Sans Cilice


White Anti-Racism: No Hairshirt Necessary

I Forgot Chris Matthews Was (__adjective__) For a Year

In the 24 hours since Chris Matthews claimed to have forgotten that President Obama was black for an hour during the State of the Union Address, a general concensus has been reached that the term ‘post-racial’ should only be used by those who pride them selves for their ignorance.

I like TNC’s assessment of Matthews’ statements overall– it’s an excellent breakdown. However, I feel it is lacking in one respect.  In short, his assessment is that Matthews tried to compliment the President while making incredibly offensive implications, and his conclusion is that the real issue with Matthews’s statement is about persevering white ignorance and not black success. Despite TNC’s thorough discussion of why it is offensive to position blackness and success/greatness as mutually exclusive properties, and why whites are prone to such ignorance, I was disappointed that nothing has been said about the fact that black people and white people are STILL really fucking proud that the country finally elected a black president. Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: News, On TV, Politics, , , , , ,

My New Job and My New Blog

As mentioned in the previous post, there was a definite coincidence between the start of this blog and the start of my new job. While each new beginning is reflective of my interests and attitudes, I think the explicitness of the connection between the two is fading. A note before continuing: The student body of the school I work at is, approximately, 95% black and is located in a predominantly black neighborhood of West Philadelphia. I should have mentioned this obviously relevant information in the previous post about my job.

I had brainstormed about starting this blog for a few days before starting my job and actually created it a few days after my job began. Though I never expected that my job would afford starkly revelatory, emotionally gripping and neatly packaged racial anecdotes– the likes of which probably only exist in hackneyed cinematic dramas about tragically well-intentioned white mentors and ‘exceptional’ black students– I did expect that my experiences were bound to yield as much food for thought as my old office job at Philly’s natural science museum. Indeed my experiences do yield food for thought, but it is of a totally different kind. Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Personal, , , , , ,

My New Job

Zoe and I caught up the other night over dinner. I had been almost completely out of touch with my friends for the past few weeks because I was between cell phones and because I was adjusting to my new job. It was great to talk about my new job with Zoe because she hadn’t already heard about it and because I value her opinion. She asked me if the start of this blog was directly related to the start of my new job. It is definitely coincidental, but the blog really happened because I had a nice amount of free time between jobs than because I explicitly intend(ed) to blog about my new job. That said, both the start of my job and of my blog are definitely related to my realization that social injustice pre-occupies my thoughts and that I am most compelled to respond to injustice that feels close to home. For me, as a white female citizen of Philadelphia (which as of 2000 was 43% black, 42%white, 5%Asian, 5%other, 3%mixed race) the type of injustice that is most frequently and immediately visible is the centuries old anti-black white-supremacist American racism.

After working at the Academy of Natural Sciences for a few years I became confident that a.) the thing I liked most about work was communicating successfully with a wide variety of people and that b.) I spend more time thinking about race than any other issue I consider important because race issues seem to have a more immediate bearing on my life than any other sort of social issue. Looking to leave the museum career path and hoping to get my foot in the door with a community oriented non-profit in Philly, I applied to an administrative assistant job at a non-profit that runs charter schools in the city. Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Personal, , , , , , , ,

Mumia’s 2008 ‘win’ reversed by Supreme Court

From Huffington Post

Having lived in Philadelphia all my life, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to take an objective stance on this case. Any thoughts on Mumia’s case being compared to the precedent neo-Nazi killer case mentioned in the article? I’ll post more later, but have to go to work!!

Filed under: News, Philadelphia News, Politics, , , , , , , ,

Constructively Criticising Constructive Criticism of Animal Rights/Welfare Movement

An article titled Five Fatal Flaws of Animal Activism caught my eye. With my earlier post about the mainstream promotion (or lack thereof) of veganism/vegetarianism in mind, I hoped one of the 5 flaws would be the lack of attention and lack of effective/appealing promotion to low-income families and to black Americans. I’m shocked that this idea didn’t make the list. For the shared goals of the animal rights and animal welfare movements  to be met, or even just approached, the movements will need to gain traction with people who make food choices based on cost, convenience and habit, with the people who constitue the majority of the country.

Oh well. At least the article slammed PETA for its monotonous naked lady ads… Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Media & Culture, Personal, , , , , ,

“What are you doing for others?” Response #1

To continue on MLK: “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is: What are you doing for others?”

1. I call out other people’s racist (and sexist and homophobic, etc.) bull-shit, regardless of whether they are my close colleagues, loose acquaintances, good friends or family members. This is a small action that makes a subtle but real difference. Many people believe in speaking out against things that they don’t support, in the abstract, but few bother to speak up about things they find unjust on a smaller more personal scale. Obviously this action does not immediately or directly make anyone’s life better. It’s not a terribly flashy form of activism, but, especially in the work place it makes a real difference by promoting greater awareness of racism (and homophobia, sexism and religious/ethnic intolerance) in it’s more discrete forms. The benefit of greater awareness in the work place is not that it makes the newly aware individual a better or less-culpable person– in fact, in instances like these, I’m really not all that concerned with redeeming that person’s well-being or moral standing.

Awareness is important because it decreases the likelihood that the person in question will  make the work place uncomfortable for people of color (or gays, or women, or Muslims, etc.) by uttering witless or overtly racist remarks. Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: activism, Personal, Society, , , , , ,

M.L.K as Atheists’ Kryptonite

From my perspective as an atheist, I have been dumb-struck and awed by Martin Luther King Jr more than by any other religious leader. I will argue against religious faith when it is clearly used for evil (interesting comments in Coates blog about how Pat Robertson’s various bigotries all stem from his religious bigotry). I will argue against religious faith when it is employed with benign intentions, but has pernicious effects (take your pick from European colonial motivations, Catholicism’s condemnation of sexuality, contemporary evangelical Christian attempts to ‘straighten’ gays, the list goes on…). I even tend to take issue with–though I do not necessarily argue against–perfectly benign  individuals (some close family members) who seem to be religious primarily for self-satisfying reasons because I think that’s disingenuous and that greater satisfaction could be reached in other ways. Point is, when considering religion and deist beliefs, ESPECIALLY when they are employed unabashedly (as King did) as a means to an end (a very worthy end in this case) I approach skeptically 98% of the time.

The life and invaluable accomplishments of Dr. King leave me in awe and at a complete loss for criticism. Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: activism, Personal, Philosophy & Theory, , , , , ,

MLK: “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is: What are you doing for others?”

Huffington Post’s headline for Martin Luther King Day, 2010, is the MLK quote above. It is a headline which links to a listicle about the myriad ways you can (and should!) contribute to the relief efforts in Haiti. I am embarrased to say that, due to my current lack of funds, and an old cell phone that is so broken that it would be a waste of time to donate, I have done no more for the people of Haiti than to encourage Ben to donate more. He did. And that’s great. But it felt easy. I do not feel as though I have actually DONE anything for the people of Haiti, and I think I will feel this way once I do have funds to donate. In this case though, our own satisfaction with our actions is really not relevant and should not be used as the metric by which the value of effort is determined. It is the money that matters.

However, I think it’s time that I address this most persistent and urgent question in terms of my life as whole. After all, my stance in life as an anti-racist and explicitly in this blog is that actually helping the people whose subjugation we decry is FAR superior to merely cultivating a guilt-ridden awareness of the many ways in which we, merely for being white, have benefited from undue privilege. I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again: for a white anti-racist to focus primarily on white-privilege issues is to disengage from the ongoing problem of racism.

So, here goes! This will be a series of posts, for brevity’s sake. (Sorry I’m long winded sometimes!)

I must say, I fear that the forthcoming posts will seem horribly self-congratulatory and will be of only minimal encouragement to others. I think this process is necessary though, seeing as I only have a few vagueries in mind of what I actually do that could conceivably make a difference. I would love to be challenged. I know I could do more; every person could do more. But, I don’t think that every person needs to be an overt activist for society to be changed. I don’t think that ‘walking the walk’ is only defined by large, easily identifiable, singular actions. It is my hope that the actions I take and the choices I make outside of the blogosphere are up to snuff with the beliefs I express here.

Filed under: activism, Personal, Uncategorized, , , , , , ,

Rappers+Black Keys=Blakroc: Sounds like regular rap to me and I dig it!

Ben (my husband, and the bottomless source of all new music I listen to) introduced me to Blakroc tonight. After listening to a few minutes and exclaiming how much I liked it Ben told me that it was a collaboration between the Black Keys and various rappers. Awesome! I’m always excited for Ben to discover a new album for me. (His music finding skills are far superior to mine, so I don’t even bother to look anymore) Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Media & Culture, Personal, , , , ,

2010 Census creates controversy, prompts hilarity

While all other online articles on this very very interesting topic prompt an onslaught of horribly misguided, uneducated and racist dribble from readers of all races, Ta-Nehisi Coates spurs the most hilarious discussion of political correctness I’ve ever read. The comments are a must read, as are the one’s in the follow-up post titled “I’m Offended.”

Filed under: News, Politics, Uncategorized, , , ,

Any responses to Jonathan Safran Foer’s “Eating Animals” from vegans/vegetarians of color?

I’ve been pescovegetarian for the past four years and after reading Eating Animals, I’ve decided to give up fish and become actually vegetarian. Though the book was a bit overwraught at points, it made me care (in my heart not my head) about animal welfare and species preservation more acutely than I ever had before. My previous eating choices were only ethically motivated insofar as I think it is ethically necessary to take charge of ones health and to make sacrifices for the environment. My decision to forgo meat was only occasionally motivated by emotional responses to animal oppression.

The other day I read an interview of Breeze Harper of Sistah Vegan, in which she was asked how the legacies of colonialism manifest themselves in mainstream dialogues and attitudes about what we eat. In her response she mentioned that the most prominent dialogues about veganism, vegetarianism and mindful consumption come from an almost exclusively white perspective that assumes unfettered access to whatever foods one decides are best. Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: activism, Books, Personal, Society, , , , , , , , , ,

Reflection as Repentence is Worse than Worthless

“it might be earnestly meant in some cases, but something about the whole “examine your privilege” deal ends up becoming a way to focus on one’s own hairshirt process as opposed to, y’know, what the other person actually needs.”

I wish I could find the original source of this blog comment. She certainly deserves credit for inspiring the title of this blog. (update: Anyways, I think that she is correct to an extent; sometimes an examination of one’s white privilege and the subsequent guilt (felt sincerely or not) is tool for personal absolution nothing more. If the examination is hasty or cautious, no good will be contributed to society, and there is even the risk that the examiner herself will end up as a less mindful person. But, this needn’t be the case.

In this blog, I will examine my own white privilege (amongst other things) but not as a ‘hairshirt process.’ My examination of my white privilege will not be a posthumous (and entirely insufficient) repentance for the unjust actions of my ancestors. The racism of my ancestors and of almost every other white person’s ancestors, and the privilege they afforded themselves and each other are deeply ingrained into every aspect of our country’s history. Through a “racial contract” ( the very useful phrase coined by Charles W. Mills in his 1997 book ) whites agreed to privilege themselves and to rationalize racial inequality by completely denying the salience of whiteness throughout all of American history. This is despicable. Though I know I have reaped the benefits of being white, and though I know that is unfair, I am incapable of meaningfully repenting for the system of inequality upon which our country was built; my own repentance would make absolutely no difference, beyond satisfying me personally. But much more importantly, in repenting, one aims to be delivered from their sins such that they no longer need to pay attention to them. For a white person to repent (i.e. to consider white privilege only by lamenting their relation to it) and to feel that repentance was successful (i.e., that through their thoughts they have been delivered from the sins of past injustices) is tantamount to renewing the racial contract and to agreeing that racism and its effects are no longer relevant just because the injustice is acknowledge. Afterall, hasty and unprobing logic would suggest that if you think X is wrong, and have repented for X in the past, that you will not participate in X in the future.  But, whether or not you intentionally like it or are totally mortified by it, if you are white, you have been, still are and will continue to be the beneficiary of white privilege.

I’m a white woman from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. For years I have been grappling with the implications of my own whiteness on my own personal life. I haven’t much focused on my families’ history though. I don’t think my ancestors were any more or less oppressive than any other whites, though I do know that many on my father’s side were active members of the Quaker abolitionist efforts, most notably Lucretia Mott. While these few ancestors’ actions and attitudes are laudable, I’m sure I have other ancestors who either didn’t care about racial oppression or were unabashed beneficiaries of it. This likelihood makes me feel no worse, no more guilty, than does the history and construction of our entire country and society. The private reflections of white people on their race related privilege will never be enough to dismantle the racial inequalities of our country.

In this blog I will examine my own relation to race and share my reactions as a white anti-racist to whatever piques my interest, but not because I think that doing so will minimize the presence of white privilege, even by an infantismal degree. Instead, I intend to continue to ‘race’ my consciousness in hopes to become a more effective ally. As a white person, I have had the options to almost completely ignore the implications of my race, or to acknowledge that white people’s identities (my own included) are just as racially constructed as those of people of color. My decision to ‘race’ my consciousness is motivated by my hypothesis that if white anti-racists choose to acknowledge the salience of race within their day to day lives, that they will be more inclined to see the legitimate problems faced by POC and the necessity of resistance efforts–on all scales– already started by POC.

White privilege is a reality, one which has been concealed by distracting and flawed discourses for centuries. If white people such as myself are to be truly supportive of people of color, we must be willing  to prioritize the needs they identify as opposed to the agendas we see most fitting. And, we must recognize that our attempts to understand our own race are only useful as anti-racist methods to the extent that they enable us to better understand non-whites and to break the consensual silence that allows white privilege to continue unquestioned. More simply, if you, as a white person feel that you have taken the time to understand what it means to be white, and have taken the time to understand the varied manifestations of racism, and if you have come to these understandings because you dislike racism ( I grant, these are not all understandings achieved overnight), then it is time to focus on ways to be helpful to those we claim to care about.

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