What a bracing way to start the day! One morning, you wake up, log on, and find that a commenter has called you a cunt. Another day, you’re equated with white supremacists. The former hasn’t happened in a while. The latter came just this morning, before I’d had my coffee.
I’m not approving that comment, which was aimed at my previous post (on guilt versus responsibility in anti-racist pedagogy). This isn’t censorship. This is simply following my comment policy, which disallows hate and ad hominem attacks. I’m willing to engage with criticism, as long as it’s constructive. You be the judge: helpful or hateful?
If you look at the guilt pedophiles possess because of what they do to children and the fact that none of their kind has ever been cured of the desire for sex with children, you can see how far Whites still have to go to cure themselves of the inferiority complexes known more commonly as White supremacism and Negrophobia.
You can read this analogy, and the rest of the long comment that accompanies it, elsewhere on the interwebs. I’m not linking to it, but you can google the quote. Or just search on the name of this blog and “white supremacist.” It’ll pop right up.
Kittywampus’s problem is her lack of experience of human variation – a typically White supremacist stance that proves her attempt to hijack the national debate on White supremacism in favor of Whites.
I would love to have a chance to hijack the national debate! We would have universal single-provider health care, an end to hate-talk on the airwaves, generous grants for troubled schools, a vastly shrunken military, chocolate bon-bons for all – and that would just be my first day’s agenda.
But seriously. Am I a white supremacist?
I do not believe that any white person can shed every vestige of racism. We can and should examine our attitudes and privileges, but there’s an unconscious level that is highly resistant to change. An example I often use with my students is the myth of the black rapist. White women continue to see media portrayals of black men as sexual predators that go straight back to the days of lynching. (For the record, I am not nostalgic for that era, which I fear makes me a rather poor white supremacist.) I think it’s important to acknowledge that racism is visceral. Conscious ally work does not magically erase decades of harmful stereotypes being funneled into our unconscious minds.
You can take the Implicit Associations test on race to see if your subterranean thoughts are completely free of race bias. Mine are not. For the record, I don’t come out “pure” on the gender tests, either. Go here to try the test – then select “Demonstration,” click through the next two subsequent screens, and select “RaceIAT.”
The fact that racial stereotypes persist somewhere in our id does not mean we should throw in the towel as allies. If anything, it’s a reminder of our obligation – our responsibility – to do something about it. “Something” shouldn’t end with self-examination and guilt, either. It should lead to action.
For me as a teacher, “action” means challenging students’ views in the classroom when they complain about affirmative action. It means learning and teaching about black feminism, womanism, and womanist theology. It means examining white privilege – again, not to make my white students feel like crap but to inspire them to act against racism in their lives. It means showing up for attorney and strategy meetings when a young black man (a former student of mine) is being framed for a felony. On this blog, it means denouncing Arizona’s stupid and draconian law that gags ethnic studies teachers; undermining the racist trope of “reverse racism”; and questioning Islamophobia.
Funny thing – none of that involves wearing a white sheet.
Yes, I realize that racism is more subtle these days than in the heyday of the KKK. I ask my students to consider how it’s woven structurally into the very fabric of our institutions, economy, as well as lurking in our unconscious minds. But true white supremacy is alive and well on the intertubes. Can we reserve the term “white supremacist” for those who deliberately embrace and cultivate racism? Can we discuss differences of tactics in antiracist pedagogy without stating that all white people are as morally bankrupt as pedophiles? (And no, this isn’t “reverse racism,” either. It’s just plain old hate and prejudice, because the author does not exert any systemic power over me due to our racial backgrounds.)
If everyone who questions the political utility of guilt is, um, presumed guilty of white supremacy, then it’s a crying shame that Audre Lorde is no longer here to defend herself. I quoted her words on guilt in my previous post. She saw it as a barrier to fighting oppression. Anger, in her view, was a more useful emotion, as long as it was focused fiercely on ending oppression rather than simmering corrosively inside us. Her essay “The Uses of Anger: Women Responding to Racism” (pdf) poses challenges that are (unfortunately) still relevant to white allies. She asks white feminists not to fear the anger of women of color, but to listen, and to understand, and to acknowledge that anger is justified.
Lorde also distinguishes between anger and hate:
And while we scrutinize the often painful face of each other’s anger, please remember that it is not our anger which makes me caution you to lock your doors at night and not wander the streets of Hartford alone. It is the hatred which lurks in those streets that urge to destroy us all if we truly work for change rather than merely indulge in academic rhetoric.
This hatred and our anger are very different. Hatred is the fury of those who do not share our goals, and its object is death and destruction. Anger is a grief of distortions between peers, and its object is change. We have been raised to view any difference other than sex as a reason for destruction and for Black women and white women to face each other’s angers without denial and immobility or silence or guilt is in itself a heretical and generative idea. It implies peers meeting upon a common basis to examine difference, and to alter those distortions which history has created around our difference. For it is those distortions which separate us. And we must ask ourselves: Who profits from all this?
(Audre Lorde, Sister Outsider, p. 129)
Who, indeed, profits when constructive engagement with allies and potential allies is replaced by hateful invective intended to silence? Hint: It won’t be people of color, or any other marginalized group.
How about seeking that “common basis to examine difference” instead?