Friday, February 13, 2009

People! Can we talk about race without everyone freaking out?

OK, so the title of this post is fairly provocative, but it has to do with some of the chatter I've been reading on various blogs related to the Miley Cyrus-slant-eye-photo issue.

For those of you out of the loop, about a week ago a photo appeared of Miley Cyrus and her friends making slant-eyed gestures (click here for my original post on this issue).

Racialicious has an interesting comment thread on all of this (click here).

OCA (Organization of Chinese Americans) has a blog & comment thread that is, unfortunately, indicative of the challenges of talking about race in America. In particular, the level of vitriol and anger and bitterness on various threads (click here) and (here) seems particularly troubling. Because it seems as if having anyone talk about racism (or about gestures that are racist or that are racially insensitive) is enough to send other folks telling THEM that they are being OVERSENSITIVE and that they should GET OVER IT.

[Aside: What, exactly, am I supposed to get over? Racism? Happy to oblige! Once racism ends I'll gladly give up this blog and my research on race and call it a day--I'll start writing that article on Jane Austen and gender I started back in grad school (are you going to tell me I have to get over gender?). But in the event that racism--the stickiness and subtle notions of racial privilege and discrimination--don't end overnight, I think my day job is secure, so forgive me if I can't get over "it."]

So what should we do about all this chatter?

Well, my assumption is that if you found your way to a site called "Mixed Race America," you have an interest in issues of race and are open to talking about issues of race and racism.

And if you want to talk about it LIVE and in REAL TIME, I've got an opportunity for you!

I've been invited by a blogger I like and respect A LOT (and feel is a kindred spirit), Tami of What Tami Said (and I should mention she also moderates Anti-Racist Parent) to share some thoughts about inter-racial friendships--the challenges of having friends of various races--of mixed-race friendships you could say. Please tune in to the podcast The Best of What Tami Said this Sunday (February 15) at 4:00pm -- and you can call in and participate in the discussion by calling (646) 716-4672 (click here for Tami's post about the podcast and click here for her post about her friend "Mona"--which is part of the prompt for discussing the challenges of inter-racial friendships).

Tami is an amazing writer, and I've been fortune to develop my own "inter-racial" friendship with her in the blogosphere. We hope you'll tune in and call in with your thoughts on inter-racial friendships this Sunday at 4:00pm!


Jason Clinkscales said...

Jennifer, I'm listening to the conversation at the moment. Despite the reach of the internet, I had no clue about the Miley Cyrus incident and while I don't want to throw darts at her head, I don't want to excuse her because she's still a kid (albeit a very famous one who should have a bit more awareness than others her age).

With that said, since I've been reading this blog along with selective texts about racial relations over the years, I've been wondering about this hope for a conversation about race. I wonder because if anything, I want to know how, if at all, it can be framed.

We have so many forms of communicating, yet as the history of civilization proves, it's rather difficult to gather a mass of people to discuss anything, let alone such a divisive topic as race. While the conversations come up in personal and professional circles, I just wonder how it can be framed.

During the Presidential election, I found myself frustrated with any mention of what makes us 'unique' (any socioeconomic differentiator such as race). This was because while some people became a little more forward to discuss some of our racial history, I wanted everyone on all sides to throw everything on the table from the most public and vocal disputes of white and black relations to the internal battles individual ethnic groups have. I wanted all of us to put out the absolute ugly truth about how we view each other in public and private because it seems as if the words ‘post-racial’ were going to become the most misguided buzzword when the election ended.

While I’m not a negative person by nature (I hope this comment does not come off that way), I’m not looking to why can’t we talk about these ‘isms’. As a person who at times does grow tired of the small-scale conversations, I would rather want to see how it can be done.

Who will be a part of the conversation is an equally daunting question. There’s not only consternation on an ethnic level, but also in terms of education, finances and generation. Publicly these days, it’s the so-called ‘intellectual elite’ that have the power to reach through the various mediums out here. Yet, every single person has some experience with racism – whether it’s an attack, being the attacker or being neutral in the midst of a situation – and we need to find a manner that people of all backgrounds can add their piece, even if none of us want to hear it.

Wow, that was long.

By the way, I have not forgotten the Brandeis post. There's a lot to say about it, for sure.

Jennifer said...

Hi Jason,
Thanks for leaving such a thoughtful and insightful comment. My post, today, was in part prompted by reading your comment above.

I think you are so right about the limited number of opportunities and limited types of conversations that we have about race.

On the up side, part of it could be due to people not wanting to hurt others' feelings unintentionally or sound stupid in front of their friends by asking a racially insensitive question.

On the down side, this caution does seem to stifle honest conversation.

I can tell you that in the classroom, at least in the ones I've been teaching in, the students, while cautious, are also eager to talk about these things, and they hold a really diverse viewpoint and will often call one another out on things so that I don't have to.

And I think it's really from these classroom conversations that I have learned a lot about the kinds of conversations I want to have about race and that I want to facilitate and take part in.

But aside from the random classes I teach, where are these conversations going to happen--that seems to be part of the question and concern you are raising, and of course I have no answer.

But the hopeful part of me thinks that maybe this blog is part of that conversation and that commenters and lurkers alike will find ways in their everyday lives to talk about these things and create spaces. And maybe one of us will become powerful and influential enough to try to have conversations that occur in larger forums.

But the other thing about this is I do think that some of the most intense and gratifying conversations happen in small groups or 1:1--so part of the challenge of having a larger group or a national forum would be in trying to replicate that small, intimate communication. To make it safe for people to ask all sorts of questions and say the things they want to say and for others to respond and hear them.

For us to air all our dirty laundry and have it be OK and if we jump on one another from time to time, to also have us hug one another from time to time as reassurance.

Ideal? Yes. But I guess I just have to hope that this can happen because I can't bear the thought of it not happening.