Tag Archives: anti-racism

Privilege And Low Expectations

By Guest Contributor Sparky, cross-posted from Womanist Musings

One of the many many many not-very-coded speeches privileged people like to give is the one on “low expectations.” You know the one: the one that says that welfare, affirmative action, any kind of accommodation, anti-discrimination rules, or anything else to try and help marginalised people is somehow patronising and demeaning because it “expects too little” of marginalised people. Because, you know, it expects marginalised people to need help (completely missing the many ways marginalised people are hindered and the fact that society is already geared to help the privileged).

Like many of the arguments of the oppressor, I’ve been dismissing it.

But I think I was wrong. I think that, yes, there are people out there who are labouring under the soft tyranny of low expectations. There are people who achieve so little because so little is expected for them.

I’m talking, of course, about people who are clinging to their comfortable blanket of privilege: those folks who have taught us time and again to expect the least from them. And the least is what we get. Continue reading

Why Occupy Wall Street Matters to Me and How It Can Continue to Matter

By Guest Contributor Manissa McCleave Maharawal, cross-posted from in front and center

(In some ways this is a response to Esther Choi’s piece, and in some ways it isn’t…)

I spent yesterday evening as I spend many of my evenings: in the Financial District, at Occupy Wall Street, attending a Direct Action meeting, eating dinner, going to the General Assembly, and going to a POC-DA affinity meeting. As I was standing in the food line, waiting for my portion of beets, greens, cole slaw and bread, the conversation turned to Esther Choi’s article, “Private Danny Chen, and why I will never again reach out to OWS about something that matters to me.” Yesterday when I read this article it nearly made me cry: both because of how right she is, but also because I, somehow, felt personally responsible for the injustices and unjust and oppressive behavior that she had experienced at OWS. As someone who both identifies with the movement and as someone who has worked from the very beginning of my involvement at OWS to confront issues of racism and oppression within OWS, while still standing in solidarity with it, reading Choi’s article I suddenly felt very, very tired, sad, and angry.

To be honest, I was angry at both OWS and at her. I think OWS is strong enough and mainstream enough now to withstand serious critiques, and I think whether weak or strong, every movement should be self-critical. I’m tired of hearing that we can’t take on issues of racism and oppression because it would be “divisive.” I’m tired of hearing people call People of Color (POC) Caucus at OWS divisive because we bring up uncomfortable truths.

Continue reading

It’s Not All About You, or The Case for Empathy

by Carmen Van Kerckhove

Back in 2004 when I first started speaking and blogging about race, I was invited to facilitate a phone discussion with a group of parents who had adopted children from outside the United States.

One of the mothers in the group was white and Jewish. She adopted her son from an African country, and was raising him in her faith. She told me that she wanted my advice on a situation she was dealing with.

Her nanny was a Jamaican woman. One day, the nanny came home and the mother noticed she looked upset. The mother asked her what was wrong, but the nanny just shook her head and said everything was fine.

The mother was concerned, so she kept prodding, but the nanny was still reluctant to say anything. The mother was persistent, and told her that this was a safe space for her to share. She said there wouldn’t be any judgments, no matter what it was about.

Finally, the nanny broke down and said, “You people don’t know how to act!”

She explained that anytime she took the child for play dates in their mostly white and Jewish neighborhood, parents would treat her brusquely and avoid eye contact. Whenever she went to a store, salespeople would follow her around to make sure she didn’t steal anything. When she went to pay for items, the cashier would treat take great pains not to touch her hand when giving her change back.

She had been putting up with this kind of discrimination for a long time now because she loved working with this family, but she didn’t know how much longer she could go on as it was wearing on her emotionally.

“Can you believe that?” the mother asked me, her voice shaking with anger.

I was about to respond by expressing how sorry I was that this level of prejudice existed in her community, when the mother continued.

“I’m going to fire her! How dare she call Jews ‘you people!’ I’m Jewish and my son is Jewish. I’m just going to have to fire her because I don’t feel safe around her anymore.”

I was stunned.

Not only did the mother completely ignore the very real discrimination her nanny was dealing with; she managed to turn the entire situation around so that she became the victim.

In subsequent years, I’ve come to realize that this kind of behavior is not at all unusual.

If anything it’s the norm, not the exception, for people to be pre-occupied with their own suffering and supremely uninterested in hearing about the oppression others face.

This lack of empathy is one of the biggest roadblocks we face in dismantling racism.

If we’re serious about social justice, we need to recognize that when one of us is discriminated against, it’s an affront to us all.