Posts tagged whiteness.
53. So it is not that such speech acts say ‘we are anti-racists’ (and saying makes us so); rather they say ‘we are this’, whilst racism is ‘that’, so in being ‘this’ we are not ‘that’, where ‘that’ would be racist. So in saying we are raced as whites, then we are not racists, as racism operates through the unmarked nature of whiteness; or in saying we are racists, then we are not racists, as racists don’t know they are racists; or in expressing shame about racism, then we are not racists, as racists are shameless; or in saying we are positive about our racial identity, as an identity that is positive insofar as it involves a commitment to anti-racism, then we are not racists, as racists are unhappy, or in being self-critical about racism, then we are not racists, as racists are ignorant; or in saying we exist alongside others, then we are not racists, as racists see themselves as above others, and so on.
54. These statements function as claims to performativity rather than as performatives, whereby the declaration of whiteness is assumed to put in place the conditions in which racism can be transcended, or at the very least reduced in its power. Any presumption that such statements are forms of political action would be an overestimation of the power of saying, and even a performance of the very privilege that such statements claim they undo. The declarative mode, as a way of doing something, involves a fantasy of transcendence in which ‘what’ is transcended is the very thing ‘admitted to’ in the declaration: so, to put it simply, if we admit to being bad, then we show that we are good… So it is in this specific sense that I have argued that anti-racism is not performative. Or we could even say that anti-racist speech in a racist world is an ‘unhappy performative’: the conditions are not in place that would allow such ‘saying’ to ‘do’ what it ‘says’.
Reblogging to remind myself to read the full piece.
American culture is obsessed with transgression and to the degree that blackness remains a primary sign of transgression. One could talk about American mainstream culture as being obsessed with blackness, but it is blackness primarily in a commodified form that can then be possessed, owned, controlled, and shaped by the consumer… and not with engagement in Black culture that might require one to be a participant, therefore to be in some way transformed by what you are consuming as opposed to being merely a buyer. Anecdotally, that to me is the difference between a young white male from the suburbs who’s consuming Black music in the form of rap and who’s wearing the same kind of clothes as the hip-hop musicians, but then in fact when he encounters a young black male on the streets, feels the same racialized fear and demonizes that person as any white person who’s had no contact with that music. So, there’s no correlation often between the consumption of the commodity that is blackness and the culture from which that commodity comes, or provides the resource base.
And again, that’s no different from third-world countries. There’s a way in which white culture is perceived as too “wonder bread” right now—not edgy enough, not dangerous enough—let’s get some of those endangered species people to be exotic for us. It’s really simply a more up-scale version of primitivism resurging. When blackness is the sign of transgression that is most desired, it allows whiteness to remain static, to remain conservative, and it’s conservative thrust to go unnoticed. So, as we’re having a mounting fascism in the United States, that is perpetuated increasingly by young, moneyed, liberal white people, if they’re wearing Black clothes or listening to Black music, they can be perceived as transgressive, as radical, when in fact we see a separation between material aspirations and cultural and social interest. So, at any point in time, they can drop their interest in blackness and do whatever they need to do to reinforce their class interest—the interest of white supremacy, the interest of capitalism and imperialism.
Imitation, it is often said, is the highest form of flattery. But when the imitation is done with neither permission nor acknowledgment, and for a great deal of profit for the white community, and when it is accompanied by assertions that the culture from which it is taken is inferior, then imitation becomes the lowest form of racist theft.
In white America, many aspects of our culture, such as religion, fashion, style, music, dance, and language (especially slang), have either been directly appropriated or modified from cultural forms or ideas that began in communities of color. […] But the decision to appropriate has always been made by the dominant white culture, and credit for the source is seldom given.
Whether it is an invention for which no credit is given to the inventor, or a musical or dance style for which the income goes into the pockets of the dominant culture, there is usually neither attribution nor payment, and even less accountability to the community of color from whence it came.
Joseph Barndt, Understanding and Dismantling Racism: The Twenty-first Century Challenge to White America
If you have this book (and if you’re White and consider yourself anti-racist, you should), one thing you will notice is how Barndt (whom I’m gonna meet again for the Undoing Racism workshop for religious communities) repeatedly gives credit for how he came up with his ideas and also lists resources for people who want to find out more.
Also, I’m taking bets for how many White people are suddenly gonna show up and start saying, “Oh, yes! I agree! Cultural appropriation is terrible!” now that I’ve quoted a White man, despite how POCs have repeatedly explained the exact same thing.
— Junot Díaz, interviewed about race, gender and fiction in the Boston Review. (via thepoliticalnotebook)
and i side eye POC who complain too much about being pegged for whiteness and antiblackness
coz if a bunch of people are seeing that over and over in diff instances
then something is fishy as fuck about you
people who stay on whiteness always call it *just a disagreement* as they shit on you all sly
they will scoff like “well just coz im not as radical”
when its not radical nothin youre saying, just fucking taking someone elses humanity into account
if thats *radical* to you
you got issues
It’s a term I hear often, especially in the wake of the death of Trayvon Martin. Whites implore Blacks to reflect on the crime they inflict on one another. The implication being that Trayvon’s death deserves neither sympathy nor scrutiny…it’s a Black problem. Some Blacks, as well are all too willing to shoulder responsibility for lawlessness because “we kill one another”. Are they right? Not if you study crime statistics.
Contrary to the chatter, the problem isn’t that George Zimmerman is a race other than Black, the problem is that those empowered with the duty to see that justice is carried out, failed to do their job. The problem is that they treated the victim with absolute disregard. They made no effort to confirm the shooter’s story or seek witnesses, they simply took Zimmerman’s statements as fact and then dumped Trayvon’s body in the morgue without making a single effort to identify him. If you’re the parent waiting for your son to return from a convenience store, have you no right to expect at least that much? As a matter of race, do you think that would have been their response if Trayvon had been a young white boy? If the perpetrator had been Black, do you think he would have simply gone home? Those are the issues.
I don’t dispute that Blacks kill other Blacks, particularly as a result of gang activity. But so do Latinos, yet there is no “Latino-on-Latino” crime. Whites certainly commit their share of crime as well. In fact, the vast majority of serial murders are committed by white men, who prey on other whites. The shooting at Columbine, the gunman in Norway was a white man who killed 92 white people. From the “Wild West” to vigilante lynching, to the act of war; indeed Hitler was white and the vast majority of his 11 million victims were white; Jack the Ripper, Ted Bundy, John Wayne Gacy…all white men who murdered white people, yet these misdeeds are not relegated to be “white-on-white” crime.That Blacks are simply unredemptive criminals is a stereotype that has been perpetuated by the media, law enforcement and revisionist history. I lived most of my life in Chicago, a city with high gang and crime activity, but I’ve never personally known a crime victim, let alone anyone who was murdered. I’m not certain I can distinguish a gunshot from a firecracker. I raised my two girls there…all of their friends are alive and well. But I do vividly recall that the police department was once cited for exposing the identity of African Americans who had been arrested to television cameras and print media while they guarded the identity of white individuals, even if it meant putting a police jacket over their faces. Sadly, many of our leaders also help to perpetuate misconceptions and stereotypes about Blacks.
Presidential candidate Ron Paul wrote in one of hisinfamous newsletters:
“If you live in a major city, you’ve probably heard about the newest threat to your life and limb, and your family: carjacking.”
“It’s the hip-hop thing to do among the urban youth who play unsuspecting whites like pianos. The youth simply walk up to a car they like, pull a gun, tell the family to get out, steal their jewelry and wallets, and take the car to wreck. Such actions have ballooned in recent months.”
The FBI does not keep separate statistics for carjacking. I’m not certain if such a crime would be considered robbery, larceny-theft or motor vehicle theft, so let’s look at all three. Ron Paul specifically mentions that “they pull a gun”, so let’s look at arrests due to Weapons charges too.
According to 2010 FBI statistics:
Clearly, the numbers simply do not support Ron Paul’s statements or what the vast majority of Americans believe. Ron Paul suggests that these numbers are out of proportion to the Black population. It can also be said that the prison population is out of proportion to the racial breakdown of arrests. It is common knowledge that the majority of those imprisoned are there for non-violent drug charges…. and they are Black. But even that statistic betrays what the public has been led to believe.
In 2010 there were 485,043 Drug arrests; 361,520 or 74.5% were white, while 117,693 or 24.3% were of Blacks. For those who make the asinine argument that the crime statistics are disproportionate because Blacks are only 15% of the population, it is important to note that Whites are not 70% of the population either. The real question ought to be why color-coded statistics are recorded in the first place.
How do we explain the disparity in how society views the acts of one race versus another? Are there degrees of death? Do you ever read about such extreme police activity waged against whites? Look again at the statistics. Why doesn’t the prison population reflect the arrests? Why are so many Black men killed at the hands of law enforcement because an officer “thinks” he sees a handgun? Whites own the vast majority of handguns, yet we seldom hear of these violent encounters with the police.
From “Birth of a Nation” to cartoons like “Heckle and Jeckle” and news print, the media plays a major role in how we perceive things. Case in point, the media was quick to point out that George Zimmerman is not a white man, but according to his parents is Hispanic. But it was the media who had said he was white in the first place.
A major news outlet conducted a poll in an effort to determine whether Latinos or Whites had a lower opinion of Blacks. Not only does such a poll incite resentment, but displays mindless and institutional racism. The results would cause the professional anchor to ask his cohost, “Aren’t you surprised to find that Hispanics think less of Blacks than Whites?” This is responsible journalism? To inquire about racial profiling or the relationship with law enforcement might have been appropriate, but why poll at all? What everyone is missing is the fact that the race of George Zimmerman is not the issue…Trayvon Martin’s race is.
The anger is about Amadou Diallo, Oscar Grant, Ramarley Graham, 14 year-old Derek Lopez, Sean Bell, 7 year-old Aiyana Stanley-Jones and countless other unarmed Blacks and Latinos who are gunned down by law enforcement. The anger is about arbitrary laws like New York’s “Stop and Frisk” program that targeted 685,724 New Yorkers in 2011. 88% of those stopped were people of color; 9% were white. The anger is about the “racial” difference and indifference shown by law enforcement and legislators.
During a recent gathering of friends we talked about the role of television…the media had reported a story about a wealthy couple receiving food stamps. They lived in a swanky oceanfront home and took exotic trips around the world. Everyone knew the story, but no one knew what they looked like because the media had not shown a picture of the wealthy White couple. Yet, even though Ronald Reagan’s Welfare Queen was a myth, everyone was able to describe her in graphic detail.
George Zimmerman’s race is not the issue…Trayvon Martin’s race is. The anger is about the “racial” difference and indifference shown by law enforcement and legislators.
I recently read an article on a very well-known site. I never read comments, but this one was hard to miss because it was first:
“LMAO testy testy there “BOY” …go cry to someone who gives a fuck nigger!! If you don’t like it you can take your black ass back to Africa any time you please. You ain’t taking over shit big mouth, whites are tired of supporting you lazy fucking niggers. You’re fucking four yearsï»¿ of the welfare state are up come Nov. Only time you social climbing monkeys dare put on your works boots is when your welfare check falls in them.”
Blacks are equally responsible for spouting such garbage. But over 6,000 readers had visited the site before me, yet not one person saw fit to flag such nastiness…and we wonder why it persists.
Americans have long claimed to have a special moral and religious exception. Indeed, these proclamations undergird the American ideal that speaks to the promise of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Trayvon Martin was killed by a nation that fails to live up to those ideals; by long-standing doctrines that prescribe discrimination against Americans based on sociodemographic characteristics and other traits. Trayvon Martin was killed by politicians who fail to set policies based on a boundless respect for human life and our leaders who have an obligation to lead society away from the disrespect of so many lives. Trayvon Martin was killed by all who stand silent in the face of intolerance.
As catastrophic as Trayvon’s death is, for those who can bear to do some honest soul-searching, it can become the catalyst toward healing Blacks and educating whites to a social inequity that has never darkened their doorstep, but is forever present for Blacks.
“It is a curious fact,” wrote John Finch, an English Owenite who traveled the United States in 1843, “that the democratic party, and particularly the poorer class of Irish immigrants in America, are greater enemies to the negro population, and greater advocates for the continuance of negro slavery, than any portion of the population in the free States.”
How did the Irish become White? By violently subjugating African Americans, according to this courageous book by Noel Ignatiev.
As a part-Irish American, learning about the injustice that some of my ancestors took part in is deeply troubling, but it’s a history that we need to explore to uncover the true legacy of mass Irish immigration to America, and more fundamentally, the meaning of “Whiteness”.
The Irish in Ireland of the early-19th Century were a revolutionary people: impoverished, agrarian, and determined to break free of the grip of England’s tyranny. But once these same freedom-lovers emigrated to the United States, a peculiar thing happened: they were faced with a society based on racial segregation and industrial capitalism. Moreover, there began a large “Nativist” movement by wealthy Protestant Anglo-Saxons who tried to restrict immigration and subdue Irish/Catholic influence in the New World.
In order to overcome these barriers, the Irish made a strategic choice: escape the bottom-rung of poverty and be accepted into mainstream US society by aggressively aligning themselves with the Democratic Party and doing everything they could to keep African Americans in slavery or otherwise out of the labor market. Thus they earned the right to be considered “White” and receive the benefits and privileges associated with that social category.
Ignatiev makes a compelling case that “When Irish workers encountered Afro-Americans, they fought with them, it is true, but they also fought with immigrants of other nationalities, with each other, and with whomever else they were thrown up against in the marketplace.” In other words, it wasn’t that the Irish were inherently more racist than any other group. Instead, the race riots when rowdy Irish attacked African Americans were largely in response to an economic condition arising in early US capitalism: Northern industrial labor markets were saturated by waves of immigrants and freed slaves competing over lower and lower wages. To secure jobs for themselves, the Irish became the hammer that pounded away at racial segregation to force African Americans out of the factories and into poverty and the ghetto.
By doing so, they also solidified the major distinction between relatively privileged sectors of the US working class and those on the bottom – “Whiteness”. Ignatiev explains: “Since ‘white’ was not a physical description but one term of a social relation which could not exist without its opposite, ‘white man’s work’ was simply, work from which Afro-Americans were excluded.”
Much of the book centers in Philadelphia, which made this book doubly relevant for me. Ignatiev explores how Irishmen found employment in Philly by systematically excluding Blacks from any workplaces they were involved in: they simply refused to work with Blacks. When this wasn’t enough, they also used terror to suppress the Black population.
The racial warfare which occurred throughout Philly was really quite drastic: Black churches, homes, and businesses were regularly attacked and burned during the 19th century. Irish-Americans formed themselves into private “fire companies” who were basically gangs who competed with other fire companies by setting fires in their territory, then attacking the firemen. These same gangs soon involved themselves in Democratic Party machine politics by stuffing ballot boxes, roughing up potential voters, and putting forth Irish candidates for offices. The extreme violence and corruption shocked me at first, but in fact explains quite a lot about the current reality of Philadelphia, which remains racially tense and divided to this day.
This is not an easy book to read. Ignatiev uses a lot of primary sources so the language can be difficult. Worse though is that he often refrains from making his points clearly and directly, instead drawing you into long stories that only tangentially explain his key thesis. Nevertheless, with a subject-matter as compelling as this, the book can be gripping, and I highly recommend it.
To overcome the racial barriers of today and tomorrow, we need to learn from the mistakes of the past. Specifically, we are forced to wonder, how can we overcome centuries of racism in America? What does the election of a Black Democrat for President explain about the arc of US politics, and what challenges does it present? Is Ignatiev right that a free society can only be achieved on this land when “Whiteness” ceases to be a social category used to privilege one group of workers over another?
In any case, studying our troubled and dark history is the only way to escape it and open a door to a different reality. As we take that intellectual journey we may also discover who we really are…
“On August 11, 1854, the Liberator [newspaper] published a letter from a Maine correspondent who wrote, ‘passage to the United States seems to produce the same effect upon the exile of Erin as the eating of the forbidden fruit did upon Adam and Eve. In the morning hey were pure, loving, and innocent; in the evening, guilty – excusing their fault with the plea of expecting advantage to follow faithfulness.’”