#poctakeover: The White Allies Thread January 23, 2020 12:24 PM   Subscribe

Following on from the massive work done by the POC community within MetaFilter, it was suggested in that MeTa that we set up a thread as a sort of “White Caucus”. Welcome to that thread!

With major thanks to suedehead for the fantastic links, which enabled me to put this post together.

“If you are a White person who aspires to be a “co-conspirator” or “ally” in the struggle for racial justice, you must start with yourself. You can organize, protest, write, give money, volunteer, and talk to other White people. All of those things will be impossible, however, if you do not have a community of people who can hold you accountable for those behaviors, help you to improve your practices, and provide emotional support. It is unreasonable to expect people of color to hold your hand through that process, so collect your people, and get to work.”

What we’re trying to do here:
- “provide a space where White People can share struggles and challenge each other as they seek to uncover the depths of their internalized racist superiority and build their capacity for solidarity with People of Color”
- Also, a space for People of Colour to request that White People "do something" about a particular situation where People of Color may be at greater risk
- Be accountable: “making sure that individuals and groups are held in check for their decisions and actions and for whether the work being done reflects and embodies racial justice principles.”
- Use this group space to help each of us build on our individual self work, so that we individually and collectively can be effective partners for change.
- We are doing this as a separate piece of work to the work which POC are doing within Metafilter, because “Truly there is much to learn from People of Color, but they are often in positions where they must educate White People. Caucusing allows People of Color freedom from responsibility for White People's education, placing the responsibility instead on the White People themselves.”
- “Get our hands dirty” We cannot be effective in partnering for change if we stay in our heads; we need to be courageous to engage, be vulnerable, feel, and be imperfect
- Discuss and support both individual and collective actions, recognise the power of both to create social change

What we want to accomplish:
- Work together, and do our own work, to move from colluding with a system of racism to taking responsibility, and taking action to end racism
- “Share our stories of struggle, success, mistakes, and reconciliation. Doing so most importantly illuminates the path for others to follow.”
- We must be accountable, but we must not place this accountability as a further burden on People of Colour. Our POC mefites must determine how they wish to engage with this group, if they wish to, and are under no obligation to do so at all. Above all we must listen to what POC are saying, and have already said, about how we can and should be accountable.

- Have you already started your own self-work? This has to start before we engage with others, and should continue indefinitely. We all need to explore our own relationship to whiteness, white privilege, systems of oppression and intersectional oppression before we can do this collaboratively.
- Examine your intentions – “stay motivated towards liberation and healing rather than self loathing and/or denial”
- If you feel uncomfortable with the idea of a separate “White” thread, examine that feeling. “How can we come together when we are apart from each other?” These are sensible questions but they are built on the premise that we are starting from a similar analysis of how race impacts us as individuals and on the interpersonal and institutional levels.”
- Leave your ego at the door - we are doing this for ourselves and for white people, not as a favour: “The “white folks work” you do in an affinity group is a part of reckoning with your own identity, and how that identity intersects with your desire to undo racism. This is not a paternalistic gift you are giving to your friends of color; it is a part of making you a stronger advocate for something you believe to be just.”

What does good participating look like?
- Self-aware: keeping white privilege at the top of our minds, constantly self-reflect and learn
- Non-defensive: listen to critical feedback and use this to continue our learning and development as allies. We must be genuinely willing to be held accountable.
- Humility: admit what we do not know and continue to learn
- “The main goal [of allies] is to develop relationships of solidarity, mutuality and trust, rooted in a praxis of intentional anti-racist thought, action and reflection.”

It is vital to hold ourselves fully accountable, but it is hard. We must be honest with ourselves and each other, and do the work, but lets also try to be kind.
posted by greenish to MetaFilter-Related at 12:24 PM (107 comments total) 86 users marked this as a favorite

Thanks to greenish for putting this together, and to suedehead for the assist on resources and to folks in the MeFi PoC community in general for the effort involved to date in trying to push this place forward in how we work toward being a more inclusive and supportive and anti-racist site. Most of the work that needs doing here is by its nature work that we all need to be doing, so I hope this thread can be a useful place for folks to talk through the what and the how of it all together.
posted by cortex (staff) at 12:36 PM on January 23, 2020 [5 favorites]

Thank you for starting this thread, greenish.

In the recent #poctakeover MeTa, there was mention of "101-level" topics, which made me think about where to direct people for that sort of stuff and yep, there are a couple of wiki pages:plus I came across a couple of US-oriented FPPs:If anyone has more resources, particularly more non-US resources, that would be welcome.

To be clear though, Conspire's mention of 101-level topics in the previous thread was to say that performative allyship or hammering on more basic issues should not dominate conversation in threads which touch on race and ethnicity, to avoid clamor and so that deeper discussions can proceed. Discussions which in most cases allies can listen to and learn from, rather than interjecting.
posted by XMLicious at 1:25 PM on January 23, 2020 [13 favorites]

Thanks for this post, and huge thanks to suedehead and other MeFites who have contributed in prior discussions to identify ways that allies can and should do more and do better. To that --

What we’re trying to do here:
- “provide a space where White People can share struggles and challenge each other as they seek to uncover the depths of their internalized racist superiority and build their capacity for solidarity with People of Color”

A general reminder, for myself included: things outside your/my "normal" is not "weird," and in fact, your/my "normal" may be decidedly "weird" in other contexts and cultures. For example: durian (an example of a thread that had a questionable original post, some decidedly non-supportive comments, then illustrative and informative push-back).

If anyone has more resources, particularly more non-US resources, that would be welcome.

A timely post: how to be a good indigenous ally (written by Summer May Finlay, a Yorta Yorta woman), with seven tips "in lieu of an 'ally handbook'."

#2 is a good one, and one that I think has already started to reshape MetaFilter for the better: Be ok with not always being part of the conversation.

The complication, if it is a complication, is more of the complex posts, or posts outside of the largely western, white experiences of MeFites tend to have fewer comments than before. On the upside: no harmful comments. On the downside: this can be discouraging for posters who are looking for feedback and/or a conversation.

Final note, to myself as much as others: stand up to comments that seem/ feel/ are out-of-line. If you don't feel comfortable making a public comment, flag the comment with a note for the mods, who have been doing more to visibly shape discussions, by way of mod comments in-thread.
posted by filthy light thief at 1:31 PM on January 23, 2020 [12 favorites]

I'm glad to have this space.

One thing that has come up for me a number of times is that I'll see something interesting, often about a person, cultural thing, phenomenon, music, movie, etc. - which is not about me or from within my culture.

My general instinct is that having more posts about things that are outside of the metafilter cultural norm (e.g., white, American, middle class, college educated, etc.) is a good goal and having those posts provides space for people with more context to share it in comments. I try not to leap to post about something timebound or immediate, with the thought that someone with a stronger connection might step in to post it first, but given that caveat, I do tend to post those things.

The extra wrinkle here for me is that I know how alienating and othering and upsetting it can be for a post about a thing (person/place/etc) you care deeply about to go poorly or be ignored, and I don't want to accidentally provide a space for that to happen. I'm generally pretty OK pushing back when people are being shitty or deraily on things I post, and I should commit to being better at pushing back when people are being shitty or deraily on things other people post, and commenting on less-trafficked posts as well.

I would be interested to hear how other mefites weight these issues!
posted by ChuraChura at 2:12 PM on January 23, 2020 [8 favorites]

Thanks for this. I work in a profession, librarianship, which has a whiteness problem. What that means is that the racial makeup of the population of librarians isn't anywhere near the racial makeup of their communities. And you get a lot of the same stupid excuses, "pipeline problem" and etc. This is an issue in a few ways

1. Convincing many people that yes, this is a problem. I see that as basically one of my jobs.
2. Working with PoC and allies to actually make effective change while at the same time acknowledging that PoC in librarianship often (usually) are already doing extra work and so trying to lighten their load w/r/t this
3. Trying to be supportive of good efforts while at the same time being really clear that the work is never done.

And, along these lines but not inside them: call out bullshit when at all possible, though sometimes using a language that the call-out-ee will understand. I moderate a really large FB group of librarians not all of whom are on board with this, so there are some times when I am using language that can seem a little 101, but it's often just to make sure we're all at the same page (i.e. a very gentle "There's really no such thing as reverse racism" comment instead of what I am actually thinking and giving someone a reading list)

I agree with flt here, I've really been trying to comment less, fave more, send MeMails to people who I am trying to support maybe instead of diving into a thread where my perspective seems to already be in evidence.

The big exception to this ^^^ is conversations about Judaism which is lateral to this thread so I won't dwell on it.

The things that are still hard for me, but I am working on

- trying to make sure I am not using us/them language about cultural things that I might presume to be more universal than they are. For intentional language stuff generally I read The Conscious Style Guide and it helps me understand more about cultures I don't have direct experience with, without having to ask people to explain things to me.
- Not jumping to the defense of white people. This is more in MeFi posts where there's some "Some library did something bonkers" and even if I think "well they had their reasons, even if they were dumb" and commenting, listening more to the people who were affected directly and not jumping to the defense of white people who should have known better and didn't.

And in my non-MeFi life, sometimes it's actual bean-counting. How many books by POC did I read last year? How many Wikipedia articles did I add or work on that were about POC? How did I make those choices? How could I make them differently? I really want to not just not be racist, but actively be anti-racist (and think this is necessary in the US at this time) but it involves changing certain things about myself and my usual IRL quieter nature. It's hard and I don't love it. At the same time I feel it's effective.

When I joined the Board of Directors of the VT Humanities Council my main question for them was "Why should I possibly join an all White board?" and their answer, which I thought was actually okay was "We'd like to have more POC on the board but we have to set the stage for that with the older, stodgier members" and my hope is that when I leave, thanks in small part to my work on the Membership and Governance subcommittee (and a very progressive Director), we'll have three more POC on the board than when we started and that can only make VHC stronger and better.
posted by jessamyn (retired) at 2:53 PM on January 23, 2020 [30 favorites]

And the main thing I struggle with, posted here in a separate comment, is the fine line between "virtue signalling" that I've been doing whatever I've been doing, and just passing along accomplishments in a "Hey, you can do it too" way. Challenging stuff sometimes.
posted by jessamyn (retired) at 2:57 PM on January 23, 2020 [10 favorites]

First off, bazillion thanks to everyone who made this thread possible. If I didn’t have a splitting headache, digestive problems, a super annoying temporary housemate, work deadlines, and a dying dad I would maybe have the spoons to actually participate in this thread on a deeper level. Instead, I will have to come back to that later. But I do want to respond to something that ChuraChura wrote:

My general instinct is that having more posts about things that are outside of the metafilter cultural norm (e.g., white, American, middle class, college educated, etc.) is a good goal and having those posts provides space for people with more context to share it in comments.

That’s kind of my assumption and I hope it’s true. Recently I posted a FPP about a long read written in 2015 by a Black correspondent returning to the UK. I thought it was both fascinating and depressing. I also thought since it was so old, I was not stealing someone else’s thunder and rushing to action. Which, as several people may recall, is something that I have done, disastrously, in the past. I am trying to be more thoughtful about what I post.
posted by Bella Donna at 4:42 PM on January 23, 2020 [3 favorites]

(Not looking for a cookie!)
posted by Bella Donna at 4:43 PM on January 23, 2020 [1 favorite]

I mostly just try to stay quiet online unless I'm in a smaller space without PoC voices, at which point it is incumbent on me to speak out.

Does anyone have a good explainer for cultural appropriation? A couple years back, my mom and aunt were both very indignant about some incident where a woman had thrown a birthday party for her daughter who "loved Japan" and dressed her up as a geisha and then posted photos online and then gotten pushback because jesus fuck lady why. I have tried a couple of times to explain why that event was facepalm-worthy whereas my mom wearing her Indian shawl or Mexican poncho (we're super duper white) is not in itself problematic. (My take: geishas are a very stereotypically Japanese thing and posting images online is inherently performative and takes your actions public where just having a quiet personal geisha party and not telling anyone wouldn't have been as much of a problem, and no just because one of their Japanese friends said they thought it was fine doesn't make it fine for everyone.)

Anyway, it would help if I could find someone cleverer and more concise than I am to do a clean summation of the issue of cultural appropriation, preferably one that would help my mother feel like she has a toolset to assess new situations. (Her current stance is "I don't understand any of it so I'm just not going to ever engage with anything online again woe alas *drama hand*.")
posted by Scattercat at 4:49 PM on January 23, 2020 [1 favorite]

Scattercat, I hear you. Sometimes for me what can be helpful talking about appropriation is taking it from whatever happened in the past, to ways to do better in the future.

Like, even though I agree with you (jesus fuck lady why), I could imagine some sort of perfect-past situation (maybe that Japanese friend actually helped the kid with her costume and there was part of the party devoted to learning about the history and culture of Japan) but that information wasn't in evidence in the set of online photos.

So you can have more of a thought exercise "What would have been an okay way to do this? What would be a better way to do the next one? Is there a way they could have done what they did in a way that would be appropriate? Why is there a problem with how they did this? Why do you think they didn't do it in that better way? Is there a way to talk with them about this?"

I think the last few questions specifically help address how Whiteness can maybe be invisible to the geisha-party people but is informing their actions in a way that is insensitive, appropriative and rude in a larger-online setting. And that the difference between those two matters a lot. Basically posting something online comes with an unspoken "What do you think?" because of the comment box.

Sometimes I think it's better to look at this in the context of like large superstar appropriation issues like this one with Katy Perry so the message can be more "What's a good way to think about this" and not "Was it okay for my friends to get chastised"

It's a little odd but maybe trying to figure out what the 101 explainer would be on your mom's turf. Like, there's a socialjustice 101 reddit community but maybe that's not for them. Maybe Everyday Feminisms explainer? Or Ms.Magazine talking about Halloween?
posted by jessamyn (retired) at 5:14 PM on January 23, 2020 [6 favorites]

Oh hell yes, I'm SO glad we're doing this.

Scattercat, I remember somebody (Eyebrows McGee?) had a comment in a cultural appropriation thread about how there are items that have a special meaning within a culture, and seeing them used out of context, by people outside of that culture was jarring. They used the example of somebody wearing a Purple Heart just as decoration, without caring what it was or what it represented, and how wrong that would feel to most of us in the USA.
posted by selfmedicating at 5:16 PM on January 23, 2020 [5 favorites]

I'm interested in an issue of intersectionality, I think? Specifically the current disability/abelism thread has got me thinking about white people who are disabled or neuroatypical who want very much to be allies to POC but who might have trouble with, say, the complexity of language on a given day, or perceptions of persecution, or just not having the spoons and feeling like absolute shit for it. This is so important not just for general reasons like racism bad but specifically to lift up the POC in disabled and neuroatypical groups. Are there resources for this? People who are writing about this?
posted by Mizu at 6:11 PM on January 23, 2020 [9 favorites]

Final note, to myself as much as others: stand up to comments that seem/ feel/ are out-of-line. If you don't feel comfortable making a public comment, flag the comment with a note for the mods, who have been doing more to visibly shape discussions, by way of mod comments in-thread.

I would like to add to this that sometimes people see a comment that maybe isn't something you'd flag for modding, but where someone should jump in and do some race 101 explaining or a gentle call-out, and it's obviously a big burden to always leave that to POC to deal with. Thinking particularly about the comment above about intersectionality, a person who spots this kind of thing isn't maybe always able to respond to it themselves (maybe you just don't have the spoons right now). I for one, and I'm sure a bunch of other people in this thread, would be happy to be contacted (via memail or a note in this thread or whatever) and maybe we could take turns attempting some of this work? Not saying I'm always going to get it right, but I'm happy to try.
posted by lollusc at 7:34 PM on January 23, 2020 [3 favorites]

Re. how to talk about things like the geisha party--learn to walk before you run. You don't need to understand everything about a thorny subject like cultural appropriation to realize that it's not okay to wear another person's culture as a costume. (I wish I had pressed my co-worker about this when she brought up her "g*psy" Halloween costume. I couldn't find the words and I regret it.)

Then if you want to go a step farther than that, explain how costumes reduce things to stereotypes, which is fine if you're stereotyping a firefighter or Harry Potter but not if you're stereotyping based on racial or cultural identity. And when you apply stereotypes to cultures and races, you weaponize them. You turn real people into cartoon characters. I think that's easier to understand and it doesn't implicate your mom for wearing a pashmina.
posted by zeusianfog at 7:37 PM on January 23, 2020 [2 favorites]

Oh, I'd be totally fine being on batsignal to come be a Loud White Guy wherever needed. By personal inclination, I'll happily explain and/or argue until the sun goes down. I just don't want to be a bother.
posted by Scattercat at 10:53 PM on January 23, 2020 [1 favorite]

I was lucky to have been introduced to Peggy McIntosh very early in my adulthood. Her White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack is from the 80s! but still very useful to me, and with some thought can help with understanding other kinds of privilege. I'm one of a few learning professionals in a national (Canadian) org, and just in the course of business I end up being the one needing to call out assumptions that we're all the same. I'm lower on the org chart but I'm grateful that they listen.

My biggest challenge on MeFi is this: when I see someone say "there's no room in this thread for me". How do we take a thread that's gone down a closed road and reopen it? Is it as simple as saying, "Hey, [username], I would like to hear what you have to say?" Or is that too much pressure?
posted by wellred at 5:07 AM on January 24, 2020 [4 favorites]

My biggest challenge on MeFi is this: when I see someone say "there's no room in this thread for me". How do we take a thread that's gone down a closed road and reopen it? Is it as simple as saying, "Hey, [username], I would like to hear what you have to say?" Or is that too much pressure?

No. That phrasing ignores what made the individual leave the thread and what they're feeling. Don't ask for that. Do the work to make the space better.

Take a minute and ask: why's there no room in this thread? Who's contributing to that? What should I be pushing back on right now whether or not people come back to the thread? What should I be paying attention to earlier in threads to create a better discussion space?
posted by bfranklin at 6:13 AM on January 24, 2020 [4 favorites]

Yes, and then what action to take? Yes, asking myself those questions is a really good thing, but then, and this may be an impossible question to answer without a specific thread in mind, what to write?
posted by wellred at 6:26 AM on January 24, 2020

Hi, I'm also very glad that we have this thread—thanks to greenish and suedehead. I don't have much to add right now but I'm listening.

I don't comment that much on MeFi; what I do most often is leave small positive comments on posts I liked, which tend to be threads without very much discussion or argument in them. I would like to contribute to a better MeFi experience for POC members, and I hear what people are asking us to do re: pushing back on racism and assumptions, etc., but it feels like I would have to go looking for that kind of conversation in order to do so. I don't bump into it much. (That could definitely be my white obliviousness talking!)
posted by daisyk at 6:28 AM on January 24, 2020 [1 favorite]

wellred: My biggest challenge on MeFi is this: when I see someone say "there's no room in this thread for me". How do we take a thread that's gone down a closed road and reopen it? Is it as simple as saying, "Hey, [username], I would like to hear what you have to say?" Or is that too much pressure?

Depends on the thread, and the individual(s). If it's not a space for that discussion, be OK with not always being part of the conversation.

If there's a similar or parallel discussion that would be a better fit for the individual(s), someone can make that thread and have that discussion, much like this is a space for allies to discuss strategies, operating adjacent to the original #poctakeover thread.

But if it is a space for that discussion with that/those individual(s), and their voices are being drowned out by people who are in the wrong (space), the push-back should be on those who are in the wrong.
posted by filthy light thief at 7:05 AM on January 24, 2020 [3 favorites]

I have put a lot of the recent #poctakeover threads on my "recent activity" page using the "add to activity" button.

Maybe everyone is already doing this but that button's been there awhile now and I almost never used it until this month, and maybe there are others who could use the reminder. I've been finding it very useful for following the discussions in those threads without having to first throw in my two cents.
posted by jacquilynne at 7:30 AM on January 24, 2020 [6 favorites]

One encouraging trend I’ve seen is white Mefites taking the time to listen and take a breath when another user points out racism in their comment, instead of raising defensive hackles and firing off a bunch of denial comments that just escalate the hurt. Learning to accept (but not be complacent about) making mistakes is good growth, because we all make them. If you feel hurt, called out, spiky, panicking (the white fragility response that many of us get) you can take some time and a break from the thread. Gather yourself and the thread will still be there. The fact that these are often thoughtless offenses means the person critiquing you isn’t under any impression you were sitting there, twirling your mustache about how to hurt people with a racist comment, so you don’t need to explain “but I didn’t mean to...”
posted by sallybrown at 8:02 AM on January 24, 2020 [8 favorites]

the fine line between "virtue signalling" that I've been doing whatever I've been doing, and just passing along accomplishments in a "Hey, you can do it too" way

In my experience, people who fling accusations of virtue signalling are the same ones who use "social justice warrior" as a pejorative and whine endlessly about the rising tide of political correctness or postmodern cultural marxism or whatever other fearsome made-up threat to society is doing the rounds on Faux this week.

There is no point in worrying what these ineducable clogwinkles think, and nothing to be gained from pandering to them or in fact in from engaging with them in any way beyond keeping enough of an eye on them to remain able to outnumber and out-organize them.

Virtue should be signalled, if for no better reason than to remind us all what it looks like and encourage it to spread.
posted by flabdablet at 8:17 AM on January 24, 2020 [1 favorite]

The harmful kind of virtue signaling I’ve seen at times here is a cross between virtue signaling and white knighting, where a white user jumps into a nuanced conversation with an unnecessary callout that steps on the conversation and insults the users of color who were participating. Like they are defending hypothetical people of color while hurting actual people of color in the thread. It’s definitely complicated by not wanting to leave the job of pushback against racist behavior to users of color. But quite often it seems like if the white user had listened more closely, not jumped to conclusions (especially the assumption that the other participants in the thread are white), and not given into the desire to center themselves (“watch me be the good white person”), it could have been avoided. Or at least not doubled-down when the other users in the thread tried to explain why the concern didn’t apply.
posted by sallybrown at 8:35 AM on January 24, 2020 [18 favorites]

One thing I've struggled with bringing to folks' attention - particularly here on MeFi - is winding down the use of the term "Middle East" when referring to the geographic region and its inhabitants. This was brought to my attention while collaborating with a Pakistani-American producer on a documentary story two years ago. She tipped me to the term SWANA (Southwest Asia / North Africa), which has gained traction here in Los Angeles, at least:
S.W.A.N.A. is a decolonial word for the South West Asian/ North African (S.W.A.N.A.) region in place of Middle Eastern, Near Eastern, Arab World or Islamic World that have colonial, Eurocentric, and Orientalist origins and are created to conflate, contain and dehumanize our people. We use SWANA to speak to the diversity of our communities and to forward the most vulnerable in our liberation. ... We invite all members of our communities of the South West Asian and North African region, including but not limited to: Kurds, Nubians, Sudanese, Armenians, Circassians, Arabs, Iranians, Druze, Assyrians, Chaldeans, Turks, Yazidis, Azeris, Turkmen, Afghans, Copts, Imazighen, and other identities and their intersections.
I'm aware this may seem like just as large an umbrella as the one it purports to replace, but since it comes from within the affected communities, I've always felt duty bound to propagate it as a white ally.

I've always hesitated to throw this into relevant threads for fear of a linguistic derail, but this seems like someplace to note it for awareness, at least.
posted by mykescipark at 8:48 AM on January 24, 2020 [40 favorites]

Mizu: I don't have time to frame it right now for a general discussion, but there are definitely people talking about the needs and experiences of disabled POC! A quick cursory look found this series from a Ramp Your Voice survey and this Everyday Feminism piece about intersectional experience to be particularly helpful resources and links. With respect to neurodiversity, this interview with Morénike Giwa-Onaiwu is really valuable for a black autistic woman's perspective. And this piece from the Chicago Reader does a really good job laying out the way that police violence is especially dangerous for young black autistic men, which is a massive and really under-discussed problem. People tend not to put two and two together on "police violence is very bad for young black men" and "police violence is very bad for young autistic men" and consider that these are two experiences that are not mutually exclusive, often with deadly results.
posted by sciatrix at 9:11 AM on January 24, 2020 [8 favorites]

Also: if I don't know anything about a topic and the discussion is very quiet, I find that asking questions about things I don't know very much about often goes over well by creating a place for further discussions to bounce off of. I don't mean wading into busy discussions where there are already people talking, but I think this might help some with the culture of silence around the interesting posts from non-Anglo-(American) cultural backgrounds we see.

When I do this, I often try to draw some parallel between an aspect of my life that I am familiar with and the struggles or joys or experiences that someone else is choosing to share with me, and ask if the parallel is correct. If it's not, usually that is an interesting conversation in its own right: how are they different? And if it is, I can build on that parallel to create a conversation about how we are unexpectedly alike. When I walk into a thread like that, I try not to assume I know anything at all going in; instead, I try to create a space where someone else might feel comfortable telling me something new.

I don't know if that is useful information for anyone, but it's the tack I try to take.
posted by sciatrix at 9:19 AM on January 24, 2020 [12 favorites]

There is definitely a fine line between speaking up as an ally and talking over PoCs in a thread. It’s an easier thing to gauge in a meeting or other interaction, but online takes more finesse.
posted by GenjiandProust at 10:09 AM on January 24, 2020 [2 favorites]

So, as a PoC, something I need to remind allies of is to be mindful of intersectionality when talking about PoC. Specifically, that black and brown middle-class, college-educated folk exist and they often have different experiences in society than their less privileged peers. I often see a lot of broad-sweeping generalizations in discussions of things like gentrification, higher education, interactions with law enforcement, and dealing with bureaucracy that make pretty big assumptions about the experiences of PoC. I know these comments mean well and are indicative of being at least somewhat thoughtful about discrimination, but they can also be alienating to PoC who really aren't that far off the Metafilter socioeconomic norm.
posted by blerghamot at 3:46 PM on January 24, 2020 [18 favorites]

One encouraging trend I’ve seen is white Mefites taking the time to listen and take a breath when another user points out racism in their comment, instead of raising defensive hackles and firing off a bunch of denial comments that just escalate the hurt.

So, I had one of my comments mentioned in this vein in the original #poctakeover thread, and one of the things I've been thinking of doing was talking about the experience of being called out. I decided that would be inappropriate in the other thread, but now that this one is here, I will.

Being called out sucked.

When Conspire originally called out my post, I reacted poorly. I was defensive and upset -- I could feel an actual adrenaline response: my face and neck got hot and my hands got cold. I typed out a post that would explain why Conspire was wrong and I was not a racist and my comment was not racist and he was reading into my words things I never said or meant or said or meant or ...

And then I realized that if I made that comment, I would just sound worse. I wasn't, at that point, particularly concerned about anything other than how other people might conceive of me and whether I was being treated fairly. I deleted the comment.

And then I started writing a comment that would shading things in a way that would hopefully allow me to defend myself while not making me look more racist. And then while I was crawling through Conspire's post looking for details I could point at to say "aha! this is not what I said and you are misreading me" I actually started to read the details of the post carefully. And understand them. And recognize that even if he wasn't 100% accurately gleaning my meaning or intent at all times, his meaning and intent was still clear and basically true, and maybe I needed to stop being so defensive. Which would have the added benefit of making me not look more racist.

So, the comment I actually made was not 100% absolutely what I was feeling at the time I was posting it. I was starting to feel sorry, but I was also still feeling defensive . I could see where I was wrong but I still really wanted to defend myself on some points I just knew it would make me look like an asshole, so I didn't.

Timestamps show that it took me about 1/2 an hour to get from neck-burning "how dare you!" to an apology that was partly sincere and partly personal PR. Half an hour later, by the time another reply came in calling my response graceful, I was actually kind of embarrassed by that -- even though that had been the reaction I was hoping for just a short time before. By then I'd read Conspire's post a few more times and spent more time sitting with my thoughts, and had come to the point where my defensiveness had dribbled away and I just felt bad about my original comment. I didn't really want to be given a cookie for responding well to being called out, I wanted not to have done the thing I was called out for and I wanted to become the more careful, thoughtful person I had just promised to try to become.

Being called out still sucked.

I am saying that again because white people like to imagine there's a very precise way in which people of colour could educate us on racial issues without us ever having to be uncomfortable with that education. That we could sit in a classroom and be told 'here are all the racist things you should stop doing' in a generic, non-confrontational way that doesn't put the blame on any one person and then we would stop doing them and racism would be solved and it wouldn't have to suck for anyone. But these are personal changes that we have to make within ourselves, commitments we have to make to be better, and if oblique, general lessons presented in exactly the right conciliatory tone were going to make us internalize those changes, it would have happened by now because we have all read those "10 things you can do to be less racist" twitter threads. Sometimes we are just going to have to be uncomfortable. And that sucks -- but not as bad as the alternative.
posted by jacquilynne at 4:46 PM on January 24, 2020 [41 favorites]

> Being called out sucked.

I had a similar thing happen in real life a few years ago, deservedly so, and yeah, it sucked. Have you read White Fragility? It helped me a lot figure out how to not reply immediately and defensively (I'm still working on what to do after that part).
posted by The corpse in the library at 5:14 PM on January 24, 2020

I'm trying to do better about just not responding to any kind of call out until I've slept on it or otherwise stopped having *feelings* about it. It's really hard. And sometimes it means you don't get to defend yourself at all when something really is unfair (like the time someone literally didn't see a "not" in something I wrote and read it as the opposite of my intention).

But you know, not defending yourself when you are in the right is also not the worst thing in the world. The way I've felt about that the next day is definitely less terrible than how I've felt about responding in a way that demonstrated white fragility. And it's definitely been the case sometimes that I was sure I was in the right until maybe even a year or so later when I had learned enough to really understand the call out. And then I've been grateful that I didn't say anything dumb in the heat of the moment.
posted by lollusc at 9:46 PM on January 24, 2020 [8 favorites]

I'm aware this may seem like just as large an umbrella as the one it purports to replace, but since it comes from within the affected communities, I've always felt duty bound to propagate it as a white ally.

Got to say, as a Pakistani though not a Pakistani American I would have no idea what you were talking about if you referred to SWANA.
posted by tavegyl at 9:53 PM on January 24, 2020 [5 favorites]

I've come to the conclusion that defending myself online is a complete waste of everybody's time, mine included. If I've been called out after a less than charitable reading of something I've written, then if what I had to say was actually worth defending, somebody else will be along to say so soon enough. If nobody does, I take that as a prompt to try to improve the clarity of future contributions.

Every now and then I'll get called out for reasons that have nothing to do with the way I've been read and everything to do with the things I actually believe. If such a callout comes from somebody whose contributions I've had reason to value before, as is the norm on Metafilter though rare elsewhere, those are the ones that sting. They're also the ones most worth sitting with and contemplating.
posted by flabdablet at 3:15 AM on January 25, 2020 [7 favorites]

Got to say, as a Pakistani though not a Pakistani American I would have no idea what you were talking about if you referred to SWANA.

And, on actually following the link, I see Pakistanis aren't on the list at all, so my apologies for the unnecessary double-take.
posted by tavegyl at 4:35 AM on January 25, 2020 [1 favorite]

Oh, I'd be totally fine being on batsignal to come be a Loud White Guy wherever needed. By personal inclination, I'll happily explain and/or argue until the sun goes down. I just don't want to be a bother.

Something I've appreciated from male feminist allies, has been when they have considered wading into an ongoing discussion, for example to vocally agree with points made by women, but instead they have backchanneled first with women in the discussion and asked whether that would be helpful. Sometimes I've said "yes, thanks" or "would you consider doing this other thing instead". I can definitely see myself sometimes saying "thanks for asking but we got this". Or "yes" and then "hey can you let it breathe a bit" or "hurrah, now it's all about you, would you mind leaving it alone so we can try and re-rail it".

It's frustrating when there seem to be no men who will speak up on feminist points, it's equally frustrating when some pompous knobweed comes along and goes "let me explain" in every discussion and suddenly all the other men go "what a fabulous point! I never thought of that before!"

from the post: Also, a space for People of Colour to request that White People "do something" about a particular situation where People of Color may be at greater risk

Sometimes the tendency to "explain and/or argue until the sun goes down" or be "loud white guy" makes it hard to also put on the Thoughtful Listening Hat and figure out how to Do Something without Being A Bother. Seems like this thread is a fine place for white folks to start figuring it out - potentially in specific active cases, as well as in the general case! Perhaps the backchannel exists, and we are in it. Especially if we can manage to keep listening even after PoC tell us that we are still in fact Being A Bother in some way or another.

(I talked about feminist stuff here because I can't personally speak to these things in the context of race advocacy, but I really don't want to distract the discussion onto feminist issues themselves, lo we have many other places to talk about those).
posted by quacks like a duck at 4:51 AM on January 25, 2020 [2 favorites]

Ok, take a look at the namaste thread. It seems like that started out as a place where people of South Asian descent were talking about their experience being "namasted" and racism more generally, derailed almost immediately, sort of got back on track, and feels like it's back in a strange place.

So there are some threads that aren't about a very specific experience of the world where free-wheeling kind of silly discussions seem totally reasonable and those sorts of details don't seem like they silence other voices or push marginalized experiences even more to the side. But I think in threads that are about a specific experience that isn't shared by everyone, picking up on one goofy thing and riffing or trying to extrapolate to an experience you imagine to be comparable isn't a great instinct and it's something white people do to recenter conversations to something about us.

I think about how I feel when there is a thread about, say, abortion access when people who cannot get pregnant are clearly thinking about things intellectually and strategically rather than viscerally, or how annoying it can be when a conversation about Judaism becomes a conversation about how the last supper was actually a Seder and isn't it interesting how Jesus was the sacrificial lamb ... when the conversation goes from something about me to a conversation about the concerns and interests of more culturally powerful or dominant people, and how uninterested that makes me in continuing a conversation or having future conversations. I have a tendency to want to reframe things in a way that lets me speak to my personal experience as a way to demonstrate connection or knowledge (see what I've just done here... or my actual comment on the namaste thread) and I think that's a tendency I need to get better at holding back on. Threads don't always need My Personal Experience because it's not always relevant and it takes up air and can redirect away from the heart of a topic or conversation, especially when it's about the experience of PoC.
posted by ChuraChura at 5:27 AM on January 25, 2020 [17 favorites]

I just wanted to say that this is a really impressive effort. For my part, I'll try to comment more often in low-volume posts about race (where appropriate), and I'll look for opportunities to push back against racist nonsense from my fellow white people. Usually that's long-handled by the time I'm reading a thread, but I'll try to keep an eye out more than I have been.
posted by vibratory manner of working at 9:04 AM on January 25, 2020

I just want to say that I appreciate this thread. I am struggling with a few things I want to contribute, but thanks for making this space.
posted by Gorgik at 9:50 AM on January 25, 2020

I have been watching this MeTa thread and wincing very heavily. I don't know what can be done about it that is actionable--it looks to me like that defensive, furious, fragile state that has been mentioned upthread. I wonder whether the MetaTalk should even have been allowed through the gate until a cooling-off period had been imposed. I don't know when or where the original comment happened--the most obvious possibility is this FPP about King's work, posted by the same user, but that was posted later according to my own timestamps.

I'm struggling with the impulse to be kind with a user who appears to be feeling very embarrassed contrasted with the feeling that this particular defensive fit is really alienating to members of color who might voice a concern with a problematic post in the future. I am embarrassed, as a white woman who has been trying to be active in discussing disability on Metafilter, at the contention that disability and gender necessarily inform expertise on whether or not a SFF trope is dismissive of black characters in SFF or not. I am embarrassed by this level of pushback, which reminds me heavily of some of the really nasty sexist pushback to a feminist post I found in an FPP from 2010 when I was doing some digging earlier this week.

I am taking that discomfort here because I don't know if it is useful in the thread I linked. I thought we had a queue--was that thing posted after a reflection period and back and forth with the user?
posted by sciatrix at 2:23 PM on January 25, 2020 [18 favorites]

Yeah that thread is really bad on so many levels.
posted by lollusc at 3:38 PM on January 25, 2020

I don't know when or where the original comment happened

It was on FanFare.
posted by Etrigan at 5:56 PM on January 25, 2020 [2 favorites]

Regarding the Namaste thread, I find I am at a weird time zone place with metafilter, being in Australia and being on holidays so I find things in the middle of my days, when the bulk of the usebase appears to be away. I posted, thinking about how disappointing it is when you post something and it gets crickets. I probably even felt "empowered" to be a good ally and get in there- and in the process probably stampeded ahead of people with actual lived experience of the term. I wish I had let the impulse of 'maybe I should wait' and not posted. "Being OK with not being part of the conversation" is something I need to work on.

Sciatrix, see the 7th paragraph in cortex's comment for the reasoning behind allowing that meta to take place.
posted by freethefeet at 11:39 PM on January 25, 2020

Yeah--as a note, I waded into the thread and tried to express some of my discomfort very shortly (~10minutes!) after leaving that comment and articulating why it made me uncomfortable, and have been continuing to follow it. (For example, I had already previously seen cortex's comment, which was left after the one in this thread.) Then I paused to listen, and am continuing to listen, but... hrm. I should probably have brought up some of the other specific concerns I mentioned upthread here there much sooner, too.

I mean, when I did weigh in, it certainly wasn't devoid of problems, but I'm not sorry that I did so. I'm also being present in that thread in the form of favorites, as best as I can do so, to say "I see this, I think this is a good point" to POC (especially black-identified) voices expressing a variety of perspectives which might not be focused on comforting potentially fragile responses, since I think that's a really important counterweight to this discussion right now.

Chewing on that, for sure, and thinking about allyship, and how better to handle things going forward. I agree, though, that threads like that are something that people who are trying to be allies need to be paying attention to and trying to signal boost in.
posted by sciatrix at 2:18 PM on January 26, 2020 [1 favorite]

I stepped in trying to be helpful and I do not know if it was helpful. My presence seemed to aggravate the OP at the time and I decided to step back and read along.
posted by jessamyn (retired) at 2:20 PM on January 26, 2020 [2 favorites]

I guess one thing to note about that conversation is: is the aggravation of the OP the main thing to be considering in the course of the discussion? For example, a lot of the reason that the discussion got quickly derailed around questions of identity politics (rather than whether or not it's a good idea to use the term and in what contexts) is that the OP herself was very focused on that idea and kept referencing the apparent injustice of a (presumed) white male commenter using the term in a different way when she wasn't "allowed" to do so. People then came in to question what her own background was, which triggered a lot more fragility and frustration. It might have been better to try to handle the discussion by repeatedly redirecting it away from questions about whether the OP's comment was "really" justified or not, and towards the general use of the term and how to frame it in a better and more productive way on the site going forwards. That probably wouldn't have made the OP happy in the moment, but it might have helped move the focus away from the defensive anger and more towards better practices in the future.
posted by sciatrix at 2:27 PM on January 26, 2020 [4 favorites]

Whooooooooah, that thread took a turn. I could feel the OP’s hackles rising as I read it. Yikes.

I guess what I struggle with most is the real world implications of being an ally. On the Internet it’s easy to take a break, walk away, read again. In person things move much faster and I worry about making a crappy mistake, or not knowing what to say. (It’s probably the social anxiety).

I also run into issues sometimes because while I am White, I had a Chinese great grandmother who died only 5 years ago, so I knew her personally. Sometimes other white people say shit to me about Chinese people, Asians, refugees, or (ugh) “anchor babies”, and like, all of those things describe my family? But I don’t want to be in the position of going, “Hey, my dad was born to a non-citizen mother, gotcha”, or watching them pretend to suddenly care because a White person experienced it. I don’t know if there’s a 101-guide to that situation.
posted by chainsofreedom at 5:13 PM on January 26, 2020 [3 favorites]

FWIW, I started to write a comment there and deleted it, as I have also started to write comments here and deleted them. I recognized a lot of my own experiences in some of the things miss-lapin was saying and I understood her feeling of Otherness. I am white, some conditions apply, offer not valid in areas. I have white skin, but I have features of Otherness that I cannot hide, like my name, and an unrelatedly big nose that people hang their assumptions upon, for example. However, there is no place for me here to discuss these experiences, because I am not a POC (and we were specifically excluded from participating in those threads anyway) but it has been taboo to discuss the conditionality of whiteness, repeatedly downplayed and told other groups have it worse, even though violence against us is rising.

I’m not defending how the thread went, but I felt some feelings, and I’ve been feeling those feelings for a while and I didn’t know where else to say this.
posted by Ruki at 5:33 PM on January 26, 2020 [5 favorites]

I guess that is an example where I absolutely would have stepped in if there had been any indication it would have been helpful. I wrote a comment and deleted before posting, even. I saw that mods were asking specifically for POC perspectives and decided that meant white people should stop giving their opinions and step back. Apologies if that was the wrong call.
posted by lollusc at 5:36 PM on January 26, 2020 [2 favorites]

In general, I'd love to hear what people think about where it's helpful to step into a thread?

My own rule of thumb so far has been kind of like this:
- clueless or offensive race stuff happening and no one has called it out at all, yes 100%
-clueless or offensive race stuff happening and only (as far as I know) POC having to deal with it, probably, as long as it isn't a POC only space or would come across as white knighting in the specific context
- clueless or offensive race stuff happening and there have already been a lot of people call it out from all perspectives, but there's a nuance I think no one has commented on yet, yes, if it's actually likely to be helpful.
-clueless or offensive race stuff happening and there's already a long thread where lots of people have said the stuff I would have said. Probably not. These threads don't seem to need me.

I'd like to hear what other people think. Maybe there is a better way of determining when I should speak up? Maybe I should always say something even if it's just seconding someone else in the thread?
posted by lollusc at 5:43 PM on January 26, 2020 [1 favorite]

white skin, but I have features of Otherness that I cannot hide, like my name, and an unrelatedly big nose that people hang their assumptions upon, for example. However, there is no place for me here to discuss these experiences, because I am not a POC (and we were specifically excluded from participating in those threads anyway) but it has been taboo to discuss the conditionality of whiteness,

I'm not going to pretend I know what it's like for you specifically, but I do think one of the insidious things about whiteness is that if we have access to white privilege at some times and places, it is extra confronting when that privilege is withdrawn for some reason. Or even, if we see that some white people have more access it than we do. Like, the blond haired blue eyed people have more experience of white privilege than the dark haired tanned white people, and the white people who have partners and children who are POC maybe don't experience their white privilege quite the same as they did previously. Similarly, white people who are marginalised along other axes (disability, gender, sexuality) have different experiences than people who have no marginalised identities.

People respond to that observation in different ways. Some people get defensive about the very idea of white privilege because they don't think they are experiencing all the parts of it they have heard people talk about, or at the same level they see some people experience, so they deny it's even a thing at all. Others, however, use their experience to feel more solidarity with POC. But I think it must still be frustrating for POC who can still see how those people are benefiting from massive amounts of white privilege still to hear them considering their experiences as similar.
posted by lollusc at 6:28 PM on January 26, 2020 [1 favorite]

I mean, when I did weigh in, it certainly wasn't devoid of problems, but I'm not sorry that I did so.

sciatrix, you were specifically called out for demonstrating white privilege when you said:
I am also white. I feel that if you do not want anyone to know what your own personal race and ethnicity is, you need to not be discussing race and ethnicity at all, and certainly not judgements on what racism is. Your lived experience informs your perspective, and I think it is reasonable for people to request that much information in discussion.
I thought Ivan Fyodorovich framed the issue really well:
More to the point — and I'll say this as gently as possible — such a proposal from a white person itself demonstrates white privilege because it doesn't account for the very real asymmetric risks of publicly declaring one's race. Risks that a POC would naturally be aware of, but which white people could easily overlook.
I personally don't think it's about being sorry or not, but instead more about expanding awareness of other perspectives. I don't want you to feel bad or have hurt feelings about this, I just want to also gently point out that it seems like you may be missing an opportunity to become more of an ally.
posted by katra at 6:42 PM on January 26, 2020 [2 favorites]

Like, the blond haired blue eyed people have more experience of white privilege...

Well, yes, that was certainly an issue for us once, but I was talking more about how white privilege doesn't protect us from being shot to death in shul. But I do apologize, upon rereading my comment, for coming across like I was talking about all white people. I wrote and rewrote that comment so many times and hastily pressed post before checking for clarity.
posted by Ruki at 7:03 PM on January 26, 2020 [6 favorites]

I think that is definitely a good topic for this thread, but in that thread it seemed like it was another digression from the fact that asking a user to provide more context when using a phrase that contains an archaic racist term is not that big of an ask. The debate became about whether OP was black, the idea of asking users to dislike race, objecting to asking people to disclose personal information, whether other users had used the same phrase, etc etc etc. All of which centered the poster and made the mods’ response the “is it problematic” part of the discussion. Instead of the use of the phrase.
posted by sallybrown at 7:10 PM on January 26, 2020 [3 favorites]

My feelings aren't hurt, and I went to take those responses away and sit with them. I did notice the responses, but I thought that the thread didn't need to be about me--in fact, when I said that my response wasn't devoid of problems, I was specifically referring to those responsive comments. At the same time, other people were requesting more vocal allyship rather than taking discomfort here and remaining silent, specifically following my comment here about my misgivings about that discussion.

Part of trying to be a more vocal, present ally means accepting that sometimes I won't be completely right. Sometimes I'll be totally wrong, sometimes there's not a right position because people disagree, and sometimes I'll be getting at something that I do think is valid but do it in a way that is not as nuanced or clear as someone else who is directly affected would do. (I think stoneweaver's comment here is a much clearer version of what I was trying to get at.)

But I'm not sorry I stepped in, even though I stepped in in a way that was flawed and didn't route the conversation as deftly as others did later. I tried to handle that by favoriting all of the comments that corrected me, to say I was listening without distorting the conversation further. Of course I'm missing things. I'm listening and thinking about what to say better in the future, that's all.
posted by sciatrix at 7:25 PM on January 26, 2020 [5 favorites]

Well, yes, that was certainly an issue for us once, but I was talking more about how white privilege doesn't protect us from being shot to death in shul.

I'm very sorry, that's horrible.
posted by lollusc at 8:20 PM on January 26, 2020

In person things move much faster and I worry about making a crappy mistake, or not knowing what to say.

I've come around to the point of view that knowing what not to say is often more valuable, and that crappy mistakes are simply a reflection of the process of learning that.

It's often said around these parts that intention doesn't matter, but I think it does. Not in a way that could make any specific turd on the living room carpet any less shitty, but certainly as motivation to avoid indulging in screeching tantrums after being told off for carpet shitting and learn a bit more self control.

I have very little sympathy for the view that feeling social pressure to choose one's words judiciously is something worth bemoaning, and even less for the view that being called on giving offence is the Worst Thing. People who complain about political correctness are mainly demonstrating a need to get over themselves.

So I'm pretty sure I'm going to keep on making crappy mistakes, because nobody can avoid doing that forever. The thing, it seems to me, is to spend less time worrying about that than on learning, both from my own missteps and those of others, and improving. Just take the reputational hit and keep playing the long game. That's what good intentions are for.

And I sincerely hope that such crappy mistakes as I do keep making offer other people as much value as their crappy mistakes have offered me. Other people's errors are a total gift. Learning from them, as well as from our own, saves so much time and effort.
posted by flabdablet at 9:44 PM on January 26, 2020 [4 favorites]

I have been called out a lot and agree it sucks. My rule of thumb is to step away for at least a coupe of hours if not overnight and come back. My last metafilter call-out, I responded over a day later and the time helped me re-read and rethink my entire response to be much more thoughtful and constructive.

I appreciate call-outs, especially in a community. I don't think they need to be nicely worded, direct is fine. Public call-outs help the 90% of people who are reading, not writing and those people should hear that the original swerve got called out. It's the pile-on that needs to be cleaned up IMO, not the initial collision.

All of this asks the person getting corrected in public, even a semi-secluded space like metafilter, to do some self-reflection. It's hard work and I know I dislike it, but the alternative is making the people I live and work with who are very often in less powerful intersectional places than me, do the work, so I grit my teeth and do it.

Same thing here. You get called-out and you don't do the work of figuring it out, then you're loading that work off on the rest of the metafilter community which makes you a social parasite.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 11:12 PM on January 26, 2020 [4 favorites]

I have a little positive thing to contribute to this thread, I hope it's appropriate.

Reading the #poctakeover thread, and reading the material in research for writing this post, I became aware that something I'm not always great at is having the tough conversations with people IRL. I resolved that this year I would try to do better.

Almost immediately from having this thought, I saw an old friend post on Instagram about how, in the course of her work in India, she came across an initiative that supports impoverished children and has sponsored one of them, including photos of her with the young child in question, and further photos of the other kids involved. Old me would have thought, I am uncomfortable with this but, you know, ok, she's trying to help. But I know better now so I thought lets do this.

I messaged her and said, it's really cool that you're helping, but as white people we need to consider how we talk about this (not to mention consent issues around photography), and something you might want to do is check out the work of NoWhiteSaviours, which is run by POC with a goal to "de-colonise" the development and aid sector. I was super nervous as I sent it because I knew that if it didn't go down well, that would probably be the last I heard from her, and it might come with a snarky reply to boot. Silly I know - not much at stake for me really, when you compare it to the real issues at hand. But I'm not used to doing this yet and it's still hard.

But the best outcome - she responded almost immediately saying, "heck YES, this is what I need to be reading. Thank you!"

So I guess, a ray of hope. I won't always get such a nice response, but I'm going to try and keep having these conversations and keep trying to get better at doing the work.
posted by greenish at 3:43 AM on January 27, 2020 [20 favorites]

greenish, the outcome you describe resonates with something I read that was linked in the Racial Equity Tools materials about Accountability, from Lost River Racial Justice, Accountability in a Time of Justice:
We begin by acknowledging that accountability in the context of racial equity and justice generally refers to the ways in which white people and communities need to be accountable to people and communities of color. We understand this commitment as one attempt to redress the way in which racist oppression, all oppression, benefits those with social and institutional power at the expense of those with less.

We are not suggesting this is a one-way street, where dominant groups and people are always “wrong” while oppressed groups and people are always “right.” For one, we don’t believe in these kinds of binaries, and for another, we are all damaged by the false constructs designed to deliberately divide us. At the same time, we must constantly acknowledge the longstanding institutional and structural imbalances that have created a situation where white people and communities consistently benefit at the expense of people and communities of color. [...]

We argue that accountability requires a lens through which we see these constructs of personal and institutional power. We need to see the bigger picture, to see that we need not fight over rungs of a ladder that by its very nature underserves us all. As Winona LaDuke so wisely says, “we don’t want a bigger piece of the pie, we want a different pie.” The bigger picture not only keeps us from fighting among ourselves, but also provides hope, the sense of another possibility.
posted by katra at 7:09 AM on January 27, 2020 [11 favorites]

It's often said around these parts that intention doesn't matter, but I think it does. Not in a way that could make any specific turd on the living room carpet any less shitty, but certainly as motivation to avoid indulging in screeching tantrums after being told off for carpet shitting and learn a bit more self control.

But the important thing is a) fewer tantrums and b) less shit on the carpet. Those are acts that have impact, not intentions, and it doesn’t really matter if you aren’t tantruming and shitting because you have good intentions or bad ones.

For example, I was trying to enhance the namaste thread, and I detailed it by forgetting one of my own rules: avoid analogies wherever possible, because people will react to them rather than the topic at hand. I was tired, stressed, and in a hurry (which doesn’t matter), and I had reasonably good intentions (which don’t matter), but the real thing is the impact — I didn’t ruin the thread alone, but I gave an “in” to ruin the thread, and that’s what matters.

Another reason intent doesn’t matter is that no one can see it nor can you prove it. I can infer intent from the sum of your actions and their impacts, but I can’t interact with intention itself.
posted by GenjiandProust at 2:40 PM on January 27, 2020 [9 favorites]

Something I would like to see more of in this thread: any insight into the thought processes that might possibly come into play when you're a white person who is actually willing to take on the burden of communicating anti-racism to others, rather than just thinking about it or sitting with one's thoughts. What runs through your mind?

Not so much on MetaFilter specifically, as I've been in a read-only mode here for the last several years, but in general...

Do I understand the issue(s), the dynamics of the discussion, and the people involved, well enough that I'm not going to make things worse? Am I going to be attempting to speak for someone who would rather speak for themselves right now? Do I have any power in this situation that I can put to good use? Do I have sufficient credibility that it's likely to be worth using up some spoons to engage? Am I doing that "what this discussion really needs is more comments from white dudes!" thing?

I struggle with discussions where there should be useful opportunities to amplify what others have said, but where the thread gets off to such a bad start I can understand why there aren't many comments to amplify. I would love to hear from PoC how we can help you as allies when that happens. Or can we communicate and strategize together (re: MeFi threads specifically) in situations like that, so the people who need to be listened to can comment knowing they'll have some support from allies?

In reading the comments you and a few other people have made in this thread, I can't help feeling we let you down, and I'm sorry for that. Just knowing that, I think I am more likely to engage in future, both here on MeFi and elsewhere.
posted by FishBike at 4:43 PM on January 27, 2020 [7 favorites]

Something I would like to see more of in this thread: any insight into the thought processes that might possibly come into play when you're a white person who is actually willing to take on the burden of communicating anti-racism to others, rather than just thinking about it or sitting with one's thoughts.

For me it’s a whole variety of things, and they all kind of intertwine, like: Have I read the thread and the source materials, am I informed on the subject, can I explain coherently why the other post/poster is being racist? (There’s an asymmetry where it’s easy to shit in a thread without doing any of the work of reading the sources or the other comments, but to respond effectively you need to know the context.) Did the poster leave a one-line turd comment (which I’m more likely to just flag), or a long thing that makes racist points more subtly, or is the poster on a roll and firing off a bunch of posts? Does the poster seem misunderstanding/inadvertently racist, in which case I have a chance of convincing them, or are they knowingly committed to a racist argument, in which case the response is more for other posters and the thread in general? Does their comment seem kind of tricky/dishonest, like they’re purposely seeking outrage? Can I frame and draft my answer calmly at the moment? And the big question I always ask when faced with a WTF? comment—any chance I’ve read this wrong or am missing something?

I guess more broadly, I use the bad comment to understand the mindset, temperament, and errors of the user who posted it, and then consider my own knowledge and how my writing is usually most effective, and if on that balancing act, there’s a good chance my comment will be helpful (not to the poster but to the community at large), I go for it. I follow the maxim to assume good faith of the other users unless the bad faith is very obvious. Where applicable, I try to give the poster an out (like “perhaps you didn’t realize”) to reverse out of the situation. It helps when I’ve made the same exact mistake and can explain it.

This sounds really labor intensive but it’s more intuitive than that.
posted by sallybrown at 5:12 PM on January 27, 2020 [4 favorites]

My partner P, who is a Mefi user (once in a while), is also descendant of american chattel slavery. I'm not sure how to talk about that generally, so I often just don't. There was a post about interracial relations where I considered doing so, but I didn't think I have anything to add. I absolutely don't feel it qualifies me to understand or speak for DACS or generally for black people in any way; I am not nor will I ever be black. But I do feel that, thanks to the trust and love and time we have together, I do have a little bit of insight into a few things other white people should be more aware of about DACS people, some of which may be generalized to other black people and even other PoC.

I'd rather be jorting, you said, "...current site culture repeatedly leaves PoC to take on the burden of speaking out against racism and speaking up in defense of other PoC..." and asked about thought processes about white people trying to step in. I've been thinking a lot about this. Because it's not always clear when it's the right time to step in and speak, and how to do so in ways that support PoC voices. And just as white people, myself included, can speak too much, so too can we speak too little, and there's a difference between preferring PoC voices and expecting you to do all the work. There's not always a right answer, much less a clearly right answer; that's something I am not always comfortable with.

My partner told me, when I talked to them about this, that that's how it is for black people though, but worse because sometimes there are only wrong answers. And so I'm trying to grow less comfortable with the idea that everybody needs to be happy with what I write and everyone deserves to feel comfortable with my words. Why do I and white people deserve to be comfortable at the expense of PoC? They also told me that white people need to call in our people, and I'm going to keep trying to do that, whenever I have the spoons to do so and it seems like a good idea, learning as I go. It definitely would be easier for me, safer for me, not to say anything, and maybe I'll offend someone who is a PoC... but maybe I will say something they'll appreciate. So I'm trying to be conscious of my privilege but not paralyzed by my consciousness.

The other specific thing I've been thinking about recently is how easy it is to flatten complexities around issues and if it's appropriate to bring those up or not? Like my partner doesn't like the umbrella term PoC being applied to them, because it often obfuscates the specifics of antiblackness and the intersections that occur. And further they have lots of issues and feelings around the differences between DACS people and other black people, like how black brits get a lot of roles as American black people to pick one example. So reading this thread on the Oscars and PoCs? I was thinking about how the only black actor nominated is british-nigerian playing an american black. I was thinking about how awkwafina seems to have appropriated aspects of black culture in her music career and leveraged that into fame and fortune before becoming an actor. But I didn't say anything about either of those thoughts, because there's so little PoC representation that maybe it's wrong to bring up?
posted by gryftir at 11:54 PM on January 27, 2020 [15 favorites]

the important thing is a) fewer tantrums and b) less shit on the carpet

Quite so. And this is what is actually delivered, over time, by people with good intentions. That trend is how you spot them.

Shitheads, on the other hand, just keep on doing it regardless of fact.
posted by flabdablet at 4:04 AM on January 28, 2020

rather be jorting: Something I would like to see more of in this thread: any insight into the thought processes that might possibly come into play when you're a white person who is actually willing to take on the burden of communicating anti-racism to others, rather than just thinking about it or sitting with one's thoughts. What runs through your mind?

One thing that's become really clear to me is that while I have a 'caucus' for a lot of issues, I don't have anything available for race issues, and that's a problem I hope can be solved through threads like this.

Like, queer stuff? I've got my queers. We talk, we gripe, we figure out our positions. I'll drop an essay or a post in a chat and be like, somebody tell me why this is problematic, i don't see it, or maybe, i hate this, am i wrong to hate it? How much I rely on this was made super-evident by that attack helicopter thread, when due to just some random scheduling stuff, I wasn't able to talk it through with my little group, and my thoughts were a tangled mess because of that lack.

So when we're talking race thought processes, often my thoughts stop at: oh no, is this bad? Unless it's a comment on really, really well-trod ground--insulting someone's food, say, or blatant appropriation--the fear sets in. Do I even understand this well enough to know if it's a problem? Then a hundred and fifty comments later, everyone has disabled their accounts and I've done nothing to help make the place better. And that's if I even see the thread to begin with.

My own self-work kinda begins there, by realizing that the points of my own marginalization (queer, disabled) do not give me sufficient insight into white privilege. I keep thinking I'm so smart on All The Issues, but nope. I'm actually ignorant of them because, unlike with homophobia, say, I've got this entire white apparatus that helps draw a curtain over racial stuff, so I never have to see it, if I don't want to.

That's what I would like to get out of a continuing thread like this. I want a place where someone can say, I need y'all to look at this thread. Where another white person can take on the burden of saying, let me explain to you why this comment was a problem, look at this link. And if someone doesn't understand, if someone needs some 101, they can get it over here in meta. Sort of like, flagging for non-moderators.

That's...difficult, given the fast-moving nature of threads. One of the really eye-opening things about the #poctakeover project was hearing about the amount of communication it took, the amount of oversight and back-end discussion. But if allies are going to be useful at all, if we care about people buttoning over racism on the site, then the more knowledgeable among us are going to have to chip in some background and advice to the rest of us who don't have the information, who don't understand well enough to even see the problem.
posted by mittens at 5:46 AM on January 28, 2020 [16 favorites]

any insight into the thought processes that might possibly come into play when you're a white person who is actually willing to take on the burden of communicating anti-racism to others, rather than just thinking about it or sitting with one's thoughts.

I've been thinking about this a lot over the past few days and trying to figure out why I feel comfortable doing this sort of thing in person (calling people out or in, giving people 101 lectures on stuff if they need them, bringing up the spectre of white supremacy and how it affects our institutions etc) but it's much harder to do online for some reason. I think some of it has to do with responding in the moment versus letting my words hang out there to possibly have shifting meaning over time. And some of it has to do with whether I feel, in my estimation, a situation has been handled or not. Which is maybe not the way to go forward.

Like, if I feel (on MeFi) the mods are headed in the right direction, I usually won't step in and pile on (the recent mess in MeTa was one example). If I see someone who is hurting, especially someone who is BIPOC (Or GLBTQ), I will often reach out to them privately but not presume that me showing up to say what I think is necessarily helpful. I've become aware of taking up space in the MeFi room due to my stature within the community and I try to be careful. And, like mittens, I may need to do more stretching there, be willing to make some missteps in the direction of being more present and more active in that direction if I want to be useful.
posted by jessamyn (retired) at 9:01 AM on January 28, 2020 [1 favorite]

Speaking for myself, I am cognizant that I am a blunt instrument. I am not a deft scalpel that can be wielded to cut precisely and only that which needs cutting. I hear the call for speaking up more and taking on the burdens, and I am more than happy to do so, but I will break things if I do, and I also see the repeated threads discussing white people taking up all the oxygen in discussions. Thus, my habitual reticence to dive in, outside of rare situations where A) someone is being patently horrible in a nearly inarguable fashion and B) I happen to be at the end of the thread when it happens and can respond within five comments of it.

I am much more willing to speak up in real life or in smaller online spaces because I can be more confident that I am the best (or only) tool in the toolbox in that case. For example, when I am playing Overwatch, I call out absolutely everything and make liberal use of the reporting functions, because that is a group of twelve people in a space and context where white cishet male voices have dominated to the point where most members of minority groups feel uncomfortable speaking up. On MetaFilter, it's more or less guaranteed that someone else will have more applicable experience or greater depth of understanding on a given cultural topic than I do.

I don't know what the solution is. Making PoC call for assistance is just continuing to place the burden on them to be the interface. I want to be helpful; I want to be useful; but from what I can glean or understand, as a member of just about every privileged group possible, mostly what people want is for me to be quiet, and so that is what I do most often in discussion forums on the Internet.
posted by Scattercat at 11:20 AM on January 28, 2020 [3 favorites]

The interaction in the recent "magical negro" MeTa seems typical of many MetaFilter interactions where someone is called out for writing something racially (or otherwise) contentious. Many people made the point that nothing about the deletion or the subsequent argument could be considered "attacks" on miss-lapin, and didn't warrant her contentious responses. In the words of selfmedicating, "I mean, that's why it's called fragility -- it means that something mild, that shouldn't break you, breaks you."

I certainly agree with what I think is the consensus here, that people should not agonize over a deletion, and people should take criticism in stride and use it to improve. But the "fragility" response seems like basically the Internet standard -- typical behavior is, if you get a single anonymous downvote from a huge population, or a single negative reply from a thousand positive ones, you agonize to some extent over it. That's really where people are at. I don't know how to help newcomers get to the point where they process criticism and deletions gracefully, and I don't know how to (technically, or via a certain culture or set of social norms) design a space where it doesn't "feel like" criticism and deletions are personal attacks. If that were possible, these discussions might go a lot better. I'm curious if anyone else has ideas about how to do this.

(Personally, LessWrong-style thinking and culture helped me learn to more graciously accept criticism in the spirit of self-improvement and harm reduction, but that culture seems anathema to MetaFilter.)
posted by value of information at 10:47 PM on January 28, 2020

any insight into the thought processes that might possibly come into play when you're a white person who is actually willing to take on the burden of communicating anti-racism to others, rather than just thinking about it or sitting with one's thoughts.

When online and in a thread, I often feel I have to sort of listen to the volume of the different voices in the conversation.

If, in an otherwise good thread, someone posts something which could be or is racist, sometimes there are plenty of voices around to call it out, have whatever side discussion is appropriate around it, and this makes sure it doesn't become A Big Gross Thing that spoils things for everyone, and the conversation is recovered and carries on.

If those voices are not numerous, or if they sound tired or Just Not Up For This Shit Today, then I feel like it might be a good time to step in. If there is a vibe of, "I am speaking up now but after this I am done, please someone else take it from here", again, that feels like an opportunity for me to add a voice to the conversation productively and positively.

I don't always get it right but I guess this is one of my measures to try and choose the right times to get involved in a conversation.
posted by greenish at 1:25 AM on January 29, 2020 [2 favorites]

Ugh, the attack helicopter thread. I only found out about it when I discovered anem0ne had buttoned, which.... I’m still really sad and angry about that (not her buttoning, but her feeling she had to; she doesn’t owe us participation). I finally got around to reading the story yesterday, and I could add a comment, but I’m torn over whether it would do any good or even be seen. It seems like too little, too late at this point.
posted by GenjiandProust at 8:45 AM on January 29, 2020 [2 favorites]

I wrote this in response to the other MeTa thread discussed above, particularly moved by this comment, but for obvious reasons it's better posted here. My prior comments in that thread might also have best been posted here or not at all, but, as we've discussing here, we have to learn to be able to risk doing the wrong thing but learning and changing when we're shown that it was the wrong thing.

I've never written a comment with a title before, but it feels right to me in this particular instance.

Quiz Show and White Fragility

Twenty-five years ago my grandmother and I went together to the theater to see the just-released Robert Redford directed film, Quiz Show. My grandmother and I were close — we would discuss books and politics late into the night; for a couple of years we had a weekly date to see an art/foreign film together. No one else in her family or across my extended families shared these interests and sensibilities. I admired her; her approval and respect meant more to me than from anyone else in my life.

Quiz Show is a dramatization of the 1950s Twenty-One rigged quiz show scandals which, perhaps as a measure of those sheltered times, resulted in a widely-followed Congressional investigation. The film liberally fictionalized the incident at the heart of the scandal, which was the rigging of the contest to guarantee that the very paragon of American white privilege, Charles Van Doren (played by Ralph Fiennes), ultimately triumphed over the nebbish, Bronx-born son of Jewish immigrants, the scrappy underdog Herb Stempel (played by John Turturro).

All of this had been arranged beforehand.

Stempel had appeared on quiz shows before, successfully, had a degree in history and an encyclopedic memory. He was carefully chosen for his presumed appeal to the public as the underdog; he was coached in how to present himself as such, including mannerisms; and he was instructed first in how to succeed and then, when ratings waned, fall to Van Doren.

Charles Van Doren, likewise, was chosen for his role. Both his father and uncle were Pulitzer winners (poetry and biography, respectively) and highly esteemed academics, and his mother a novelist. The Van Doren family resided at the apex of American academia and culture. Charles himself earned a B.A. at the so-called "Great Books" school St. John's College, also my alma mater, then subsequently an M.A. in English and a PhD in astrophysics, both at Columbia, where his father was a professor. He also spent a term abroad at Cambridge. As a johnnie myself, this strikes me as quintessentially johnnie-like; as a johnnie myself, prone to wax rhapsodic about William Shakespeare or Georg Cantor, as someone who for a while studied physics and aspired to be an astrophysicist, the historical and fictional character of Charles Van Doren resonated with me — I identified with him despite the quite relevant fact that my family and class background were far more pedestrian. Though to be sure, I was born Protestant, white, and male.

In the film as in truth, both Stempel and Van Doren faithfully followed to the end the script that was written for them. Both had misgivings — Stempel felt some kind of insult inherent in his ultimate loss, while Van Doren's pride was stung at being provided the answers to the quiz questions in advance.

Whether either man recognized it, there was a powerful implicit message in their respective fates and what brought them there: The striving, schlubby "ethnic" second-generation immigrant was allowed only limited success, applauded for it, and expected to be grateful for the opportunity even if it was a sham. The white all-American Protestant golden child, with every advantage in life, believed his successes were a product of merit and he found it intensely uncomfortable to be aware that they were not — he felt injured, somehow.

After it was done, Herb Stempel found this firmly stuck in his craw and he publicly revealed all of it to be a sham.

In the film as in life, Fiennes's Charles Van Doren quickly took center stage. Attractive, likeable, well-spoken and oh so very remorseful, Van Doren fascinated a public that simultaneously felt betrayed by him but also yearned to forgive him. In congressional testimony, the chamber was rapt as he catalogued his misgivings, his soul-searching, the depths of his remorse; and he was eloquent and effusive and unconditionally apologetic. His testimony was lengthy.

Herb Stempel was for the most part a secondary player in this gripping story; no one then or later was very interested in his nights awake filled with doubts, no one much cared about his confusion and inner-conflict when he was offered this barbed apple. It was a good deal, yes? For the Herb Stempels, the American Dream is always contingent and subject to revocation on a moment's notice, you take what you can get when it's available and you're expected to be thankful for the mere opportunity, such as it is. If it is. An opportunity, I mean. If it's an opportunity.

In my identification with Charles Van Doren, I — like America and the politicians listening to him in the film — found his confession admirable, his guilt and shame admirable, his eloquence moving.

I left the theater with numerous thoughts, chiefly some astonishment that America could be so angry and distraught over the rigging of television game shows. I thought there was something uncomfortable about Stempel's role in all this; the denouement left me vaguely unsatisfied. I was impressed by the performances and found I was very forgiving of Van Doren.

After we got into my grandmother's car, she inexplicably sat there for a minute doing nothing and we held an uncomfortable silence. I asked what she thought of the film. There was a long pause and then she said, "I'm angry. When Charles Van Doren was testifying, I became angry, then even more angry. It was all about him: how he was conflicted, how he was remorseful, how terribly sorry he was. I was alive when this happened, I was in my thirties, I remember it. What I didn't remember was how unctuous Charles Van Doren was, how so much of what was more signicant was swept aside by his self-importance and self-regard, how Congress and the press and all of America indulged him."

I was entirely unprepared for this expression of anger, it wasn't like my grandmother to show strong emotions. But most of all, I felt implicated, if not accused. I identified with Van Doren, yes, but more to the point, I'd transgressed in numerous ways in my life and I took pride in my very honest, earnest expressions of regret and apology. Isn't that what we're supposed to do?

Well, sure, but don't do the hurtful thing in the first place. If you find that you repeat the same mistakes and your admission of guilt and expression of remorse almost inevitably lead to forgiveness, guess what? You're privileged. You may not know it, as I did not know it, but privilege is why you're repeatedly given the benefit of the doubt, why people are so quick to forgive. Why, in fact, when you hurt someone, people allow you to sweep them up in a drama where you become the star, yours the voice speaking the most and being listened to the most. In this, the original harm is sidelined and the person or people harmed, silenced.

Worse, in this the privilege is reinforced and those lacking privileged are shown, once again, that they will doubly be hurt if they dare to express their hurt, that always they are expected to put the privileged ahead of themselves. They're told that this way of things, this status quo, validates the value of courtesy and empathy — which it does, but only with regard to those who need it the least yet insist on it the most.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 9:46 AM on January 29, 2020 [22 favorites]

Wow, I was still dealing with flu for the attack helicopter thread so I just went and read it now, though I have read the super horrible MeTa as it went. Ouch. Why don't we believe each other when we say something hurts?
posted by wellred at 9:47 AM on January 29, 2020 [1 favorite]

I... don’t know. The attack helicopter thread is weird and upsetting because there are at least three conflicts:

1. The name of the character, which, as an apparently throw-away point, is racist (if Isabel Fall isn’t Korean or Korean-American) or at least careless (if she is). Given that the former seems most likely, as some who aspires to be an ally on race, I think I can point that out. So speaking up is right, but

2. The central conceit was hurtful to a large number of trans people, but a smaller number of trans people found it compelling and valuable. As a cis person who aspires to be a good ally, that’s a fight that’s hard to get involved in. I can’t say “this validates trans people” or “this harms trans people,” because I see trans people saying the both things, and I don’t have the lived experience to assert an opinion or gauge if one approach is “correct.” I could say “here is where Fall’s writing supports or undercuts her thesis,” but that’s probably not a great approach in a fraught discussion. Silence seems the best option, but

3. The wider story of a not-out trans author posting a first story only to have it savaged by a Twitter mob, a fair fraction of whom hadn’t read it*, then feeling forced to a) come out and b) withdraw the story (and possible others) is deeply unappealing. How do I, again as a cis ally, balance the harm Fall has inflicted with the harm she’s suffered? I have, as they say, no standing (neither do the large number of cis commenters who have, nevertheless, commented). So I should stay silent?

* In fairness to the trans people who reacted without reading, they may have done so to avoid trauma; cis commenters have no excuse.

When the thread was in its early stages, had I seen it, I might have done good by pushing back at some (apparently) cis commenters who were being aggressive towards anem0ne, but now? Will my dry thoughts about the writing give any insight or just reopen scabbed wounds? Amidst the trans hurt and anger, would having a cis white man say “that name is a problem, and it seems likely the casualties in the school were Latinx but unremarked-upon, which is another problem” shed light or just more heat?

Like I said, I don’t know.
posted by GenjiandProust at 11:35 AM on January 29, 2020 [4 favorites]

I held back on commenting in the other Meta because I didn't want to fill the room with another white take, but days later I am so annoyed by how that all went down that I came here.

I'm somebody who would have given the commenter the benefit of the doubt if they were using that phrase in context. But...

- Going on to post 20+ fighty comments in metatalk because she didn't "get to" use an ethnic slur?
- Posting a link on the blue, ostensibly about latina writers and King... just so that she could bring the discussion around to using that term again?
- Implying that black people shouldn't be offended by the term, because she wouldn't mind somebody calling out anti-Semitism? Without acknowledging that it would be like somebody calling out anti-Semitism, using anti-Semitic slurs?

There's just not much doubt left to be had. What non-racist reason could there be for having a meltdown because you don't get to use an ethnic slur? I think framing this as 'white fragility' is downplaying her behavior.

Rather, I think her behavior (and the user/sock that were banned for pro-racism comments) are a shitty, racist reaction to #poctakeover. The timing is just too convenient - I really think that some racists were flushed out by the display of positive poc-lead posts. Similar to how electing Obama brought out a lot of racists that had 'kept it undercover' before then. I don't have any solution to that, but I do think it's important to acknowledge that this could easily be more aggressive racism than white fragility. Does anybody else see this pattern playing out?
posted by Behemoth, in no. 302-bis, with the Browning at 11:39 AM on January 29, 2020 [11 favorites]

I'm glad that meta was closed, but not that two of the last three comments contained "oh but the OP was hurt too" and "mods think that metas should be less moderated to appease people who freak out when their metas are rejected" both of which re-center the very same fragility that made the meta so shitty to begin with.

Here's a #truthbomb for all of the white people on MeFi: you are racist. You are! I am white. I am racist. If you can't admit that to yourself, you are not ready to do anti-racist work, and you need to get to the point where you can accept that single truth. If someone tells you something you said was racist and your response is not "oh, you're right, that was shitty of me, I'm sorry and will do better" then you are not ready to do anti-racist work. If you do not catch yourself in mid-microaggression and say "damn, this is shitty of me, I need to do better" then you are not ready to do anti-racist work. If you don't notice the many (many!) times per day when you make PoC uncomfortable with your actions and sometimes just your presence, and think of ways to change your behavior to minimize the harm you cause, you are not ready to do anti-racist work. You don't have to be perfect - you never will be - but you have to accept that the problem exists, and is inside of you, first and foremost, and be willing to hear that from others and not freak TF out. That's, like, 101 baseline readiness. Me? I'm still not there. I'd like to think that I am but know otherwise.

Also, don't self-identify as an ally.
posted by grumpybear69 at 11:53 AM on January 29, 2020 [16 favorites]

That was my first meta where I consciously tried to participate as an ally (I'm a poc but not black). And I would really like to process how it went down without making this thread about me me me...is anyone willing to talk over memail?
posted by Omnomnom at 12:07 PM on January 29, 2020 [2 favorites]

Does anybody else see this pattern playing out?

I think it is absolutely something to be aware of. It's a fraught thing, and a profoundly irritating thing, because it's something that gets weaponized coming and going by bad actors--stoking the hurt and angry of hurt and angry people to fuel rare false positives with even rarer actual negative personal outcomes is something they joyfully will stir the pot on. But the other edge is that bad actors will leverage and lurk and take advantage of the privilege spaces of being given endless benefits of the doubt. (I think the latter is a far bigger problem than outlier formers, to be clearer(ish?) about it.)

And oh boy are there those privilege spaces on here. The mods keep saying they're evaluating and reevaluating and rereevaulting and things are in the works etc etc, but how many trying to be even a marginally better space for PoC metas have ended up being closed with mod notes saying among other things that "we" must find a way to move forward better, better meaning in a way that doesn't make "us" feel bad?

I don't know; I'm frustrated, and it doesn't even affect me beyond the trivial level (the nature of privilege space). I can only begin to imagine the toll it takes on those who are affected well beyond that.

At the individual more actionable level, one of key points I think is the difficulty of internalizing "I don't matter." I do not mean this in a self-loathing, psychological self-harming sort of way. But in a more "I'm really not a big deal" sense. I am a hundred percent positive I've written and said things that were everywhere from really-I-don't-mean-actually-sneeringly-actually-just-landed-wrong, to yep-that-was-thoughtless. Probably not just years ago, but recently! (Hopefully more on the not-recently side, buuut.) But...more rambling personal anecdote time:

Speaking of some years ago: there were several important threads that shook me up inside of that privilege space. "Whatcha reading?" and one of the first emotional labor threads, and several related boyzone Metas and the like. Somewhere in one of the metatalks, one of the lightning bolts that hit me (from bystanding at someone or other's fragility meltdown) was just how much of a largely unconscious performance male anger was, the way it deliberately plays on structural horrorshows of the violence-threat-assessment calculus that women have to do at even "minor" (not enough air quotes) angry shoutiness can entail.

Theory well and good, and if I'd just looked at the guy melting down in the thread at the time from a higher-elevated horse and stopped there with smug Not Me...well, it wouldn't surprise any women, would it? But right as part of the bolt of that realization was remembering the last recent time I'd snapped at a friend out of what was at the core frustration and shame over something ultimately trivial (there's a reason fragility's called that). I don't snap like that often, that kind of anger display is atypical for me, but that justifies not a lick of it, because I remember how immediately quiet she got, the withdrawal in the moment.

Again, ultimately trivial. Somewhere under even "micro" as aggressions go; minutes later the thing was resolved and we were all laughing together again. When, with that bolt clear in my head, I apologized for how I'd snapped and for the anger display out of all proportion...she didn't even remember what I was apologizing for. She was grateful and touched, though.

And both parts of that apply generally, I think. Rhetorical-you has absolutely said bad things. You absolutely will stick your foot in your mouth, both by action and inaction. Odds are, especially if you make an effort to have foot-swallowing be atypical(ish), most people will barely remember you did even a short time later even after heated exchanges. But owning that you did, without making a big production of it--that does good. A little bit of good, but I have to believe a better world's built out of little bits of good adding up.
posted by Drastic at 12:23 PM on January 29, 2020 [4 favorites]

white fragility. Does anybody else see this pattern playing out?

Yes. Back in the early-MeFi days there would often be a bunch of anti=Semitic type freakouts (usually some sort of "Look at these assholes" posts but something about I/P politics or something similar) right around the major Jewish holidays. I always felt that people were seeing more Jewish representation around them and somehow their inner anti-Semites were getting itchy for them to do some sort of "Yeah but...." response.

And I think what we are seeing in reaction to #poctakeover (hair splitting about tactics, language, and etc) is very similar.
posted by jessamyn (retired) at 12:26 PM on January 29, 2020 [21 favorites]

Here’s some good peak white fragility for y’all to unpack and work on.

Does more need to happen in that thread to push back on the misreading of your point, stoneweaver? I saw the mod note nudging people back to discuss the article itself rather than lapsing into a global history of misogyny, but did you feel that was enough?

For me, I see the mod note and think, okay, guess we have to stop talking about that aspect. But...does that mean the misreading just sort of sticks around unquestioned? There's no real closure on it.

It seemed like some people read the comment correctly, and backed it up. But it's not clear to me whether that was enough, either.
posted by mittens at 12:58 PM on January 29, 2020 [1 favorite]

I was actually about to march in here and express irritation with the same thread stoneweaver linked above, but I see she's beat me to it.

Y'all, when someone says that Western colonialism has often spread and promoted misogyny, this is not an invitation to cast about for a different, non Western hegemonic culture that was also very sexist. Western Europe does not have a monopoly on sexism, but colonialism has a very long history of eroding the rights of women wherever those rights were already pretty good.

This particularly should have been obvious when the original comment about colonialism is coming from a user who has been very open about approaching from an indigenous North American/First Nations perspective, not an East Asian perspective, where European colonizers did indeed do exactly the thing she referenced them doing.

If not all POC are monoliths, then it's incumbent on us white people to consider which cases of cultural history and interaction any given user might be invoking. We must extend the beneficial assumption that that user is invoking a correct example of that kind of interaction and knows what the fuck they're talking about. If something seems surprising, well, white people history isn't always complete. You might be missing something. Ask for a more specific example rather than assuming the poster is wrong because you can think of a counter example in which white people appear neutral or better on gender issues.

C'mon, guys.
posted by sciatrix at 1:12 PM on January 29, 2020 [16 favorites]

I am a little sorry, incidentally, for trying to shut down that whole line of discussion derail in my last comment in the thread trying to back you up. I could see it was going poorly, but if the best move we can think of is to trim those discussions and stop having them the moment that white folks start defensively going "it's not just us!"... If that's our best move, is that really progress?
posted by sciatrix at 1:22 PM on January 29, 2020 [1 favorite]

Sometimes stepping in means just quoting a comment and saying "I think we should be paying more attention to this point" or "I don't agree that this is what's happening here," as relevant.

Thanks for this concrete example, ifdssn9 - this is definitely a thing I'll keep in mind going forward.
posted by soundguy99 at 2:42 PM on January 29, 2020 [1 favorite]

Here’s some good peak white fragility for y’all to unpack and work on.

Yet another example of a thread devolving into “Well, Actually”ing instead of “Yes And” sharing. I swear some people on this site think you get secret bonus points if you can nitpick a woman, WOC, or POC. God forbid you pass up a chance to correct !!!
posted by sallybrown at 3:03 PM on January 29, 2020 [11 favorites]

Yet another example of a thread devolving into “Well, Actually”ing instead of “Yes And” sharing

That is such a great way to put it.

And apologies for not reading the discussion in here before my recent comments in that thread. I probably could have written something more nuanced if I'd come here first.
posted by lollusc at 3:33 PM on January 29, 2020 [2 favorites]

The reaching for academic references and history and basically sea lioning with unrelated facts (yes, orthogonal use of term) is a particularly MetaFilter way of expressing discomfort and fragility.

I really find this insight helpful (also for thinking about my own patterns of behaviour). I think it's something about feeling an emotion, knowing that it's not good to respond emotionally to stuff like this, and so responding in what you think is the opposite of emotionally, without realising that the impulse still comes from the same place.
posted by lollusc at 3:45 PM on January 29, 2020 [3 favorites]

This would be a fruitful path of discussion.

Up to now, I've thought of white fragility as what's happening when someone makes an assertion that white people do/did X, which is reasonably accurate, and a white person gets angry about that and argues against the original assertion head on.

But it also seems common for someone to reinterpret the original assertion to mean "all white people do X", or "only white people do X", or "white people always do X", and argue against that assertion instead. The conversation is then derailed and others may come along and see that they have an opportunity to contribute some information to the discussion, without seeing that they are addressing a misinterpretation of the original assertion.

I think that thing of expanding the original assertion is itself an expression of white fragility even if there's no anger involved. Blindness to when others have done this, and coming along for the ride with them, is too. No anger involved there either.

I think one could substitute 'male' for 'white' in this, or really any other advantaged group that has a problem with fragility.
posted by FishBike at 3:55 PM on January 29, 2020 [7 favorites]

If it's helpful at all for empathetic reasons, some of us are just assholes who really like nitpicky arguments. I think the issue is that some of us also have a mental model of The Internet where everyone is interchangeable faceless argument robots who are just there for us to try to win rhetorical games against, and a semi-conscious belief that everyone is participating in the same mindset. When someone with skin in the game instead participates from a particular specified viewpoint or with stronger emotional reactions, this goes badly. It would be better if people inclined this direction (like myself) can learn to modulate ourselves, because it's hardly reasonable to demand that everyone just absorb mental and social harms on the grounds that they weren't intended harmfully.

(Like, I don't know, if you're not that sort of mind, it's hard to explain. You know that bit in Futurama where the boss Bureaucrat says to Hermes, "You are technically correct; the best kind of correct!"? Some of us, that isn't a joke.)

I think generally it's about being the sort of person who can afford to take that kind of distant, clinical, competitive viewpoint on everything. This is obviously a form of privilege and probably best addressed by sciatrix's method, honestly; cut that direction of discussion off and try to redirect back to the useful topic where we can discuss constructive methods. Most people with the urge to nitpick, I would say, aren't also malicious; once you make us realize that we're causing harm with our argumentative ways, we'll back off. (I have backed off almost all the way, as I've said above, and am trying to now readjust so that I can participate helpfully again.)
posted by Scattercat at 4:02 PM on January 29, 2020 [4 favorites]

Scattercat, one thing I might suggest we consider is why does the nitpicking often take the form of finding the flaws in an argument that wasn't made, instead of nitpicking about another overly broad argument? And to be clear am I not trying to call out you or anyone else specifically with this comment, I mean this in relation to my comment above.

I certainly believe there are people who find it hard to avoid the "well, actually..." thing (I'm probably one myself), but it could just as easily be in the form of "well, actually, the argument that was made was X, not Y" and be nitpicky over that instead of the following derail?

Maybe we can't easily change some of our tendencies, but we could try to aim them better?
posted by FishBike at 4:17 PM on January 29, 2020 [6 favorites]

Yes, if the derail is sideways, certainly point that out. (Several people in the Enduring Male Fragility thread pointed out - usefully, in my opinion - that the discussion was about modern online misogynistic harassment and not comparative ancient culture wars.)

Finding the flaws in an argument that wasn't made is often the easiest way to find a method to be "correct" and be the one explaining things, which is the fun part. Also, c.f. most people aren't trying to be hurtful, often the main argument made is one that the Nitpicker agrees with and thus has nothing to talk about in reference to, so we find an implication or a side issue where we can make corrections.
posted by Scattercat at 4:24 PM on January 29, 2020 [4 favorites]

I think neurotypical people may find it easier to not nitpick because they have a better understanding of expectations, shared assumptions, etc. And a lot of issues happen when people get that wrong. I don't want to get off track though.

If you aren't sure you can ask, though that doesn't always go well. Likewise, you can also address an argument indirectly.
posted by gryftir at 6:52 PM on January 29, 2020

Finding the flaws in an argument that wasn't made is often the easiest way to find a method to be "correct" and be the one explaining things, which is the fun part. Also, c.f. most people aren't trying to be hurtful, often the main argument made is one that the Nitpicker agrees with and thus has nothing to talk about in reference to, so we find an implication or a side issue where we can make corrections.

Well, yes, but...

I totally get this, and, hell, I became a librarian and professor so I could get paid to do it (alas, no one warned me about the endless meetings and politicking), and there are definitely groups of people who see “knowledge” as “mastery of facts” and “communication” as “debate,” and that’s fine, but...

It’s not the best angle to approach a lot of topics, and, in America at least, it’s a gendered behavior, and finding flaws and having fun and being the one explaining things is terrible and disruptive in, say, an FPP with more emotional content or one where people are sharing and exploring their experiences, so...

A critical skill in communication (esp. online where many social cues are invisible and communication styles are blunted) is “reading the room” and intuiting which tools might be productive and, on MF, there are times where the best thing you can do is read and favorite and maybe say “thanks” or “this is a good point” or “this resonated with me.” Or just move on to a different thread, so...

It’s not that the “basket of facts” is a bad approach, but you have to combine it with the skill to know when to deploy it, or it’ll do more harm than good, especially in conversations about privilege.
posted by GenjiandProust at 4:11 AM on January 30, 2020 [16 favorites]

often the main argument made is one that the Nitpicker agrees with and thus has nothing to talk about in reference to, so we find an implication or a side issue where we can make corrections.

When the thread is about something like knitting patterns*, I'd say this is potentially fun, at least for some people.

However, when the thread, or any of the side issues, relate to racism in any way, which is an enormously complex thing that we're all trying to do better at, I'd say that this sort of behaviour is likely to be inappropriate and badly judged, and risks spoiling the thread for everyone.

*no shade, knitters
posted by greenish at 5:06 AM on January 30, 2020 [7 favorites]

Everything GenjiandProust said. Also, man, I fucking love being the nitpicker. I love explaining things, and I love sharing weird facts, and I love finding things to chew on. These are really fundamental aspects of my personality and ways I approach the world and ways my career explicitly trains me to approach topics I care about.

I routinely upset people I care deeply about by indulging those tendencies in places that are frequently devalued and therefore fraught. Routinely. Fixing that tendency is one of the biggest things about myself that I am constantly working on.

One of the problems, of course, is how we unconsciously honor and evaluate expertise. If I say "I am a scholar, so I know what I am talking about," many people think "sciatrix is an Expert and knows more than me, so I should take care and be very, very certain that I am completely right and she is obviously wrong before I correct her. Probably she already knows all the places that I could explain that seem obvious to me, anyway, but if I correct her she might make me look foolish." So I often* get the benefit of the doubt from folks in conversations about my field of expertise, and Nitpickers tend to make sure that they're confident in my wrongness before they attempt to correct me.

The problem is that living a marginalization does, in fact, grant you a level of expertise on a topic... but that people outside that marginalization are often not socialized to respect that category of expertise. So we white people approach discussions with POC as though we are equals rather than treating each POC as a person with special expertise on racism.

White people, on racism? We are not equals. We need to sit and learn. That means that we gleeful Nitpickers need to start teaching ourselves to interpret marginalized status as a form of expertise to be respected. Experts may not be always right--frequently experts are wrong!--but expertise needs to be honored in these discussions when it comes from marginalized traditions and experience just as it does when it comes with academic titles.

*this is also, of course, gendered. But we're not talking about sexism right now.
posted by sciatrix at 5:20 AM on January 30, 2020 [18 favorites]

"PoC are experts in racism" is almost exactly how I trained my own mind to think about these things and keep my Nitpickerism in check.

(More broadly, I have built a slipshod mental construct that goes something like "Everyone is an expert in the things that they know and are and do," and it's shaped a bit like a safety pin or a bar piercing that I can use to keep my jaw clenched shut. If push comes to shove I can try to fight it directly in all its tautological glory and that keeps me busy until the moment for interjection has passed and social anxiety prevents me from trying to steer conversation.)
posted by Scattercat at 7:40 AM on January 30, 2020 [5 favorites]

I think these are some good realizations, and I have a few things to add from a POC perspective:

--Understanding that POC are experts in racism is a good start. Another big issue is when white people don't recognize that a conversation is actually about race or racism. For example, this post was ostensibly about religion and spiritual traditions, and a lot of people approached the topic as if it were a completely level playing field that had nothing to do with culture. This does not go well, and will not be solved purely by giving POC the floor when it comes to racism.

--Similarly, POC aren't *just* experts in racism - often we're experts in what we're talking about, period. You may not know it because we're not as used to communicating in a way that involves throwing our weight and professional/academic credentials around to get people to defer to us. Or you might overlook it because you're used to thinking of POC as only experts in racism, and not in other areas - and in fact if the topic is adjacent to race/culture (like indigenous societies in the linked post), you might attribute our knowledge to simply being from that culture rather than actual study and expertise, and devalue it for that reason.

Anyway, for these and other reasons, I don't think such nitpicking is a good way to engage on Metafilter, and I think it can be particularly harmful to POC even outside the narrow confines of so-called "race-related" topics. I know we're all a bunch of pedantic nerds here (this is the kind of nerdery I like to see on Metafilter!), but I think it's worth it to make an effort to get away from that communication style.
posted by sunset in snow country at 10:40 AM on January 30, 2020 [24 favorites]

You may not know it because we're not as used to communicating in a way that involves throwing our weight and professional/academic credentials around to get people to defer to us

Also, because from what I've observed, throwing professional and academic credentials around just doesn't work, or is actively counterproductive for PoC a lot of the time, because of the extra backlash that brings them from people who consciously or subconsciously then want to put them "in their place".
posted by lollusc at 4:53 PM on January 30, 2020 [6 favorites]

(Which makes me think that those of us who can do it* should be much more limited and careful about how we wield that privilege.)

*Bearing in mind that as a (white) woman, throwing credentials around doesn't always work for me the way it does for my white male peers.
posted by lollusc at 4:57 PM on January 30, 2020 [3 favorites]

Quick question: I just saw xenon's comments and suedehead's response here. I don't have anything further to add to suedehead's most excellent comment but I second it very hard. I've favourited, but is this a situation where people think it would be helpful for me and or others to explicitly leave a comment in the thread saying we agree, or would that just be noise?
posted by lollusc at 10:37 PM on February 2, 2020 [1 favorite]

In an AskMe thread, I would be inclined to favourite the comment and - if I was going to add an answer of my own - note my agreement with the comment.

I probably wouldn't add a standalone comment just to agree with someone else (as I might on the Blue), given the focus in AskMe on responding to the question rather than interacting with other commenters.
posted by inire at 2:18 AM on February 3, 2020 [2 favorites]


I was told I was being racist. And because I am thick I had to be told more directly a second time. And then I realized I was being racist. Part of me just wants to run off and hide in shame. I think about the burden of having to confront stupidity like mine all the time, and, and I am sorry. And I totally derailed the thread.

Here's the thing: I skimmed this very thread when it was posted. Thought to myself, 'cool, I'm all good' and gave myself two thumbs up.
posted by zenon at 9:19 AM on February 5, 2020 [12 favorites]

Part of me just wants to run off and hide in shame

Yeah, I know what it's like to feel that way after a call out. But the more productive response, as you are doing here, is actually to continue to engage, but with more of an eye to those tendencies in yourself in the future.

I think giving ourselves thumbs up (as many of us, me included) have been doing in this thread, or privately while reading this thread, is pretty dangerous. Not only are we likely to strain a muscle patting ourselves on the back (hat-tip to one of the members of the #POCtakeover crowd who mentioned to me jokingly that those of us in this thread were in danger of injuring ourselves in that way), but also it can make us blind to the stuff that we do have problems with.

From the dinner parties post on the blue the other day, I really liked the idea of keeping a journal of things that we do, think, or say that are racist, because it does require us to accept that we have been brainwashed by a racist system, and we are embedded in structural racism, and we are doing and saying and thinking racist things. If we can't see them, it just means we need to look harder. Keeping a journal like that forces us to look harder. And it also maybe normalises an approach of noticing racism in ourselves, and vowing to do better, and moving on, rather than wallowing in guilt and shame and not using it as a learning experience.
posted by lollusc at 5:20 PM on February 5, 2020 [8 favorites]

I make a habit of favoriting every comment I read in which someone admits they were wrong about something. When writing here about things like racism, I try to use language that implicates myself and I often implore everyone to be self-critical along with criticizing others.

There was a point during adolescence when my father's absolute refusal to ever admit he was wrong suddenly looked very weak to me. Also as a teen, after learning more about the Holocaust, I spent a lot of time thinking about how a society could do such things and it seemed very clear to me that it was nonsensical to believe that we couldn't commit such atrocities. It bothered me a great deal that the subtext to discussions of such atrocities was always that somehow the people who committed them were quite unlike ourselves. It's always upset me that we do the same thing about history — one lesson I've learned from history is that there necessarily must be a number of things for which we of our time will be harshly judged that almost all of us find acceptable, or at least not egregious. I semi-routinely ask myself what those things might be; I have a mental list of possibilities. And note that against none of them am I risking my life or even my social standing to vigorously oppose. Very occasionally I will mention one of the things on that list here as being wrong, perhaps terribly wrong, and without fail this evokes a very strong negative response. I kind of think that, were anyone in the future to notice, they'd judge me more harshly than any of the defensive or mocking interlocutors because I had a glimmer of awareness and yet did so little in response.

So, yes, of course it is impossible to avoid error, of fact or ethics. The standard I hold myself to has two parts: First, am I being sufficiently self-critical? Second, when I recognize my mistakes, do I correct them? What I fear most is self-serving self-deception or willful ignorance. The mistakes I cannot forgive myself are the mistakes I've made that I am sure I was capable of avoiding if I hadn't so comfortably avoided the relevant self-criticism. And the social gaffe I fear the most is to be seen as such a person.

There is some deep psychology and childhood stuff involved in this, clearly, and that's one big reason I don't feel particularly virtuous about these habits of thought or practice. They're compulsive, driven by my need to feel secure through knowledge.

The thing is, though, is that pretty much everyone should do this stuff more than we do and whatever it is that gets you there, gets you there. We talk a lot about performative virtue and it's frequently an accusation thrown around by those who can't imagine that someone could be sincere about such things. But, really, within limits, I'm not sure it matters that much if you're actually doing the thing and it's becoming habit. That's the desired result.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 1:44 PM on February 6, 2020 [7 favorites]

We talk a lot about performative virtue and it's frequently an accusation thrown around by those who can't imagine that someone could be sincere about such things.

Seems to me that most of the mentions performative virtue gets are exactly that kind of accusation, most often employing the specific phrase "virtue signalling", and that these accusations most often come from folks whose main concern is keeping the virtue in question thoroughly socially suppressed.

Further seems to me that this is nothing more than reflexive DARVO and therefore best ignored. Performative virtue, even if it is in fact merely demonstrative virtue, stands a good chance of becoming normative virtue if enough people get behind it.

So, perform away. Be is better, obviously, but perform isn't nothing. Better performative virtue than performative cynicism.
posted by flabdablet at 6:05 PM on February 7, 2020 [7 favorites]

So, perform away. Be is better, obviously, but perform isn't nothing. Better performative virtue than performative cynicism.

A huge yes to this.

I've learnt so much from people doing or saying things that cynics would probably brand "virtue signalling". And not just learned about things, but learned that certain things are possible and doable, and that I can do them too.

Some role models are people we observe quietly doing good stuff. But some are people who confidently say out loud, I did this thing, and help us to realise, I could do that thing too.
posted by greenish at 3:55 AM on February 10, 2020 [6 favorites]

Not Australian but I read that and got a lot out of it, some really clear language around the right and wrong ways to offer help without centering yourself.
posted by greenish at 7:01 AM on February 13, 2020 [2 favorites]

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