On nooses and white reactions

I haven’t yet written about the recent string of noose incidents. I don’t have a good excuse for that.

Today, though, the Times has an article about those instances which have taken place in NY, and I’m using it as a reason to get up of my ass and open my mouth. Over the past few weeks, seven nooses have been found, left for blacks to find as obvious attempts at intimidation and threats of violence.

Three noose episodes took place on Long Island in three days. On Wednesday, two were found at a sanitation garage in the Town of Hempstead — one of them looped around the neck of a stuffed animal with its face blackened. On Thursday, a noose was discovered hanging in a Nassau County highway department yard in Baldwin. On Friday, a worker at the Green Acres shopping mall in Valley Stream found one slung over a door at a construction site.

Public officials said they were outraged, determined to catch the culprits — and stumped.

“It would diminish the seriousness of these events to call any of them copycat situations,” said Kate Murray, the supervisor of the Town of Hempstead, a sprawling township of 750,000 residents, about 15 percent of them black, where all of last week’s incidents occurred. “But I’m not a sociologist. I am surprised by it.”

. . . “I don’t know what the pattern is, if there is one,” said Thomas R. Suozzi, the county executive of Nassau County, which includes Hempstead. “Are people more hateful than they have been? I just don’t know.”

I think that the last question is a legitimate one worth considering. Are white people becoming more racist? You could be forgiven for thinking so, lately. Though institutional racism has always been there and supported by whites, it lately seems like loud, overt racism is somehow becoming more acceptable. There’s the recent string of celebrities (Paris Hilton, Michael Richards) using the N-word. There’s the overtly racist response to the Jena 6, and there are all of the blackface parties being held as a “joke” by young whites.

Though I don’t have an explanation for it, I don’t think that more white people are suddenly more racist. For the most part, I’m not really sure how unacceptable racism has been in America against groups other than African Americans. A look at our discussions over immigration tell us that prejudice against Latino/as is considered mostly okay, our discussions over terrorism tell us that prejudice against Muslims, and really people of any other ethnicity that might bear some faint resemblance in skin color to Arabs, is just fine, everyone likes to try to forget that Native Americans even exist, and when has prejudice against Asians really been taken seriously? Racism against blacks has been the main issue for whites. No, I don’t think that racism is getting worse. I think that racism has always been there, and yes, it has been this bad. I do think that somehow the white community has gotten a cue that this overt racism against blacks is acceptable again.

I can’t explain why. Yes, I do think that Jena has played a huge role. How could it not have? Nooses aren’t just suddenly popping up everywhere out of coincidence. Jena has forced many white people who try to never think about, let alone talk about, issues of race to actually do so. And in case you haven’t been paying attention, it hasn’t exactly gone well. I’m not sure that “copycat” is the right word to describe the instances, but they all seem to be committed by different individuals. And they certainly are all related. And while with each one the outrage grows, so does the level of desensitization and acceptance. It’s getting to the point where whites are saying “oh, gee, another noose?” Firstly, those words should never have to be spoken. Secondly, the apathy with which their spoken is telling.

“In the context of today, the noose means, ‘There is still a racial hierarchy in this country, and you better not overstep your bounds,’” said Carmen Van Kerckhove, the founder of a New York consulting firm, New Demographic, that specializes in workplace problems, including racial tension.

. . . Willie Warren, an equipment operator at the Nassau County Public Works yard here, was among three workers in the garage on Thursday when an employee ran in to tell them he had found a noose hanging from a fence outside. Mr. Warren, 41, who has been with the department for 20 years, filed a racial discrimination suit in 2004, producing tape recordings of a supervisor referring to him with racial epithets. He won the case, got a promotion, still works for one of the supervisors named in his suit, and considers himself unflappable on the job.

The noose shook him. “It’s hard to explain, but it made me upset the whole day,” Mr. Warren said. One white co-worker was as upset as he was, he said. Another said, “What’s the big deal? It’s only a noose.”

This attitude is not only frightening, it’s also frighteningly common. The fact is, most white people don’t get it. Many don’t even realize that hanging a noose is a concrete threat of violence. It’s extreme ignorance and extreme stupidity, it boggles the mind, but it’s true. There’s a “sticks and stones” mentality from all of those who have never had to think about race, or how they will be discriminated against today, or whether they face institutionalized violence because of their skin color.

Because as one professor points out, this is about institutions:

Rachel E. Sullivan, an assistant professor of sociology at Long Island University’s C. W. Post College, said most people do not understand what lynchings were. “They think it was a few guys coming in the night, in their hooded sheets, taking you away,” she said.

She teaches a course on African-American history, including the killings of thousands by lynching in the United States between the end of the Civil War and the end of the civil rights movement of the 1960s.

“But in reality these were whole, big community events,” she said. “Children and families would come to watch. Hundreds of people attended. They would watch a man being burned and mutilated before he was hung. They would pose for pictures with the body.

“If people had a grasp of what really happened at these things,” Professor Sullivan continued, “they would understand the power of the symbol of a noose.”

I don’t know if it’s true that white people don’t know this. I mean, I was certainly taught this in schools. Maybe everyone else wasn’t. Or maybe they just never paid attention enough to remember. Maybe it’s easier to dismiss if you lie about it.

But the fact that this view is held so widely needs to be acknowledged. The most striking case of this that I’ve seen comes from a post by Magniloquence about an NPR segment that she caught on the radio:

I’ve started listening to NPR in the morning, in between songs and snippets of useful information (like, say, the traffic reports) on other stations. And lo and behold, one day I hear the following: “Ignore the Nooses.”

Yes, that’s right. From the little summary at their webpage:

All Things Considered, October 16, 2007 · In light of the resurgence of nooses appearing in places like Jena, La., and Columbia University’s Teacher’s College, here’s a modest proposal: The next time somebody plants a noose, let’s just ignore it. Perhaps paying less attention to these acts will take away their racist power.

I heard that, verbatim, and then several minutes of different people commending the logic and telling us to man up and stop being so sensitive. Stop giving the bullies what they want.

This kind of groupthink from white people, though I am white, never ceases to amaze me. I’m sure that it’s really easy to “ignore” violence when you are not the one facing the threat.

For those of you who still don’t get it, think about when men don’t “get” why women/feminists get so riled up about a little old rape threat. Because it’s not like they’re actually going to rape you. They’re just trying to get a rise! Whereas we know that there a chance of the threat actually being followed through on, and we also know that rape is not a game.

Lynching is not a game, either. Nooses aren’t funny or trivial. They’re not only as bad as racial slurs, but actually a lot worse. Ignoring threats of violence is never an appropriate response.

I will admit that I have been guilty of this “ignore it and it will go away” line of thinking. One example is my reaction to Ann Coulter. I think that we’ve given her far too much attention for far too many years. I think that not only are all of the media outlets who keep giving her a microphone responsible for the hatred that she spews and that they need to stop giving her the microphone, but that covering what she says has stopped serving a point. I think that continuing to talk about her gives her exactly what she wants and will only delay her crawling back into the dark hole from which she came.

Maybe I’m wrong about that. I don’t know. Since she talks an awful lot of shit about white women, too, I think that I have a bit more perspective on the issue. But I could still be wrong. I could also be right. Maybe there is in fact a difference. Coulter, though she can be perceived as encouraging violence, is not actually committing a crime. Hanging nooses, thankfully, is. We’ve also tried everything else we could with Coulter. We’ve denounced her and exposed her and she’s as popular as ever.

The problem is that we haven’t tried something different with racism. We’ve been going about this “let’s not talk about it and it will go away” mentality for a long time. We’ve been doing the “black people are making a big deal out of nothing” thing for a long time. When, exactly, have we tried talking about it honestly — not in a “is racism good or bad?” sort of way, but a “why are we racist and what can we do?” sort of way — on a wide-scale? I’m struggling to remember a time.

So maybe I’m wrong about Ann Coulter. Maybe I’m not. But I do know that NPR is wrong about the noose, as is everyone else who holds the “ho-hum” point of view. They’re more than just some kind of sick and twisted fad. They’re a part of a trend. And yeah, if we don’t deal with it and talk about it, I am quite terrified of where it’s going to take us next.

0 thoughts on “On nooses and white reactions

  1. Mary Tracy9

    I’m all up for ignoring nooses, the minute that everybody starts ignoring terrorists. What? Isn’t it exactly what terrorists want, that we are scrutinized and scared shitless every time we get on a plane? Exactly.

    Reply
  2. rich

    “We’ve been going about this “let’s not talk about it and it will go away” mentality for a long time. We’ve been doing the “black people are making a big deal out of nothing” thing for a long time.”

    I’m not sure what you mean here. I’m not offended or anything, I just think that’s a heavier statement than you might think.

    And with the Asian prejudice comment, Asians have a higher job and income success rate in the States compared to other minorities along with Jews, which I think tends to make the prejudices more accepted. We can say what we want, look, they’re doing fine for themselves. Plus, many Asian cultures tend to internalize their problems and hide them; back in high school, kids were brutal towards the “smart Asians,” but you never heard a peep out of most of them. Add to that their lack of any sort of public leaders/officials (has anyone ever heard of Norman Mineta? Elaine Chao? I thought so, and Jackie Chan and Lucy Liu don’t count)and you’re point is certainly proven; whatever prejudice towards Asians that exists, is not taken seriously.

    Reply
  3. BlurpleBerry

    To quote Avenue Q, bigotry has never been exclusively white. It bothers me that you ask, “Are white people becoming more racist?” People of color can be racist as well; while I think some of these noose incidents have been committed by white people, there is a definite possibility that people who are not black or white can have hung up nooses as well.

    Reply
  4. Cara Post author

    I agree that it is possible for people of color to be prejudiced against other marginalized groups. But I think that it would be insane to ever suggest that white people are not the problem. They are. And I am all but entirely convinced that white people are responsible for the nooses.

    Reply
  5. rich

    Sorry I wasn’t clear. I was just wondering, one, who you mean by “we” when you say we haven’t been looking at the problem correctly. Society at large? Whites only? News organizations or the educational system? Pop culture? Minority groups? I just was wondering where specifically you got the impression that people think “let’s not think or talk about it and it will go away,” or “they’re overreacting.” I understand the NPR commentary was one example, though here is an NPR opinion column directly questioning those same assumptions:
    http://www.npr.org/blogs/newsandviews/2007/10/nooses_vs_positive_thinking.html

    I don’t know any school institution who teaches “ignore it and it will go away,” nor do I know any black rights groups or any other minority rights groups to think that way; media meanwhile covers racial incidents to a large degree. I think that, to the contrary, racial inequalities and violence have been drawing more and more attention over the years, as in less and less people are “ignoring” the problems. Racial profiling is constantly being reported, as are major studies that prove, for instance, that white men who say they have a prior record of conviction are much more likely to receive an interview than a black person with the exact same qualifications with no history of conviction. The meeting of two black head coaches in the Superbowl, for the first time in history, was celebrated across the board, along with the controversial Rooney Rule; Imus gets ripped apart and fired, deservingly (these are just random examples from various arenas). The racism is still there, but I honestly think the awareness and understanding of the truth is increasing.
    That being said, I completely agree with you that it needs to be talked about, the more the better, but I guess I’m saying I think that’s actually happening. Long way to go, but we’re not moving backwards. Much of America’s insane fear and prejudice, coupled with their lack of knowledge of Muslim culture, is a scarier thing, considering it is almost implicitly sanctioned by the current administration (and that’s a whole different can of worms). As for the dumbass co-worker who said “what’s the big deal, it’s just a noose?”, and the “don’t let the negative energy affect your positive thinking” folks, I think those people are slowly on the decline. Things like O.J. Simpson, GTA: San Andreas, and mainstream hiphop culture, are certainly detractors from the ultimate goal, but only means we should constantly be redoubling our efforts.

    Reply
  6. Katie

    the school I went to was very strong against racism. Even though the population of the school was mostly white we were never allowed to be ignorant. We constantly drilled about White Privilege and what we could do to stop this. Even with this it was amazing how many people resisted the idea that this even existed. I also agree with you on your comment compairing rape and threats. As the only female cook in a Kitchen it is very easy for “jokes” like that to occure. It very disterbing because its true you never know who could follow up on those “jokes”.

    oh and If I hadnt decided to reply to this one I would have never realized your posts are longer than what the main page shows :-p I love your blog btw. kudos to you

    Reply
  7. Cara Post author

    Wow, Rich, I actually disagree with you completely.

    I mean society at large, namely white society.

    I don’t know any school institution who teaches “ignore it and it will go away,” nor do I know any black rights groups or any other minority rights groups to think that way;

    No, of course minority rights groups don’t think that way. They’re the the only one who consistently recognize the problem. And no, schools do not explicitly teach that. But they do teach about “racism” as “slavery” and “the jim crow era.” Schools do act as though “and then jim crow laws were abolished, and white and black relations lived happily ever after.”

    There’s a reason that we have Black History Month. If we treated racism seriously in the schools, we wouldn’t need it.

    media meanwhile covers racial incidents to a large degree. I think that, to the contrary, racial inequalities and violence have been drawing more and more attention over the years, as in less and less people are “ignoring” the problems. Racial profiling is constantly being reported, as are major studies that prove, for instance, that white men who say they have a prior record of conviction are much more likely to receive an interview than a black person with the exact same qualifications with no history of conviction. The meeting of two black head coaches in the Superbowl, for the first time in history, was celebrated across the board, along with the controversial Rooney Rule; Imus gets ripped apart and fired, deservingly (these are just random examples from various arenas). The racism is still there, but I honestly think the awareness and understanding of the truth is increasing.

    This just isn’t true. Do you read any anti-racism blogs or political blogs by people of color? If you did, you’d know just how much the media ignores.

    That study you mentioned: I absolutely believe it exists and is right, but I’ve never heard of it. If it was released some time this year, that’s pretty extraordinary, because I’ve been combing through the mainstream news pretty carefully for that long. I do remember a story about how resumes with “white-sounding” names were much, much more likely to get call backs than resumes with “black-sounding” names. It wasn’t widely covered though, and notice how even after these studies, most white people still oppose affirmative action as “unfair” and “reverse racism?”

    No, the SuperBowl does not count. It’s great for those coaches, but as for the media it’s superficial bullshit that allows the white owners the chance to say “see!? Equality! Achieved!” It was the same as when Halle Berry and Denzel Washington both won Oscars. The media made a huge deal of it, and how many blacks have been nominated for, let alone won, best Oscar awards since?

    Imus was not punished. Imus was defended for over two weeks before he was fired. That is not a lack of tolerance for racism. That is “let us see if we can get away with this.” Polls showed that about half of people thought that Imus should be able to keep his job. And Imus is now going back on the air. And in the meantime, Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly, etc., have been allowed to make hateful, racist comments against blacks on the air. White media commenters not only managed to discuss the story often without any imput from black commenters, and very rarely from black female commenters. They also manged to turn it into a discussion about rape music, effectively taking the focus away from white racism. Nothing was accomplished or learned here and is, actually, a horrid example.

    If the awareness that racism is wrong is going up, what’s with the nooses? What’s with Paris Hilton still being famous? Why do so many honestly believe that the kids who hold blackface parties “aren’t racist?” Why do all of the article about Jena include so many whites saying “we aren’t racist, really we promise!” Why are there usually more of these quotes than those from the black citizen who are upset? Why the hell would Jena be so controversial at all? Why would affirmative action be so controversial? Why would we have a Republican president? Why are crack laws different from cocaine laws, why is there so much corporate welfare and so little actual welfare, why do we still allow politicians to rail against single mothers, why are inner city schools so underfunded compared to schools in the suburbs? You can say that these things are directly out of our control, but they’re not, really. If we cared about them, we’d stop electing Republicans, we’d start electing liberals a hell of a lot better than so many of the Dems in Congress who would actually do something, and we’d make a fucking stink. But white people don’t care. And more often than not, they actually do support the racist policies.

    Reply
  8. Rachel

    Cara,
    I just found your blog one day last week via stumble-upon, and I’ve been doing quite a bit of reading over the past few days. You’re thoughtful and eloquent and I’m really enjoying what I’m reading here.

    With regards to this particular posting:
    “What’s the big deal? It’s only a noose.”
    WHAT?! Jesus. (sorry, that was my immediate reaction there)

    I’m a poet, as are most of my friends. Over the past year we’ve been talking about race and how it plays out in the poetry world – at last year’s Dodge Poetry Festival, there was a panel discussion on race which put together two black poets, one white poet, and one Native American poet to field questions from the audience and discuss their feelings about race and poetry. Lucille Clifton, one of the two black poets, said, “White people never talk about race.”

    I don’t think she was wrong at the time she said it – prior to that admonishment, I’d certaily never sat around discussing race with my friends, regardless of their color. Since then, it’s been a constant topic of conversation – some of my friends are writing “race poems,” trying to tackle the issue of racism with art. I’m finding out a lot of things I didn’t know about some of my friends who are not white. It’s been an eye-opening experience for me.

    It makes me wonder – is this something that other white people find to be true? I know there’s always been a rumbling of “it’s been a hundred years since the slaves were freed, just get over it already” – but there’s also been, in my experience, an undercurrent of attitudes that suggest that not acknowledging race at all makes us less racist. But now, considering the recent spate of race-related threats and instances of intimidation, I’m wondering if perhaps all of that suppression for the sake of appearing politically correct is now boiling out into the open? That it’s not that anyone is more racist than before, but that they have lost the patience to contain it?

    Rachel

    Reply
  9. Cara Post author

    Thanks, Rachael. That’s great to hear 🙂

    I definitely agree that there is feeling that acknowledging race at all is racist. I think that this serves as an excuse for white people to avoid dealing with racism, because it makes them (us) uncomfortable, but also as a way to understate the effect of race and racism on our lives and as a way to portray ourselves as also being victims.

    I think that more whites than not, actually, have this thing in their head that black people talking shit about whites is just as bad as whites talking shit about blacks — that they’re both racism. It’s because so many white people don’t really understand racism (or don’t care to). Many, if not most white people seem to think that racism is “judging someone based on their skin color.” They think that racism is only something that individuals do, and not institutions. This is false. And when we realize that racism is really a form of institutional oppression, we can realize that not only is there no “reverse racism,” but the concept that there is is really fucking offensive. No, black people calling whites “crackers” is not racism. It’s offensive, and it’s not nice and it’s wrong, but it’s not racism. At the end of that admittedly unfortunate exchange, the white person still walks away being white and with all of the social advantages that being white provides, and the black person walks away still being black, having gained absolutely no social power. By contract, racial slurs against blacks or any other racial minority serve to uphold and reinforce oppression.

    That was a bit of a tangent, but I do think that it’s closely related to what you were saying, and very important with regards to this type of discussion.

    Reply
  10. Rachel

    Cara,
    I think you point out a really important distinction here between racism and racially motivated language – that language does not, in fact, define or create racism, but that it can – and does – support racism. I think recognizing that one can use respectful language and still be racist, while someone else can use slurs and epithets and still be not-racist, is an extremely important point in the discussion of racism – but one that most white people will be unwilling to admit to.

    And, of course, most white people will not understand why their use of racial slurs will almost always be a support structure for institutionalized racism because I think a good number of white people don’t recognize it when they see it.

    Rachel

    Reply
  11. Cara Post author

    Well, I’m struggling to think of an instance where someone might use a racial slur/epithet without being racist themselves — unless we’re talking about directly quoting someone else, or examples of people who are the subject of the slur working to “take it back” by attempting to use it in an endearing or humorous way.

    Other than that, though, we’re in agreement.

    Reply
  12. rich

    Wow is right. You just made a ton of good points; this is gonna be a long response. I agree with you about crack vs. cocaine laws; the reasons that support it are veiled in economics and the need to control a largely growing crack market; reminds me of reefer madness and how marijuana is still criminalized because of testimony that “marijuana makes black men rape white women,” which was backed up even by the AMA in court in the early 1900s. I’m sorry, I didn’t know Imus was going back on the air. And I have a few black friends who don’t think Imus should have been fired, because the comment was a joke to them, as in a comment without any real malice. Whether or not that’s an excuse is up to you, I still think he should’ve been fired; I think people when they talk about Imus tend to be sympathetic because of his decades of charitable acts for youth and such, what nonsense.
    I don’t know if I read anti-racism blogs; I read black and latino operated newspapers that focus on their issues; I don’t know if that constitutes anti-racism media or not.
    And as a matter of fact, the Super Bowl was a large incident, because there have been sparse numbers of black coaches at the NFL’s outset, and now there are quite a few, not because of the increase in expansion teams, but because there are now some more. Undoubtedly, NFL still lags as compared to, say the NBA, in terms of black head coaches, but it did mark a moment of triumph that not one but two black coaches reached the big game; no one said equality achieved. News networks covering the race to the Superbowl consistently ran articles and ops about the enormous disparity in white vs. colored coaches in a black dominated sport. If you believe progress has not been made, check out the life of Eddie Robinson, and how he paved the way for those like Lovie and Dungee.

    The study I mentioned may or may not be this one (involving resumes); the study was extensively quoted as part of a larger NPR segment, here’s the link to the study conducted by Princeton.

    http://www.princeton.edu/~pager/race_at_work.pdf

    I don’t think the noose hanging means an increase in racism (I think it’s even scarier that an interracial couple found a burning cross on their lawn about five years ago). I certainly think they are sick crimes, but there’s no cause and effect here. And the fact that there is more news about white people is not necessarily a reflection of racism, but quite possibly a reflection of demographics (and I know that’s a disagreeable point to bring up, but unfortunately it makes sense).

    When I worked at high school last year (oh man, specifically I worked at the very high school where a girl wore her “be happy, not gay” shirt, to be met with enormous controversy. As an aside, I can’t stand the “if the gay community says they are proud, why can’t we say we’re proud of being straight”, it’s asinine logic.)
    Anyways, schools do not just teach that Jim Crow is over, the Civil Rights movement is over, therefore equality has won. That is far from the truth. Current events are extensively covered, such as Immigration policy and affirmative action, as well as disparities in our system that intentionally or unintentionally marginalize minorities. The canon of literature that is taught in high schools has drastically, drastically changed. When my older brother was in high school, it was almost all dead white male lit., you know what I mean. When I was in high school, I studied Richard Wright, Langston Hughes, Ralph Ellison, Maya Angelou, and others. Now, high schools are teaching Garcia-Marquez, Borges, and Cisneros, to name a few. The educational system is changing. You know, I even had a high teacher who taught extensively out of Zinn’s People’s History, which should be taught by every school.

    Part of the controversy surrounding affirmative action in the workforce is that it is a race based, not socio-economic. In higher education, I have white friends who have come from nothing to graduate with distinction, but receives less funding a couple of my black friends who actually grew up somewhat better economically. And I have read studies by black professors that speak of the detriments of affirmative action on the black psyche. Even if you were the best and did not need affirmative action policies, the fact that the company employs said policies can indeed be damaging to your idea of self-worth.
    That being said, I am a supporter of affirmative action, but I don’t think it’s controversial entirely because white people don’t like it.

    I don’t want to take up too much more of your blogspace so I’ll stop here. You gave me a lot to think about; I still think progress is being made and we’re not stagnant, but I’ll hold my beliefs with a grain of salt. BTW, Paris Hilton is famous because of her altruism and extraordinary acting talents.

    Reply
  13. Cara Post author

    It sounds like you went to a much better school than I did. I will certainly cede the point that schools are very different across the nation, and I think that’s something important for both of us, in making our arguments, to remember. These things change from district to district. You say that yours dealt extensively and intelligently with race issues. Mine did not. I’d say that my experience is probably more common, but I don’t have any data to back it up. It’s just a feeling that I have from people I know who went to different school districts, article I read and blogs I participate in.
    I didn’t mean to imply that schools literally teach that “racism is over.” I don’t think that I’ve ever actually heard a teacher say that; I was using hyperbole. What I meant was that a hell of a lot of schools talk about segregation, how segregation ended, and then don’t talk about race issues ever, ever again. It’s not quite the same as actually saying “racism is over,” but it does seem to be a pretty damn strong hint.
    Sadly, Imus is coming back on the air. I find it too depressing to have actually read any of the stories, but it is with a different company, possible satellite radio. And it is also a fact that though Imus is in no way the worst media personality out there, he has been saying offensive crap as “jokes” for a long time. For some reason, people started paying attention this time.
    Re: the superbowl, I don’t follow football, so I will have to take your argument that progress is being made there as truth. But I also argue that some areas/industries are making gains much faster than others. Football, I imagine, is one because there is such a large proportion of black players. Though progress is, sure, being made in some areas, I think that even there it is growing a snail’s pace.
    As for affirmative action: yes, I’ve heard the “affirmative action is bad for blacks” many times before. I know that you’re not personally making it, but I do want to address it by saying that it is not affirmative action that has been bad for blacks — it is white reactions to affirmative action that has had a negative impact and created a hostile working environment. If whites were willing to accept the fact that they do indeed have privilege and were willing to concede even a tiny bit of their stranglehold on power, affirmative action would have gone much better. I’m not opposed to affirmative action programs based on other considerations. But the fact is that this argument about poor white people is trotted out way too often, and though it does have a small point, it really is used for racist means. The fast answer is that there are different types of privilege. The way they work and intersect is complicated. I am at a disadvantage because I’m female. I’m at an advantage because I am white, straight and grew up middle-class. A black man who grew up in a middle-class home still has the disadvantage of being black. His class doesn’t erase that, though it helps, just like my whiteness does not cancel out the discrimination that I face because I’m female. Class is important, but very different. A lower-class person can often “pass” as middle-class, for example. A black person cannot pass as white. It is about not only the opportunities for education, etc. that you receive through your life — though this is very important — it’s also about how you are received publicly and socially because of nothing besides your appearance.
    . . . And I will assume that your final comment about Paris Hilton is a joke 🙂

    Reply
  14. rich

    Yeah, you’re right about white perception of affirmative action as being detrimental to the program(s), but many blacks (at least among the ones I know), want to know for certain that they earned their jobs of their own merit, and in their minds, affirmative action detracts from that, not because of white perception, but because they don’t want any help of any kind. In that sense, affirmative action, regardless of outside perception, can be burdensome.
    I agree that schools do not teach the same across the board; that’s obviously even more of an understatement when we consider inner city public schools and in general those with high employee turnover and student dropout rates. And I agree that it is easier to jump class divides than other social barriers. An interesting note, but makes sense, that wording it as “affirmative action” makes a huge difference that has been borne out in polls and legislation, as opposed to another, highly misleading and inaccurate term, “preferential treatment.”

    Reply
  15. Ree

    I’m a PhD student who examines racial disparities in education and specifically issues of insitutional racism in schools and colleges/universities. I just wanted to thank you for opening the discussion. It does seem like the only people that engage in-depth conversations about race are the ones who are actively seeking out spaces to discuss these issues and because it is NOT covered by the mainstream media in any critical manner. It’s simply reported, but yet hours are spent discussing Britney, inviting “experts” to debate on what’s wrong with her and critically examining her love of Starbucks. “Ignoring the problem” IS the problem. We all need action and I appreciate nto only your (and your readers’) attention to it, but your passion for it.Let’s hope it spreads. Thank you.

    Reply
  16. Ran

    Cara wrote:

    ‘I think that more whites than not, actually, have this thing in their head that black people talking shit about whites is just as bad as whites talking shit about blacks — that they’re both racism. It’s because so many white people don’t really understand racism (or don’t care to). Many, if not most white people seem to think that racism is “judging someone based on their skin color.” They think that racism is only something that individuals do, and not institutions. This is false. And when we realize that racism is really a form of institutional oppression, we can realize that not only is there no “reverse racism,” but the concept that there is is really fucking offensive. No, black people calling whites “crackers” is not racism.’

    I don’t understand your logic here. Yes, institutional racism exists. No, this doesn’t negate the existence of individual racism. Yes, institutional racism, by and large, is pro-black and anti-white. No, this doesn’t mean that racism by blacks against whites is more O.K. than racism by whites against blacks. For one thing, a black racist essentially saying, “Racism is O.K.” — which is the same thing a white racist is saying, but to white people it’s more convincing, more of an exemplar, when a black person says it. After all, the fundamental problem with racism isn’t who’s doing it, but its mere existence; as long as it exists, someone will be on the receiving end of it; and black racism is just as much racism, and does just as much to propagate an adversarial attitude between races, as white racism.

    You could make a good argument that racism is a bigger deal when it comes from people in positions of power than when it comes from people in positions of powerlessness, but I think that’s true regardless of the races of said people. (Obviously people in positions of power tend to be white, but this is not a defining property.)

    I’m eager to hear what you have to say on this topic, though, because I think I agree with everything else you’ve said here, so it’s a bit jarring to see you say that a belief of mine ‘is really fucking offensive.’

    Reply
  17. Cara Post author

    Well, it is really offensive. The concept of “reverse racism” offends me to my core. And since I’m white, I can only imagine how people of color feel about it, but my guess would be much worse. But since you seem to be commenting with good will, I will go into this one more time:

    I don’t understand your logic here. Yes, institutional racism exists. No, this doesn’t negate the existence of individual racism. Yes, institutional racism, by and large, is pro-black and anti-white. No, this doesn’t mean that racism by blacks against whites is more O.K. than racism by whites against blacks. For one thing, a black racist essentially saying, “Racism is O.K.” — which is the same thing a white racist is saying, but to white people it’s more convincing, more of an exemplar, when a black person says it. After all, the fundamental problem with racism isn’t who’s doing it, but its mere existence; as long as it exists, someone will be on the receiving end of it; and black racism is just as much racism, and does just as much to propagate an adversarial attitude between races, as white racism.

    Blacks can be racist. Against Hispanics, Asians, bi-racial people, and any other person of color. Black people talking shit about white people is, again, shitty. But it’s not racism. You could call it prejudice. Prejudice is about personal views. Racism is about power.

    The fact that racism is about power is why people of color can not use racism against whites. They can feel prejudice towards them. But because of white privilege, there is no larger societal power that people of color have over whites. To finish the quote that you provided, and which is perhaps the most important part:

    At the end of that admittedly unfortunate exchange, the white person still walks away being white and with all of the social advantages that being white provides, and the black person walks away still being black, having gained absolutely no social power. By contract, racial slurs against blacks or any other racial minority serve to uphold and reinforce oppression.

    When you talk about power, you are also seemingly confusing personal power with racial power. Sometimes, a person of color is the boss of a white person. Therefore, the person of color holds the power. The problem is that once you leave the workplace, that dynamic is gone. As I have said previously on this thread, things like class privilege do not erase things like white privilege.

    Perhaps it would help to think of racism in terms of how we think about hate crimes. The reason that we have hate crime laws is because when you commit an act of violence against a person explicitly because of their identity, you are attacking more than just that one victim. You are attacking and threatening an entire group. These nooses do not serve simply to scare one black person — they serve to reinforce for all black people that they are second class citizens, that society does not see them as worthy and that they may face violence because of their skin color.

    This is also what racial slurs do. The reason that a black person (or any other person of color) cannot practice racism against me is because the worst that calling me a slur like “cracker” is going to do is making me think “well that person is a jerk.” Unless accompanied by a physical threat, there is no reinforced power dynamic. I am not reminded of my negative social status based on skin color, because I have a positive social status based on skin color. I am not reminded that my skin color devalues my personhood, because it doesn’t. It just sucks.

    And to compare something that just sucks to something that instills fear in an entire group of people and causes the conditions necessary for oppression to occur is insulting. They are not the same, nor will they ever be. Racism is a very heavy word. It’s an important word. Using it in the context that you suggest is not only false, it is trivializing.

    I’m not sure if I’m doing a very good job of explaining (anyone who already gets it, what do you think?). This is one of those weird things that I just know and understand for myself but have a lot of difficulty articulating to others. Therefore, I also recommend reading this post which covers a lot of similar themes. And anyone else who is good at explaining this, please feel free to jump in.

    Reply
  18. Ran

    Interesting; thanks for your reply. I guess this is a difficult topic for me to understand; I’m a member of some minorities (Jewish, Sephardic, gay), but have never really been exposed to serious prejudice or discrimination (or at least, never so regularly that I couldn’t brush it off).

    For me, “racism” has always meant “racial prejudice or discrimination,” and obviously that’s not what it means for you; I’m not quite sure if this is just a terminological difference, or if it indicates some underlying disagreement. (From your tone, I take it your definitions are the standard ones?)

    But I do get the general idea of what you’re saying. This might be something that takes time to wrap one’s head around and let sink in, if you’ll pardon the horribly mixed metaphor.

    Reply
  19. Cara Post author

    I don’t think that they’re the standard definitions, particularly among white people. Your definition is the one that I run into most often. But if you ask experts on the issue of race and oppression, they will agree that my definition (well, a much more eloquent expression of that definition) is the correct one. I didn’t just make it up all on my own! 🙂 Though I never really bought it, the definition you expressed was the one that I was raised with, too. It wasn’t until the last few years that I finally learned why I didn’t buy it and what, exactly, the problem with that thinking was.
    And it usually does take a little while for people unfamiliar with the concept to grasp it. White privilege took me a while to understand and accept. Part of white privilege is not having to be exposed to these types of things, and it really can be a whole new way of thinking. And I certainly do not claim to be an expert on these issues — they’re still ones that I’m learning about and working out for myself on a regular basis.

    Reply
  20. rich

    I call a black man a n****, I reinforce how little recourse he has against me except physical violence. He calls a white person a cracker, how racist is that in reality? Is he gonna deny him a home mortgage loan or a job interview? Almost non-existent institutional power and a much smaller percentage of the population equal a complete lack of any force behind calling someone a cracker or honkie or whatever else. Examining job numbers, incomes, crime rates, loan approvals, incarceration rates, etc., and you’ll find that reverse racism is a joke. Obviously there are very successful blacks (not all are suffering under the ills I described), but you line up black success and persecution, however you want to define it, next to white success and persecution, and the comparison becomes absurd. You explained it really well Cara, better than I could.

    Reply
  21. Cara Post author

    Not a big deal, Rich. It might be a personal thing. I’m in no way opposed to swearing, but I just can’t stand the sight of that word.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s