Monday, December 28, 2009

Critical Race Theory

Is it racist to criticize Black people?

Let me repeat: is it racist to criticize Black people?

Simple question. Difficult answer.

[jump to continue -- click header]

This self-dialectic began after reading an entry on a race-blog I follow (but, perhaps wisely, never comment on) called, [Stuff White People Do]. The post was entitled "express their racist opinions with t-shirts". And here's the offending pic in question:

Now, besides the obvious spelling error, is there anything that makes this shirt in the vacuum of the internets a racist statement? Keep in mind, we know nothing of the guy wearing it other than what we can see...

Personally, I have to confess I don't think it's racist.

Before you castigate me -- or if you already are, then hold-up a second -- and hear me out!

In the picture all we can see is a white male wearing mostly all black, and this shirt. Apparently he's not a good speller, judging from "MAUITANIA". Also, half of his mustache is... missing. What else can we deduce that's relevant to the question of whether he is racist or not? Nothing else really, except for the content on his t-shirt, which, according to the bloggers over at SWPD, is blatantly racist, and allows them to assume a whole host of motivations and arguments to describe a man who dares wear a t-shirt pointing out that blacks did indeed enslave each other.

Which leads me to the whole reason this blog-post started. Is it racist to criticize Black people? Because, for the life of me, I cannot see anything that paints this man (or this t-shirt) as racist without making the assumption that criticism of Blacks equals racism.

True, we can -- and do -- assume various things based on our own personal experience, which, most of the time, shows a strong correlation between criticism of Black people and blatant racism. (I keep using these words because I want to illustrate my point lies in the semantics of the issue as much as in the actual thoughts/beliefs/actions.) But does mean that one necessitates the other? Because not everyone who criticizes Black people is a racist.

Whether it be about Obama's administration, Kanye West grabbing the mic on Taylor Swift, or serious academic research into the oppression that Blacks (American, African, Caribbean) have inflicted on their own race, it seems that even the most timid questioning of Black people can endanger one into being flash-labeled a racist scumbag.

Now, while there are examples to the contrary: The Birther movement, Hollywood's frequent acts of subliminal Blackface minstrelsy, or eugenics and scientific essentialists that show racism masquerading as difference of opinion, I do still hold that my experiences with the online community of race-bloggers is true.

Take SWPD, for instance. The entire blog is devoted to examining the inherently racist traits of White people. What White people? Are we all alike and bigoted? Do you seriously believe there is a prototypical White racist stereotype that still exists which doesn't have an example that refutes it? How is it so easy to generalize an entire group of people? The commentators should be more aware of those dangers than most... Yet, the prevalence of subversive prejudice towards White people is as blatant as a burning cross. Their examples abound in essentialist characteristics that negatively portray Whites as a race hell-bent on discrimination, if not oppression. Meanwhile, all dialogue to the contrary is drowned out in buzzwords, troll flaming, and comment moderation.

It seems that criticism of Whites has become acceptable in our culture -- which is a good thing, but not if it means we can't then criticize other races too. Personally, I think the whole atmosphere engenders a kind of subtle hostility, where Whites are held in contempt for refusing to accept that they are wrong about race in this country, and everyone else needs to work together to counteract that willful ignorant racism. This is simply not true!

In fact, quite often the opposite. Whites as a group often apologize for the real or perceived benefits of their skin-color (hence, White Guilt) while encouraging the integration and diversification of society (hence, Affirmative Action, ethnic/cultural/racial studies, the election of president Obama).That is not to say that all White people are bastions of racial tolerance, but that the majority of them aren't as racist as some might think.

Most of these race-debaters refuse to see the fallacious arguments and quick-draw opinions they fire off without consideration for things like logic, compassion, and reality.

The prevailing opinion among them is that most -- if not all -- White people are racist. And only Black people -- or other "racially conscious" people who agree with this assumption -- can apparently can see it. Other races fall somewhere in the middle of this debate, due to their perceived "special-status" in the grand scheme of the dichotomous battle between Black & White which fuels a binary race theory that is as stupid as it is ignorant as it is completely useless at redressing the grievances between the various peoples on this planet.

The sad circle-jerk of it all is that if Whites are racist, then any White person who disagrees is automatically dismissed, because they're racist, only too ignorant to understand. Get it? There's no option other than groupthink because all divergent opinions are labeled as racism. Because only racists would disagree, right? And any minority who disagrees is dismissed as an Uncle Tom race traitor. Because only a self-delusional "house negro" would do so, right?

These are the kinds of opinions one encounters in the strange twists of the interwebs.

So, to finally bring it back to my original question: is it racist to criticize Black people?

Apparently, yes... but even more, it is also racist to defend White people against any racism towards them. And this is a sad commentary on the state of race-relations in this country, on how things have been stirred up so that even the majority can be called "the Other". Yet, it is good that these opinions are not the mainstream, and represent merely one corner of the zeitgeist in thought on that subject.


10 footnotes:

Sarah Alaoui said...

.The entire blog is devoted to examining the inherently racist traits of White people.

Well no Id argue that stuff white people do is actually a mostly satirical sight describing things hipsters do which the sites author labeled as white people
it doesnt really portray white people as racist but more as scared into political correctness
its a very funny site actually same with any site that describes what black people do it just depends on how seriously you choose to take it which shouldnt be very seriously

Sarah Alaoui said...

correction site

Zek J Evets said...

@sarah: at first i thought it might've been a satirical site as well, but after reading through it, you begin to realize this guy (and the people who follow/comment on it) actually believe this stuff.

it isn't satirical when the perspectives are taken seriously by the fan-base. so, i examine it with that in mind.

i mean, they codify theories and arguments to explain different examples of white racism. it WOULD be funny if it was satirical... but since it's not, it's just depressing.

Sarah Alaoui said...

i found out about the site by buying the book first but ill have to check out the fans comments on the page then

funny how the guy is white too but i dont think hes american maybe hes making fun of americans loll ill c heck it out

Zek J Evets said...

@sarah: book? haha, it's not "stuff white people LIKE"! it's called, "stuff white people DO".

oy vey... that clears it up, i hope.

Todd Gwynn said...


I did not read this entire article, because, like most White people, I am done listening.

I have come up with a new label for Black Americans. It is "The Race Who Cried Racist."

It is like "The Boy Who Cried Wolf."

So, yeah, get over it. Everyone is done listening to the whining, and the wolves are going to eat you now.

Anonymous said...

I can't even tell you how much I love that you wrote this. :-)

You know I have the "race traitor" stamp on my forehead since my boo is White (and a blogger no less). ;-)

I can't really get down with all of these POC and non-POC special rules, 1) because I identify as Black, not really as a POC, 2) I don't know anyone who would actually buy that there are special rules for me but not for them, and 3) I successfully made it through 1st grade having learned The Golden Rule, and I really don't expect people to care what I say if I say it like an asshole.

I feel this whole POC vs. Mighty Whitey trend has turned stereotypes on their head, and not in a good way. Now, there are POC saying "X is what White people do", which implies that X is something that POC don't do, so if you are a POC who does (or believes) X, you must be a self-hater or a White person in disguise (because people really have time to pretend to be other races online, I guess). I don't want POC to speak for me anymore than I want White people to assume I speak for all Black folks.

Ah well, I'll proudly wave my RT flag and continue sleeping with "the enemy." :-P

American Black Chick in Europe said...

Hmm...Interesting post...I need to take some time to chew over this one. But while I do, here's my initial reaction.

I actually don't think the guys shirt is racist. I think it's kinda stupid, but that might be because I don't quite get the point he was trying to convey with shirt.

In answer to your question: I don't think it's racist to criticize black people or any group, minority or otherwise, for that matter. But I think the danger lies in criticizing some Black folks/POC and applying that blanket criticism to the community as a whole, for example, assuming the reason why some thug beat the crap out of his girlfriend/some guy mugged or killed someone/some woman has a bunch of kids but makes no money is because she/he's black/hispanics/asian/fill in racial or ethnic group here and that's just how "they" are.

For example, if one Mexican man in America goes on a murder spree, too many folks assume that's just how Mexican men are...violent with no regard for human life. It doesn't matter that there are millions of perfectly nonviolent, law abiding Mexicans living in the U.S., the one bad apple becomes identified with the group as a whole. And in the U.S. at least, I think the tendency to take the exceptions from a racial group and assume they are the rule is a problem that the white community doesn't face as much.

That being said, I definitely think folks are too quick to lay down the racism card, but I'd also like to point out that a lot of folks don't actually know the meaning of the word racism and often toss out the term "racism/racist" when a more appropriate term would be "ignorant" (or "stupid" depending on the person).

And from my own experience growing up as a black woman in America, I think some folks in the black community are too quick to blame "whitey" for everything bad that happens to them in life. That being said, racism does still exist...just because the KKK isn't out front burning a cross in my yard doesn't mean I, or other POC, haven't experienced racism or that racism has disappeared.

Just my two cents.

Mira said...

Not sure what to think. Not about the guy in the photo- I'll give him benefit of the doubt. But I do think most of the people in the world are racist to a some degree. It's not a rare thing to be racist.

Unlike some people (who are, in most of the cases, not white), I do believe there are various "stages" or degrees of racism. It's simply not the same to be a KKK member, or simply to be someone who thinks it's a good idea to touch black woman's hair without her permission. It's simply not the same, not to me. Yes, I admit, it's not about me, and maybe I don't have any right to even think about it.

But do I think both KKK member and white person touching black person's hair are both racists? Yes, I do. But their racism is of a different kind and intensity. When I say I believe most of the people (regardless of race) are racists, I do think (or at least I hope) that majority of people are not hard core haters. It's the racism out of ignorance, and (in average white person's case), racism that goes with white privilege.

Mira said...

Oh, and to answer your question: no, I don't think it's racist to criticize people who happen to be black. But to criticize them because they're black...