Nothing I try to do can work the same way

9 03 2017

I don’t know how deep these cracks go.

I noted at the end of the last post that I didn’t see what was always there, but the real kicker was less or not just the lack of sight but that I thought I did see: I thought I knew what I did not.

This isn’t just about thinking that racism or sexism weren’t that bad: I knew, knew, that it was bad, but that knowledge had not, somehow, been fully absorbed—tho’ I thought it was.

I hate head/heart binaries, so I’ll go with head/body: I had all of this knowledge tucked safely into my noggin, then the election came along and cracked my skull, and it all flooded down my spine, into my guts, and buckled my knees.

My body was not prepared for the blow.

To put this in less somatic terms, my sense of self is based on some notion of awareness (which, oy, creates all kinds of problems for me. . .), so I try very hard, intellectually, to maintain an awareness of my inability to be aware. I try to keep in mind that I’ll think I know more than I do, so, y’know, best not to run too far ahead of myself. And while I sometimes fail at this I sometimes also succeed, I sometimes remember there’s more out there.

And maybe that’s where I went wrong: Because I did sometimes remember about the out-there, I forgot that there’s also something in-here, in me, which affects how I experience that knowledge. It’s not just or even primarily emotional, but more basic, ontological.

The failure to see is painful; the failure behind that failure, even more so.

I’m fond of quoting Leonard Cohen’s line from “Anthem”: There is a crack in everything/that’s how the light gets in. Maybe so, maybe so. But if the light is to reach all the way down, then so, too, will the crack.

This is not the worst thing, but it is a hard thing. If I can manage it, there’ll be a reckoning ahead.





They’ll think that white hood’s all they need

6 01 2017

So, waaaay back in 2013 I wrote this:

So I’ve been turning over this thought in my head about the whiteness of the GOP and arguments (click here for a Crooked Timber post that has the various relevant links) that Republicans don’t have to worry about being the party of the pasty.

I think they do.

I don’t have this all worked out, but it seems that in order for the GOP to be the White Party they’re going to have to entice voters based on their whiteness, and I don’t know how many folks think of themselves primarily as white.

This is the crumbling underside of the default standard of white: regular [i.e., non-academic, non-race-politicized] white folks haven’t had to think about their whiteness. To bring them to you, you first have to bring them to their whiteness, convince them that their whiteness ought to be their primary concern, then further convince them that their candidates will do the most to preserve their white privilege.

Yes, whitey-first appeals have worked and will continue to work in a number of districts, but I don’t see how this appeal can be expanded, largely because I don’t know how much white folks who aren’t already racialists really want to be racialists. I think white-first appeals would turn them off, maybe make them less likely to vote Republican.

Most Americans don’t want to think of themselves as racists—even the racists don’t want to be seen as racists—and aren’t in a hurry to separate themselves (in their imaginations, at least, if not always in practice) from their fellow Americans. We’re not always large, but an awful lot of us aspire to be.

I don’t know, I’m probably talking out of my nose. It just seems like  focus-on-the-whites is a losing proposition with many of those very same whites.

Boy o boy, was that wrong. Mostly.

I was clearly wrong about the appeal of whitey-first (and what was up with my use of “racialist”?)—horribly, painfully wrong. Whatever votes Republicans may have lost prior to 2016 may be traced less to their appeals to whiteness than the covertness of those appeals: make it explicit, and you win.

Maybe.

But at the risk of being wrong yet again, I do think I got one thing right back then: I still don’t believe most white people want to think of themselves as racist.

Are many of them (us) racist? You bet! Do we want to be called racist? HELL NO.

As has been pointed out by just about every black and brown (and a few white) political commentators, calling a white person “racist” is about the worst thing you can do. Even people who post pictures of a Klan member and caption it with I’m dreaming of a white Christmas don’t want to be called racist.

Not that this is much a wedge between the enthusiastic racist and those tolerant of the enthusiasts (the racist-adjacent?), nor even a slender reed. More like an onion skin, and about as strong.

But there is a gap, however thin. And that unwillingness to claim racism gives those of us committed to anti-racism something to grab on to, to try to peel those people away from a tolerance of racism.

It’ll be damnably difficult. Many people think racism is bad, think of themselves as good, and in so doing, deny that they themselves are racist. They—we—take the accusation of racism personally, which creates both the incentive for denial and the chance to say I get it, you think of yourself as a decent person, so how about acting like it?

Trying to reverse an upside-down virtue ethics is not enough, of course: it won’t wipe out systemic racism or uproot the white supremacy entangled in the history of this nation, but I do think if you give people an out, if you tell them, You don’t have to be racist, and give them ways to fight against it—to act decently—then maybe, maybe, some of them will say, Huh, that might be worth doing.

I am not, of course, optimistic, and I don’t much hope, but nothing happens on its own. Tolerance for racism will not disappear on its own.

This is a task for anti-racist whites. As I noted on Twitter, people of color have had to carry the burden of racism for far too long, and for far too long, (thinking-of-themourselves-as-) non-racist white people have considered it enough not actively to have added to that burden. We thought non-racism enough. For too many us—and you betcha I include myself in this group—the fight has been optional.

No more: to be truly anti-racist, the fight must be seen as necessary. And this piece of the fight, confronting whites who are comfortable enough with racism, is our (white) burden, my burden.

I’m sorry it took a kick in the head, i.e., Trump’s election, to see this.





Nimble fingers that dance on numbers

27 12 2016

Alllla’ these motherfuckers bleating about the white working class, white men, working men, poor poor real white American working class men: shut up, shut the fuck up.

I’ve got nothing against white working class men—my dad was a white working class man! my brother! my brother-in-law! my neighbors and almost everyone I knew growing up! all white! almost all working class!—but I am sorely tried by all of these commentators telling ME that I need to be kinder, gentler, toward those poor poor real white American working class men.

It is fucking condescending.

I totally (well, maybe not totally, totally, but substantially?) understand why black people are tired of being told that they need to set aside their concerns for their own survival and focus on those PPRWAWCM; such counsel is white power in action.

But it’s also more than that: it’s a way for the non-working class white folks—men, let’s be honest, men—to demonstrate once again their superiority over every fuckin’ one.

Barack Obama was scalded for talk of bitter rural folks clinging to guns and religion and Hillary Clinton raked for drop-kicking some portion of the population into the basket of deplorables, but give some white dude a coupla’ column inches in the Times or Wall Street Journal and he’ll be lauded for his perspicacity in writing the exact same goddamned things.

Economic anxiety and fear and opioids and a disintegration of the American Dream and all are wrapped up in the soothing murmurs of I see, I see, as these pundits metaphorically pat their subjects on the head and assure them that It’s completely understandable they would feel this way.

Such horseshit.

This is, in the words of former Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson, the soft bigotry of low expectations.

Y’know all those working class men I mentioned, above? They weren’t all racists. My parents, with their high school educations, somehow managed to teach all three of their children that racism was bad, that it was bad to be racist.

Were/are my parents prejudiced? Sure. But they didn’t and don’t think that indulging that prejudice was anything that decent people did.

They didn’t expect any of us to be perfect, but they did expect us to be better.





Keep it down now

20 12 2015

So much concern about black people and brown people and gay and lesbian people and transpeople and women people insisting that they’re people and you know who’s really got it bad?

But seriously, you know who can’t take a joke? White guys. Not if it implicates them and their universe, and when you see the rage, the pettiness, the meltdowns and fountains of male tears of fury, you’re seeing people who really expected to get their own way and be told they’re wonderful all through the days. And here, just for the record, let me clarify that I’m not saying that all of them can’t take it. Many white men—among whom I count many friends (and, naturally, family members nearly as pale as I)—have a sense of humor, that talent for seeing the gap between what things are supposed to be and what they are and for seeing beyond the limits of their own position. Some have deep empathy and insight and write as well as the rest of us. Some are champions of human rights.

But there are also those other ones, and they do pop up and demand coddling. A group of black college students doesn’t like something and they ask for something different in a fairly civil way and they’re accused of needing coddling as though it’s needing nuclear arms. A group of white male gamers doesn’t like what a woman cultural critic says about misogyny in gaming and they spend a year or so persecuting her with an unending torrent of rape threats, death threats, bomb threats, doxxing, and eventually a threat of a massacre that cites Marc LePine, the Montreal misogynist who murdered 14 women in 1989, as a role model. I’m speaking, of course, about the case of Anita Sarkeesian and Gamergate. You could call those guys coddled. We should. And seriously, did they feel they were owed a world in which everyone thought everything they did and liked and made was awesome or just remained silent? Maybe, because they had it for a long time.

Rebecca Solnit can think and she can write and if I were the jealous type I’d be jealous that she gets paid to do the work I can’t be arsed to do but I’m not particularly jealous so instead I’ll just read her and sigh Ahhhhh.

~~~

h/t PZ Myers; update: fixt hed





Brother, brother

18 06 2015

The names of the dead:

Clementa Pinckney, 41, the primary pastor who also served as a state senator.

Cynthia Hurd, 54, St. Andrews regional branch manager for the Charleston County Public Library system.

Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, 45, a church pastor, speech therapist and coach of the girls’ track and field team at Goose Creek High School.

Tywanza Sanders, 26, who had a degree in business administration from Allen University, where Pinckney also attended.

Ethel Lance, 70, a retired Gailliard Center employee who has worked recently as a church janitor.

Susie Jackson, 87, Lance’s cousin who was a longtime church member.

DePayne Middleton-Doctor, 49, a retired director of the local Community Development Block Grant Program who joined the church in March as a pastor.

Myra Thompson, 59, a pastor at the church.

Daniel Simmons Sr., 74, a pastor, who died in a hospital operating room.

—compiled by Andrew Knapp, The Post and Courier

~~~

Nikki Haley, South Carolina’s Republican governor, made a curiously obtuse statement on Facebook in the aftermath of Wednesday’s massacre at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston. “While we do not yet know all of the details, we do know that we’ll never understand what motivates anyone to enter one of our places of worship and take the life of another,” the governor said.

[. . .]

On the same program, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani also confessed to being baffled about possible motives. “We have no idea what’s in his mind,” he said. “Maybe he hates Christian churches. Maybe he hates black churches or he’s gonna go find another one. Who knows.”

South Carolina Senator and presidential candidate Lindsey Graham questioned whether this was a “hate crime” and tried to suggest factors other than race were involved. “There are real people who are organized out there to kill people in religion and based on race, this guy’s just whacked out,” Graham said on the TV show “The View.” “But it’s 2015. There are people out there looking for Christians to kill them.” (Via)

“I have to do it,” the gunman allegedly told a survivor. “You rape our women and you’re taking over our country. And you have to go.”

In response to the Boston bombing of 2013, Senator Lindsey Graham demanded that the government do everything it could to learn from the attack and prevent future attacks.

This man, in my view, should be designated as a potential enemy combatant and we should be allowed to question him for intelligence gathering purposes to find out about future attacks and terrorist organizations that may exist that he has knowledge of, and that evidence cannot be used against him in trial. That evidence is used to protect us as a nation.

[. . .]

Graham’s reaction to Wednesday’s attack on a black church in his home state of South Carolina was very different. . . .

“I just think he was one of these whacked out kids. I don’t think it’s anything broader than that,” Graham said. “It’s about a young man who is obviously twisted.” (Via)

Oh yes, and this:

Indeed.





Knights in white satin

2 12 2014

Racism just ain’t what it used to be.

Oh, sure, it’s evolved from “savages” and “primitives”, from “nigger nigger nigger” to “we need to cut this”, from Jim Crow to the Southern strategy to voter ID, and, of late, to “race realism” and “human biodiversity” and James-Watson-not-a-racist-in-the-conventional-way, but even the folk who hide behind economic populism and biological science would admit that there are racists in the USA:

They’re called Klan members.

Thus, as long as those race realists (and James Watson) aren’t marchin’ around in white robes or burning crosses on colored folks’ lawns, they’re not racists (at least not in the conventional way).

So what to do when someone posts a picture of a Klan member to his Facebook page and captions it “I’m dreaming of a white Christmas”—and then insists he’s not racist?!

I mean, the KKK is the white-gold standard of racism in America! If the HBD-ers (and James Watson) aren’t able to point to their non-membership in the Klan as evidence of their non-racism, however will they convince people of their good faith and disinterested interpretation of evidence?

The horror.

Or maybe I’ve been wrong all along, and this new KKK≠racism equation proves once and for all that racism no longer exists in America.

At least among white people.





Of flesh and blood I’m made

16 01 2014

What is human?

I got into it with commenter The Wet One at TNC’s joint, who chided me not to, in effect, complicate straightforward matters. I responded that straightforward matters often are quite complicated.

In any case, he issued a specific challenge to claims I made regarding the variability of the human across time and space. This request was in response to this statement:

At one level, there is the matter of what counts as “reasonably concrete realities”; I think this varies across time and place.

Related to this is my disagreement with the contention that those outside of the norm have fallen “within the realm of the ‘human’ for all intents and purposes’. They most assuredly have not and to the extent they do today is due to explicit efforts to change our understanding of the human.

Examples, he asked?

As one of the mods was getting ready to close the thread, I could only offer up the easiest one: questions over the status of embryos and fetuses.

Still, while I think that a reasonable response, it is also incomplete, insofar as it doesn’t get at what and who I was thinking of in writing that comment: people with disabilities.

“People with disabilities”: even that phrase isn’t enough, because “disability” itself isn’t necessarily the apt word.  I had referred in an earlier comment to those whose morphology varied from the statistical norm; not all variations are disabilities in even the strictest sense.

In any case, when I went to my bookshelf to try to pull out specific, referenced, examples, I was stopped by that basic question which set off the whole debate: what is human?

Now, in asking that here I mean: how maximal an understanding of the human? Is to be human to be accorded a certain status and protection (“human rights”)? or is it more minimal, in the sense that one sees the other as kin of some sort, tho’ not necessarily of an equal sort?

Arendt argued for a minimalist sense when she noted there was nothing sacred in the “naked” [of the protections of the law] human, meaning that such status granted no particular privilege. That I both do and do not agree with this is the source of my estoppel.

Kuper in Genocide notes that dehumanization often precedes assault—which suggests that before the one goes after the other, that a kinship is recognized which must then be erased. But maybe not. I don’t know.

Is the human in the recognition? If you are akin to us (and we know that we are human), then we will grant such status (for whatever it’s worth) to you. We might still make distinctions amongst us as to who is superior/inferior, but still grant than an inferior human is still human. There’s something to that—something which I perhaps should have emphasized a bit more than I did in my initial go-’round with TWO.

But I also think are cases in which the kinship might repulse rather than draw in: that disgust or horror (or some kind of uncanny valley) gets in the way of seeing the disgusting/horrid/uncanny one as human. I’m thinking of the work of William Ian Miller and Martha Nussbaum, on disgust, and, perhaps, to various histories of medicine,especially regarding the mentally ill. Perhaps I should dig out that old paper on lobotomy. . . .

Oh, and yet another wrinkle: Insofar as I consider the meaning of the human to vary, I don’t know that one can elide differences between the words used to refer to said humans. “Savage” means one thing, “human” another, and the relationship between the two, well, contestable.

I’m rambling, and still without specific, referenced examples for TWO. I can go the easy route, show the 19th century charts comparing Africans to the great apes, the discussion of so-called “primitive peoples” (with the unveiled implication that such peoples weren’t, perhaps, human people). Could I mention that “orangutan” means “person of the forest”, or is that too glib? Too glib, I think. Not glib is the recent decision to limit greatly the use of chimpanzees in federally-funded research—the extension of protections to our kin, because a kinship is recognized.

And back around again. I don’t know that one can meaningfully separated the identity of  a being from the treatment of the identified being; identification and treatment somersault over and over one another.

So if one protections are offered to one member of H. sapiens and it is withdrawn from another, then it seems to say something about the status of that other: that we don’t recognize you as being one of us. We don’t recognize you as human.

If things can be done to someone with schizophrenia (old term: dementia praecox) or psychosis—various sorts of water or electric shocks, say—that would not be done to someone without these afflictions, then one might wonder whether the schizophrenic or psychotic is, in fact, recognized as human, that as long as the affliction is seen to define the being, then that being is not-quite-human.

Ah, so yet another turn. I allowed for the possibility of superior/inferior humans [which might render moot my examples from eugenics and racism]; what of lesser or more human? Is someone who is less human still human? What does that even mean?

Back to biology. Those born with what we now recognize as chromosomal abnormalities have not and are not always taken in, recognized as being “one of us”. A child with cri-du-chat syndrome does not act like a child without; what are the chances such children have always been recognized as human?

Oh, and I’m not even getting into religion and folklore and demons and fairies and whatnot. Is this not already too long?

I can’t re-read this for sense; no, this has all already flown apart.