Last year (2011), I attend the UC Students of Color Conference, hosted at UC Davis. Each UC sends a delegation ranging from 20 to 70 students to the conference to attend workshops and participate in dialogue on issues facing students of color. These students range from seasoned student activists to students more or less new to concepts of social justice (such as myself at the time).
One of the traditional components of SOCC is the Closed Caucus spaces. During one segment of the conference, participants can choose from various identity-based caucus spaces to attend. Caucuses included African American/Black/Black Diaspora, LGBTQ, White (Allies), Latin@, Native American/Indigenous, and Asian/Pacific Islander, also known as “API”. The reasoning behind Closed Caucus spaces is that there are certain issues unique to various communities and so they should have a closed space to dialogue on these issues.
**This story happened more than a year ago, so I may fudge some details**
**I use “we” a lot. I use that as a general phrase for the group. I was not a facilitator**
Now these caucus spaces were about an hour and half long. TL;DR, the API caucus space was highly unproductive, if not a disaster by some accounts. Part of it could be attributed to lackluster facilitation, though I feel that the problems that arose are indicative of wider issues (at least here in California).
First, after doing community agreements, the facilitators asked the group, I’d guess 30-50 people, what topics they wanted to talk about. A lot of important issues came up. There was no plan on how to actually start or decide on what to talk about. What ended up happening was that we took the group outside of the classroom (it had bolted seats) to the grassy area outside and split into two groups. There we started the conversation on… what does API mean to us (or something to that effect).
That’s when the real fun started. The space quickly became a vent session, with certain people dominating the conversation with their long stories (good for them, but highly unproductive for the space). And then from there, everyone became less and less sure of what “API” even means… so that became the discussion point. People offered up reasons for why we even use the label “API”. Some people even mentioned that they don’t actively identify with “API” or “Asian American”. Others mentioned how the “PI” is talked about so little; a marginalized group within a marginalized group. Others mentioned how in their experiences, many Filipin@’s and South Asians don’t really identify with “API”/”Asian American” either.
Towards the end of the allotted time for the caucus space, some more conscious people offered the explanation that “API” or “Asian American” is not so much a race identification but a political identity, one formed in order to unite the individually weak political power of the numerous ethnic groups that fall under the Asian/Asian American/Pacific Islander categorization.
Fast forward to this year’s SOCC, the API caucus space was much better, though still rather unproductive in my opinion. Again, when my subgroup of 20 people was asked how many of us actually actively identify with the API label, I’d guess less than half the group raised their hands, and those who did I recognized who they were because they are fellow activists. This reaffirmed my understanding that API/Asian American is moreso a political identity that not many Asians actively identify with as their racial identity, preferring instead a more specific dis-aggregated ethnic identity.
I feel that, much like how race is a social construction that is made more evident when we are attacked or other’d on it, most Asians don’t identify with the API/Asian American label until/unless they are discriminated against on it.
The Moving Walkway Analogy is an apt one for Racism in the US, where the society we are born into is already institutionally and socially based on racism.
When on a Moving Walkway you have three options:
1) Walking Forward, you move faster forward: You are actively participating in perpetuating Racism
2) Standing Still, you are moving forward: You are not actively participating in perpetuating Racism, but you are still participating in Racist structures and institutions
3) Walking Opposite, you are slowly moving in the opposite direction: You are actively participating in Anti-Racism, it is difficult, you make little progress, but you are moving away from Racism
Under the Moving Walkway Analogy, there is no such thing as a “Not Racist”, because by being “Not Racist”, one is actually being “Racist”. The two options become “Racist” and “Anti-Racist”.
I have no delusions that I am an “Anti-Racist”. I knowingly, sometimes consciously but usually unconsciously, participate in Racist institutions and structures because I have not found or do not have the courage to break away from these institutions.
In regards to schools, simply introducing other cultures is not enough to instill a true sense of equality and desire for social justice. Introducing non-dominant cultures and group histories into school must be followed up with and developed with discussions and dialogues about contemporary issues facing marginalized groups and moving away from neoliberal ideology of individualism. One particular model that is said to have great positive effects is connecting students to their community, to develop real engagement and participation and a desire to help one’s community.
If anything, the current model of multiculturalism in schools only serves to further obscure the roots of Racism and oppression, creating a facade of peace and harmony that isn’t carried into the outcomes of people’s behaviors and lives. Racism can’t be fought with demographic figures because Racism is about power and privilege.
Over the past year and half I’ve come across some common themes in regards to approaching White folks from a Marginalized/People of Color perspective. Many of these are just as applicable to anyone not in a marginalized group, when considering the issue of POC-to-POC horizontal oppression.
I just wanted to collect some of the things I’ve heard and give a brief explanation from my understanding of the theme. While I mainly agree with these ideas and their premises, I have varying degrees of agreement with how they are applied, which itself has many variations.
Disclaimer: Some folks may be thrown off immediately by the wording of the title. I want to stress that I am writing this moreso as a resource/reference guide to introduce ideas that I’ve encountered in from other peopl’s stories, from readings and the internet. None of these are meant to be absolutes. I do not speak for all POC, or all POC activists, or all advocates for racial justice. Nor am I saying all White folks do these things, or that White folks who do these things are necessarily “bad/evil” people who should feel guilty about it. These are my own interpretations based on what I’ve read and seen and observed to be patterns/themes.
Hit Read More:
I’ll preface that I’m no expert and can only speak from my experiences and pool of knowledge from readings/documentaries/etc, and that this is my interpretation of the word.
The simple answer from my perspective is: No; no one is a bad person because they are born white, or part white, or living a “white” life
I don’t know your pool of knowledge so I’m going to go with the basics just in case.
I think the first part is an often very warranted anger and frustration at being assimilated into the dominant culture, and the requisite destruction/elimination one one’s non-dominant culture. In the context of the US, that dominant culture is one that has always and continues to prioritize and glorify characteristics associated with White(AngloSaxonProtestant) folks. I would offer that an example of Whiteness is that in media, while while folks are often heroes and sometimes villains, non-white folks are either villains, tokenized/stereotyped heroes, or a white person with black/yellow/brownface. Included in this is that what is seen as acceptable masculinity is the idealized white man, while Asian males are often depicted or implied to be effeminate or weak in a negative way.
Similarly, you may have heard of the “bamboo ceiling”, where Asian Americans are having trouble moving up the corporate ladder because of perceived lack of a certain kind of initiative or leadership that is often expected of and associated white folks.
Another example might be how society tends to frown upon Black folks who conspicuously display wealth, compared to how it tends to admire White folks who conspicuously display wealth. I’m not talking about well known celebrities, but successful folks who might own a very nice car or something. There have been studies that showed that Black folks exiting expensive vehicles were viewed with suspicion while White folks exiting expensive vehicles were viewed with…. nothing; with normalcy and no surprise.
And I think that’s a central part of “Whiteness”, the idea that “white jobs” and “white customs” is NORMAL, and all else is NOT NORMAL. The idea that immigrants have to give up their native tongues to learn English. The idea that Black hair is viewed as uncivilized. So I would say that when folks are addressing “Whiteness”, we’re not talking simply about characteristics associated with White folks, there’s nothing inherently wrong with that. We’re talking about how it is enforced in our society as the Norm, and how that enforcement has very real consequences for anything that doesn’t fit the Norm.
I can’t claim to understand the experience of folks who are mixed-race, and even there is a spectrum of experiences depending on factors such as whether or not one is white-passing or not (whether or not most people will label a person as White when they may have other parts to their racial identity). But I would say confronting Whiteness is about acknowledging and understanding some sort of privilege and at the most basic level, making sure to not use white privilege to overtly or unintentionally covertly enforce white-based social norms on other folks.
If you haven’t done so, you can read on “microaggressions” as the most pervasive enforcement tool of Whiteness among individuals.
I hope that helps…
Are how I felt, and mostly kind of still feel. I’ve felt this way before, though never this intensely, but I do think that it’s something I need to sleep on (maybe a few times) and when I’m cooled off and not running on triggered emotions, I’ll be better able to put things in perspective and take a really big step back that I know in my gut I need to take.
But until then I’m going to rant about why I’m angry and what triggered me.
Hit Read More at your discretion. Rant ahead.
I am tired, tired, tired, of ironic racism. It has been bugging me in the back of my mind for a long time but I haven’t been able to put a finger on what this phenomenon is until… a few minutes ago.
Ironic racism is simply, executing racist actions (or saying racist things) under the guise that it is okay to do so because you know you’re being racist - i.e. it’s okay to be racist if you’re doing it ironically and not seriously. This is often done when people are joking or trying (desperately) to be funny.
Examples of ironically racist things that have been said to me: “I would never date an African… everyone from your continent has AIDS.” OR “I bet you disappear in the dark hehe” OR “Dayum that ho has a sexy weave!” Another example is people dressing up as pimps as ho’s, in blackface, and partying. Remember the compton cookout?
Supposedly, ironic racists can’t really be called out for their actions because their response is simple - of course they know what they said was racist, but they didn’t really mean it in a hateful way, so it’s absolutely okay. “What? I’m not racist. Dude I freakin’ love black people I volunteer for the NAACP I voted for Obama I would never kill a black person my sister’s cousin’s baby daddy is black and we let him come over once - so chill, it’s okay.” [Yay racial harmony means I can say WHATEVER THE
If none of the above sentiments have triggered anything for you, I’ll be more obvious. Ironic racism is problematic for several reasons:
1. People think it is okay to be ironically racist because America (and the rest of the Western World) is postracial. Many are under the impression that racism is a thing of the past and joking about it is finally acceptable. Oh sure, there are some people who don’t like blacks/other minorities, but those racists no longer have any power, so they don’t matter. Besides, America has a black president now [let’s pretend we don’t know that he is just as white as he is black - if not more white than he is black] so America is an equal place. Let the jokes begin!
2. People think ironic racism is equivalent to satire. By making racist jokes - especially sarcastic ones - people think they are pointing out why racism is wrong. But if you are saying racist things without challenging their racist foundations, you have failed at being satirical. Because once you do something racist, your intention/meaning will not always be distinguishable to others who do not live in your brain. Get it? Circulating racism is simply circulating racism.
3. Ironic racists are often still unaware of their white privilege, and usually have no idea what “whiteness” is. While I don’t think racist jokes should be banned (they are admittedly pretty funny sometimes), it is important to note that you have no right to joke about something that you do not completely understand. And if you are unaware of your white privilege or how you benefit from being white in America, you cannot joke insensitively about minorities because it is oppressive. You can’t joke about black features (dark skin, nappy hair, or even weaves) if you are unaware that for decades, the media has glorified European features (long beautiful hair, light skin, thin noses) and upheld them as the standard of beauty, thus causing a longlasting insecurity in those who don’t look white. You can’t joke about blacks not going to college if you are unaware that the systemic inequality in the public education system has made sure that schools populated mostly by white students receive a far better education than schools with predominantly black students.
4. Often, people tread the line between being ironically racist and just not realizing that they’re being racist or generalizing, and that ambiguity protects their speech: “You can’t play basketball? You’re so whitewashed!” or “You look like a cholo in this picture!” or “Ooooh girl, let’s get some KFC!” When the area gets this grey, how are we supposed to be able to tell the unsupposing racists from the sarcastic f**ks?
Here is my marker for who can make racist jokes and where to draw the line with them: are you completely aware of your privilege and prejudices? Are you capable of dispelling the racist ideals that society has covertly instilled in you? If you are completely free of racism (or actively trying to be), and if that has been previously established by our relationship, well then… go ahead. Joke with me. You’re probably not a comedian. But try your best.
But think of this… if a racist (but conscious) person heard your joke - would they stop and think “haha - wait, I’m a complete idiot for holding this racist belief that was just joked about.” Or would they laugh? Would they just laugh, take your joke, and circulate it amongst their circle of racist, privileged friends?
While I think about the answer to this question, I am going to post this blog on the facebook pages of my ironically racist friends.
*Note: You do NOT have to be white in order to be classified as an ironic racist!*
**Addendum: Someone mentioned this to me after reading this blog and I found it worth sharing - see also: Hipster Racism.
What is Civil Rights? What is Neoliberalism?
The other day, I attended a lecture on this topic. Many of the core concepts were things I’ve already learned about, but it was very refreshing to hear it from a scholar in person, as well as learn much more about the real world outcomes of Neoliberalism.
If you asked a random person what “Neoliberalism” means, they probably won’t know. Heck, if you asked them what “Liberalism” means, they probably won’t give you the academic definition either. At its root, Neoliberalism is about the supposed primacy and perfection of the Free Market and associated values. Neoliberalism is the ideology that fuels the “Pull yourself up by the bootstraps” and “Just work hard” rhetoric we hear from all ends of the mainstream political spectrum.
Perhaps, in an ideal world, Neoliberalism has its place. In a world where everyone was equal and treated equally, the Neoliberal model of society and economics would be fitting. But that is not the world we live in, no matter what society and its institutions would like you to think.
The scholar kicked off the lecture with a great insight. Many of us know that Obama’s election didn’t mark the beginning of “post-race” or “post-civil rights”. But beyond that, the story of “post-civil rights” has actually been repeated many times in just the past century. In other words: We’ve had this story shoved down our throats before, and this time is no different.
Not only that, but our dominant narrative, the one that is taught to children and perpetuated by the media, is a false representation of the Civil Rights movement. The scholar talked about how the Civil Rights movement is framed as simply white people and black people being allowed to sit together in the same room, to “just get along” (and therefore logically, because we have been “post-civil rights”, any racial tensions today are the fault of Black people for not wanting to get along). The Civil Rights movement is framed as laws and rights handed out by kind-hearted lawmakers to people of color so they could live in harmony, integrated with white people. The Civil Rights movement is framed as largely sparked by the Montgomery Bus Boycotts, about Black people wanting to be able to sit on the same bus as white people.
That is a false representation of the Civil Rights movement (which is not to take away from the courage and inspiring story of the Montgomery Bus Boycotts and others). The scholar explained that the Civil Rights movement was, at its core, about Violence: Violence against people of color, but even more specifically, against the children of people of color. The last straw that sparked the Civil Rights movement was not being denied sitting with white people on a bus. It was the the brutal and nonsensical murder of Emmett Till, at that time just the latest in a horrifying history of violence and murder of people of color. The Civil Rights was not about integration with white people, it was about protecting the children, the next generation, from the violence of White Supremacy.
How is this relevant to Neoliberalism? Well, Neoliberalism is the ideology and the narrative of Free Market and Individualism. Neoliberalism in the school system teaches the story of how black people and white people just needed to just be nice and get along with each other and ever since then we’ve had sunshine and rainbows in race relations, with any racial tensions caused by stubborn black people and a few pockets of crazy white racists. By framing Civil Rights and racial injustice as a small issue of tolerance, Neoliberalism teaches us to not challenge this false representation, and tells us that racism is no longer an issue. Furthermore, Neoliberalism obscures the truth of the Civil Rights movement to disconnect the past from the present, to disconnect the violent white supremacist police state of the past from the violent white supremacist police militarized state of the present. Neoliberalism tells us that if any racism lingers, it’s an “Individual” problem between two people, that racism is not still systemic and residing comfortably in the many institutions of society. Thus, we see “racism” as simply a person being mean to a person of another race, and we fail to see that “racism” is also the mass incarceration of people of color, the continuing rollback of voting rights for people of color, etc.