Tuesday, April 6, 2010

We have always been a mixed race America

Last week Thursday, on April 1, after seeing the kind of prank that Google was playing by changing their name to Topeka, I decided to pull my own little joke by writing an April Fool's post that announced that I'd be changing the name of my blog from Mixed Race America to One Race America, and I explained the rationale for the change by citing the standard cliches that people use to discount the idea that racism still prevails as an underlying system of oppression in U.S. society and culture.

I assumed most people would understand that I was clearly being facetious/joking/not serious. And many regular readers did realize that it was part of an April 1 prank, even if their initial reaction was one of horror and disbelief (to my regular readers, sorry for the scare but glad you realized that I would never seriously espouse those sentiments!). What was interesting were the comments from non-regular readers or first-time readers (since I don't recognize the commenters I'm not sure if they only recently discovered this blog or somehow stumbled upon it for the first time). For these folks, who clearly came to the blog intrigued by the name and hoping to find some dialogue about race, it must have been so disappointing and shocking to read the kind of trite platitudes about race that tells us we should stop talking about race because it only upsets folks and that if we ignore race then racism will disappear because those of us who are constantly mentioning race and racial issues are the real racists.

We have all heard this kind of nonsense. I've been called a racist numerous times in the past few years, and each time I just look at the person and think "Really???!!! YOU are calling ME a racist???!!!" because I have to say that in the last few years the person calling me a racist was always a white person and they were telling me that my mentioning of race and racism was the real problem.

It is a pretty thought--that if we just stop talking about race then racism would disappear. Problem is: we've tried it, and to the best of my knowledge, it hasn't helped. And saying love sees no color is ridiculous. Of COURSE love sees color. Love is not color blind. Neither are people. The thing we should say is love sees ALL colors and doesn't CARE what they are. Or shouldn't care--I mean, lets face it, since it took the Supreme Court to protect this right, inter-racial marriages and unions are a relatively new thing, and those who openly identify as mixed-race have also only had the last 2 census counts to really make themselves understood as such.

As the title of my post says, we've always been a mixed race America. Whether by blood quantum or simply through proximity--by having friends, neighbors, loved ones, people in our community, in our nation--we've always been a multiple people. And I include the original inhabitants of this land as well--Indigenous Americans were never monolithic either--the Navajo, Inuit, Cherokee, and Ogonquin are all very different tribes. And in the 21st century we find ourselves aligned in various tribal units, by ethnicity and race, by gender and sexuality, by class, region, culture. But that doesn't mean we all still can't get along and that we shouldn't all still try to get along. However, getting along means we need to understand that some of us have more privilege than others--wield more power than others--have more access to resources than others. Only by recognizing this can we then claim a common humanity through our shared differences.


Rev. Paul Wolff said...

I think you are missing the point about racism. It doesn't seem as if you have thought out very well what race and racism is. What it is that defines race? Skin color? All people's skin color is determined by one thing: the amount of melanin pigment in the skin. However, skin color isn't an all-or-nothing, yes-or-no kind of thing. Not only is there an infinite range of skin colors in the one human race, but skin color varies within the same family, and even in the individual at various stages of his life. To put it simply, to make racial distinctions based on skin color is to use a superficial criterion to divide people where no real differences exist.

You complain that people say, "if we just stop talking about race then racism would disappear." That is a straw-man argument. You are correct to dismiss that, but that isn't the point of those who call your views racist. The point is not that we stop "talking" about race, the point is that we stop making racial divisions where none exist in reality.

If racial distinctions are based on factors which are common to us all (like skin color) then there isn't really such a thing as multiple races. So to hold to such distinctions is to be racist because this idea divides people arbitrarily.

When people make such false distinctions then they also imply that one "race" is better than another. This cannot be avoided. Once you have divided people into "races" you have already made a value judgment so more will certainly follow. If there are multiple races then one has to be favored over another. That is where the evil of racism really shows its ugly head (though it is all evil.) It could be that the favored race is the majority (like 19th century America) or the minority (like 20th century South Africa or present day America), but it doesn't matter who is favored - racism is always evil.

Don Short said...

Race is not the issue as much as ethnic culture is. The ideal is to live the "American way" and comport to its mores and social dynamic.

As such, the far right abhor cultural diversity in the unsubstantiated notion that the American culture will go away if this movement is left unchecked.

Yet, the United States celebrates diversity with Columbus Day, St. Patrick's Day, Cinque de Mayo, and a host of other "days" designed to pay homage to the various cultures that comprise our homogenous American culture.

People here are just not ready to accept other people's way of life choosing to exercise a form of Manifest Destiny to embue a certain ethos and standard of beauty that diminishes the source culture for the elevation and retention of the target culture.

When this realization is finally shown for what it is, ala, Dr. King, Malcolm X, et al and how Ghandi showed the British just how inane it was to believe in their own superiority, America will wake up and be chastened and better for it all.

Jennifer said...

Rev. Paul Wolff,

Thank you for your impassioned comment. I certainly think that we are both of the mind that racism is an evil and that we should work towards educating and ending racism.

With that said, I also believe that we come from very different intellectual and moral perspectives on this issue. I take it from your title that you are of the Christian faith. My own faith tends to be along a Buddhist spiritual trajectory, although I trend more towards agnosticism/doubt more than anything else.

I also have a definition of racism that is not predicated on skin color--I would like to encourage you to read the posts on the side bar that highlight past things that I've written about the definition of racism and about power and about race. This is where I'm coming from and where I invite people to dialogue with me about. If you have a different perspective, that's fine--you can use your blog to argue from that point-of-view but I will ask that you respect my definition of racism and race in my blog/my space, which is shared by many regular readers of this blog.

Finally, I must disagree whole heartedly with your assertion that

"Once you have divided people into "races" you have already made a value judgment so more will certainly follow. If there are multiple races then one has to be favored over another."

Racial divisions don't cause racism. The system of racism produced racial divisions. Whether we recognize or don't recognize that there are racial categories isn't going to make race disappear nor is it "inevitible" or "natural" to always rank one race above the other. I don't rank colors--I mean colors. I am not partial to pink, but I don't think that pink is an inferior color to blue (a favorite color of mine) or red (another favorite color). I don't rank letters of the alphabet. I like "J" since my first name begins with this letter, but I don't think it's a better letter than "M" or "X." Categories don't necessary connote hierarchy--one nation is not better than another unless we flawed humans say it is so. One race is not better than another unless we create hierarchies that allow for this false notion to be perpetuated through institutional and systemic racism.

Again, please read my other posts and then if you want to dialogue more, I'd love to hear from you.

Rev. Paul Wolff said...

You say that you have a definition of racism that is not predicated on skin color, but your essays frequently speak the language of "black" and "white" as if both of these accurately describe certain types of people rather than both being gross exaggertations of the infinite variety of brown skin color which is common to all members of the human race. I have tried to read your key essays which explain your definition of race and racism, but nowhere do I find where you give a clear definition of racism.

It is very telling that you say "Racial divisions don't cause racism" but it doesn't tell me what does cause racism. What exactly is the "system of racism" that you say produces racial divisions? If it isn't the idea that there are real racial distinctions between people (and thus inherent superiority and inferiority among the races) then there is not now nor has there ever been any problem of racism in America nor any other place.

What follows is my view of some of your key articles on racism:

Definining Racism (January 14, 2008)
Neither this post nor any of the linked essays actually give a clear definition of racism. One must infer what you are saying when you describe "racism."

Talking about race (July 9, 2007)
"Why is it so hard to talk about race?" It is hard to talk about race because racism is so prevalent in our culture that the discussion inevitably puts one above or below another and that is how racism hurts.

Can I be racist? (August 28 2007)
The Marxist definition of racism so common in our universities ("only wielded by those within the power structure of a given society") is very self-serving, but does not include all forms of racism. I am still a racist if I say, "Woe is me! I am a poor oppressed member of [my particular race] but at least I take comfort in the fact that I am morally superior to [some other race] because I am not oppressing them as they are oppressing me (at least until I gain political or military power and make them pay for their wickedness).

Individual Bigotry & Institutional Racism (November 11, 2007)
Again, a Marxist definition which seems to suggest that only those who are "white" can be racist. How convenient for those of us who are not considered "white"!

Getting rid of race (December 14, 2007)
In this article you seem to embrace my definition of racism (i.e. any false division of the human race), but you deny that in your comment above.

Reverse Racism (January 8, 2008)
You don't say much in this short essay about reverse racism, although your closing comment seems to promote racism in a reversed direction. You also praise the apparent Marxist views of Scott E Page. I see Racism as the problem, not the solution. You can't fight racism with racism. You can't get less racism this way, only more. In other words, apartheid (enslaving the majority) is no less evil than enslaving the minority.

I appreciate affirmative action (February 6, 2008)
Of course you do! This is why racism is so prevalent and pervasive in American society. It is so seductive that no one can resist it. It never begins with hate, it begins with one only wanting what is best for one's own race (as you put it, "a re-orientation of values and priorities"), but if favoring one race at the expense of another is good then more is better and before you know it you are oppressing the disfavored race(s).

"Race" or just Race (January 18, 2008)
Again, you had the opportunity to define race & racism, and you just talk around the issue. Even in your comments after awaiting others' responses you say you are going to define racism, but you never actually give a clear definition of what exactly racism is.

Jennifer said...

Rev. Paul Wolff,

I don't have time to answer your post point by point since I am trying to catch up on work before leaving for a conference at 6am tomorrow a.m.

Let me direct you to 3 books:
*Paul Rothenberg's WHITE PRIVILEGE
*Eduardo Bonilla-Silva's RACISM WITHOUT RACISTS -- this last one is especially pertinent in answering all of your concerns.

Finally, I have to tell you that your tone does not invite open dialogue. You seem unduly confrontational and a tad disrepectful of my opinions and I don't understand why you are choosing to be so aggressive and overbearing in your comments.

As I indicated in my first response, please try to respect my definitions of racism and the rules of this blog. If you continue to post comments that seem that you just want to argue with me and not dialogue, I won't be posting your comments.

Greg said...

Entirely separate from the question of the biological reality of race, its social and psychological realities are absolutely undeniable. It is the valuation of some categories over others that make these realities so poignantly clear for some people; those lacking such perceptions should consider themselves lucky, but should have enough empathy to at least try to understand others' perspectives.

The existence (or even the artificial imposition) of categories does not in any way entail valuation or ranking of those categories. Likening race to language, one might view categorization as useful insofar as it gives shape and meaning to diversity. Saying there is just one race among humans is akin, in my opinion, to saying there is just one language among humans. Languages of the world, like physical/biological features of humans, vary along infinite axes -- where to draw lines and boxes can be debated till time's end (and different perspectives will give way to different approaches), but the diversity that actually exists should not be dismissed or ignored; rather, it should be valued -- if not for its beauty, then for its utility in validating all manifestations of the human experience.

david said...

Interesting discussion between you and Rev. Paul. His arguments I have heard before, some are mute points; yes we are one race...the human race. Unless one of us is Martian.

I agree with most things on your post, yes we are made up of different peoples or "tribal units" but at the end of the day, at our base, we are Americans. I may be speaking in platitudes, but, we all reside in America.

Also, I think that love is color blind because it allows us to date outside of our familiarities(race, class, religion, etc). We can have the ability to date whoever we want.

Whether we act on it is our choice. Sometimes I think that people need to act on it to open up their options. That's for another time though.

Anonymous said...

I know I promised a more coherent response, but right now, I feel like this is just as valid and important to name.

This conversation? Is frustrating, and enraging. And I'm more than a little disgusted with y'all.

That a white dude (that would be you, Rev. Paul Wolff) feels comfortable enough to come to the blog of an anti-racist person who teaches anti-racism and accuse her of "not having thought out very well what race and racism is [sic]" smacks of condescension and privilege. That another white dude (hello again, David) also feels comfortable enough to come in here and talk blithely about how we are all "the human race" despite having been offered, several times in different threads, explanations of why that statement is problematic and insufficient also smacks of condescension and privilege.

Frankly, I'm amazed that Jennifer allowed either of your comments to be posted. I understand that her moderation policy is more geared toward education and dialogue than, say, mine, and that will mean doing the 101-stuff over and over again. But I have to say, I feel like y'all have taken advantage of her hospitality and openness in a way that is very specifically white, and very specifically male.

Rev. Paul Wolff, let me spell it out for you, since you are apparently incapable of "inferring" from previous posts: the definition of race and racism that Jennifer and other anti-racist activists are using is that race is a social consciousness and racism is a systemic, institutional issue predicated on the equation that prejudice + power = oppression. Go do some more homework - Jennifer's provided you with lots of helpful places to start, and to that I'll add my favourite reclist of Anti-Racism 101 posts.

And in the meantime, please, pull up your pants. Your ass is showing.

Temple said...

This post is trawesome! And I love this:

I read & enjoy you regularly.

david said...

@sarahspeaking, I think you're reading way too much into my post. I was partly commenting on the discussion between the Rev. and Jennifer. Where the Rev. says that we're all humans is true, and I address that as a mute point, but beyond that there are differences between us such as racism.

Truth be told, I'm a recent new comer to Jennifer's blog so I haven't read most of her past posts. That being said, it isn't correct to assume that I was taking advantage of her hospitality and openness in a white, male way.

Anonymous said...

@davidh: Okay, fair enough. I redact what I said regarding your comments about "the human race." You did, however, make a similar and no less problematic statement in claiming that "we are all Americans." While this is true in one sense, it is unequivocally not true in another. The experiences that people of colour have in this country demonstrate that we are continually assumed to be lesser Americans, or, in the case of Asian Americans, Perpetual Foreigners.

And yes, it is entirely fair to point out that what you are doing is coming from a place of white, male privilege. Specifically, you have come into a space operated by a woman of colour who has asked (repeatedly) that commenters respect the premises from which she operates (i.e., that racism exists, that it is based on these specific factors, etc.), and instead of doing the necessary homework to at least gain an understanding of that framework and to abide by her wishes in working within it, you wander in to any old post and leave comments that thoroughly demonstrate your ignorance of the topics presented and the lenses through which she is interpreting them. Worse, you continue to do this even after having had specific items explained to you, and resources presented by which you might further your education.

That. Is. Privilege.

It is the privilege of assuming that everyone is entitled to your opinion; of assuming that what you, as a white man, have to say about the topic is equal or superior to what a woman of colour (who has legit, real-world credentials to which she can point that prove the depth to which she has studied and considered these issues); of assuming that you can make the same mistakes, and expect an educated, measured response each time, instead of getting your tail handed to you.

You want the benefit of the doubt. She's been giving it to you. She's given it to Rev. Paul Wolff in spades. The least you could do is demonstrate respect for that doubt by making an attempt to actually accept the education she has been so thoughtfully providing.

Go read the last paragraph again. Specifically, the piece where she writes: getting along means we need to understand that some of us have more privilege than others--wield more power than others--have more access to resources than others. Only by recognizing this can we then claim a common humanity through our shared differences.

That's what you're missing, that understanding. Start there.

(Jennifer: I will totally understand if you'd rather not publish this. I'm trying to respect the spirit of your commenting guidelines and educate rather than depreciate, but I know that my tone will come across as possibly "too strong." If you'd prefer I can make this into a separate post on my own blog to avoid potentially driving traffic away from yours - let me know.)

Rev. Paul Wolff said...

The comment above by sarahspeaking illustrates my points very well. I never said I was "white." In fact, I said that was a gross exaggeration for anyone, yet this person dismisses my ideas because of some preconceived notion that I am "white" (or maybe it is because I am a man. Neither are valid for dismissing my arguments.)

I never criticized Jennifer for being anti-racist. That is commendable as far as it goes. I criticized Jennifer for not being against ALL racism. Look at it this way: If I say that I was against all racism except that which benefits me, would I still be a racist? Yes! I am against racism even where it benefits me.

sarahspeaking defines racism as "a systemic, institutional issue predicated on the equation that prejudice + power = oppression." This is pretty much what I inferred from Jennifer's blogs. I am only saying that prejudice = racism. Adding power to the equation truly does makes it worse, but racial prejudice is wrong even without the added problem of power.

Jennifer (and some of her readers) seems uncomfortable with my passion. I am sorry for that. I see racism as a primarily spiritual issue. I work in Detroit and I see daily the injuries brought about by racism. It is true that it is complicated by the abuse of power, but much of the damage done to the people of Detroit every day is the result of the evil of racism done in the name of anti-racism. Those oppressors in power now are the ancestors of those oppressed long ago, but they learned the wrong lesson. Racism is the problem, not the solution. "Reverse racism" is still racism, it is just racism which is aimed in a different direction. The racism in Detroit doesn't hurt me directly, but it hurts the people I love - the people of Detroit. So please understand my passion.

The failure to acknowledge racism for what it truly is only results in the perpetuation of racist evils.

I must say also that I don't appreciate the ad hominem argument by the commentor above. I never said anything disparaging about Jennifer as a person, nor her readers. I only want to strengthen her logic. I appreciate that in her responses to my comments Jennifer addressed the ideas that I expressed and not what she may have imagined about me as a person based on a tiny photo accompanying my comments. This is how civilized dialogue is conducted.

Jennifer said...

Rev Wolff,

Your last posting will also be the last one I allow on this comment thread, and possibly on my blog. I debated about posting it, but as an educator, specifically an anti-racist educator, I wanted to leave it up as an example of the kind of derailing rhetorical strategies that many Well Intentioned White Liberals (and yes, I'm calling you a Well Intentioned White, Liberal--you can search for a previous post on this subject if you like--because based partly on your phenotype but greatly on the language you have used in your comments in trying to distinguish between racism and "white racism" I believe that you probably identify as white, whether that is, as you note, a gross oversimplification or not).

You see, regardless of how you personally identify or what your beliefs are about racial categories, the truth is, you appear to be someone who is white and male--you may, in fact, identify as transgender or as American Indian--in which case, I humbly apologize. But even if you do identify as transgender and American Indian, because your appearance is of a white male, in the U.S. this means that you benefit from a systemic and institutional privileging that automatically confers on you certain benefits, whether you earned them or not and whether you want them or not.

That is the crux of white privilege. The male part is the belief that you can wield your opinions in an authoritative manner--and again, I don't have the space nor time (still at a conference) to parse out the language of your comments, but it comes across as very assertive to the point of aggressive and domineering to the point of being overbearing.

Granted, this may be my own interpretation and hence reaction, but it is my blog and my opinions are valid. And if you don't believe my opinions are valid, you are free not to read my blog or leave more comments.

As for me not appreciating your "passion" I liken that argument to my students telling me I don't appreciate their creative use of commas. It's a rationalization and a deflection technique. I've repeatedly told you that I found your tone to be disrespectful. That you choose to argue with me and throw it back at me as a lack of appreciation for your "passion" (and we can assert other words like zealotry or hyperbole) does not take into account that I do not find your comments in the spirit of a dialogue; rather, you seem to want to produce a diatribe and argue with me.

I don't need my logic strengthened (a condescending statement, particularly by a man to a woman). I don't need you to educate me about racism--I've been working in this field for quite some time, beginning when I was an undergraduate at UC Santa Barbara in the late 1980s. I don't need you to come into my space and tell me that my definition of racism is wrong, particularly when there are many empathetic and smart people who write about race and racism in the exact terms that I do.

And racism is NOT the same as prejudice. The fact that you continue to assert this demonstrates that you aren't looking for a real exchange--you are looking to "correct" what you falsely perceive to be my "wrong" ideas about race and racism.

Finally, I don't want to speak for sara speaking, but what she was doing is calling you out on your privilege--she was trying to tell you, albeit it in a very direct way (and perhaps you are not used to women of color speaking to you in such a manner?) that you are not hearing me and that perhaps your tone deafness comes from the subject position you hold as one who has the luxury of believing, absolutely, in his own authority.

And if you can't appreciate her passion or mine, then I am sorry that we can't continue to have an exchange--but feel free to come back when you are ready to listen and not just sermonize.

Anonymous said...

Piggybacking on Jennifer's comment, can I also just point out, dear Reverend, that it's incredibly rude and uncivilized to speak about someone as though she is not part of the conversation? I addressed you directly. The least you could do is show the same courtesy.

Also, that you cannot even get my name right says loads about the degree to which you actually intended to participate here in good faith.

david said...

Regarding my opinions, I'm just stating them. I don't expect people on this blog to agree with them or even to except them. I am ignorant on racial issues because of my very limited experience with racism and, also, because of my age. So I apologize if my comments overreach or seem to be superior because I use my own personal, very limited, experiences to comment on topics on this blog.

As to reading other posts, I tend to jump into things w/out doing some homework first. Although I have started other posts, I really like the discussions on those, it's a lot stuff to take in because there's so much information.