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Wednesday, October 12, 2011

On Being (An Anti-Racist)


My latest foray into the depth of cyberspace has left me with a long, drawn out sense of uncertainty regarding my own identity. White. Jewish. Male. Straight. Able-bodied. Whatever. Check boxes as you like...

And suddenly I feel a whole lot lot more confident in human stupidity. My own, and that of others.

After reading through the comments and links to my one of my recent posts, I began a slow process of lurking, reading the reactions to my disagreement with Abagond -- who wrote no less than 2 posts based on it (possibly 3) each one as precarious as Jenga blocks -- attempting to digest the multifaceted shit-storm I created which has reverberated throughout my corner of the blogosphere.

Shoot, even the out & out racists are coming from the woodwork to defend me, ridicule me, and otherwise distort reality until it resembles something like a pretzel doing gymnastics.

Well let me definitively set the record straight as concisely as I can.

My argument with Abagond consisted of two main points.

1. That he would stoop essentialist pseudo-science by diagnosing White people with a psychological disorder -- as a guess and explanation for White racism -- while simultaneously ignoring all the reasons that have shown us why White people are racist.

His defensiveness at being hounded by me for this led to further awkwardly offensive comments, such as comparing White people to wife-beaters, rapists, and finally Hitler, in an attempt to explain himself.

Now being a Jew with a history of dealing with anti-Semitism -- specifically in regards to the Holocaust, as well as having lost a family member to it -- I lost my shit at this point. I'll admit, I'm not rational or forgiving when someone says something so monumentally stupid as to violate Godwin's law and start comparing White people (which includes White Jews, by the way!) to Hitler, or invoke the Holocaust thoughtlessly.


2. Abagond's inability to recognize, admit, or apologize for the above.

As much as he has accused me of twisting his words, acting obtuse, or fabricating "false memories", the reality is that I have held Abagond to his own standards, and held him accountable for his own words. Yet all I seemed to find was more hypocrisy, more contradiction, more deflection, dismissal, and denial.

Which is why comments made by others like White people should view being born White as "something bad that's happened to you", or that White people are like the "Borg" & suffering from a "pathological" disorder began to seem like they were, in fact, supported by Abagond through his own inconsistent, and ambiguous comments.

He was unable to see the connection between his essentialism and the racism he fights against daily at his blog. His constant pass-giving to sexism, homophobia, and legitimate criticism of The Church (Abagond is Catholic) as well as a very strange obsession with IR couples (due perhaps to the events surrounding the dissolution of his marriage?) have come back to haunt him all at once. The disappearance of several wonderful commenters, some through banning, and some through disgust have also contributed to a decline at Abagond's place.

And now through my own comments this drama has coalesced into straight-up bullshit. Which is why I will no longer be going back to Abagond's. It's time to move on and see what else the blogosphere has to offer for a budding anti-racist.

But let me correct any misrepresentations. I do not believe Abagond thinks White people are demonic, or any of the above. I actually think Abagond is quite sensible, and knows the reality of racism in America better than most anyone I know -- but due to the embarrassment, and his own stubbornness (which is something I admire in a person) he is loath to make a five-second apology for what he said, and did, or clarify the situation honestly.

So it goes. Anyone who knows me would agree I'm not one to back down either. (Just ask my girlfriend.)

However, the veritable deluge of emails and comments, particularly by RVCBard has got me thinking that while I may have "won" the battle, ultimately I'm gonna lose the war.

With this latest drama, I have give racists, trolls, and other Undesireables yet another reason to diminish, distort, and otherwise dismiss the reality of racism in America. I have unwittingly participated in a classic White foible, which is being more concerned with being right than in doing what's right.

I admit now, freely, that I should've walked away after my first comment. I should've said my peace, and let the record speak for itself. Instead I got my hackles up, and decided that all by myself I was going to "challenge" what I saw as hypocrisy, ignorance, and the corruption of anti-racism.

Sometimes, my arrogance astounds me. But then again, I never said I was perfect.

Indeed, this entire conflict has gotten me quite comfortable with the fact that I am a flawed human-being, White, Jewish, Male, Straight, and Able-bodied.


But this fight isn't about me. It isn't about purging anti-racism of every contradiction I find, because that's just silly. Naive. Impossible. This fight isn't about whether I'm right or wrong or somewhere in-between.

Reading through the many contributions by my readers, commenters, friends, and total strangers has helped me come to grips with a moment of learning.

I need to stop caring so damn much about what stupid shit others say and start focusing on what I'm saying and how I use those words to help others. (And no, I don't want, need, or expect a thank you!)

In anti-racism it isn't my job to lead, or to police, or to tell other anti-racists why they're wrong. It isn't my job to worry what some blog tucked far away in cyberspace may or may not believe about White people. That shit just ain't worth it. It's small potatoes without any goddamn gravy.

Something else I have come to realize throughout this is that I need to start developing my own positive White identity. I have spent so much time thinking of myself as Jewish, that I've forgotten my race and what I think about it. Expect to see more posts as I develop this concept further, because I think having a positive White identity can help White people to overcome their own racism.

Let me conclude this post with a thank you to the various people who've sent me emails, comments, shared links, shared stories, thoughts, conflicts, and otherwise participated in a helpful way throughout this latest batch of hilariously unnecessary dramatics. You all are made of Win, and I appreciate your patience with my dumbass!



Cheers

19 footnotes:

Jas0nburns said...

Good processing. I like where your head is it. I need to get there myself.

Zek J Evets said...

Jason,

Thanks. Getting myself in the right head-space helps a lot.

Mira said...

Slightly off topic:
I had no idea what Godwin's law was, so thanks for introducing me to the term.

I fucking hate when people use Hitler/Nazis to win an argument, or when they compare silly things with Hitler/Nazis to make a point. (For example, saying: "I'm a grammar Nazi!") I mean, it's so disrespectful and, in a way, shows someone's privilege to never encounter the evil of Hitler/Nazis first hand (or through family).

As for your decision to think about the white identity, it's your right, but I must say that I'm personally not into embracing collective identities. Then again, this might be MY privilege to live in a society where racial identity is not important, so feel free to ignore my words.

PS- "
My latest foray into the depth of cyberspace has left me with a long, drawn out sense of uncertainty regarding my own identity. White. Jewish. Male. Straight. Able-bodied. Whatever. Check boxes as you like..."

Westerner/American!!! You forgot the most important one! (lol. Joking. But it's interesting that people always see others - when it comes to identity - in a way that is important to them. )

lifeexplorerdiscovery said...

Godwin's Law, who knew there was a name for it. I always just thought of it as "nazi syndrome" and at times, "the right wing crutch" (although liberals have been known to use it to a lesser extent).

If Abagond really got you that riled up, it is definitely time to take a break.

I actually went back to my old wordpress account and one of the last things I had commented on, I think left me feeling a bit like you did. It was about Halle Berry and I remember the comment section quickly devolved into being anti-light skinned black and anti-biracial (and since I am half white and am a light skinned black (don't let the pic fool you), I felt like i had to keep apologizing to all these dark skinned men and women for supposed things that we do (which is probably more of a response to what they do to us).

Unlike you and your response to Abagond on his recent post, I didn't even bother to try and put up a fight against the comments because I knew it would play out similar to how it played out for you. The one thing I never liked about the blog at Abagond's was the commenters. The posts themselves always had insight and truth to them.

bingregory said...

Positive White Identity - Good Luck with that, seriously. I've come to the conclusion that positive white identity or positive white pride only means being at peace with your whiteness as an individual in society, not as any sort of *embrace* of what whiteness confers or any sort of white *collective* cultural identity beyond recognition of shared privilege, it's ramifications in the life of people who have it, and the shared obligation to struggle against it. On that understanding, PWI is sort of the end stage of overcoming personal racism, not a means to that end, in the sense of Helms/Tatum's 6 stages. But I followed Macon D's website for a long time to see if he could find more than that, and I'm looking forward to your thoughts too.

bingregory said...

Oh also Mira you are right on: "American" is as easy to overlook for Americans as "white" is for white Americans.

aspergum said...

Cool of you to admit you did something wrong, but I wish you'd gone into it more. Or maybe, faced up to it more.

On another note, since you link-quoted me in this post, I'm writing to request clarification of what you mean in quoting my words.

You wrote,

Yet all I seemed to find was more hypocrisy, more contradiction, more deflection, dismissal, and denial.

Which is why comments made by others like White people should view being born White as "something bad that's happened to you", or that White people are like the "Borg" & suffering from a "pathological" disorder began to seem like they were, in fact, supported by Abagond through his own inconsistent, and ambiguous comments.


The words "something bad that's happened to you" are linked to my comment, and what you've written here implies that you disagree with my comment.

Why do you disagree with it?

To quote myself more fully, I wrote at Abagond's place,

I think white people should own up to their whiteness. Take responsibility for it, as something bad that’s happened to themselves. That can be done without hating yourself.

Just because you happen to have been born into an empowered majority category doesn’t mean that you have to hate yourself for that. Unless you refuse to do anything about it, in which case some self-hatred is indeed appropriate.


Why is being born into the white category NOT something bad that happens to white people, as you're basically implying?

Have you read Thandeka (Learning to Be White)? Have you read Lillian Smith (Killers of the Dream)? Have you read any of so many others who describe how being born and raised in the white category renders white people delusional in so many ways about the realities of racial dominance and hierarchy?

If so, then how could you think that it's not a bad thing to happen to someone, this thing of being born into the artificial and historically recent category of "white"?

Zek J Evets said...

Aspergum,

I feel I gave adequate time and thought to what I felt I did wrong.

The problem isn't that I didn't, but that what I did wrong isn't what you think it is.

As for your quote & question, I think I touched on it in the other post you left a comment on, but I will (for completeness) answer it here.

I personally do not think anyone should EVER feel guilty for an identity they have been born into. White children are no more responsible for their race than LGBT children are for their sexuality. And neither should be made to feel bad for their identity -- it is a disgusting, morally bankrupt, ethically devoid thing to do.

Nor is this a false equivalency to state, because I'm not talking about power, privilege, or prevalence, but with the specific action above.

However, I notice now in this comment that you seem to be talking out of both sides of your mouth, saying being born White is something bad that's happened to you, but then say, Just because you happen to have been born into an empowered majority category doesn’t mean that you have to hate yourself for that.

So which is it? Should I feel bad for being White, or not? Should I hate myself for my race, or not?

More importantly, this contradiction is part of a problem in anti-racism of making White people feel bad for being White, instead of feel bad for being racist, and feel bad for the racism prevalent in American society.

However, I also contend that it's a rather isolated one IRL.

Either way, I'm going to be happy being White, without being a racist douchebag ; )

aspergum said...

I personally do not think anyone should EVER feel guilty for an identity they have been born into. White children are no more responsible for their race than LGBT children are for their sexuality. And neither should be made to feel bad for their identity -- it is a disgusting, morally bankrupt, ethically devoid thing to do.

Who said anything about making white children feel guilty or bad for being white? I'm talking about adults, and I don't care if they feel guilty or not. I want them to take responsibility for having been born and raised into whiteness, and thus for very likely having racist proclivities.

You also wrote,

However, I notice now in this comment that you seem to be talking out of both sides of your mouth, saying being born White is something bad that's happened to you, but then say, Just because you happen to have been born into an empowered majority category doesn’t mean that you have to hate yourself for that.

So which is it? Should I feel bad for being White, or not? Should I hate myself for my race, or not?


You set up those two sentences of mine as if they contradict each other, but they don't. I was addressing Jason's comment about his feelings, and generally, I don't care if you feel bad for being white, and I don't care if you hate yourself for your race or not. I'm not talking about how white people should FEEL, I'm talking about what they should do, so when I say white people don't have to hate themselves for being white, I mean they shouldn't get bogged down in such feelings, and get all defensive about them. What white people should instead do, again, is acknowledge and take responsibility for their instilled racist proclivities (because if they've been born and raised as white, they're very, very likely to have them).

But there is one emotion here that I would like to hear more about--if you're going to "be happy being white," what is it about being white that you like? What about being white is it that makes you happy?

And finally, to go back to the point here, I think white people are born and raised into a system or ideology that instills racist proclivities in them, and deludes them into thinking POC are scary and inferior, and so on--and that's the "bad" that happens to people when they're born white. And if you had read what I wrote at Abagond's in context, instead of plucking out one line and misinterpreting it, you'd see that.

So now that I've explained this to you, I'd be glad to see you change your post, given the misinterpretation it contains of my written words.

And finally, how about answering my question, one that you avoided here--how could you think that it's not a bad thing to happen to someone, this thing of being born into the artificial and historically recent category of "white"?

(And again, I'm not talking about "feeling bad" for being born and raised into whiteness and common white ways--I'm talking about how it usually affects white people, their psyches, attitudes, and actions.)

RVCBard said...

I admit that what follows is probably a bit semantic, but I believe it's worth sharing insofar as this can illuminate something worthwhile to explore.

In my experience, Whiteness and European descent are not the same*. While European descent is a prerequisite for Whiteness, that's not what my experience of Whiteness is. Whiteness itself was deliberately created for oppressive purposes, and it has adapted quite well to the needs of the time in such a way as to sustain itself. If it sounds like I'm describing Whiteness as an institution rather than an identity, that's because I believe that's exactly what it is. Because of its particular history (and I don't just mean Shit White People Did but how Whiteness itself was constructed), especially in America, it is impossible to separate Whiteness from the exercise of power.

(* While I do often say "White people" as a kind of shorthand for Americans of European descent -- and, interestingly enough, I call Europeans by their nationality and/or ethnicity -- I do differentiate between persons with a particular culture and history and persons who participate in and benefit from the institution of Whiteness.)

For White Americans, this could predictably lead to a sort of existential crisis. If Whiteness means a system that permits and encourages all sorts of horrible things, no person of conscience would want to be affiliated with it. At the same time, if you shouldn't be White, what should you be?

I can believe that a lot of it has to do with the fact that what it means to be American, Australian, South African, etc. is often so tied up in Whiteness that it's hard to imagine those cultural identities in ways that do not simply default to Whiteness with a bit of Other Stuff tacked on.

I can't answer that for anyone who is not me, but I can imagine that this would require a lot of digging and introspection about where you come from and what that means. It's easy, for instance, to dismiss the question of American culture or reduce it speaking English, eating McDonald's, and/or going to war.

Then again, maybe culture is something that is simply immune to being intellectualized.

Zek J Evets said...

Aspergum,

Who said anything about making white children feel guilty or bad for being white?

You did. Or did you not think through the consequences of your statements? Taking responsibility for one's privilege is FAR DIFFERENT than telling someone to feel bad for having been born [insert race].

The two comments you made that I juxtaposed ARE a contradiction. If you cannot see that, then I'm afraid you are operating on a system of logic & language which is as yet unknown to me. How can one feeling bad about one's identity while simultaneously NOT hate oneself? And while you may call these "feelings", and that you are not addressing that, you are still telling people how they should feel by attempting to control what they should think about their race, specifically when you tell them to think negatively about their race (as, apparently you do?). Doesn't that seem reprehensible to you?

Take note, I am not removing your comments from their context. I am merely demonstrating the perspective you've taken employed in the larger world in which we live, in addition to their flaws during the conversation itself.

Perhaps your disagreement is not that I am twisting your words, but rather that you feel guilty about what you've said actually entails?

And since I've asked plenty of questions, let me answer some of yours...

how could you think that it's not a bad thing to happen to someone, this thing of being born into the artificial and historically recent category of "white"?

I don't feel bad for being born White because I am not going to feel sorry for myself, or apologize that I am privileged in all the ways that White people are in this world. I'm not going to ignore that, or diminish it, or fail to understand why it exists and fight against it.

But feel bad about my race? Hell no! That shit is depressing. I'd rather focus on fighting racism, than internalize it and turn to self-hatred.

As for what about being White that makes me happy? I honestly don't have a unique answer to that. Sure, there are reasons I can think of -- classical music, champagne, and penicillin -- but a reason all my own? That'll be part of my own self-exploration of what it means to have a "positive White identity".

In the meanwhile, I will NOT be changing my post. I appreciate your comments, but I also know (based on your earlier comment that was moderated) how you really feel about me and our conversation.

aspergum said...

Feelings feelings feelings.

Even though I tell you I'm not talking about them, you still read whatever I write as if I am. Then you go on and on some more about your own feelings, and how whites shouldn't feel this or should feel that, and POC shouldn't try to make them feel this and that, and so on.

So much ordinary white narcissism from you.

Whatever.

You win. You wore me down by continually ignoring what I'm really saying. I forgot that that's your basic modus operandi.

aspergum said...

So you won't change the inaccurate representation of my words in your post because you think I don't like you?

That's just . . . childish. It's like a kid, whining about his feelings. Again.

Zek J Evets said...

Aspergum,

So you won't change the inaccurate representation of my words in your post because you think I don't like you?

No, I won't be changing an accurate portrayal of your arguments and statements because I won't lie for you just because you've asked me to.

But I did take into account how you really feel as we've had this little conversation. Because knowing that brings perspective to what you've said, and helps me keep in mind that though you are being polite here -- it is only because I've forced you to be. And that was what I meant.

Meanwhile, you may continue you diagnose me all you want as some classic White stereotype narcissist etc etc if it makes you feel better. Honestly, I'm not surprised. Though make pretensions of being a fair-minded individual, it is readily apparent now that you are much more comfortable juxtaposing people into neat little boxes based on prejudice, ignorance, and childishness.

That you think this was EVER about "winning" is testament enough to how you viewed this conversation, and why your perspective has been so limited that ultimately you'd rather derail this entire post's objective than admit to your own problems as I have done with mine here & now.

But so it goes.

jas0nburns said...

I think that the term anti-racist should apply to the action and not the individual. I think WP can and may take anti-racist actions from time to time, but I don't think that we should claim it as an identity like that because it's not really possible to totally live up to that.

As white Americans who grow up in a racist society, we are going to be racist to a certain degree Even if we take active steps to fight it. So any WP calling himself an anti-racist is kind of weird and more wishful thinking than reality. A more realistic description would be someone who does anti-racist stuff sometimes.

Besides calling yourself that just opens you up to criticism, as people are always gong to try and test how "anti-racist" you really are and of course you will never live up to it.

I catch myself thinking racist stuff all the time. It's actually really hard not to even after you've educated yourself to x degree. Despite those thoughts and feelings i'm still able to act in concrete "anti-racist" ways though. You don't have to purge yourself of all racism in order to fight it, you just need some basic comprehension and desire/motivation.

vireo said...

Ok, so I think I'm a little late to the game here, but I might as well throw in my 2 cents.

I've been following this drama on and off for about a week, and I've been lurking on Abagond's blog (and Ankhesen Mie, and Womanist Musings, and SWPD when it was active, etc.) for quite a long time. And I think this argument, and especially the bit about "Positive White Identity," pretty much crystallized my own head-drama about what it means to be white.

I think a positive white identity means accepting and embracing yourself as an individual, rather than the sum of whatever identities you have. Maybe it would be useful to think of whiteness as something you *have* rather than *are*?

And re: white culture... I don't think that a collective white culture exists, any more than a collective black culture exists (but then again, I'm not black, so I don't really know that either.). To use a personal example for me: In the summertime, I go to the beach. During the day, I bodysurf and read in the sun. At night, I pick crabs, preferably while listening to classic rock. Say it's the fourth of July, and I watch some fireworks too. OK, so that's one day, but it represents my culture and that of my family as being middle-class, from close to the coast, not observant Jews, and from the Mid-Atlantic states of the US. For example. And I'm sure there's much more I could list but this post has gotten long enough as it is. And all of those things are my culture, and they're not exclusively wrapped up in my pale-ish skin.

I'm still trying to get to the point where I don't need to remind myself of this every time I think about race.

Zek J Evets said...

Jason,

I think that the term anti-racist should apply to the action and not the individual.

Fair enough. I guess for me, a label doesn't need to be completely frree of contradiction. For instance, though I call myself a musician, I am not just or always a musician. Even my White-ness is often contradicted in certain settings, when others focus on my Jewishness.

But that said, I also like thinking of anti-racism as an action. It's a nice idea.

Zek J Evets said...

Vireo,

Yeah, I am going through quite a lot of self-reflection and crises of identity in regards to how I reconcile being White, and Whiteness as it relates to White supremacy and racism. Because I can't ever stop being White -- even if I were to completely subsume myself in being Jewish I coldn't -- and since I know that being White has meant for many people ONLY negative things -- and still does, apparently -- that the conflict boils down to how do I *be* White (in the sense of admitting to my privilege, my part in structural racism, etc) without hating myself?

Many people would call this navel-gazing, but I find it an important part of understanding one's self in order to be a better person.

Anyhoo, thanks for your comment. Much appreciated.

bingregory said...

RCV Bard and Vireo, thanks for your excellent comments.

I should say first off I'm not trying to stoke anyone up and I've appreciated the amount of reflection in the last round of comments from everybody. But I spent the last two days away from my computer composing comments in my head and so I'm just going to say my piece. Jason, I'm going to respond to your comment in the other thread over here since things are calmer here.

The problem I have with the mainstream American culture = white culture thing is that it is vaguely describing how things have been, but on closer inspection it is kind of a truism and doesn't tell us anything concrete about what whiteness really is [as a quality to have! thanks vireo]. Like Zek, I'm half Jewish. Jews went from being not white to being white between my mother's generation and mine (I'm 35). Italians did the same thing. Their culture was not white, their history was not white, they did not LOOK white. You guys have probably all seen the "how to spot an Irishman" or "how to spot a Jew" guides. Now we can't spot them because we've stopped looking for them. My mother claims she can always spot a Jew (she's Jewish). I do not have this ability. Jews, the Irish and Italians did not assimilate into whiteness so much as whiteness EXPANDED to include them. The original white people in American were Brits, French and Germans. Now you guys can tell me that white culture and white people is everything that comes from Ireland to the Ural Mountains and you're right! It is not the case that white identity was something fluid in the past and now it has reached its final shape and size. Depending on who you ask, East Asians are becoming White as we speak. And yet white is not a universal category that every American can aspire to. Need I mention that there are other peoples whose cultures, histories and looks cannot ever become White? What is the essential defining quality of whiteness that allows it to operate in this manner?