We Need to Talk About Whiteness

Lots of white people want that identity to be boring, lifeless, and almost hidden. Lots of white people want to not talk about whiteness because they think that white privilege isn’t worth talking about. They think that focusing on other races – the ones suffering from this privilege – are the real place to effect change.

We can’t make a change unless we change whiteness too. Whiteness may be the privileged position, but that means it has more history, more substance than we’re talking about.

Race means a whole hell of a lot in America. We might not want it to mean so much, but it does.

Whiteness isn’t nothing. Whiteness dominates our societal “norms” and our visions of America. For too long, being white has been the default. We need to challenge this. We need to challenge the language of whiteness. We need to use “white” as a real, meaningful term instead of a default.

What does it mean?

Too many white people think they can describe someone without race when they’re white, but fail to do the same for Black, Asian, Hispanic, or any perceived “other.” Too many times, I’ve heard a story where the person’s appearance includes a whispered, “Black” or a strangely, almost mimed “Asian.” I’ve never heard someone whisper that so-and-so was … white. But a lot of so-and-sos are white.

What does it mean? Why are white people scared of saying that someone was black, and unaware of marking whiteness?

Racial-profiling is real. It is pervasive. It is often subconscious. It is ruining and ending lives.

I am white. I am a woman. I am short and rarely, if ever, a perceived threat.

If I lock myself out of my car, strangers will assist me, police will believe me – no one will accuse me of anything.

If a member of my neighborhood watch saw me walking alone at night, hoodie or no hoodie, heavy bags or empty arms, smile or menacing glare, that person would likely ask if I needed anything. They wouldn’t ask me what in the hell I was doing there?

If I walked up to a stranger’s home and knocked on the door, they would not fear me. They might offer me a phone, assistance with a flat tire, or even give me directions. At worst, they would think I might want to sell them something or talk about Jesus. They would not shoot me.

I am the perceived victim of all altercations. I’ve been in bar fights and street scuffles. I have always, always been the person others offer to help. The men involved has always been assumed guilty. (In these situations, I perceive the men I fought or argued with to be at fault too, but the strangers around us never questioned me.) When I have felt threatened in public and private, all outsiders involved have sided with me and offered me help.

I am not Trayvon Martin. I will never be murdered for looking suspicious.

What does it mean, I ask? What can we learn?

What can we CHANGE?

No one is surprised when I speak with eloquence. No one is surprised by my successes.

If you are white and reading this, I challenge you. I challenge you to not see this as something from which you are free. You are part of this. Even if you have never said, “Wow. You speak so well.” Even if you think you would never profile someone, assume someone’s intent, or suspect someone based on their race. I challenge you to examine your privilege. You are privileged. You cannot deny that. I challenge you to watch yourself. I challenge you to watch others. I challenge you to challenge racism – even when it’s subtle, unclear, or seemingly “harmless.” I challenge you to challenge your friends – of all colors. I challenge you to challenge your parents and elders when they use language, terms, or stereotypes. Yes, it’s nice to think that they just inherited language or don’t know that certain things are problematic. But, it’s not okay. Challenge them. Challenge them and educate them. I challenge you to make a real change in this society. I challenge you to expect more.

We all – all people – need to do better. We need to challenge every slur, every little joke, every tiny detail of our understandings of race. Racism is real. Racism is killing – literally killing – our children.

Being white isn’t meaningless. That privilege is so much more than history. That privilege walks with me into job interviews, down streets at night, in the aisle of every supermarket, convenience store, and department store. That privilege drives with me, walks with me, talks with me.

We have to change something.

What does it mean? How do we change it?

Let’s start with words.

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More to consider:

I feel like we need to start thinking about race across a spectrum. The black/white divide we always get totally obscures other people and groups (Latino/as, Asians, Native Americans and other indigenous folks, etc.). It is truly problematic to me that white is the default for so many; we should also investigate how deeply that runs.

Also, asking people to think about whiteness as a category of privilege and taxonomy seems only part of the issue. I feel like we hear a lot about white privilege. We know we have it, but what do we do about it? This is what has always stumped me. How do you actively acknowledge your privilege and, at the same time, avoid being complacent without socially or economically shooting yourself in the foot (which seems to help no one)?

Furthermore, what does it mean to further taxonomize oneself (‘I’m Polish,’ for example) when you’re already white?

You’re never allowed to use the n-word. (So you should shut your mouth.)

First thing’s first: I’m very pleased that President Obama won his bid for re-election.  I am not a Romney fan and I am (obviously) a pretty hardcore liberal.  That’s right everyone, I love my rights and lady business and social programs and gays and minorities and taxes and environmental activism and rights and all kinds of other liberal shit.  I support marriage equality.  I support the Dream Act.  I support legalizing weed.  Okay, so now my bias has been addressed.

But here’s the thing, being liberal doesn’t mean you get to say the n-word.  And here’s the other thing, disagreeing with President Barack Obama (or any other person you might label as black) doesn’t mean you get to call them the n-word.  Unless you are black, don’t say.  Just don’t.

It’s pretty simple: if you are a white person, you don’t get to say the n-word.  

I’m white, and I’m not even going to type it.  Why?  Because I don’t get to use that word.  It’s not unfair.  It’s not a problem.  It’s not hard at all.  I’ve never once felt like I needed to do so, and I never will.  I don’t think there is any reason, even if I’m trying to talk about it academically, to actually use it.

Just don’t use it.

After the election, there were so, so many people on twitter and elsewhere who felt entitled to use that word.  Why?  Because they were mad that Barack Obama won the election.  Oh, and because they are racists, they called him the n-word.  These people largely claimed that they were just expressing an opinion, and that using that word doesn’t make them racist necessarily.  Maybe that’s true in some situations – like maybe you’re at a concert and you’re singing along to lyrics that include that word – okay, I still wouldn’t do it, but you’re not necessarily racist because of it.  However, if you’re pissed off about something and use the n-word to insult a person, then you’re a racist.  It’s pretty simple.

Others have claimed that it’s not “fair” that black people get to use the n-word while not-black-people aren’t afforded the same privilege.  If you or anyone you know thinks this, give it a moment to stew.  Just think it over for a second.  Presumably most of these people are white, and they think it isn’t fair that black people get to say the n-word.  They’re mad because that’s not fair.  They’re mad because black people are doing something that white people can’t.  (Pause to think.)  If you didn’t reach the following conclusion, you need to take a college course, watch some documentaries about the 1800s, or 1700s, or most of the 1900s, or just give up: white people are privileged, have been discriminatory and hateful, and owned slaves for hundreds of years.  Remember the whole “segregation” thing you read about in high school?  Yeah, that was like 50 years ago.  It was real.  I think white people can give up a few words; that seems a lot easier than hundreds of years of slavery, discrimination, and marginalization.

You can think of other words.

There are so many other words to use if you’re mad at someone.    Here are some examples.

  1. Jerk.
  2. Stupid-head.
  3. Asshole.
  4. Dummy.
  5. Ignorant.
  6. Simple-minded.
  7. Wrong.
  8. Uninformed.
  9. Fool.
  10. Racist.

If you are a white person trying to justify the use of a racial slur, shut up.  You have no reason to use it.  You have no excuse.  You are being racist, ignorant, and wrong.

If you’re wondering if you can use it in special circumstances, you can’t.  Nope.  Not okay.  Even if you’re the token white friend in a group of black friends and everyone around you is chummy and using that word in a nice, friendly way… you still can’t say it.  Even if you and your friends are all making jokes about ALL the races, you still can’t use it.

Sort of like you wouldn’t say the f-word in the grocery store in front of a bunch of kids… you know, except way worse and completely different.

There were a lot of people using the internet (via twitter, facebook, and all other forums, I’m sure) to complain about the results of the election, which I understand.  Americans have the right to express their opinion.  That said, Americans don’t have the right to be racist or hateful.  There are not rights to attack people via social media – cyber bullying is an actual crime.  People are not protected when making threats or speaking words of violence.  Racist speech, while not technically illegal, should be shamed.  It’s already shameful, and the rest of us should make sure those who use hate speech are shamed for it.

You’re a racist.  Shut up.

Seriously, it’s 2012.  There is no excuse for racism.  There is no need for it.  If you are a racist, if you use racial slurs, if you think it’s okay to make jokes about other races, etc. you should be ashamed of yourself.  Shut up.

 

A Hobo is not a Halloween costume

Halloween: the chance, once a year, to pretend to be someone you’re not. I like to think Halloween costumes say a lot about a person. They also say a lot about what we think but never say.

Take this, for instance:
I saw a picture recently of friends of friends of friends dressed up for Halloween. They were supposed to be homeless, complete with “Will Work for Food” signs, tattered jeans, and worn out flannel. Similarly, I see people every year wearing sombreros and telling people their costume is “A Mexican.” Or folks who stick some feathers in their braid and throw on a pair of moccasins to be “An Indian.”

Not okay.

Halloween apparently is not only a time to “be someone else” for a day (or two, or three, depending on how many times you celebrate), it’s time to let our collective, offensive, racist American id run wild because it’s hopped up on too many Reese’s peanut butter pumpkins and Four Loko. Do I think these people mean to be offensive? No, likely not. Really they just want to shotgun some Busch Lights and hook up with the cute guy in the “Where’s Waldo?” costume. Being an historical figure (who is, perhaps, Native American or Mexican/Latino) would be one thing, but to say “I’m (ethnic stereotype – regardless of negative, neutral, or positive implications)!” is short-sighted, foolish, and–well–racist.

There’s a certain responsibility that comes along with picking and putting on a costume; any costume you wear inevitably says something about you and your attitude toward other people. Choosing insensitive costumes matters. Just ask the employees of Steven J. Baum’s firm in Buffalo, New York. These geniuses thought that it was a good idea to dress up as homeless people and create fake sections of foreclosed homes at their office Halloween party. Are you outraged? Yes, you likely are. And so should you be. At the same time, however, these people dressing up as homeless people for Halloween is not much, if any, worse than when people who aren’t legal actors in the foreclosure crisis do it.

This Halloween, dress up. Go out. Drink Four Loko to your little heart’s content, and stuff your face with Kit Kats, Snickers, Reese’s pumpkins, and everything in between. Just try not to be your own id.

Gabby Douglas: Incredible Olympian, Adorable Human, Great Hair

This is Gabby Douglas.  She is an adorable human being.  She is also a powerhouse Olympian who just won the GOLD MEDAL in all-around women’s gymnastics.  Thus, she’s kind of a big deal.

OLYMPIC GOLD, PEOPLE.

A lot of people are excited that she won the gold medal, and I am definitely among them.  I love seeing an American take home the gold, but what is even more special about this particular victory is that Gabby Douglas is the first black athlete to win gold at the Olympics for gymnastics.  She will be getting a whole bunch of endorsements in the coming months and years, and she deserves it.

What doesn’t she deserve?  Being criticized for her hair.

Apparently, her hair has become an issue.

As many bloggers, tweeters, writers, and people that don’t matter have weighed in – her hair doesn’t matter at all.  She matters a lot.  Her hair, however, is of no consequence.  In fact, no Olympian’s hair is really of any consequence.  Olympians usually have the hair of people mid-workout… You know, ’cause they’re in the middle of playing sports.

Here are examples of other Olympian’s hair:

Shawn Johnson, Olympian

So, is this hair fine?  It seems fine to me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nastia Liukin, Olympian

And, is her hair okay?

 

 

 

 

 

 

My point is, I’m pretty sure her hair look fine.  She’s pretty sure too.  Here’s what she said, “What’s wrong with my hair?” (Great question.) “I’m like, ‘I just made history and people are focused on my hair?’ It can be bald or short; it doesn’t matter about my hair.” Her advice to anyone who thinks it’s worth debating? “Nothing is going to change. I’m going to wear my hair like this during beam and bar finals. You might as well just stop talking about it,” she said.

She so darn impressive.  Shut up about her hair.

When I see this picture, I am simply stunned.  I am certainly not thinking about her hair.

Dude. That’s impressive.

Say all you want, this Olympian will be laughing all the way to the bank.

Hoodies don’t kill people. People kill people.

This morning I caught wind of comments Geraldo Rivera made on the recent shooting death of Trayvon Martin in Florida. For those who aren’t familiar, the teen was walking in a Florida neighborhood toward his step-mother’s home with a box of candy in his hand when a neighborhood watch member called 911 to report a “suspicious” person in the neighborhood and proceded to follow Martin. He shot the teen (the 911 tapes present a case that appears as if he held Martin screaming for his life at gunpoint before shooting him) in the chest and claimed “self-defense.” Because of the gun laws currently in place in Florida, the shooter has not been charged or arrested for murdering this young man.

This has spurred some discussion nationally about gun laws, vigilantism, and race/racial relations (Martin was black. The shooter was, I believe, white or Latino). Geraldo Rivera weighed in on this event on Fox and Friends recently:

“I am urging the parents of black and Latino youngsters particularly not to let their children go out wearing hoodies. I think the hoodie is as much responsible for Trayvon Martin‘s death as much as George Zimmerman was […] Trayvon Martin, God bless him, an innocent kid, a wonderful kid, a box of Skittles in his hands. He didn’t deserve to die. But I bet you money, if he didn’t have that hoodie on, that nutty neighborhood watch guy wouldn’t have responded in that violent and aggressive way.”

In other words, in Rivera’s opinion, hoodies kill people. Yes, because some guy apparently decided to make the connection between an item of clothing that the majority of people across the nation have worn at some point–the hooded sweatshirt–and  crime, black and Latino kids shouldn’t wear them. What??!

Rivera’s logic is akin to saying women shouldn’t wear short skirts because they’re “asking” to be raped. Clothes don’t cause crimes. They don’t. People commit crimes. People act in violent ways. People make the decision to kill, to rape. Not clothing. Blaming the victim gets us nowhere when the conversation should be focused on whether or not Florida’s laws protect its citizens from harm, or whether the way the laws are written prevent guilty parties from being held responsible for their actions. In this case, they seem to be preventing a man who stalked an innocent young man down a public street because he felt that the young man looked “suspicious” fro being held responsible for what he has done. Suspicion should not warrant cause to shoot and kill someone–ESPECIALLY a child–in cold blood.

Furthermore, why just “black and Latino youngsters”? If Rivera hasn’t cued us all in that race played a huge role in the relative “suspicion” of Trayvon Martin walking around a relatively upscale Florida neighborhood, then I don’t know what will. But why is he blaming minority youth for a problem that obviously lies in the perception of black and Latino youth by white America? It’s NOT okay for people to jump to conclusions based on race! Haven’t we had this conversation over and over? Do we really need to have it again because Rivera is giving racism a free pass by blaming hoodie-wearing black kids for being shot in broad daylight carrying candy and nothing else? Why are we blaming Trayvon Martin for his clothes when we should be charging a racist murderer for a heinous, disgusting, and deplorable crime?

You’re Not Funny, You’re Offensive

There are many people who are easily offended. Their comedy sensibilities are seriously lacking, and instead of seeing the funny element of a joke, they concentrate on the stereotype being presented, and thus categorize the joke as “offensive.” This is not entirely accurate. However, all joking aside (I couldn’t resist the pun), there are some “jokes” that aren’t jokes–they’re just offensive statements.

I’m all about what someone I know once called “equal opportunity offenders.” Think Mel Brooks, Chris Rock, Kat Williams, Dave Chappelle. The greats tend to fall into this category. Equal Opportunity Offenders make jokes about every stereotype in the book; they can laugh at other people and at themselves. They don’t make these jokes to alienate, discriminate, devalue, or otherwise hate on individuals or groups of people. They make fun of everybody for the things we don’t necessarily choose, and some of the things we do: our race, our geographic location, our nationality, our religion, our sexual preferences, our genders, etc. But they do this as a method of moving the conversation toward larger issues, and the humor comes from the stereotype. We don’t laugh because we actually think all such-and-such people do/are this, but because its a stereotype of what that group is or does. Sometimes it’s true, but it’s not meant to be the kind of statement that narrows the possibilities of individuals.

However, there is another category of ‘comedian’–if one would deign to call them such–that doesn’t fall into these bounds. Let me explain with a short anecdote.

I was riding in a car with a large group of people when a country song I was unfamiliar with came on the radio. I found it a little distasteful (it was about “titties and beer”), but not offensive. I could chuckle at it. Yet, one line deeply disturbed me, and as everyone around me laughed it up, I sat stone faced: “Thank God I ain’t queer.” What?! That’s not funny. That’s not saying, ‘Hey, Gay men are like this and Women are like this, yuck yuck ha ha.’ That’s just a mean-spirited cut against anyone who categorizes themselves as queer. It’s a stupid and ignorant statement, not a funny one.

Another example: using language that is racist, unless you’re reclaiming it, is not funny. Ever. Black people can say the N-word in a comedic setting because it’s theirs to reclaim and refashion in meaning. Sorry, white people, it’s not yours in any manner except the racist one. So don’t use it in your comedy. Calling someone a nasty name based on their race or ethnicity often results in a few nervous chuckles, but it’s not funny; it’s racist. Same thing goes for any other nasty words directed towards women, gay people, and other minority groups. It’s not funny when you call someone a bitch or a fish wife or a fairy or a fag. It’s just not.

Being nasty toward people for things they don’t choose isn’t funny. It’s mean, nasty, and often falls into the category of one of the -isms (racism, sexism, ethnocentrism, etc.). Instead, why not focus on the little idiosyncrasies that make people funny in general. And if you’re gonna pick on one group, be prepared to pick on them all, including your own.

“Ethnic”

I got an email from a clothing company in my inbox the other day, and upon my perusal of said email, saw the following:

What the hell does “ethnic-embroidered” mean, and why is it a compound word? Why is the term “ethnic,” which is vague and non-specific (but is basically code for any “non-Western” aesthetic), applied to clothes, art, etc.? Especially when that clothing and/or art is mass-manufactured and is anything but “ethnic,” as in being a product of a specific community of people that share ancestry, culture, language, etc.? Why is it okay to use it as a blanket term for brightly colored, zig-zag looking elements? There are plenty of terms to describe a bag like the one above. Zig-zag bag. Geometric bag. Red and black bag. What about just “embroidered handbag”? I just don’t understand the loose use of ethnic to describe something that has an aesthetic that is not at once apparently Western or modern. By calling it ethnic, it seems to mark it as othered, abnormal, and as such, sets up a hierarchy that places more value on a western, modern aesthetic. Yeah?

10 Things That Make You Sound Like a Major Asshole

  1. “There’s something wrong in this country when gays can openly serve in the military, but ‘our’ children cannot openly celebrate Christmas.”  Rick Perry is an asshole, obviously.  The first problem here is that these two things are not related.  Gay people don’t hate Christmas.  Most Christians who celebrate Christmas also don’t hate or feel threatened by gay people.  Rick Perry is a crazy person who is trying to criminalize homosexuality while hiding behind his religion.  Suck it, Rick.
  2. If you are a dude and you call a girl a tease simply because she wouldn’t bang you for buying her a drink, it’s going to make you sound like an asshole.  Actually, just expecting this to happen (if it you just think it) makes you an asshole.  You don’t even have to say it to anyone.
  3. You just complained that your parents won’t pay for your phone/car/trip/etc.  You’re a grown-up.  You have to buy your own shit, asshole.
  4. You just complained about the phone/car/trip/etc. that your parents bought you.  Only assholes complain about gifts.  This isn’t “My Super Sweet Sixteen;” this is real life.  In real life, if someone buys you a new phone, a car (new or used), or pays for other nice shit for you, you thank them profusely and you keep your mouth shut about the color/brand/make.  It was free to you.  It’s a gift.  Get over yourself, asshole.
  5. You say the following to your friends to help make them more cultured: “Well, I’m not claiming to be an expert, but while I was in Paris/London/Europe/Madrid/etc… All the locals did/said/wore [insert random, judgmental, and terrible idea].”  Unless you’re really being earnest, you probably just made yourself sound like an asshole.
  6. Calling yourself a visionary.  No thanks, asshole.
  7. You complain about what other people are drinking around you.  “Oh god, is EVERYONE drinking Bud Light? Kill me.”  “How can people drink Sam Adams and take themselves seriously?”  “I’m so over beer; now, I just drink artisan wines…”  We get it.  You’re cultured.  No one is forcing you to drink anything, asshole, so shut up and enjoy your $100 hotel-sized bottle of wine.
  8. Your facebook status is about your Hummer/BMW/Mercedes/etc. and how much you hate.  Basically anytime you’re complaining about how rich you are, you sound like a major asshole.  This includes complaining about poor people, protesters, homeless people, and the like.  This also includes being annoyed because your flight to your vacation was delayed, or that your limo wasn’t as big as you expected.
  9. You think a lot of girls are obsessed with you.  Hey asshole, unless you’re Ryan Gosling, you’re wrong.  The only one obsessed with you is you, asshole.
  10. You complain about other ethnicities, nationalities, and races.  You are the major-est, biggest asshole of all.  Congratulations, Captain Asshole!

Unacceptable Behavior (Behaviour, in this case)

Racism is always unacceptable.  Pretty much everything about this crazy, white, and (to her insistence) British lady is unacceptable.  Shall we ban together in hating her?

Fair warning, there is a lot of foul language and this video is VERY offensive.

Ultimately, I really feel bad for her son.  One way to deal with racism is to shame all the racists away so they can’t go on living their lives like this.  They all deserve to be shamed.