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May 12, 2009 10:31 AM   Subscribe

Based on comments in this thread, I would like to propose a moratorium on the watching of "The Wire," or BET, or the listening of any Wu Tang or Rick Ross CDs for any Mefite who does not personally know and interact with members of the "black community," who despite what many here think, are exceedingly diverse in class, education, culture and norms.

I have really enjoyed my time here on Metafilter. I've learned a great deal, some of it worthwhile, a lot of disturbing. Even in this so-called post-racial America we live in, we have folks making comments like the following, without the slightest bit of irony:

"Black men in their thirties or older will greet each other, when passing in the street, by nodding and saying "Alright"; do the same to anyone over thirty."

or my personal AskMeFi favorites here and here. There are many more but I don't have time to link them all.

This comment emailed to me from The Straightener said it best:

"It is silly and sad and unfortunately is completely reflective of the young white progressive community's treatment of the white working class and poor minorities as conceptual entities rather than communities made of actual people. It's not racist, or classist so much as it is clueless, though sometimes it's impossible to tell them all apart."

Amen and amen.
posted by notjustfoxybrown to MetaFilter-Related at 10:31 AM (480 comments total) 26 users marked this as a favorite

It's a sad fact that too many members--and often the loudest ones--love to pat themselves on their backs about how progressive and open-minded they are while also displaying crass and bigoted generalizations about entire sections of culture that is divergent from their own.

It is off-putting for anyone treated that way. You have my empathy as an individual.
posted by dios at 10:36 AM on May 12, 2009 [7 favorites]


I like how you assume those comments were made by white people.
posted by Sys Rq at 10:39 AM on May 12, 2009 [13 favorites]


I personally would love for there to be a moderation rubric that nipped all the "TELL ME ABOUT THE BLACK/LATINO/JEWISH/ETC. FOLKWAYS" posts in the bud, because they really, really aren't good for my blood pressure.

However, I know very well that MetaFilter isn't here for the convenience of my (white girl's) blood pressure. On the other hand, I strongly think that the potential injuriousness of these posts and comments to lots of MeFites far outweighs their potential benefit to the poster.

I also know that I don't get a vote, so this is just me flapping my jaw fingers.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:40 AM on May 12, 2009




I like how you assume those comments were made by white people.

Well maybe they weren't all white but they certainly weren't people who know the black community well enough to give an informed answer.
posted by notjustfoxybrown at 10:42 AM on May 12, 2009 [7 favorites]


I like how you assume those comments were made by white people.

Oh, for Christ's sake.

Whether or not any individual post was made by a white person, there were a lot of posts on that thread that reflected a facile, shallow set of preconceptions and prejudices about black people that is propagated by a white-dominated media and entertainment industry.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:42 AM on May 12, 2009 [29 favorites]


Side-issue only, but if you got The Straightener's permission to repost his email in the thread, it'd be a good idea to be explicit about that, and if you didn't it's not really cool to throw it out there like that. Hopefully a no-harm-done situation in this case, but reposting folks' email in the clear on the site without asking first is not cool.
posted by cortex (staff) at 10:42 AM on May 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


It's too late for me as I've already watched the whole run of The Wire, but I'll try not to listen to any Wu Tang. Or maybe I'm okay because I interact with black people. Or not because I'm not sure whether they are members of the "black community."
posted by grouse at 10:42 AM on May 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


Cortex:
Yes, I asked permission.
posted by notjustfoxybrown at 10:43 AM on May 12, 2009


I already didn't watch The Wire or BET or listen to Wu-Tang, because I believe deeply that entertainment should be separate but equal.
posted by DU at 10:44 AM on May 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


If you read those Ask MeFi posts, most people answering admonish the asker for overt racism. Out of context (ignoring all the follow-up answers where the asker was taken to task) they sound really bad, but I think the people asking learned something in the process.
posted by mathowie (staff) at 10:44 AM on May 12, 2009


Oh for fuckin' out loud.
posted by Dumsnill at 10:44 AM on May 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


Can people stop attacking notjustfoxybrown for being annoyed by that thread? I know that that's the latest Internet white-person response to any person of color's identification of comments they see as prejudiced or stereotypical or shallow in regard to racial and cultural issues.

Fuck it, MetaFilter's supposed to be past the "where's the White History Month?" and "Martin Luther King, Jr. said 'content of their character'" shit that fills the rest of the Internet.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:45 AM on May 12, 2009 [19 favorites]


Alright. *nods head*
posted by Falconetti at 10:46 AM on May 12, 2009 [3 favorites]


Those last two AskMes, at least, were called out as being totally boneheaded and ill-advised at the time, with a suggestion that the site was being trolled. I don't think that they're representative of any prevailing sentiments, thoughts or attitudes around here.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 10:49 AM on May 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


Can people stop attacking notjustfoxybrown for being annoyed by that thread? I know that that's the latest Internet white-person response to any person of color's identification of comments they see as prejudiced or stereotypical or shallow in regard to racial and cultural issues.

I guess you mean me?

Not attacking. Just saying: You know what? Applying a sweeping generalization over an entire population -- be it African Americans or "progressive whites" -- is not good, doesn't help, and usually comes off a tad obnoxious.
posted by Sys Rq at 10:50 AM on May 12, 2009


Yes, I asked permission.

Cool, thank you.
posted by cortex (staff) at 10:51 AM on May 12, 2009


Is the implication in your question that The Wire portrays a one-sided or stereotypical or non-diverse picture of black people?

Perhaps you have not watched The Wire.
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 10:52 AM on May 12, 2009 [7 favorites]


I groaned big-time when I read the "alright" thing, that was just clueless and off-base on a ton of levels. And your overall point with this metatalk thread is a really sound one and one I support. But I got to point out that one of your comments in that thread kinda misses some of the nuances that define race in St. Louis.

While it's absolutely true that black people don't automatically see nicely dressed white folks and go "Oh shit. Official business", and while I couldn't agree more that the 400+ years of living in proximity have made black and white americans more culturally similar than anyone ever wants to allow. It's important to know that St. Louis is absolutely, singularly fucked on race and segregation especially in regards to housing. Certain very large parts of St. Louis have places where one race or the other simply does not go, unless, the thought is, it is to engage in behaviors that the group living there will not appreciate.

In that light it is VERY likely that a white man (dressed however) in, say, the Greater 'Ville, would have similarities to a 'Martian' in how he's regarded by the locals. Moreso, probably, than in other cities.
posted by jjjjjjjijjjjjjj at 10:55 AM on May 12, 2009


Fuck it, MetaFilter's supposed to be past the "where's the White History Month?" and "Martin Luther King, Jr. said 'content of their character'" shit that fills the rest of the Internet.

Are you serious, Sidhedevil? If anyone needs a FAQ or Racism 101 it's the who regularly or irregularly comment on Metafilter.
posted by muddgirl at 10:55 AM on May 12, 2009


Those last two AskMes, at least, were called out as being totally boneheaded and ill-advised at the time

Yup: 1, 2. I will forever think of that first one as "the washcloth thread".
posted by cortex (staff) at 10:55 AM on May 12, 2009


No, I have watched "The Wire" (and have a huge crush on David Simon so if you know him, tell him to get in touch.) But what I do think is that rather than see all the subtle nuances of the characters/scenarios presented in each episode, those who have little contact with black people only see the one-sided depictions and think that's all of us.
posted by notjustfoxybrown at 10:55 AM on May 12, 2009


I was annoyed by that thread, myself. I can *almost* accept the poster's scenario that he is having trouble fitting in and is just asking for general advice--though as many responders said it was likely because he looked like he was trying to convert people to his religion or to sell them something, rather than his race causing the problem.

And though it isn't obvious from this callout, a lot of people gave good advice, like asking a community leader to bring the poster door-to-door and introduce him.

But the comment in there suggesting mussing up his hair to try to make it look curlier was just plain offensive, period. Seriously?!

I don't get what all that has to do with telling everyone not to watch The Wire, though. I seriously doubt that in today's world, that is the only exposure anyone has to other races.

Plus, I haven't seen The Wire yet and I want to.
posted by misha at 10:56 AM on May 12, 2009


Is the implication in your question that The Wire portrays a one-sided or stereotypical or non-diverse picture of black people?

No, I think her point is clearly that there are some people that watch The Wire and then think they know all about poor black peoples' lives and whatnot.
posted by Falconetti at 10:56 AM on May 12, 2009 [5 favorites]


Can we talk about this thread here, too? Maybe we could start by someone explaining to me what is going on in it?
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 10:57 AM on May 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


If you like that question, you may also like this one.
posted by box at 10:59 AM on May 12, 2009


I like how you assume those comments were made by white people.

I don't like the way people think it's cute to say "I like how X" when they mean "I don't like how X."
posted by ludwig_van at 10:59 AM on May 12, 2009 [3 favorites]


Great minds, pinky.
posted by box at 10:59 AM on May 12, 2009


I guess you mean me?

Not just you, SysRq. In fact, not chiefly you.

Just saying: You know what? Applying a sweeping generalization over an entire population -- be it African Americans or "progressive whites" -- is not good, doesn't help, and usually comes off a tad obnoxious.

I think that's a valid point, and I get it now that you've expressed it in more detail.

The "I like how you assumed those comments were from white people" in isolation came off more as snark to me, and although those comments may not have come from white people, they sure as fuck didn't come from anyone whose image of black neighborhoods in the US come from life experience rather than from the media.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:59 AM on May 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


Are you serious, Sidhedevil? If anyone needs a FAQ or Racism 101 it's the who regularly or irregularly comment on Metafilter.

Maybe I spend too much time on even more troglodytic webspaces. (LJ RaceFail, anyone?) I think MeFi aspires to something better, and fails less than many other web communities.
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:01 AM on May 12, 2009


Yeah, I contacted NJFB this morning to inititiate some discussion with her because I could tell she was feeling some type of way about that AskMe last night, she asked if she could quote me and I told her that was fine. I totally support her posting this and think her concerns are perfectly valid.

Is the implication in your question that The Wire portrays a one-sided or stereotypical or non-diverse picture of black people?

The Wire portrays a very limited slice of the black community, the poorest of the poor, which is not representative and I do think that attitudes on Metafilter about what the black community is about and how you should act when you find yourself there are too influenced by this widely worshipped narrow vision.

I actually don't want to be too involved in this thread, and I can't be right now anyway because, well, I need to go out into the community and do my job. But please don't dismiss or attack NJFB, this is super touchy stuff, she knows this, but I think we can go here and have this discussion if everyone just takes a second to breathe before things get too crazy.
posted by The Straightener at 11:02 AM on May 12, 2009 [5 favorites]


Can we talk about this thread here, too? Maybe we could start by someone explaining to me what is going on in it?

First, someone needs to explain to me what the fuck "supermanning" a "ho" is. Urban Dictionary's suggestion seems somewhat unlikely, to say the least.
posted by dersins at 11:06 AM on May 12, 2009


I didn't like the question much but it was clear, crystal clear, that it was being asked in a good faith effort to figure out a social situation. Lots of people on MeFi are socially awkward in different settings. Lots. The author was very careful to note exactly what location/neighborhood he was asking about which meant, to my mind, that it would go as well as it could go with a minimum of "black people go to church like THIS" stupidity.

That said, people dropping into AskMe to offer their uninformed opinions on everything isn't constrained to racial misinformation and I think we go a lot further trying to educate people to those sorts of things than go the "this is bad and you should feel bad" route.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 11:06 AM on May 12, 2009 [8 favorites]


For the record, Sweetie Darling nailed it in the first answer. She* ignored all the race stuff and went right to the issue–anonymous, you are out there bugging people door-to-door (again!). Nobody likes cold calls. I once nearly got into a physical altercation with an obnoxious salesman who wouldn't leave my office after polite but firm requests to do so.

This whole question is a little ridiculous. These are regular people you are dealing with, anonymous. Treat them as you would treat anyone else.




*I don't know the Sweetie Darling's gender, and don't much care in this context.
posted by Mister_A at 11:06 AM on May 12, 2009


I live in a predominantly black neighborhood. Come to think of it, I always have, my entire adult life. notjustfoxybrown's points are well taken, and not just because black folks are not some monolithic behavioral stereotype, but also because, even in the most segregated cities, black people see white people all the time. Whites live and work in black neighborhoods. There is no reason to assume, because you are walking into a neighborhood with a lot of people of color, that you are going to be seen as an intruding outsider, and you need to change your behavior in a way that will make the natives more comfortable. You're just another white person, and they're around all the time, everywhere. At least, that has been my experience.
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:06 AM on May 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


I don't want this discussion to be sidetracked into something about 'The Wire,' but it seems to me that there are quite a few characters on there that could be described as members of the black middle class.
posted by box at 11:07 AM on May 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


The Wire isn't about black people, it's about Baltimore.
posted by electroboy at 11:07 AM on May 12, 2009 [23 favorites]


I was originally intrigued by the concept — finally, a respite from quite so many people mentioning The Wire! Because, dammit, I have yet to see the show and hate feeling left out. So I went to look at that main linked thread and I'm not seeing any mentions of The Wire. Or Wu Tang. Or this Rick Ross fellow. So now I'm back to just being puzzled, because I'm having a hard time discerning what or whom you wish to call out as exemplifying bad behavior.

Are you calling out conceptual entities? Humans treat groups (or anything else, really) with whom they have not interacted with personally as conceptual entities. An octopus was a conceptual entity for me until I actually ate one. Eight legs, eyes on the sides of their heads, have ink and camouflage, smart. I'd seen photos of them, watched some cute videos online, but they are entities of abstraction, not associated with direct experience, up until the point I meet (or eat) them. That is true of space shuttles, of ingrown toenails, and yes, people, too. Without experience, all you have is the concept, the abstraction. To suggest not having any concept of a thing prior to direct experience is a tall, tall order indeed. Very Zen. I fail at Zen. Most people fail at Zen.

Are you calling out the practice of AskMes regarding gaining familiarity with racial, ethnic, religious, etc., groups? If you're asking for a moratorium on the "tell me about this group with whom I have not interacted" AskMes, please consider the consequence, which is that the question does not get asked. That means that the person who would have asked ends up not knowing as much. They go on with their lives with less information. Where once they could have learned something new, they are instead stuck with the information they have: possibly inaccurate representations, some misinformation, and a scattering of gaps. Does this seem like a good thing, or a bad thing?

If you would like to instead concentrate on the comments, do so, perhaps in thread, perhaps here, but in any case specific responses to individuals would be better than treating them all as a group, given that you have rejected grouping in the first place.
posted by adipocere at 11:07 AM on May 12, 2009 [21 favorites]


First, someone needs to explain to me what the fuck "supermanning" a "ho" is. Urban Dictionary's suggestion seems somewhat unlikely, to say the least.

No, dersins, I think that's correct.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 11:08 AM on May 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


Good lord. And I thought Soldja Boy was such a sweet, innocent young fellow.
posted by dersins at 11:09 AM on May 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


they certainly weren't people who know the black community well enough

notjustfoxybrown, it seems a little off to use the term "the black community" here. I don't speak for all white people, and don't have a clue how, say, rich white people in Florida do shit... or poor white people in South Carolina, or whatever...

So, I kind of doubt there is a "black community" that you could get to know and then to authoritatively say "yes, this is how black people do X".

I don't think we disagree here, really, I am just nitpicking a little with the phrasing.
posted by Meatbomb at 11:09 AM on May 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


First, someone needs to explain to me what the fuck "supermanning" a "ho" is. Urban Dictionary's suggestion seems somewhat unlikely, to say the least.
No, dersins, I think that's correct. posted by ThePinkSuperhero

Must...not...comment....
posted by Floydd at 11:12 AM on May 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


What are you trying to accomplish here? Do you want the question or the answer deleted?

I agree that metafilter can frequently be insensitive to race, racism, and cross-cutting diversity within the community of African-Americans. I would also like to see that change. However, this post is not well-designed for the purpose: it begins with a strange tongue-in-cheek request, quotes a single comment, and then closes with someone else's sympathetic words, not a call for action or reflection.

If you reflect on what a valid request for administrative or site-member action would be, I think you'd find that the moderators and the members are doing exactly what they ought to do: deleting overt racism, correcting unthinking racism, and supplying a venue where people, including those without much cross-cultural or interracial experience, can come to safely seek advice.

Frankly, this post looks a lot like trolling. In that way, it closely resembles the questions to which it links.
posted by anotherpanacea at 11:14 AM on May 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


notjustfoxybrown, it seems a little off to use the term "the black community" here.

Holy crap, Meatbomb, I ordinarily love you, but don't. Just don't.

In US society, where white is reinforced over and over as the societal norm, there isn't a "white community" and us white folks don't think of ourselves that way.

But lots and lots of black folks find the construct of "the black community" to be a useful and empowering one, and it's not up to us to tell them not to.
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:15 AM on May 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


First, someone needs to explain to me what the fuck "supermanning" a "ho" is. Urban Dictionary's suggestion seems somewhat unlikely, to say the least.

No, dersins, I think that's correct.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 11:08 AM on May 12


Eponysterical?
posted by electroboy at 11:16 AM on May 12, 2009


I would like to see a moratorium on using "folks" when speaking about black people. There are plenty of whiteys out there who only use the word "folks" to refer to black people.
posted by Mister_A at 11:19 AM on May 12, 2009


For the record, I had not seen Sidhedevil's comment when I typed that.
posted by Mister_A at 11:20 AM on May 12, 2009


"black community"

Meatbomb, that's precisely why the term is in quotes ... Nontheless, getting to know a few blacks in person is better than answering questions based on stereotypes presented in the media.
posted by notjustfoxybrown at 11:21 AM on May 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


You may be right, Mister_A. While I tend to use both the phrases white folks and black folks when discussing race, but only when discussing race, and it's a weird vocal glitch, and not a useful one. I shall try and steer clear of doing so in the future.
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:24 AM on May 12, 2009


For the record, I say "folk" a lot too.
posted by notjustfoxybrown at 11:25 AM on May 12, 2009


But lots and lots of black folks find the construct of "the black community" to be a useful and empowering one, and it's not up to us to tell them not to.

Even when their message is that they're not a homogeneous group?
posted by Sys Rq at 11:25 AM on May 12, 2009 [3 favorites]


Yeah, then you can start your answers with "well, my black friend said..."
posted by smackfu at 11:26 AM on May 12, 2009


What are you trying to accomplish here? Do you want the question or the answer deleted?

I am trying to have a healthy discussion about the discussion of race/class on Metafilter. I failed to see how that's trolling?
posted by notjustfoxybrown at 11:27 AM on May 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


Hi Astro Zombie! The reason I am aware of it is that I used to catch myself doing it, too. It is weird. I think it started with faux-folksy politicians or something.
posted by Mister_A at 11:28 AM on May 12, 2009


I say "folks" constantly but I don't think I usually write "black" or "white" in front of it or use it in reference to racial partitions, so as far as I can tell I'm just intruding into this sidebar to acknowledge that I'm just intruding into this sidebar. But if I'm missing some folks-qua-folks nuance, I'm all ears.
posted by cortex (staff) at 11:32 AM on May 12, 2009


I am trying to have a healthy discussion about the discussion of race/class on Metafilter.

Healthy discussions don't start like this MeTa thread did. Other than that, I agree with your general aims and principles.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 11:32 AM on May 12, 2009


I would like to see a moratorium on using "folks" when speaking about black people. There are plenty of whiteys out there who only use the word "folks" to refer to black people.

Where I come from, people call people "folks" whether they are black, white, or purple. I see no need to change how I talk.

I say y'all and ain't, too.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 11:33 AM on May 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


I would like to respectfully request that people spend the rest of the day thinking the best about everything they hear...even (and especially) when doing so is difficult. A friend gave words to a feeling I've had today: Why do people tend to place a "CAN this be viewed as X-ist" filter over content from their lives when they could just as easily place a "SHOULD this be viewed as X-ist." Perhaps if all of us worked a little harder to understand the motive behind things that are said/done/asked and did what we could to strive to believe the best intentions are at heart, then perhaps we could be more helpful to one another and less mean-spirited.

Go ahead. Lash into me.
posted by jefficator at 11:34 AM on May 12, 2009 [3 favorites]


Go home hippy.
posted by smackfu at 11:35 AM on May 12, 2009


I use folks for many if not all groups of humans. I see that it could be detrimental if you only use it for black people, but don't take my folks away from me!
posted by schyler523 at 11:35 AM on May 12, 2009


Healthy discussions don't start like this MeTa thread did.

Well, I hope a healthy discussion can still result from it. Excuse me for not being nice about it initially. I wasn't feeling all that congenial when I posted it.
posted by notjustfoxybrown at 11:35 AM on May 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


On non-preview: What St. Alia and Cortex said.
posted by schyler523 at 11:36 AM on May 12, 2009


Hehe, the original post here uses "folks" to refer to white people (presumably).
posted by smackfu at 11:37 AM on May 12, 2009


If "we're" gonna do the moral ethnic judo, here are a few phrases "we" might want to avoid:

These are regular people you are dealing with, anonymous. Treat them as you would treat anyone else.

and it's not up to us to tell them not to.


Even when their message is that they're not a homogeneous group?

posted by Dumsnill at 11:38 AM on May 12, 2009


I would like to propose a moratorium on the watching of "The Wire," or BET, or the listening of any Wu Tang or Rick Ross CDs for any Mefite who does not personally know and interact with members of the "black community," who despite what many here think, are exceedingly diverse in class, education, culture and norms.

Wait. Why can't I be a consumer of these media products and simultaneously appreciate the diversity of the black community? I am able to watch Kung Fu movies and also realize that not every Asian knows martial arts. I am able to listen to country music and not assume that every white guy is in love with his tractor. Why am I not also capable of watching BET and refraining from making stereotypes? I'm not stupid.

I try very hard not to answer questions I'm not qualified to answer. I know I don't know jackshit about what it's like to be black or to live in a majority-black neighborhood, so if I have a point of view on the topic of race, I try to make it clear I'm presenting it from my middle-class white perspective. I'm not sure what more you're asking of me.
posted by desjardins at 11:39 AM on May 12, 2009 [5 favorites]


I would like to respectfully request that people spend the rest of the day thinking the best about everything they hear

White folks (there, I said it :) have the privilege of assuming that most people have their best intentions at heart. Language matters, and it seems odd to ask that we ignore the weight of history when considering the intentions of anonymous speakers or writers.
posted by muddgirl at 11:40 AM on May 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


Hello foxy from another foxy. I think this is a potentially productive discussion, but I wish you'd framed it like this

I am trying to have a healthy discussion about the discussion of race/class on Metafilter.


from the get-go.
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 11:40 AM on May 12, 2009


Whoops, should have previewed.
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 11:41 AM on May 12, 2009


Desjardins:

As my niece would say, good for you for being able to distinguish fictionalized presentations from real life. Obviously, based on the answers in that thread, not everyone is able to do that. Secondly, the use of "The Wire" and BET was clearly hyperbolic. So, if this thread doesn't pertain to you, don't worry about what more you need to do. I'm not asking anything of you specifically.
posted by notjustfoxybrown at 11:41 AM on May 12, 2009


I don’t see colour. People tell me I’m white and I believe them because police officers call me “sir”.
posted by gman at 11:43 AM on May 12, 2009 [3 favorites]


Maybe it (folks-ism) is an eastern thing. Around here, no one really says "folks" unless they're talking about race, and generally, they are talking about black people. I don't think there's any malice in it, but it seems like it is a subconscious way of reinforcing "otherness".

Finally, just to be clear, I wasn't motivated by malice (for once) in posting that comment. Hugs all around!
posted by Mister_A at 11:43 AM on May 12, 2009


Excuse me for not being nice about it initially. I wasn't feeling all that congenial when I posted it.

Of course. As I mentioned to someone who was emailing me about a similar topic, the big trick here is waiting for a time when all 40000 members are not having a bad day/time/hour so that they can all be receptive to the opinions of well-meaning people who have decent points and just want to have a good talk about it. I try to write in MeTa as if everyone just got back from getting a root canal and the novocaine is wearing off.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 11:43 AM on May 12, 2009 [17 favorites]


Well, I hope a healthy discussion can still result from it. Excuse me for not being nice about it initially. I wasn't feeling all that congenial when I posted it.

Well, and we hope that's what comes of it too, so we're right there with you on that. I'll say that I can understand how you ended up posting the way you did and why you weren't feeling congenial, but letting that moment of bad-feeling motivation be what carries you through the posting process is rarely a good idea.

Giving it time to settle, looking at what you're writing to make sure that none of it is there just because it makes you feel like, ha, that's gonna sting! or whatever, and just trying your best to kick off this discussion of something that concerns you on as neutral and concisely-stated terms as possible is the way to go, as hard as it can be sometimes to keep that in mind when something has your hackles up. People when they go to post to Metatalk are often their own worst enemies, and it felt like that was sort of what was going on here, much as I am happy to see it not play out that way in the thread.
posted by cortex (staff) at 11:43 AM on May 12, 2009


I think I picked up "folks" from my times in the South and the Midwest. I've been known to use folks as the variable name for a data structure representing users. My user data comes in without any fields for race, religion, or ethnic group.

Interestingly, it functions as a plural, the same way "y'all" is for the second person plural. We have no singular "folk," which makes it very entertaining when I attempt to iterate over folks by selecting a given folk. Y'all, my code is all folked up.
posted by adipocere at 11:44 AM on May 12, 2009 [3 favorites]


Oh, and serious question related to your title (Get off your computers and go mingle with someone who doesn't look like you): How do you do this without also being racist? I don't choose my friends based on skin color, but most of them are white because of where I grew up and where I went to school. My workplace is about 25% black, but it seems ridiculous to make a point of socializing with my black coworkers simply because they're black. I'm friendly with some of them, not so much with others, same as my white coworkers. I just can't see how anything good could come of "OH HAI I NEED SOME MOAR BLACK FRIENDS WILL YOU BE MY BLACK FRIEND?"
posted by desjardins at 11:46 AM on May 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


I don't think the moment of bad feeling is what motivated my posting. Honestly, I don't think I could continue being a member of this community had I not voiced my concerns. If you look at some of the other questions I've cited, they are months old so clearly I didn't simply react and yell, "what's wrong with ya'll?"

This is an issue that's been on my mind for some time. Yesterday's responses (not the question itself. I actually believe the poster's query was a sincere one) really burned me. Finally, I know the mods are trying to proffer correct Meta etiquette, but I could do without the tone of some of it. I get we're supposed to be polite.
posted by notjustfoxybrown at 11:49 AM on May 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


I know the mods are trying to proffer correct Meta etiquette, but I could do without the tone of some of it.

Oh, the irony.
posted by grouse at 11:51 AM on May 12, 2009


Oh, the irony.

Funny, I don't see it that way.
posted by notjustfoxybrown at 11:53 AM on May 12, 2009


What Meatbomb said was valid, about the "black community", and I'm glad you came in to clarify that, notjustfoxybrown. Because I think grouping people into categories like that is divisive, too.

/derail

I recently chaperoned a field trip in my son's middle school. Two of my charges were having a discussion about a band they wanted to put together. The girl says to the boy, "Well, you're Asian, right? You look Asian." And he answers, "Well, actually, I'm Filipino." So she went on, "Well, but, you could act Asian, right?"

I have no clue what that even means.

I asked her why she needed a category at all. Her response was that, for the band, she was black, one of her friends was "Indian," so now, "We need an Asian."

*sigh*

/end derail

Anyway, back to my point (yes! I have one!) I flagged the comments I found offensive in the thread, but I am not at all surprised by this callout, given the subject. I'm just not sure that this is going to help because it might be giving that thread more attention than it would have otherwise received.

And another vote for using "folks" to apply to pretty much everybody.
posted by misha at 11:54 AM on May 12, 2009


Goddamn fucking white people, with their Wu-Tang and their internet posting.
posted by Damn That Television at 11:54 AM on May 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


I am trying to have a healthy discussion about the discussion of race/class on Metafilter. I failed to see how that's trolling?

I've looked at your profile and history, and I can see now that you're not trolling. I'm sorry for the accusation: I spoke too soon.

That said, this thread is doomed because each new contributor will start by responding to what they see 'above the fold', which never once comes out and says, "Let's talk about race. Here are some things that bother me. Here's what I'd like you to do about it."

Even now, I'm not sure exactly what you want to say. You're frustrated with the way some people deal with race on Metafilter. Orthogonality, for instance, seems to have a strange idea of how to be visitor in the predominantly black neighborhood in the average American city. What would you like to say to him? Would you like him to justify himself? Would you like a retraction?

What do you want from the rest of us, we who have read your post, gotten through the snark to the line fifty comments down where you clearly state your intentions, and are interested in joining you in a discussion about race and the internet? Are we talking about media representations of race, the value of anonymous questions and comments on the internet, or the experience of black men and women on this site? What kind of conversation do you want to have? Should it be academic, personal, or a mixture of the two? Should I pull down my copy of Charles Mills' The Racial Contract, or is this more a Bevery Tatum "Why Are All The Black Kids Sitting Together In the Cafeteria?" kind of situation?

Finally, what, if anything, do you want from jessamym, cortex, or mathowie, who have the power of the ban hammer and the site member's respect and attention?

The forum is yours. Do you want to start?
posted by anotherpanacea at 11:56 AM on May 12, 2009 [4 favorites]


This is an issue that's been on my mind for some time.

Yeah, I don't mean to imply otherwise at all. I'm talking about that moment when a mefite goes from thinking about something to posting a metatalk about something. It's a moment that is sometimes kind of emotionally bumpy in its own right, there's what seems like a sort of flashpoint effect where the decision to post can carry with it some of the strong feeling that made that decision happen (whether it's someone immediately reacting to something that just happened or someone finally crossing the threshold of posting about something that's been simmering for a while for them).

I'm not gonna keep going on about it, I don't want to make this into a protracted exchange about Metatalk posting style either, but some of the early responses to the thread were less than great discussion-starter stuff in part because they were reacting to some of the not-so-great aspects of the post rather than the really worthy subject you're trying to broach, and hopefully talking a little bit about that meta-aspect of it will help sort of put that on the table and let people get on with the actual discussion more instead of just quibbling with the acknowledged framing problems.
posted by cortex (staff) at 11:56 AM on May 12, 2009


Healthy discussions don't start like this MeTa thread did. Other than that, I agree with your general aims and principles.

I'm really sorry but the moderators follow ups are slowly turning my reaction from moderately bemused and maybe only mildly annoyed at some of the answers to becoming a little angry. I don't know, I respectfully disagree with this. And sorry, cortex, I don't think notfoxybrown should be told to sit back, reread and make sure she's not just typing this for the zingers, because it just did not come off to me in that way whatsoever. Sure it wasn't a super nice way to open a MetaTalk, but I don't think it sounded malicious or combative or even like notjustfoxybrown was trying to make the cleverest comment either. At the most, there's a certain tone of annoyance I detect, but I think it's a legitimate one and the points she are making in her opening aren't just being said for being said's sake.

Yes, you're right that it is good that people are ignoring the race issue or at least telling the OP that's not the main point in the AskMe, but I don't think that's enough. AskMe is limited by the fact that answers need to answer the question and while people can and certainly did do so while discussing the issue at hand, at the same time I can see people not answering as well because it doesn't seem like the place to do it. And this MeTa is not as "YOU WHITE PEOPLE" as everyone else is trying to make it sound. When I initially read the opener of this MeTa, it wasn't notjustfoxybrown making it sound fighty, but the defensive responses that immediately came afterwards that set the tone, so I think the wrong person is being told to calm down here.
posted by kkokkodalk at 12:01 PM on May 12, 2009 [16 favorites]


So, were there lots of uses of the racist flag on that post?
posted by smackfu at 12:05 PM on May 12, 2009


Finally, I know the mods are trying to proffer correct Meta etiquette, but I could do without the tone of some of it. I get we're supposed to be polite.

I think your goal here is laudable-- the Metafilter community is overwhelmingly white and can be gratingly tone deaf sometimes when it comes to discussing race (I do not except myself from this, by the way). But you started out this thread by essentially shouting at white people to stop watching The Wire and listening to Wu Tang. I understand that this was born of frustration and don't condemn you for it, but if your goal was to foster a productive discussion of race and you get that "we're supposed to be polite," why start the discussion by being shouty?

Look at it this way-- you felt attacked by the series of questions and responses you linked to (and rightfully so-- even an unintentional attack is still an attack) so you reacted defensively by posting this Metatalk thread. But please understand that in taking the tone you did in the beginning of the post you in turn made other people feel attacked, and some of them reacted defensively in turn. And so on. A productive discussion of a touchy subject like race is difficult enough in the least heated of circumstances, but when it's set up as an attack / defend / attack / defend feedback loop it's not likely to do much other than degenerate.
posted by dersins at 12:06 PM on May 12, 2009


I'm not telling notjustfoxybrown to calm down, at all, to be clear, and I don't think she's being unreasonable in this thread. Our critical concerns are about metatalk post framing and how that can badly pivot a well-meaning thread from the start, for a variety of reasons, but I'm trying to not keep going on about it because I don't want the thread to be about that any more than nojustfoxybrown does. I don't want to encourage some feedback loop on the subject here.
posted by cortex (staff) at 12:10 PM on May 12, 2009


If I had come on here bowing and scrapping with a rag around my head, there would be people who would feel attacked by my statements. Oh well. The use of "The Wire" and Wu-tang was meant partially in jest to make a point. I''m completely dumbfounded that folks can't see that.
posted by notjustfoxybrown at 12:11 PM on May 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


Bad AskMe question. Worse MeTa callout.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 12:15 PM on May 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


Shorter version:

1. We're here. We understand this isn't about BET. We understand that black people aren't all the same. What kind of conversation do you want to have?

2. Is there anyone in particular who you would like to hear from? orthogonality, perhaps?

3. What, if anything, do you want from jessamym, cortex, or mathowie?
posted by anotherpanacea at 12:17 PM on May 12, 2009


Me: But lots and lots of black folks find the construct of "the black community" to be a useful and empowering one, and it's not up to us to tell them not to.

SysRq: Even when their message is that they're not a homogeneous group?


I'm not seeing the contradiction there. notjustfoxybrown used "black community" in scare quotes once, and without scare quotes once, and I understood it to mean different things each time. Perhaps I was mistaken?

I just don't think it's the job of white folks to tell black people they shouldn't be talking about a "'black community'."

I know black people in the US who believe very strongly that the idea and construct of a 'black community' is extremely empowering and helpful, and I know black people in the US who believe very strongly that the idea and construct of a 'black community' is limiting and divisive, and I don't think it's up to me or any other white person to adjudicate that heterogeneity of opinion. (And that's even without the international debate over whether a construct of an international "black community"/"African and diaspora community" is helpful or limiting!)
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:19 PM on May 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


I would like to take this opportunity to offend all races, equally. Only I can't think of anything to say.
posted by blue_beetle at 12:19 PM on May 12, 2009


Anotherpanacea:
I believe I answered your question(s) upthread.
posted by notjustfoxybrown at 12:21 PM on May 12, 2009


I believe I answered your question(s) upthread.

Please forgive my obtuseness then, but would you mind linking to your replies or else repeating yourself? Even if I'm the only current commenter who missed it the first time, it would be helpful to newcomers to gather the answers to these questions in one place.
posted by anotherpanacea at 12:25 PM on May 12, 2009


You know what was awesome about the White House correspondents' dinner? The way Wanda Sykes called Rush Limbaugh a terrorist and then everybody got all up in arms about how rude she was. It's like they totally forgot that Rush has been saying the same thing about our president for years now.

It's almost as if white people are allowed to say whatever they want about black people, no matter how accomplished, but black people need to be careful about how they refer to white people, no matter how loathesome. Isn't that weird?

(Then again, isn't it clever how Wanda Sykes illustrated this double standard?)
posted by felix betachat at 12:25 PM on May 12, 2009 [14 favorites]


Why are the 10th Anniversary pages white?
posted by gman at 12:25 PM on May 12, 2009


If I had come on here bowing and scrapping with a rag around my head

Well, I for one am glad you didn't do that. And I think your callout was a lot better than any callout I might have made, which would have been something more along the lines of WHAT THE FUCKING FUCK IS WRONG WITH SOME OF YOU PEOPLE?!?!!!!!?!!!!1!!!

there would be people who would feel attacked by my statements. Oh well. The use of "The Wire" and Wu-tang was meant partially in jest to make a point. I''m completely dumbfounded that folks can't see that.

Humor often doesn't go well on MeTa, even regarding issues less difficult than race. Also, derailing and the "tone argument" are almost always more comfortable than dealing with difficult issues.

The whole debate-squad strategy works well for deflecting personal responsibility, which is why I think it's so very very popular.
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:27 PM on May 12, 2009 [5 favorites]


I was derided as a hippy or as a white person with the luxury of assuming the best about people's intentions. How, may I ask, does one mingle with someone who doesn't look like oneself when good faith efforts to do so are met with derisive cries of racism?
posted by jefficator at 12:30 PM on May 12, 2009


I try to write in MeTa as if everyone just got back from getting a root canal and the novocaine is wearing off.

Drooling and talking like a moron beats the hell out of the pain.
posted by ND¢ at 12:33 PM on May 12, 2009


Felix betachat:

So glad you recounted Wanda's comments. A great way to illustrate an important point.

Every once in awhile, I want to stick my head in the sand and make believe we've made it to some Promised Land here in this country. I work/socialize with/love/date people of all races. I've got a president who looks (sort of) like me. My niece and nephew will have a future brighter than anything their ancestors could have ever imagined.

And then I read some of the reactionary comments on sites like Meta ... and I remember that it's still America. Too many people still don't want to be called out on their racist attitudes ... or if you do call them out, they want you to make nice about it. And it makes me sad. Not angry, just sad.
posted by notjustfoxybrown at 12:33 PM on May 12, 2009 [10 favorites]


You know what was awesome about the White House correspondents' dinner? The way Wanda Sykes called Rush Limbaugh a terrorist and then everybody got all up in arms about how rude she was. It's like they totally forgot that Rush has been saying the same thing about our president for years now.

This assumes that Limbaugh et. al is interested in fairness and consistency. He's interested in scoring political points and ginning up the base.
posted by electroboy at 12:37 PM on May 12, 2009


Just a little bit more regarding the "Folks" derail:

Where I grew up "the Folks" or "the People" refered to police, particularly white police, or alternately the white establishment (aka the Ofay), as in "If you steal that bike you are likely to get picked up by the People" or "the Folks don't allow black people to join their country club." Interesting how it means pertty much the opposite in the context here.

Also, when I moved to the big city we had this issue: Folks vs. People

Sorry to fuel the derail, I'll go back to spectating.
posted by Pollomacho at 12:41 PM on May 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


anotherpanacea, not every MeTa discussion needs to end up being about "what do you want the moderators to do?" It's a community, I thought that was the point and a flag that gets waved here quite often. If someone is bringing up their grievance about the community, sometimes the point is to just hash it out, which again, I thought was something MeTa was used for quite often.

"Fine what do you want the mods to do" is a bullshit question quite honestly. Not just here, but in any MeTa where a person is bringing up a community matter that isn't necessarily about banning or moderating. It seems like people like to throw that one out to shut people up by saying "Oh, so you don't have any concrete policies about this? Then quite your whining." It's also something I see come up often when people try to discuss why something that they feel is racially insensitive, ignorant or just plain tone deaf. "So what do you want to do about it?" Well, what some of use would like to do about it, is let everyone know just what it is, how it comes across, and why that is. Notjustfoxybrown wasn't talking about policy, though her use of "moratorium" might seem that way, but to read that literally seems like a willful desire to be obtuse to create some kind of talking point smokescreen.

There seem to be a couple of comments here talking about how all this is notjustfoxybrown's fault for not wording it in the most nice respectful language that is possible to not offend people's sense, but where was all the call for that kind of thinking when the tone deaf comments were made initially anyway. Look being pointed out that you have a smudge of shit on your face isn't always personal. Did notjustfoxybrown call anybody a racist? She said some of these assumptions are just not cool, and that seems A-OK to me and not combative at all. I did not find this call out, but I certainly see a lot of surly zingers coming from other people and if we want to talk about how the tone was set wrong, and notjustfoxybrown's callout is a terrible callout because it's creating some kind of defensive downward spiral, I don't see notjustfoxybrown at fault here for starting that.
posted by kkokkodalk at 12:42 PM on May 12, 2009 [9 favorites]


kkokkodalk: "What do you want the mods to do?" was just one, and the last, of my questions. I am the first to champion community policing. However, I wish people, especially white people, would stop putting words in her mouth. notjustfoxybrown has a law degree and can speak for herself. I, for one, would like to know what she has to say on the matter.
posted by anotherpanacea at 12:46 PM on May 12, 2009


(sorry: community SELF-policing)
posted by anotherpanacea at 12:47 PM on May 12, 2009


Even when their message is that they're not a homogeneous group?

A community based on a shared set of traits does not necessarily equal homogenous group. I'm a member of my local community, my professional community, hobby communities, the MetaFilter community, etc. A community in that sense is just a group of people that share something in common and interact with one another. I definitely agree that in certain instances viewing the black community as a whole might lead to unfair generalizations or misguided conclusions, but the concept itself is benign in my opinion.
posted by burnmp3s at 12:48 PM on May 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


Hey, I thought it (Wu Tang, The Wire, etc) was funny, notjustfoxybrown. I think that some people got defensive about it because race is a touchy subject, and most people folks here don't like to think of themselves as racist–but many haven't really examined some of their internalized feelings and attitudes about race, and they suddenly have it thrust in their faces that they may, indeed harbor some racist attitudes. The truth is that we all carry some racial prejudice within ourselves, to some degree or other, but there can be extremely unpleasant consequences to acknowledging that you are a "racist". So people react strongly, they say, "No, that's not me! I think The Wire is an important social commentary that highlights the injustices inherent in our law enforcement and judicial systems! I am 'down' with black folks! I AM NOT A RACIST!"

But I'll tell you what, I carry racial prejudices. I have heard all the jokes, and I've laughed at some of them, and I've been the butt of some of them. When I was in my twenties, I swore I didn't have a racist bone in my body. Now I know I do–it's my left fibula. So, by the most narrow definition, I am a "racist". But the wonderful thing is, now that I know about my fibula, I actually feel less racist than I used to. Listen: I'm a pretty strong guy, and I can run a mile in under 6 minutes, and even so, I occasionally have this little thrill of fear when I'm alone and I see a couple of young black men that I don't know. I know now that it's just my fibula, and I feel silly and relieved. It's just the fibula again! No big deal. Because if they were going to rob me, these two young men, I would have known it the instant I saw them.

I was robbed once, at gunpoint, by two young black men in an upscale neighborhood. You know you're getting robbed when the robbers appear out of nowhere and head right for you at top speed. It's not like in the movies where they taunt you and chase you. They just show up, get on top of you and take your stuff.

"Hey, we're about to get robbed," I said to my companion, and my voice sounded eerily calm. "What?" she said, and her voice didn't sound very calm at all. "It's OK, give them your money," I said. She hadn't seen the gun yet. She gave them her money. She saw the gun. I gave them my money. Our hands touched briefly, mine and the head robber's. They left. We went home.

The point is, their actions betrayed their intent, not their skin color. I have had bad trouble with white guys too. I had one show up at my job and cold-cock me in the face. I knew there was going to be trouble when I saw him, but I really wasn't expecting a punch in the face without so much as a how-do-you-do. A melee ensued. I vanquished my foe, but he cut my head badly in several places with a sharpened belt buckle, of all things. A young man took his shirt off and held it to my bloody scalp. "Thank you," I said.
posted by Mister_A at 12:54 PM on May 12, 2009 [13 favorites]


anotherpanacea: I'm confused, so are you saying I'm one of those white people putting words in her mouth or are you saying the point of your third question was to keep people from putting words in her mouth? If it's the former a) I'm not white b) I'm not putting words in her mouth, since in fact I haven't said she said anything at all, but talking about the response to her words.

If you mean the latter, I agree with you she can speak for yourself, I think my point still stands that it's kind of a moot question in this discussion since it really is not about policy at all but about community voice and discussion and you're just providing more ink to muddy the waters with. I'm not disagreeing per se with what you said, I just find that point not to be an issue here.
posted by kkokkodalk at 12:56 PM on May 12, 2009


notjustfoxybrown,

For all of our (mefi) community's occasional idiocy and failings, I maintain a belief that the majority of the users here are progressive, open-minded learners. However, it's rare that this desire to learn from one another is expressed. That's a lurking sentiment. So, I'm just gonna say "Hi! White girl here! Just trying to keep learning."

I sure as hell don't think you framed this is an insurmountably prickly way. Idiots are annoying. But you did go straight fo the "stuff white people like" examples of black culture. I get the joke, but it's a "you're all like this," (ya liberal dunderheads) jab, too. May as well include voting for Barack Obama. Still, my toes don't feel stepped on by it.

As you were.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 12:56 PM on May 12, 2009


Notjustfoxybrown, I think part of the problem is that, being white, most of us have a hard time understanding how a particular comment is racist, particularly when (at least most of the time for most white people I know) they do not think of themselves as prejudiced or having any animosity towards someone of another color. When a black person speaks up, instead of being able to hear what is being said and see things from the new perspective, the white person gets defensive, feels attacked, and then feels like no matter how hard they try, some black people will always be mad at them/ have a chip on their shoulder. (I am not saying this is an appropriate attitude. I AM saying that this is what I hear from other white people when they experience these situations.)

Obviously, white people need to come to a realization that their way of looking at the world is not the only way and that they need to LISTEN and try to comprehend what the black person is saying. But that is hard to do for many white people, who assume that their view of the world IS how the world looks-they truly cannot-CANNOT-get their head around the differing perspective. Meanwhile, the black person feels dissed and marginalized yet again, as the white person (in their view) is refusing to consider their point of view. Not realizing it isn't refusal much of the time as much as, to use an analogy, a type of blindness.

This, I think, is why it is so important for both sides to try to think the best of one another. At the least, it makes it easier to communicate when both sides aren't being defensive.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 12:57 PM on May 12, 2009


What a depressing thread. OMG, notjustfoxybrown didn't phrase her callout in the exact perfect way so that everyone would understand exactly what she meant and not feel defensive and derail the discussion! Completely unlike all other MetaTalk callouts, which are uniformly polite and thoughtful and expressed in objective, unemotional terms!

The poster had good reason to be pissed. She expressed herself effectively, and anyone who thinks she literally doesn't want white people to watch "The Wire" or listen to Wu Tang is an idiot. I gather a lot of people here are made uncomfortable by the whole idea of talking about Race and MetaFilter, just as a while back a lot of people were made uncomfortable by the whole idea of talking about Gender and MetaFilter, and that's understandable but too bad. But for fuck's sake, don't take out your discomfort by sniping at notjustfoxybrown. If the discussion makes you uncomfortable, go outside and watch the spring breeze ruffle the new leaves on the trees (or, if you live in the southern hemisphere, rake the autumn leaves that have fallen). Just don't try to hone your snark here. There's a time and a place for everything.
posted by languagehat at 12:58 PM on May 12, 2009 [32 favorites]


Go home hippy.

As a hippy hippie, I implore the distinct spellings of these words be observed!
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 1:00 PM on May 12, 2009 [7 favorites]


jefficator: Well, in light of your AskMe I'm trying to figure out what your comment here means. I'm waffling between the choices of you really are as tone deaf about race issues as you came off in your AskMe and your question is sincere, or if that was some kind of weird jab at some kind of stand in for the friends you think wrongfully accused you of racism (dude, don't get me wrong, losing friends due to something unintended sucks and I don't think what you said/did was racist, just kind of tone deaf). But I'm going to answer your question by giving you the benefit of the doubt that this is a serious question your answering: Just look at the discussion going on here? I mean right here right now is the kind of discussion about the sensitivity surrounding race issues. Also, if you were seriously asking, just go and mingle? You don't have to think of it is mingling with the great unknown other. That's kind of the point.
posted by kkokkodalk at 1:02 PM on May 12, 2009


Black men in their thirties or older will greet each other, when passing in the street, by nodding and saying "Alright"; do the same to anyone over thirty.

wow orthogonality what the fuck dude

"I taught Mike a few phrases to help him with his "interracial" conversations. You know like "fleece it out," "going Mach 5," "dinkinflicka." You know, things us Negroes say."
posted by Optimus Chyme at 1:04 PM on May 12, 2009 [4 favorites]


"..despite what many here think, are exceedingly diverse in class, education, culture and norms. "

I just want to come in here out of left field and say, seriously, there are people who read and participate on this website - and, what's more, many people, apparently - that think of black people as a homogeneous group of the same class, education, culture and norms?

Because I would like you guys to raise your hands. Go on now. I'm waiting.
posted by kbanas at 1:13 PM on May 12, 2009


Obviously, white people need to come to a realization that their way of looking at the world is not the only way and that they need to LISTEN and try to comprehend what the black person is saying.

Obviously people need to stop lumping people together and assuming that they think a certain way or listen a certain way because they are white or black or purple or whatever. You should listen to the person's point of view not the "race's" Who the hell speaks for a whole race anyway?
posted by Pollomacho at 1:15 PM on May 12, 2009


I think part of the problem is that, being white, most of us have a hard time understanding how a particular comment is racist....


Ugh, I hate it when somebody comes along and groups all us white people together in an attempt to patronizingly explain how "we" think. Particularly because it's never the person I would elect, had I had the chance to vote on it.

On preview: Who the hell speaks for a whole race anyway? Exactly.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 1:16 PM on May 12, 2009 [14 favorites]


Completely unlike all other MetaTalk callouts, which are uniformly polite and thoughtful and expressed in objective, unemotional terms!

Heh. So, completely unlike all other MetaTalk callouts, you expected people to be nice to the poster.
posted by smackfu at 1:17 PM on May 12, 2009 [5 favorites]


I, for one, would like to know what she has to say on the matter.

Well, okay. Your question We're here. We understand this isn't about BET. We understand that black people aren't all the same. What kind of conversation do you want to have? seems to have been answered pretty well by this: I am trying to have a healthy discussion about the discussion of race/class on Metafilter. I don't understand how that doesn't answer your question.

This isn't a weird callout to me. This is a version of "Hey, mefites who don't know enough to be helpful about [medical issue]/[city where poster wants to go]/[foreign language], could you please not answer like you know what you're talking about?"

We see meTas like this a fair amount. notjustfoxybrown hasn't asked the mods to do anything about it - why would she? Why would you expect her to? - because there isn't anything for them to "do" except remind us to not be dicks to each other and clean up any messes that get made, and remind people to not answes AskMes that they don't know anything about.
posted by rtha at 1:19 PM on May 12, 2009 [4 favorites]


Agree with languagehat. MetaTalk features eyebrow-singing snark almost every day about things that don't justify anywhere near as much passion as the subject of this post. If you want to be put out, be put out about that, but this was a prickly post about a legitimately prickly subject. I have no idea why something not being softpedaled in MetaTalk is giving some people the vapors all of a sudden.
posted by Your Time Machine Sucks at 1:20 PM on May 12, 2009


Obviously people need to stop lumping people together and assuming that they think a certain way or listen a certain way because they are white or black or purple or whatever. You should listen to the person's point of view not the "race's" Who the hell speaks for a whole race anyway?

Yes, I think that's part of what bothers me, as some of the sentiment found in this thread seems to say, "Why can't all you white people stop lumping all black people together," which I find to be .. well, something - ironic, maybe? - because that statement does exactly what it laments.

All and all, people are so different that I am against lumping of any kind. Plus, who likes lumps?
posted by kbanas at 1:20 PM on May 12, 2009


because there isn't anything for them to "do" except remind us to not be dicks to each other and clean up any messes that get made, and remind people to not answes AskMes that they don't know anything about.

The tricky bit is that most people don't even read MetaTalk. The posters in this thread, me included, are the same people who respond to every MetaTalk thread.

How many of the commenters in this thread even posted answers to the original question?
posted by smackfu at 1:21 PM on May 12, 2009


I think part of the problem is that, being white, most of us have a hard time understanding how a particular comment is racist

As a person of mixed European descent, I distance myself from this person.
posted by Burhanistan at 1:24 PM on May 12, 2009 [4 favorites]


jefficator: Well, in light of your AskMe I'm trying to figure out what your comment here means. I'm waffling between the choices of you really are as tone deaf about race issues as you came off in your AskMe and your question is sincere, or if that was some kind of weird jab at some kind of stand in for the friends you think wrongfully accused you of racism (dude, don't get me wrong, losing friends due to something unintended sucks and I don't think what you said/did was racist, just kind of tone deaf). But I'm going to answer your question by giving you the benefit of the doubt that this is a serious question your answering: Just look at the discussion going on here? I mean right here right now is the kind of discussion about the sensitivity surrounding race issues. Also, if you were seriously asking, just go and mingle? You don't have to think of it is mingling with the great unknown other. That's kind of the point.

You have to make a decision whether you think there is ignorance or malice at the heart of individual comments. You can easily create malice out of ignorance by choosing to impute ill-will where stupidity is a much likelier explanation.

If someone misunderstands me, I likely make them understand me better with patience and understanding rather than irritation and "I'm so sick of...".

Racism-ism, choosing to find malice where this is none, should be an -ism, too. But now someone will say I'm Randy March complaining after Wheel of Fortune. Fine. I'm not saying I get it and I'm not asking for consideration because I'm trying to get it. I'm just wishing someone would spend as much time trying to help me get it as he or she will spend being mad that I don't.
posted by jefficator at 1:31 PM on May 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


As the Whitest Guy in the Room* let me say that

a) I thought the above-the-cut bit was funny and the more-inside measured and reasonable.

b) I knew immediately that this was going to be a dicey thread, but not from the post itself so much as the subject. The epic sexism threads were tough, tough reading at times. But considering the scorched wasteland I pictured in my head this has been a pretty good thread.

c) To actually adress the subject... any one person is clueless about most things in the world. It's good that people realize they are clueless. I've had many, many great and educating experiences that were precipated by realizing or having explained to me how clueless I am about certain things. The MetaFilter community needs to talk about racism just like it needs to talk about sexism and many myriad other issues we've talked about in MetaTalk throughout the years.


* I'm from Iceland.
posted by Kattullus at 1:32 PM on May 12, 2009 [6 favorites]


Ooh, bitch. It's ON! I'm whiter than thou!
posted by Burhanistan at 1:34 PM on May 12, 2009


All and all, people are so different that I am against lumping of any kind.

It's been brought up before, but this is exactly what Colbert's shtick about how he doesn't see color and "people tell me I'm white" is about. Race is an issue, right? And it can be, at the least, problematic sometimes as evidenced by the threads that have been linked in this discussion. And NJFB wants to talk about it, so turning around and saying "well, I'm not racist so I don't even know what you're talking about" and shutting down and nitpicking over any use of words like "black" and "white" is clueless at best and it makes the discussion impossible. If you don't understand what NJFB wants to talk about - keep reading. If you don't have anything to add - then don't.
posted by moxiedoll at 1:37 PM on May 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


kbanas, I'm not attacking you, since this comment comes unfortunately close to yours, but is more in response to the earlier "you're lumping white people together" and "you got off on the wrong foot using things white people like" criticism in this thread. It's that same old argument trotted out to do the same hair-splitting verbal judo whenever discussions about race issues come up, but interestingly notjustfoxybrown's main MeTa callout didn't even mention white people. You can argue it was inferred she meant white people, but even in that case, she wasn't even lumping people together in her initial statement, but specifically calling out people whose impressions seemed to come from pop culture and not from interacting with black people and making that statement. Hell, in fact, I thought this was a great callout simply because the title and her wording of the MeTa left it open to discuss about race in general on Metafilter and the misconceptions that are bandied about without much thought sometimes (she did say go mingle with someone who doesn't look like you," which could apply to everyone quite honestly), even though the main point of the argument stemmed from an issue having to do with people's perceptions black people in America.

The quote from TheStraightener's email that she provided does mention white people, but it wasn't really making the point of lumping people together either, but actually bemoaning the lumping together..er...ness of people.
posted by kkokkodalk at 1:40 PM on May 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


Also, here is a heads-up for anyone reading this far down: if there is an AskMe question about race or sex-as-in-gender, and you are not the race or sex in question, it's okay to not answer!

No one will send you an email saying, "Hey fucker, I noticed you, a straight white guy, did not chime in about your experiences as a Filipino lesbian! Get in there and share your wisdom!"
posted by Optimus Chyme at 1:41 PM on May 12, 2009 [10 favorites]


And then I read some of the reactionary comments on sites like Meta ... and I remember that it's still America. Too many people still don't want to be called out on their racist attitudes ... or if you do call them out, they want you to make nice about it.

No one likes to be called-out. For anything. The same thing happens when you call out sex-ism or age-ism or able-ism, or anything. The first response is always going to be "Nuh-uh! That's not what I meant!" or "*I* would never say that!" It makes people defensive. It's a human nature thing. It's not because this is MeTa or because this is America, it's because this is an internet community full of flawed human beings. (An internet community that I would like to point out is not solely comprised of Americans, if we're talking about sweeping generalizations.)

"Making nice" about it is a way to counter-act the defensiveness people feel when their flaws are pointed out. It's the corollary to "I don't mean to be a jerk, but..." When you say something someone else doesn't want to hear, they expect it to come with a sort of apology to them, to soften the blow.

This has nothing to do with anyone here being of any specific color or nationality. It's just how people, in general, roll.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 1:43 PM on May 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


Who the hell speaks for a whole race anyway?

I do. And I think I can speak for all races when I say you wish I would knock it off, already.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 1:43 PM on May 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


All and all, people are so different that I am against lumping of any kind.

People are privileged to grow up identifying as an individual, while at the same time identifying the "other" as a group. That "other" could be black people, asian people, poor people, disabled people, women, or whoever. And then, when persons with a disability or persons who are black complain about being lumped into a group due to white privilege, us white folks complain that we're being lumped into a group! That surely I'm not racist like those other individuals.

Every single white person in America is born with white privilege. That is a common identifying feature of our group. Claiming your individuality does nothing to alleviate that fact.

Privilege 101.
posted by muddgirl at 1:43 PM on May 12, 2009 [6 favorites]


The use of "The Wire" and Wu-tang was meant partially in jest to make a point. I''m completely dumbfounded that folks can't see that.

I agree. I'm baffled by some of the reactions here too. I'm a lily white Kansas girl, and I had no problem understanding the intention behind notjustfoxybrown's post and I think her framing was fine. I see it as a light-hearted way of saying "Hey, this issue is getting on my nerves, but I'm going to be a little bit jokey/snarky about it so that we can all come together and discuss it without feeling overly defensive or overly solemn."

This is a discussion very much worth having.
posted by amyms at 1:46 PM on May 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


Every single white person in America is born with white privilege.

What in the world does that mean?
posted by Burhanistan at 1:47 PM on May 12, 2009 [5 favorites]


I'm confused, so are you saying I'm one of those white people putting words in her mouth or are you saying the point of your third question was to keep people from putting words in her mouth?

Actually, it's a third thing: I wish notjustfoxybrown herself would say, in short, declarative sentences, what it is that she is offended by, and how she would like to see it resolved. This may, or may not, involve action by the mods. It might even involve an apology by the mods, especially cortex, for dealing with mod issues like email posting-permissions in public and derailing the thread. You've said no mod action is necessary, but that's you speaking. Some of NJFB's comments look like they actually do demand mod action. Even if you're not white, you still can't speak for her.

The reason I want to hear from NJFB herself is not because I can't parse her post and comments, but because that's what will be most likely to get her the result she desires. I don't want this thread to turn into a bunch of white academics contesting to see which of us can prove herself the edgiest and most aware of racial prejudice by 'translating' notjustfoxybrown for the benefit of the rest who aren't so cool. That's just another form of white privilege, claiming to be able speak for others. "I speak jive" bullshit. News flash: notjustfoxybrown doesn't need us to be her white knights. The woman has a J.D.

More to the point, as rtha 'translates' for NJFB, the only claims NJFB has made about the purpose of this thread is 'I am trying to have a healthy discussion about the discussion of race/class on Metafilter.' I'm all for it, but I think that that statement only opens the space for something more: what, specifically, we should say as we engage with each other on race.

Is this really supposed to be a thread about Wanda Sykes? (If so, I'll say that I thought she wasn't as funny as the President, but he's a tough act to follow, so that's okay.) But that seems like a wasted opportunity.

This was my first question, and the one everyone seems to ignore. "Healthy" is not a good answer to the question: "What kind of conversation do you want to have?" I'm quite sure that NJFB has an answer to this question, but likely (because she HAS A LAW DEGREE AND A JOB) she is too busy just now to respond. When she gets a chance, I look forward to a more complete answer, and until then I think we're just spinning our wheels here.
posted by anotherpanacea at 1:47 PM on May 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


You are a race of one, It's Raining Florence Henderson. A three-legged race of one, to boot.
posted by Mister_A at 1:48 PM on May 12, 2009


Obviously people need to stop lumping people together and assuming that they think a certain way or listen a certain way because they are white or black or purple or whatever. You should listen to the person's point of view not the "race's" Who the hell speaks for a whole race anyway?
posted by Pollomacho at 1:15 PM on May 12 [+] [!]


I base this on years and years and YEARS of personal observation and personal comments. And even one particularly depressing talk show (Can't remember if it was Oprah or someone else.) Being white, white people say these things to me, and having a black family member and tons of good friends who are black who tell me things from their end.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 1:49 PM on May 12, 2009


Oh, and just as a data point, in my neck of the woods "folks" is mostly used as a synonym for "parents" (e.g. "I'm going to visit my folks this weekend" or "How are your folks enjoying their retirement?"). It's also used to mean "people" in general but I think that's mostly a hokey construction.
posted by amyms at 1:50 PM on May 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


What in the world does [white privilege] mean?
posted by Burhanistan 2 minutes ago


Are you joking?
posted by Optimus Chyme at 1:53 PM on May 12, 2009 [5 favorites]


Every single white person in America is born with white privilege. That is a common identifying feature of our group. Claiming your individuality does nothing to alleviate that fact.

Privilege 101.


So explain this to me - and I'm not being snarky - I mean it earnestly. I will accept that, being a white male born in the US, I've got certain advantages. This is a (largely) patriarchal society, and I've got a penis, so that's one advantage. This is a society where the seat of power sits with mostly old white men, and I'm white, so that's another advantage.

As you say, claiming I am an individual does not alleviate this privilege - privilege that I did not ask for, but have none the less. However, what I would like for you to explain - it seems like you're implying that this privilege has some sort of effect on my ability to view people as individuals rather than as erroneous stereotyped groups - like, you know, "black people like fried chicken and watermelon". I would like, I guess, for you to elaborate on this point, as I don't exactly grock what you're trying to say.
posted by kbanas at 1:55 PM on May 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


I know the mods are trying to proffer correct Meta etiquette, but I could do without the tone of some of it.
Oh, the irony.
Funny, I don't see it that way.


You are making a point about ignorant attitudes on MetaFilter. The mods say they understand what you are saying but dislike the way you brought it up. In reaction, you say they understand what they're saying but you dislike the way they brought it up. Forgive me for thinking this is somewhat ironic. (And for the record, I agree about the ignorance.)
posted by grouse at 1:56 PM on May 12, 2009


Are you joking?
posted by Optimus Chyme 3 minutes ago


You're being disingenuous. Read again.
posted by Burhanistan at 1:57 PM on May 12, 2009


If anyone is honestly wondering about white privilege, Peggy McIntosh's Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack is pretty much the classic beginner's text on the subject.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 1:58 PM on May 12, 2009 [4 favorites]


What in the world does that mean?

Privilege refers to the fact that from the very second you are born, society conspires to make your life easier or harder depending on the circumstances you were born in. Google "white privilege" for essays or I can recommend some books if you'd like. I restricted it to "America" or really "the US and Canada" because I didn't want to get bogged down in geographic differences.
posted by muddgirl at 1:59 PM on May 12, 2009


I like how this thread focuses more on foxy's framing of the metatalk thread and how it "supposedly" fails to facilitate a "healthy" discussion on race while actually having a discussion in this thread on race is completely ignored. This thread is less about race and more about ignoring race by attacking strawmen. All discussions on metatalk are required to be balanced and polite? Did the discussions about sexism start out balanced, polite, and framed in the best "most positive light"? Of course they weren't. And when those threads were labeled as negatively framed, those who were making those accusations were either ignored or told to focus on the question at hand rather than the "framing". But, when it comes to race, I guess following the proper format is more important than the actual reasons behind foxy's post.

I like how it was mentioned above about how the liberal white community that is the majority on this site like to view minorities as theoretical and love to spend their time being defensive about their own behaviors when it comes to race. Like the males in the previous sexism threads, no one likes to suddenly discover that they are not as progressive as they really thought they were. So, they become defensive, attacking the poster and turning a blind eye to their own prejudices. And this behavior is not self-policed in any effective way. I partially think this has to do with the fact that the overall prevailing "liberal" culture leads most people to believe that metafilter is A-OK when it comes to minorities. All those threads on the blue about WOO HOO Obama and F-Hilliary prove that, right?

And it's also a numbers game. There aren't that many minorities here, none of the mods are minorities, and there isn't a community push towards reflecting on how the white "liberal" progressive culture really relates to those who are different. None of the mods are minorities. There are only occasional metatalk threads questioning why Metafilter should "default" to its "whiteness" and not be more open to those who are different. Until the number of minorities on the site increase and become a more visible presence, I doubt the culture here will change at all. As much as people hate being labeled as a "race" or mass generalized, when metafilter defaults a certain way, it's very obvious who is included in that and who isn't. So until the numbers here change, things are going to remain the same. And I don't see that there is going to be a culture change in Metafilter that will be simple or easy. It will be just as violent as the attempted change when it came to sexism and the education for a lot of people on ask.me is going to have to come in threads like those. I really doubt the ask.me's illustrated in this thread actually educated anyone except when it comes to out those who are ignorant and racist and don't realize it. The real education comes when people get mad, start throwing around buckets of cocks, and then start to leave. Those are going to be some fun threads.
posted by Stynxno at 2:00 PM on May 12, 2009 [17 favorites]


Is there anyone in particular who you would like to hear from? orthogonality, perhaps?

That'd be nice. Because my mouth actually dropped open when I read orthogonality's response in that thread. That was fucked up.
posted by desuetude at 2:00 PM on May 12, 2009 [3 favorites]


The funny thing about liberal guilt is that it's not really anybody's fault.
posted by koeselitz at 2:03 PM on May 12, 2009


Yikes. We are quickly approaching the point where some people express their shock that other people on this site could be so ignorant, and start storming off and closing their accounts.
posted by smackfu at 2:03 PM on May 12, 2009


You're being disingenuous. Read again.
posted by Burhanistan at 1:57 PM on May 12


I'm really not. If you are genuinely curious to know what white privilege is/means, I'd be happy to email you a whole bunch of essays and such. Hell, I'll send you a book at my expense. But if you're just being an ass, I don't want to waste my time.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 2:08 PM on May 12, 2009 [3 favorites]


However, what I would like for you to explain - it seems like you're implying that this privilege has some sort of effect on my ability to view people as individuals rather than as erroneous stereotyped groups - like, you know, "black people like fried chicken and watermelon". I would like, I guess, for you to elaborate on this point, as I don't exactly grock what you're trying to say.

I don't have a lot of time to respond to what you're asking - it would take a whole essay. Basically, it's much more subtle than "black people eat fried chicken and are poor tippers". But I will give an example: Byron York writes that Barack Obama does not look so popular if we exclude black voters from the poll numbers. Obviously, Byron York thinks that we can't trust black people to be unbiased about another black person, even though we trust white people to be unbiased about another white person. According to Byron York, if we look at, say, Bush's favorability rating we should exclude all the white people, giving him a favorability rating of around 0% You can read further commentary here and all over the web.
posted by muddgirl at 2:10 PM on May 12, 2009 [12 favorites]


Also, I'd like to note that when there were a bunch of MeTa threads about MeFi being a "boyzone" there was a shitload of drama and huffing and puffing (maybe even from me; I don't remember), but I think that MetaFilter as a whole came out of it stronger and better and more self-aware. At least I sure as heck did. So I don't think we should try to ignore or minimize the issue at hand here or change the subject or any of the dumb things people do when they leave their comfort zone.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 2:13 PM on May 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


However, what I would like for you to explain - it seems like you're implying that this privilege has some sort of effect on my ability to view people as individuals rather than as erroneous stereotyped groups - like, you know, "black people like fried chicken and watermelon".

I can't speak for the original comment, but one aspect of privilege for any majority group is that you get to be considered normal and are in some respect free of group stereotypes. If you're heterosexual, for example, you'll rarely or never be accused of being flamboyantly heterosexual or of conforming to heterosexual stereotypes. So even if you as an individual are enlightened enough to never make any ignorant or unfair characterizations of groups of people, you're still in a real way free from those kinds of issues on the basis of being a member of the normative majority group.
posted by burnmp3s at 2:13 PM on May 12, 2009 [8 favorites]


I'm also noticing how we're choosing to redirect the discussion away from the uncomfortable (race) and toward the comfortable (MetaTalk posting style). I've seen this happen before in some of the more serious race discussions on Metafilter. The one that comes to mind is the FPP on Obama's famous speech on race a few months back. Rather than engaging in a discussion on the content of the speech, I remember there was some other minor tangent that people weirdly focused on to the exclusion of everything else. Maybe this is just a common thing with Metafilter in general, but I find it strange when there's such a rich and important topic as race to engage with.
posted by naju at 2:14 PM on May 12, 2009


I'm really not. If you are genuinely curious to know what white privilege is/means, I'd be happy to email you a whole bunch of essays and such. Hell, I'll send you a book at my expense. But if you're just being an ass, I don't want to waste my time.

See that's just it. For me, at least, I'm so much in this matrix that I'm being chastised about that I don't readily see it. I'm prone wondering half the time why people shout racism when they could better spend their time assuming it doesn't exist. Now because I have that perspective, you say I've proven that I don't get it. Now we see the meta-trap that I'm caught in.

The onus is on both of us to get me out of it. If I don't see the matrix, and if you shout "There is a matrix, by God, and you're in it! The fact that you don't know you're in it proves that it exists!!" then I still need help seeing it. "Seeing it" is more than knowing its there, but in my experience people rarely get past trying to affirm or deny the existence of racism.
posted by jefficator at 2:14 PM on May 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


The Washington Examiner? The Washington Independent? Are those real papers?
posted by smackfu at 2:14 PM on May 12, 2009


Maybe this is just a common thing with Metafilter in general, but I find it strange when there's such a rich and important topic as race to engage with.

Well, picking apart someone's posting style won't get you called a racist, for a start.
posted by smackfu at 2:15 PM on May 12, 2009


More to the point, as rtha 'translates' for NJFB,

How did you read my quoting what she said upthread as 'translating'? I didn't put my spin on her words. I didn't say "I think what she meant was..."

I read your first question and she already seems to have answered it. You don't seem happy with her answers. Perhaps you could rephrase the question, or be more specific, since "a healthy discussion about the discussion of race/class on Metafilter" sure seems like an answer to "What kind of conversation do you want to have?"

The fact that you think that it "opens the space for something more", and you seem to be asking specifically for notjustfoxybrown (man, I love typing that. It's fun!) to tell us what we should say is weird to me, and I don't understand. She said she wants a healthy discussion about the discussion of race/class, which from my perspective is sort of what's happening. I'm still not getting what you want.
posted by rtha at 2:16 PM on May 12, 2009


Another big no from me on what you've said anotherpanacea. It's actually kind of sad taht you think we're not just spinning our wheels here. I'm having a hard time figuring out why a "healthy" is not a good answer for what kind of conversation is to be had. Like rtha, I took what notjustfoxybrown initially said at face value. I'm not taking issue with your questioning of notjustfoxybrown, but you did post your comments in an open forum where the OP wanted a discussion. I'm more than happy to hear from notjustfoxybrown about her thoughts as well as her answers to your question, but if I or anyone else has a point of order to address about what you've said in here, that's not really a no-no. Like you said, she can answer for herself, I'm not doubting that at all. And I'm also sure she can come b ack in and answer or not whenever she damn well feels like it without you trying to nanny the rest of us to wait until she gets back. I'm pretty sure she can gather her own thoughts and answer for herself. I just find it weird not because I'm disagreeing with what you're saying, but I guess I just don't understand why you're making it sound like we all should shush until she gets back. She wanted a discussion, I'm discussing it. If I'm wrong, she can come back and tell me I was wrong. How about we just do that and leave it entirely to her?

And seriously, white knights? Really? Why are you assuming those of us agreeing with her are simply being patronizing? In fact, I find your dismissal of other people chiming in as white nights patronizing because it reduces people with legitimate statements to make to just flapping their mouths for approval. I don't know, I'm speaking for myself from my own perspective on this issue as a person of color, so you know what, sorry to notjustfoxybrown, but I'm going to blab my big mouth. And you know what I have things I want to say about race issues and how they affect the community too. If you have specific examples of white knights, cool point those out and bring up your grievances about that. In fact your odd fixation on mentioning her qualifications over and over again as you shush the rest of us to give notjustfoxybrown a chance to talk seem more like white knighting to me. I agree she can speak up for her own damn self, but you don't have to keep reminding us of that. Look you brought up a point. I didn't speak for notjustfoxybrown or claim to do so at any point, I talked about it because it was something in an open discussion forum, as did other people. If it's something you wanted notjustfoxybrown to address and only her to address maybe you should've memailed her, but you made it sound like you were making your statements to help facilitate the discussion so I'm getting mixed signals here from "these questions to and answersfromnotjustfoxybrown will help out this discussion" and the "but wait! don't talk about it just yet" sentiments playing into your comments here.
posted by kkokkodalk at 2:17 PM on May 12, 2009 [6 favorites]


Don't get hung up on the specific examples (The Wire and the Wu-Tang).

notjustfoxybrown is asking for something very simple: Don't give advice pertaining to black people (or any other ethnic or racial group) based on what you saw on TV or on conjecture. That's a bad idea for any question, but here, it's particularly destructive and insulting.
posted by ignignokt at 2:19 PM on May 12, 2009 [5 favorites]


Styxno's comment took the words out of my brain for what I wanted to say about how it's really weird that a post about race became deconstructed so quickly to reflect poorly on the poster when it's really in the same format that 99% of MeTa posts are made in anyway - and hey! It's easier to talk about the POST than the subject!

The sexism threads were very huffy and puffy too, but in every situation I've been in where the topic of race has come up, I've definitely noticed this kind of "OH HEY! Look over there!" type of avoidance.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 2:21 PM on May 12, 2009


Ugh, I meant "we're just spinning our wheels here" not "we're just not spinning our wheels here." And it looks like rtha said what I was saying much more succinctly.
posted by kkokkodalk at 2:21 PM on May 12, 2009


I'm really not. If you are genuinely curious to know what white privilege is/means, I'd be happy to email you a whole bunch of essays and such. Hell, I'll send you a book at my expense. But if you're just being an ass, I don't want to waste my time.

Dude, I know what "white privilege" means. I was asking about the "every single white person" thing. Again, disingenuous.
posted by Burhanistan at 2:23 PM on May 12, 2009


FWIW, I find the invisible knapsack article extremely helpful. It makes very clear in ways that few other comments I've read do that the central issue here is that some people are seen as individuals and some people are seems as nameless, faceless representatives of some derogatory group...and that even (especially?) speaking of someone as a "stand-out" member of that group merely begs the question we're discussing.

My question, then, is what I do and what do we do? I feel like part of being ignorant of race stems from assuming that the solution to racial issues is to not talk about racial issues...interact with everyone as an individual. Is anyone arguing that this is not possible for me to do?
posted by jefficator at 2:23 PM on May 12, 2009


I was asking about the "every single white person" thing. Again, disingenuous.

I stand by the statement. You left out the "in America" part, which I discussed in a later comment. The point is that even progressive white people have white privilege. Even with-it white people have white privilege. Even white feminists have white privilege. Even poor white people have white privilege. Even white people who attend a historically black college benefit from their white privilege.

Can you give me an example of a white person from the US who doesn't benefit from white privilege? Because he or she doesn't exist.
posted by muddgirl at 2:30 PM on May 12, 2009


Dude, I know what "white privilege" means. I was asking about the "every single white person" thing. Again, disingenuous.
posted by Burhanistan at 2:23 PM on May 12


I don't know who you are, and I've met plenty of white people who have never heard of the term. Explain yourself better next time or grow a thicker skin. So let's move on. Someone wrote "every single white person in America is born with white privilege," and you replied "what in the world does that mean?"

That's still a puzzling question because the original declaration is pretty tautological - white people are born with white privilege. Fairly self-evident. So what exactly are you getting at? That white privilege doesn't exist, or that it's irrelevant to the topic, or what? I'm sure it's fun to be cryptic and post meaningless one-liners - hell, I know how fun the latter can be - but why not take this opportunity to discuss race and racism on MetaFilter in good faith?
posted by Optimus Chyme at 2:31 PM on May 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


reposting folks' email in the clear on the site without asking first is not cool

That's been said countless times and still: nothing is done about it.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:31 PM on May 12, 2009


that the solution to racial issues is to not talk about racial issues...

Actually, the solution to racial issues (and gender issues and xyzissues) IS to talk about them. Part of the way white privilege gets perpetuated is that not enough *white people* stand up and say "You know what, this is totally effed up." Just questioning it outloud: "Why is it that I've never even had to THINK about this in my daily life?" is a start.

Part of the problem with minority issues is that not talking about it serves to make the only people who *are* talking about it being the people who are disadvantaged, making it easier and easier to cast them as "uppity" and thus make it about a bunch of people whining and not a serious discussion about equality.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 2:33 PM on May 12, 2009


That's been said countless times and still: nothing is done about it.

Please let's not have that discussion right here. Stuff is, in fact, done about it, and I don't want to inject yet another admin aside into this thread regardless.
posted by cortex (staff) at 2:33 PM on May 12, 2009


Completely unlike all other MetaTalk callouts, which are uniformly polite and thoughtful and expressed in objective, unemotional terms!

If you'd like to suggest that we're not consistent with mentioning how things could go better in MeTa in the future regardless of content, please do. It doesn't seem like there's another mod-directed request here, so our jobs -- cortex's and mine -- is to talk about form and function. I'm happy to sit back otherwise and let the discussion take its course and try to pick up on things that can help us serve the community better.

I despise clueless commentary in AskMe just like everyone else and think the thread mentioned here is a great example of it. We deleted some terrible comments from that thread, we left a few more borderline ones. We tell people to behave decently towards each other. We example when there are power dynamics at work that we don't think people understand. People who think we're doing a piss poor job of it but don't want to make a thing of it on MeFi are welcome to email us.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 2:35 PM on May 12, 2009


adipocere: "Humans treat groups (or anything else, really) with whom they have not interacted with personally as conceptual entities. An octopus was a conceptual entity for me until I actually ate one. "

Note: this method of Getting To Know You should not be applied to other humans.
posted by The corpse in the library at 3:21 PM on May 12, 2009 [3 favorites]


What I wish is that instead of quibbling with each other over how well we understand what we learned in college, we'd go share it with those who didn't go.

Often around here, people are casually derided or alienated for not having good understanding of abstract notions about social structures. I think that is pointlessly insular, and in-groupy of us as a community.

Which is to say, please, when addressing racism, try to do so without being something of a classist ass.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 3:23 PM on May 12, 2009 [5 favorites]


I would like to see a moratorium on using "folks" when speaking about black people.

Hi! Another long term user of the word "folks" here, when referring to black folks, white folks, and just about any old folks! And, tell you what, I'd like to see a moratorium on people suggesting moratoriums on the use of perfectly acceptable and useful words! That OK with you folks? Great!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 3:46 PM on May 12, 2009 [7 favorites]


What white privilege looks like.
posted by felix betachat at 3:50 PM on May 12, 2009 [11 favorites]


I just read the Byron York article. And I read his response, which addresses, amongst other things, people who are calling him a racist. I am unclear, though, about the point of linking to his article. Are we castigating Mr. York for ...

1) Laying eyes upon the poll data?
2) Asking if a non-zero correlation exists between opinion and race in the poll data?
3) Doing math on the poll data to find this correlation?
4) Recognizing that the outcome looks statistically significant?
5) Telling us about his findings, namely a difference?
6) Drawing conclusions based on the evidence?

I'd be interested to know. I don't see anything in the article where he states that white people are more objective. What he pointed out was a non-zero correlation between race and opinion of a government official. And that, given that blacks are still counted as a minority, the combined weight of that correlation significantly offsets the opinion of the rest of the dataset. And then he made a conclusion: why, yes, people can vote for someone based on race. And that politician can bank on it, to some degree. See also, David Duke.

Is it simply that The Question May Not Be Asked? Do we actually wish to do the Name, Blame, and Shame game on anyone who dares to point out a feature of reality?
posted by adipocere at 3:51 PM on May 12, 2009


I would just like to say that metafilter is one of the most white-priveledgey places on the whole fucking internet.
This is about the only place I've ever been shouted down for espousing the belief that, "Hey, ya know, maybe white folk have it easier than black folk." I swear to fucking God it's like seventh grade in here - as soon as someone like muddgirl points out some of the most basic, rudimentary tenets of U.S. sociology above, idiots come out of the woodwork to claim that white privilege is "reverse racism" or some other ridiculous fantasy hobgoblin of the right wing.

I just want to chime in and say that I was really glad to see notjustfoxybrown raising this issue; it's something that has infuriated me for a long time about this website.

You people seem to do the tech thing, the lit thing, the philosophy thing really well. But I swear the sociology thing - the other people thing seems to blow right over your damn heads.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 3:56 PM on May 12, 2009 [31 favorites]


Rare endagered Norwegian folk music.

(And by the way: I'm sorry I was one of those who reacted snarkily to the post. There is a real issue here, and it should be discussed.)
posted by Dumsnill at 4:01 PM on May 12, 2009 [3 favorites]


When a black person speaks up, instead of being able to hear what is being said and see things from the new perspective, the white person gets defensive, feels attacked, and then feels like no matter how hard they try, some black people will always be mad at them / have a chip on their shoulder.

You know that Spike Lee film, the one where it is a really hot day and then there is a race riot? I feel like talking about race leads us there, and this is what I find really frustrating.

I wish we just didn't have races. I would prefer that we were all light brown, and I think a few generations of mandatory interracial marriage would get all of this frustrating bullshit out of the way.

notjustfoxybrown, sorry to you, I was being debate-club style argumentative rather than addressing the substance of the issue, and that derail was unnecessary.
posted by Meatbomb at 4:14 PM on May 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


jefficator: If I don't see the matrix, and if you shout "There is a matrix, by God, and you're in it! The fact that you don't know you're in it proves that it exists!!" then I still need help seeing it. "Seeing it" is more than knowing its there, but in my experience people rarely get past trying to affirm or deny the existence of racism.

from Kate Harding's "Racism Fatigue" essay:
privilege . . . is not just about obvious advantages. It is about the luxury of not seeing the subtle shit.

As a white person, I haven’t been sensitized to covert racism by a lifetime of experiences. Unlike a person of color who has no choice but to see and feel it every day, I actually do have to “go looking for it”; my privilege could otherwise allow me to go through life believing it doesn’t exist. Because I care about being anti-racist, I do go looking, do make an effort to educate myself about patterns of racism I wouldn’t automatically recognize–and to question myself when my kneejerk reaction is, “Oh, come on–I’m supposed to believe that’s racist?”

But because I’m white, I also have the option of not looking any time I don’t feel like it. That’s what privilege is. It’s the option to ignore nasty shit that doesn’t directly affect my own life, my career, my relationships, my bank account, my social standing, my housing situation, etc.

what I do and what do we do? I feel like part of being ignorant of race stems from assuming that the solution to racial issues is to not talk about racial issues...interact with everyone as an individual. Is anyone arguing that this is not possible for me to do?


The really effective thing that people in the normative group (in this discussion, people who identify as "white") can do is inform yourselves about racial issues (take an interest in it, make a point of reading about it and listening to people who know it intimately), so that you can explain it to people who don't take an interest, don't see any point in informing themselves about it, and yet are determined to be belligerent in discussions about race, because (apparently) their personal experience conveys all they need or could ever need to know about racism and how it's expressed, wittingly or un.

Because that'll take the load off of people who live racism every day, who because they know from nauseating familiarity its subtle as well as overt expressions, are forever the ones who point it out. Which makes them look like their mission in life is to "play the race card" and "play the victim," when really, they'd like nothing better than to stop having to point out the same. bloody. points. every. time, to fighty people who can't be bothered to have a respectable grasp of the relevant basic history and current news. Who can't conceive that there could be Grand Canyons in their knowledge about it. Who, when the possibility is pointed out to them, get fightier.

On preview, yeah, Ambrosia Voyeur, it's about the knowledge. (Not college-acquired necessarily, considering how many of my profs paid lip service to racist/sexist issues while managing to avoid actually changing their attitudes/behaviour.) Putting enough of the ego aside to think, "What is there I don't know about this topic that could inform my views?" and taking an interest in acquiring knowledge (independent reading, listening, college, whatever), and then sharing it.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 4:15 PM on May 12, 2009 [12 favorites]


This is about the only place I've ever been shouted down for espousing the belief that, "Hey, ya know, maybe white folk have it easier than black folk."

C'mon Balrog, you know what the real problem there was, don'tcha? You used the F word!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:15 PM on May 12, 2009


Folk you.
posted by gman at 4:20 PM on May 12, 2009 [4 favorites]


I'm with anotherpanacea on this. This post is basically an announcement that there are jackasses on Metafilter. Ok, but I'm not sure really what to discuss. "GRR Racists Bad!" is about all I can come up with. Are we supposed to shun the offending users, or self-flagellate, or what?

So forgive the very mediocre analogy, but there are a lot of posts on AskMetafilter that exhibit a pretty poor understanding of physics. I usually try to make an effort at correcting these issues and explaining why the world doesn't quite work like some people think. I don't accuse them of being anti-physics-ist or blame them for their misunderstanding, and I try to explain the matter without pulling out the terms-of-art.

Now I don't mean to imply that it's anywhere near as important for everyone to understand racial issues as it is for everyone to understand physics. But I think posts and threads like these could use a good deal more elucidation than they commonly have. As it is, a call-out over somebody's problems with race is about as productive as a call-out over somebody's problems with physics. You might be right, but you're not really helping the problem. I'd enjoy seeing some posts on the blue with good links.
posted by kiltedtaco at 4:20 PM on May 12, 2009


Also, asking your local library to buy the book Witnessing Whiteness would be helpful. It gets at a lot of these issues, the feeling that discussions about race are best avoided because they're so touchy, the feelings of being unjustly attacked, all that. The author also offers specific, concrete wordings for how to talk about race as constructively as possible, or challenge others' racist assertions. That kind of info needs all the exposure it can get.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 4:25 PM on May 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


I don't accuse them of being anti-physics-ist or blame them for their misunderstanding, and I try to explain the matter without pulling out the terms-of-art.

The difference is that there is not some portion of our community living under 3g's while the rest of us enjoy normal earth gravity and blithely insist that they smile while they dance with us.
posted by felix betachat at 4:27 PM on May 12, 2009 [6 favorites]


I'm excited to learn that the 2010 White Privilege Conference is going to be held in LaCrosse, WI.

Like Amyms, Folks = Parents.

FWIW, my experience living in Los Angeles is that economic status has more to do with privilege than race. I grew up in neighborhoods and went to schools that were racially diverse and uniformly working class. The few of us that went on to college were representative of the school's racial breakdown. My children have grown up and went to schools that are racially diverse and middle to upper middle class. They and most of their classmates are going to college.

There is still a lot to do in race relations in this country, but I believe that the civil rights challenges of our time are economic.
posted by Edward L at 4:27 PM on May 12, 2009


kiltedtaco: I don't think that your analogy is quite accurate. Knowledge of physics isn't something that's obvious about you the moment you step into a room. You're not going to be treated different in the grocery store because you don't know about quantum mechanics. Yeah, it's irritating to constantly witness other people's ignorance, but when you're a non-white person living in a white world, it's not just MetaFilter where you're running into this kind of crap - it's THE WHOLE WORLD.

That's why it's important to talk about the fact that hey, yeah, this is happening here and maybe, just maybe we could make this one of the very few places where this kind of thing doesn't happen. Which takes work. The first step being, of course, admitting that it's going on.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 4:31 PM on May 12, 2009


I note (or rather, agree with those who have already noted) that this thread has proceeded so far along somewhat similar lines as the threads on gender. I thought those threads were a good thing for the site, and I hope for more of the same here.
posted by Kwine at 4:31 PM on May 12, 2009


I usually skip any Mefi thread discussing black culture because I usually find the opinions expressed to be woefully narrow. notjustfoxybrown is right, there is great diversity within the black community and, for that matter, most any community. That said, I am uncomfortable with "moratoriums" of any kind, because telling people not to do something on the internet is probably one of the most efficient ways to get them to do said thing.
posted by telstar at 4:43 PM on May 12, 2009


I have really enjoyed my time here on Metafilter. I've learned a great deal, some of it worthwhile, a lot of disturbing. Even in this so-called post-racial America we live in, we have folks making comments like the following, without the slightest bit of irony:

"Those Canadians, always saying 'aboot' when they mean 'about'!"
posted by five fresh fish at 5:14 PM on May 12, 2009


"Those Canadians, always saying 'aboot' when they mean 'about'!"

Yeah, those dunderheads can't tell the difference between a piece of footwear and a boxing match.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:28 PM on May 12, 2009


You And Your Folks, Me And My Folks.
posted by Sailormom at 5:31 PM on May 12, 2009


Well to anyone still following, I'd like to say that I'm grateful to those people who are able to keep cool heads about divisive issues and encounter ignorance as opportunity and not irritation. My eyes have been opened very much by some of the things that I've read here today. Thank you!
posted by jefficator at 5:39 PM on May 12, 2009


does being adopted into an aboriginal clan count as "interacting with the black community"?
posted by UbuRoivas at 5:41 PM on May 12, 2009


Now that I've made it to the bottom of this illuminating thread, I just want to know if I can still make sweeping generalizations about brown people and yellow people. And what am I supposed to call yellow people exactly? Orientals? Mongols? And are people from Laos "South Asian"? Or does that only apply to Aryans? No, not those Aryans, the other ones.

Is someone spouting off something wrong about some arbitrary group of people really more offensive than any of the factually wrong errors (often from me!) that are offered on AskMe every day?
posted by GuyZero at 5:50 PM on May 12, 2009


I just want to know if I can still make sweeping generalizations about brown people and yellow people.

Oh, GuyZero, you're such a gadfly.
posted by dersins at 5:59 PM on May 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm tired. Can't we all hug now? :(
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 6:02 PM on May 12, 2009


Before someone gives an over-earnest answer to my dumb/rhetorical question, let me clarify that I mean this particular generalization, not some clearly egregious statement like some well-worn stereotype involving ethnicity and a fondness for some particular food or somesuch statement.
posted by GuyZero at 6:02 PM on May 12, 2009


Oh, GuyZero, you're such a gadfly.

I should shut up before I crack a "joke" that gets me virtually kicked in the nuts.
posted by GuyZero at 6:04 PM on May 12, 2009


Wu-Tang Clan ain't nothin' ta fuck wit'.
posted by klangklangston at 6:10 PM on May 12, 2009 [3 favorites]


Going back to the askme thread, I seriously thought orthogonality was giving the worst advice possible so anonymous would go in the situation and get the shit knocked out of him. It's seriously some of the most awful, ignorant advice I've seen in askme in quite some time.
posted by dead cousin ted at 6:12 PM on May 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


I see fat people.
posted by flabdablet at 6:16 PM on May 12, 2009


This is about the only place I've ever been shouted down for espousing the belief that, "Hey, ya know, maybe white folk have it easier than black folk."

I don't recall that. Though Metafilter does suffer from a knee-jerk anger response to any that might be construed as a dreaded "generalization."

But before you feel all vindicated and heroic I do recall you getting a rash of shit for essentially saying something along the lines that only white people can be racist. Which is an obnoxious and offensive crock of shit. So there is that.
posted by tkchrist at 6:16 PM on May 12, 2009


white people are funny
posted by youarenothere at 6:18 PM on May 12, 2009


there is great diversity within the black community

The chairman of the Republican National Committee is black. It doesn't make sense. But it is "diverse."
posted by tkchrist at 6:19 PM on May 12, 2009


There seems to be a real assumption that privilege is unitary; it is not. There's white privilege, wealth privilege, able privilege, male privilege, het privilege, cis privilege, etc. Just because you don't have money doesn't mean you don't benefit from, say, white, able, and male privileges. Just because you're black and trans doesn't mean you don't benefit from wealth and able privileges.

Once you stop trying to make all privileges map onto some imaginary ladder o'privilege and start looking at privilege as numerous sets of advantages that people have varying kinds of based on their relations to these groups, the more sense you'll be able to make of social reality.
posted by Pope Guilty at 6:21 PM on May 12, 2009 [16 favorites]


Reading through this thread I can only say the word diversity has been so hijacked and frigg'n obsequiously over-used it doesn't even mean anything anymore.
posted by tkchrist at 6:22 PM on May 12, 2009


It's seriously some of the most awful, ignorant advice I've seen in askme in quite some time.

Well and then here's the quesiton, and one I've been asking. Do you delete the answer as "totally terrible advice" and/or assume that ortho is actually making a joke (which would not be out of character) and delete it because he's being jerkish, or do you leave the answer and let other people say "gee that is totally terrible advice, are you making some sort of a terrible joke here?" and move forward from there?
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 6:22 PM on May 12, 2009


If it's sincere terrible advice then it is inimical to the aims of Ask Metafilter and should be deleted. If it's a joke that is in very bad taste, it is inimical to the aims of Ask Metafilter and should be deleted.
posted by Pope Guilty at 6:23 PM on May 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


because they are white or black or purple or whatever. You should listen to the person's point of view not the "race's" Who the hell speaks for a whole race anyway?

Seriously? FIRST, when you say "white or black or purple" you totally dismiss the reality of the pervasiveness and seriousness of racism against African Americans in the United States. NO ONE IS PURPLE. We don't even USE "purple" as a shorthand to refer to some other group! We do, however, use "black" and "white."

And frankly, people of color (and lots of minorities of all sorts) are FREQUENTLY called on the fucking privileged carpet to speak for everyone who looks or lives like they do.
posted by liketitanic at 6:25 PM on May 12, 2009 [6 favorites]


This used to irritate me to no end until I realized I behaved the same way about and around gay people. "Look at how cool I am with teh ghey! It's really no problem for me, and I'm okay with it in a very public and loud way!" That was a humbling moment of realization.
posted by Eideteker at 6:28 PM on May 12, 2009 [8 favorites]


I can see the benefit of leaving it up to be ravaged by others if it was meant to be serious, but I would have deleted it either way. I do see where you're coming from though. And in my initial comment I was less thinking about whether it should be deleted or not and more thinking of "holy shit, look at that."

I seriously would like to think it was joke btw.
posted by dead cousin ted at 6:29 PM on May 12, 2009


Pope Guilty, I find your comment very helpful. I grew up middle class white in the rural south. I can safely say I did not face discrimination of any kind until I moved to New England for college, where I was a laughing stock because of my accent and my regionally-ignorant-and-therefore-socio-economically-charged clothing. Needless to say, I quickly learned to disguise my accent and wear Nantucket Reds.

I suppose it should be mentioned, though, that certain power structures are more easily overcome than others. :-(
posted by jefficator at 6:32 PM on May 12, 2009


It is silly and sad and unfortunately is completely reflective of the young white progressive community's treatment...

Reverse Racism sucks just as much as the original version.
posted by matty at 6:34 PM on May 12, 2009


"Look at how cool I am with teh ghey! It's really no problem for me, and I'm okay with it in a very public and loud way!"

Me too. Now I just quietly sleep with other men. Building that bridge one person at a time.
posted by tkchrist at 6:35 PM on May 12, 2009 [4 favorites]


Reverse Racism

There is no such thing. There is only racism. There is no special kind of racism. It can flow in all directions.
posted by tkchrist at 6:38 PM on May 12, 2009 [4 favorites]


"Reverse Racism" is what white people call it when other races overtly get the privileges that whites covertly get.
posted by Pope Guilty at 6:41 PM on May 12, 2009 [22 favorites]


“Check my what?” On privilege and what we can do about it
posted by mlis at 6:41 PM on May 12, 2009


I'm confused by all the focus on "What are you asking for? What do you want us to do? What's the point of this MeTa?" considering that this post fits neatly into the basic formula "I think X on MetaFilter is bad and it would be great if there was less of it here, amirite? [Stated or implied goal: Let's discuss, raise people's consciousness of X happening, and shift community norms further against X.]" which shows up on MeTa all the freaking time. (And that's just in the last month or so.)
posted by EmilyClimbs at 6:57 PM on May 12, 2009 [3 favorites]


Reverse Racism sucks just as much as the original version.

By definition it doesn't.
posted by Bookhouse at 6:58 PM on May 12, 2009


It blows.
posted by tkchrist at 6:59 PM on May 12, 2009


You know who loves fried chicken and beer?

Koreans.
posted by bardic at 7:31 PM on May 12, 2009


"Reverse Racism" is what white people call it when other races overtly get the privileges that whites covertly get.

I'm sure that sardonically simplifying complex and electric issues will never end poorly for you!
posted by TypographicalError at 7:45 PM on May 12, 2009


The worst is upside-down racism. Man, that's the one that really hurts. It's just a somersault of hate.
posted by Astro Zombie at 7:46 PM on May 12, 2009 [3 favorites]


If I've learned anything in this thread, bardic, it's that you should say "Korean folks".
posted by Mister_A at 7:50 PM on May 12, 2009


"The worst is upside-down racism. Man, that's the one that really hurts. It's just a somersault of hate."

Spoken like a man who has never experienced inside-out racism.
posted by Eideteker at 7:51 PM on May 12, 2009


I'm sure that sardonically simplifying complex and electric issues will never end poorly for you!

To address your comment seriously, rather than comically, it's rather presumptuous of you to lecture someone else for simplifying complex issues when Matty's lone contribution to the thread was a one-sentence bumper sticker based around a highly suspect and political charged right-wing talking point. If you think the issue can be problematized, by all means do so; at the moment, the phrase "reverse racism" has neither any established credibility nor any real relation to the topic at hand.
posted by Astro Zombie at 7:55 PM on May 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


Pointing out the white liberal intellectual's distanced fetishism of black/working class struggle isn't anything new, certainly nothing I came up with on my own. Ellison pointed it out back in the 1940s, I'm sure there have been numerous others between now and then that some more erudite Mefite could list for you.
posted by The Straightener at 8:24 PM on May 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


I'm sorry I was a jackass in that thread. I was busy being an AskMe busybody ("But wait everyone, that's not what the poster says is the nature of his problem!") and didn't pay nearly enough attention to any other part of the situation at issue, with the result that I made a lot of distracting noise about offensive irrelevancies. It was dumb, oblivious, and unhelpful at the very best, and I apologize.
posted by redfoxtail at 8:25 PM on May 12, 2009


"Reverse racism" is the scary term that certain racist ideologues use to describe affirmative action programs, basically. The reason we have affirmative action is because there are lots of racists out there who won't hire/admit ethnic minorities unless they are compelled to. Affirmative action is only "complex and electric" to people that don't think minorities "deserve" decent jobs or admission to college.
posted by Mister_A at 8:25 PM on May 12, 2009


Me too. Now I just quietly sleep with other men. Building that bridge one person at a time.

Larry Criag? was that why you where in Minneapolis last year?
posted by edgeways at 8:53 PM on May 12, 2009


My point was that to call out one ethnic group for 'typifying' another ethnic group by stereotyping is just as inherently 'racist' as the original charge of racism.

'Reverse Racism' doesn't really cover the complex issue, but in my opinion it shows that calling out an entire group of being racist ("the young white progressive community"? Who are they? Are they registered as a non-profit?) is racist in and of itself.
posted by matty at 8:57 PM on May 12, 2009



My point was that to call out one ethnic group for 'typifying' another ethnic group by stereotyping is just as inherently 'racist' as the original charge of racism.

'Reverse Racism' doesn't really cover the complex issue, but in my opinion it shows that calling out an entire group of being racist ("the young white progressive community"? Who are they? Are they registered as a non-profit?) is racist in and of itself.


But the consequences and penalties are far, far different and it hardly "sucks just as much." AS a young white progressive, I will never be denied an opportunity, viewed as an immediate and instant threat, nor treated as though I am physically or intellectually inferior based on that slur. Bring it the fuck on.

But racism of the more traditional variety invites all of those things, indeed insists on and demands, such diminished and devastating treatment.
posted by liketitanic at 9:06 PM on May 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


NB: And I'm not saying I'm not as fucked up and racist as everyone else here. I am. I do, however, think about it a lot. It doesn't exonerate me or place me above anyone, and that's a claim I'd never make.
posted by liketitanic at 9:08 PM on May 12, 2009


'Reverse Racism' doesn't really cover the complex issue, but in my opinion it shows that calling out an entire group of being racist ("the young white progressive community"? Who are they? Are they registered as a non-profit?) is racist in and of itself.

Nobody called out that entire group as racist. Clueless, yes. And, as a group, they are arguably clueless about this subject; they don't have the sort of exposure to it that non-whites do.

But even if that had been said, I'm not following what you're arguing. It sounds to me like you are comparing an overly broad statement about an ill-defined group as being as bad as -- in fact, being the same thing as -- a systematized enforcement of power that has included rape, genocide, kidnapping, slavery, murder, and the segregation of society into a class system in which one group is disempowered and disadvantaged because of their race. I don't imagine that is what you intended to say, so could you clarify?
posted by Astro Zombie at 9:09 PM on May 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


Maybe there's a better term? Bilateral-Racism? Tit-for-tat? Glass houses?

I never equated reverse racism to an ideologue for affirmative action, I just saw it as a term that applies to those who claim racism while applying tenets of racism to their own argument. But then maybe I'm learning something.

Maybe I'm naive, maybe I'm the Simpleton of Meta - but I've been around here a long time and read a lot of smart opinions from people who could turn my brain into a gelatinous goo with their stare... but racism is just racism from both ends. If you group people into categories based upon the color of their skin, then that's racism. It goes both ways.

As for affirmative action, I'm no fan of it, but I understand and agree that it had it's time, value, and place. When I first tried to get a commission as an officer in the military, I was told that I was a white male with a non-technical degree. The recruiter literally told me, "come back when you're a black female with a degree in electrical engineering". Probably not 'pc', but that's just the way it was. So I enlisted and worked my way up the ranks via that route.

Can affirmative action really have a place in today's society when the President is African American? (that's a discussion question, not a barb). Maybe he benefited from affirmative action that gave him the opportunity to reach the Presidency? Did affirmative action play into his career or is affirmative action outdated?
posted by matty at 9:10 PM on May 12, 2009


AstroZombie... I was referring to The Straigtener quote. But then you're right - after re-reading it several times I'm totally confused as to what it's point was.

White progressives look down on white working classes and minorities? Black men bump elbows in the street?

The thread has a meaning of it's own regardless of the opening post.
posted by matty at 9:14 PM on May 12, 2009


I'm sure the electrical engineering degree on it's own would have done the trick.
posted by BinGregory at 9:16 PM on May 12, 2009


"despite what many here think..."

Stats? Waiting along with kbanas that this is actually true of the "Metafilter" community.
posted by juiceCake at 9:20 PM on May 12, 2009


If you group people into categories based upon the color of their skin, then that's racism.

Well, not precisely. Racism is a system that disenfranchised people based on racial categories. There are two kinds of racism, it seems to me: Institutional and personal. Any person can be racist, by believing that one race is inherently superior to the other. But the amount of damage they can do is limited -- I suppose they could be mean to somebody, or beat somebody up, or whatnot. But institutional racism is where the real power lies, and is the sort of thing most people address themselves to when they address the issue of racism. If one person denies you an apartment because of your skin color, it's a nuisance, albeit hurtful; when an entire system is established to deny you rental in an entire part of town because of your skin color, that's institutional racism. You seem to be conflating the two, comparing an occasional thoughtless or hateful comment from an individual to an insidious system of hate developed and enforced by large groups of people. They are related, but are very different.

As to the question of affirmative action, well, that seems a bit beside the point of this discussion, but it is interesting to me that whenever there is a discussion of race, at least one person always thinks that affirmative action is important to discuss. From my perspective, it's a bit like discussing gender and having a man who just can't resist popping in to remind us that his wife got the upper hand int he divorce, and it's an example of why men are sometimes oppressed by women.
posted by Astro Zombie at 9:20 PM on May 12, 2009 [19 favorites]


disenfranchises, rather.
posted by Astro Zombie at 9:21 PM on May 12, 2009


racism is just racism from both ends.

Nope. Power matters.
posted by liketitanic at 9:23 PM on May 12, 2009 [8 favorites]


I'm sure the electrical engineering degree on it's own would have done the trick.

I think so too, BinGregory. If I'd had an EE degree it could possibly have been a much different story, but throwing in the "you're a white male" angle made it an example of Affirmative Action as 'Reverse Racism' (for me). That's not to say that AA didn't possibly empower an African American female to achieve an EE degree - which if it DID then I think that's a good thing...

I can't complain too much though... I enlisted and worked my way up, eventually becoming that officer I thought I wanted to be. It worked itself out for the best. I can't say that would be everyone's experience faced with the same situation, but in my case the 'system' helped those who helped themselves.
posted by matty at 9:31 PM on May 12, 2009


Thanks Astro, I understand what you're saying with regards to racism as an institutional issue rather than an individual one.
posted by matty at 9:32 PM on May 12, 2009


matty. read the piece grapefruitmoon suggests here.
posted by liketitanic at 9:33 PM on May 12, 2009


I'm still not following how this relates to the original subject at hand. Excuse me for being a bit thick about this, but I mention it because affirmative action is an especially contentious issue, and one frequently seized on by people who want to shift the discussion from being about the oppression of black people to the oppression of white people, which is a very different discussion, and not one that seems prompted by this post.
posted by Astro Zombie at 9:35 PM on May 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


Okay, I'll take a shot a this. I suppose in terms of racism on the site - I find it easier to view any accusations of an -ism, by focusing on the idea of intent.

It isn't my sense that Orthogonality's intention was to offend or belittle. Was it 'clueless'?

I agree that when you get into generalities of any sort - even in referring to 'the young white progressive community' - it's hard to nail down the complexity, and any description of the community, whatever it's make up, is a caricature, or incomplete, or not wholly accurate.

And I've got to say, that if anyone nodded his head to my brother while passing him on the street and said 'alright' - well, he probably would have just a nod back and said 'hey'. So that's one datapoint on African American males. YMMV.

But I think Metafilter is 'working' well. It occurs to me that all of my advice is always my best guess, based on my experience - that's why Metatalk/Ask Mefi works in the aggregate, and why it's so valuable that there is such diversity in all sorts of ways here - not the least of which opinion. So right now that OP, having one data point for 'alright' and 60 against, probably won't go with 'alright'. Since that's probably one optimal outcome, I think the site is is working.

And personally, when I am about to pounce on any ism or privilege - well, just so I'm clear - I am well aware that when I consider my situation in life, a combination of random luck, hard work, a US passport, consistent access to health care and higher education, the fact that I am straight, not disabled, have incredible support system, etc., etc., well, I know something about, and benefit from a bevy of pleasures based on privilege. And I imagine that all of us, who have a roof over our heads tonight, are literate, have access to technology to be able to be a part of metafilter, and even have the time and ability to share our honest opinions have experienced a sweet full taste of some aspects of privilege in our lives.

Thinking like this helps me check myself in how I engage people in conversations when I feel that someone is verbally knocking things over like a bull in a glassware shop, unaware of their blinders. I just remember I have my own, how hard it is to remove them. Also how I have been adversely affected by others' blinders, and probably unintentionally bruised someone else. I ask what others do to remain aware, and ask for help in seeing what I don't easily see. (Last week it was my friend giving me 10 minute breakdown about the super financial boon that I got (heterosexual couples only!) because of a nice thing called an interspousal deed transfer).

In short, I appreciate the access and freedom that all sorts of 'privileges' can offer -- I hope folks (I use it to mean any large group of people) will continue to point them out to to me, because it's hard to get your head around all of the permutations. I hope in understanding, I can be part of a community effort to figure out how to hand out privilege to everyone, like twix bars and life savers on halloween, because it is sweet.
posted by anitanita at 9:36 PM on May 12, 2009 [4 favorites]


The really effective thing that people in the normative group (in this discussion, people who identify as "white") can do is inform yourselves about racial issues...

Definitely. Thank you for linking to that Kate Harding article. She makes a key point about privilege very concisely, and I want to repeat it here for emphasis:

So many people have trouble grokking the concept of “privilege” and will respond to having their own pointed out with laundry lists of the disadvantages they’ve experienced in their lives. But privilege, in this sense, is not just about obvious advantages. It is about the luxury of not seeing the subtle shit.

I grew up in Hawai'i. I was bullied mercilessly as a child because I was the only white kid in my class (and a hopelessly geeky one at that). In Hawai'i, white people are called haoles, and...well, I'm not going to go into detail. Let's just say that term is NOT meant as a compliment. For years I was terrified to go to school on "kill haole day." Those experiences have left lasting scars.

However, I still have privilege, including white privilege; that's how the social system works. I also have class privilege, cis privilege, able-bodied privilege...privilege isn't about me as an individual, or whether or not I've experienced disadvantages. It's about the fact that I live in a culture where whiteness (and other social categories) are systematically privileged, so certain benefits accrue to me whether I want them or not.
posted by velvet winter at 9:48 PM on May 12, 2009 [3 favorites]


To address your comment seriously, rather than comically, it's rather presumptuous of you

I won't be talked down to because I made a one-line response to a one-line response, thanks. Also, while the term "reverse racism" is all déclassé and shit, the knife still cuts both ways. Dismissing all racism that negatively effects white people with a wave of one's hand is, in fact, simplifying a complex issue.
posted by TypographicalError at 10:14 PM on May 12, 2009


This thread is fascinating. It's really fascinating to me on multiple levels. First, I agree the post wasn't worded well initially. Then, in traditional Metatalk fashion, there are sarcastic jokey comments throughout what some people are attempting to make a serious conversation.

During the election, I had an askmefi about trying to talk to my grandmother about racism, and convincing her not to "not vote" for Obama based on his race.

In that thread, there were quite a lot of people telling me it was her right to essentially be racist. I was a little floored at that, since 1) it wasn't even the question and 2) how is ok to be racist? Now some people were taking the stance because they thought it was an issue of letting her make up her own mind. I was just mostly upset, because the reason that she wasn't voting for him was because he was african-american, and that was it.

I wasn't all up in arms about what happened, since my original question wasn't that great anyway. But, I definitely wouldn't post something like that on here again.
posted by hazyspring at 10:26 PM on May 12, 2009


I won't be talked down to because I made a one-line response to a one-line response, thanks.

I'm sorry; what made you think my comment, which was earnest, was talking down to you? And who, precisely, has dismissed racism that affects white people? I know that I have said that this might not be the right forum for it, because it is a distraction, and I think a rather selfish one, from the actual issue of this post.

I don't know that I would describe the phrase "reverse racism" as declasse. I'd say it's worse than that: It is meaningless, because it was specifically created to invent a hostile sounding phrase in order to make social good -- specifically, policies that address the economic impact of racism -- sound like they are just another form of racism. You seem to be using it more broadly, and I would suggest that is ill-advised.

If there is some institutionalized form of racism against whites that you think desperately needs to be redressed, I wonder if it wouldn't be possible to wait for a thread about white people and their problems to address them? Because, simplifying a complex issue or not, you really do seem to be insistent on making a thread about the experience of black people into a thread about the experience of white people.
posted by Astro Zombie at 10:27 PM on May 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


Also, when I talk down to you, I will use small words. I was attempting to speak to you as an adult.
posted by Astro Zombie at 10:30 PM on May 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


I think that, setting aside the codeword problem with "reverse racism", there's maybe a distinction that needs to be clearly made between "the flipside of the racism dynamic is equivalent", which isn't I think what most people arguing this side of it are trying to say, vs. "the flipside of the racism dynamic is also a bad thing", which I think is kind of a no-brainer of an assertion.

Racist (and classist and various x-ist) grouping/otherness dynamics suck, as a generality. And so insofar as it's crap when white people dismiss or discriminate against or otherwise shaft black people on a racially-motivated basis and it's crap when black people do it to white people, both of these things suck and it's fair to say that, yes, it's bad in both directions. That racist nutters have seized on a twisted version of this and made it a talking point doesn't make the fundamental notion flawed.

But when the weight of social history is so badly lopsided as it is in e.g. the case of black people living through American history, it's pretty clearly not a situation where these things are equivalent in degree or scope. I'm proud of the progress this country has made on this front, but it's terrifying and embarrassing to look back at how far we had to come and how recently even some of the basic building blocks of even theoretical civil equality were finally put in place.

So while I think it'd be foolish and extremist to claim that white people don't ever have to deal with discrimination from black people that's in some ways reflexive or complementary to the discrimination blacks have to deal with from whites, it's also foolish to mistake that for being a case where there's anything like a true symmetry in the power dynamic. Social history is not a chess game, with evenly matched pieces and nothing to the interactions but fair and orderly taking of turns, and I think in conversation or debate or argument it can be a little to easy to let it get abstract and treat it as such and end up moving into bloodied-nose territory pretty quickly by being too A-Ha! or tit-for-tat about what are really terribly complex phenomena.

I hope that's not too rambly. And take it as a given that "white" and "black" here are obviously hopelessly reductive stand-ins for a much more complicated spectrum of individuals and groups. But the "it's just the same", "no, it's nothing alike" argument is one I feel like I've seen spool out a lot of times before, and I don't think either are true and it's too easy for folks arguing either side to not really extend the benefit of the doubt to the other side that that nuance, however poorly expressed in a one-liner, is there to be found and mutually agreed upon.
posted by cortex (staff) at 10:37 PM on May 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


"I never equated reverse racism to an ideologue for affirmative action, I just saw it as a term that applies to those who claim racism while applying tenets of racism to their own argument.

Generalization != Racism.

Something to be aware of in the discussion, and I can see that you're sincere from your follow-ups, is that because there's so much power at stake, and because the ambiguities of syllogism and language are intentionally brought to bear on racism, its easy to stumble into coded language from people who intentionally pervert the rhetoric and discourse of racial relations. For example, "states' rights" is a totally legitimate topic, but it's been perverted to mean "not enforcing federal equal protection laws" by a determined bunch of assholes. "Reverse racism" is a bit more specious, but it sounds catchy and is easy to drop into conversation, even if you don't mean—especially if you don't mean—to recall all of the implicit power arguments and perversion of argument that the phrase entails.

Also beware of folks who argue that things are bad irrespective of their effects—the underlying reason that racism is bad is because it causes harm. But by arguing that discrimination is de facto bad, or by attempting to separate discussions on race from social context, you wind up with claims like "reverse racism," which are largely a distraction from the way that racism actually hurts real people.
posted by klangklangston at 10:45 PM on May 12, 2009 [5 favorites]


Heh. By looking at AZ and Cortex's comments, you can quantify how long it takes me to write a response.
posted by klangklangston at 10:48 PM on May 12, 2009


I type almost 3000 words per minute. I know cortex is even faster.
posted by Astro Zombie at 10:51 PM on May 12, 2009


I gave up on typing as soon as I got most of the bugs out my brain/USB interface. The only problem now is that I can get distracted pretty easily and then I end up that dog has a puffy tail! Puffy tail!
posted by cortex (staff) at 10:53 PM on May 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


And yet I'm still jealous that he's on the bleeding edge of the new tech.
posted by Astro Zombie at 10:54 PM on May 12, 2009


I have a shameful admission to make:

I'm glad I'm white

I've gone to school with and I work with black people. I've seen what must be only a small sampling of the bullshit that they go through in their daily lives and I am so glad that I don't have to put up with the same.

Does this make me a racist? Probably, yes.

I was talking to my son about Barack Obama and how his election was a historic event because he was black. My son said "aren't black people and white people really the same inside? Why wouldn't we elect a black president?" I was so proud of him at that moment and it gave me hope for the future.

Here's to a future where white people and black people really are equal and no one can understand what the fuss was all about.
posted by double block and bleed at 11:05 PM on May 12, 2009


"There aren't that many minorities here, none of the mods are minorities, and there isn't a community push towards reflecting on how the white "liberal" progressive culture really relates to those who are different. None of the mods are minorities."

Oh, hm, seems like this is important to someone. Not me, though.

As for notjustfoxybrown, I thought her Wire/Wu Tang comment was funny, and I got what she was trying to say.

Last bit of weirdness - what does it matter whether she has a J.D. or not? There are plenty of brilliant people on this site with no J.D., and for that matter, plenty of people with J.D.s who are damned idiots and can't string five words together coherently.
posted by HopperFan at 11:09 PM on May 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


TypographicalError: I won't be talked down to because I made a one-line response to a one-line response, thanks.

Look, I have to say that I haven't read the comment you're responding to, or the comment that comment was responding to. I don't know what your position is; I don't know what you're arguing, or what you'd like to say, or what you're standing up for. Really, I just saw your comment in my Recent Activity tab as I was scanning through, and I clicked in here to comment on it, avoiding the discussion entirely.

I only wanted to say: you 'won't be talked down to'? Heh heh. Well, I won't be ignored! I won't be charged for this burger, which I wasn't as satisfied with as I'd like! I won't have to pay back all of these student loans which I took out in a time of foolish youth, when I didn't realize that I wouldn't be made of money after I got my degree in philosophy!

This is Metatalk, friend; we'll all get talked down to sooner or later.
posted by koeselitz at 11:21 PM on May 12, 2009


Not me.
posted by Catfry at 11:52 PM on May 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


Catfry - your spelling there was suspiciously good. Did your mommy type that for you?
posted by UbuRoivas at 12:05 AM on May 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


muddgirl: Can you give me an example of a white person from the US who doesn't benefit from white privilege? Because he or she doesn't exist.

I have a very good friend, a quiet, nice guy, who's a white guy and has been in the minority his entire life. There are a number of places where this can happen in the US; he happens to live in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Growing up, he was the only white kid in most of his classes; his dad was a dentist, but a poor one who didn't make a whole lot of money; but he was teased a lot for being the 'rich little white kid.' To this day, if you utter the phrase 'white boy' around him, he'll get a little pissed off; he thinks it's racist. But he's not really bitter. He knows Spanish fluently, and he feels at home in NM (obviously, since he's lived there his whole life, and never chose to leave).

This is not to say that 'oh, look at the poor white kid, he had to go through what black and brown people have to go through all the time!' My friend is the last person to bring this up; I only know because I'm pretty close to him, close enough to be around to ask him why he gets a bit sullen when people start throwing the 'you're so white' stuff around more than a little bit. So I'm not saying, 'see! It's just as bad for us white folk!'—because I know very well that it's not.

I guess I'm just saying that one of the things I'd like to think I've learned about race in America is: no matter what broad, generalized statement you make about every single member of a specific race here... one of them will walk by five minutes later and prove you wrong. Better to simply avoid those kinds of generalizations. I know that saying 'every white American is privileged' makes it a bit easier on a few counts, because it implies that there's something about white people that you understand about them that they don't understand about you. But it's overkill. I think you'd rather say something like: avoiding racism, being an equitable and democratic person, means having the respect for other races and cultures to accept them while appreciating that you'll never really understand their experience as members of that race or culture enough to speak with as much or more authority than they on the subject. We white people just need to remember that we won't just 'get it' and suddenly understand everything about the experience that black people have had in America (or, for that matter, the experience that anybody else has); that's all. I think that's a way of saying it that leaves a lot more room for things like, say, casual relationships between people from different races.
posted by koeselitz at 12:07 AM on May 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


Dammit.
posted by Catfry at 12:08 AM on May 13, 2009


Also, I have to say that this comment totally threw me for a loop, too:

orthogonality: Shave the night before, so by the next day you have some stubble. Or wear a silly hat. Or roll up your sleeves.

The object is to look unofficial: not like a cop, not like a government employee, not like a process server.

Black men in their thirties or older will greet each other, when passing in the street, by nodding and saying "Alright"; do the same to anyone over thirty.

(You probably can't do this, but women of a certain age (and of all races) love my curly unruly hair -- and a few times I've even been asked if I'm mixed race because of it. You might try mussing it up with some gel; doing that also makes you look less threatening.)


... but it threw me for a loop for two reasons: first, because orthogonality's a pretty sharp dude, and probably should've seen it coming that he'd be seen as some kind of racist; second, because it doesn't really seem true. 'Alright'? Do people really greet each other like that?

But his comment wasn't racist in the slightest. Maybe slightly 'politically incorrect,' but nobody really cares about political correctness; people care about whether you're being biased in favor of or against a certain race. Avoiding racism doesn't mean pretending there are absolutely no racial or cultural differences between groups of people. In fact, pretending that talking about differences between people, and possibly being wrong about the differences between people, really makes race relations worse, I think, by convincing young liberal white people that they have to ask silly, stupid questions about how to act around black people or brown people or yellow people or whomever.

I think we in America spent so many years living under the influence of a winking, sneering racism that caricatured and belittled that we're deeply afraid even to begin to discuss even a portrayal of another race. But it isn't racist to talk about another race or culture, or to talk about that race or culture's traditions; what's racist is stating or implying that there's something wrong with a race or cultural that's endemic and intrinsic to that people's blood.

By which I guess I mean: I know orthogonality. He's no racist. People here spending their time spitting with indignation and widening their eyes in shock are wasting it.
posted by koeselitz at 12:48 AM on May 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


... and, honestly, that comment sounds a lot like a joke to me. Hair gel, stubble, rolled-up sleeves, 'alright,' and a silly hat will help you fit in in a black neighborhood?
posted by koeselitz at 12:52 AM on May 13, 2009


But it isn't racist to talk about another race or culture, or to talk about that race or culture's traditions; what's racist is stating or implying that there's something wrong with a race or cultural that's endemic and intrinsic to that people's blood.

Yes. This is largely true and I mostly agree.

But the reason why orthogonality's comment is so offensive is not because he talks about black racial/cultural traditions -- it's that he's implicitly stating that you should do these blatantly cosmetic things in order to be accepted. Are black people so different that they can't evaluate the white person and what kind of person he is except based on cosmetic appearances? Do you really have to 'cater' to this hypothetical black person by changing your own cosmetic appearances? If you wouldn't change your appearance for a white crowd, why would you change your appearance for a black crowd? This is especially so when the changes orthogonality mentions aren't like "hey, the white ribbon you wear on your arm symbolizes death in so-and-so culture and maybe you shouldn't wear something like that" but rather "wear a funny hat, black people will see it and be comfortable (cuz they judge people based on how they see you)!"

So yes -- Orthagonality's comment was pretty racist and outlandish, not because he states differences based on custom because he implies that the OP should cater to black people on a cosmetic basis. Cater, talk down to. If it sounds as outlandish and forced and offensive as "I hear (insert third-world country)ian people like mickey mouse, maybe if you wear a mickey mouse shirt the adults there will like you more" then that's because it is.
posted by suedehead at 1:38 AM on May 13, 2009


So I worked with this guy once, and it didn't matter what the situation was, or how far away from the topic we were, if anyone mentioned the color white, he always immediately, pathologically, responded with "why's it gotta be white?"

I will leave it as an exercise to the reader to wonder what race he and I each belong to, the way in which he said this, and whether or not I and others found it funny -- and to consider what their assumptions mean about how they think about race and skin color.

I put this in here primarily because of the comment above about the 10th anniversary pages being white
posted by davejay at 2:11 AM on May 13, 2009


I know orthogonality. He's no racist.

Totally disagree; he's racist as all get out.

absolutely obsessed with all kinds; F1, NASCAR, the American Le Mons series...

what?
posted by davejay at 2:13 AM on May 13, 2009


I can't speak for the original comment, but one aspect of privilege for any majority group is that you get to be considered normal and are in some respect free of group stereotypes. If you're heterosexual, for example, you'll rarely or never be accused of being flamboyantly heterosexual or of conforming to heterosexual stereotypes.

Because heaven only knows, heterosexual men never experience any kind of, you know, pressure around proving their heterosexuality adequately. At least in the parallel universe you inhabit, which sounds at least somewhat healthier than the one I occupy.

but I find it strange when there's such a rich and important topic as race to engage with.

Well, one of the earlier posts in the discussion (not the poster) started down the path of "As a white person you don't get to have an opinion or tell people about..." which tends to route quickly to angry monologues, rather than discussion.

If that point of view doesn't sound stupid to you, in the generic sense of you, consider: "Christians don't get to have an opinion on how atheists feel, because they're the privileged group in America..." every time the angry atheist du our rolls around. If that doesn't make people understand what a fucking stupid basis for attempting to forment discussion it is, I'm not sure I can explain it to you.

What I wish is that instead of quibbling with each other over how well we understand what we learned in college, we'd go share it with those who didn't go.

Which is to say, please, when addressing racism, try to do so without being something of a classist ass.


You owe me a new irony meter, because my one just overloaded.

Once you stop trying to make all privileges map onto some imaginary ladder o'privilege and start looking at privilege as numerous sets of advantages that people have varying kinds of based on their relations to these groups, the more sense you'll be able to make of social reality.

But that would require thinking, and dialogue, and examination of reality. There you'd be, venting about male privilege, and next thing you'd run into some guy who was working in early childhood education and it'd break your simple worldview. That's not as much fun as venting.

I'm sure there have been numerous others between now and then that some more erudite Mefite could list for you.

Pulp's Common People is my poison.

But the consequences and penalties are far, far different and it hardly "sucks just as much." AS a young white progressive, I will never be denied an opportunity, viewed as an immediate and instant threat, nor treated as though I am physically or intellectually inferior based on that slur.

A (white) family member of mine is teaching a Polynesian language at university level. You should try it. It would make you realise how silly you sound. It's an unsual case, and is no reason to dismiss the (vastly) more common one, but pretending it doesn't is stupid.

I will, however, add my voice to that of people puzzled that the original sentiment re: The Wire wasn't obvious.
posted by rodgerd at 4:08 AM on May 13, 2009


There you'd be, venting about male privilege, and next thing you'd run into some guy who was working in early childhood education and it'd break your simple worldview.

Wait, what's your point here? I'm asking in all honesty. That there doesn't exist male privilege because men can work in women-dominated fields? What?

I work in childcare and I've taught preschool alongside a man, and I can tell you that yes, it is a woman-dominated atmosphere, but that's not from a hiring standpoint. That's the result of a cultural attitude that men who work in childcare are "weird." Any man who had a sufficient background in ECE and could pass a background test could be hired... but then he'd face the reality that parents would flat out request that their child be placed in a different class. Honestly, I saw it time and time again parents who, without shame, would say that their child "Doesn't take well to men."

And this? This one case is what it's like for women in many, many other fields. I don't feel like my world view re: male privilege has been shattered in one bit. So, there's one field where it's more difficult because men have to prove themselves despite their gender? That doesn't negate the fact that this is the outlier case and not the norm.

This doesn't disprove male privilege. That we have to bring it up at all illustrates the fact that in general, most workplaces are male-dominated.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 4:19 AM on May 13, 2009


One thing that always bothers me about these kinds of discussion is how people tell anecdotes that demonstrate situations that are not covered by a broad rule, in this case that white people in America have a privileged position in society. The theory of institutional white racism (I'm using theory as in 'theory of evolution') is pretty damn well attested and an anecdote in isolation doesn't really say much about it one way or another. To make an analogy it's like contesting the statement "pants cover up the genitalia" by saying "well I had a pair of pants that have a giant hole in the crotch which totally exposed my genitals to the world" or "well, some pants don't leave much to the imagination." Well... yes, that is a fact but it doesn't make the statement "pants cover up genitalia" any less true.
posted by Kattullus at 4:59 AM on May 13, 2009 [22 favorites]


Perhaps the biggest problem with this thread is that people are talking about race based on their experiences. Few of us know anything about the history or sociology of African Americans, or the other useful ways of discussing race, myself included.

Having a president who blithely decrees we live in a post-racial world (whatever that means) doesn't encourage people to think critically about race either.

That said, if one were to reflect on the 400 year-plus political and social history of black Americans in the US, even in a superficial way, one would see where the notion of "black community" comes from.

Why don't we talk about white community? Well, white men* didn't have to fight for political rights as fiercely as did black Americans. White men and women did not have to struggle for a safe place or the right to engage in civil society-- churches, clubs, and all the other elements that comprise it. Community is not just "identity," or your experience.

Any community has a complex history, and many people in this thread are thinking about community in the narrowest terms possible-- what they see around them or on tv. That some black people debate whether community is a useful political strategy today does not negate the fact that a black community exists (communities for the stubborn) and has a long and rich political, social, and cultural history. Go to a bookstore. I'm not making this up.

I intended to wade into this thread just to state my support for notjustfoxybrown's original post, wording and all. I read the gender threads and was surprised by the ignorance there, but this thread is the first time I've ever considered leaving metafilter.

I'm saying that not to create drama. Who cares? My voice out of tens of thousands is not really important one way or another. I say this to underscore what others said above: how desperately important race is, and a dialogue on this site is woefully needed however it is started, whoever starts it. To see the dismissive and ignorant responses in this thread, even the well-intentioned ones, really disappoints.

*Of course white women had to fight, and continue to fight for rights. These fights do not neatly parallel the struggles of black people in the US. We had the gender threads. I also know that "whiteness" has its own history and is not a static category. This thread is about African Americans and race.
posted by vincele at 7:26 AM on May 13, 2009 [3 favorites]


Is this largely about a stupid joke that orthogonality slipped past the axme joke censors?
posted by found missing at 8:16 AM on May 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


Who's Rick Ross?
posted by BitterOldPunk at 8:20 AM on May 13, 2009


> no matter what broad, generalized statement you make about every single member of a specific race here... one of them will walk by five minutes later and prove you wrong. Better to simply avoid those kinds of generalizations.

Your story does not prove anything except that your friend is in an unusual situation. Specifically, it does not disprove, or even affect, the statement that all white people in the US have white privilege. If your friend gets tired of whatever shit he puts up with because of his situation, he can move almost anywhere else: presto, problem gone. Nonwhite people do not have that choice.
posted by languagehat at 8:24 AM on May 13, 2009 [9 favorites]


BOP, he's a rapper who was just outed as a former prison guard, rather than the trafficker he claimed to be.
posted by electroboy at 8:31 AM on May 13, 2009


Is this largely about a stupid joke that orthogonality slipped past the axme joke censors?

No, but thanks for playing "Blithe derail that calls into question the OP's motivations, rather than addressing their concerns"! You get a toaster!
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 8:51 AM on May 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


who the fuck is talking about the OPs motives? jackass
posted by found missing at 8:53 AM on May 13, 2009


who the fuck is talking about the OPs motives? jackass

I'd like to question your motive for introducing insulting and inflammatory language into a thread which has heretofore been remarkably civil despite the difficulty of the subject being discussed.

What did you hope to accomplish by this?
posted by felix betachat at 8:58 AM on May 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


I didn't care for the toaster.
posted by found missing at 8:59 AM on May 13, 2009 [2 favorites]


Please stop fighting.
posted by Burhanistan at 9:02 AM on May 13, 2009


Am I really brave enough to post something here?

I grew up 45 miles from the US / Mexico border, and my elementary school was 67% hispanic. (I'm white mongrel, adopted so I have no real background other than "white".) It was a pretty normal thing for me when all the kids spoke a different language at home or amongst themselves, or for the calendar to be filled with days of observance which didn't jibe with the rest of the country. The concept of light skin vs dark skin was never something which was made an issue of, at least not in my household or schools. It was just part of life.

There was ONE black student in elementary school. I'll never forget her: Brenda Perkins. I have no idea what her experience was like growing up, but as far as I can remember thinking, she was just another kid. She didn't have the "stereotypical" inner city accent, the school population was a mix of affluent and trailer park, so there was really nothing EXCEPT skin color which differentiated her from the rest of the kids. I don't remember growing up thinking that she was anything other than Brenda.

As a result of all this, I feel I've become an adult who easily looks beyond color lines, although as I've grown older I've learned that my lack of exposure to "the black subculture" has led me to say some things which were never intended as negative or racist, but which were interpreted as such. This has been very confusing and it's taken me a long time to "unpack that invisible suitcase."

Being a gay man has helped with that process somewhat, I think. Being despised AND invisible certainly makes one aware of how easy it is for others to say things which are not intended in a mean-spirited way but which reflect the social norms we all are swimming in, often without noticing. Certainly, I bet I hear a lot more faggot jokes spoken in my presence than blacks hear nigger jokes. At any rate, I try to find my own moments of learning, and am always glad when "one of the straights" will allow me to help dissuade him or her of their false assumptions about teh gayz.

I currently live in what is arguably the "whitest" region of the country (Eastern WA), and a couple of years ago had a black coworker who came to me and told me he thought I had made some racist comments, etc. I was shocked. I honestly didn't know what to say. I never had looked upon this man as anything other than a coworker who did an excellent job. So I took this as an opportunity to try to educate myself a bit. I spent quite a bit of time over the ensuing months attempting to engage this guy in dialogue about race and prejudice and such... and was met with huge amounts of resistance.

It was surprising, to be accused of lacking cultural sensitivity and understanding... to have someone point out repeatedly that their experience is vastly different from one's own (my coworker growing up in black Harlem, myself growing up in southern NM)... to have that played against one in the workplace regularly... and yet when I tried to learn and grown through my (obviously self-blind) prejudices, I was shut down completely.

What is a white guy like myself, or jefficator to do? Talking about the situation is rebuffed, learning about the situation through mass media is disparaged... I cannot become black in order to get beyond my white priviledge. But if being white is going to be held against me when it comes to trying to understand the Experience Of The Other, then what hope is there?
posted by hippybear at 9:05 AM on May 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


What is a white guy like myself, or jefficator to do? Talking about the situation is rebuffed, learning about the situation through mass media is disparaged... I cannot become black in order to get beyond my white priviledge. But if being white is going to be held against me when it comes to trying to understand the Experience Of The Other, then what hope is there?

It is not your coworker's job to educate you about privilege or his experiences or whatnot. It's not my job or notfoxybrown's job or anyone's. There are nearly infinite resources out there on the internet to learn about the day-to-day experiences of people who have a different conception of the world than the privileged narrative.

Often, the problem with "dialogues about race" is that the person accused of racist remarks wants to control the topic of conversation. Over the years the most important thing I've learned when trying to educate myself about racism or ableism or whatever is to shut up and listen. Put aside my own filters and pre-judgements and accept what persons of color say at face value.
posted by muddgirl at 9:18 AM on May 13, 2009 [10 favorites]


hippybear: I spent quite a bit of time over the ensuing months attempting to engage this guy in dialogue about race and prejudice and such... and was met with huge amounts of resistance.

It's tiring to be the designated representative for a different culture. As an Icelander living in the US I experience a mild form of this as people generally ask me about Iceland when they first meet me. Since I'm aware I'm quite probably the only Icelander they'll ever meet I don't particularly mind but I have honed down my answers so that the conversation can be over and done with pretty quickly. Sometimes people are curious and keep asking and while it's not a big deal per se having to answer a barrage of questions about a given subject is mentally tiring. That is probably where the resistance comes from.

In your particular situation it's not your coworker's responsibility to educate you. There are books, there is the internet, there are plenty of places for you to find answers to your questions.
posted by Kattullus at 9:19 AM on May 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


who the fuck is talking about the OPs motives?

You were: Is this largely about a stupid joke that orthogonality slipped past the axme joke censors?

Obviously, the OP feels that orthogonality's idiotic comment is indicative of a larger issue. Implying that you're having trouble identifying what the problem here is, and that you see it primarily being about someone objecting to a joke when a cursory reading of the thread will tell you otherwise, is questioning the OP's motivation and intent.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 9:21 AM on May 13, 2009


muddgirl, Kattullus: and yet, the point of this post was that I'm supposed to go out and meet a real person and NOT rely on media to teach me these things.

And really, he started the dialogue by pointing out specific things which bothered him about me. It isn't like I suddenly decided I needed to blackimify myself and picked this guy to be my ambassador.

I've learned when trying to educate myself about racism or ableism or whatever is to shut up and listen.

Difficult to do when there's nothing being offered up to listen to, eh?
posted by hippybear at 9:25 AM on May 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


No, Alvy, I wasn't questioning the OPs intent or motives. You misread my intent, which was to point out that it was a joke that many people interpreted as a serious answer. A cursory reading of the thread reveals many non-racist answers by grownups to a very strange question.
posted by found missing at 9:29 AM on May 13, 2009


hippybear: But that's just ONE person you had that experience with. Nobody's saying discussing race issues will always be a kumbaya let's all learn together experience. This thread alone should be evidence of that. As you pointed out yourself, different people have had different experiences, different backgrounds, and different levels of dealing with race. Some people are more angry than others, some are not. You might say something and some people will ignore it, some will call you racist, some will just dismiss it as mere ignorance or misconception. But just as no one person is responsible to be the representative of their race, it also defeats the purpose of all this awareness when you blame failed dialogue for everyone on just one person too, which is another thing I see brought up a lot. "Well, they didn't want to talk about it." Like muddgirl says, people sometimes just want you to listen. Your coworker might've felt that simply pointing out what bothered them was enough. And obviously, the fact alone that he pointed something out to you was food for thought for you. You might've not gotten the dialogue you wanted, but nonetheless something was passed on to you. Something for you to think about or maybe discuss with someone else somewhere else to get a different perspective, someplace like this thread right now. I have no idea what your coworker brought up to you about their problems, but if a friend had an issue like you did and came to talk to me with a genuine desire to find out what the underlying issues were I'd have no problem talking about it with them.

You say this coworker repeatedly brought this up, but the details on the story are fuzzy. Do you mean he repeatedly brought up that his background was different each time you tried to have this dialogue with them? How were you approaching him? If after the initial discussion it was acknowledge by both parties that "this bothers me" and "sure, I understand that" that might've been enough for him and your constant asking could be coming across as badgering or picking at a wound that your cowoker thinks has already been healed over. Maybe they're the forgive and forget type. Maybe they didn't think it was THAT big of deal to turn into some kind of diversity conference panel at work. Maybe it's just something they don't want to talk about at work. Maybe they really are more angry at you than you initially thought, and are trying to control their frustrations. I don't know what the offense you were charged with is or what the exact situation or conversations were, or even the nature of your relationship with this coworker, but if you're aware that this issue is not monolithic or as simple as you might've initial thought it was I must again point out it seems counterintuitive that you'd use this one case/example from your life to influence how you think about race dialogue in general.
posted by kkokkodalk at 9:52 AM on May 13, 2009 [3 favorites]


Thanks for clarifying, found missing - I took it to mean you thought this MeTa was making a mountain out of a molehill ('Aw, ortho was just making a joke, chill out.').

I'm going to need that toaster back.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 9:55 AM on May 13, 2009


Sorry I didn't use my indoor voice earlier. Yeah, about the toaster, I kind of threw it out the window when I was feeling all hostile.
posted by found missing at 10:08 AM on May 13, 2009


I just got hit by a fucking toaster.
posted by Astro Zombie at 10:20 AM on May 13, 2009 [3 favorites]


There are two kinds of racism, it seems to me: Institutional and personal. Any person can be racist, by believing that one race is inherently superior to the other. But the amount of damage they can do is limited -- I suppose they could be mean to somebody, or beat somebody up, or whatnot. But institutional racism is where the real power lies, and is the sort of thing most people address themselves to when they address the issue of racism.

This AstroZombie comment was posted over 12 hours ago, so no one likely cares anymore (or maybe this was addressed in the subsequent comments that I skimmed over), but can I make one little tweak? Yes, it's institutional racism that does the greater damage. But institutional racism is composed of and built on the attitudes of these individual racists.

It feels important for me to point this out on a personal level. In my very white family, there are some who, unlike Stephen Colbert, can't help but see race, and can't help but noting it. (For example, an otherwise unnotable anecdote will start with the words "There was this black lady in line at the grocery store.")

It's important, for me, to keep in mind the relationship between personal and institutional racism, because while I know these members of my family would never burn a cross, or would never be violent or even rude to that black lady in the grocery store, the fact that they have that attitude, that they immediately and above all else classify that woman as "black," is what allows institutional racism to continue.

I'd like to think that this class of attitudes and non-behaviors is less prevalent among my generation, or among my cousins' kids or grandkids. But I'm not sure it is. I think maybe it just comes out in different ways. And that's why things don't change very fast.

So anyway: Two variants of racism, yes. But they work very much together, and they each provide fuel for the other's fire.
posted by mudpuppie at 10:24 AM on May 13, 2009 [6 favorites]


Yes, it's institutional racism that does the greater damage. But institutional racism is composed of and built on the attitudes of these individual racists.

Completely agree. But this is what distinguishes white people who are racists from black people who are racists. Individual white racism feed into aand supports an instutionalized system of racism, which, in turn, rewards them with benefits so completely that these benefits are invisible to them. There is no equivalent system of anti-white racism that individual African-Americans can support. So while we can discuss the fact that some blacks can be racist -- and, of course they can, merely by believing in the inferiority or superiority of people based on race -- it doesn't wield anywhere near the power that individial white racism does, because there is no societal system of anti-white racism supporting it.

That was the point I was trying to convey, and apologies for being unclear.
posted by Astro Zombie at 10:33 AM on May 13, 2009 [10 favorites]


Not even sure I was clear there. I might have sustained some brain damage from the toaster.
posted by Astro Zombie at 10:39 AM on May 13, 2009


But this is what distinguishes white people who are racists from black people who are racists. Individual white racism feed into aand supports an instutionalized system of racism, which, in turn, rewards them with benefits so completely that these benefits are invisible to them.

Absolutely!

That was the point I was trying to convey, and apologies for being unclear.

No, my apologies for not reading clearly enough.

And my comment wasn't directed at you, AZ -- I just wanted to make the point in a more general way, because it's something that I encounter on family visits. I'm still trying to figure out how to accept family members while rejecting their attitudes WITHOUT storming out of the room or starting a futile argument every time I hear a reference to "the black lady" or "Mexicans" or "Chinese people." (Did you know that, with the exception of Russians, everyone who hails from lands east of Eastern Europe is "Chinese"?) My process for dealing with it currently involves figuring out how they fit into the whole puzzle, and trying to model good attitudes in response. It's easier than arguing.
posted by mudpuppie at 10:42 AM on May 13, 2009


I never try to fix the way people think. If their behavior becomes intolerable, I address it, and if it doesn't change, I leave. As far as I can tell, those are pretty much the options that are open to me.
posted by Astro Zombie at 10:47 AM on May 13, 2009


Well, perhaps I do try to change how they think, through discussion. I find it doesn't work very well, though. People can be pretty intractable.

Sometimes I make fun of them, but I am cutting back on that.
posted by Astro Zombie at 10:48 AM on May 13, 2009


mudpuppie, it's going to make people in your family uncomfortable when you call them, however benignly and gently, on their racist viewpoints. So good luck there, you're going to have to break a few eggs to make this omelette.

When they tell these stories, is it implied or stated that the identity of the woman, to use your example, as a black woman is intrinsic to the story? Are they trying to attach the subject of the story to a stereotyped behavior? That kind of overt racism is easy to identify and discuss. I mean, at least your family members will have to admit that this is a racist thought/story/attitude.

If, however, they just mention that the woman was black without any connection to some awful racist trope, you have a more subtle problem–they probably don't think they are being racist when they mention these things. That'll be tricky, because their feelings will be hurt–what you say will be at odds with their self-image.
posted by Mister_A at 10:57 AM on May 13, 2009


Slightly dented toaster for sale.
posted by stinkycheese at 10:58 AM on May 13, 2009


What amazes me is the number of people in this thread who have taken the phrase "Every single white person in America is born with white privilege" and misinterpreted it to mean "every white American is privileged".

White privilege does not mean you are born with a silver spoon in your mouth. It does not mean you guaranteed a happy, shit-free life where everything is handed to you on a platter. It doesn't mean you'll never be the minority in the room and it doesn't mean you'll never suffer for being the only minority in the room. White privilege is much more subtle than that. If you haven't already, go read the article that grapefruitmoon linked to above. It does a great job of examining what white privilege is, with lots of examples.

If someone had claimed that being born white is an all-access pass to the good life, then yeah, I'd say they're full of shit, too. But no one is claiming that and those of you who are arguing the opposing viewpoint are pissing into the wind.
posted by turaho at 11:08 AM on May 13, 2009 [12 favorites]


What amazes me is the number of people in this thread who have taken the phrase "Every single white person in America is born with white privilege" and misinterpreted it to mean "every white American is privileged".

Well, and that's other side of the codeword coin: while there's insidious shit attached to otherwise plain-seeming constructions like "reverse racism", there's also the difficulty of folks who have had not had these discussions or explored this territory being unfamiliar with the jargon of the territory. "Privilege" is a complicated and nuanced thing to dig into, and is kind of idiomatic in this context compared with a plain dictionary reading of the word—it's easy for people who don't know that you're making a very specific and concrete reference with it to find themselves with no obvious approach other than applying their lay knowledge of the word "privilege" to the situation.

The point made a couple times above about privilege being a multi-axial thing then comes into this kind of misunderstanding, because someone who doesn't know what precisely "white privilege" is supposed to mean can end up parsing out "white, ergo 'privileged'" and come to a sharp stop when they put that up against their experience-driven notions that what they think of as being "privileged" in a lot of senses does not, like you say, come along automatically with being white.

One of the nice things about "invisible knapsack" is that the phrase is conspicuous: someone encountering it for the first time knows, at least, that they've just encountered some jargon. How they deal with that from there is a separate question, but at the very least it's pretty much clear to a critical thinker that there's something here they're not familiar with. Things like "privilege" are unfortunately more ambiguous, and it's not necessarily going to be clear to someone that what they're dealing with is a shibboleth rather than just a disagreement over the aptness of lay vocabulary or whatever.
posted by cortex (staff) at 11:32 AM on May 13, 2009 [4 favorites]


God, I love the word shibboleth. I need to start using it more.
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:39 AM on May 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


Write it down, Darling. I like it; I want to use it more often in conversation.
posted by Dumsnill at 11:53 AM on May 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


I understand your point, cortex; to me, it's an issue of whether people want to be educated about the issue. If this were any other field, and we used a jargony word in context, the expectation would be that participants would do their own research to figure out what we're talking about. I didn't invent the phrase "white privilege", and the context I used it in is well-established both academically and colloquially. The first 10 results when I google the phrase "white privilege" are perfect examples of my usage. I especially like this essay published by Robert Jensen.
posted by muddgirl at 11:57 AM on May 13, 2009 [2 favorites]


No, I totally agree, muddgirl. I'm not trying to say it's anybody's fault that "white privilege" is overloaded, or to give folks who want to get in on the discussion from outside carte blanche to be incurious about the language involved. I'm just saying that being mindful of that problem from both sides when there's ambiguous, not-obviously-jargony overloading of lay language, is an important part of this kind of discussion. Another one of those cuts-both-ways issues of extending the benefit of the doubt.
posted by cortex (staff) at 12:01 PM on May 13, 2009


Yeah, I was trying to say something like Astro Zombie. Racism is not the sum of individual experiences. It is like any other complex subject. Just because "this one time at band camp..." you pestered a coworker or talked with a real live black person doesn't qualify you to pontificate on race. Just because you're white doesn't mean you are an authority on so-called "reverse racism." Engage race seriously, like you would if you wanted to learn a language, metaphysics, or anything else that requires a grasp of nuance and higher level thinking. Read. Why is this so hard to understand. It is like rocket science. It is complicated.
posted by vincele at 12:20 PM on May 13, 2009


Why is this so hard to understand. It is like rocket science. It is complicated.

But it's not just intellectual: it's like rocket science with thousands of years of complex emotional baggage attached as well. Imagine aerospace engineers who had to go about their difficult research or manufacturing with, say, barely suppressed anger and frustration about fluid dynamics, or secret intense guilty feelings about avionics automation.
posted by aught at 12:55 PM on May 13, 2009 [3 favorites]


barely suppressed anger and frustration about fluid dynamics

I think you are describing some mefites' sex lives.
posted by desjardins at 1:28 PM on May 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


Um, I know. I prefaced that turn of phrase with: "Engage race seriously, like you would if you wanted to learn a language, metaphysics, or anything else that requires a grasp of nuance and higher level thinking." Limited encounters with black people prove nothing. Learning about the complexities of race doesn't happen by sharing experiences and hashing out the meaning of "reverse racism" based on how well-meaning people feel about the term. Experience and gut feelings do not equal knowledge. Add education and you've got something.
posted by vincele at 1:34 PM on May 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


Astro Zombie : Not even sure I was clear there. I might have sustained some brain damage from the toaster.

Silly Zombie, this is why I've told you that you should carry your food in a lunch box.
posted by quin at 1:40 PM on May 13, 2009


Things like "privilege" are unfortunately more ambiguous, and it's not necessarily going to be clear to someone that what they're dealing with is a shibboleth rather than just a disagreement over the aptness of lay vocabulary or whatever.

I would strongly disagree that "white privilege" is a shibboleth. A term of art, absolutely. But not an in-group identifier with no other function.
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:44 PM on May 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


I would strongly disagree that "white privilege" is a shibboleth. A term of art, absolutely. But not an in-group identifier with no other function.

Sure it is. It practically screams "I am an educated white liberal that is concerned with social issues."
posted by electroboy at 1:53 PM on May 13, 2009


SHIBBOLETH!

It just has such a great sound to it!
posted by Astro Zombie at 1:53 PM on May 13, 2009


"I am an educated white liberal that is concerned with social issues."

Yes, because persons of color never use that phrase. OH WAIT!

Your statement seems to trivialize the work of black advocates in preference to the work of white advocates. That is part of my white privilege, that I will be taken more seriously than the women of color that I learn from.
posted by muddgirl at 2:08 PM on May 13, 2009


Sure it is. It practically screams "I am an educated white liberal that is concerned with social issues."

Head. Exploding. Now.

Seriously, you're being a jerk. "White privilege" is, as muddgirl points out, a concept widely used by sociologists, psychologists, and critical theorists who don't self-identify as white. It stems from W.E.B. DuBois's concept of "the wages of whiteness," and he certainly wasn't white (or liberal!)
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:23 PM on May 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


Difficult to do when there's nothing being offered up to listen to, eh?

"Shut-up and listen" can also mean "Shut-up and observe."

For example: Shut up and observe the fact that you don't have to explain your race or culture to your coworkers because *everybody knows* about it because it's the majority view. That your coworker sees people like you on the news, on TV, in movies, all the time and not as some quirky "side kick." That you *never* have to educate anybody on what "white people" think about anything.

Sit back and think about how you think that you have the right to question anybody on their race, and how you expect that you deserve an answer. It's an incredibly loaded subject, and if I were in your coworker's position, I wouldn't get into it with someone who was obviously looking for a tutorial to make themselves feel more "educated" either.

Cultural education is not always a question-answer process. Listen to what people are saying in this thread. Think about what it says that you even think it necessary to have a dialog with your coworker in the first place.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 2:26 PM on May 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


I would strongly disagree that "white privilege" is a shibboleth. A term of art, absolutely. But not an in-group identifier with no other function.

It's a term of art which, given the charged nature of these sorts of discussion and the fact that it is not readily apparent that it is a term of art and not just a lay construction, can function as a shibboleth. Very quickly, participants in a discussion like this can end up partitioned into the Gets It group and the Doesn't Get It group by virtue of their ability to navigate through the use of that phrase correctly.

Again, I'm not trying to paint it as arcane or obscure, I'm just trying to put into context the apparently surprising-to-some phenomenon of people who are not already familiar with the term of art stumbling over or being confused by the specific connotations that come with the term of art as it is used by people in the know about its use.

None of which means that I like that electroboy is being flippant about it, for whatever that's worth.
posted by cortex (staff) at 2:58 PM on May 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm just trying to put into context the apparently surprising-to-some phenomenon of people who are not already familiar with the term of art stumbling over or being confused by the specific connotations that come with the term of art as it is used by people in the know about its use.

I don't think it's surprising to people who have tried to hold discussions about race before. It's all too typical for conversations about race to turn around and become discussions about the terminology rather than about the concepts or about experiences of race. It's part of the claim that if only minorities would make their arguments more palatable to the privileged listener, then they'd be taken more seriously.

I doubt, for example, that if I made a post about engineering stress it would be understandable for someone to become confused and say that engineers have nothing to be stressed about.
posted by muddgirl at 3:09 PM on May 13, 2009


I feel that this conversation about racism - and many conversations I've been a part of on any ism - often just devolve because the point and priorities of the discussion becomes a moving target, particularly as more people join, because we rarely agree on the parameters and definition in the conversation.

Since notjustfoxybrown focused on Orthogonality's comments, that's what I'd like to focus on.
Here's what I wish had happened. Please note, I'm not saying this is what should have happened. This might not be relevant, cause I'm just talking personal preference here:

1) I think it would have helped if Orthogonality (love the name, by the way) had caveated his (his?) comments with the phrase "In my experience". Perhaps even giving some sense of where he gained this experience. Then it would have implied YMMV, and not 'fact'.

2) I wish - and it happened - that many other people would have disagreed with his advice, based on their experience, and shared their own experience and advice. As I said, this did happen.

3) I think it would have clarified the issue if someone had questioned his rationale and evidence for his suggestions, hopefully without beginning or ending the same sentence with an insult. Because then we'd be focusing on one issue. This might have happened - I'm not sure.

4). I wish that notjustfoxybrown, or anyone, was disturbed by a comment, they would speak up. This happened.

5) I wish folks would have felt a little more generous to both Orthogonality and notjustfoxybrown's comments, and in both cases starting with questions that sought clarification rather than leading with an attack or assumptions about the way some part the comment was phrased and what was meant by it.

For me if would have helped the conversation if there had been a question in notjustfoxybrown's comment. Yes, I realize that's 'my problem'. I'm also just one of those people who finds it helpful to have a focus - like "I have multiple data points where people are saying things that implies they are not aware of their privilege, and personally I find it disconcerting and isolating to feel that this behavior is acceptable here. Is this any one else's experience?" or "I think it's optimal when responses like this come up, for there to be multiple responses correcting this shortsighted statement. But I feel like I only hear unchecked silence when it does occur, and that's kind of disappointing and frightening . Is the message I should be getting here when people don't respond negatively to such comments is that they agree? Because that's what I'm getting?"

But that said, I've mostly appreciated the conversation so far, and there have been many thoughtful comments. 200+ comments is notable. I'm just wondering what other people wish the outcome of this conversation is? Is it to have more people speak up when examples of privilege happen? Is it just to blow off steam? Is it clarification on some point? Better understanding? All of the above?

Personally, I wish that if there are comments that exhibit some blinders or lack of awareness, flat out hate, or whatever, I hope many, many people do speak up, seek clarification, disagree.
I take silence for tacit approval. So please chime in.
posted by anitanita at 3:48 PM on May 13, 2009


I don't think it's surprising to people who have tried to hold discussions about race before.

I'm reacting to someone expressing amazement specifically about this, is the only reason I went down that path, to be clear. I think that clearly acknowledging the terminology confusion is worth a shot as a means to sidestep some of the unnecessary protraction of the argument about the terminology; I agree that it's a distraction and acknowledge the fine line I'm walking by getting extra-meta on the subject in order to steer away from people being too meta about it. All in all I think I'm pretty much in agreement with you on this stuff.
posted by cortex (staff) at 3:55 PM on May 13, 2009


I wish that people would be conscious of their presentation here on metafilter, particularly with reference toward sensitivity to groups to which they do not belong and equally importantly, wouldn't get defensive about discussions of behaviors and conversations being characterized as racially problematic. Speaking as white person, it is understandable to be defensive about being perceived as racist, but part of being a white person in a white-privileging society who wishes to be sensitive to racism and its impact on people is to try not to launch into self-defense mode when something one does or says is challenged on the grounds of racism. I know it's hard not to feel attacked, but trying not to be defensive is a good thing.

Ideally, people who don't want to be racist would reflect on what happened if they were told that something they did* was racist. No one wants to be considered a racist, right? So if someone tells me that I have said something or done something that sounds racist, it's my job to step back from being hurt and offended (which I grant you is very hard to do) and think about the dynamics of what I have done or said.

This is hard, I agree. I read a number of blogs which deal with issues of race and sometimes I get upset at characterizations of things that have been done or said by white people on race issues. I feel that it's NOT FAIR, and when I get that outraged, NOT FAIR feeling I know that it is time a) not to comment until I have worked through my reaction and that b) there is usually a less-than-pleasant reason why I am having that reaction. And if you read their blogs, you'll often find comments from people who didn't let that NOT FAIR reaction simmer, who just posted their hurt about being attacked as part of an institution of racism. It's not helpful to do that.

The work of understanding racism and of being an effective white ally lies, lots of times, in shutting up and sitting down and throttling that NOT FAIR reaction down. Because as white people it would be pretty odd if we could see a system which privileges us in the same way that someone that system actually works against. Not seeing the distinctions between the system white people experience and the system people of color experience and expecting that the behavior which is being discussed is being misinterpreted ungenerously because so-and-so meant well is one of the mistakes I most frequently see in those discussions, along with people providing their bona fides or anecdotes to illustrate how they don't have any issues with race. It doesn't matter what the intent is if someone is hurt by a behavior, if you wish to be an ally. Learning about how it appears from the other side is worth occasionally getting some stung feelings and an aggrieved sense of being misunderstood. And then once you understand what's been done and how it is inappropriate from the perspective of the people who have been hurt by it, you can move forward and not hurt people's feelings, which is always nice. All this assumes that people don't want to hurt other people based on racial distinctions, which I'd like to think is a goal on which we can all agree. Along with everyone needing a hug, naturally.

*It's generally agreed that productively discussing racism involves discussing actions, not intent, although conversations get viciously derailed by that very distinction all the time. See Jay Smooth's utterly fantastic How to tell people they sound racist for an illustration.

good gracious I didn't mean to write a book. I've been reading the thread and having thoughts about the difficulties of community and racism and I suppose this was where I decided to put my thoughts. I don't mean to be preachy, just musing about what I have personally seen and experienced.
posted by winna at 4:07 PM on May 13, 2009 [14 favorites]


I came in here to post Jay Smooth's video but I see that winna beat me to it.
posted by schyler523 at 4:47 PM on May 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


I could help but read winna's comment in Jay Smooth's voice in my head, actually, which worked surprisingly well.
posted by cortex (staff) at 5:11 PM on May 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


I think people were too hasty in rebuking hippybear. While it may be unfair to focus on a single, particular individual to be your cross-cultural, cross-racial teacher, he is right in concluding that the internet is no substitute for personal dialogue.

I learn from my friends of all backgrounds everyday. But, that's because we've been able to build trust. I'm listening and observing too, but there's things I just don't "get" and will never "get" because I'm not black and vice-versa. I can read an article, but I will always have a question about the content.

In order to try to understand anything, I ask questions of friends who I trust. I keep a curious and open mind. I try to be as open as I can when a question comes back about what white people think or why they do something, and answer with an open mind. There are surprises on both sides - both poignant and funny mixed with some pain and laughter. (A great discussion about "why do white people eat macaroni and cheese as a meal when it's obviously a side dish" comes to mind). Other tougher questions and answers, I would rather keep private.

The problem with trying to do this on the internet is that we don't know each other. You cannot look into my eyes or into my heart and see who I am before deciding that it's safe to trust me, nor I you. If I don't know you, I am not going to risk being clumsy or stupid and asking a question that might hurt you. I will forego the possibility of asking a question or making a comment and save it for another forum because I do not value my curiosity above your feelings.
posted by inkyr2 at 5:13 PM on May 13, 2009 [2 favorites]


I could help but read winna's comment in Jay Smooth's voice in my head, actually, which worked surprisingly well.

It's probably better than hearing it in my voice. I have a voice made for the internet.

I think, to add on to inkyr2's point, that because the members of any community online that deals regularly with these kinds of issues get a constant flow of people who ask the same questions about the same points it is very easy to be too fatigued to want to answer 101-level questions every single day. That is where a lot of the 'it is not our job to teach you' that some communities will respond with comes from. When you read the same question every day from a different person who is determined to make you their teacher it makes people jump on the questioner.

I have learned a lot, a LOT, about racial issues on the internet by going to communities which deal with racial issues and lurking. Most questions get asked over and over again, and just reading along a lot of questions I would have asked have been answered.
posted by winna at 5:27 PM on May 13, 2009


it is very easy to be too fatigued to want to answer 101-level questions every single day.

Yes. This is where a lot of people who don't want to talk about being "whatever" are coming from. The community I have the most experience with (having the little "oh, look at my cause!" bracelet and everything) is the GLBT community. One of my best friends is a transman, and at one point in college, he was talking about how he was thinking of giving up dating outside of the trans community because he was sick and tired of explaining trans issues to every. single. person. whom he would try to just have dinner/sex/whatever with.

Sometimes, you just really don't want to talk about it for the eight hundredth time.

So, yeah, hone your lurking skills. Also, picking the right moment is key. Waiting for something to come up in context is 1,000x easier and less awkward than "Oh, so, HEY! About your native cuisine!" And if you've got good listening-fu, you'll be able to find a context for your queries rather than just popping them out of nowhere.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 5:36 PM on May 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


"It doesn't matter what the intent is if someone is hurt by a behavior, if you wish to be an ally. "

I understand that, but—and I realize that I'm treading on some thin ice, here, so I'm trying to be articulate—I don't want to be everyone's ally. To channel jonmc, it's racist to pretend that every Person Of Difference's complaints are equally valid or that there aren't a fair number of assholes on that side of the fence too. I realize that this argument is too often used to dismiss legitimate complaints, but not all complaints are legitimate. This problem is compounded by two noble impulses—that of communities to rally in defense of their members, and the fairly broad social injunction against further afflicting those already afflicted. And without a fairly decent reserve of either social capital or cussedness, it can be hard to tell someone, "Y'know, that's bullshit, fuck off."

My own anecdotes about this come mostly from working on the board of a housing non-profit that had to deal with issues of race, ability and mental illness on a pretty regular basis, and having to slog through depositions and lawsuits over Fair Housing etc., and realizing how onerous a lot of the requirements are.

The way you can tell that I'm still a liberal is that even after dealing with that bullshit, I can understand the utility of having those protections, even as they were abused in these particular cases.
posted by klangklangston at 6:54 PM on May 13, 2009


No, I understand what you mean, I think. I really don't know how to deal with that problem, other than to assume that criticism is being offered in good faith until it is conclusively proven that it is not. You can't change anyone's mind but your own, and every stable has at least a few jackasses in it.

I am going through something of that sort now. I have several neighbors who are bafflingly rude and have no boundaries whatsoever. They are a different race than I am. It is quite clear from my interactions with them and things that they've said that they think I don't like them because I'm racist, rather than because they're the most obnoxious human beings on earth.

I just grit my teeth, because I have no idea how to deal with that kind of thing. I know that confronting them would do no good at all. It has been an interesting personal experience, working out how the racial difference affects our interaction, but I will be glad when it's over.
posted by winna at 7:27 PM on May 13, 2009


So, since I live in a country which consists of over 99% asians, and in which the black population is vanishingly small, I can't watch the Wire, the best TV series I've ever watched?

Nah, I'll take a pass on this moratorium. Thanks for the suggestion, though.
posted by Bugbread at 8:47 PM on May 13, 2009


Well, I'm getting here a bit late in the thread (I just saw this late tonight).

First, my experience of black people doesn't come from watching BET or The Wire; it comes from having gone to a high school that was 85% black, and living most of my life in majority black cities, in integrated neighborhoods. Where I've "personally known and interacted with" black Americans (to quote the callout).

And in my experience, black Americans do have identifiable cultural traits (just like Polish Americans or Italian Americans or Southern whites or...), and one I've noticed is the "alright" greeting. (Now maybe that's just an East Coast thing, or maybe just in the cities in which I've lived. Maybe it's just something that gets said to me and only me, because I'm such a handsome devil. But it's my experience, not something I watched on TV.

Of course, not every over-thirty black man I've encountered uses this greeting. I assumed that went without saying, but I point it out now for anyone wanting to nit-pick. (And my other advice -- wear a silly hat -- was aimed at making the OP look less stiffly "official", as I said in my answer.)

Believe it or not, it's not racist to notice that various groups have cultural traits. It'll knock your socks off, but I've also noticed that, e.g., blacks tend to be the main audience for BET, and that Mefites seem to really enjoy The Wire. And yeah, Indians eat curry and Germans like sausages. Not all Indians or all Germans, but enough to associate the groups with the traits.

And I know how I've lived my life, and interacted with people of various cultural and racial backgrounds, and I don't think I have anything to be ashamed of. Certainly not because somebody on "teh internets", having had (presumably) different experiences than I've had, incorrectly assumes that mine "must be" based only on what I've watched on TV.

But if anyone still insists on being all offended by my talking about my own experiences, without my pretending like Stephen Colbert that "I don't see race", well, there's nothing I'm going to be able to do to prevent you from luxuriating in the frothy bubble-bath of your righteous indignation. So enjoy.
posted by orthogonality at 9:24 PM on May 13, 2009


orthogonality, what high school? I graduated from Western in DC, which was around 85% black, if I remember correctly.
posted by shetterly at 9:37 PM on May 13, 2009


I was surprised to read down this far and see no one mention that #20 on the list of Stuff White People Like is being an expert on YOUR culture. Of course white folks are going to step into a thread where we don't belong and start telling people what kind of greeting would win you the most friends in a black neighborhood. From that link;
White people are pretty conflicted about their culture. On one hand, they are proud of the art, literature, and film produced by white culture. But at the same time, they are very ashamed of all the bad things in white culture: the KKK, colonialism, slavery, Jim Crow laws, feudalism, and the treatment of native americans.

One way they can make up for it is becoming marginally acquainted with foreign cultures.
Also, more edification on the concept of White Privilege demonstrated by Louis C.K. through the example of time machines.
posted by Demogorgon at 10:20 PM on May 13, 2009 [3 favorites]


orthogonality: I didn't enter a frothy bubble-bath of a righteous indignation when I read your comment , but being of the race you were referring to, your comment DID make me uncomfortable. Uncomfortable not because I assumed it was racist or prejudiced, but because it was just so damn odd how it was phrased and framed. It basically came across as advising patronizing pandering rather than "here's what I observed in my life." And honestly, I'm sorry, but just because you went to a high school that was 85% a certain culture or interacted with a diverse group of people doesn't mean you always fully get everything about any one group of people. Even if you do observe something, hear something, hell, get told it's something OK for you to do or say something, it might not be OK for everyone in all groups, and your sort of "this is how they all do it" way of framing it was reductive and patronizing like, "Oh, I know how those people act, you just gotta do this." Sort of reducing black people to just characteristics and preprogrammed behaviors and not people. That's what made me uncomfortable about your comment. It's one thing to say, hey just don't act suspicious, be nice, be polite, but attributing specific things to race, like "don't act official or like a cop or a process server" is a little odd because whether you meant it or not it just leaves your comment open to, "Why? Because black people are afraid of cops and official people?" The guy was talking about canvassing churches for crying out loud. Unless you know something about old church ladies in black churches it comes off as highly presumptuous.

In the same way, despite what you've noticed or even heard, the discussion in this thread has pointed out that black people are not a singular entity, and there's nothing wrong with pointing that out. It's not instantly someone being nit-picky to say something bothers them. Your comment seems to be a "hey, I know I'm not racist," but whether you are racist or not was not the issue brought to hand, but ill-advised and ill-informed preconceptions. You might think you're right or you said nothing wrong, but other people have every right to disagree without automatically being self-righteously indignant. If you are asking people to be more generous with what you're saying, you kind of have to be generous about what other people are saying too. So are you saying that I, as someone actually of African American descent being uncomfortable with what you said is negated because you know black people or have black friends and I'm just being indignant over nothing? The truth is just in general human interaction, despite your best intentions or you background or experiences, some things will rub people the wrong way. As someone who's half black, your comment about mussing up curly hair to make it more curly to pass as half black was just uncomfortable as all get out. Old ladies like your curly hair, fine, but what the hell was up about the part hinting that the OP or yourself might be more endearing to black women if you can come off as half black? I don't know, old black ladies love my curly hair story might be cute as a personal anecdote or something, but as a data point on how to behave towards black people and pass? Kind of ick. It sort of reinforces the weird undertone throughout your answer that black people are suspicious of everyone not black so you have to act black or pass.
posted by kkokkodalk at 10:37 PM on May 13, 2009 [4 favorites]


I meant "unless you know something about old ladies in black churches being part of a organized crime wave..."
posted by kkokkodalk at 10:39 PM on May 13, 2009


orthogonality: You should scroll back up and watch the Jay Smooth video that winna linked to. I missed that she posted it on the first read around and am glad she linked to it because I'd been meaning to, but didn't have it on hand. Again it's not always about YOU personally, but the words you said or the action that was committed. And in this case it wasn't even someone calling you out as being racist, but that the statement you made was not exactly the best.
posted by kkokkodalk at 10:44 PM on May 13, 2009


Demogorgon, "Stuff White People Like" really should be called "Stuff Rich People Like." When I was in L.A., everybody with money liked that shit. My kid brother, who drove a truck for about twenty years and lives somewhere you never heard of in New Mexico? He doesn't like any of that shit.

And the Louis CK video? Funny, but really, I'd rather be Condi Rice than a homeless white guy. As for the time machine shtick, I hate to harsh the funny, but before the pseudoscience of race was invented in the 17th century, anyone could be a slave. It just meant you were on the losing side.

Now, if he'd said a black person with a time machine would want to stay the hell away from most the US's Founding Fathers, I would so agree.
posted by shetterly at 11:09 PM on May 13, 2009


The Stuff White People Like MeTa thread. Your point is addressed by dgaicun that the site is obviously speaking about the better kind of white people. Everyone knows poor white truckers are not interested in being an expert on YOUR culture. [end of derail]
posted by BinGregory at 11:37 PM on May 13, 2009


BinGregory, my nephew is married to a Navajo woman (and they have a gorgeous kid!), and my niece was married to a Mexican-American man. So maybe they're not your idea of "better," but they're mine.
posted by shetterly at 12:08 AM on May 14, 2009


Orthogonality,

Thank you for sharing more about your perspective. I can see how it would feel frustrating to have someone make assumptions about your experience, particularly if the assumptions feel inflammatory. I'm specifically referring to notjustfoxybrowns' comment that your advice seemed uninformed by any personal familiarity with black Americans. It seems that that isn't correct.

I've got to say, that her sense of anger has been on my mind all day. Because it resonates with me. Because I share it. Because when I read your comments, it was precisely because you focused on what you define a cultural traits, which may have been mentioned before.

It sounded like you were saying that the OP should 'act like an insider' because he would appear less threatening. That's why you suggested he use the phrasing and moves of black men (head nodding alright). You seem to have understood the dynamics around race and hair in the African American community, by suggesting that the OP take steps to allow women to think that he is black.

But he isn't, you see. He is not an insider. That's what sits so wrong with me. What the OP is is a good man, doing some type of valuable work, but he is technically, an outsider (at least to that community). I think that outsiders need to appreciate that deceit is not their best tactic if they are attempting to build trust. Insiders are not fooled by this.

Also, you suggest that he try not to look 'official' - like a government official. I understand that you were suggesting that he didn't appear threatening - I agree, outsiders shouldn't appear threatening. But we don't know exactly where is in the states, and what that neighborhood considers threatening. I think that the community I live in in Oakland California, is super different from the one I was in in Atlanta Georgia. Your actual suggestions seemed to imply that black people in general are afraid of the police, and government, and 'official' entities. Some of us might be, but many of us aren't. Some of us are 'officials' and work for the government. I don't assume well groomed white men at my door bring bad news with them, any more that I assume that stubbled white men with rolled up sleeves are at my door to help me. I don't associate 'official' with white. It seemed like you were. (I almost imagine a black woman on the phone saying, 'I knew it wasn't going to be good news girl, he was wearing brooks brother, no hat, and was clean shaven!")

I think the OP needs to consider that engaging those communities with an anthropological curiosity and compassionate patience - as an outsider - is his best bet. See how things work in that community. I think he needs to become a presence in the community, so they can get a look at him. Wariness of outsiders in any community has some healthy aspects. But the best response to that wariness is politeness, transparency, honesty and patience.

Lastly, I don't know how to respond to my sense that at the end of your last comment you're saying "you think I don't know black people, well I know black people, so if you're still offended by what I've said, well, that's got nothing to do with me, carry on". I can't actually fully understand notjustfoxyrown's comment about the wire, (I don't have a tv), but I get her intent. I find her comment about 'getting off your computers and go mingle with someone who doesn't look like you' the verbal equivalent of trying to start a discussion by slapping someone in the face. But I sense that the 'could you please go out and meet some black people before you speak' comment is about exasperation. Because I often feel like wincing when it feels like someone is saying something that makes me feel like they don't know me at all, and what they think they know about me isn't very appealing (The very worst interpretation of your comments being: Black people: afraid of officials, distracted by humorous novelties like shiny hats, disarmed by familiarity with local greetings, and enticed by the samson-like smooth locks racially mixed men). That makes me wince. And that's what I read into notjustfoxybrown exasperation and anger.

Whether you intended that or not is another matter. But she, and kkokkodalk, and I, and it seems a couple of others are a couple of datapoints of African Americans (not to define your racial background, kkokkodalk, I note you said half Black) are telling you that what you said felt hurtful (and uncomfortable). And it's always worse when it feels like you express that concern to someone and that someone says to you "well, too bad, clearly, you're just fitting to be unhappy then". And I feel you expressed this sentiment in implying that if we still were uncomfortable, the only possible reason could be self righteous indignation.

I'm really not asking for an apology. Really, I'm not. I'm just asking you to consider that I don't think I am feeling self righteous indignation, but like kkokkodalk, I do feel uncomfortable with a possible interpretation of your words. The fact that you apparently can decide to define that interpretation and feelings towards it as 'self righteous indignation' is your right, and perhaps, your privilege.

In any event, thank you for taking the time to read what I had to say.
posted by anitanita at 12:21 AM on May 14, 2009 [8 favorites]


, "Stuff White People Like" really should be called "Stuff Rich People Like." When I was in L.A., everybody with money liked that shit. My kid brother, who drove a truck for about twenty years and lives somewhere you never heard of in New Mexico? He doesn't like any of that shit.

My step-mother bought (and loves) the Stuff White People Like book and she's a working class woman living in middle of nowhere Vermont. She's also been prone to saying really messed up things re: race, so take that for what it's worth.

Also, shetterly, I don't mean this in a fighty way, but is Condi Rice vs. homeless guy your only argument for race? It's not a very well constructed one and perhaps you would do well to think about other situations where privilege is applied inconsistently. The first time you brought it up, it seemed weird. Bringing it up in two threads makes it seem like this is some kind of pre-packaged diatribe that you have saved up for a rainy day.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 4:27 AM on May 14, 2009 [2 favorites]


*sigh* So much of this whole racism discussion thing would be easier if people stopped being so defensive. In one of the articles in the racism thread that's going on right now on the blue, it's pointed out that there is a difference between individual acts of passive racism and actually believing racist things.

Most of us (us in this case being white people) have at some point done something unintentionally racist; I know I have, and I also at one time used the whole "I went to school with a lot of black people and was close friends with them" excuse as a kind of blanket proof of innocence.

It is entirely possible to be surrounded by black and Asian and Native American and LGBTQ and disabled people and whoever else I've left out of this list, and still from time to time say something hurtful or overly stereotyping. When this is pointed out as racist/homophobic/etc, the key is not to go "WAAAH YOU CALLED ME A RACIST" but to say, "Sorry, I didn't mean that the way it came out", and to be quiet and LISTEN for a little while to make sure you don't accidentally do it again.

Remember, fellow white people! "You said something racist" =/= "You are a white supremacist crazy person." Reacting to the first statement as if it were the second is inproportionate and not helpful to either you or the person you offended.

And yes, once in a while you will encounter another white person who calls out as racist something that you think isn't offensive at all. If you believe this to be the case, calmly explain why, but just because this may have happened to you once or twice doesn't mean everybody saying this is being overzealous. And if someone of the particular group you're talking about calls it out as offensive, you'd better believe that it really is, because they hear this kind of thing CONSTANTLY and most likely have been accused of oversensitivity/reverse racism enough that they won't point it out unless it actually is offensive.

A good litmus test for this kind of thing is to ask yourself, "Would I say this in a room full of people of aforementioned race/religion/etc?"

Note: I just reread the above and I realize it comes off a bit condescending; this is a side effect of me being cranky from just having woken up and typing all this before even eating breakfast. I'm not intending to imply that I am the Queen of Correct Well-Meaning White Ally Behavior, but I do understand where all the how-dare-you-call-me-racist indignation is coming from, because I've been there, and I thought of a way to clarify the issue for the other white people here.

If there's something I've missed, let me know.
posted by lolichka at 4:39 AM on May 14, 2009 [2 favorites]


Thank you Ambrosia Voyeur, nicely said.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:33 AM on May 14, 2009


So maybe they're not your idea of "better," but they're mine.

I think there was some archness there that you didn't pick up on, shetterly.
posted by cortex (staff) at 7:46 AM on May 14, 2009


Yes, because persons of color never use that phrase. OH WAIT!

So, the only time you link to a black writer is when you need to score a point? What about every other link? The obligatory Tim Wise, Peggy McIntosh, Robert Jensen, Jay Smooth etc etc. All white. Every person that's used the phrase "white privilege" in this thread, also all white.

Given that the original reason for the post was to encourage people to get first hand familiarity with black culture, instead of treating it like some secret code that can be deciphered from watching teevee, a bunch of white people linking to a bunch of essays by more white people seems a little pointless.
posted by electroboy at 7:54 AM on May 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


"And in my experience, black Americans do have identifiable cultural traits (just like Polish Americans or Italian Americans or Southern whites or...), and one I've noticed is the "alright" greeting."

Yeah, uh, no. Young black guys will roll with a 'sup, but "Alright"? Are you also giving these men dap-taps and calling them "cats"?
posted by klangklangston at 8:03 AM on May 14, 2009


Also, Shetterly, can you knock it off with the Minority Yearbook ("And there's me with my Cambodian third cousin!"), because if you're half as clueless around all of them, I can only imagine that you're Uncle Eye-Roll around the house.
posted by klangklangston at 8:08 AM on May 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


Note to all:
I am a Black Person® and have over 30+ years experience in being one, encompassing a wide knowledge of class types, ages, cultures and stereotypes. Should you wish to discuss black issues, interact with a real black person, get a black perspective* or simply be able to say "I spoke with a black person" without any internal guilt, please see attached for rates**

*Born and raised middle class heterosexual, prefers rap from the '80s instead of that shit hip-hop you damn kids listen to these days, comics books, asian food and swimming. Experiences and viewpoints may not apply to all black people.

**Will bater for same if you're gay, native american, french, extroverted or watch America's Next Top Model. Seriously, WTF, why do you watch that?

posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:17 AM on May 14, 2009 [9 favorites]


Believe it or not, it's not racist to notice that various groups have cultural traits. It'll knock your socks off, but I've also noticed that, e.g., blacks tend to be the main audience for BET, and that Mefites seem to really enjoy The Wire. And yeah, Indians eat curry and Germans like sausages. Not all Indians or all Germans, but enough to associate the groups with the traits.

Noting the marketing of TV shows and being aware of the traditional cuisine of some nationalities.
vs
Advising someone to mimic a style of greeting that you've observed and maybe try mussing up your hair because it'll look less threatening (and maybe a little black) to black people that way?

This is how you establish your bona fides regarding your appreciation of diversity?
posted by desuetude at 8:21 AM on May 14, 2009


"Will bater for same if you're gay, native american, french, extroverted or watch America's Next Top Model. Seriously, WTF, why do you watch that?"

Because it's awesome in a totally over-the-top unselfconscious way! It just ended last night, and Creepy Chan came in second, flashing her eye-spots as a defensive measure. Il Duomo took the top prize, looking like a plucked Renaissance duchess with her immense forehead. Along the way, there was all sorts of weird predatory sexual subtext, Silver Jay struggling against the obvious advances of age, Paulina being an unmitigated bitch to, well, everyone, all sorts of vapid puffery and vague "causes", inarticulate calls to "fierceness", the oft-repeated "smile with your eyes", teenage girl drama, a white chick who had Condi Rice's evil brow… It's a hilarious carnival of stupidity, venality, game show posturing, race relations, fashion, art… There are few shows that I enjoy nearly as much, and I don't think any that bring out the same mocking glee.
posted by klangklangston at 8:38 AM on May 14, 2009 [3 favorites]


...prefers rap from the '80s instead of that shit hip-hop you damn kids listen to these days, comics books, asian food and swimming.

I know what you meant, but I like to think that someone forced you to pick one and give up the others out of '80s hip hop, new rap, comic books, asian food, and swimming.

I would probably choose swimming if I could only experience one of those things ever again, but I'd also be very surprised that someone would have such desire to take so many wonderful things out of my life.
posted by SpiffyRob at 8:50 AM on May 14, 2009


Wait, Orthogonality wasn't kidding?
posted by found missing at 8:59 AM on May 14, 2009


Excuse me for not being nice about it initially. I wasn't feeling all that congenial when I posted it.

Ok, but dont' be surprised when people don't feel like being congenial to you.

Until the number of minorities on the site increase and become a more visible presence, I doubt the culture here will change at all

Pb is the key, we have to capture him alive. Bait the traps with different types of databases to draw him out. Use the CF to PHP mating call.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:18 AM on May 14, 2009


Brandon Blatcher: please see attached for rates

I guess you're an independent entrepreneur, eh? No affiliation with Rent-A-Negro?
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 9:25 AM on May 14, 2009


cortex, I suspect you're right. So:

BinGregory, apologies for missing the irony. I've been dealing lately with rich folks who think racism is a spherical cow, so I'm a tad oversensitive about folks dissing working class people.

grapefruitmoon, I'll continue this in the anti-racism thread.

klangklangston, actually, I'm Uncle Eyeroll because they're Republicans. If you think race is what it's all about, that makes them race traitors, but I think they're conservatives at least in part because of anti-racists who aren't willing to address the ways Republicans and Democrats bail out wall street and main street while ignoring the 40% of this country who effectively own nothing at all.
posted by shetterly at 9:37 AM on May 14, 2009


Why is it always the minority's job to educate the majority?
posted by QIbHom at 9:43 AM on May 14, 2009


Jay Smooth etc etc. All white

I don't know Jay Smooth's racial background, and, searching the Web, I haven't found anything that tells me precisely what it is. I was assuming he is biracial. Where are you getting that he is white?
posted by Astro Zombie at 9:45 AM on May 14, 2009


Brandon Blatcher is my Black Facebook Friend.*

*though I've heard that's not his real name
posted by desjardins at 9:46 AM on May 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


electroboy: Every person that's used the phrase "white privilege" in this thread, also all white.

I didn't use the specific phrase "white privilege" in my comments, but you'd probably include me in that group. So, data point: I'm not white, and I couldn't pass for one.

You're quite right that in many situations, there's a problem where people from the normative group (in this particular case, white) who are trying to help, completely overlook the work of people from marginalized groups and credit normative, Johnny-come-lately heroes for the work instead.

Linking to white-authored writing about white privilege can be very helpful, however, in making the point that the whole "white privilege" thing is not merely the product of oversensitive people of colour who see racism where there is none. I think that's useful in this discussion.

Also, to grapefruitmoon and the many people of whatever hue who's been doing heavy lifting here, thank you.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 9:50 AM on May 14, 2009 [2 favorites]


Not sure if anyone is still reading -- unfortunately, I'm way late to this party since I was stuck on a rapid-turnaround freelance job yesterday -- but I've just been reading through all of the comments and am struck by the thoughtfulness and insight of so many of the comments here. I was especially happy to see that Jefficator came away with less frustration than he expressed in his original AskMe. I feel like overall the balance of this thread has been communication rather than snark and communication as opposed to mere self-congratulation, and I think that's pretty commendable considering the subject and the medium.

That said, I wanted to turn back to NJFB's original goal: to talk about how race plays out specifically here on Metafilter. I don't want to speak for anyone, least of all her, and I'm sorry she seems to have opted out for much of the thread, which could be due to everything from work to frustration. Part of what may have contributed to her sense of frustration is the examples of what she identified as naivete and ignorance in various threads. As Jessamyn and Cortext have noted, it's easy for the mods to delete overtly racist comments; it's thornier when people ask questions or provide answers that seem to come out of ignorance rather than willfully racist intent. Not that I'm saying that line is always clear and easily divisible.

One of the oft-repeated questions posed to NJFB earlier in the thread was, "Well, what should we do about it?" Some of this came out of defensiveness, undoubtedly, but I think there's also some genuine confusion among those who recognize with the problems she's identified and share her frustration about how to make Metafilter better at dealing with these issues about the appropriate way to go forward.

Given that the moderation process here on Metafilter functions, generally, very well, there will inevitably be questions and comments that reflect naivete, ignorance, and prejudice. That's part of the nature of the beast. But as this thread has shown, I think the best way to address problematic questions and comments is for us explain to people the assumptions and implications of what they're saying and how they are part of a system of racism and racial privilege. And by "us" I mean non-Black/racial minority members in particular. Part of the trouble, as numerous people have pointed out, is that people of color end up having to be the ones who make the intervention or provide an "educational experience" for others.

I think many people here already do that already, of course, but the way to systematically address these issues and change the environment on Metafilter is to take some of the fruitful ideas and dialogue that's emerged in this thread and apply it in context. Many of the people who most need our perspective, after all, won't read this thread. I don't want every AskMe to turn into a beat-down, or a lecture. But I think that an attempt to tackle these issues in context -- and it doesn't have to be through comments; MeMails are much more effective ways to communicate directly -- will be an effective way to address the concerns expressed by NJFB and others.

This may seem self-evident, and if it does, I apologize for stating the obvious.
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 10:00 AM on May 14, 2009



Until the number of minorities on the site increase and become a more visible presence, I doubt the culture here will change at all

Part of what I'm trying to say is that non-minorities have a responsibility to try to change the culture.
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 10:03 AM on May 14, 2009


I have a race relations story.

I grew up in a tiny all-white village in rural Ontario and now I live and work in downtown Toronto. One of my coworkers immigrated to Toronto from Zimbabwe a few years ago, and we've had some really fascinating discussions about race. She didn't grow up with many non-black people around, and I didn't grow up with many non-white people around, so we are similarly clueless.

She's always asking to touch my hair. I ask to touch her hair. We compare freckles and scars and sunburns, hands and feet. We talk about tattoos, and ask all our dumb questions about being white or black. We talk about how I always get pressure to tan and she always gets pressure to be lighter. She was always teased for being "skinny" and adored being pregnant because, "I finally had belly rolls! They were so beautiful!" and hates the fact that breastfeeding made her lose the weight. Everyone else I've talked to thinks of breastfeeding=weight loss as an amazingly good thing. Our cultures differ on aging: "My mom always brags that she has wrinkles, but she doesn't really!", while all the drug stores here sell lots of anti-aging creams.

After a while of having her touching my hair impulsively and often, I got to feeling like a specimen. For the first time, I understood why people are touchy about this stuff, even if you're just trying to broaden your horizons. It's tiring for the analysed person. It's a weird feeling; like you're in a zoo or something. I really felt Othered, and I don't get to feel that very often as a white woman. It's uncomfortable! And that was without any negative value judgements attached!

All this to say that I can see what you're saying, notjustfoxybrown, and why it must be so frustrating and off-putting. I hope we're able to make progress on this front. I'm glad to see some lights going on for people like jefficator in this thread.
posted by heatherann at 10:16 AM on May 14, 2009 [3 favorites]


No affiliation with Rent-A-Negro?

Started there, the quotas of fried chicken were too low, now I'm freelancing.

Why is it always the minority's job to educate the majority?

Because the majority tends to be clueless about what mattes to the minority. That's a basic law of humanity.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 10:47 AM on May 14, 2009


Something tells me this AskMe is not going to go well.
posted by burnmp3s at 10:49 AM on May 14, 2009


Apparently flagging does work sometimes.
posted by burnmp3s at 10:52 AM on May 14, 2009


Apparently flagging does work sometimes.

Look, I suspect you're not trying to needle us, but if your implication is that it mostly doesn't work, please use your words and say that. Flagging works, to my mind, an awful lot of the time depending of course on your definition of "works."
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 11:14 AM on May 14, 2009


Excuse me for not being nice about it initially. I wasn't feeling all that congenial when I posted it.

Ok, but dont' be surprised when people don't feel like being congenial to you.


I'm quoting this because it's the most recent response to this aspect of the question, but WTF does foxybrown have to be so understanding of all the people responding to her post in a prickly fashion, but no one is being told that they need to be understanding of her annoyance and frustration in posting it in the first place? Her tone was pretty fucking chill, actually, far more chill than mine would have been. It's certainly helpful to take a deep breath and contemplate your post before you submit it, but this is true of comments as well. When a community self-identifies itself as being full of smart, thoughtful, and progressive people and then has members that react to other groups as though they were cartoon characters, it's incredibly frustrating. When someone gets frustrated enough to bring it up, they are basically told that it's entirely their own fault for not making the most measured and dispassionate post possible. Bullshit. If we are supposed to excuse snippy responses because a commenter was put on the defensive due to the tone of a post, than we also should be able to excuse the tone of the post to an equal degree. Even then, I've read this post over and over, and I'm just not getting what everyone is up in arms about- it seems pretty measured to me. Not enough smiley emoticons perhaps?
posted by oneirodynia at 11:17 AM on May 14, 2009 [2 favorites]


Why is it always the minority's job to educate the majority?

It's the job of the knowledgeable to educate the ignorant. And it's the job of the ignorant to learn from the knowledgeable.
posted by fatbird at 11:24 AM on May 14, 2009


Look, I suspect you're not trying to needle us, but if your implication is that it mostly doesn't work, please use your words and say that. Flagging works, to my mind, an awful lot of the time depending of course on your definition of "works."

Yeah, sorry, just a joke. I only said anything because I felt dumb about calling out a post that was immediately (and correctly) deleted. I sometimes flag things that don't end up getting deleted, but I have no beef with the whole flagging and moderation process around here.

So to rephrase: Flagging works!
posted by burnmp3s at 11:27 AM on May 14, 2009


Oh, Brandon and fatbird, so sexism is the fault of women, racism is the fault of blacks, Asians, etc. and homophobia is the fault of the gays?
posted by QIbHom at 11:34 AM on May 14, 2009



Oh, Brandon and fatbird, so sexism is the fault of women, racism is the fault of blacks, Asians, etc. and homophobia is the fault of the gays?

Oh, come on, you know that's not what they are saying. That's beyond disingenuous.
posted by Pax at 11:40 AM on May 14, 2009


I have no idea how you came to that conclusion from what I said, QlbHom.
posted by fatbird at 11:41 AM on May 14, 2009


but WTF does foxybrown have to be so understanding of all the people responding to her post in a prickly fashion, but no one is being told that they need to be understanding of her annoyance and frustration in posting it in the first place?

If you want to talk by throwing bombs, that's fine, but don't be surprised if rather than talking people want to throw bombs back.

If you want want to educate people, even if they're in the wrong, it goes smoother if you don't automatically start off by calling them stupid. This is pretty basic law of humanity.

If you're trying to be witty by making pop culture references, keep in mind that some people won't get it.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 11:42 AM on May 14, 2009 [2 favorites]


Oh, Brandon and fatbird, so sexism is the fault of women, racism is the fault of blacks, Asians, etc. and homophobia is the fault of the gays?

Dumbass Klingon.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 11:46 AM on May 14, 2009


It's the job of the knowledgeable to educate the ignorant. And it's the job of the ignorant to learn from the knowledgeable.

The way I've done it when I'm the knowledgeable one is, I point out a few Racism 101 or White Privilege 101 or Sexism 101 links or articles or books, and after they've read them, it's their responsibility to look stuff up themselves (yay footnotes and bibliographies), and to observe/listen. If they really give a shit, they do, instead of wasting my time expecting me to explain things they can easily look up themselves. If we're already friends and a related topic comes up during the course of conversation about something else, then I don't mind giving my perspective, as long as it doesn't turn into them interrogating me (and it doesn't, because friends are more interested in me as a human being than as a convenient, generic dispenser of answers for their curiosity). If we're not already friends, they'll have to find someone else, whose tolerance for being treated more like an artifact or Group Representative than an individual is higher than mine.

When I'm the ignorant one, I keep my mouth shut. I read up on LGBT 101 (Trans 101, especially), Disability 101, Poverty 101, and whatever other blind spots I realize or have been told I have. Then if I've got questions, I read more. If I have questions that I can't find answers to after exhaustively reading and lurking and observing, I don't zero in on members of those groups and assume that they'd be happy to educate me, I wait for the topic to come up during regular conversations and then ask if they'd be ok with me asking.

(That's what I do these days, anyway. To Dave, who I treated like an artifact 15 years ago and lost touch with, I'm sorry. I knew when the question came out of my mouth and you exchanged looks with your friend, that I'd mis-stepped, but I couldn't put my finger on why, right that second, and you kindly answered my question and then let the matter drop. I'm sure I've done it to other people but you're the one who sticks out in my memory.)
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 12:13 PM on May 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


Brandon Blatcher: Well, I've discussed this point before, but without turning this into an argument about tone that already hashed several comments deep way above, but you're being a bit hyperbolic saying notjustfoxybrown came in here throwing bombs. If you're saying in general that's not the best policy, I understand what you mean, but it seems like you're using notjustfoxybrown as a platform to say she's the one in the wrong, when I really don't see the "bombs" being thrown here except to throw the issue at hand back in notjustfoxybrown's face for not presenting correctly. Which I and others have said is kind of bullshit. Being mad and angry isn't nice, but not everything is always nice like your "if you can dish it, take it" philosophy implies. If you think notjustfoxybrown was being an asshole, I'd really like for you to point out how, because I really don't see it as have several people, and so far you haven't directly talked about exactly how what she said was so offensive or combative. I don't like it when people shadowbox arguments, using people's words as a jumping off points rather than actually addressing specifically what they are talking about. It creates confusion in the discussion, especially in 100s-long comments where some people are just skimming. Since you're big on educating, you need to be a bit more clear.

If you think she was just trying to be witty by throwing out pop culture references, it's BECAUSE she was saying EXACTLY that it's probably not the best policy to base all your assumptions on secondhand sources like pop culture references. I don't see how this is her just being witty or flippant. The "some people won't get it" argument just doesn't really fit here right because she probably named pop culture references because they are that. Popular culture. It's fine if you want to point out there are probably some people who don't have TV or cable or maybe don't read newspapers or hang out on the internet too much or whatever, but that doesn't make her callout all that rude or inconsiderate. Seriously, if she'd mentioned this in passing conversation it's one thing, and even then, what people don't have mouths? they can't ask her what she's talking about? If they have a problem with her points of reference they're more than welcome to ask. If someone is taking offense to something simply because they don't know what it is? That's kind of ridiculous or maybe they don't care enough about the issue at hand to ask anyways. Teaching a man to fish involves having them fish for themselves isn't about describing or letting them watch you fish all the time. At some point they're going to have to fish for themselves.
posted by kkokkodalk at 12:28 PM on May 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


If you want want to educate people, even if they're in the wrong, it goes smoother if you don't automatically start off by calling them stupid. This is pretty basic law of humanity.


Can you show me where she does this? I'm serious, I'm absolutely not seeing this. If anything, she made the mistake of assuming that people were smart enough to understand that she is not seriously advocating people stop watching the Wire, and everything would then be great.
posted by oneirodynia at 12:39 PM on May 14, 2009


Oh, I should say that most people were smart enough &c., because there are obviously quite a few people in this thread that did understand exactly that. I guess it might help to shoot for the lowest common denominator in all interactions with the site, but since we all like to think that MeFi is brighter than that, it's not fair to accuse posters of not initially spelling things out at a kindergarten level.
posted by oneirodynia at 12:46 PM on May 14, 2009


Why is it always the minority's job to educate the majority?

It's the job of the knowledgeable to educate the ignorant. And it's the job of the ignorant to learn from the knowledgeable.


I'll clarify, since QIBHom seems not to want to educate me. The word "job" is problematic, because it implies an obligation on the part of minorities to educate the majority. The obligation lies on the majority to educate itself, and no minority has an obligation to help in that effort.

That said, my point was a practical one. When someone like Jefficator comes here and says "I said something, and a bunch of people told me it was racist. I don't understand!", it's to everyone's benefit for those who do understand to explain it to him, and those most likely to understand are the minority targeted by his racist statement. That's the sense in which it's the minority's job to educate the majority: it's not an obligation, it's an opportunity for the most able to see something done right.

And when someone like Jefficator asks to be educated, and members of the minority volunteer to educate him, he is obligated to listen and to learn, not to argue the point or defend himself.
posted by fatbird at 12:50 PM on May 14, 2009


If you want to talk by throwing bombs, that's fine, but don't be surprised if rather than talking people want to throw bombs back.

I have to agree with kkokkodalk and oneirodynia: I didn't and don't see any bombs thrown except by asshats misconstruing a quite restrained and funny post. I don't think notjustfoxybrown (unlike some others here) has anything to regret or apologize for.
posted by languagehat at 12:55 PM on May 14, 2009


If you're trying to be witty by making pop culture references, keep in mind that some people won't get it.

And a small data point: in the last month and a half, there have been three front page posts focusing on the Wire, with a few more peripheral references. Seems like the audience here would generally understand, even if they don't watch. I never have, and I didn't read those posts. I still understood that the point was that those media sources were not equal to actually knowing real people.
posted by oneirodynia at 12:58 PM on May 14, 2009


but you're being a bit hyperbolic saying notjustfoxybrown came in here throwing bombs

No, I'm intending to be pretty specific there. Race is a touchy subject and sometimes, however innocent it may be intended, the meaning of what's being said comes out wrong and rather than talking about the issue, you wind up having to deal with people's hurt feelings or wrong perceptions.

If they really give a shit, they do, instead of wasting my time expecting me to explain things they can easily look up themselves.

People have lives. If you can't explain some of what's wrong to them, right then and there, and instead insist that the go and read and study up on the subject, then you're just pissing people off, 'cause you're indirectly calling them uneducated and stupid.

she made the mistake of assuming that people were smart enough to understand that she is not seriously advocating people stop watching the Wire

Bingo. Race is a touchy subject and I easily see how that bit about The Wire would propel people into a defensive move.

Quit being cute or funny. Use plain and simple language to explain what you're feeling or thinking. It would have been better phrased, IMO, to say "Hey, I'm noticing a pattern of racial ignorance around here and how innocent it's intended, I'm bothered because X"
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 1:01 PM on May 14, 2009 [2 favorites]


Also, I gotta learn to preview more:

I guess it might help to shoot for the lowest common denominator in all interactions with the site, but since we all like to think that MeFi is brighter than that, it's not fair to accuse posters of not initially spelling things out at a kindergarten level.

To repeat, race is a touchy subject. Everyone can feel that Metafilter is filled with special snowflakes of intelligence and understanding all they want, but past hundred longs threads about race, sex, gender and what have you have blatantly shown that even smart people say and do stupid things.

To repeat, race is a touchy subject, so it helps immensely, IMO, if you start off a discussion in a more civil tone because it helps facilitate problem solving as opposed to be people being negatively angry and spewing hostly, rather than positive anger where they're trying to solve problems.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 1:09 PM on May 14, 2009


I guess it might help to shoot for the lowest common denominator in all interactions with the site, but since we all like to think that MeFi is brighter than that, it's not fair to accuse posters of not initially spelling things out at a kindergarten level.

There's a big difference between taking care with the use of something as subjective as provocative humor or sarcasm or hyperbole when wading into deeply contentious territory and "initially spelling things out at a kindergarten level".

I'm one of the people who has critical concerns about the way the post was presented; I neither think it was an unforgivable over-the-top rant nor that it was, above-the-fold at least, very well presented. It's too easy to say "well, I thought it was funny" and use that as justification to say it's unreasonable to think other people would take exception to it. This is tricky stuff. And as much as I (and I have said this repeatedly) am glad for the discussion and don't fault notjustfoxybrown at all for wanting to have it, I think she could have gotten it off to a much less bumpy start by avoiding things like the "...who despite what many here think..." tag on the post that's easy for people to read as really, really uncharitable swipe at her fellow users.

Just because this is an important topic and one people feel strongly about does not make this suddenly not Metatalk with all that entails. I dropped the post-framing issue way upthread and am re-engaging with it now only with great hesitation because I still don't want this to be the main topic of a thread that has otherwise had some much more valuable and meaningful conversation, but I really don't see it being helpful to reduce the allowable reactions to the post to either thinking the post was totally unproblematic or being a reactionary asshat. That's just more polarizing stuff that's not going to advance this discussion a bit.
posted by cortex (staff) at 1:13 PM on May 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


I didn't use the specific phrase "white privilege" in my comments, but you'd probably include me in that group.

No, I meant it very literally, see the bit about the phrase "white privilege" as shibboleth upthread.

I completely agree that whites need to be involved in discussions on race, but I can't help but be somewhat skeptical when a professor from Wellesley or Austin is the voice of authority. I suppose that makes them experts on the white and privileged aspect. No links to Cornel West or Michael Eric Dyson? Ta-Nehisi Coates has a solid blog that deals with issues of race in an accessible way.
posted by electroboy at 1:28 PM on May 14, 2009


Brandon Blatcher: I still don't see how what was said was "cute." If you don't like this callout being worded to be funny, then that's more your personal thing I think. I thought what notjustfoxborwn said was pretty plain and simple language, funny or not. Please explain to me exactly why the bit about mentioning The Wire as an example of popular culture would propel people into defensive move more so than saying "I'm noticing a pattern of racial ignorance around here" when you yourself are asking for clear concise examples, and The Wire in a list of other cultural references, is part of a clear concise list in a clear concise explanation. I can easily see that as making people pretty defensive too. You're continuously reading more into what people who are actually agreeing with you on the topic of discussion and education are saying. Your objection to the snippet of of cybercoitusiteruptus' quote? Yea people have lives, so do people of color. It's a two way street. And just because you calmly and deliberately explain something doesn't mean everyone's going to listen or agree. Sometimes people won't agree, sometimes people won't want to explain. The importance here is more the awareness so that people can work towards becoming open about it but you can't say the educated are mandated to educate the uneducated because it's not even simply education. You're setting up the uneducated and stupid dichotomy by using those words yourself. There's a difference between stupidity and ignorance, you're kind of foisting a "you either get it or you're stupid" argument on people with your own word choice and preconceptions.

And cortex, I don't think people are reducing the post as unproblematic. The fact alone that it exists is problematic because it means there's an issue at hand. People have said it's reasonable and understandable. Or they've said it's not as angry as people have said it was. Or that the words didn't come off as angry TO THEM. That's not reduction. I know I personally addressed the issue brought up about framing because it was being reduced to an angry rant to smother and take away value from the actual conversation not to say, "OH hey, gais. Lighten up, it's all good." And the objections I've seen to that reduction have had people actually explaining what they were saying rather than cute (the favorite delegitimizer being lobber around here) one liners like "oh what makes you think we're all white" like the sterling example at the beginning of the thread.
posted by kkokkodalk at 1:30 PM on May 14, 2009 [2 favorites]


And honestly as much as I hate having the conversation at hand derailed about tone or framing, I have to say it's a huge part of discussing race issue for anyone who might not understand why some people are reacting so strongly or feeling so twitchy about all the talk about this post being "too angry" to talk about this issue. Patronizing, delegitimizing, belittling, "why are you people so angry", depersonalizing, "why can't you guys fix this problem then," and things of this nature used to take the focus off the actual discussion at hand or to shut down dicussion. It appears many times as the rhetorical equivalent of "I hear the words coming out of your mouth, but it's just blah blah blah to me." I think it's funny how the people howling that notjustfoxybrown's tone is not facilitating towards discussion and setting themselves up as people concerned with discussion or who feel very very strong about the topic are using it as an excuse to say, "Well, no wonder there's no discussion taking place." If you cared so much about talking, when people, angry or not are willing and ready to talk, you wouldn't simply walk away because you don't like how the tablecloth they set out looks. At the same time people have repeatedly admitted here that talks can sometime shut down on EITHER END at any time, so it also seems ridiculous to berate tone and framing in this setting when we're talking about how not one thing works with everyone or refers to everyone everywhere all the time. This call for nice and blaming of lack of discusion entirely on the lack of nice is not creating discussion in a perversion of the old adage "if you're not going to say something nice, don't say anything at all."
posted by kkokkodalk at 1:44 PM on May 14, 2009 [5 favorites]


There's a big difference between taking care with the use of something as subjective as provocative humor or sarcasm or hyperbole when wading into deeply contentious territory and "initially spelling things out at a kindergarten level".


Was it meant to be funny? Or sarcastic? I thought all along it was meant to demonstrate that those are specific sources you should not turn to when making cultural generalizations. I still don't see where the post implies that people here are stupid, and I'm not seeing why NJFB bears all the responsibility for everyone's reaction to the perceived affronts.

I also don't feel this is a derail: no one wants to be chided for being uppity whether they are black, Asian, female, gay, or any other group that has ever been in a minority position. There's a history of [ people in charge] telling other people that they need to Ask Politely and Use Their Indoor Voice when expressing their grievances. Though I'm sure people aren't coming from those oppressor places, it sets off alarm bells for anyone whose been on the receiving end of that sort of response.

I'm generally OK with people pointing out that the tone of a post can affect people's reactions, but I simply don't agree the it is solely the poster's responsibility for how other people react (and that was my point in my first response to the issue). One doesn't make posts like these while sitting pleased as punch in a hot tub full of Veuve Clicquot being fed tiny bacon maple donuts; it's pretty clear that it comes from some sort of disappointment or frustration. Sure, it's an inflammatory subject- does notjustfoxybrown really need to be schooled on that? It's actually rather condescending to do so, IMO. I mean, she was probably kinda inflamed when she wrote it, fer chrissakes. As such, I think she showed pretty admirable restraint.

And that's where I'm coming from: if people feel the need to say to her, "hey, your post was couched in such terms as to ruffle certain people's feathers", then we need to be able to understand that, hey, notjustfoxybrown was upset enough to make the post in the first place. That's not saying that people who got defensive are wrong, and I am right. That's saying spread the understanding around a little bit.
posted by oneirodynia at 1:46 PM on May 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


Oh man, should have previewed, because I think kkokkodalk said it better than I.
posted by oneirodynia at 1:49 PM on May 14, 2009


oh what makes you think we're all white

Most people don't have a picture of themselves in their profile, or any demographic information at all. Their identity is completely contained within their posts and comments. So, unless someone announces they're asian or gay or trans or whatever, you have no way of knowing and no reliable way of inferring that. Hell, a lot of people were surprised to find out that Marisa Stole the Precious Thing is a dude. I can't keep track of who's gay or straight or male or female. I can't even keep track of who is black and white in a thread about race. So, while MetaFilter is almost definitely majority white, male, and hetero (like the rest of the Intertubes), there's no way to know how many minorities are on the site unless they self-identify. Perhaps the original comment was simple snark, but there is a truth behind it, and to assume a person's race simply based on what they write is kind of... um, uh, rac weird.
posted by desjardins at 1:58 PM on May 14, 2009


Kkokkodalk: You asked Brandon Blatcher's to mention a comment that was offensive or combative. I think the comments that sticks with me is the "Get off your computers and go mingle with someone who doesn't look like you" comment, and the proposal of a moratorium of what Mefi's can do, if they do not personally know a black person. I do realize it was tongue in cheek.

I'm also going to define 'bomb' as something where the intent of the phrase is to imply that you lack intelligence, or demean the person you are speaking to in some way. It's like yelling - sometimes people do it because they feel their previous gentler efforts have been purposefully ignored. So they lob something sharp and snarling across the perceived divide, meant to stun, or to hurt, or to get attention.

I think what happened here often happens. The tenor of the message overrides the content, and it takes time to refocus the conversation, to the solid, possibly accurate statement wrapped in some uncivil barb.

So I think that is conversation is unfolding (and working) as they often do - which is that the person who made the choice to make the statement will probably have to take additional time to deal with the fallout of the tenor of comment - possibly before the content, even if the content is exponentially more damning that the tenor.

That doesn't mean NJFB doesn't have the right to be mad. It doesn't mean the most appropriate response to what was said is anything less than outrage not just at the original comment, but the sense of a lack of outrage by the mefi community. As an African American, I am asking myself what I think the content of NJFB's post was: Am I part of a community that does not understand or respect me? Strong communities are about being understood, supported and belonging. Is that what I am experiencing here? It's hard to gauge, because the community is so big. For example, if one person said, 'people named Anitanita are clam-footed penis killers, unclean whores, not deserving of respect'...well I know that is one person I am going to avoid. But the next question is how many people in my community agree with what he is saying? How can I tell if they agree? I know: I'll make an observation - 'Community - there are three examples of calling people named Anitanita bad things. Do you all agree with that'? Because if a significant part of the population says yes, I need a new community.

But that's about content. In regards to the tenor of her statement, starting a conversation with a verbal bomb is difficult because are often inaccurate. In this case Orthogonality has at the very least mingled with Black people. So the implied solution - exposure to people who don't look like him, misses the point.

In the end, in regard to this situation, I'm not saying that one ignores the great weight or inequity of an unequal power dynamic between Black and White in the US. I'm not saying that has African Americans, we have a greater obligation to maintain civility in the face of someone who is causing offense. I'm saying I think we all have equal obligation to try our best to treat people with the same civility we'd like.

And it does feel superhuman when one person says, "Fuck you asshole", to respond with a "You seem to be upset. Can you tell me why?" - even if you have been behaving like a fucked up asshole. I think that's why I have such a hard time doing it myself.

I don't think people were taking offense to something they didn't know (about popular culture)- they were taking offense to - in this case correct - intuition the statement was meant with offense. I agree with Blandon's assessment, and I think world politics bears me out on this one: It's hard to start a discussion with some two minutes after you just bombed their village - even if you think they deserved it.
posted by anitanita at 2:00 PM on May 14, 2009 [2 favorites]


No links to Cornel West or Michael Eric Dyson?

The real question here is why do you complain about a lack of links without then providing links? Geez. Lucky thing I have the Google.

Cornel West: On Discrimination
Michael Eric Dyson: Post Racial vs. Post Racist
posted by grapefruitmoon at 2:24 PM on May 14, 2009


That's some lazy googling.
posted by electroboy at 2:35 PM on May 14, 2009


Dude, seriously? You're going to complain about my links and not provide more? REALLY? This is totally the pot calling the kettle lazy.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 2:36 PM on May 14, 2009


Is that really a "bomb" though, or like you said anitanita, a sharp, prickly, frustrated response? When you say bomb, my image is something like an a-bomb, huge, all-consuming, sucking all the oxygen out of everything. Or like a grenade, exploding something into a bunch of pieces or severely maiming. Or like a mine, like a daisycutter, mowing down and removing limb. And before someone jumps on me to say that's hyperbolic, anitanita, you yourself are saying notjustfoxybrown telling people to go out and meet other people is the verbal equivalent of bombing a village? Really?

Notjustfoxybrown might've been angry, but it hardly maimed, destroyed, or sucked out discussion. Look at all the responses here now. It in fact created a whole lot of talk from my looks of it. My objection with saying "bomb" is saying nobody wants to or is talking about it, but obviously others have come forward to discuss their points of views and opinions on the topic regardless of how NJFB phrased it, whether they agree with her or not. I'm taking offense to the portrayal that what she's saying is not creating talk when it definitely is. It's shifting the blame on her and making the conversation about something it isn't. If you don't want to talk because you're offend, that's on you. That's your thing to figure out. But obviously there are people offended who do want to talk. I mean following that logic if NJFB was so offended and angry by what orthogonality said, we would be here having this MeTa callout right now.

If people want to spilt hairs this way and that, it seems more like a less generous approach to people's intelligence than the people saying "read and see what else is out there." I'm generously giving credit that people can certainly read what njfb said, and even if offended or not knowing or assuming wrong the first time around, have the ability to look up, discuss, and talk, IF they wish to do so. But my problem with what Brandon Blatcher is saying is it doesn't add up. He's saying treat people intelligently and don't tell them they're stupid when in fact people are trying to give the benefit of the doubt that people are intelligent enough to look up, discuss and talk IF they with to do so. And to me Brandon Blatcher's reasoning are missing that last part that there's still free will and agency and not everybody will want to learn or discuss no matter how nice or how mean the message was presented.
posted by kkokkodalk at 2:41 PM on May 14, 2009


Ugh, I mean "we wouldn't be here having this MeTa callout right now because she'd be so offended to not want to talk." I keep missing bits and pieces.
posted by kkokkodalk at 2:42 PM on May 14, 2009


People have lives. If you can't explain some of what's wrong to them, right then and there, and instead insist that the go and read and study up on the subject, then you're just pissing people off, 'cause you're indirectly calling them uneducated and stupid.

Yeah, explaining some of what's wrong right then and there is what I do, civilly, neutrally, respectfully (in fact I occasionally feel I spend more time than it's worth editing my comments here until they're as polite and non-ranty as possible), and then I suggest the 101 resources, and then, after consulting those resources, if they insist on coming back to argue confrontationally or interrogate when they could easily look up the rebuttals and answers themselves now that I've already given them pointers, then it's a waste of my time, because I also have a life. Apologies if that was unclear.

Yes, I am indirectly calling them uninformed (distinct from uneducated, which has college-education, class connotations, and as I've already said upthread, I don't think college education necessarily has all that much to do with getting a real handle on this stuff), because the subject's complex enough that written material gets more points across more efficiently. Everybody's uninformed about some areas, myself included. Some people will equate "Are you familiar with xxxx? No? OK, here's a few reasons why I'm disagreeing, based on what I know from xxxx, here's some resources you may find useful if you're interested in more details" with being called stupid, and get pissed off. Others will inform themselves.

On preview: thanks, kkokkodalk. I do agree with BB in the sense that I wouldn't defend the framing of this post because I find touchy subjects like this are much less susceptible to derailments when framed seriously (over-earnestly, many would probably say) than sardonically. But I understand where the OP is coming from and I thought it was sardonic rather than what I consider a fighty rant, so I wasn't going to criticize either.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 3:02 PM on May 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


Whenever I'm reading a book, and it says "the proof is left as an exercise for the reader", I'm wondering who he's talking about, 'cause it sure won't be me.
posted by nomisxid at 3:10 PM on May 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


two minutes after you just bombed their village

Yeah, potentially polarized subjective interpretations are precisely why I err on the side of over-earnestness. I didn't think it was a bomb, but others here obviously feel they were hit, and I can understand that.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 3:16 PM on May 14, 2009


electroboy: No links to Cornel West or Michael Eric Dyson? Ta-Nehisi Coates has a solid blog that deals with issues of race in an accessible way.

I link white authors here and elsewhere because they're the ones I know offhand, without having to search through my archives, that nailed what I was trying to express, and because as I said earlier, when discussing white privilege with (predominantly) whites, white authors are less susceptible to certain derailments. I haven't read Dyson, and what I've read of West and Coates hasn't nailed what I wanted to express. Obviously, I haven't read them exhaustively. If you have and can think of links that would contribute to points being made here, I'd sincerely appreciate it if you'd post them. Otherwise, that line of argument risks coming off rather tu quoque.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 3:30 PM on May 14, 2009


Please explain to me exactly why the bit about mentioning The Wire as an example of popular culture would propel people into defensive move more so than saying "I'm noticing a pattern of racial ignorance around here" when you yourself are asking for clear concise examples, and The Wire in a list of other cultural references, is part of a clear concise list in a clear concise explanation.

As oneirodynia wrote: "she made the mistake of assuming that people were smart enough to understand that she is not seriously advocating people stop watching the Wire"

I don't think most peolple who are being racist would get or like the joke. An insular circle of injokes and pop culture is set up by the example, leaving the person you're trying to convince on the outside. Approaching it directly, with the understanding that things may be bumpy, but if you take the time to explain what the problem is about this touchy subject and phrase it as your problem, i.e. you're outside their insular circle just asking to come in for minute, it'll go down better.


And just because you calmly and deliberately explain something doesn't mean everyone's going to listen or agree.

Ok, but I never claimed everyone would listen or agree, the point is that MORE people would listen if adjust your tone to be calm.

There's a difference between stupidity and ignorance, you're kind of foisting a "you either get it or you're stupid" argument

Not sure what you mean here.

Is that really a "bomb" though, or like you said anitanita, a sharp, prickly, frustrated response?

When you say bomb, my image is something like an a-bomb, huge, all-consuming, sucking all the oxygen out of everything.

My objection with saying "bomb" is saying nobody wants to or is talking about it,

Never said that. I think you're parsing words too finely, and insisting that your definition is the only possible one, particuarly with your definition of bomb as an A-bomb. A bomb can be used to destroy a huge city or just a single bridge. In the case of the bridge, it destroys an obvious method of accomplishing something easily (crossing something), but doesn't completely deny the possiblity of the accomplishment (you can still take a boat over the water, it'll just take longer)
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 3:32 PM on May 14, 2009


kkokkodalk, I felt the thread was finally getting somewhere, that we had a dialogue going back and forth, and that Brandon Blatcher's comments both added to that dialogue and also lightened the mood--there was a lot of tension.

I have to say that, to my mind, your comments imho have had just the opposite effect. Though I am sure you mean well, your "what is the meaning of the word bomb" derail and your accusation that BB is calling anyone stupid (no evidence of that in my reading) is actually detracting from the central discussion in the thread yet again.

Which, for those of us who are still following the discussion, is that racial issues may not, and in fact probably haven't been, dealt with well here on Metafilter.

And that it is a subject we should be discussing because some admit to some ignorance and would actually like to be better educated on the issue.

And, on top of that, questions AND answers have been worded such that tempers are flaring and are causing defensiveness on BOTH sides.

And by the way, when people suggest that the wording of the post could be better, they are not dismissing in the least the inherent value behind the question itself, so can we move past that please?
posted by misha at 4:27 PM on May 14, 2009


Well, personally, I do feel as if I have seen several individuals and examples on mefi that reflect a diversity of culture, opinion, etc.

I suppose I am left with two thoughts:

1) there is enough goodwill at mefi to make a goodwill quorum - enough individuals who's opinions I respect, enough individuals who make a sincere effort to create a community of respect, that I can focus on that. So I suppose it's like high school. There may have been 2000 students, but really, I sort of mainly focus on my 8-10 friends. I think that's enough to keep me here.

2) that there is just an incredible range of issues and dialogue that appears here that keeps me interested. There are a few websites whose political views I don't agree with, but I am just kind of fascinated by what they focus on, and how the view the world, that it sort of takes precedence over their opinion about things I associate myself with. While I might disagree with some mefi's perspectives on race and class, I feel I've learned a lot from others. And I honestly don't know if the individuals I agree with and have learned from would define themselves as young, white, or progressive.

On the whole, a good portion of the mefi community might be clueless about topics I care about deeply, but collectively we are all clueless on a different bundle of topics, so it's sort of neat to see which bundle of issues people are quite informed, intelligent and thoughtful about.

Is mefi a 'young white progressive community'? And if so, do I feel excluded? I don't know the demographics on of the site, but I don't feel as if my opinion has ever been censored by the mods, and once again, there are a number of people who offered good advice, and I do feel as if I've been listened to. So, I'd say I feel included.

You know, as much as one could considering that I really couldn't point any of you out on the street in you passed me by, or sat next to me on BART, or from a police lineup. I mean many of us don't even use real names (I'm not complaining). It's kind of odd to imagine that I feel I know a significant amount about what people think on certain topics, but I wouldn't recognize you if I saw you.

Okay, that's it for me. Night folks. Thanks for the interesting perspectives!
posted by anitanita at 5:35 PM on May 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


I do not like this post. It was less "there is a problem" and more "I'm utterly frustrated and will now complain about it."

Yeah, orthogonality's statement was stupid, but there's lots of stupid stuff said on the site. While it's reasonable that a person would get tired of X brand of stupidity, and I don't mean to say that notjustfoxybrown thoughts/feelings are invalid or even wrong, but this post reeks of drama.

As to Metafilter's white, male, progressive and dominant culture and it's understanding of black people, meh. Yeah, it's stupid sometimes, over this and other issues, but it's nothing personal. Don't let the bastards grind you down, they known not what they do.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:57 PM on May 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


Patronizing, delegitimizing, belittling, "why are you people so angry", depersonalizing, "why can't you guys fix this problem then," and things of this nature used to take the focus off the actual discussion at hand or to shut down dicussion.

Calm down. It's not a big deal.


One day I realized that's just about the worst thing a man could say to an upset woman. So I told my male friends. Years later, domestic violence victim training taught me never to dismiss the feelings of an upset client.

Ok, this illustrates two things:

1) Calm down! illustrates the fine quote above. Sadly "calm down!" is also the essence of the "lighten up" responses to notjustfoxybrown.

2) My experience isn't really indicative of anything. I had a hunch, but education by professionals about how to engage disempowered individuals deepened my understanding. So back to beating my dead horse: experience is nothing without education.

Fortunately the thread got around to the education bit, but now we're arguing about whom to read.

I'm not going to do your homework for you. If you want to learn about this subject, google African American History Intro syllabi. Read the foundational texts, learn vocabulary, and get a feel for the progression of the field. African Americans have had a hand in this field from its origins. Learn the history of black people in the US and learn how the way people talk about race has evolved. You need to know the past to understand the present. Too many of us are talking about popular culture on a superficial level. That's fine and good, but you'll get a lot more out of The Wire if you understand the history.
posted by vincele at 8:14 PM on May 14, 2009 [4 favorites]


As I feared would occur, in the absence of guidance from the OP, the thread has become an exercise in academic theories of race and privilege. Of course, such discussions are welcome, but they're not specific to Metafilter. The whole point to acknowledging racism is to describe a set of circumstances that are pervasive and troublesome well beyond the confines of the blue, green, and grey.

We can and do have conversations about white privilege, prejudice, and subalterity all the time on the Blue. It's laudable and I like that about this site. But a Metatalk thread ought to be able to occasionally return to the subject at hand, which is the way that MEFITES relate to race and to each other, and the specific behaviors that MEFITES engage in that silence and exclude non-white participants.

I'd like to express my regret that the tone of the original commenters, perhaps including my own, seems to have persuaded NJFB that she won't get a fair hearing here. On the other hand, I'd like to propose that we academics who feel the need to speak for others and be experts on their culture are doing actually-existing black members of this site a disservice when we treat every mention of racism as an excuse to belabor our expertise and measure the lengths of our bibliographies against each other. That kind of academic one-up-manship crowds out the non-academic voices that most need to be heard.

No links to Cornel West or Michael Eric Dyson? Ta-Nehisi Coates has a solid blog that deals with issues of race in an accessible way.

I point out a few Racism 101 or White Privilege 101 or Sexism 101 links or articles or books, and after they've read them, it's their responsibility to look stuff up themselves

There are nearly infinite resources out there on the internet to learn about the day-to-day experiences of people who have a different conception of the world than the privileged narrative.

I'm not going to do your homework for you.

This line, and versions of it, are coming up a lot in this thread, and it demonstrates a failure to understand the context in which you are speaking. This is not a university, your interlocutors are not all students and professors, and they do not respond well to 'homework assignments.' For many users, this place is simply an entertainment, and for most others, it is a community, a local pub or coffee shop. You would never speak to the stranger at the bar this way, and yet because we use text as our medium, you are using your 'professional' voice. It's just not effective here.

The charge that 'it is not my job to educate you' is a valid one when thrown around at an academic conference: it's not your job to educate your colleagues, who are quite capable of educating themselves, and whose failures indicate professional blind spots or just plain lazy privilege. In a very different sense, it's not OUR job to educate our fellow site members, because that assumes a knowledge/authority differential that is best suppressed among members of a community. We have an obligation to participate as equals rather than as chiding guardians of human wisdom, just as you would do at the local coffee shop. Do what you would do in real world: suggest a book or article in a tone of voice that doesn't indicate that anyone who hasn't already read it, or whose reading was superficial or confused, is contemptible.

Remember, the black community isn't the only one that has cross-cutting diversity along the lines of education, class, and profession: Metafilter itself is a little more diverse than many participants here are making out. There are people here without degrees in the humanities and social sciences, who either have no college degree or specialized in something more practicable precisely because they couldn't afford to spend an expensive college education on idle knowledge accumulation, but needed to guarantee marketable skills. The whole breezy tone of contempt for the uneducated in this conversation is part of the very classism that The Straightener's email, quoted by the OP, originally raised alongside our frequent blindness to race-based privilege.

So while it is very appropriate to demand that academic interlocutors educate themselves, it's not appropriate to demand that your friends, acquaintances and neighbors Google and read syllabi. That's what professional academics do, and by making a demand that only another academic could be expected to comply with, you're insisting that properly non-racist behavior is only available to or expected of the most educated elites in our country and the world. Your readers cannot be blamed for interpreting you as saying that anyone who can't Google a syllabi and then follow it closely isn't capable of being antiracist. That's the absurd connotation to which your words lend themselves.

Again, in the context of a discussion on the Blue or Green about white privilege, this kind of thing is welcome. Here in Metatalk though, I think it's important to focus our 'healthy conversation on race' SPECIFICALLY ON 'the discussion of race/class on Metafilter'. That's what the OP requested: let's try to respect her request. I've tried to grant her that respect here by describing a dynamic that I see hampering the needed discussion. What do you think? What could Metafilter do to improve the experience of African-American members?
posted by anotherpanacea at 6:58 AM on May 15, 2009 [5 favorites]


"The charge that 'it is not my job to educate you' is a valid one when thrown around at an academic conference..."

D'oh! Thank you! I've run into versions of 'it is not my job to educate you' in these discussions for years, and my inner reaction has always been, "Of course it's not. So why don't you chill and do something that is your job or that you want to do?" I'd thought it came from simple pomposity, but that it comes from academia makes sense. (Uh, skipping over the connection between academia and pomposity.)

The proselytizing instinct is powerful, but often counter-productive.
posted by shetterly at 7:58 AM on May 15, 2009


D'oh! Thank you! I've run into versions of 'it is not my job to educate you' in these discussions for years

One other thing occurs to me: sometimes 'it's not my job to educate you' is very appropriate in a coffee shop or bar, as when a stranger demands of you that you explain your (to him) alien culture and ways. I'm thinking of interrogations that seem friendly and genuinely curious, that start something like: "So you're gay... what's that like?" but can be very annoying when you're the only member of your minority in a community and are asked to play 'native guide' on a weekly basis. So it's appropriate in that setting to say, "It's not my job."

The funny thing is that scholars and teachers have appropriated this phrase as a way of besting their competitors, and yet it actually is their job to educate. I somehow missed that obvious pedagogical duty when I first wrote: scholars in public have an obligation to be informative because that's the role of the public intellectual, that's why we get a salary. (You said it: D'oh!) However, that's not the same as an excuse to be haughty, which is what's really troubling me here.
posted by anotherpanacea at 8:10 AM on May 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


What could Metafilter do to improve the experience of African-American members?

What the hell does that even mean?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:17 AM on May 15, 2009


Well, I meant something along the lines of: how can we prevent the offense and pain that we caused NJFB from occurring in the future? But you're right: "Metafilter" isn't the correct subject of that sentence.
posted by anotherpanacea at 8:20 AM on May 15, 2009


What the hell does that even mean?

Free refills on soda and comfy slippers, I think.
posted by electroboy at 8:25 AM on May 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


"We" didn't do shit, it was specific people, all of whom were roundly denounced and attempts were made to educate them.

As a black person, I'd rather have ignorant questions about race and not have the people be burned in effigy for "daring to be so stupid", as so often happens around here. To me, that's the biggest problem because it scares people off from asking those ignorant questions and they wind up staying ignorant. That is the worst outcome.

If you want to improve my experiences as a black person on Metafilter, sushi helps.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:32 AM on May 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


Deep body massage (hand relief optional), and auto +3 favs on every comment.
posted by Meatbomb at 8:36 AM on May 15, 2009


Meatbomb, you don't qualify for this program.
posted by desjardins at 8:40 AM on May 15, 2009


I'll take a swing at "Not my job to educate you," or at least the sentiment.

We're not in a bar or coffeeshop, much as I endorse that model. We're in history's biggest library. There are literally millions of resources (of differing value) accessible with a few mouse clicks or keystrokes, on pretty much any topic.

Given that, and given that race relations is pretty damn complex (duh), and that the interlocutors who rail against the "NMJTEY" are often at least seemingly disingenuous or unwilling to do any work on their own, it's frustrating to try to answer all of their (often dumb) questions. Part of being an adult is having some initiative and figuring this stuff out on your own. Analogy: I can give a back-of-book description of Sartian existentialism, but if you keep asking me about it, I'm going to say, y'know, you really need to learn for yourself because while I may know a bit more than some random dude on the street, I am not a Sartian existentialist.

This is compounded by the fact that the folks who need an education are the ones tacitly arguing against the assumptions that undergird a lot of political arguments about race, so it's like, well, if you have specific questions, I'll answer them as best I can, but until you do the legwork of engaging these texts, I'mn not going to bother with you—I don't believe your questions are asked in good faith. That you complain about this further reinforces the stink of bad-faith argumentation.
posted by klangklangston at 8:43 AM on May 15, 2009 [4 favorites]


until you do the legwork of engaging these texts, I'mn not going to bother with you

Maybe that's the right way to deal with Sartrean existentialism, but certainly something as fundamental as race can be decoupled from the canonical texts in which it is discussed and dealt with as the lived experience of everyone participating here? (And really, I hope existence itself can be so decoupled as well.)

Don't get me wrong: I love texts. I love books. I've read many of the things that people are talking about in these bibliographical debates, and I'm certainly comfortable doing research on my own. That's not the question: the question is whether it's 'good for metafilter' to have discussions of race devolve into academic sparring.

We're in history's biggest library.

Perhaps you'll accept this amendment: we're in the coffee shop NEXT TO "history's biggest library." More to the point, some people only visit the library to find funny videos or look up football scores. The part of the library you're pointing at might as well be in Chinese for all the good it does them.
posted by anotherpanacea at 9:06 AM on May 15, 2009


"Maybe that's the right way to deal with Sartrean existentialism, but certainly something as fundamental as race can be decoupled from the canonical texts in which it is discussed and dealt with as the lived experience of everyone participating here? (And really, I hope existence itself can be so decoupled as well.)"

We live with the questions of being and nothingness too. You're confusing "fundamental" with simple. If someone wants to talk with me about being and nothingness, I recommend he read Sartre. If he keeps asking me what "bad faith," or "Being-For-Others" means, I say, "Well, here's a simplified answer, but really, here are some resources to explore where people who are experts (or who at least speak French) have examined them." If he persists in asking, I say, "Look, it's not my job to educate you if you want to have a discussion on this. It seems like what you really want to do is advance your own agenda and I'm not interested in playing Crito here."

"Don't get me wrong: I love texts. I love books. I've read many of the things that people are talking about in these bibliographical debates, and I'm certainly comfortable doing research on my own. That's not the question: the question is whether it's 'good for metafilter' to have discussions of race devolve into academic sparring."

No, that's not the question, and it's disingenuous to present it as such.

"Perhaps you'll accept this amendment: we're in the coffee shop NEXT TO "history's biggest library." More to the point, some people only visit the library to find funny videos or look up football scores. The part of the library you're pointing at might as well be in Chinese for all the good it does them."

Which brings me back to the question of whose burden it is to deal with the dumbasses. It's now my job to not only teach everyone about race relations but also to teach them media literacy?

If anyone wants to learn how to research race theory or identity theory through the internet, they can pay me to teach them. Otherwise, it's another unfunded mandate on my time. I have no problem continuing to engage with people who already know this stuff or who seem to be making a sincere effort to get it on their own, but it's not my job to do your race relations homework.
posted by klangklangston at 9:44 AM on May 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


And those of us who've spent a lot of time sitting down and reading the books resent being told by people who haven't that they deserve to have us communicate the contents of those books to them, and preferably very quickly and in a way that doesn't challenge any of their preconceptions or self-image and which doesn't imply that they have any obligations whatsoever.

Fuck that.
posted by Pope Guilty at 9:45 AM on May 15, 2009


Just so it's clear, I was addressing anotherpanacea, not klangklangston. I agree with everything in klang's comment.
posted by Pope Guilty at 9:46 AM on May 15, 2009


This thread wasn't supposed to be about race theory, it was supposed to be about meeting people and engaging communities. It says it right there in the title. People, not books. If you're reading the books and not engaging the people you haven't eliminated the distanced perspective that comprimises the legitimacy of most white liberal intellectuals to speak on the issue in the first place.
posted by The Straightener at 9:50 AM on May 15, 2009 [6 favorites]


No, that's not the question, and it's disingenuous to present it as such.

Fuck that.


Note: Everyone needs a hug.
posted by languagehat at 10:21 AM on May 15, 2009 [2 favorites]


those of us who've spent a lot of time sitting down and reading the books resent being told by people who haven't that they deserve to have us communicate the contents of those books to them,

This is an odd attitude in a community which is usually known for its helpfulness, even when dealing with ignorance. I have to say that I've seen a fair amount of ignorance about evolution here yet I never once have said that I resent the necessity of correcting their misconceptions, given all the blood, sweat, and tears I poured into ten years of formal education and reading countless books and articles. Or that it's not my job to do their homework, go read Dawkin, Darwin, and Gould, and don't talk to me until you're done.

That would pretty clearly be counterproductive. Most natural scientists seem to know this. Even when I am too busy to respond or just am too annoyed to feel like it, I don't say stuff like that. Instead I don't say anything. If you have expertise that you don't want to share, then just don't fucking share it.

Instead, when I see stuff like this, I have to agree with anotherpanacea and Ambrosia Voyeur—it seems as if some want to set up some sort of gate to keep those who have not read these books and papers out of the conversation. And I can see why you would want to do that in certain spheres. But if you do it here, it means you will only be preaching to the converted.

Personally, when dealing with issues of race or gender or any other sort of fault line in this community, I don't think that bringing things into academic abstractions is always the most helpful thing, and it definitely isn't if you just want to treat the people who don't share your level of familiarity with them as lazy, ignorant people who haven't done their homework. You don't get to decide what our homework is.

I think most people are more easily able to understand formulas along the lines of "When you say X, it seems that you are ignorant of Y, and that makes me feel Z." It can help us relate it to our own experiences and feelings in other areas, and immediately understand the impact on other individuals.
posted by grouse at 10:23 AM on May 15, 2009 [3 favorites]


Meatbomb, you don't qualify for this program.

It's cool, I'm his sponsor.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 10:28 AM on May 15, 2009


klangklangston, of course it's not your job, but why do you bother to announce that? "We're in history's biggest library," is a much better line, especially if it follows something like, "Sorry, no time," or is followed by something like "Happy googling."
posted by shetterly at 10:32 AM on May 15, 2009


"This thread wasn't supposed to be about race theory, it was supposed to be about meeting people and engaging communities. It says it right there in the title. People, not books. If you're reading the books and not engaging the people you haven't eliminated the distanced perspective that comprimises the legitimacy of most white liberal intellectuals to speak on the issue in the first place."

Yes, and? You're ignoring the context of the comment about not doing homework, and highlighting the silliness of the objections—I'm not a person of color. So all I can do is point to other folks' experiences. Which are readily available. Not only won't I do anyone else's homework, I can't.

And, despite the mischaracterization here, it's not even as if these resources are universally academic—academia just makes it easier to talk about broad strokes in thin phrases.

But hey, I also think that about 80 percent of the arguments could be obviated if white folks realized that their feelings weren't really important to the conversation. There's a lot of pretending to listen as a precursor to declaiming on what it means to be a white man suddenly confronted with the Other's experiences, and an attempt to renormalize the discussion from the dominant perspective, which is boring to everyone who has had a couple of these conversations before.
posted by klangklangston at 10:41 AM on May 15, 2009 [2 favorites]


I think most people are more easily able to understand formulas along the lines of "When you say X, it seems that you are ignorant of Y, and that makes me feel Z."

Yes!
I feel like we're getting mixed up with the assumption that not being racially offensive, or being aware of white privilege, etc. necessarily requires being up to date on critical race theory, which, uh. Um. That does not strike me as very helpful. If my dad says something offensive, and I'm like, "Hey, not cool, Dad. Here's a book, to make you a better person."- that doesn't really help, because he's not going to read the book, and will just be offended.
Obviously those in a minority position are not obligated- at all, in any sense- to deal with confused, clueless, maybe even trolling majority people constantly asking Sinbad-level questions. That is just not their responsibility.
However, I can't imagine that the best solution is to bust out a syllabus- that seems like a completely tone-deaf response, especially because if the people who get the syllabus haven't dealt with some serious perspective issues, they are going to read a page of an article, decide that it's all academic bullshit and move on. A lot of people who are bigoted but well-meaning are that way because they have never grasped the concept that other people have other, equally-meaningful value systems, and that's something that you learn by actually discussing value systems with people.
I seriously believe that the best way of getting past racial stereotyping is for people to have sustained, meaningful relationships with people outside of their comfort group. Obviously, this is not some sort of obligation for minority groups- this isn't something where you have to adopt a white person and slowly pull back the veil of their prejudice. But it may help, if you feel that the person is asking you in good faith about your culture, to point out that all cultures are diverse, even within themselves, and maybe give your personal take. But automatically being angry when someone "hasn't done their homework"...guys, the people who don't believe in white privilege, who think affirmative action is "reverse racism", they don't think they HAVE homework. Being self-righteous because you read a book strikes me as extremely ridiculous, and exactly the sort of thing that makes people conclude that being "anti-racist" is just something self-absorbed white liberals do. I'd like to get away from that.
posted by 235w103 at 10:46 AM on May 15, 2009


It's now my job to not only teach everyone about race relations but also to teach them media literacy?

Err... no. It's not your job. I don't think it is, at least. (Is it?) Which is why it's confusing when you pop into a thread and say, "It's not MY job!" It's like you feel called upon to comment, as if you're feeling worried that it might be your job, but then you get angry at this phantom interpellation and express a totally unaccountable resentment instead.

That's the thing: whether it's a library or a coffee shop, none of us are employees. At best, cortex the barista and jessamyn the librarian are around to shush us, demand that we pay our fines, and help us with our research. The idea that any of the other members have any other obligations beyond basic respect for each other is strange. It seems to be motivated by a reservoir of guilt that is doing more harm than good.

So let me try this again: is there anybody out there who'd like to talk about how we're failing to meet the basic demands of respect vis-a-vis our non-white members?
posted by anotherpanacea at 11:12 AM on May 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


Broista, tyvm.
posted by cortex (staff) at 11:21 AM on May 15, 2009


jessamyn the librarian are around to shush us, demand that we pay our fines, and help us with our research.

I resent this fwiw, tfn

posted by jessamyn (staff) at 11:27 AM on May 15, 2009


Klang...what?
posted by The Straightener at 11:27 AM on May 15, 2009


who we
posted by found missing at 11:28 AM on May 15, 2009


Sorry jessamyn. I get carried away with the metaphor (and the little giggle at calling cortex a barista.) That's not really how I see you, or any of the librarians I work with. (Writing this from the Library of Congress, actually.)
posted by anotherpanacea at 11:32 AM on May 15, 2009


Which part is offensive, the shushing? I get that because in my experience librarians are the loudest talkers in the library.
posted by found missing at 11:35 AM on May 15, 2009


Oh deal lord can we not go down this road.
posted by cortex (staff) at 11:38 AM on May 15, 2009


is there anybody out there who'd like to talk about how we're failing to meet the basic demands of respect vis-a-vis our non-white members?

What are the non-white members demanding?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 11:38 AM on May 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


Writing this from the Library of Congress, actually.

That's cool, you should check out the Obama exhibit in the African and Middle Eastern reading room, it's terrific.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 11:39 AM on May 15, 2009


Or rather, being a non-white member, what am I demanding, I'd really like for someone to explain to me exactly what we as a group are demanding. 'cause I must have been on a donut run when that vote was taken.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 11:44 AM on May 15, 2009


anotherpanacea:
we academics who feel the need to speak for others and be experts on their culture are doing actually-existing black members of this site

I don't recall claiming to or implying that I speak for Afr-Am. Please feel free to point out where I do.

a disservice when we treat every mention of racism as an excuse to belabor our expertise


Suggesting that people inform themselves about some of the wealth of knowledge there is about this, or any subject, that they choose to argue confidently about, is not belaboring one's expertise. It's an observation that, in an argument where one person ("Betty") has made a point of acquiring info on the topic beyond personal experience (for the 3rd time, college or not college-acquired is equally legitimate), and the other has not ("Mary"), Betty inevitably ends up in the position of explaining basics about the topic to the Mary and Mary's endless incarnations. Betty and Mary are not working from the same page. Discussions would get somewhere if they were. Because then Betty and Mary could get on with disagreements that have potential to lead somewhere.

As it is, Betty is put in the default position of
1. regurgitating basic facts ("Afr Am started out in the US handicapped by institutional systems and while there's been progress dismantling those systems we are not "post-racial""),
2. defending the legitimacy of those facts against rebuttals like "What about Condoleeza Rice and Colin Powell?" and
3. responding to other rebuttals like, "OK, so that's what those three sources you've linked say, but what makes you think they're typical or exemplary?" Well, because in any subject, certain conclusions accrue a weight of evidence that makes those conclusions more likely to be accurate than others, and those 3 links are typical of that weight of evidence that I've evaluated. So ok, Betty or somebody else who's also familiar with this subject puts up 5 more links, which Mary rebuts with "You're cherry picking."
4. OK then, how can Mary know that she is right that Betty is cherry picking, if Mary is not familiar with some of what there is to know about this topic, beyond her personal experience? When Mary lacks info on the topic she's arguing confidently about, how does Betty prove she's NOT cherry picking? How else can she show that she's not cherry picking except by linking to more resources supporting her conclusion? How many resources would Mary find persuasive? 100? Oops, now Mary is annoyed that Betty is belaboring her expertise.

This is not productive. It typifies many discussions on related to sexism and racism here. It's frustrating for both parties, yes. My go-to response for resolving it is to encourage people like Mary to inform themselves (one more, with verve, college is NOT the only or best way to acquire an admirable command of a subject) so that more people can argue from a common base of knowledge. That's my go-to response because I'm used to informing myself about, eg, trans issues before I argue confidently (as opposed to tentatively) about them, and I never thought to consider informing myself as a...an inconvenience? A burden? An imposition? If not those, then what? Please spell it out.

We have an obligation to participate as equals rather than as chiding guardians of human wisdom, just as you would do at the local coffee shop. Do what you would do in real world: suggest a book or article in a tone of voice that doesn't indicate that anyone who hasn't already read it, or whose reading was superficial or confused, is contemptible.

My tone didn't go to "chiding" until several comments in, I don't think. Perhaps I'm wrong. If so, please point it out. If I'm not then is that tonal progression unreasonable or unfathomable? and anyway, in that comment you've quoted, I wasn't chiding anybody, I was explaining to another POC why I disagree that I'm personally duty bound to be an Automatic Regurgitator of Curiosity-Satisfying Facts. I don't mind doing it sometimes depending on the levels of other stressors going on right then. I'm arguing against BB's implied expectation (perhaps I misread, BB, could you clarify please?) that because just because some people don't mind or prefer to do it at every opportunity, that I should, too. I understand that BB and I were not having a private conversation because others listen in, so others felt chided even though that was not my intent.

The whole breezy tone of contempt for the uneducated in this conversation

Do you disagree with my distinction between "uneducated" and "uninformed"?

it's not appropriate to demand that your friends, acquaintances and neighbors Google and read syllabi.

I haven't even implied anything about syllabi or brandished specific scholars as "You stupid haven't read xxxxx?!!! I spit on you!" or anything like it. I have posited that people who desire to argue confidently about subjects they know little about, aside from personal experience, would find their arguments better served by free-form seeking out information on that topic. Free-form seeking out in addition to discussions like this, where some of us get cranky from the endless repetition.

That's what professional academics do, and by making a demand that only another academic could be expected to comply with,

What, really? I'll have to inform my non-academic friends who enjoy self-starter learning about racism sexism xxxx-ism that how the observing and reading they prioritize in their free time couldn't possibly have been done.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 11:46 AM on May 15, 2009 [2 favorites]


Some of my best friends are librarians.
posted by burnmp3s at 11:47 AM on May 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


What are the non-white members demanding?

sushi and massages with happy endings, apparently.
posted by desjardins at 11:52 AM on May 15, 2009


I don't know, BB.

I think metafilter is ok on race. I think racist behavior gets named and shamed quickly. In this, it is distinct from misogyny, which often goes unremarked, even after last year's discussions. People are much more likely to defend a sexist comment as playful than a racist one. When we're on the Blue talking about links, racist or racially insensitive remarks get called out.

We all wear our blinkered, socially-maladjusted introverted hearts on our sleeves, but the race of commenters and posters is much more difficult to remark than the gender, except when someone notes it themselves.

Individual commenters can certainly do better, especially since each of us can make a big difference by building relationships across race and class lines, but in my experience Metafilter, as a community, does okay with race. If I'm wrong, I welcome correction.

And now, I think I'll stretch my legs and go mingle with some artifacts.
posted by anotherpanacea at 11:53 AM on May 15, 2009


On behalf of all the white 34 year old women in the northwest suburbs of Chicago, I would like to demand a cup of hot chocolate, a good book, and a kitten.
posted by desjardins at 11:56 AM on May 15, 2009


btw, the frustration is from, as burnmp3s put it in a different context,

RTFM-ism that ends up getting ingrained in any community that has noobs coming in and asking the same few questions all the time. There's a frustration that comes into play when people have gone through an issue many times and have going through all the different angles, and then someone new comes in and wants to start the same discussion over again.

On preview, I'm not demanding anything, on behalf of anyone including myself. I am suggesting that optimal behaviour in discussions about touchy subjects like racism sexism etc would involve, on all sides, in addition to editing the heat out of comments before posting, arguing tentatively if personal experience is all that's being drawn on. The arguing confidently stuff is what really puts the edge on.

Also, critical race theory, WTF? I'm talking about stuff on blogs like Harding's essay.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 12:00 PM on May 15, 2009


To be clear, I'm not speaking for anyone other than me and of course, just because I don't see a big problem doesn't mean their isn't one.

I would like to demand a cup of hot chocolate, a good book, and a kitten.

It works better if you take over a building first.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 12:02 PM on May 15, 2009


Metafilter, as a community, does okay with race. If I'm wrong, I welcome correction.

I don't know -- I feel like anti-Asian racism is vaguely socially acceptable here. I'm still waiting for an explanation in another thread as to why it's OK for someone to say racist things and make exaggerated ethnic stereotypes and call it a 'joke' and at the same time condemn some Texas legislator as a racist.
posted by Comrade_robot at 12:14 PM on May 15, 2009


Very cool find, jessamyn. That's super-secret librarian-only stuff in that exhibit. Asking for it is the most in-the-know I've felt since I figured out how to get a shelf of my own!
posted by anotherpanacea at 12:15 PM on May 15, 2009


"Err... no. It's not your job. I don't think it is, at least. (Is it?) Which is why it's confusing when you pop into a thread and say, "It's not MY job!" It's like you feel called upon to comment, as if you're feeling worried that it might be your job, but then you get angry at this phantom interpellation and express a totally unaccountable resentment instead.

You started on in the Do Your Own Homework argument, claiming to not understand it.

I popped in and explained it.

From there, I got a lot of quibbling bullshit that rather neatly mirrors the underlying discussion—now I have to explain to you why I have to explain to you that it's not my job to explain things to you?

"Totally unaccountable resentment"? Well, since I just gave you an account, we clearly disagree. That leads me to believe that that either you're not interested in getting it or you're incapable of getting it, at least from me. Luckily, it's not my job.
posted by klangklangston at 12:26 PM on May 15, 2009


Luckily, it's not my job

I thought you were interning?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 12:32 PM on May 15, 2009


Also, critical race theory, WTF? I'm talking about stuff on blogs like Harding's essay.

Which is awesome because it consists mostly of a white woman chiding a black man for not being sufficiently outraged about a Vogue cover.
posted by electroboy at 12:37 PM on May 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


Good choices, desjardins–kittens go great with hot chocolate.

To me, this sums up the purpose of this thread:
As a black person, I'd rather have ignorant questions about race and not have the people be burned in effigy for "daring to be so stupid", as so often happens around here. To me, that's the biggest problem because it scares people off from asking those ignorant questions and they wind up staying ignorant. That is the worst outcome.
–Brandon Blatcher

When you talk about race, you're walking into a minefield; there are people on all sides with axes to grind, people just waiting to leap in and play the gotcha game. I also think that getting too deeply into the academic social science of race studies in a forum like this is off-putting, because it requires a certain familiarity with the jargon of the field and can lead to misunderstandings and the perception that you're being talked down to or lectured or derided if you're not familiar with those terms. All in all, though, I'd have to say that the ratio of "Here is why your seemingly-harmless statement can be harmful to people of color" to "You're a bad person for thinking such a thing, get out of my sight!" has been surprisingly high in this thread.
posted by Mister_A at 1:02 PM on May 15, 2009


All I know is: be nice to Wakandans, because they have all the vibranium.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 1:04 PM on May 15, 2009 [2 favorites]


> Or rather, being a non-white member, what am I demanding, I'd really like for someone to explain to me exactly what we as a group are demanding. 'cause I must have been on a donut run when that vote was taken.

I believe you are demanding more donuts.
posted by languagehat at 1:19 PM on May 15, 2009


So let me try this again: is there anybody out there who'd like to talk about how we're failing to meet the basic demands of respect vis-a-vis our non-white members?

I think metafilter is ok on race. I think racist behavior gets named and shamed quickly.

but in my experience Metafilter, as a community, does okay with race. If I'm wrong, I welcome correction.


I speak only for myself.

Do you want examples? Here's some from this thread:

I can tell you why this got past the editors: Asian racists just aren't that threatening. Really, what's he gonna do? Ching chong me to death? Poke me with his chopsticks? Come on.
posted by fungible at 5:51 AM on March 1, 2007 [4 favorites +] [!]

He's just upset because he has a small penis and poor driving skills.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 6:14 AM on March 1, 2007 [+] [!]

Fungible made me laugh outloud. Good one.
Equally funny is your post Mr Crash Davis
posted by a3matrix at 6:36 AM on March 1, 2007 [+] [!]

I just wish you'd stop playing that joke where you go pee pee in my Coke.
posted by Astro Zombie at 3:10 PM on March 1, 2007 [+] [!]


I know that the 'coke pee-pee' may be a reference to an SNL skit, but it's a pretty fucking racist SNL skit masquerading under 'making fun at racism'. Same with EXTRA EXTRA: things making fun of racism can still be racist. There's more in the thread that Comrade_robot brings up.

And fungible's joke is the kind of jokes that, apparently, a3matrix, Bookhouse, null terminated, tehloki, and nasreddin like and have favorited. Really? I mean, these are all names I see as frequent contributors to the site, some names (I thought) I respected. Yes, that thread was two years ago; more examples can be found in the thread Comrade_robot mentions.

--

The problem is not necessarily that the community as a whole has some problem concerning race that it needs to be fixed. It's that sometimes I'll see these bewildering responses to questions that aren't directly offensively racist per se but are usually tinged with non-knowledge about racism. It's change at the level of the awareness of the individual member or that would be helpful. Part of what facilitates discrimination is the unawareness that discrimination exists, and the concurrent fact that there is no voice to call people out on it. I'm arguing that this discussion itself is part of the goal; that is, to make aware that there are certain members who do feel that there's racial insensitivity/ignorance going on.
posted by suedehead at 1:31 PM on May 15, 2009 [2 favorites]


disregard the "Same with" in my comment
posted by suedehead at 1:32 PM on May 15, 2009


Part of what facilitates discrimination is the unawareness that discrimination exists, and the concurrent fact that there is no voice to call people out on it. I'm arguing that this discussion itself is part of the goal; that is, to make aware that there are certain members who do feel that there's racial insensitivity/ignorance going on.

Good point. That is what the gender discussions did too, if I recall correctly.
posted by vincele at 2:04 PM on May 15, 2009


Yes indeed, suedehead. I hope that members feel that they will be treated respectfully when they raise uncomfortable, contentious, but inescapable issues like racism and sexism on MetaFilter. That was not always the case in this thread, but maybe we've moved the needle a little bit as a group.
posted by Mister_A at 2:16 PM on May 15, 2009


We've also moved to be a little tighter about casual racism as the community has grown larger. While I can't say that we're always awesome dealing with it, we do try to make a point that "ironic racism" [which is I think what the pee pee coke thing was supposed to be, or a lot of Asian-oriented L/R jokesterism] and "ironic sexism" [I don't know what the hell you mean when you said "I'd hit it" and shouldn't have to guess] might get your point across in a small group of close friends but more often than not misses the mark here at MeFi. We'd rather take the heat for removing it (and handle the accompanying "censor!" fights) than say "Hey you just didn't understand the joke, here let me explain it to you..."

Clueless-seeming comments are a little more difficult to parse and determine what to do about and we usually leave them in and have discussions like this one which I think are also useful.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 2:53 PM on May 15, 2009


electroboy: Which is awesome because it consists mostly of a white woman chiding a black man for not being sufficiently outraged about a Vogue cover.

If you have a thoughtful disagreement with the way I've already addressed your objection to my motivation or reasoning for linking the Harding essay, by all means, please elaborate.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 4:13 PM on May 15, 2009


Part of what facilitates discrimination is the unawareness that discrimination exists, and the concurrent fact that there is no voice to call people out on it. I'm arguing that this discussion itself is part of the goal; that is, to make aware that there are certain members who do feel that there's racial insensitivity/ignorance going on.

Yeah, that's kind of what I thought was going on here. Why does a discussion necessarily need to have some kind of end result? Isn't discussion for discussion's sake worthwhile - like a free flowing exchange of ideas and whatnot? I've gotten a lot out of this thread, honestly. For instance, I learned that klangklangston is the new intern and will be the next one sent out for coffee.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 7:00 PM on May 15, 2009


For instance, I learned that klangklangston is the new intern and will be the next one sent out for coffee.

AND DONUTS. I would hope you could be more respectful to Brandon.
posted by desjardins at 11:14 PM on May 15, 2009


AND HANDJOBS. For fuck sakes it's just typical that you leave off the most important thing.
posted by Meatbomb at 3:30 AM on May 16, 2009


What annoyed me about Harding's take on the Lebron James and Gisele Bundchen controversy was the insistence on seeing it as racist and refusing any other take on it, while insisting that anyone who didn't see it that way was blind, stupid or living a life of privilege. Even better was ignoring the actual individuals on the cover and casting them in roles from a racist poster. Yay, progress!
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 4:13 AM on May 16, 2009 [2 favorites]


Meatbomb, I'm not sure klangklangston is up for giving you a handjob, but that's between y'all.
posted by desjardins at 9:25 AM on May 16, 2009


But do let us know how it goes.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:46 PM on May 17, 2009


What annoyed me about Harding's take on the Lebron James and Gisele Bundchen controversy was . . .

OK, so you disagree with the example. Does that mean that you think the principle,
privilege, in this sense, is not just about obvious advantages. It is about the luxury of not seeing the subtle shit.

As a white person, I haven’t been sensitized to covert racism by a lifetime of experiences. Unlike a person of color who has no choice but to see and feel it every day, I actually do have to “go looking for it”; my privilege could otherwise allow me to go through life believing it doesn’t exist. Because I care about being anti-racist, I do go looking, do make an effort to educate myself about patterns of racism I wouldn’t automatically recognize . . . Because I’m white, I also have the option of not looking any time I don’t feel like it. That’s what privilege is. It’s the option to ignore nasty shit that doesn’t directly affect my own life, my career, my relationships, my bank account, my social standing, my housing situation, etc.
is also crap? If so, why?
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 6:30 PM on May 17, 2009


No, I don't think that principle is crap.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:37 PM on May 17, 2009


Here's what Morris wrote: I, for one, have racism fatigue. I’m wiped out. [...] I don’t have the bandwidth to fight Anna Wintour.

First, just to clarify: Morris never tells anybody to shut up about racism. He just claims that Vogue's silly cover is tired and not "purely racist." He makes a personal claim, but Harding feels like she's being silenced, so she responds.

Here's Harding's response, which you've partially quoted: That’s what privilege is. It’s the option to ignore nasty shit that doesn’t directly affect my own life, my career, my relationships, my bank account, my social standing, my housing situation, etc

Later she writes: I can totally understand Morris being too worn out to challenge Anna Wintour, but for fuck’s sake, dude, if the rest of us aren’t? Don’t tell us to shut up about it. Because one thing a lifetime of experience as a white person has taught me is that a whole lot of white people love little more than being let off the hook by a Bona Fide Person of Color.

One of the big problems with the various discourses on 'privilege' is that they often confuse rights denied to subaltern groups with domination. In other words, while some of the contents of the invisible knapsack need to be eliminated, others need to be mass produced and shared around equitably. That's right: in a striking act of contrarianism, I'm against domination, and in favor of protecting everyone's rights.

Now Harding claims that the essence of privilege, "what privilege is," is the option to ignore nasty shit that doesn't directly affect you. My question is this: why shouldn't we all want that? Why shouldn't a black person want to be able to ignore things that don't directly affect his life, just as white people ignore the antics of Tom Cruise as irrelevant to their standing? If a black man manages to ignore it, to momentarily grasp hold of this privilege that has historically been reserved for whites, what right does a white woman have to chastise him for it?

Unlike some forms of privilege, ignoring nasty shit is the kind of option to which everybody ought to be able to avail themselves. In that sense, it's a right. Privilege is when you get to jump to the head of the line, when you get to ignore other people as irrelevant, when you can shame someone by haughtily wagging your finger in their direction. A right is when you can say that just because some athlete shares your skin tone doesn't make him your representative, that his antics can't hurt your career, relationships, bank account, or housing situation. Why can't Morris be allowed to exercise that right without being called an Uncle Tom? Oh I remember: because Harding has "a lifetime of experience as a white person" and she knows better than him what's good for black people. Now why does that sound familiar?
posted by anotherpanacea at 9:41 PM on May 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


Why shouldn't a black person want to be able to ignore things that don't directly affect his life, just as white people ignore the antics of Tom Cruise as irrelevant to their standing? ... Privilege is when you get to jump to the head of the line ...

Everyone living in America already has plenty of this.
posted by Meatbomb at 10:59 PM on May 17, 2009


First, just to clarify: Morris never tells anybody to shut up about racism. He just claims that Vogue's silly cover is tired and not "purely racist." He makes a personal claim, but Harding feels like she's being silenced, so she responds.


Morris says: "Seeing that cover as purely racist doesn’t give the people looking at it enough credit. It dates Vogue for relying on the allusion but it also dates us for going crazy over it. Racial hysteria is the old black."

It's not clear to me how "doesn't give the people looking at it enough credit," "dates us for going crazy over it," and "racial hysteria is the old black" are personal claims. Please explain how those 3 remarks are merely personal claims.

Also, by my read, judgments like "not giving people enough credit" and words like "hysteria" and, effectively, "outdated," trivialize, invalidate, and dismiss ("tells people to shut up") the viewpoints characterized as such. Could you please explain how such words don't trivialize invalidate and dismiss? Alternatively, could you please explain how trivializing invalidating and dismissing are not equivalent to "telling people to shut up"?

Now Harding claims that the essence of privilege, "what privilege is," is the option to ignore nasty shit that doesn't directly affect you. My question is this: why shouldn't we all want that? Why shouldn't a black person want to be able to ignore things that don't directly affect his life, just as white people ignore the antics of Tom Cruise as irrelevant to their standing? If a black man manages to ignore it, to momentarily grasp hold of this privilege that has historically been reserved for whites, what right does a white woman have to chastise him for it?

OK, you, unlike BB, do object to both the example and the principle.

Re the example:

First, "ignore things that don't directly affect his life" mischaracterizes Morris's words, giving the impression that he doesn't think the image is at all racist. Morris acknowledges that it's partly racist ("not purely racist" = some of it is racist), and the reason he's not making a big deal about it is, he's "wiped out" from the then-recent racial issues around Jeremiah Wright and the campaigning Clintons. "Wiped out" is hardly "ignore," "irrelevant," or "not directly affecting his life." (If you think it is, please explain.)

Second, Harding doesn't "chastise" him for ignoring the issue being an Uncle Tom feeling wiped out. She empathizes with it and explains how she experiences the same thing re instances of sexism, subtle and overt. What she's chastising him for is the inconsistency of his position, and the dubious utility of his decision to publicize it:

He acknowledges that the photo has racist connotations (albeit not "purely," and I agree that there's some light-hearted irony and visual "pop" in there), yet he invalidates and dismisses people who, unlike him, still have enough pep to write about those connotations. His public announcement of his personal "racism fatigue" combined with his trivialization of the efforts of people who aren't so fatigued, effectively, gives a pass to those who will seize on his words as proof that the image is loaded with zero, zilch, nada baggage having anything to do with racist stereotypes.

Which would be perfectly consistent if he had announced that "There's no racism whatsoever in this image!" But he said "not purely racist," announced that he was sick and tired of racist issues, and then dismissed those who'd written about the racism that he acknowledges is in the image. Harding is not calling him an Uncle Tom or attacking his right to ignore something irrelevant to his life be tired of engaging yet another racially-loaded incident. She's calling out the publication of that inconsistency, because it makes it harder for non-fatigued others to be taken seriously when they call out the racism he acknowledges is in that image.

Re the principle:

Unlike some forms of privilege, ignoring nasty shit is the kind of option to which everybody ought to be able to avail themselves. In that sense, it's a right.

Sure! I have no problem with people who want to remain ignorant of nasty shit that doesn't affect them, if they don't presume to argue, confidently or confrontationally, about its nonexistence with people who are well-informed about that nasty shit. If they do so presume, then sure! I have a problem with it, but still fully support their right to put their ignorance on display. (Please note that I am not advocating the silencing of the ignorant. I have no problem with them arguing cautiously.)

What I've been pointing out is, that such discussions are circular. Ways to increase their potential for going somewhere useful include, for the uninformed parties, either arguing tentatively (ie be fully cognizant that drawing solely on personal experience means potentially significant gaps in knowledge about this topic), or informing themselves. I would consider this suggestion to be beneficial to the uninformed parties (hey, more knowledge! Cool!), but I gather that others here disagree. Perhaps one of you could explain in what way "Before arguing confidently about this topic, informing oneself about it, beyond what one knows of it from personal experience, would help the discussion go somewhere" places a, what, an unreasonable burden, inconvenience, imposition? on the uninformed parties.

Most other subjects on this site, nobody defends arguing confidently from ignorance / personal experience only, on topics that have accrued a substantial body of knowledge about whys and wherefores. To reiterate, I'm not attacking anybody's right to do that. I'm observing that it's unproductive, and that there's a solution. My solution places the onus on the uninformed, yes. If you have a more efficient solution, which happens to place the onus on the informed, I'm all ears.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 3:09 PM on May 18, 2009


Alternatively, could you please explain how trivializing invalidating and dismissing are not equivalent to "telling people to shut up"?

Well you do it yourself in your final paragraphs:

I have a problem with it, but still fully support their right to put their ignorance on display.

Your dismiss ignorance while not telling the ignorant to shut up. I think that's right. I think that's what Morris does, only with a protests about a fashion photograph.

In fact, I disagree with little in your last three paragraphs, except your implication that anyone, myself or Morris, is engaged in denying the existence of the racism in that photograph or elsewhere. -I- think the photograph is troublesomely racist. -Morris- thinks the photograph is troublesomely racist. Here's Morris:

Somebody at that magazine knew what he or she was doing. The picture's visual inspiration might be King Kong, but the narrative corollary is D.W. Griffith's Birth of a Nation. Men, lock up your ladies! Here comes LeBron!

So neither Morris nor I are ignorant or confidently asserting our ignorance. Why then, does everyone assume Morris doesn't understand the argument for the photograph's racism? Because it gave him a headache? That's Harding's narrative, but it's not accurate: she reframed his essay, trivialising his clear description of the racist overtones as "(sort of) lay[ing] out the argument."

So then the question is, why does he so dismiss these protests? Well, I'd like to identify a possibility that Harding ignores: this was in the midst of a campaign for president in which a black man was seeking office, but his victory was at that point in no way assured. Morris cares about the actual electoral results -more- than the attacks on cultural stereotypes. He saw a risk, which many black activists noted, that fighting the 'culture wars' in the midst of the campaign would undermine Obama's chances. And so, as many other oppressed groups have done, he chose to laugh off the insult in Vogue's cover. Not because it wasn't an insult, but because that was the best strategic thing for a black public opinion-leader to do in the name of the long term interests of his race. And in the midst of a primary between a black man and a white woman, a white woman took time out of her day to chastise him, to trivialize his analysis, and to imply that he is a race traitor rather than to try to figure out his motives or apply a truly charitable interpretation to his actions.

I'll even go one further: the uproar around the Vogue cover very likely led to the flattering photograph of Michelle Obama that was used a few months later. Vogue has a horrible track record on black cover photographs, and many commenters drew the public's attention to it. Shamed, named, and changed. Yet in the midst of that uproar, one white woman took time out to chastise a black man. Why? Privilege, in part, and also to assert a point: a white woman (say, Hillary Clinton?) can be a stauncher defender of black people than a black man. Remember March of 2008? In that moment, that's clearly the subtext.

So that leaves us with the principle: should people be able to ignore nasty shit that doesn't affect them? Yes. They ought to be able to do that: they ought to be able to be judged as individuals, not confused with all others who share their skin color. Unfortunately, we're very far from such an ideal world, but it nonetheless remains the ideal, the world we -ought- to live in. Historically, white people have been able to do this, and black people haven't been so lucky. That requires two separate fixes: first, white people need to -start- caring. Second, black people need to be able to -stop- caring. Harding focuses on the first, because that's her job, but in so doing, she forgets the second. She's so concerned by "who is speaking" that she forgets "who is being addressed."
posted by anotherpanacea at 5:35 AM on May 19, 2009


Heh.

Maybe the cover is a subtle dig at racism and the peope still stuck in the old ways of seeing not only black men but white women.

These days, the ugly brute of the 1940s poster has morphed into something else, and in the process voiced the quiet little fear that some white people harbor is happening, right there on the cover: the white women is no scared, helpless nymph, but a powerful person in her right who willingly goes to the powerful and attractive black man. The only fear there is the unseen one: happy, powerful and attractive people intermingling and nary a white man in site.

Annie Leibovitz probably had quite a grin on her face as she took those pictures.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 12:40 PM on May 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


You dismiss ignorance while not telling the ignorant to shut up. I think that's right. I think that's what Morris does, only with a protests about a fashion photograph.

I'm not telling them to shut up, but I've certainly strongly endorsed the idea that people ignorant of certain topics keep their mouths shut on those topics until they rectify the problem. It's a difference of degree ("You will" vs "I'd rather you..."), not kind. You can see the lack of a clear-cut distinction between the two upthread, where some interpreted my comments as "silencing." Maybe you're right and if Morris had a chance to clarify, he'd put it as I did in the bit you quote, but I think it's fair for people to have initially interpreted his and my comments as silencing.

In fact, I disagree with little in your last three paragraphs, except your implication that anyone, myself or Morris, is engaged in denying the existence of the racism in that photograph or elsewhere. . . . So neither Morris nor I are ignorant or confidently asserting our ignorance.

Ah, I didn't intend those 3 paragraphs to address the photograph specifically, or Morris or your comments about the photo. The intent was to address the larger issue of some Mefites and people IRL who argue in certain topics (racism and sexism figuring most frequently IME) from ignorance, but they don't realize that it's from ignorance, and when it's pointed out to them, they and others defend the practice.

Why then, does everyone assume Morris doesn't understand the argument for the photograph's racism?

Not me, as I hope I've made clear above. At least, I understand that he thinks there's racism in it (which doesn't mean he would know the particular arguments I would make about it, given how out of touch many people these days are about history).

Because it gave him a headache? That's Harding's narrative, but it's not accurate: she reframed his essay, trivialising his clear description of the racist overtones as "(sort of) lay[ing] out the argument."

It would indeed be trivializing if she had written "(sort of) lay[ing] out the argument that the photo has racist overtones," because of course you're right, Morris does lay out perfectly well how the photo has racist overtones. However, she was more specific:
He (sort of) lays out the argument in favor of the Vogue cover being part of a long tradition of racist imagery depicting black men as primal brutes coming after white women
"Long tradition" being the operative words. Morris refers only to the King Kong poster. He does a decent job of explaining the parallels, but Harding's not guilty of trivializing his analysis. It's already superficial. (Can't get more one-dimensional than "This photograph has racist overtones because of the similarity to this one poster.") Harding's words "long tradition" at least indicates the existence of layers.

So then the question is, why does he so dismiss these protests? Well, I'd like to identify a possibility that Harding ignores:

Could be. You do an excellent job of spinning plausibilities out of the nothing-other-than-"wiped out" that Morris gives the reader. Or, could be closer to Harding's interpretation. Not being mind readers, you and I will never know.

he chose to laugh off the insult in Vogue's cover.



He could've done that without implying that the people writing about the racism in it were hysterical.

rather than to try to figure out his motives or apply a truly charitable interpretation to his actions.

Imputing hysteria to others strongly magnifies the chances that they'll be inspired to uncharitability in return.

one white woman took time out to chastise a black man. Why? Privilege, in part, and also to assert a point: a white woman (say, Hillary Clinton?) can be a stauncher defender of black people than a black man.

I see I've made a mistake above. Obviously you do read minds!

So that leaves us with the principle: should people be able to ignore nasty shit that doesn't affect them? Yes. They ought to be able to do that: they ought to be able to be judged as individuals, not confused with all others who share their skin color.

Actually, I disagree with your equation of the first bolded part with the second. I agree with the second. I don't agree that the first amounts to the second. Empathy is in short enough supply as it is, without enshrining "being able to ignore nasty shit that doesn't affect one" as an ideal.

first, white people need to -start- caring. Second, black people need to be able to -stop- caring.

Yes to the first. The second? "Black people need to be able to -stop- caring about nasty shit that doesn't affect them"?

I argued earlier that racist stuff, even when subtle and "not pure" as in this photo, affects people. Being tired of it and deciding to disregard it is quite different from "not affected" by it. I suppose this might be an "agree to disagree" bean.

Harding focuses on the first, because that's her job, but in so doing, she forgets the second. She's so concerned by "who is speaking" that she forgets "who is being addressed."

Nope, she's got her eye on "who is being addressed": "some of his readers," the ones who don't see any possibility of racism in it at all, because 1. it's true that those black bastards are after our white women, 2. we're in a post-racial society and nobody really believes #1 anymore, or any number of other explanations detached from reality, who would take Morris's public denigration of people who want to talk about the racism in the photo, as confirmation that their preconceived, uninformed notions are correct. You think Harding's calling him a race traitor, I think she's calling his decision to publish that "hysteria" etc. train of thought an error of judgment.

You and I and BB and most Mefites see the complexities in photos like this (I like your interpretation, BB, it reminds me of a classic, uncomfortable but thought provoking SF novel), but as you say, we're not yet in an ideal world where most people can or want to see complexities. Anyway, my main point in linking the Harding essay was not for analysis of the photo, because I can see legitimately non-racist interpretations of it, but for exactly the sentences that I quoted. They stand on their own.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 5:18 PM on May 20, 2009


Have we talked about how Kate Harding is sort of a homophobe?
posted by electroboy at 6:39 AM on May 21, 2009


Huh, I hadn't read anything else of hers and certainly not that particular exchange. That comment is indefensible.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 8:29 AM on May 21, 2009


Which comment was indefensible? I don't see it.
posted by HopperFan at 1:24 PM on May 21, 2009


CI, I'm happy to continue this conversation for a while, so long as no one turns up and needs this space to discuss something metafilter-related.

Imputing hysteria to others strongly magnifies the chances that they'll be inspired to uncharitability in return.

Hysteria is a word bad choice, for all the history of misogyny that it carries. Yet Morris is clearly not using it in a gendered sense. I think you're right here.

Some points of disagreement: you repeat and expand the charge that Morris's analysis is insufficient, which is false. Not only does Morris discuss the poster, he discusses the fear of miscegenation, Birth of a Nation, and Vogue's track record on cover photography. He hits all the same points that other bloggers hit, which is likely because he's glossing their comments. He does it quickly, but it's a short piece.

Not being mind readers... Obviously you do read minds!

Submitted for your consideration. Also, and perhaps more imporantly, here:

But hey, we all know that if Obama gets eaten alive in the general, it'll be because Clinton destroyed the party by refusing to bow out when she still had a perfectly legal shot at the nomination and, you know, a 16-point lead going into the next primary. It sure won't be because we chose a candidate about whom little was known, instead of one who has, as Liss memorably put it, "been given a sustained colonoscopy by the press corps for 15 years."

Whether or not -you- were paying attention to the primaries in March, Harding was very much rooting for Clinton and was not at all sympathetic to the complaints about Bill Clinton's racist comments. Yet there's a moment she decided to remain silent rather than call out racism! That's understandable... she was worried that her candidate was losing. In this, she was much like Morris, who writes:

Between the outrage over Obama’s Jeremiah Wright problems and Bill Clinton’s unbelievable mutation from American’s first black president into Karl Rove, I don’t have the bandwidth to fight Anna Wintour.

This dispute is ALL ABOUT the Democratic primaries. I don't read minds, just texts.

Empathy is in short enough supply as it is, without enshrining "being able to ignore nasty shit that doesn't affect one" as an ideal.

I got the phrasing from Harding, but she obviously means 'being able to ignore nasty depictions of people who look superficially like me,' because the concern is that the nasty shit actually will affect that list: job, career, housing situation, etc. I want to care about people, but I don't want to lose my housing if my empathy slips for a moment! That's why I think it's not an empathy issue, it's an avoiding-generalization-on-the-basis-of-race issue. I'm all for empathy, but right now a black man has to worry about his fellows out of self-protection, not empathy. And that ain't right.

I argued earlier that racist stuff, even when subtle and "not pure" as in this photo, affects people. Being tired of it and deciding to disregard it is quite different from "not affected" by it. I suppose this might be an "agree to disagree" bean.

This is the meat of the matter. We should focus on this. I agree: depictions of black men in the popular press affect most black men, regardless of their differences from the depicted black man. But would you agree that they shouldn't? That is, would you agree that, as an ideal, a black male ought to be as easily confused with LeBron James as a white male is with Tom Brady, which is to say not at all easily confused? I can't see how you would disagree with this, yet you suggest we should 'agree to disagree.' You seem reasonable, I hope that I'm reasonable, too, so I don't want to agree to disagree on this point, I want to agree to agree!
posted by anotherpanacea at 2:18 PM on May 21, 2009


HopperFan, the bit I find indefensible is:
Maybe if you enjoyed putting something in your mouth every once in a while that wasn’t cock, Mr. Skin and Boners, you would see things differently. At least food is supposed to go in our mouths.
Implying that cocks in mouths are somehow wrong, which, ok, she's pissed off and has a right to be because I also consider his LARDASS crack indefensible, but to my mind the comments from both parties are egregiously juvenile.


anotherpanacea, sorry for dropping the conversation. Things got busy.

he discusses the fear of miscegenation, Birth of a Nation, and Vogue's track record on cover photography. He hits all the same points that other bloggers hit, which is likely because he's glossing their comments. He does it quickly, but it's a short piece.

You're right that Morris covers more breadth than I credited. Not depth, though. On racial issues, there's a crucially significant weight that's obliterated when analysis fails to even hint at the existence of causal chains that go back further (much further) than the beginning of the 20th century. Three centuries (in the US) and counting, of legal precedent and institutional discrimination backing up individual prejudice, packs a punch. Ignoring it allows people (not Morris, but a probably not insignificant proportion of the public and by extension some of his readers) to make false equivalencies like "Being called a cracker is just as bad as being called a nigger," "Black History Month? What about White History Month?" and rely on default assumptions of oversensitivity, victim-playing, exceptionalism etc, to explain away ongoing racially charged callouts.

Whether or not -you- were paying attention to the primaries in March, Harding was very much rooting for Clinton and was not at all sympathetic to the complaints about Bill Clinton's racist comments.

Correct, I wasn't. However, I don't see where the 2 linked pieces show her defending Clinton's comments or being unsympathetic to complaints about them...

Yet there's a moment she decided to remain silent rather than call out racism!

...but ah I see, you're not interpreting actual words, but rather the absence of certain ones. I take it that you read through all her writing that month to make sure that indeed, she never ever mentions it (aside from the mention in the original "Racism Fatigue" piece)? If so then yes, I agree that that interpretation of her silence is plausible. It's not concrete enough for me to agree that it's a certainty that Harding's motivation was for writing this piece was in part "to assert [that] a white woman (say, Hillary Clinton?) can be a stauncher defender of black people than a black man." It's possible, is as far as I'll go, because that is a pretty darned specific intention to attribute to someone based on the indirect evidence of word absences.

Empathy is in short enough supply as it is, without enshrining "being able to ignore nasty shit that doesn't affect one" as an ideal.

I got the phrasing from Harding, but she obviously means 'being able to ignore nasty depictions of people who look superficially like me,'

It goes much much much further than mere depictions, and also, "being able to ignore nasty depictions of people who look superficially like me" doesn't make any sense in the original context:
Because I care about being anti-racist, I do go looking, do make an effort to educate myself about patterns of racism I wouldn’t automatically recognize [but] I also have the option . . . to ignore nasty shit that doesn’t directly affect my own life, my career, my relationships, my bank account,

it's not an empathy issue, it's an avoiding-generalization-on-the-basis-of-race issue. I'm all for empathy, but right now a black man has to worry about his fellows out of self-protection, not empathy. And that ain't right.
This is the meat of the matter. We should focus on this. I agree: depictions of black men in the popular press affect most black men, regardless of their differences from the depicted black man. But would you agree that they shouldn't? That is, would you agree that, as an ideal, a black male ought to be as easily confused with LeBron James as a white male is with Tom Brady, which is to say not at all easily confused?


Yes, of course. However, this framing, aside from the considerable significance of reducing barriers re bank accounts, mortgages, careers etc, to mere "depictions," is... I think what's happening here is, you're taking Harding's "nasty shit" phrase out to apply it to intra-race dynamics, to black men relating, or not, to other black men. Sure, in that context, of course I agree that "as an ideal, a black male ought to be as easily confused with LeBron James as a white male is with Tom Brady, which is to say not at all easily confused."

What I'm saying is, changing the context, from inter-racial to intra-racial, makes the issue entirely different. Entirely. Such that it's consistent for me to agree with it, and to continue to defend the original sentences blockquoted above. That change in context is a false equivalency (sophisticated and well-intentioned, unlike stupid ones like the White History Month one, I should emphasize). The key points of the orginal sentences are precisely 1. the inter-racial context, where 2. there's a vast power differential, collectively speaking, between the groups in question: the power conveyed (collectively speaking) in having certain experiences and attitudes (shared predominantly by one group rather than others), institutionalized over the past few centuries and continuing into the present, as at best "ideal" and at worst, "normal."

Glossing over those key points by changing the context to intra-racial terms may seem like it invalidates the principle Harding outlines, but at a deeper level, it's simply creating a different principle. One that's so different, it's perfectly valid in itself, and at the same time, not relevant to the original.

You seem reasonable, I hope that I'm reasonable, too

Yep, this has been good opportunity to exercise debate muscles dispassionately. Thanks!
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 11:34 AM on May 28, 2009


Unless I'm missing some sort of clue on Savage's writeup, isn't the cocks-vs-food snipe something from the original letter-writer, not something Harding said?
posted by cortex (staff) at 11:40 AM on May 28, 2009


I take it that you read through all her writing that month to make sure that indeed, she never ever mentions it

I'm sad to say that I did, at least at her two blogs. I was in the middle of grading season, and it was more fun.

the considerable significance of reducing barriers re bank accounts, mortgages, careers etc, to mere "depictions," is...

I'm talking about depictions because the subject was a Vogue cover photograph, which depicts LeBron James as an enraged animal. Of course there are real barriers, and they really matter: but that's not what Morris or Harding are discussing.

What I'm saying is, changing the context, from inter-racial to intra-racial, makes the issue entirely different. Entirely. Such that it's consistent for me to agree with it, and to continue to defend the original sentences blockquoted above. That change in context is a false equivalency

Phew. It sounds like we agree on all the relevant issues. I'm going to defend myself very very briefly on the false equivalence charge, and then probably let the matter drop.

You suggest that I switch contexts from inter- to intra-racial. In fact, it is Harding who switches from intra- to inter-racial. I am merely restoring the original context. Morris is speaking about the depiction of a black man like himself. Harding, a white woman, intervenes in this intra-racial moment to point out possible inter-racial consequences. Harding is exercising white privilege by claiming the right to re-contextualize Morris. He can speak freely, but she controls what his words mean, she's the arbiter of adequate outrage or adequate critical appraisal of the history of racism.

It's been a pleasure, cybercoitus interruptus. Be well.
posted by anotherpanacea at 12:09 PM on May 28, 2009


anotherpanecea, cortex just said what I was getting at (though I did it in a much more roundabout way) - Kate Harding didn't say that. That quote comes from another reader who emailed Dan Savage.
posted by HopperFan at 2:52 PM on May 28, 2009


HopperFan, I think you mean to be responding to cybercoitus interruptus's comment here.
posted by anotherpanacea at 3:58 PM on May 28, 2009


anotherpanacea, I apologize, you're right. One of my eyes is just about swollen shut from a stye, so I guess my text perception is a bit off - that's my story and I'm sticking to it, anyway. [sigh]
posted by HopperFan at 6:34 PM on May 28, 2009


Thanks for the correction, cortex and HopperFan. I'll take refuge in the idea that at that point my bean micro-analysis skills were getting tired.

but that's not what Morris or Harding are discussing


Morris wasn't. Harding used the photo as an example to make a broader point that encompassed depictions and barriers. My position has been that the example and the meaning she derives from it can be rejected but that the broader point stands, that there exists a dispiritingly common blind spot re racial issues that can be rectified (by seeking out information). My extension from that stands, too: and people who presume to get argumentative about those issues, if they are in good faith, would rectify it.

You suggest that I switch contexts from inter- to intra-racial. In fact, it is Harding who switches from intra- to inter-racial. I am merely restoring the original context.

ok, but the two contexts aren't like matter and anti-matter. They can co-exist, since as I argue above there's the narrower point about Morris's reaction to the photo, and the broader one, about barriers and seeking out info about them.

It turned out to be fun, anotherpanacea. You be well, too.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 8:08 PM on May 31, 2009


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