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.

Advertisements




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.





Circus Maximus MMXVI: You know you’ll be hearing that sound

1 11 2016

IV. It’s not bad that white working class folks are getting some (sympathetic) attention from the press.

It is bad that it is mainly white working class folks who are getting the attention.

V. However much race and class are fused in the US, they are nonetheless separable. Those in the WWC who embrace Trump do so more in the name of their whiteness than their class.

Have their been breakdowns of union member support for the candidates? Do white union members put class before whiteness? What are the conditions under which white workers choose one candidate over the other?

Unionism is no barrier to racism—not by a long shot—but union membership, to the extent that it raises consciousness of one’s class status, might therefore blunt the primacy of whiteness.

VI. It’s worth pointing out, of course, that, during the primary season, the median income of Trump supporters was $72,000 while that for Clinton (and Sanders) was about 61 grand—in all cases, above the national median income of $56,000. And a Pew poll of general election preferences showed that Clinton did better both among $100,000+ voters (51 to 43%) and those making less than 30 grand (62 to 33%); they more-or-less tied in the two middle income categories.

Given how the Pew survey numbers are presented, however, it is difficult to draw any conclusions about the percentage of white working class voters who support Clinton or Trump. That overwhelming percentages of black and Hispanic voters support Clinton suggests that she’s drawing from all classes. And while Pew didn’t offer any numbers on Asian-American voters, 538 highlights a National Asian American Survey showing a clear movement of most groups away from Republicans and toward Democrats.

On thing that can be concluded is that Democrats are ethnically diverse and Republicans, increasingly, are not.

And that’s going to matter—although how, at this point, I can’t say.

I fear the possibilities.





Show me the color of your right hand, pt II

6 07 2015

I didn’t want to be racist, and knew that whatever good anti-racist politics I might hold, if every black person I saw was every black person, I was a racist.

Cont.

So I figured I needed to get over that, and looked for apartments in, if not wholly black neighborhoods (as in North Minneapolis), then in neighborhoods where black people lived, which at the time included the area around Stevens Square. I took the bus with black people, shopped at stores where black people shopped, hung out in the park where black people hung out, and if I was still the (self-conscious) observer, I was, at least, beginning to see that one black person was not every black person.

It was also at some point in graduate school that I became interested in my own ethnic background, or at least the Irish part of it. I’m more German than Irish, along with Scandinavian, French, and, Polish, but in the 1990s I lay claim to Ireland. It was, I knew, a bit of a pose: I’d been Irish all along, but that had never mattered, and there was nothing particularly Irish about my upbringing, but I loved the Pogues and read Kate O’Brien and scoffed at green beer with the best of them. It was something I chose.

I was Irish. But white? No, that still didn’t make sense, and not in a how-the-Irish-became-white kind of way. It was something I recognized as a social reality—that people would look at me and see a white woman—but I didn’t feel “white”, didn’t know what it meant to be white.

A word about white privilege: I don’t much like the term, not least because it seems to personalize the issue too much, to customize the yawning fabric of white supremacy into a bespoke suit of advantage. It’s not that white privilege isn’t real, but that it isn’t the point: it’s just the final, small echo from the deep, deep well of white supremacy.

White privilege is the erasure of white supremacy, a forgetting that white, too, is a race. To call it a privilege to forget is cast this privilege in the most ironic of shadings: to use the term earnestly, piously, rather than sardonically, savagely, is just another way to dodge one’s own race—to look at the privilege, rather than the whiteness.

What does it mean to be white? What does it mean for me to be white? Again, I can look at social constructions and systems and structures of oppression, but do I know who and how I am as a white woman?

I prefer to talk about ethnicity, these days about how I’m mostly Irish and German, but that, too, is a dodge. I know I’m white, but don’t know I’m white. I see the history of whiteness in the US as a history of negation—this is what we are not—built around qualities and characteristics and people that those who are white are not. It’s not just that, of course, but if I reject the ‘positive’ characterization of whiteness, which is to say, white supremacy, then I don’t know that whiteness has any meaning at all.

I’m not sure about any of this. It seems that I’ve concluded that whiteness (in the US, at least) positively affirmed is white supremacy, that a whiteness without supremacy is a lack.  Is whiteness without blackness a thing of its own? Should it be? I don’t know what a non-supremacist whiteness would mean, that it could mean anything.

I am concerned these days with ontological matters: what does it mean to be? The question ‘what does it mean to be white’ appears as an obstacle, the whiteness obliterating the being. I don’t know if I have to answer this second question in order to get to the primary one. In contrast, I don’t feel as if I have to answer ‘what does it mean to be a woman’, that ‘a woman’ blots out the ‘to be’.

No, there is something about whiteness, a somnolent heaviness which masquerades as weightlessness, a history without a history, which interferes with my ability to make sense.

I’m a white woman, and I don’t know what that means.





Show me the color of your right hand, pt. I

5 07 2015

Ta-Nehisi Coates, after excerpting a story of his experience with racism, has invited his readers to submit their own experiences. A misreading of this invitation (“talk about your experiences with race”)  prompted the following response from me. I thought I’d whittle it down and submit it, but upon re-reading his post, it’s clear my response isn’t on target and so won’t be submitted. Still, I thought it worth posting. Here’s part I:

I didn’t know I was white until I was an adult.

Even now, long into adulthood, I’m not always so sure.

As a kid in the 1970s, growing up in almost completely white town in a mostly white state, I knew I was white—but white meant pale, white was set against tan, not black. White was about the sun, and the more sun—the tanner you were—the better.

I could get a decent tan (we used suntan lotion back in the day, not sunscreen, and only until we had a base tan: then we’d switch over to baby oil), but mostly I found laying out boring. I wanted a tan to look better, to not be white, but it was a hassle not being white. You had to work at not being white, so while I worked enough not to look sickly—pale—I never achieved the glorious tans of some of my friends.

I wasn’t completely oblivious of race back then. We had a t.v., after all, and on trips to or through Milwaukee I would see black people; on family trips around the country I’d encounter black people, and they were utterly other to me. I wasn’t afraid, wasn’t particularly taught to be afraid by my parents, but it was always a little thrilling to talk to a black person like it was a normal thing to do.

*Caveat: I am running off of memory, This is how I remember the experience, today; how I actually experienced it, in the moment, is gone.

“Nigger” was not used in the Peterson household. No nigger jokes, no racial jokes, generally. Did we say “nigger pile” when we three kids jumped into my parents’ bed on Sunday mornings, or were we admonished not to? Did we change the words to “eeny meeny miney moe”? I don’t remember*. I do remember my dad telling us about the separate drinking fountains in San Angelo, Texas, where he served for awhile in the Air Force. There was at least one black man in his unit.

I liked to imagine, later, that it was this experience, along with, perhaps, seeing on t.v. the brutality of white resistance to civil rights protesters, that set my parents against racist talk, but I don’t know. It’s not something we talked much about.

My time at college at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, was my first sustained exposure to black people. Some lived in my dorm, some taught my classes, some worked at The Daily Cardinal, but however friendly we might have been with one another, we weren’t really friends. I was always conscious of their race; I had barely begun to think I, too, had a race.

It wasn’t until graduate school that I thought, truly, to do something about my other-consciousness, which meant admitting my self-consciousness. I remember reading a bit in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune of a white woman who, while waiting for a bus, thrust out her arm and screamed out STOP! at a young black man running up to her, intent, she was sure, on stealing her purse. He was, of course, only running to catch the bus, but this woman justified her scream with a well-he-could-have. . . .

I was scornful of this woman. Of course he was only running to catch the bus, how racist could she be? But if I wouldn’t have screamed like that woman did, I might have had the thought behind the scream. I knew that when I looked at one black person I saw every black person. They were all the same to me, I admitted, and if that wasn’t racism, little was.

I didn’t want to be racist, and knew that whatever good anti-racist politics I might hold, if every black person I saw was every black person, I was a racist.

Cont.





Whoo-oop, just a little bit

1 07 2013

dmf is right: I gotta lay off the blogs that are leading me to screw myself into the ground.

Y’know, Sullivan with his Baldwin-proves-liberals-suck rampage (and before that, Clinton, and Palin, . . .). I don’t disagree with him (that Baldwin’s an asshole, and his Tweet, hateful), but jeez, make the point, and move on.

I mean, Alec Baldwin is an actor. An actor. That’s it. So you don’t like the people who like him, which gives you a chance to get all tribal and everything. Fine. We all get tribal some times. Just. . . own the tribalism, man, and stifle the it’s-the-principle! nonsense.

And Dreher, oy, reading him of late (Paula Deen, Trayvon Martin, liberals always and everywhere) is plucking my last nerves. The meanness, the double-treble-quadruple standards, the pissiness at pushback. . . .

Oy doesn’t begin to cover it.

~~~

Oh, and then there’s this.

Makes me so proud I work for CUNY.

~~~

There’s a difference between motive and intention, isn’t there? It seems that there’s a difference.

Motive is where something starts, and intention is where it leads, right?

Yeah, I think that’s right.

~~~

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.

~~~

Okay, back to Dreher—but to one of those posts that make me go Hmm rather than AAAAAAARGHHH! Namely,  on the problem with ‘the right side of history’ arguments.

Someone as non-whiggish as me casts a similarly skeptical eye on those claims, but skeptic that I am, I go even further: If there is no right side to history (which there isn’t), why the fealty to moralities anchored deep within that history, i.e., traditions?

I mean, isn’t the advocacy of tradition based on a notion of the judgment of history (properly threshed, of course)?

More talking out of my nose, I suppose, and maybe these are really two separate things.

But I kinda think not.