End the Frame-war on Racism

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If you ask most white people to define racism they’ll say it is racially based prejudice.

If you ask most people of color to define racism they would tell you that racism is hegemonic systemic white supremacy based on a formula of prejudice+ power.

So who’s right?

Drum-roll please….I’m about to give a brilliant definitive answer…

Both! Neither! It doesn’t matter!

Wait…where are you going? Stick around and let me explain.

First of all, English is a flexible language, and if enough people use a certain word in a certain way–that becomes a legitimate usage of the word!

For example: If enough people use the word literally to mean figuratively–boom! it literally means figuratively–and not in a figurative way.

I would argue that despite either conscious definition, most people use racism fairly fluidly between both definitions, with people “getting” which meaning is implied through context clues. There’s an excellent episode of Blackish (Season 1 Episode 10) that illustrates this nicely. (If you haven’t watched Blackish I highly recommend it!)

But regardless…or irregardless…my point is, that now that we know that both usages of the word are, we can stop frame battling over them, move past the argument of whether or not “black people can be racist.”

Since there is no Black Hegemonic Systematic Oppression, the important conversation is not whether the word racism includes white systemic hegemonic oppression, but what are we–all of us–going to do to make this world a fairer, freer egalitarian society with equality, liberty and justice for all?

What are we going to do to stop cops from killing unarmed kids? Or at least prosecute and jail them if they do? What are we doing to make our schoolrooms and our board rooms representational of the beautiful diversity of this country? What are we doing to acknowledge or privileges and challenge our prejudices?

White people: when you hear a POC say “Black people can’t be racist” just…let it slide. Even if you prefer the first definition–now you know the second one–replace racist with white supremacist in your head and see if you still want to argue  the point. I know, I know, I grind my teeth every time my 12 year old daughter says she “literally died” but you know what, it’s not a battle I can win, or that’s even worth fighting.

If you want to be part of the solution, and not part of the problem, you will accept this second understanding of the word racism, and move on to more constructive conversation.

POC: if you really want to argue with a WP who has just described being beaten up every day at their minority-majority school while being called whitey, latte and snow-bunny that that wasn’t racism–I mean, be my guest–but dismissing peoples lived experiences as just being mean or just prejudice is unlikely to win them over to your side or do much besides give you a headache or a smug feeling of being right.

Post Script: I explained all this to my Girlfriend: Her reaction: “But the first definition is right! It’s in the dictionary!”

Me:

kitty_rage_quit_table_flip_by_shadethenighthunter-d6qs9le

 

Getting Though

A black friend on twitter has asked for help trying to “get through” to his white friend, who has expressed a number of troubling ideas that display blind white privilege at best, outright racism at worst.

After a number of people told him to she was a lazy racist who would never be a real friend, he still was looking for answers.

“What do you think I could say to make her understand? ” He asks.

This post is my response, since I couldn’t fit my thoughts into tweets:

First of all: there may not be anything that you can say to make her understand, understanding requires an open mind, and unless your friend is committed to opening her mind, it may not be possible for her to understand.

Your friend is actively engaging people of different races, and doesn’t understand why everything has to be “all about race.” Now I can’t think of a POC who would not like for everything to stop being all about race. Unfortunately, white people won’t let them. POC have responded by creating their own spaces where instead of being marginalized, their voices are honored and privileged.

Based on what I saw, your friend is one of the statistically few white people who has gone beyond the ubiquitous “black friend” and actually entered POC spaces. Once inside POC spaces she realized that within POC spaces, POC voices are privileged. Not only that, but that some POC made assumptions about her based on her race and may have been pretty mean about it. She has discovered what it feels like (within the narrow confines of POC dominated spaces) to be the minority, to feel silenced, denigrated, and (somewhat) oppressed.

Being the only white person in a POC space is an opportunity. An opportunity to learn what it actually feels like to not have your voice privileged, and sometimes an opportunity to see what it feels like to be on the other side of racial animosity. (Prejudice against the people oppressing you seems like a pretty natural reaction to me) But it’s just a shadow, a pale reflection of the white supremacy that POC face every day.

Your friend can leave POC spaces, and return to the white dominated spaces that take up the majority of the country. She can easily find white silos where she can speak as frankly and with as much racism as she likes.

Meanwhile, while your voice may be privileged in POC circles, but as soon as you step into the rest of White Supremacist America, it is not.

I would encourage your friend to take these feelings of silencing and racial persecution, and multiply them: multiply them by ten, by a hundred, by a million. Imagine the experiences she has had expanded beyond words and hurt feelings to include poverty, violence, death,  or the threat of all three.

By gaining entrance to POC spaces, with the concurrent mixture of welcome and antipathy, your friend has a wonderful opportunity–an opportunity for empathy. But only if she can use her imagination, opens her mind, and get over herself.

 

8 Things Black Women Get Away With That White Women Can’t

So, two months ago Madame Noir published the article: White Women Do It, Too: 8 Things Black Women Can’t Get Away With Doing by LaShaun Williams. This article suavly bypasses such topics as the wage gap, promotions, or, god-forbid–running for President–in favor of covering such crucial issues as “being a slut,” “getting a nose job” and frowning. (Yes, my moody-coworker to the contrary, apparently black women must always smile!)

And, being the up-to-the-moment media-savvy bitch that I am, here is my timely response. Don’t take it too seriously. This is satire people!

8 Things Black Women Get Away With That White Women Can’t

1. Wearing a Fucked-Up Wig in Public

Baby in a Wig looking goofy

Now I wish that more black women liked their natural hair as much as I do, but one can’t help admire the millions of different creative ways that they have found to get their hair “did.” So that being said, why do otherwise impeccably dressed women come into work with a fucked-up wig? I’m not just talking about a lace-front. I’m talking about sticking out everywhere, all messed-up, held back in a sloppy-ass pony-tail using a rubber band fucked-up!

Now, if I go to work and my pony-tail’s messy, at least I can say that I can’t see the back of my head. But what’s their excuse? I mean, they can take that shit off!

 

2. Having a Big Butt

A Huge Green Butt

Why Didn't the Video Chicks Look Like This?

Oh, my, god. Becky, look at her butt.
It is so big. *scoff* She looks like,
one of those rap guys’ girlfriends.
But, you know, who understands those rap guys? *scoff*
They only talk to her, because,
she looks like a total prostitute, ‘kay?
I mean, her butt, is just so big.
I can’t believe it’s just so round, it’s like,
out there, I mean – gross. Look!
She’s just so … black!

Need I say more?

3. Working as a security guard.

Angry Afro Lady

Now don’t get me wrong, but I’m sure that there are some great black female security guards, but when you walk into, say, a place of Higher Education (not that I’m naming any prestigious local Universities, cough, cough) and most of the professors are white, the cooking and cleaning staff is all Hispanic and the security guards are all black–and some of them are so young and skinny they look like they could be knocked over by a feather–you kinda get the sense that some typecasting is going on there.

4. “Acting Black”

Wonder Women "I know you didn't"

Everyone knows the worst thing that a white woman can do is “Act Black”

 

5. Scaring People By Taking Their Earrings Off

Madea Goes to Jail

Don't Make me Take My Earings Off!

When a white woman takes her earrings off, she’s probably going to bed, but when a (black-man-dressed-up-as a) black woman does it, it’s on!

6. Going Out In Public With Her Black Boyfriend/Girlfriend Without Black Women Glaring at Her

Jill Scott looking perturbed

It's Not About You, Jill!

When you do it, that’s normal, when I do it, the person I’m with is “betraying their race” or some bullshit. If someone is attracted to someone of a different race, it’s not a rejection of you! It just means they like that person!

7. Finishing Lists

Sexy sketch w/pic of a white woman

White women are much too busy getting knocked up in a sex tape while talking like babies to finish a little thing like a list!

Singled Out

Petite blond white chick

April Goldberg-Jenkins--Wait--Is she supposed to be Jewish too?

So you know after hearing that my girl Feloni’s song is featured on Single Ladies, I had to check it out! Especially when I heard Queen Latifah was the executive director!

I watched the pilot last night–and I have to say–I have some mixed feelings. My first misgiving was on the title–it sounds like a regressive version of Living Single. Sometimes I think that in the 22nd century we seem to be going backwards, rather than forwards in terms of female empowerment.

Indeed, the show is kinda like a bougie, Hollywood version of living single–actually, it’s more like Girlfriends meets The Game.

It’s a lot like Girlfriends, with Val  standing in for Joan–only in this group of friends, the light bright one is actually white–and nobody let’s her forget it. (I thought she was mixed at first–maybe because of her make-up and that fake looking hair?)

In the opening scene the main characters are comparing musicians–Marvin Gaye’s a don, the women explain, while R. Kelly’s a dog.

“Well I know you like dark chocolate!” one of the men exclaims derisively after April, the white woman voiced her opinion.

And that pretty much set the tone for how that character was treated throughout the show. Throughout the show, the other main characters threw barbs at her for being white and “getting” black men. She seemed to accept this treatment as the price for gaining entrance to the crew. Although it’s clear that they’re supposed to have been friends for a long time, that hostility simmers just below the surface.

This is not a new dynamic for the token wigger. Just look at any Tyler Perry TV show. It was particularly painful to watch in one of his plays, where the white woman was constantly the butt of the jokes, culminating in the punchline that “once you go white–your credit gets tight.” (Totally true, btw)

I just wanted to say that although I am white and most of my friends are black–they never treat me like that! My friends treat me the way that they want to be treated. Sure, race comes up in our conversations, but if anyone makes a joke about my whiteness–it’s me.

If anything, my friends are fiercely protective of me. My friend Tina is the best. She tries to school me in the ways of these black lesbians. If anything, she can be a little too much. I don’t necessarily want to hear about all my haters. I realize that she’s indignant on my behalf–but do I really need to hear about the couple laughing at my dancing and making rude remarks?

If I wasn’t aware of them, maybe it’s because I didn’t want to be.

I would never be friends with people who treated me the way the April is treated.

I realize the therapeutic release that having such a verbal punching bag offers. All the hurt and pain of struggling to make it into the upper middle class in this institutionally racist society–only to have some white woman swoop in and snag the “good black men.”

But put yourself in her shoes: she’s just a woman, a human being, who has certain attractions. If she’s drawn to black men, and the friendship of black women–that’s because, as I do–she sees something special in them.

Presumably, her friends see something special in her, too. But, if she’s supposed to be their friend, it would be nice if they would treat her that way.

It would be nice if television aimed at a black audience modeled POC actually treating their friends–all of their friends–like friends.

UPDATE: Watching the actual episodes, I’ve been pleased that this theme does not play out in the show. Guess they left all that hate in the movie:-)

It’s the Black Kids

A brown-skinned kid and a blond, blue eyed kid smile from behind a lap top

A very nice micro-dreadlocked older woman held her umbrella for my daughter to huddle under at Pride. We got talking.

“So where do you live?” She asked me.

“I live in XXXX” (neighborhood with a reputation for rich people/Jews/rich Jewish people.) “With my parents.”

“Oh, I live in the Boston.” She responded. “But my daughter’s in the Metco program, and she goes to school in YYYY” (Neighborhood with a reputation for even richer people, WASPS, and rich WASPS) “Do you have any METCO kids in your school?” She asked my daughter.

“She does,” I replied as my daughter gazed at her in befuddlement. “But I’m not sure which ones are in the Metco program.”

“It’s the black kids!” She responded. Clearly, I was a little slow in her estimation.

No kidding!” I replied with more bite than I intended. “But there are black kids who live in XXXX. So I’m not sure which kids are in the Metco Program.

“Oh.” Clearly, this had never occurred to her.

I Am Not Clear!

Invisible man stands against the sky getsturing dramatically (hat and coat visible)

Actual words that came out of my radio this morning:

“A lot of my closest friends in college were actually clear.”

Really? Are you serious? Don’t make me reach into that radio and smack you! (I know how–after all, some of my “closest friends” are “urban!”)

(For those of you still wondering what the hell I’m talking about:  instead of using the words white and black to describe people, he was saying “Urban” and “Clear.”)
The first time I encountered the terms “Urban” and “Clear” used in such a “creative” fashion, was listening to Notorious VOG & his crew in the morning on Hot 97 Boston. I started listening to the station because they often have the best Hip Hop, R & B and Dancehall on the dial. Unfortunately if you wanna hear that during your morning commute you have to put up with some assholes talking shit. (Why do these radio stations think we want to hear talk in the morning? The only thing I wanna hear in the morning is some bumpin music to help me channel my road-rage!)

At first I liked Notorious, he had some good things to say about taking responsibility for your children and not being a deadbeat dad. Since I’ve got two no-show baby-daddies that was a message I was ready to hear.

But then one day he started going off on how he’d rather go to a movie with “clear” folk, because “urban folk just didn’t know how to act”.

“Clear?” “Urban?” Really?

Now on the face of it, this actually makes a lot of sense–who wouldn’t rather go to a movie with clear folk–after all, if a tall “clear” person sits down in front of you–no problem–you can see right through them!

But–naw–I don’t think that’s what he meant…

Over time I saw that this usage of the coded language of “urban” and “clear” is a hallmark of this show. Each time Nororious or Lady V drops the word “clear” there’s that slightly naughty tone to their voice. Exactly like a white person chortling over his new code for the N-Word.

Now I find the term “Urban,” used to refer to African Americans (as it invariably is on this show) problematic: what, are you saying everyone in urban areas are black? Or that all black people live in the city? Doesn’t that erase all the other POC in the community? (The white people in the city being already invisible).

But whatever, that’s y’all. If y’all want to call yourself, “Urban” who am I to tell you you can’t?

On the other hand, I have to call you out for calling me “Clear.” I don’t care how many “clear” friends you have, or how better you think we behave in the movies–when you use that word you sound blatantly racist.

Some people think that because they have been the subject of racism, they cannot be racist. Just like some people think that because they have black (or “urban”) friends, they can’t be racist.

Bullshit.

Anyone can be racist.

Now I’m not saying Notorious VOG and his crew are racist–but they sure sound racist.

I don’t have a problem with them talking about race on the radio–even saying ignorant things sometimes–but if you can’t talk about race without using code words, you need to re-think what you’re saying.

We do have words to discuss race. As imperfect and inadequate as the words black and white are, (after, all, how many people have you met in this country who are truly black? Most American “black” people fall somewhere on the spectrum of browns.) they are common parlance of this era, and you should be able to use them without offending people so long as the context isn’t offensive.

Now I’m not a big fan of the word white to describe my skin color or my people: what am I–a wall? A blank piece of paper? A sheet? (Thank you KKK for giving bedding negative connotations.)

I find it extremely frustrating that no word in the English language adequately describes the tan-peachy-pinkish color that I see when I look at my hands!

In the sense that my skin color was so ubiquitous in Europe during the formation of the language that they didn’t feel they needed a word for it, it does, in a way, make it clear–invisible, assumed unless stated otherwise by a white racist culture. But I still reject the term.

I am not invisible! You do not have the power to rob me of what verbal pigment I posses.

When I look in the mirror I see myself in color. I have substance. I am not invisible.

I am not clear.

First Post

So a while ago bloggers were all putting up their first post, and I never got around to mine…but I just went back and looked at it. The first was basically my about page. The about page has changed a little since then, and you can check it out if you want to, but it’s my second post that I think is worth re-posting:

Street Encounter

So the other day I was walking downtown when a tall man with Dreadlocks approached me.

“You don’t seem like a normal white woman” He says to me.

I swallow. “Thanks, I think.”

“I’m raising money for an organization for black children to end racism.” He holds up a clipboard. I explain to him that as a single unemployed mother, the most I can donate is a dollar. He thinks for a moment, but seems to decide a dollar isn’t worth it.

“Thanks anyway.” He says as I walk away. “Don’t be racist”

“Well, I’d have to be racist against my daughter.”

You should have seen his double-take.