A letter to arhyalon

EDIT: After 72 hours of observing and participating in the latest iteration of RaceFail, I decided I’d had enough. Click here, this is my final word on the matter. I don’t think there is any more I can possibly say that better explains my position. Many of you will no doubt disagree, or even find my final word offensive. A few of you will find it resonant. That is all. Carry on.


1) Back in late 2005, early 2006, I can’t remember exactly when, someone named Max wrote a letter to the letters column of Science Fiction Weekly, complaining that Battlestar Galactica was just another whitebread sci-fi show for whitebread viewers. No african american content. no african american actors, etc, etc. He didn’t like that Dee was a minor character, didn’t like that Simon was a Cylon, used this as ‘proof’ that BSG and its producers were committing DiversityFail, etc.

2) I’d been reading SF Weekly for years, and had sent in the occasional letter when it seemed warranted. So I responded to Max’s letter with a pretty pointed letter of my own, saying I thought it was fairly ridiculous to accuse BSG or its producers of DiversityFail because BSG’s two key characters were a woman and a latino, several of the supporting characters were women, pacific islander, asian, and african american, etc.

3) At which point Ms. Jemison dove in with her own responses to my response to Max — I don’t think Max ever did respond, though I can’t be sure. So Jemison and I went back and forth a few times on the SF Weekly letters page, never really getting anywhere.

And that was the end of it. Or so I thought.

4) Flash forward many months. I was vanity googling through the InterToob and discovered my name on a page called “The Angry Black Woman.” Raising an eyebrow, I clicked the link, discovering that “The Angry Black Woman” had decided to take me to task for what I’d written in my original letter to Max.

My letter was deemed “ignorant-ass” and I was personally called “clueless” and “prejudiced.”

5) Now, because I knew the “Angry Black Woman” had no context for her comments — she had no clue I’m in an interracial marriage — I wrote “The Angry Black Woman” an e-mail explaining my position, that I was not just some ignorant white dude, that I had EXPERIENCE with this sort of thing, and that both my wife and I couldn’t see why BSG was an exercise in DiversityFail, much less why “The Angry Black Woman” felt it necessary to dime me out by name on her blog, using very charged words and accusations.

Where Ms. Jemison gets confused, is that she persists in thinking that I am upset about the exchange she and I had on the SF Weekly mail column. That exchange was civil and I walked away from it feeling that, while Jemison and I clearly didn’t see eye-to-eye, she at least had the decency to cross swords with me in a forum where I’d at least have an opportunity to explain or defend myself.

Even being dimed out at “The Angry Black Woman” might not have been so bad, if “The Angry Black Woman” had not responded to my e-mail with an e-mail of her own, basically telling me my experiences as a WP in an interracial marriage we irrelevant, I was still white, clueless, and prejudiced, and that she couldn’t understand why I would get so upset when all she was trying to do was open my eyes and “help” me see how wrong I was.

Sorry. From that letter forward, I knew I wasn’t dealing with someone who could have an honest interraction about race matters. This was a person who a) was convinced that her status as a PoC gave her overarching authority in any racial discussion with any WP and b) was not at all interested in “helping” anything, as much as she was interested in being ANGRY ANGRY ANGRY and diming out WP whenever and wherever she felt like it. Regardless of whether her caustic accusations had any basis in fact.

In the years since that e-mail, I’ve been peripherally tracking “The Angry Black Woman.” As it expanded to include more than one author. And especially, this year, when it became clear that “The Angry Black Woman” and her compadres were very often in the thick of various racial and gender-related imbroglios within SF and F.

I got into it with Jemison again, at Scalzi’s blog, when Scalzi paid his danegeld and allowed “The Angry Black Woman” to guest blog for a day on matters of race and RaceFail ’09.

My understanding is that Jemison and “The Angry Black Woman” are very tight, now. That they actually became aware of each other via my exchanges with Jemison at SF Weekly. That they actually see the world through very, very similar eyes. Especially the WHITE world. So every time Jemison shows up going, “Gosh Brad I never said a rude word to you,” I suspect Jemison is either displaying buddy solidarity with “The Angry Black Woman” or is simply confused as to where my beef lies, and with whom. Or maybe she’s just pissed at me because I never backed down at SF Weekly, and I don’t back down now. Who knows.

In the end, I don’t believe The Angry Black Woman blog is a good source of information for any honest, progressive WP who is seeking to explore beneath the surface of race and race relations in the U.S. That blog is run by people who have demonstrated with their words and their actions that they have axes to grind, and cannot or will not cut any WP any slack. Even WP like me, who have a broader window on the PoC experience than 90% of the rest of the white populace.

If someone like me is “ignorant-ass” and “prejudiced”, how do any of you WP who are NOT married to a PoC think you’re going to do, dealing with The Angry Black Women and their vitriolic brand of race education? I’ve got almost 20 years dealing with race, racism, race issues, etc, on the most intimate level possible. Yet ABW and Co. think this is irrelevant, has no bearing on the matter, and can be dismissed out of hand.

Trust their opinions and viewpoints on race. If you feel like it.


14 thoughts on “A letter to arhyalon

  1. That blog is run by people who have demonstrated with their words and their actions that they have axes to grind, and cannot or will not cut any WP any slack.

    I respectfully beg to differ by counterexample.

    I am white. One of the women who blogs at ABW spent a month as a houseguest of mine while she was touring the country staying with various friends. It was, as I recall, a very pleasant month; there was no racial acrimony whatsoever. I was sad to see her go, and she is welcome in my home again at any time.

    This was years before I ever encountered the notion of white privilege.

  2. Perhaps, then, this is a case of someone experiencing Net Rage behind the keyboard? There is a growing body of evidence suggesting that people assume almost alternate personalities behind the wheels of their cars. Hence the advent of Road Rage — nominally decent folk becoming crazy aggressive drivers.

    I often think something similar happens when people get behind their screens and keyboards.

    It pleases me that this person was able to live with you in your house for a month and not make you a target. This tells me that this person is able to check their anger and knows how to be a good guest. Perhaps this person only lets loose with their vitriol on-line where it is safe to do so and they don’t have to worry about offending anyone?

    In any case, it’s good that you had a good experience.

    Mine has not.

    But then again, mine has only ever been on-line. Perhaps if I ever chance across ABW at a Con or some other event, we can dispense with the fraudulence of the InterToob and “get real” as it were.

    Who knows? We might like each other. Maybe come away friends.

    I’m open, if they are.

  3. Look, I’m a (white) outsider who’s been following some of these discussions and I don’t think that being married to a woman of color automatically – or even subsequent to meaningful conversation – makes you an expert on issues of racism and anti-racism and what attitudes and actions are helpful or harmful in that discussion.

    Your philosophy on discussions of race seems to be that any time a POC disagrees with you or expresses anger or frustration, they are just “leveraging their pain” or attached to their own victimhood and the “advantages” it gives them, and are therefore not valid participants in a discussion of racial issues. Basically you’ve given yourself carte blanche to ignore any POC who disagrees with you and to completely disregard their opinion, thoughts and perspective.

    People who participant in the fight against racism discuss these issues all the time. They don’t just sit and stew in their anger and then come and yell at you. They think about them, study the history, study the state of things now, read the ideas of others and formulate their ideas. That’s why, when you disagree with them, they do not think that your experiences talking with your wife automatically make your opinion equally valid. Even if your thoughts on these matters are exactly the same as your wife’s, even if you were a person of color, when your opinions are against the studied opinions of the anti-racism movement at large, it’s completely okay for people to just plain disagree with you.

    I’m not married to a person of color, but somehow when I read the academic work done by anti-racists, I am able to think “hmm, that’s a good point,” or “wow, I hadn’t noticed that I do that,” or “oh man, I never thought of it before but i can really see how that would be hurtful to someone.” Keeping an open mind about the validity of others’ opinions is incredibly important to the discussion. I’ve never felt attacked by the ABW blog and have generally found their posts to be insightful and educational.

    I would imagine that reading what I’ve just written, your natural response is something along the lines of, “but they aren’t keeping an open mind about my opinions, they just write me off because I disagree with them” – but actually, they have heard your opinions before, and thought about them, and rejected them. Not everyone in the anti-racist movement agrees with each other, it’s not a monolithic hive mind. But there is a general agreement that in order to be productive, it’s necessary to go into discussions of race with certain assumptions in mind. Assumptions such as (and I’m not phrasing these as nicely as they have been phrased by others) “systematic institutions of racism continue to hurt minorities in America and around the world,” and “in America, white people generally benefit from those systems of racism” and “because of their direct experience with racism, people of color are generally more aware of its effects and are better able to figure out what problems (and solutions) might be.”

    If you continue to enter the conversation without those assumptions, then yes, people will continue to consider you ignorant and prejudiced, no matter how many intimate relationships you have with people of color.

  4. I disagree pretty much wholeheartedly with your post, especially your framing of it as a letter from one “honest, progressive WP” to another. Isn’t that basically concern trolling? In doing so, you have created a whites-only rhetorical space.

    But hey, I’m white, so I figure it’s all right to reply.

    That blog is run by people who have demonstrated with their words and their actions that they have axes to grind, and cannot or will not cut any WP any slack.
    If there are any axes to grind at ABW, from what I can tell, they concern speaking back to racism, oppression and domination. I can’t see a problem with that. As for “cut[ting] any WP any slack”, I don’t see how that is, *at all*, their job. Unless you’re working from an assumption that (female) members of minorities need be helpful, soft-spoken, and nurturing at all times.

    Under the guise of educating and informing fellow wanna-be progressive whites, you’ve succeeded in making a nasty, unhelpful, possibly destructive post.

  5. Great post, there is a lot in there I’d like to respond to.

    1) I don’t think I am an “expert” at this, but I don’t think I’m “ignorant-assed” either. Maybe before I was married, yes. But certainly not after. And definitely not after 15+ years. No way.

    2) I believe all PoC are ipso facto players at the table of race discussion. Whether I think they are carried away in their anger or not. What I object to is the assumption that PoC alone are the only ones who have a valid opinion. Or that somehow PoC can’t have different and sometimes contradictory opinions.

    3) I believe the ‘anti-racism movement’ as it often exists on-line, is too often informed by Critical Race Theory. These might be very educated, very smart people we’re talking about, but as Sagan once said, intellectual brilliance is no guarantee against being dead wrong. So long as Critical Race Theory enjoys traction with the ‘anti-racism movement’ I will consider such a movement to be badly informed. Which is why I speak out. Because Critical Race Theory is bullshit.

    4) I am glad you feel like the ABW blog has never attacked you. But then, I am sure the ABW blog never dimed you out, by name, knowing nothing about you or your life, save for the tiny sliver they see in a letter, then went on to make broad and offensive, inflammatory character statements against you. Then, when you replied via e-mail, told you nothing you said mattered, because you were white, male, and therefore your white male opinion is automatically irrelevant.

    5) The assumptions you name are somewhat valid, but the thing I think those assumptions miss is that WP are sitting at the table just like PoC. Is it the “job” of WP to just keep quiet and never say a contrary word, for fear of offending the PoC? What if some of the ideas proposed by PoC at the table are false, wrong, or even racist in and of themselves? Who calls out this kind of shit-think? Either the dialogue gives weight to all voices, or it’s not a dialogue at all. Many PoC involved in the ‘anti-racism movement’ seem to operate under a banner of, “SHUT UP ALL YOU WHITE FUCKERS!!!” I understand this is an angry response hundreds of years in the collective making, but when the dust settles, WP are still here. WP still exist, just like PoC. Telling WP to just shut up and mind their place is basically an inversion of the existing racism that plagues PoC.

  6. Since my letter to arhyalon is, nominally, a letter to a WP, then yes, my language will seem addressed from one WP to another. Because it is.

    As for rhetorical spaces, the ABW blog is very much a PoC-only rhetorical space. More accurately, and angry, female PoC-only rhetorical space. The ABW never had an qualms about being nasty, destructive and unhelpful when they were diming me out.

    Are you saying that it’s OK to be nasty, rude, and destructive if you’re a PoC like ABW, and that it’s not OK to be nasty, rude and destructive if you’re a WP?

  7. I’m going to focus in on 2 and 5, because I think that’s most productive. Unfortunately, I don’t know enough about critical race theory to discuss its merits or demerits with you, or its place in any sort of current anti-racism movement(s). It’s too bad because it seems extremely relevant, but perhaps someone else who sees this will be better informed than I am.

    2) I maintain that in practice, you have been able to apply this “they may get carried away by their anger” idea to discredit any POC who disagree with you, especially if they in any way express that they are upset by your statements.

    No one thinks that all POC have the same opinions about race. But because we white people lack the first person perspective on some of these issues, it behooves us to find many different opinions (meaning, if I read one person’s articles about France, I would not understand what France was like because I would not know when something reflected only that person’s position or positions that were more common and widespread. Without living in France and being from France, the best way to understand it is to get many different opinions about it).

    I go further into the “PoC are the only ones who have a valid opinion” idea below. I’m not great at speaking in the abstract so I tried to frame things in terms of examples, especially from previous discussions.

    5) I should start by saying, as I should have to begin with, please don’t assume that the assumptions I listed are the be all, end all of the “anti-racism movement,” which I can’t even define. But they are a starting point for my understanding and I think that they’re likely to be pretty widely shared by a lot of the people who have been disagreeing with you.

    Your metaphor of “WP are sitting at the table” is extremely apt. The problem here is that sometimes, you are NOT sitting at the table. You may be no where near the table. This is probably why it may seem to you that white people only have a voice in a discussion of race when they agree with people of color (or the majority of them).

    Actually, white people are not obliged to agree with everything a person of color says. If a person of color says “I think a good way to create more economic equality for minorities is to create apprenticeship programs for minorities,” (this is a completely made up scenario that may or may not have any relationship to real world discussions) then a white person is welcome to say, “Well, I actually thing that method would be harmful for these reasons,” and listed some intelligent reasons, they would be listened to as part of the discussion. If the white person said, “Minorities are already economically equal” or “Anything focused at improving the economic situation of only one group of people is racist,” then they will NOT be listened to.

    When you deny the validity of experiences of people of color, or deny the fact that their insights about the effects of race and racism may actually, yes, be MORE VALID and certainly more applicable than yours, then you do not have a place at the table – because you’re no where near the table.

    Additionally, the dialogue does NOT need to give EQUAL weight to all voices. If the discussion is “Does ‘colorblindness’ hurt people (of color)?” and a person of color says “yes” and a white person says “no,” do you see why more weight will be given to the person of color?

    So, no, it is not the “job” of the white person to never voice an opinion, never disagree with the way things are going. But it IS the job of the white person to listen to and seriously consider the opinions of PoC on the issues that affect them.

    You have said several things that make it seem to me, and probably many others, that you are not operating under the same assumptions about race as we are, and therefore are not “at the table.” I may be misinterpreting your opinions, but I’ve tried to read and evaluate them closely.

    First off, you said “Living in the post-racial future…” in one of these discussions. I’m not sure exactly what you mean by this, but if you say that you ARE living in this “post-racial world”, then you are NOT operating under the same assumptions as the other people in the discussion.

    When you deny the fact that someone’s skin color affects their lives and their experiences as a human being, you are not operating under the same assumptions as the other people in the discussion. I recently had a friend express almost the same idea to me – she lives in a part of the world that has almost no racial diversity and she said she found it strange that people would make their skin color part of their identity. I told her that for white people, our skin color rarely is part of our identity – race as identity seems to be more of an externally imposed force than an internal one such as culture. That is, when you’re viewed and treated a certain way because of your skin color, that creates a shared experience between you and other people who are treated the same way and have to deal with the same problems, which makes skin color an important part of identity. That’s one reason why it’s part of who people are, just as culture is.

    When someone says “Colorblindness is actually unproductive and even harmful, it usually does mean ‘when you act like a white person’,” and you say “No, colorblindness is a good thing, she doesn’t understand what colorblindness is, all she thinks about is skin color, bodies aren’t important, she’s wrong here and here and here,” when you accuse people who don’t agree with these ideas of racism, as you seem to be doing, then you are not participating in the discussion, you are not listening respectfully and considering the perspectives of others. You are not demonstrating that you begin from the same assumptions as others and can therefore be productive in your discussion and disagreement.

    I also want to add that it is actually important and valuable to have places where there are NOT majority/privileged voices. Where marginalized groups can discuss issues that are important to them without having to be persistently dealing with the empowered group bringing the discussion back to them, or asking to be educated, or assuming that they know more about the issue than the people directly affected by the unbalanced systems. So while there is a place for white voices and white participants within the anti-racism movement, there is not a place for them EVERYWHERE.

    It seems in some ways like you completely deny the importance of people in power just shutting up and listening to those not in power. At the same time, you’ve mentioned repeatedly that you go back to your wife to discuss problematic situations, so you do on some level understand the importance of getting input. However, because your wife, as you say, does not share an opinion with every person of color, it is important for you as a white person to get many different perspectives and truly listen to them as valid – which is why I was trying to get at in my awkward France analogy.

  8. Critical Race Theory began as a legal paradigm, but has been exported more widely since its inception.

    Critical Race Theory — CRT for short — operates on the following principles.

    1. All WP (White People) in America are racists.
    2. No PoC (People of Color) in America are racist. They’re prejudiced just like everybody else, but they lack the power of institutional resources to force other racial groups to submit to their will. Thus they can’t be racist because racism in this conceptual scheme is defined as prejudice + power.
    3. WP must be shown that they are racists and confess their racism.

    There are lots of things wrong with Critical Race Theory, namely the imposition of ‘original sin’ on whites, as well as the specious notion that PoC can never be racist merely because they are not, often, holding the reins of economic and political power.

    Laura, I appreciate your having taken the time to type out your thoughts so completely and with such care. As before, there is much I wish to respond to. Some of which you might find surprising. I am a thoughtful guy and I do love it when someone who disagrees with me to one extent or another, can do so without making it ad hominem.

    Unfortunately, I am about to get off work and am not sure how much time I will have this weekend for the kind of response your post deserves.

    I might have to respond in little gulps, rather than one, long draft.

  9. No problem on waiting for a response. I’ll just give you a bit more to think about before you do so.

    Your problems with CRT seem to be related to terminology more than anything else. You say one of your problems is that PoC “can never be racist merely because they are not holding the reins of economic and political power.” Do you deny that they do not hold systemic power? Because if racism is defined as prejudice and power, and PoC lack that power, and you don’t dispute that, then all you’re disputing is the terminology used. As you say, in this paradigm, PoC can be prejudiced – bigoted – but the term “racist” isn’t used because of the lack of institutional power. It’s not necessarily the way the word is used in general conversation, but if the participants in a conversation understand how it is defined, I don’t see your problem on that front. If they (Critical Racial Theorists being “they” here, I guess) called the combination of prejudice and power operating on an institutional level something other than racism, would that change things? Admittedly, racism is a powerful word.

    I don’t know if point 1 is a guiding fact of the anti-racism mindset as I’ve seen it. I think I have seen the idea expressed, not in an insulting way but rather, “Almost all of us learn to make assumptions about people based on their race/culture/appearance, whether positive or negative, and white people in America do hold institutional power.” It’s not even sin. It’s almost neutral – meeting those definitions is not necessarily an inherently negative thing.

    I was reading a similar definition of “racism” today by tamago23, to describe how the word would usually be used in anti-racism discussions (it just wasn’t called CRT so I didn’t put it together with what you said) and she said, “In North America, white people have the institutional power. In large part we head the corporations; we make up the largest proportion of lawmakers and judges; we have the money; we make the decisions. In short, we control the systems that matter. ‘White’ is presented as normal, the default. Because we have institutional power, when we think differently about people based on their race or act on our racial prejudices, we are being racist.” It seems like that description of white people having the institutional power is what you disagree with, but let me know if I’m wrong.

    [As a side note, that “white is presented as normal” is something that I can relate to from my feminist perspective, because male is also the default and not only does it not feel good when you actually notice that you’re assumed not to exist (rather than just identifying with something that you’re not, white or male, so you can be included), I also think it leads to an Othering, a dehumanizing, it discourages the privileged group from identifying with the marginalized group, and I think those can lead to violence and other concretely negative impacts.]

  10. Laura, if some of the people I’ve encountered in the last 48 hours could discuss these issues as cleanly and calmly as you seem to be able to, I am sure myself, and others over at LiveJournal, could have had a much more productive dialogue about all of this.

    A few penny-thoughts for the Thought Fountain.

    THOUGHT: Yes, I am debating terminology, as it pertains to CRT. Mostly because I use racism as it’s spelled out in the dictionary. The dictionary definition of racism contains no mention whatsoever of prejudice + power, merely that racists believe they’re better than someone else, based on their ethnicity. From what I have seen, some PoC can be and are racist. I’ve seen PoC be racist to other PoC and I’ve seen and experienced PoC being racist to WP. IMHO the attempt CRT makes to “soften” or “pass off” this racism as mere, forgiveable ‘prejudice’ — ergo, aw shucks, we all have that, golly, no harm no foul — is specious at best.

    THOUGHT: based on the above, I think I can succinctly boil down my core greivance to this. It is not OK in my book for PoC to be assholes and dicks to all WP simply because PoC experience racism and prejudice from some WP. Similarly, racism on the part of PoC towards WP is not any less heinous or shitty than racism on the part of WP to PoC. Basically, nobody should get a pass for being unjustifiably shitty to someone else simply because they are of a different ethnicity.

    THOUGHT: many of the current “rules” that seem to dictate “manners” while sitting at the “table” of racial discourse essentially rig the dialogue so that WP are forever behind the curve, unable to point out bad behavior and boorish assholery by PoC because under the “rules” it is not allowed that WP do this, because it’s “derailing” or somehow a gross display of “privelege” to declare that someone being a stupid asshole is, in fact, being a stupid asshole.

    THOUGHT: many of the people attacking L. Jagi Lamplighter on her LJ — be they PoC or simply PoC ‘allies’ — were being stupid assholes. I pointed it out. Even other PoC pointed it out. For this we were deemed Unpeople and declared all kinds of awful. Because we didn’t think it OK that assholes were being assholes to a person who didn’t deserve to be treated this way. Regardless of whatever her perceived error may have been. The over-the-top and totally insane invective being deployed was uncalled for, but apparently it’s not OK to call out someone for being a complete prick if you’re a) a WP and b) they’re not?

    Throttling back a bit…

    THOUGHT: My wife is a womens studies grad and we’ve had some fairly extensive talks about the “default” paradigm. What it means to be a PoC female in the “default” world of white males, etc. She’s pretty fired up about it in fact, and while I intellectually get her POV on this one, I can’t really internalize the rage and anger because a) I’ve not experienced it and b) any attempt on my part to ‘feel her pain’ seems patronizing at best. I will say that one reason I dig my wife is that I’ve never seen her try to penalize any one individual WP for the “default.” She hasn’t externalized her anger and made it the ‘job’ of individual WP to ‘solve’ what is essentially her own emotion over an artifact of past eras — an artifact myself and most of her WP friends try to combat, in our own small ways.

    THOUGHT: When we devalue or otherwise demote the voice of any given WP in a race discussion — because we deem the PoC as Victim and accord the Victim greater status as both understander and arbiter of the problem — aren’t we just basically inverting the status quo? Why is it OK to tell WP to shut up and get to the back off the bus, when it was never OK to tell PoC to shut up and get to the back of the bus, even when it was happening in the real world? I suggest that part of the reason more WP aren’t actively involved in race relations and moving forward with progress, is not that they’re automatically racist and clueless, but that they’re unwilling to be demoted, silenced, or otherwise sent to the back of the bus. Would PoC accept this treatment? No. Why is it expected that WP should accept this treatment?

    THOUGHT: I hear a lot about how it’s the job of WP to “listen respectfully” to PoC. I think a lot more WP would be willing to do this if the PoC in question weren’t spitting at WP in the process. Call it ‘tone argument’ bingo or whatever, no human being enjoys sitting and being bawled out, and it’s unreasonable for anyone to expect anyone else to sit down and take treatment they themselves would not take. I would never expect anyone to just allow me to bawl them out because I felt their skin color and my skin color gave me the right to bawl them out simply for being who they are. But this is basically what seems to happen, at least on-line. PoC bawling out WP in this repeated RaceFail events, and then going, “WTF all you WP, you’re supposed to shut up and LIKE IT when we bawl you out!” That’s just crazy to think that it’s in any way healthy or productive for any one person or group of people to allow themselves to be abused in such a fashion.

    THOUGHT: I agree 100% with you that minority groups and women need safe spaces where they can talk about their issues and not worry if the “default” is going to come around and fuck things up for them. This is why I never post at the ABW blog and wouldn’t, even if it seemed warranted, because that is a safe space for people who want to cathart about race and gender issues and it’s not my space and I have no interest in being there. L. Jagi Lamplighter’s blog was not — to my knowledge — such a safe space. It was an open space, where anyone was invited to come and participate in the discussion-turned-argument. And no, I do not think any open space automatically defaults to a safe space, simply because one or more PoC or their emotionally-intense allies raises a voice or begins to get upset. Open spaces are for everybody. Nobody can just walk into an open space and ‘own’ it, save for perhaps the moderator of the space itself.

    THOUGHT: I agree again that there are times and places when WP do need to listen instead of talk. However, in the case of the attacks on Lamplighter, I felt this was not a good instance. People were being rude, getting out of control, the invective had begun to turn poisonous and the atmosphere trollish. Lamplighter was being dogpiled and I felt perfectly in my element speaking out on her behalf, and criticizing some of what was being said by angry, pissed-off PoC and their yah-me-too allies. Now, if that entire conversation had been happening over at ABW, perhaps I’d have felt differently. Much is decided by whose roof you’re under when the argument starts. In this case, it was Lamplighters house and hordes of her guests had decided to act like jackasses. I felt like, as a new arrival, someone needed to wolf-whistle and tell the jackasses to shut their pie holes, and Ms. Lamplighter she didn’t have to put up with boorish stupidity just because she’s a WP and some of the trolls are not.

  11. Brad, I would venture to suggest that some of the people you encountered on livejournal WERE trying to discuss the issues these calmly. I saw you and the OP ignore several thoughtful and polite responses in favor of arguing with people who were, quite justifiably, annoyed and frustrated. Now, those people may not have been trying to be productive, but in engaging with them when you could have been engaging with people who were not being hostile, or by responding to their hostility rather than the substance of their statements, I don’t see how you were being particularly productive either. It’s part of why I continue to feel that you use the excuse of rudeness and hostility to disregard the perfectly valid perspectives of those who are angry, as well as the perfectly valid perspectives of people who are actually being polite, but disagree with you.

    [Combining my answer to your last Thought in here.] I’m not saying no one was hostile, angry, and dickish on the LJ discussion. But many (although not all) of the people who ended up saying nothing but insults began by trying to coherently express dissenting views, which seemed to not be getting through. (When people are rude, they might be saying “Oh god, I’ve seen this so many times that I’ve given up all hope on getting someone to change their mind with reason, and their views seem so extreme, so obviously ridiculous to me, that reacting with ridicule is the only way I can express how hateful I find THEIR views.”) Other people gave, as I mentioned above, completely polite and reasoned responses which were ignored. So when you say “I can’t have a dialogue if the other side is going to behave this way,” it rings falsely. Also, just for the record, I’m not here because you defended your friend. I’m here to discuss the opinions you expressed and the possibility that you were not seriously considering the opinions of people who disagreed with you, no matter how it was expressed; and also to try to explain why those opinions might have been expressed in a way you found distasteful.

    The dictionary definition is not the one used in the dialogue about racism and anti-racism at large. I think most people would agree that PoC can fit the dictionary definition of racism, and yes, their use of “prejudice” does soften it to a certain extent, because of what a loaded word “racist” is in our society (more on that below). However, if a white person is prejudiced against a person of color, they are able to tap into a system of institutions that gives them significant power over that person. The enactment of that prejudice has a greater power to do harm than a similar level of prejudice would do when operating in reverse.

    I would say that the vast majority of PoC that I’ve come across in the anti-racism movement are not in any way assholes and dicks to all white people. They may, however, be sick of coaching white people through their racism, having to watch themselves for fear of offending white people (I’ve found that the groups in power are FAR more sensitive than marginalized groups, even though this defies the pop culture narrative about these issues), or just dealing with unrepentant racists. I haven’t seen this lead to assholishness, but perhaps to an unwillingness to put things gently – something that seems extremely important to you. Just because someone is being blunt and honest doesn’t mean they’re a dick, it doesn’t even mean they’re being hostile.

    This “unjustifiably shitty” behavior of which you speak is not something that I can identify with at all, and it might be because when I see criticisms of white behavior I don’t think “this person hates white people, hates me, just wants to be mean to me to get back at years of oppression.” I think, “maybe they have a point.” You do seem determined to be convinced that politically active PoC are regularly mean to white people and I don’t know if I can convince you otherwise. However, I assure you that it is absolutely not my experience, and I strongly suspect that you continue to see this behavior because you want to see it, and because it’s easier to think that someone is unjustifiably angry at all white people than to think that someone is justifiably angry at the system that benefits white people and the actions of some or many white people within that system. Anger might not be the most productive way to get through to people. But it exists and it is part of the discussion, and as I suggested above, your response to that anger might be excessively personal and, in its own way, equally unproductive.

    While I have not seen any pan-racial hatred or unjustifiably shitty, abusive behavior, what I HAVE seen many, many times is a person being told, or having it suggested that they might be racist, and reacting with extreme hatred and anger and an absolute rejection of the accusation. Actually, being told you’re racist or that you’ve done something racist is NOT a complete condemnation of you as a human being, and it is NOT an expression of hatred. It’s NOT spitting on someone. It’s not “well, that’s it, you’re going to hell now, you’re a terrible person and I hate you.”

    What is usually being said is actually “I think you’ve said or done some problematic things, but because I don’t think you’re a bad person, it seems worth it to me to point this out to you, because you probably didn’t realize and might want to change.” I have some unconscious prejudices based on race. As a white person, I have institutional power. By the definition of CRT, I am racist. This doesn’t make me feel guilty or self-loathing. I’m not going to jump off a bridge, I’m not going to give all my possessions to people of color to atone for the sins of white people. In fact, no one wants me to. What they want is for me to recognize these areas of prejudice so I can prevent them from influencing my actions, to be aware of the fact that other people’s experiences are often extremely different from mine and not to assume that they are the same.

    By the Merriam-Webster dictionary definition (I can’t see what dictionary you link to, it doesn’t seem to work?) of racism, “a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race,” I am not racist. But so few people actually are this type of racism anymore, or at least, those that do fit this definition are impossible to reach, so it is not really the type of racism that the anti-racism movement is working against. They are working against the type of racism that still exists in the mainstream, that is extremely widespread. A misunderstanding of the definitions used is probably why there’s so much unproductive anger when people are accused of racist actions.

    A thought about the rules and manners – your suggestion is that PoC leverage their race to get a louder voice in the discussion of racism. From what I saw of the discussions on Ms. Lamplighter’s LJ, people generally did not identify themselves as part of a particular racial group when prefacing their arguments, unless they were sharing something from their personal experience, or someone they were arguing against had said “the PoC I know don’t feel this way” – meaning, the leveraging was used more by the white people arguing in favor of color blindness. If you agree, as I think you do, that the first person opinions of people of color are more significant when discussing the effects of racism on people of color, then I’m not sure if the inappropriate leveraging that you believe is such a significant part of the debate occurred at all. Admittedly, I did not scan every comment for a mention of the poster’s race, but I looked at a significant number and usually if race was mentioned by the anti-racism crowd, it was either because it was relevant, or because it had been brought up by someone they were arguing against.

    On the subject of whether one person’s voice should be given more weight in an open space, again, I don’t think that happened at Ms. Lamplighter’s LJ unless it WAS actually relevant. In terms of whether this should be the case in the movement as a whole or the larger discussions, I’m going to quote tamago23 again. Her starting assumption is that most places where race is discussed ARE safe spaces. She says, ‘The problem is that historically there’s a very long precedent of white people coming in and taking over discussions of race and privilege. “Safe places” for PoC get co-opted and taken over by (usually well-meaning) white people. So when a PoC says, “Look, if you want to be an ally then shut up and sit down,” they’re usually basing that off the fact that white people tend to make it All About Them.’ That is, if the space is NOT a safe space, and if the voices of PoC are NOT prioritized, they get drowned out by the voices of white people who may just be trying to participate in the discussion in a productive way.

    Yes, people did resort to rudeness in the discussion on LJ. Yes, people probably will do that in other discussions of race. But I think some of the reasons that you’ve come across this is, as I said in my second comment, that you aren’t, or don’t seem to be operating under the same assumptions as many of the other people involved in those discussions. It is this that makes people respond in a hostile way, or be unwilling to engage with you, rather than the color of your skin. Now, that discussion was not happening in a place where people could safely assume that everyone was operating under those assumptions, and I think people not realizing that is probably the root cause behind many unproductive discussions of race. However, some of the assumptions seem so obvious that it can be shocking or anger-inducing when people seem to be rejecting them.

    I’m sorry if this response comes across as excessively personal. Please take any personal comments in the constructive spirit with which they were meant. I hope that if nothing else, I can convince you that the discourse is not actually full of hatred for white people, PoC throwing temper tantrums, or white participants being showered with abuse and then scourging themselves.

  12. The dictionary definition is not the one used in the dialogue about racism and anti-racism at large. I think most people would agree that PoC can fit the dictionary definition of racism, and yes, their use of “prejudice” does soften it to a certain extent

    I’d just like to point out that when I started getting interested in this whole racism thing, I was confused by, and objected to, the “PoC can’t be racist” definition because I was only familiar with the dictionary definition, and didn’t understand why I kept seeing people’s throats getting jumped down because their understanding of the term “racist” was “prejudiced on the basis of race”. So I kept reading, and eventually figured out that there was a specialised use of the term that I simply hadn’t been familiar with before, and that differences were arising because people had not merely different connotations but different, though related, denotations for the same word. The specialised term draws a distinction between “racism” and “race-based prejudice” that the common usage doesn’t.

    Similar things happen in academic disciplines. “Tree”, “field”, “group”, “ring”, “set”, “cycle”, “path”, “twist”, “space”, and “graph” (two forms, for that one!) are all terms used in mathematics which have very precise denotations in a mathematical context and similar-but-different denotations outside of one. This is probably because the study of racism is an academic discipline these days, drawing from history, psychology, sociology, political science, and literature, just to name a few sources off the top of my head.

  13. It’s been well-documented from everyone like Cohen and legions of others (including POCs and women) that ABW has an agenda and trashes writers and make baseless accusations venomously. I wouldn’t lose too much sleep or focus on her. At this point, fewer people are taking her seriously.

    That said, I’ve found some of the other writers on that blog to be very informed, educated, and very classy.

    It should also be stressed that just because some people like exploit the issues of racism, sexism or other isms for their own selfish schemes, doesn’t mean these issues aren’t legit and these are important issues that are certainly worth addressing.

  14. Laura,

    I think the ‘calm’ mask started to come off the LJ crowd when it became apparent that Lamplighter, myself, others, were not just going to go, “Okay, golly, we acceed to your opinions.” Seems to me a lot of the self-designated racial educators who went into Lamplighter’s LJ were expecting some kind of didactic cakewalk?

    Then, when it became apparent that Lamplighter et al disagreed, the reaction from the educators was the same: how dare you disagree with us, because our opinions are CORRECT!!!

    It was like nobody in the educator crowd had it ever occur to them that their ideas and concepts weren’t universally accepted, understood, and adopted. Some of them went absolutely ballistic.

    So yes, at first, I think some of it was calm. The calm began to end when people got mad because their opinions were being discarded or deflected back at them by the few voices who actually had the cojones to stand up and say, no, this is bullshit, and here is why I think it’s bullshit.

    It is not a sin to ignore an opinion with which you disagree. Opinions were expressed calmly, and counter-opinions were offered. It got out of hand when the educators — again, self-designated — started getting pissed off because they weren’t being acceeded to, as they apparently expected.

    Look, I just don’t think I’m ever going to “get” the new racial awareness that makes “color blind” into a racial sin — instead of a virtue, as it was taught to me when I was growing up — and which expects whites to be burdened with a confusing and often arcane set of social rules wherein whites have to Notice race — but not notice it in the wrong ways — and know all the right answers to responding to racial pain — but God help any WP for being so rude as to actually ask a PoC for help. The entire project seems like a dysfunctional, emotionally claustrophobic nightmare.

    And since no PoC I’ve ever known or met OUTSIDE the InterToob has ever breathed a word of it to me — not even my spouse, who has been by far the best racial educator I could have ever hoped to have — I am beginning to conclude that much of this RaceFail fracas and the new racial mind-games that come with it, are the invention of an InterToob bubble of geeky, racially-fixated PoC and their geeky white sycophants.

    That’s a harsh and perhaps unfair way to put it, but that’s my conclusion. I’ve kept my wife abreast of this entire thing since I got into it and she thinks it’s bullshit and doesn’t understand why I am bothering to listen to, or pay attention to, any of it. Her advice to me? You won’t win. These people won’t let you win. They’re losers on the InterToob and the more you let them take up your time, you’re a loser right along with them.

    Laura, I don’t want that to sound like I don’t appreciate the time you expended here. You went to a lot of trouble to post your thoughts — all of them well spelled out and very detailed — and I don’t want to give the impression that I don’t enjoy or respect the effort that you’ve made. Because I know it was an effort and I do believe you made that effort in good faith.

    I’m just not sure what else I can say at this point. My paradigm is just so fundamentally different from that of so many people who have been involved in RaceFail, it’s like we’re on different planets. And because people I know in Real Life — PoC included — don’t seem to know a damn thing about what any of this is about and/or conclude it’s a bunch of bunk, I feel like it’s in my best interest to make a final statement and then try and just move on and stop trying to figure it out. Because it’s pissing me off and making me nuts, and I am in the process pissing other people off and making them nuts.

    It’s almost like we’re in different religions or something. Protestants and Catholics essentially believe in the same God, the same Satan, and follow the same Bible. Yet Protestants and Catholics are very often fundamentally at odds, such that in past centuries they actually warred over their differences.

    I see something like that happening with RaceFail. There are fundamental and irreconcilable differences of doctrine taking place. Such that it’s not an education or an ignorance issue, as much as it’s just one group of people fundamentally seeing the situation differently from another group of people. Different doctrines, different religions, whatever you want to compare it to.

    Perhaps if I had not married who I married, I’d not feel so adamant about my positions. But at this point — and at my age — I just don’t feel like I owe people much, when it comes to defending myself on matters of race. If the life I’ve lead up until now and if the statements I’ve made — through my actions, not my words, because talk is cheap — are not good enough, then too bad for me I guess. I answer to God, when it comes to how I’ve treated my fellow human beings. I don’t answer to some worldly-constructed board of would-be social engineers who want to put me through an emotional or psychological litmus test, just because I’m white.

    You nailed it on the head. It’s all about assumptions. I operate under a fundamentally different set of assumptions, compared to the RaceFailers. If this is, itself, its own RaceFail, I’ll wait for my wife to tell me about it, or some other person I trust. Because the bottom line is I don’t know any of you InterToob people. On a matter as personal as race and on a subject as charged as racism, for someone to inform my paradigm, they have to be very close and very trusted. Not some kid — and I do believe a lot of the people attacking me in the last 72 hours have been much younger than I am — who sits behind an alias and natters at me from their LJ page with all their “friends” yapping away with them.

    Look, I’m seriously risking this turning into a diatribe against you personally, and I don’t want to do that. You’ve been very gracious with me and have taken great pains to explain your viewpoint, and I respect this and admire it more than I think I can say. I dislike the fact that I am liable to send you away from here, shaking your head because I was too thick for you to get through to.

    But at this point, I am not sure this can be avoided. Again, assumptions.

    Please know that the time you spent was not in vain. I have read all of your posts carefully, and have taken a lot of time — many hours, in fact — pondering them, examining them, trying to find where we intersect and where we do not, and looking at where I might be wrong and where I think I have reason to stand my ground.

    In the end, I can’t say you’re wrong. For you. You seem to be dealing with the new racial language and the new doctrine better than I am. Perhaps that’s just me being me. So I’m not going to tell you I think you’re wrong because, for you, the new racial doctrine clearly works.

    Again, I think I’ve lived my life such that I don’t feel I’ve got much left to prove — to anyone — on matters of race. My marriage is my statement. My friendships and my working relationships are my statement. My looking every person I pass on the street in the eye and smiling and acknowledging them — be they PoC or white — is my statement. How I treat my neighbors and how I help out my neighborhood, my state, and my country — including all whites and PoC alike — is my statement.

    If the sum of these real-world statements is not enough, then I leave it to God to decide my form of recompense.

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