July 21st, 2006

not the magical minority fairy

IBARW: Random notes that turned into a post on discomfort

I'm too tired to actually put together a coherent post right now, so, assorted random thoughts.

(Insert standard disclaimer on not speaking for all POC, not being shining star of anti-racism, speaking from personal experience, being privileged in other ways, being US-centric, etc.)

PSA: If you're trying to be anti-racist, random anti-Semitism doesn't help!

se_parsons asks what would the un-racist society of the future look like?

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With regard to identifying unconscious prejudices, I've found a good guideline for me is to see if something makes me uncomfortable, particularly if it's in that specific, nidgy, can't-quite-get-rid-of-it way that makes me want to not think about it. Not wanting to think about something, as demonstrated by making excuses in my head on why it's ok to not think about said thing, usually means I should think about it, but that I don't. Case in point: some of the comments to this post mention Japanophilia, the "ninja against racism" icon, and how Rock Lee in Naruto is a stereotype.

My very first instinct was "Bah! You lie! I am not a Japanophile! My icon in no way can be construed as racist! Naruto is not racist!" Of course, my very first instinct to people saying that being Asian in America mattered because even if you didn't self identify as such, other people would identify you as such, was "Bah! You lie! Watch me defy stereotypes!" My first instinct to POC saying they feel discriminated against is, unsurprisingly, "Bah! You lie! The system that I am a part of is a fair system! You are oversensitive!"

This is because, like so many other people, I want to believe that I am judged solely based on my own merit, that race and gender and age and sexual orientation and looks play nothing into things. I want to be able to enjoy things without having to stop and wonder if said thing is offensive to people who aren't me. Often, I can do this because I am doing so from a position of privilege. Sometimes, I can't. Sometimes, I don't want to admit that I can't because it means some of my agency is being taken away, because it means no matter what I do or what I think, people will still be judging me detrimentally because of my race or gender. Admitting this, admitting that it is an institution, admitting that it's something I can't magically change by force of will, that's difficult. It makes me feel powerless and angry. Naturally, the whole "playing the race/gender card" thing doesn't make admitting there is racism easier either. It's also easy for me to fall into the privileged worldview and denigrate my own sex or race unconsciously, because at least that way, there isn't the feeling of powerlessness.

From a privileged standpoint, I don't want my privilege pointed out because again, it means I'm not being judged by merit. It means maybe I didn't deserve what I ended up getting, not because I wasn't good, but because other people could have been better, but weren't given something because of their sexual orientation or age or class or handicap. I don't want to have my fun taken away from me. It's easier for me to understand why people are uncomfortable with the thought of privilege being taken away or questioned, so I'm writing less here that I did for unprivileged people to acknowledge their lack of privilege.

So with that in mind, the things that make me uncomfortable, that make me want to stand up and yell, "Bah! You lie! Go away and let me enjoy my things in peace!" — those are the very things that I should be paying attention to. If it turns out that I've given it a lot of thought and eventually decided it isn't true, without using any of the arguments outlined in How to Suppress Discussions of Racism, then that's fine. It's not like that extra bit of thought hurt me. If, however, I find myself saying things like, "But it's just an icon!" or "It wasn't intentionally racist!" or "You just don't get it! It's just a joke!" then I need to think about it some more.

My guess is, if anyone wants to be anti-racist, they're going to end up feeling uncomfortable. This is not the happy comfort of thinking that your parents always told you to treat people how you'd like to be treated. As a lot of people are saying already, racism is an institution. It's self-perpetuating. Beverly Tatum likens racism to one of those moving walkway things at the airport. Actively racist people walk forward on the walkway and go even faster. Passively racist people stand still on the walkway; they think they're not contributing, but they're still moving anyway. Anti-racist people walk backwards at a rate faster than that of the walkway, meaning they are actually going in the opposite direction. Anything less than that is racist. Walking takes effort. Walking at a rate that gets you going in the opposite direction is a lot of effort. And the walkway is always there, always moving people along.

By this definition, blogging against racism shouldn't just be a brief acknowledgement of what you've done. That's just walking in the other way a little, then stopping and letting the walkway move you forward again. It's not a look at your own stance on racism. It's an action that should be ongoing and continual. Stances matter, but in the long run, given the inertia of society, they don't matter as much as action. And, of course, getting somewhat back to my point, action is uncomfortable (especially if you don't like to exercise, like me!). Action means the possibility of tripping, of falling, of energy being wasted.

So how do you tell if you're just standing still, or if you're walking fast enough the opposite way?

Er. I wish I knew! If you do know, tell me the secret, and I will market it and sell it to people and steal all the profits!

More seriously, I figure, it can't hurt to ask some uncomfortable questions! I don't know if it works or not, but trying to move in the right direction is something. So ... uncomfortable questions for everyone!

Hey, if I've got to think about ninja icons, I demand on inflicting the same pain on everyone else ;).

Er, also, I'm not demanding answers from anyone, nor is it a way to make people not blog about a certain topic. I think there can be racist and anti-racist answers to each question. And, as emphasized above, these are uncomfortable questions that are meant to make you feel defensive, and they apply to white people and people of color alike (though they are hopefully aimed at racism as an institution).

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IBARW link round-up