tim: "System Status: Degraded" (degraded)
Emphasis added.
What astonished me was that no one had asked the churches if they wanted to be stared at like living museums. I wondered what would happen if a group of blue-jeaned blacks were to walk uninvited into a synagogue on Passover or St. Anthony's of Padua during high mass---just to peer, not pray. My feeling is that such activity would be seen as disrespectful, at the very least. Yet the aspect of disrespect, intrusion, seemed irrelevant to this well-educated, affable group of people. They deflected my observation with comments like "We just want to look," "No one will mind," and "There's no harm intended." As well-intentioned as they were, I was left with the impression that no one existed for them who could not be governed by their intentions. While acknowledging the lack of apparent malice in this behavior, I can't help thinking that it is a liability as much as a luxury to live without interaction. To live so completely impervious to one's impact on others is a fragile privilege, which over time relies not simply on the willingness but on the inability of others---in this case blacks---to make their displeasure heard.
-- Patricia Williams, The Alchemy of Race and Rights

And that's why whenever someone tells you that you can't feel bad about the way in which they've hurt you, because "they would never hurt you intentionally", that is not a gesture of friendship or, in fact, of any kind of relationship other than one based on fundamentally unfair power dynamics. They are saying "You are governed by my intentions, merely because I have the power to coerce you into being so governed." They are committing an act of discursive violence.
tim: "System Status: Degraded" (degraded)
"Whenever I hear some white queer talking about moving to Portland, I assume it’s because they want to be among their white brethren, because there are more white queers in portland than there are people of color. I wish them good luck in their separatist project in getting away from the rest of us. None of you white people INTEND to do this, but it’s what it amounts to and it’s sort of hilarious whenever I hear one of you say that you’re committed to anti-racism, and you also wish you could move to Portland, thus making the blinding whiteness of that city even more pristine.

This is pretty much common knowledge about Portland, isn’t it? When I was growing up, Portland was where the racist skins came to visit from and beat up people. And even Wikipedia says: “While Portland’s diversity was historically comparable to metro Seattle and Salt Lake City, those areas grew more diverse in the late 1990s and 2000s. Portland not only remains white, but migration to Portland is disproportionately white, at least partly because Portland is attractive to young college-educated Americans, a group which is overwhelmingly white.”

IT’S GETTING WHITER ALL THE TIME! I am not surprised you couldn’t find any trans women of color."

-- Coxy Rawr Michael, commenting on PrettyQueer

An equally awesome reply:

"I haven’t ever commented here, but I have to just AMEN this comment about Portland as a white queer haven.

As a queer woman of color, I am consistently astounded by the way that white queers who flock to Portland loooove to talk a good game about their anti-racist credentials, all the while never acknowledging that their voluntary migration to an incredibly white and super racist city that I have NEVER heard a good thing about from my queer POC friends might be part of the problem.

I mean, I get it – people hate to take macro-level responsibility for the potentially oppressive impact of their individual choices, but god damn. Once in my life, I would love to hear from a white queer who claims anti-racist politics what the draw is…"

-- PissyQWOC, ibid
tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (Default)
When I say Portland is segregated, this is what I mean. Unfortunately -- and contrary to my intuition -- Boston is only somewhat better. The two cities I'd most like to add as adopted homes, New York and LA are... somewhat better still, I guess that's all I can say. Thanks to [personal profile] techstep for the link.
tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (Default)
"In order to fix what is fundamentally wrong with race in America, those who had a lion's share in making things bad must bear a greater responsibility in making them better. Whites who have benefited, whether explicitly or unconsciously, from racial inequality must now be courageous in rejecting a belief in the moral equivalency of black and white views about race. Instead, they should acknowledge their obligation to give black beliefs the weight and consideration they justly deserve. Thus, when blacks view the criminal justice system with suspicion, when they are wary of white juries, when they believe that innocent blacks can be framed by police---for instance, as many blacks did in responding to the verdicts in the O.J. Simpson murder and civil trials---they are responding to a verifiable history of racial inequality. In such an unjust world, white skepticism about black juries' ability to convict white criminals does not have the same moral gravity as the claims of blacks victimized by a legacy of racial injustice.

To ask whites to understand this is not only counterintuitive; it demands a rejection of the claim to ethical innocence that masks white privilege and supremacy while reinforcing black inequality. That inequality brought into existence broadly differing group perceptions about what is good, what is normal, what is desirable, and what is achievable in regard to race in America." -- Michael Eric Dyson, I May Not Get There With You

International Blog Against Racism Week is over, but hey, why stop at a week?

During a discussion of the Henry Louis Gates arrest, a LiveJournal commenter who I'll call "Alice" wrote the following comment (making an argument along the lines that if Prof. Gates had just been a little more polite to the police officer who eventually arrested him, the whole unpleasantness could have been avoided):Read more... )

But Alice isn't a racist. Or at least she would say she isn't. Guess what? As far as I know, nobody in history has ever admitted to being a racist.

And perhaps that's because for at least 200 years, nobody in America has ever had to be a racist. The racist decisions got made a long time ago. We perpetuate racism by failing to question the social structures whose original purposes have been forgotten but that quietly keep racial inequality going. We perpetuate racism by telling black people that if they were just a little more polite and less uppity, police brutality would stop. We perpetuate racism by exclaiming "I don't see what that has to do with race!" before giving the nearest person of color or ally a chance to explain what it has to do with race. We perpetuate racism by mocking those awful baggy pants the kids wear these days without recognizing that that particular fashion is how young black men express that their lives feel like prison. We perpetuate racism by chalking up racist actions either to the stupid behavior of individuals or to color-blind abuse of power. We perpetuate racism by arguing that black people themselves need to "address black-on-black violence" as a condition for white people addressing police brutality (as if one has nothing to do with the other). We perpetuate racism by arguing that social inequality is "about class, not race", while pretending not to know why you're far more likely to be poor if you're black than if you're white. We perpetuate racism by feigning concern for the effect of affirmative action on black self-esteem while esteeming ourselves highly despite the perks of a century of affirmative action in favor of white people. We perpetuate racism by cherry-picking black views when they agree with our existing prejudices (whether that means Bill Cosby or Barack Obama) and by relying on what (we believe) our black friends (would) say is OK rather than taking responsibility for our own moral integrity.

We perpetuate racism most of all by loudly asserting "I'm not a racist!" or "I don't see color" or "You're never going to convince people of your point of view by calling them racist."Read more... )

Does any of this mean that I, as a white person, am obligated to believe everything any person of color says?Read more... )

It is unproductive to hold a press conference to declare you're not a racist. It is productive to take responsibility for your own actions and to admit that you're not a special, non-conforming snowflake and that social structures influence your behavior.

"There are no sexist decisions to be made.

There are antisexist decisions to be made. And they require tremendous energy and self-scrutiny, as well as moral stamina in the face of the basic embarrassment campaign which is the tactic of those assured of their politically superior position. ('Don't you think you're being rather silly offering your pain as evidence that something I do so automatically and easily is wrong? Why, I bet it doesn't hurt half as much as you say. Perhaps it only hurts because you're struggling...?' This sort of political mystification, turning the logical arrows around inside verbal structures to render them empirically empty, and therefore useless ['It hurts because you don't like it', rather than 'You don't like it because it hurts.'] is just another version of the 'my slave/my master' game.)

There are no sexist decisions to be made: they were all made a long time ago!" -- Samuel R. Delany, "Shadows"
tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (Default)
The definitive word on the Gates case

Highlights: (begin quotes)
Badge numbers are assigned for a reason, and Massachusetts requires its cops to carry ID cards for a reason: Cops can lie about their names, making it difficult or impossible for citizens to file complaints about their behavior after they've departed a scene. If every police officer was assumed to be honest and forthright in all instances, those laws wouldn't be on the books. What's more, there are a lot of people in the Boston area named Crowley, and a lot of them are police officers. Gates asked Crowley to comply with Massachusetts law by furnishing his full name and badge number, and all Crowley told him was that he was a sergeant and that his last name was Crowley. In other words, he did not comply with Gates' request.

[snip]
Gates is clearly not a street walker, railer, or brawler. His language may have "accosted or annoyed" someone of the opposite sex—the only female whose presence at the scene was documented is Lucia Whalen, but we don't know how annoyed she was by Gates' comments. Gates was clearly not "idle," though he could be potentially be classified as "disorderly" or "disturbing the peace." The latter charge is dependent on Gates' being outside his house—presuming that his yelling wasn't audible on the street when he was inside—which would have been the case had Crowley not refused to fully identify himself to Gates unless Gates followed him outside. Whether one can be a "disorderly person" in one's own home isn't clear. But we suspect that if one could, then Crowley would simply have arrested Gates in his home.

[snip]
What is clear is that the city of Cambridge has called the arrest "regrettable and unfortunate," and said that dropping the charges was "in the interests of justice." Crowley himself now says that he "regrets that I put the police department and the city in the position where they have to defend something like this." So if Crowley wasn't stupid, then what, exactly, does he regret?

(end of quotes)

As far as I'm concerned, if you're still defending the Cambridge Police here, you really ought to ask yourself why.
tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (Default)
Not long ago, I was given the advice (not particularly directed at me, but it justifiably could have been) that it's better to generate more light than heat. And I think that's true most of the time, except maybe when you're trying to burn something down.

When I was a first-year in Bates Hall at Wellesley College, one Friday night I was kept awake in my fourth-floor room by the pounding bass of music from a party that was going on in the basement. Wandering downstairs, I realized the noise was coming from the dining hall and that thus it was an official party. I didn't like being kept awake and I had to be up early the next day in order to leave on a trip, but I knew there wasn't really anything I could do about it because it was before 2:00 AM on a weekend night (the start of quiet hours). Complaining to anyone would have been pointless. In the lobby, there was a free-standing blackboard that people would write on sometimes, sometimes with a message-of-the-day, and so forth. So I wrote, "Does anyone else think that whoever was making that noise should be executed in front of a firing squad?", and went back to my room to try to go back to sleep.

One or two days later, I came back from my trip to find a discussion on the Bates forum on the campus electronic discussion system about what I had written on the board. I learned that the party that had been troubling me was sponsored by the campus chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers. Rather than copping to what I had done, I posted a snippy reply (as one does) saying that it was just silly for somebody to conclude that the comment on the board was racist given that nobody knew who had written it or what they were thinking, or even whether the writer had known the party was sponsored by a black student group. In hindsight, I'm sure this fooled no one, but if anyone did guess it was me, they never confronted me directly about it. And I never admitted to anyone that I was the writer.

Was it racist for me to write that on the blackboard? I don't think it was, because I didn't know who was sponsoring the party. It was certainly passive-aggressive and douchey of me. It's true, it's possible that I reacted differently to loud hip-hop than I would have to loud '80s pop, though at the time I really wasn't conversant with very much music that was produced after about 1970. Was it racist for me to read the replies online and conclude that their authors were just being silly and oversensitive? Yes. Yes, it was. I failed to appreciate the significance that my hastily chalked remark would have to someone who might have been labelled "loud and tumultuous" a few too many times, and even worse, I retreated into thoughts that would preserve my self-image as a tolerant person rather than really hearing what people who perceived things differently had to say.

I was 17 at the time, but I don't think that excuses my behavior, because I'm seeing people four times that age fall for the same fallacies. I won't give them a pass, nor do I give myself a pass.

That was eleven years ago. The last four, maybe five times I thought about the incident (in, probably, as many years), I thought that maybe my reaction really possibly could have been wrong, but pushed the thought away. This is the first time I'm admitting to myself that I really did something wrong; not by writing on the board (sure, it was pissy of me, but I didn't know), but by refusing to listen to what my dorm-mates said about it afterward and to admit to what I had done at the cost of possibly being (fairly or unfairly) characterized as racist.

I was getting frustrated over the past few days arguing with people online about the strange case of Professor Gates and the unfortunate Cambridge police officers, and how difficult it seems to be to convince some people to be more concerned about calling out racism where it exists than about being careful not to imply that a white person could be racist, until I realized: If it took me eleven years just to admit I'd made one mistake, how long will it take everyone else? How long will the next mistake take me? God help us all.
tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (Default)
Of all of the comments I've read on the intertubes about the Gates arrest, this one more or less summarizes it:

there is a non-trivial possibility that the situation was not racist. [at the end of a six-paragraph comment where the author was trying their hardest to find evidence that arresting a black man for calling a cop a racist isn't racist]

You know, I don't think of myself as an exceptionally enlightened white man. But this is bullshit. And if you are more inclined to lecture the world in a calm, detached fashion about the proper way for a black man to interact with law enforcement (from your position of expertise as, say, a white West Coaster) than to feel outrage at how your country still enforces the second-class citizenship of black and brown people, then you are not my friend.
Updates:
  • The charges against Prof. Gates have been dropped; "This incident should not be viewed as one that demeans the character and reputation of professor Gates or the character of the Cambridge Police Department..."

  • Statement from Charles Ogletree, Gates's lawyer, about the incident.

  • Jimi Izrael says it way better than me:
    "The arrest of Harvard Professor Henry Louis 'Skip' Gates Jr., at a minimum, quashes any talk of a post-racial America. It may not be the best example of racial injustice I've ever seen, but it's a great example of how life for black people is often complicated by class and race. If a mild-mannered, bespectacled Ivy League professor who walks with a cane can be pulled from his own home and arrested on a minor charge, the rest of us don't stand a chance.

    We all fit a description. We are all suspects."

    and

    "In most states, the parameters for disorderly conduct are set as 'any person who could cause inconvenience, alarm or annoyance to others.' Disorderly conduct could include anything from a ferocious cough, the use of profanity (at any volume, in any context) to break-dancing in your front yard or talking loudly to yourself. Normally, it's the kind of thing you get a ticket for, if that, because cops love donuts, but they hate paperwork. Mostly, you'll get a warning. But the rub is that it falls to the discretion of the responding officer to decide whether or not to throw you in the car. Depending on the officer's mood, you could get a warning, a ticket or a night in jail. According to the police officer's report, Gates 'exhibited loud and tumultuous behavior.' That's a pretty subjective assessment, by any definition. But it never seems to take much provocation for the rollers to put a man of color in handcuffs, no matter who he is."
tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (Default)
It's amazing how many people seem to know how to apply the argument tactics listed at "Derailing for Dummies" without even having read the site. Worth a read if you've ever been told that you were taking things too personally, that you were damaging your cause by being angry, or that your experience was unrepresentative. Or if you've ever told anyone those things.

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tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (Default)
Tim Chevalier

July 2014

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