i guess i am a racist

December 8, 2009 § 11 Comments

i would like to record the day that anti racism died.  i would like to stop for a moment and give a quick soliloquy to the anti racism movement.

i guess im racist.

shrug.

The video features various people saying “I guess I’m a racist” and puts up a statistic from the Rassumen reports, stating that 12% of voters believe that opponents of Barack Obama’s health care plan are racist.

this is the inevitable end of the whiteness studies/anti racism movement.

let me backtrack a bit.

i was an anti racism trainer for a bit of my life.  so i engaged with a lot of progressive anti racist white folk.  im married to one.  my best friends are these kind of white folk.  the kind of white folk who will say as a matter of fact ‘i am racist.  i benefit from racism.  white privilege has shaped my entire life.’  these are anti racist white folk who are friends, family, community.

but a couple of years ago, i started to become disturbed by how facile the ‘i am a racist’ became in white folks mouths.  it started to sound like: i am a racist. i was born into a racist society. i cant help being racist. oh well. as long as i say: i am a racist and acknowledge my white privilege, i can go about doing what i like.

what i mean is: for white anti racist folk, the progressive folk, the allies saying ‘i am a racist’ functions as a get out of jail free card.

see this video is most likely produced by people who would call themselves anti-racist.  or non-racist. or color blind.  all the labels have come to mean the same thing: good white folk.  (and if by chance this video was made by a person of color, my first response is to hang my head in shame.  i realize that is not a mature response.  but it is honest.  the actors of color are enough.  i hope they got paid.  did you see that last black dude?  frankly, man, boyfriend looked sad.  so sad.)  and i have sat in enough anti racism training workshops as white folk confess their racism sins or whatever and heard white folk (and for some reason the image that comes to mind is a paunchy greying white guy with facial hair) saying: yeah, i guess i’m a racist.  shrug. flick a fly off the plastic chair.

there used to be a bite to calling someone a racist.  it used to take emotional courage and honesty to say: i am a racist.  or at least i thought that there were elements of courage and honesty in the admission.  like an addict seeing hir addiction.

now, its more like an addict saying: im an addict.  acknowledging it.  and then keeps on engaging in the addiction.  as if simply saying: i am an addict.  absolves hir of any other responsibility for hir actions or the effect those actions have on others.

i’m not an addict

its cool

i feel alive

if you dont have it

youre on the other side

and so if saying one is white is equivalent to saying one is racist.  means that white people who admit that they are racist are ‘good white people’.   then one can admit one is racist.  do all the racist crap that you want.  because its obviously not *really* racist, because you have already admitted that you are racist, and *really* racist people dont know that they are racist. and so on..and so on…and it all leads to a bunch of predominantly white kids throwing a ‘jamaica’ party, where they all dress up like ‘jamaicans’.  and only the uptight and oversensitive people could possibly think there was anything racist about it.  because these good white folks, are not *those* kind of racists.

feel me?

so really this is the end.  the death of anti racism.

a moment of silence.

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§ 11 Responses to i guess i am a racist

  • Not sure if my comment is welcome here but I thought I’d give it a shot. I was linked here from Dou-La-La, and she’s a smart lady.

    I’m hoping that I understand you correctly ( and please correct me if I’m not) but you’re saying that you are not a fan of the “white” claim that because of our skin, we’re all born racist – is that correct? And that saying “oh, well, I’m privileged, I was born this way” is some sort of free pass to sit back and ignore the inequities, right? I have to say I whole-heartedly agree with that.

    I have come to hate the term “white privilege”. I think it should be “class, status, sex, and (yes, sometimes) Caucasion privilege”. But limiting it to “white” privilege implies that all people with light skin (Jews, Europeans, decedents of Native Americans) all grew up in the comfortable lifestyle described by Peggy McIntosh. I think Peggy’s mistake was in assuming that all “white” people were born into the same class she was, by the sheer virtue of their “whiteness.” I can picture the suburb she grew up in. I hate to break it to her, but not all “white” people are “white.” We come in a lot of different colors and backgrounds, and being accused of having privileges that I most certainly DID NOT have just makes me incredibly angry. I have worked too hard for someone else to tell me my skin makes me something, and that I’ll never escape it. I’ve been escaping worthlessness all my life. I just cannot, will not believe that. It seems like those people think it’s just too messy to talk about class, so if we limit it to skin color, then we don’t have to do any dirty work. Then all the “bad” guys are easily identifiable.

    Sorry if I’m using your space as a soap box, I was just hoping to find someone who’d have an intelligent dialogue with me about this, instead of trying to wrap it up in some pretty little box wrapped in vitriol and ignorance.

    Is it possible to have an intelligent dialogue on the internet about class and race and status intertwined?

    • mama says:

      i do believe that there is a difference between class and race. and that there is class privilege and race privilege. these two types of privilege are different but do overlap and intersect. equating white privilege with middle class privilege is inaccurate.
      so, while you do have white privilege. that in no way means that you have class privilege. or gender privilege. or education privilege.
      for instance, during this economic depression, most people in the states have lost some level of economic security. and people of color have been shown to have lost more economic security than white folks with the same socio-economic privileges. does that make sense?

      for example: look at this post about race and employment: http://contexts.org/socimages/2009/11/14/race-criminal-background-and-employment/
      and this post about education (which correlates with class) and employment: http://contexts.org/socimages/2009/06/08/unemployment-and-education-level/
      and then this post abour race and the current depression (i refuse to call it a ‘downturn’) http://contexts.org/socimages/2009/11/04/race-and-the-economic-downturn/

      i have seen a strong tendency among white anti racists (esp those who are upper middle class and above) to equate whiteness with class privilege. or to how that class is an oppressive force. i have also seen that many poverty/working class centered activists, deny that racism remains a violent force in the world and in the states.

      it sounds like you equate ‘being a racist’ with ‘worthless’. i dont see it that way. like, i dont see being sexist means that a man is worthless. to me it says that a man benefits from being male.

      what i am saying is that words are as powerful as the actions behind them. that saying: “i am a racist. and by saying: i am a racist. that proves that i am an anti-racist. and thus am a ‘good white person’ “– is false.

      justice is based on our actions. our words are empty without them.

  • I hate it when you make so much sense about something this depressing.

    Though language we create the world. when language changes meaning, so does society.

    I just hope we will find a new way to express the sentiment that anti-racism had been expressing. a way to distinguish those who check their privilege and those who merely acknowledge it.

  • prof susurro says:

    I disagree that this is anti-racist ppl making this video. I think this video is made by ppl on the left who have never bought into the anti-racism machine, never hailed the trinity of “race, class, gender” or called themselves racist, except to roll their eyes @ the very liberals you are deconstructing here. I think the moment in the video that expects everyone to be incredulous at the idea that N. America has so many racists in it is proof they have never been part of the anti-racism crew.

    That said, I do think that anti-racism and the shifts you so clearly mark from actually thinking they were doing something to basically admitting they weren’t while still espousing the moniker and the pledge made room for Republicans and ppl on the right to turn “I’m a racist” into a joke and a rallying cry. It made it possible for them to feel confident in mocking both racism and supposedly anti-racist whites and worse to make racism such a ridiculous concept in mainstream white discourse that they could produce this commercial w/out any sense of irony or understanding of how their examples speak to white racial hegemony in the U.S.

    It may seem like a minor distinction, but I think we need to be clear about how left and right work to uphold racial disparity so that those ppl who actually do want to make a change don’t just look @ this video & say, “We had nothing to do w/ that & you can’t blame us for it” b/c they didn’t make it and are not represented by it.

  • prof susurro says:

    I’m sorry, that should say “I think this video is made by ppl on the *right* ” not the left

  • nakedthoughts says:

    I definitely think this is made by the right. The issue is not that this is what current anti racists look like, but that the opposition is coopting the language.

    the language we use shapes our world. when the meanings of what we say changes, so does our world. if the right co-opts the idea of coming out as racist in a sarcastic “oh isn’t that silly” kind of way, that diminishes the meaning for people who are trying to be better allies, and makes it more socially acceptable to mock and dismiss those allies and POC fighting racism.

    I’ve met lots of liberals as well as conservatives who say they are colorblind, or who take the attitude, well if its socialization I can’t help it, so I’ll just do nothing. (on many issues not just racism)

    Just imagine being in a conversation and someone makes a racist comment, you say “that comment is racist” they say (sarcastically) “I, guess I’m a racist” and then they don’t do anything. It changes the rhetoric from a “what they did” to a “who they are” conversation which is harder to argue (http://www.illdoctrine.com/2008/07/how_to_tell_people_they_sound.html).

    It will diffuse the message of someone pointing out hurtful speech. its the same tactic as saying “why don’t you people just lighten up” How do you respond to that? it puts the fault back on the person who is offended.

    This is turnign into a rant. I better stop.

    • mama says:

      yeah. i love jay’s video. but i have never actually seen that work. normally it goes:
      me: that thing you said was racist
      white person: hey! im not a racist!
      me: no, i didnt say that you were a racist. i said that thing you said was racist…
      wp: im not the racist. you are the one who keeps bringing up race.
      me: well, im not trying to have a discussion about whether or not you are a racist. im saying that assuming xyz about poc is racist.
      wp: why are you so sensitive? see, now we all have to be politically correct. ooohh…the little black girl is angry….
      me: no what i am trying to say is— ok. you know what. fuck it. by this point. i *do* think you are a secret member of the kkk and keep hitler’s brain under your bed and masturbate to it everynight.

      —this is why im thinking about calling cards…

      maybe there is a path after anti racism…toward justice….

      • LOL, oh god, I’ve had that conversation so many times.

      • I think i have better luck with Jay’s advice because, as you pointed out, white people take racism more seriously when a white person is talking.

        though I have pointed out how someone’s speech is hurtful then they throw their hands in the air and say “I know I’m a horrible person, whatever”

        which is exactly what this video is. “ok I’m racist, see you made your point, isn’t that quaint now STFU.”

  • This is definitely produced by the “right.” It’s mocking the argument that those people behind the “tea party protests” and other such opposition are opposed to the president’s policies alone. If you notice, they’ll throw in a few token people of color to make their point. The whole thing is transparent.

  • […] 9, 2009 you know i kept this post in saved for a day and thought long and hard about whether i should make it clear that this was a […]

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