stream of news, and people saw video images of the terror of war in Vietnam, and people watched nuclear bomb tests on the tv screens in their living rooms.

Suddenly, war and crime were real and in your living room, on your tv, in your face in a way they’d never been in the history of mankind before. And since then, it’s just gotten worse, even as the world has actually gotten better with less crime, less war, and less inequality. But some people looked at all this fucked up-ed-ness on the news and they just give up. They blame the government and corporations and all those lazy fucks the government entitled with their aid programs, and they give up trying to change the world.

It’s funny, too, how the definition of “welfare” has changed over the past century. When government programs funded the Homestead Acts and GI bills and VA home mortgages for white people, that wasn’t “welfare” or “sucking off the government teat.” But when government mandates a minimum wage or basic fucking labor safety or some goddamn health insurance, that’s “sucking off the government teat” and welfare. Nobody calls student financial aid programs “sucking off the government teat.” They call it a wise investment, and have whole classes set up to teach middle and upper class American youth have to navigate this educational maze. You know when unions started losing popularity among the average Joe? In the 1960s/ 1970s, when color bars became illegal.

The government should be regulating (and taxing) the big-ass corporations more heavily, as well as enforcing labor laws. They should punish the big-ass corporations for shifting their labor, taxes, and income offshore. They should institute fines and tariffs on major corporations that suck America dry and put nothing back into her.

The government should also encourage small business growth. I am the daughter of a small business owner, the (former) employee of several small business owners, and the friend of even more small business owners. Small business often operate very close to the line, and I’ve worked for more than one small employer who was a nice person but a fucking shitty boss. Small business owners are regularly forced to choose between the well being of their employees (who are often friends or family members) and the success of their business. Pay a living wage or cut the employee wages and pay the operating/ licensing taxes and fees?

I do not want to be a small business employer, or a producer. I do want to be an author. But I do not want to be in the position of trying to decide whether to pay my employee a living wage or shut down my business. I do not want to compromise my values or integrity in the pursuit of profit. I am not interested in becoming an employer in America, because the choice is too often money or the value of a human being, and that is quite simply a choice I do not want to make.

I don’t know if you read that whole thing. I would say TL;DR: brief history of capitalism in America, but I’m tired and getting bored of writing this. I understand your stance. I’ve heard it many times. Your views are not new to me. I have discussed this ad nauseum with many libertarians and redditors who admire Ayn Rand and are dismissive of the long-term impact of the tides of history on modern times.

Truth is, I don’t like having this discussion with people who are unwilling or unable to acknowledge the intergenerational disparate impact caused by uneven distributions of wealth, the role a changing pop culture/ mediascape has on society, and the benefits of a well-managed government. This is not a black and white issue that boils down to “Government bad, work good,” this is a nuanced and complicated issue with many intersecting factors.

There is a reason I do not like to argue politics with people. I don’t want to disrespect your views, but I also feel as though you are trying to convince me to yours — as though you think I haven’t heard your arguments before, or considered that point of view. As though I have always been a static, unconsidering pro-government liberal, rather than someone who came to my political beliefs after years of study and consideration.

Over the past decade, my views and attitudes shifted from conservative religious Republican to progressive atheist liberal. This was not some sort of reactive rebellion against my upbringing and loss of faith — my politics actually changed before my religious views did. For several years, those political personality calculators were classifying me as a libertarian — small government, anti-union (well, I thought unions had once been useful, but that time was past) and not a believer in government programs to combat discrimination — but socially progressive. Pro-gay, feminist, that sort of thing.

But I kept reading. I kept studying. I kept learning. I linked modern political events with eerily similar historical events — labor riots, wealth inequality, tax questions, racialized systems of labor, legislative actions. I learned how labor law has been stifled and silenced since the 1950s through a series of limiting court decisions. As I took in all this new information about my history and my country and my government, my views shifted, and I realized that the Ayn Randian ideals of small government/ self-sustainment are incompatible and unsustainable in modern society. Quite frankly, I’m not convinced they’re sustainable in any society — they are isolationist, reductive, hypocritical, and not suited to the complexities of the real world.

The Impact of Unintentional Discrimination

In my Crime & Punishment online course, we’re listening to some episodes of this NPR show called Justice Talking this week. The first episode is called Race and the Justice System, and it’s really good. If you have the time, you should listen to it.

The thing that bothered me about the show (and I said this on the class forum) was the way that everyone who insisted racism isn’t that bad in the criminal justice system was talking about racism as though it has to be intentional to have an impact.

James Fox and Sandra Russell in particular seemed to really construe racism in the criminal justice system solely as an intentional action consciously chosen by individual actors. That is, they didn’t seem to think that a non-racist person could be, in the performance of their job requirements, forced to enact racist policies encoded within the system. They didn’t seem to think that unconscious bias about racial characteristics could influence prosecutors, arresting officers, judges, etc. Fox and Russell seemed to be laboring under the (fairly common) assumption that the only “valid” actions of racism are the premeditated and intentional ones.

People can have perfectly good intentions and still perpetuate racist, sexist, and discriminatory behavior. It’s scary and it’s upsetting, because it means that someone who is not a racist or a sexist can say or do something that’s incredibly racist or sexist without meaning to. I can. You can.  That’s the scary part. It takes the term “bigot” away from some obviously ignorant neo-nazi with a noose in one hand and a Confederate flag in the other, and hands it back to allies and well-intentioned people.

Normally when the question of the intent/ result comes up, we as a culture are taught to give a little leeway. To be forgiving, have a sense of humor, let it slide. It’s not that big a deal. And maybe on a micro scale of individual experience, it actually is not that big a deal for some people. Ignoring a thoughtless microaggression and sidestepping a potentially emotionally draining interaction is something people do every day to keep the peace with family, friends, classmates, and coworkers.

But when microaggressions and “soft” discrimination continues to slide, it turns into these subconscious attitudes that permeate our interactions and assumptions about people. And you can think someone is a human being worthy of respect, like the hypothetical police officer Russell described who will drive 90 mph to save the life of a black youth who’s been shot, but still hold these unconscious stereotypes about their personalities, preferences, and background.

The way that Russell and Fox dismiss systemic racism because they do not believe any discriminatory outcomes to be intentional is really disturbing to me, because it seems to completely sidestep the reality that many choices are shaped by social location and the unconscious biases that permeate our society.

Mainstream is not Controversial

There’s a funny thing that happens in places like Washington. We’re a little liberal corner of the world, unnoticed by most. I often joke that the national news stops in Oregon. When Colorado legalized pot, the time zones and news cycle made it huge news: The first state to legalize pot! Even now, most news stories seem to focus on how pot legalization is rolling out in Colorado. Hardly anyone seemed to notice or mention that Washington legalized both pot and gay marriage in one fell swoop.

Someone once told me Washington has the highest amount of churches per capita, and the lowest attendance. We’re home to The Evergreen State College, a highly respected liberal arts college. We have the highest minimum wage in the country, and rank among America’s wealthiest states. In 2012, the median household income in Washington was $57,573, while the national median household income was $51,37. It’s a beautiful state, is what I’m saying — not just in terms of clean air, plentiful wildlife, and beautiful state parks, but in terms of liberal state policies.

It does have problems — all states do. Washington, for example, has a population that is almost 86% white, which means most white Washingtonians are raised and interact in largely white-only populations. This creates an interesting situation where many of the left-leaning liberal anti-racism Washingtonians are actually pretty uneducated about race relations, and often labor under the mistaken conclusion that racism as a whole is in the past, and people of color experience no real fallout from racism.

In fact, Washington’s biggest problem is a sort of persistent denial that racism, misogyny, anti-atheism (or paganism, or any non-Christian religion), and homophobia are still pretty damn mainstream and well-accepted in large swathes of America. One of the most frustrating and frequent conversations I find myself having in my little liberal corner of the ‘verse is debating the existence of discrimination (or worse, that “reverse discrimination” is a thing).

Something I want to say to everyone who earnestly argues things like, “We don’t need to worry about the girls, we need to worry about the boys,” or, “The only people who won’t say [n-word] are people who are afraid of looking racist. It’s just a word,” or that workers who look for higher wages are lazy and unambitious: Your views are not controversial. They are not new.

It might seem like you’re adopting a radical philosophy because you happen to be enmeshed in a tiny liberal little corner of the country and world, and your particular social group likely does not agree with your stance — but if you move to pretty much any small town (even in liberal states like Washington!) or any stretch of the midwest or South, your views become the norm. Your views are the status quo. Your “controversial” opinions are the tired, worn out arguments that are repeated ad nauseum across the internet, news media, marketing world, and history books to justify discrimination of all sorts. You are the status quo, mindlessly repeating the bill of goods you’ve been sold.

I want to say this, but I don’t. Because I have said it, in the past, and I know what the response is. They say, no, I’m wrong. I’m close minded. I just am refusing to hear their response. In online debates, they read the first three lines of my response and angrily type out their rebuttal without ever reaching the body or the conclusion.

I did not grow up identifying as atheist, or feminist, or as an LGBT ally. I was not raised in an environment or culture where pro-union sentiment, progressive politics, and critical race theory were taught.

Religiously, I was raised LDS. I was baptized at 8 years old, and I was taught that men were the natural leaders of the household and religious institutions. I was taught that women existed as complements to men, to be helpmeets, mothers, and eternal companions. I learned, and believed, that I could not achieve the highest levels of heaven without a husband. I believed watching porn was a sin akin to adultery. I believed divorce was the sundering of the most sacred and special relationship available on earth. I was taught I was a warrior in the “Rising Generation,” and I believed that I was among the select, chosen by God to bring His word to the world in the last days. I was taught that Mormons were hated and discriminated against, that lies were told about us, and that we were persecuted. As a pre-teen, I wrote a short story (and imagined a longer novel) about a dystopian future where an anti-religious secularist government rounded up all the Mormons into concentration camps in Idaho, Utah, and Nevada — and I didn’t think it was an insane impossibility.

My parents voted Republican — my mom even campaigned for Nixon — and so when I turned 18, I voted Republican. I was anti-abortion. I didn’t even know homosexuality was a thing until I was 17. I didn’t think about gay sex or relationships or rights. My schools were largely populated with white people — “diversity” to me meant the students of Japanese, Chinese, or Korean descent. We had some native Hawai’ians in our ward who used to do a traditional hula/ fire dance at ward talent shows. I had four black classmates in middle school, but when a new high school opened up the following year, I went to the established school while they (and all the other “urban” students in the area) went to the newly opened school.

In other words, I was an LDS Christian white girl, raised in the political and religious attitudes of my parents and community. I spent the first 23 years of my life intentionally not seeking out information that contradicted my views. I was not the best or most devout mormon, but I did believe in the doctrine completely. I voted Republican. I voted for President Bush. In our state election, I voted for Rossi and complained bitterly about stolen elections when Gregoire won. I believed movements that agitated for the rights of women, minorities, and workers were unnecessary; that their aims had already been achieved and their equality enshrined and protected by law.

Because my dad was a lawyer, I was well versed in how to debate. I knew the arguments for my side. I knew the talking points of the arguments for the opposing side. What I did not know was the meat of the arguments; the history and the why — for either side. I thought I did, and to my everlasting shame, there are numerous conversations in my past where I hotly defended anti-abortion laws and the opposition of gay marriage.

But somewhere between my mom’s death and starting college, I began to question my assumptions and attitudes about the world. I began to research the issues. I began to expand my reading and worldview, and I discovered that the world I thought I knew did not exist.

I still learned wonderful things in my childhood, and I don’t regret it. I love my parents. They taught me to be compassionate and forgiving. They taught me the value of respectful debate, and of considering both the micro and macro. They taught me that a system can be perfect, but the people who enact it are imperfect and flawed. Their lessons, perhaps ironically, made it easier for me to divorce my emotional response to the facts and history and consider the information based on its merits.

When I assess the validity of information, I usually ask myself questions such as, Is it peer reviewed? Is it accepted by an academic consensus? Are the conclusions supported by statistical data, ethnographic research, and/ or longitudinal studies? What are the goals of the sources — who funded them? Why? What were their research methods? How do they distribute their conclusions? Are they engaging in deceptive tactics to get their information out?

For example, the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) is widely accepted and cited by both conservative and liberal academics and experts as a non-partisan and non-profit group that studies American economic policies. The Employment Policies Institute (EPI) is backed by a marketing firm who is funded by a cadre of conservative businessmen opposed to increasing the minimum wage. Their “studies” contradict all the statistical, longitudinal, and historical research regarding economics — but their web addresses are (respectively) www.epi.org and www.epionline.org. Someone who doesn’t know how to assess sources could easily confuse the two and think that the Employment Policies Institute (EPI) is the well-regarded Economic Policy Institute (EPI) cited by every economic expert in the media.

When I am examining the long-term impact of historical forms of discrimination, I follow the thread all the way through to today. When historical information is cited, I ask, Where the information comes from? Are contemporary documents cross-referenced? Are the archival and archaeological records compared and contrasted? What were the immediate effects? The generational effects? What were the political and social responses to the situation? How did the issue evolve?

Because my parents taught me to back up my arguments and encouraged my tendency to academic curiosity and research (though, admittedly, they were not nearly as comfortable with religious self-examination, which somewhat stymied my predilections), I learned to ask these questions of my sources and research fairly early on.  Sadly, I didn’t apply these research methods and source assessments to socio-political and religious issues until I was in my mid-20s.

Still, I did. Eventually I did. So when someone comes to me and tries to tell me that racism is a thing of the past, or that misogyny isn’t a real issue, I find it incredibly frustrating because we’re approaching the discussion from completely different spaces. I used to hold those views and determined through prolonged and intense study that I was wrong; whereas they ignore the research and data I present them to just yell over me that I’m not listening and I am wrong.

You’re not controversial. You’re not new. You’re not innovative. You’re mouthing the same justifications to perpetuate discrimination that have been mouthed in various permutations for decades. You’re approaching the same old problems in the same old way, but you think you’re unique and innovative and different because you happen to live in one of the little liberal pockets of the ‘verse where your beliefs are challenged by your peers instead of sliding by unopposed.

 

Practical Ways We Can Stop Centering Everything Around White People’s Feelings

Last year, I had the opportunity to attend a conference and take a class that educated the hell out of me. I learned that the modern and subtle methods of racism (denial of work and/or education, lower wages, healthcare discrimination, daily microaggressions, lack of representation in media, etc. etc.) are often denied in their severity and impact.

I learned that when the word “racism” is used, white people think of lynchings and the n-word and the KKK, and they get angry because they support none of those and yet are being told that they are participating in and benefiting from an inherently racist system.

And I learned about the laws, the research, the history, and the current, ongoing systems of discrimination which make it very, very clear that racism is still a thing that is happening, all around us. Sometimes blatant and ugly, like the n-word and lynching and beating; but more often subtle and insidious, like refusing to acknowledge systems of disparate impact and blaming people of color for being defensive, or claiming that poc are lazy.

This year, I had the opportunity to take a class with a student body that was about 45 – 50 percent people of color. This is unusual in the area I live. Where I live, 83.7 percent of the population is “white” according to the 2010 census. The remaining 16.3 percent of the population breaks down as 2.0 percent Black persons, 1.1 percent Native persons, 6.0 percent Asian, 0.4 percent Pacific Islander, 1.8 percent “other”, 5.0 percent from two or more races, and 6.3 percent Latino persons.

In other words, I live in a very white-washed area. It is also a very liberal/progressive area. These two realities combine to create not only a space where subtle racism persists through unconscious or internalized bias, but where many attempts to address this sort of subtle racism are met with offended denial — because we are progressive, racially conscious liberals. We would not do things like be racist or engage in cultural appropriation.

During the course of this quarter, I have dealt with an internal struggle. How do I, as a white ally, help make this classroom a safer space? There are so many angry white voices in these classroom discussions. Despite the fact that people of color make up half the classroom demographic, their voices make up only a tenth of the discussion. They are drowned out by white allies arguing with white deniers.

As a white ally in a classroom of voices silencing and speaking over the people of color, is it my place to speak up and against the systems of oppression and racism, or is it my place to be quiet and try to provide a place for voices of color to step forward? How can my silence achieve anything when more white voices step into my silence? How can I make a supportive space for voices of color, and how can I encourage my professors to make such a space?

This post I am reblogging offers me hope. It offers some solutions. Ultimately, it’s up to my professors to navigate this classroom dynamic, but at this point it feels very much as though the hurt feelings of the white people in the room are being considered more than those of people of color.

Opine Season

Fun fact: white people’s feelings are magic. They can bring any conversation, meeting or movement to a halt. In a debate, they can outweigh even the most credible, concrete evidence. They can threaten someone’s job. They can even kill. White people’s feelings are one of this country’s most abundant natural resources and important exports.

Because of all this, any conversation about social justice, power, or history is going to naturally settle into orbit around white people’s feelings. And I get it: if we want to really do something about racism in this country, it’s white people who need to change the most, and it’s white people who often have the longest political/spiritual/emotional journey to undertake.

But when social justice education and/or media focuses solely on understanding racism through a white privilege framework, that can recreate the same oppressive structures we’re trying to destroy. When the conversation has such…

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