However, the powerful effect of white people’s touchiness on this subject should not to be underestimated. In fact, I think it goes hand in hand with the threat of violence in perpetuating racism.
For instance, racial inequality nowadays relies more heavily on the intimidation and violence of the war on drugs and immigration enforcement than on the terrorism of vigilante groups. But, racist immigration and drug enforcement policies are founded on the widespread popularity of racial stereotypes that falsely criminalize black men as the source of the illegal drug problem in the U.S., and immigrants of color as drains on our economy. In other words, ordinary prejudice is as much a part of the oppressive equation for communities of color as violence and intimidation, and the fact that these ordinary forms of prejudice are expressed through major public institutions is possible because we deny that these stereotypes are grounded in prejudice at all.
We need to marginalize ordinary racist stereotypes and behavior, and this starts with calling racism out, even when those guilty of it get touchy because they are unable to recognize their acts as racist.
But, why so touchy?
At the risk of sparking a sh*t storm, here are a couple of proposals.
First, I think white people get bent out of shape by the label racist because being able to wield it means that, at least culturally speaking, people of color have power we haven’t traditionally had, specifically because of racism.
For generations even looking at a white person in the wrong way could get a person of color fired, harassed, terrorized or even lynched. Going as far as lodging an accusation of any kind against a white person could spark a race riot.
But socially conscious people of all races fought and even died in order to end the white cultural, economic, and political supremacy that led to this kind of intimidation and violence. Today, the degree to which we are empowered to speak out against racism is a measure of the erosion of unjust white power and privilege that was achieved through these historic efforts. When white people react defensively to people of color involved in the audacious act of calling them out for racism, they are, albeit usually unconsciously, struggling to reconcile themselves with lost white privilege.
That’s my first theory.
Keith A. Owens, 54, has been looking for work since losing his job last year as communications director for the Wayne County treasurer’s office in Michigan. A former award-winning journalist, he has applied for “40 or 50 or 60 jobs” with no luck. He has managed to scrape by playing guitar with a band and working with his wife’s firm, Writing It Right for You.
“I feel kind of funny saying the reason I was not hired is because I am black, because the fact is for very few opportunities I even got into the room,” he said. But, he added, he does not see similarly experienced white people going through the same things. “For some reason, things seem to have worked out okay for them.”
The economic downturn has only reinforced these troubling dynamics for black workers. They were hit harder than whites during the recession, in part because workers with less education were more likely to lose work during the downturn. They also have been slower to recover. One in five African Americans is employed by government — as opposed to one in seven whites — a sector that has cut jobs even as other parts of the economy have inched toward recovery.
Blacks are also under-represented in industries that have shown some strength during the recovery, including manufacturing and professional and business services, according to the Labor Department.
The result has been predictable: Black workers are not only more likely to be unemployed than whites, but they are also more likely to remain jobless for longer periods, wreaking havoc on their financial lives.
“Black Jobless Rate Is Twice That Of Whites,” washingtonpost.com, 12/14/12
Filed under “…But You Knew This Already.”
Whites are about 78% of the American public. According to Gallup, about 19% of whites were opposed to interracial marriage in 2007. That’s a pretty small minority of whites, but in total number, that’s something like 49 million people. There are only 69 million or so non-white people living in the U.S. That means that the number of whites who oppose interracial marriage is greater than all of any one U.S. racial minority group. Why are they so afraid?
I believe what whites have to fear is white people.
When white supremacy was challenged by the racial justice movements of the 1950s and ’60s, white elites pivoted from overt racism and co-opted the language and symbols, but not the substance, of racial justice. By doing so, they were able to position themselves as champions of a new colorblind code of civility that reduces structural racial injustice to an attitudinal problem. This enabled them to block attempts to reorganize unjust power relations while deflecting responsibility for continuing injustice on overt racists who were cast as ignorant, immoral, and backward.
This move caused whiteness to fracture. The dominant faction of elites adopted a strategy of coded messaging and avoidance of obvious racial conflict, while using overt racists as a foil against which to position themselves as racial egalitarians. When whites are exposed as racists, their anger is in part a reaction to the fear that they will be cast out of the dominant faction of whites and marginalized along with old fashioned racists like the KKK.
If you buy that, what we are up against, at least in part, is a factional fight among whites over how best to maintain supremacy. And for people of color to concede to that by avoiding direct attacks on racism is like cutting off our noses to spite our faces.
Frances Stead Sellers at the Washington Post has a fascinating account of the differences in Black and White American sign language. Sellers profiles a 15-year-old girl named Carolyn who in 1968 was transferred from the Alabama School for the Negro Deaf and Blind to an integrated school, only to learn that she couldn’t understand much of what was being signed in class.
White American sign language used more one-handed signs, a smaller signing space, stayed generally lower, and included less repetition. Some of the signs were subtlety different, while others were significantly different.
These distinctions are still present today, as are the White-centric rules that led Carolyn to adopt White sign language in school and the racism that privileges White spoken vernacular as “proper English.”
- All Asians look like John Cho.
- Asians know everything. Seriously, everything. And they can probably fly in secret and they just don’t tell us.
- If an Asian person tells you to do something, for the love of god, do it. NEVER cross them.
- Black people are all hard. Every one. They’re hard as fuck. You can’t break them with a hammer.
- Despite being really hard, black people tend to die very easily and repeatedly.
- Despite black people dying really easily, cops still need to shoot them and/or taze them and/or tackle them in large groups to the floor.
- Attractive white men will rarely suspect suspicious attractive white women. The only people who will are black or latino people and other attractive white women.
- God is black, but only a tame kind of black.
- All black people look alike.
- White women are very delicate and special.
- Despite white women being very delicate and special, they often seem to live through entire shows.
- Despite white women having higher survival rates than probably anyone else, everyone falls over themselves to protect them, almost as if they are in danger.
- Black people know all other black people. All of them. Seriously every single one.
- Most Latinos just look like white people.
- The ones that don’t are very, very HARRRRRRD.
- Muslims and Middle Easterners who aren’t completely Americanized down to the tiniest degree are barbaric and horrific. But at least you can count on your Americanized ones to side with white people on just how barbaric they are.
- Brown people love the shit out of arranged marriage. In fact, they are all arranged married. Even ones who have lived in America for several generations. Or sometimes they play a doctor (who just isn’t arranged married yet).
- Darker-skinned black people all come from the skreets. Suburban upper or middle class black people are all light skinned. Very light skinned.
- Non-white trans women only hold two jobs; prostitute and casualty of prostitution.
- Lesbians are all white.
- If a trans woman isn’t a prostitute, she’s definitely white.
- Trans men are also all white.
- Gay men are mostly white except for black guys who share their massive black dicks.
- The few massive-black-dick-sharing gay guys are all on the down-low.
- There may be a few secret queer Latinos.
- Gay Asians don’t exist. Gay Indigenous definitely don’t exist.
- Indigenous people are werewolves, or they teach white people lots of things and send them on spirit journeys and stuff using magical native potions. Also spirit animals.
- Despite PoC having so much magic and giving white people so much education, they always need to be saved by white people in the end. What the heck are they using all this magical education for????
i been wondering this forever.
flint has just as many beat up run down decaying houses that detroit does. in fact, flint has had many of the same proposals surrounding it to “deal” with blight that detroit has—downsizing, 1$ houses, etc.
and yet—when it comes to the whole “zomg i luuuurv abandoned houses!”—the narrative focuses almost exclusively on Detroit. the “once great city.” the “former glory.”
flint is also a “once great city” and has a lot of “former glory”—tons of wealth, lots of beautiful old buildings/architechture…
so what’s the difference here? why is the gaze on detroit so fucking focused?
i can only think of two things.
first; michael moore’s movie, roger and me, detailed exactly how violent the process of resource withdrawal really is. families being kicked out of their homes, families going hungry—empty houses in his movie (and many of his follow up documentaries) don’t carry that same mystique that houses shown in ruin porn do. in short, he contextualizes what ruin porn deliberate fails to. that the houses aren’t just randomly abandoned—that many times (probably most or all), *eviction* happened—making it a violent, demeaning, shaming, frightening experience—the ghost of frightened children and terrified mothers hang around michael moore’s houses.
second: because ruin porn *deliberately* decontextualizes the houses, viewers are able to write their own fantasies onto the blight. one of the fantasies I saw on the detroit ruin porn flowing around tumblr involved a person crying, then flipping over piano and playing it while smoking a cigar (or something, I was so grossed out, I didn’t read it very closely). Viewers of ruin porn repeatedly value terms like “haunting” and “once great” and “so sad” and “heartbreaking.” —and yet, to see a (black) family removed from their house (as you see in Roger and me) can often be described using the same terms. the haunting image of the little boys face as he watches his mother scream at his siblings….
but i get a feeling that THAT is not the haunting image people are recalling as the looking at Detroit ruin porn. because detroit ruin porn decontextualizes the houses, viewers can do the same thing they do when racism or white supremacy stairs them in the face—ignore it, turn away from it, or pretend like it doesn’t exist.
detroit ruin porn, in a sense, allows viewers to reinforce the fantasy that there are no consequences to white supremacist heteropatriarchy—there are no consequences to capitalism. houses, like the titantic, just accidently hit a magic ice burg. everything would’ve been fine if the captian had slowed down like he’d been told. or if there had been enough lifeboats. it’s not that exploitation, violence, resource hoarding, pollution, segregation, violence against workers, and a corporate greed created a new more extravegant way to hoard money and reinforce violent structures of control—it’s that the captain didn’t listen to the warnings to slow down.
I think there’s also something going on with working class white folks *from the south* (i.e. hillbillies, rednecks, etc—or: whites that are easily written as being *inherently* violently racist by upper class white folks) being a big community in flint—whereas in Detroit that community exists, but for most of it’s history, the “face” of detroit whiteness was either white collar management or white immigrants (i.e. polish, esp.).
but right now…i’m tired and i still have a long day of work ahead of me.
so fair the well, tumblr.