Sunday, April 30, 2006

What Kind of Card is Race? The Absurdity (and Consistency) of White Denial

Tim Wise in counter punch

Recently, I was asked by someone in the audience of one of my speeches, whether or not I believed that racism--though certainly a problem--might also be something conjured up by people of color in situations where the charge was inappropriate. In other words, did I believe that occasionally folks play the so-called race card, as a ploy to gain sympathy or detract from their own shortcomings? In the process of his query, the questioner made his own opinion all too clear (an unambiguous yes), and in that, he was not alone, as indicated by the reaction of others in the crowd, as well as survey data confirming that the belief in black malingering about racism is nothing if not ubiquitous.[...]

Since the O.J. trial, it seems as though almost any allegation of racism has been met with the same dismissive reply from the bulk of whites in the U.S. According to national surveys, more than three out of four whites refuse to believe that discrimination is any real problem in America (2). That most whites remain unconvinced of racism's salience--with as few as six percent believing it to be a "very serious problem," according to one poll in the mid 90s (3)--suggests that racism-as-card makes up an awfully weak hand. While folks of color consistently articulate their belief that racism is a real and persistent presence in their own lives, these claims have had very little effect on white attitudes. As such, how could anyone believe that people of color would somehow pull the claim out of their hat, as if it were guaranteed to make white America sit up and take notice? If anything, it is likely to be ignored, or even attacked, and in a particularly vicious manner.

That bringing up racism (even with copious documentation) is far from an effective "card" to play in order to garner sympathy, is evidenced by the way in which few people even become aware of the studies confirming its existence. How many Americans do you figure have even heard, for example, that black youth arrested for drug possession for the first time are incarcerated at a rate that is forty-eight times greater than the rate for white youth, even when all other factors surrounding the crime are identical (4)? read more

3 Comments:

At 3:36 PM, Anonymous C. Siddiq said...

Unfortunately, this is the reality of living in a white dominated society, as a people with very little economic control. Only things as blatant as white policemen and firemen savagely attacking non-violent blacks has any influence in arousing the sympathies of whites. Even the Rodney King incident saw only fleeting interest from our white population. Indeed, they showed more concern about the “irrational” violence exhibited by the blacks of South Central Los Angeles following the acquittal of the offending officers.
If the case of Emmitt Teal was insufficient to convince whites of the racism that blacks experience, there is little hope that surveys and scholarly academic studies will have much impact. This theme of white indifference to the suffering of black folks, even when bias and racism are well documented, grows a bit tiresome. Certainly the same theme presents itself when a famous black offends a white person (O.J., MJ); when a black child goes missing as opposed to a white child; when it is reported that blacks have fewer resources in their schools and communities that would better enable them to compete in this ever more competitive world that we live in; when it is reported that a black man was shot in the back 42 times by the police as he reached for his wallet; when it is reported that black youth offenders get far fewer second chances than white youth offenders; when it is reported that black men are opting out of the system due to frustration, scaled back opportunities, and dare we say, racism. Even when the media reports that a certain black alleges racism, it has the air that the joke is on the accuser, like someone reporting that they saw a UFO.
Obviously, these things are real and we who dare venture into the larger white-dominated society feel the effects of racism everyday. Perhaps we need a new word to describe it, for it is not the kind of racism where people say disparaging things about your nose or your lips, or call you “boy”, “gal”, or nigger. But it is the kind of thing where even after you’ve gained access to the institution, you never gain access to the “club”. Where your music is met with giggles and bizarre looks, or your boldness is taken for lunacy, and your suggestions are ignored or quickly dismissed by a white colleague, who may be on your level or even beneath it. This saps the spirit and the motivation out many of us. Some of us thrive in the context of this society, but they are rare, and often have resigned themselves to embracing the white culture and distancing themselves from other blacks (think Clarence Thomas and Ward Connerly).
Therefore, since our grievances are rarely given proper consideration, we have no choice but to keep our noses to the grind and work, work, work. Unfortunately, the notion that blacks have to be better and faster to achieve the same as whites is a bitter reality. The sooner we re-embrace this fact the better. The blacks that fought in the civil war understood this, as did the Tuskegee Airmen who flew for the US Army. Jack Johnson, Paul Robeson, Jackie Robinson, and Jesse Owens all understood this. With affirmative action quickly becoming a thing of the past, we would be best served to realize this also.
And once we have economic power, they can’t deny us. That’s why the bus boycott was so effective at bringing about change, because money was affected. That’s why they embraced black athletes, because they were better and could bring home the championship. Very rarely does any people grant another people something from the kindness of their hearts. We are all still very tribal in nature. And unless there is a real incentive for me to support you, it is not going to happen, as it goes against my interests.
Let us cry for our own children and continue to fight against injustice wherever we find it. And as we gain strength, they won’t be able to deny us for long.

Siddiq

 
At 5:56 PM, Anonymous C. Siddiq said...

Unfortunately, this is the reality of living in a white dominated society, as a people with very little economic control. Only things as blatant as white policemen and firemen savagely attacking non-violent blacks has any influence in arousing the sympathies of whites. Even the Rodney King incident saw only fleeting interest from our white population. Indeed, they showed more concern about the “irrational” violence exhibited by the blacks of South Central Los Angeles following the acquittal of the offending officers.
If the case of Emmitt Teal was insufficient to convince whites of the racism that blacks experience, there is little hope that surveys and scholarly academic studies will have much impact. This theme of white indifference to the suffering of black folks, even when bias and racism are well documented, grows a bit tiresome. Certainly the same theme presents itself when a famous black offends a white person (O.J., MJ); when a black child goes missing as opposed to a white child; when it is reported that blacks have fewer resources in their schools and communities that would better enable them to compete in this ever more competitive world that we live in; when it is reported that a black man was shot in the back 42 times by the police as he reached for his wallet; when it is reported that black youth offenders get far fewer second chances than white youth offenders; when it is reported that black men are opting out of the system due to frustration, scaled back opportunities, and dare we say, racism. Even when the media reports that a certain black alleges racism, it has the air that the joke is on the accuser, like someone reporting that they saw a UFO.
Obviously, these things are real and we who dare venture into the larger white-dominated society feel the effects of racism everyday. Perhaps we need a new word to describe it, for it is not the kind of racism where people say disparaging things about your nose or your lips, or call you “boy”, “gal”, or nigger. But it is the kind of thing where even after you’ve gained access to the institution, you never gain access to the “club”. Where your music is met with giggles and bizarre looks, or your boldness is taken for lunacy, and your suggestions are ignored or quickly dismissed by a white colleague, who may be on your level or even beneath it. This saps the spirit and the motivation out many of us. Some of us thrive in the context of this society, but they are rare, and often have resigned themselves to embracing the white culture and distancing themselves from other blacks (think Clarence Thomas and Ward Connerly).
Therefore, since our grievances are rarely given proper consideration, we have no choice but to keep our noses to the grind and work, work, work. Unfortunately, the notion that blacks have to be better and faster to achieve the same as whites is a bitter reality. The sooner we re-embrace this fact the better. The blacks that fought in the civil war understood this, as did the Tuskegee Airmen who flew for the US Army. Jack Johnson, Paul Robeson, Jackie Robinson, and Jesse Owens all understood this. With affirmative action quickly becoming a thing of the past, we would be best served to realize this also.
And once we have economic power, they can’t deny us. That’s why the bus boycott was so effective at bringing about change, because money was affected. That’s why they embraced black athletes, because they were better and could bring home the championship. Very rarely does any people grant another people something from the kindness of their hearts. We are all still very tribal in nature. And unless there is a real incentive for me to support you, it is not going to happen, as it goes against my interests.
Let us cry for our own children and continue to fight against injustice wherever we find it. And as we gain strength, they won’t be able to deny us for long.

Siddiq

 
At 2:10 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

No doubt racism continues as before. In order to change that though requires really massive movements. I'm 'white'. I don't think significant proportions of whites are so hostile as you make out (much more than 6%, possibly we would see 25% of whites in my view supporting an end to racism). What is a problem all the way around is lack of political voice to represent a society that genuinely addresses racism.

Tim and Saddiq lists a little about racism, but I think the process is much more in need of revelation about it than has gone before.

Functionally, to organize against an 'institution' that is economic in nature, one has to do something about how the economics leaches off the in-equality.

Racism in the U.S. is just one form of the process that goes on in nation states elsewhere. What exactly is this deformation in a social system then? I think it right to say that after the French revolution and the establishment of Nation/states, that racism is part of that process. That older systems though unequal can't reproduce the structures we experience now. Since slavery started long before the U.S. 'revolution' the roots of racism arose probably out of the feudal related bondage system though now based upon cheap labor.

It is also correct in my view to say that a major social change say in the U.S. with the intent to really address racism would take a quite a bit of experiment and work to make progress. This would of course require some sort of unity amongst the working class of a new type. Primarily because socialistic economic aims are the only way to address the economic supports for racism that would bolster the status quo, and stymie change.
thanks,
Doyle Saylor

 

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