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White Anti-Racism: No Hairshirt Necessary

On appreciating Africa

From Loveisntenough:

Do [you] acknowledge that there is no such thing as one African culture–that the continent is one of many nations and peoples with unique cultures? Do you, for instance, work to teach your son about his Ethiopian heritage rather than “generic Africa?”

Do you recognize modern-day Congolese, South Africans or Kenyans as real, living, breathing and nuanced people?

Earlier I posted about my reluctance to teach pre-schoolers to appreciate Africa as part of Black History Month at my school. I don’t like making generalizations about the continent and I don’t think it’s ok to host a project which makes assumptions about each student’s unique heritage and about their families’ attitude towards that heritage. I think the questions asked in the loveisntenough post address this issue quite well.

Filed under: education, Personal, Society, , , , , , , , ,

a great conversation

Just had a really productive transAtlantic g-chat conversation today with a friend living in Paris, whom I have dubbed Paris.
It’s a good follow up of previous posts about whites exploring race in a public setting, and about different attitudes towards white guilt, black comedy and discursive reappropriation in art. This part of the conversation was prompted by my earlier post about John Mayer.
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Paris: i just dont really get why it kind of seems like [Mayer] gets away with stuff like that likes it charming or cool
me: ya, i don’t get it either. but, i guess he’s not really getting away with it
he’s had two ridiculous interviews and tabloids have gone nuts
fortunately i think he’s beginning to realize that he needs to shut up. his apology for using the n-word is better than many publicity-focused apologies about such things
also, have you seen Chris Rock’s Kill?
if not you must.
100% pure genius.
Paris: yes! athena and i actually watched it the other night
we were crying laughing
me: ah! so fun!I think I’d enjoy watching it like once a month
Paris: i started writing something about bamboozled
so i was watching it. but then i got all tangled up and confused and had to leave it. this was like, last week, but maybe ill give it another crack this week
me: what drew you in?
— i haven’t seen it
Paris: oh gosh! you should rent it
im not sure actually how it got started. i think because athena and i were talking about dave chappelle?
me: cool- i will. i haven’t read very good reviews, but i imagine it’s interesting regardlesss
Paris: i have no idea exactly how it got to bamboozled.
me: wow– haven’t thought about him in a while!
what happened to him. i guess his show had an expiration date. oh right–he went crazy too.
Paris: he did, yes. but i guess we got from dave chapelle to bamboozled bc we were talking about what it is for white people to like, participate in black comedy and what kind of issues it does or does not bring up Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Media & Culture, On TV, Personal, Philosophy & Theory, Pop Culture, Society, Uncategorized, , , , , , , , , , ,

Such a perfect re-iteration

Breeze Harper at Sistah Vegan quotes from an essay by Sarah Ahmed who characterizes many Whiteness studies as being “non-performative” in that “they do not do what they say.” Ahmed writes that many of these declarations of whiteness are ‘admissions’ of ‘bad practice’ [which] are taken up as signs of ‘good practice’.

Ahmed’s full paper here at Borderlands

Filed under: Philosophy & Theory, Society, Uncategorized, , , , , ,

Portraying Africa

A great paragraph somewhat related to my earlier comments about the dangers of condensing all African countries, from Real Media Ethics.

The problematic element for me was the generic country, which I thought fit too neatly into uncomplicated Western ideas of an unstable African nation. The script’s use of details picked from various African conflicts (ethnic violence, an uprising “in the south,” genocide perpetrated against a once-powerful ethnic minority that sounded an awful lot like “Tutsi,” child soldiers abducted, drugged and forced to commit atrocities, a charismatic and ruthless leader, etc.) and lumping of them into one generic African genocide seemed to play on the audience’s expectations about the Bad Things that happen in Africa. The conflation of conflicts separated by decades and thousands of miles undermined the unique horror of the real conflicts. And it erroneously suggested that those conflicts were interchangeable, apparently bound together by some vague tie of “Africanness.”

I hesitate to draw to neat a comparison between House’s treatment of the continent and the aforementioned project for pre-schoolers; I’m quite sure that neither had malicious intentions. But, while I do think that this episode of House is damaging to our cultural understanding/recognition of Africa, I imagine there is an argument to be made about the possible benefits of small children  approaching the idea of heritage even in a very generalized and unspecific way–I think it’s just not an argument I am interested in making.

Filed under: On TV, , , ,

Age Appropriate Black History Month

I commented on loveisntenough.com earlier and thought it would be appropriate to repost here in slightly edited and expanded form. Sorry if some of the background info is redundant to readers of this blog!:

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I’ve been thinking about the huge variety of opinions regarding what should be involved in Black History Month. I’m not a mom [really only relevant to the fact that this was first written for loveisntenough.com] – I run an afterschool program at a charter school for 3yr olds to Kindergartners with a 95% black population. On Monday my employees and I started to plan activities for the week and to kick off BHM. I’m white and the three employees are black. Each of us had very divergent thoughts about what the focus of BHM is– probably thoughts you’ve all heard before. What really interested me though was the divergence of opinion on what race issues are appropriate to talk about with 3 yr olds. One person wanted to do a project in which the kids placed pictures/drawings of their families on the continent of Africa to symbolize heritage. I’m very in favor of teaching kids as much African history as we do European history, but I really didn’t like this project for three year olds. Firstly, I’m not confident that they would understand the idea. But secondly, I think it’s problematic to treat the continent of Africa as a unified monolithic landmass from whence all black Americans came, with absolutely no knowledge which countries the families’ have actually come from. [Granted, I imagine that it is quite hard for black Americans to trace their lineage back to Africa because of the discontinuity and trauma caused by slavery.]

One of the other people wanted to do a project focusing on the idea that “difference is beautiful/special.” I totally agree that acceptance and respect for one’s differences should be instilled in all children, but I wasn’t comfortable with planting the idea of black as different in the kids’ heads. They go to an all black school in which I don’t think there’s any reason why they would think of themselves as different. While I’m sure they have an awareness of different skin colors and perhaps vague awareness of cultural differences, I’m not convinced that they already associate racial issues with the tension and discomfort that I think this project idea was ultimately intended to address. I’d love to hear thoughts from parents with young kids!

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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: http://guerrillamamamedicine.wordpress.com/2009/03/17/we-dont-need-another-anti-racism-101/) 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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