by Racialicious special correspondent Latoya Peterson
Occasionally, even the most dedicated activist has days when they just want to say…fuck it. I don’t want to tackle these problems anymore. I don’t want to think about this anymore. I was rapidly approaching that point this week. Exploring the many facets of gentrification, researching Tila Tequila, reading more reports of racism, and reading the denials of racism that come from so many in the mainstream media (and the anonymous posters on message boards) was taking its toll on me.
And then – like a little ray of sunshine – I found the International Blog Against Racism Week. (Thanks Willow!)
The rationale for participating in this carnival is listed on the website, written by blog host Oyceter:
International Blog Against Racism Week (IBARW) originated in an email discussion among coffeeandink, liviapenn, minnow1212, rachelmanija, rilina and me, but for me, the origins go back to the Great Cultural Appropriation Debate of DOOM. The debate started from a Wiscon 30 panel, but it was the aftermath on LJ that made me stop and think about racism for the first time. More specifically, it was after I requested the conversation to stay on white appropriation of POC culture just in the comments to that post and got comment after comment protesting the exclusion of white culture. My later post on racism in Pirates of the Caribbean 2 was another eye-opener, with comments ranging from “white people are stereotyped too” to “you are being paranoid!”
As you may have noticed from the above, I came into anti-racism late after struggling for years with wanting to be “the good Chinese girl” who blended in and didn’t rock the boat, who took it upon herself to make other people comfortable, no matter how she felt.
All six of us were still finding our feet with anti-racism when we began to email each other. We then tossed around a few ideas, some being a community we could post to, or all of us posting something on our LJs. We debated a lot about tone and how to present things; most of us were afraid of alienating people by being “too angry.” In the end, we decided to do something meme-like that would be on all our LJs at the same time out of practicality: if six of us were blogging at the same time, there would be a much smaller chance of one person getting bombed with 100+ nasty comments (I have to admit, this was my main concern, having been the person whose LJ had just exploded).
I particularly like this carnival because there is a very thoughtful discussion of why they chose to blog against racism, what they hope to uncover, and the criticisms they have encountered.
I’d also like to pay special attention to the critique section.
Critique and support of IBARW
There’s been critique of IBARW from various angles. Hawke thinks that it’s just preaching to the choir and furthermore, an excuse to beat up on white people. Danielle questions if people are merely jumping on the IBARW wagon (or anti-racism wagon, or anti-Semitism wagon) just to gain popularity in fandom.
And now, I editorialize a bit and point you to jonquil’s post on how it’s not about you. I do advocate people examining their motives for blogging, particularly if it’s to get their ghetto pass. On the other hand, blogging against racism as a means to win friends and influence people? Please excuse me while I go through some of my old posts and reread the comments, which still have the power to make me cry, shrivel up inside, raise my blood pressure, and feel completely alone even a year later. I don’t think it’s just me — I know too many people who have locked down their posts or screened comments after things got out of hand, read too many posts talking about how scary it is to speak, how alone it feels, how terrifying it is to put yourself out there as a target.
There’s also been critique of IBARW from others. Loomis writes that IBARW is generally a circle jerk of white people patting themselves on the back.
The other critique that came out a month after IBARW was the discussion of racism and anti-Semitism. chopchica wants to know where her parade is, technosage writes about the intersection of racism and anti-Semitism and speaking against both, vaznetti writes about feeling invisible during IBARW, and kita0610 posts about token Jewish characters. Vaznetti’s post in particular struck a chord with me, espeically her line about the fear of fracturing the anti-racism “we.”
I wrote this to her: “[W]hat I believe here is along the lines of Audre Lorde talking about feminism and [how] feminists can never tear down patriarchy by using patriarchy’s tools of racism and classism. That is to say, I do not think we can build an anti-racist space on a foundation of anti-Semitism (or, well, we do, but we shouldn’t).
And part of me understands the feeling of fragility with anti-racism; I’m terrified to talk about anti-black racism among my Chinese community. And much of it is because I’ve seen how quickly it becomes a weapon to dismantle anti-racism. But. I also think the argument of “You shouldn’t talk about [this issue] now because we are talking about [other issue]!” has been used multiple times to suppress discussion of [this issue] (be it [racism] in feminist discussions or anti-Semitism in anti-racist discussions).
Good and provocative. I was amused to see that the same conversations we have on Racialicious happen in the realm of fandom. And a lot of the criticisms are valid, in their own right – I think it is just a matter of where one places priorities.
Anyway, on to the goodies! Here is a quick list (with excerpts) from my personal favorites:
Guest-blogging there has been an education for me on a lot of levels. But something that came up there, and again here after yesterday’s IBARW post, has been bugging me and now I want to chew on it a little. The topic is inter-group relationships between people of color — specifically African-Americans and Asian-Americans, and whether Af-Ams have “black privilege” relative to As-Ams.
Despite my angry blackness, I am often considered one of the ‘safe’ black people moderate whites feel pretty comfortable with. I ‘talk white’ (i.e. proper) and I’m light-skinned and I don’t generally give off a vibe of overt ‘blackness’. White people rarely have a problem with me at first because they don’t associate me with ‘radical’ blackness.
The first annoying example of this was learning that it was a tradition for Black students on campus to post their SAT scores on their dorm room doors. I was told that posting my score would allow the White students on campus to feel comfortable about my presence and prevent them from feeling I had “stolen a spot” from one of their friends. When my reaction went along the lines of “they can suck my…” people looked at me as if I was the inappropriate one.
Prior to the 1950s, everyone would have agreed that American culture and Black culture were two separate and distinct entities. That separation still exists today; it’s just that most Americans just seem to be unaware of the divide. Black people are, technically, American. We’ve been here for centuries. Even though others recognize that we have our own culture there is an expectation that American is our primary culture. BUT…the two cultures are extremely disparate. Living both is not easy. Nothing quite illustrates this as much as television ratings. Look at any of the studies breaking down what America watches versus what Black America watches.
I don’t think Dad realized a fundamental truth about light-skinned black families (until I got older and started talking to him about my relationship with my mother): we fucking hate ourselves. Every light-skinned black person that I know is simultaneously conscious of benefitting from their looks and betraying their people by doing so. The results of this are warped self-esteem, self-punishment (e.g., getting into an abusive relationship), and a whole slew of other self-destructive behaviors that I saw in spades among my relatives. The pride and superiority that my father saw was a front — what they show outsiders. Inside, we were all a mess.
Let me say it again: not only do the individual racial attitudes cause damage, the entire structure of thought is a destructive weapon.
One of the things we studied in teacher ed was how “model minority” was a deceptive term–not deliberately, but harmful all the same. There are Asian immigrants and Asian-Americans who do not fit the rosy “model minority” image, and because they don’t, they become an invisible problem; they did not receive appropriate attention. I had never thought of it that way, but then, I grew up with a parochial view of “Asian,” i.e. Korea-China-Japan.
The same things people are saying about Mexican workers now, they were saying about Chinese workers in 1900. They predicted that we’d all be speaking Chinese within a decade; that Chinese culture would take over; that white men would lose their dominant position. This is why I don’t have a lot of patience with alarmist opposition to migrant workers now; because we’ve heard these arguments before and they didn’t pan out then. I’m not saying that there aren’t real issues surrounding immigration, or that reasonable people can’t disagree. But when we let fear control us–fear which starts out as fear of losing jobs and quickly becomes fear and then hatred of the brown people or yellow people or the Irish or Italians who we feel are taking those jobs–we abandon rational debate in favor of a culture where every fear and hatred become so intertwined that we can no longer tell where one ends and another begins. And that means we all lose.
I was on a transgender activist list a few days ago when the fallout over the Advocate’s lack of transgender nominees for their 40 Heroes of the GLBT Movement poll blew up. A few peeps immediately started putting together a short list of transgender heroes that met the Advocate’s criteria.
Only one problem. There was not one African-American transperson on it. It took the 2006 winner of the IFGE Trinity Award to point out that glaring omission.
[Latoya's note - My heart clenched a little when I saw this essay because the author of the post refers to a favorite author of mine during adolescence, Will Shetterly. Shetterly argues by the numbers that race only affects a few, but poverty affects the many (white) people who are suffering. Inexplicably, I feel hurt. He never painted himself as a racial activist, but to find out someone who helped paint your formulative years holds views that make you want to vomit...*sigh* Fantasy and reality collide in painful ways...]
I chose this topic because it’s an argument I see a lot, especially on the internet. I think of it as the Will Shetterly argument, but I’ve seen it spoken often by many other people as well. The argument goes thusly: Racism doesn’t exist anymore; racism has been superceded by classism or there was never racism to begin with. Solve classism and ‘apparent racism’ will disappear.
This argument is bullshit.
When the intersectionality penny dropped for me (which pretty much consisted of me saying “Hey, Jane, what the hell is intersectionality?” and her in-depth answer), it opened up a whole new world. Because I care about all this stuff—racism, sexism, classism, homophobia, body politics, ableism, and so on—but this was the first time I really started to pay attention to the way they fit together, and the first time that I ever entertained the idea that in resisting one, it was vital for me to also resist the others.
When was the last time you saw an image of an angry South Asian woman? I was looking for pictures for an RP I was in, and I couldn’t find any.
Rai’s last role in Provoked was about a woman that set her husband on fire for repeatedly raping/beating her, but she even did that with tears rolling down her cheeks. I have no idea why angry South Asian women are so threatening that they can’t even be shown on screen but they do not get to be angry. They pout, they cry, they are dramatically beaten and angsty, but there’s no anger. No rage. Even when they get revenge, they do it woefully.
Clearly some Canadians feel Native health, safety and security are beneath their concern, only on their radar when aboriginal people are actively protesting and even then, only as a nuisance issue.
As a white person, it is absolutely vital for me to understand that my opinions of art and media by POC are utterly, completely, and totally irrelevant. As a white person, I don’t get to decide what does and doesn’t constitute good or bad art by POC. Because this art was not made for me, is not about me, and is not concerned with my particular white opinion. Does this mean I won’t have opinions, tastes and preferences? Hell no—not unless I manage to develop the kind of drug problem that my parents’ generation tended to cultivate. I get to love, hate, or be indifferent to art by POC just the same as art by whites: the key difference comes in understanding that my personal and exalted white-girl opinion as a Foremost Authority On What Does and Doesn’t Suck is, in the former case, entirely immaterial.
In keeping with this particular theme, I also don’t get to decide what does and doesn’t constitute racism. This is actually remarkably simple: if I do or say something that offends a person of color as racist, it doesn’t matter whether or not I was trying to be an insensitive or racist jerk—I get to take responsibility for it. I certainly don’t get to be all uppity and defensive and snippy about the tone some people take.
That’s all I care to copy and paste – but please believe that every single entry is worth reading and mulling over. It’s taken me the greater part of two days to finish the carnival and the comments and insights I have found there have given me much to think about.
What stays with me most from the carnival, however, are these two quotes from Oyceter:
IBARW is flawed. But I believe the best response to that is to improve it rather than not have it.
It’s not saving the world, but it is a change.