random thoughts on race

  • This morning, I stopped by the Barnes & Noble in Chelsea on my way to work to see if they had any Jean Grae CDs. I walked round and round that CD section for some time until I found the miniscule “Hip Hop” section. Shelving sections upon shelving sections of “Pop Rock” and “Classical” and other genres; one paltry shelving section barely stocked with hip hop and rap. It was ridiculous. Needless to say, they didn’t have any Jean Grae. Guess it’s clear who B&N thinks its patrons will want to listen to; or, perhaps, it’s clear which patrons B&N cares about most.
  • Why, white man on the F train, were you wearing a BlackPlanet.com t-shirt? Why?
  • Lately, I’ve been getting a little irked by what seems to be a rising phenomenon – certain (not all) self-proclaimed “anti-racist” white folks who seem to derive joy or pride or something from finding and decrying racism in the most random, unimportant places. Places where, frankly, even “hypersensitive” I don’t see much of anything racist going on. Did someone announce some sort of contest for which white person could dig up the most instances of racism? A “Where’s Waldo?” for anti-racist white folks? I guess that sometimes, it just seems like some white people are trying to win some sort of brownie points (pun intended) by being the self-designated Racism Police and showing off just how “anti-racist” they can be by publicly nitpicking in ways that just seem… I dunno, irrelevant given the state of things. And I’m like… wow, congratulations, I am eminently underwhelmed. I’ll refrain from naming names or, uh, linking links.

19 Responses to “random thoughts on race”


  1. 1 piny

    Oh, you didn’t get the email? If you collect enough anti-racism points, you can win prizes. I’m saving up for a new blender.

    By the way, do you think your post might be racist? It’s been a slow day in the blogosphere, and I’m having trouble reaching my quota.

    I wonder about this myself. My interest is language, terminology, and rhetoric. I find myself talking about that sort of thing nine posts out of ten, and tackling heavier examples far less frequently. On the one hand, I feel like I should stick with my strengths, particularly since my cobloggers seem to do such a great job with other spheres. But on the other hand, it sometimes seems trivial, and it tends to devolve into troll-heavy trainwrecks. And I sometimes find myself merely mentioning something rather than actually writing about it.

  2. 2 Doyle Saylor

    I think because things are static these sorts of irrelevancies seem noticeable. The other side of the coin is to find things to say that really matter are incredibly difficult. One can understand but lack the means to act. Were one to act then a fresh point of view gives new meaning in every gesture that before was bankrupt and defiling. But heads do get chopped off when the real thing rises up to challenge things as they are. So we all ‘want’ but what is to be done?
    thanks,
    Doyle Saylor

  3. 3 nubian@riseup.net

    hahaha! i’m seeing that ish all over. “that’s racist becaue……”

    i think like piny said, there must be some kinda prize that people people are going to get. a new car, maybe?

  4. 4 rabi

    I would like to know if there is a circumstance under which you would consider the white man’s t-shirt acceptable (or at least non-absurd).

    also, isn’t b&n kind of the definition of banal, mediocre, pablum? I would never buy music there.

  5. 5 Jack

    But wait, let me guess – only white anti-racists are eligible for the prizes, right? ;-)

    And yes, my post would definitely count as \”reverse\” racist. Do you get points for pointing that out, too? Because I see plenty of that all over the place, but I think it might be a different contest than the white anti-racist one.

    In terms of your last paragraph and the questions therein: I think that it\’s all about the attitude. It\’s one thing to point things out or mention them or something; it\’s another to write with this attitude of, \”OH MY GOD, this little thing is SOOO racist and I am SOOO self-righteous anti-racist in pointing it out.\”

  6. 6 Jack

    I guess it’s true – engaging with the really tough stuff is a lot harder and riskier than just pointing out the minutae of daily racism. But I think it’s a challenge more people ned to step up to, rather than nitpicking in this seemingly self-congratulatory way.

  7. 7 Jack

    Dude, I want a car! Heh. But like I said to piny, I bet only white anti-racists are eligible to win prizes. ‘Cause, you know, it’s no great accomplishment for people of color to be pointing out racism. We’re just born that way. ;-)

  8. 8 Jack

    You know, I actually came up with one circumstance for acceptability/non-absurdity – if the man was wearing the t-shirt because it was donated clothing, and that’s what his choices were limited to. Then, fuck it, you gotta wear what you gotta wear and I wouldn’t fault anyone for it.

    And yeah, B&N is not my first choice for most musical purchases – except classical. They have an extensive and thorough classical selection. But it was early in the morning, I was feeling impulse purchase-y, and B&N was the only place open, so hence, my dilemma.

  9. 9 piny

    But wait, let me guess – only white anti-racists are eligible for the prizes, right?

    No, it’s equal-opportunity. But since you’ve engaged in such vituperative, oppressive reverse racism, I’m pretty sure you’re ineligible. Plus, for some reason, white people seem to be way better at “anti-racist” self-righteousness. Not sure why that is.

    And yes, my post would definitely count as \”reverse\” racist. Do you get points for pointing that out, too? Because I see plenty of that all over the place, but I think it might be a different contest than the white anti-racist one.

    Partial credit.

    I hope the tongue-in-cheek came across. I mean, it’s the internets, so you can never really tell whether someone’s being sarcastic or insane. I agree with your definition of racism as related to power; do you use reverse-racism to mean prejudice unsupported by power, or do you reject it as a contradiction in terms?

    In terms of your last paragraph and the questions therein: I think that it\’s all about the attitude. It\’s one thing to point things out or mention them or something; it\’s another to write with this attitude of, \”OH MY GOD, this little thing is SOOO racist and I am SOOO self-righteous anti-racist in pointing it out.\”

    Point taken. And I have really gotten into language debates on other blogs.

  10. 10 Jack

    Oh, no worries, the tongue-in-cheek came through, though that is always a danger on the internets.

    As for reverse racism, yup, I reject it as a contradiction in terms. Prejudice supported by power is racism, prejudices unsupported by power is prejudice. Or, perhaps, internalized racism, which is another story.

  11. 11 shellshock

    Two things:
    1. Jack, your blog stokes the coals of my Seattle heart. I’m white, and I spend an inordinate amount of time in my “good white liberal” Episcopal church trying to educate people there (including myself) about systematic racism, about the shared systematic racism of predominantly white institutions, about the shared systematic racism of even “good white liberal” institutions. It helps to come here and watch you think and spar. And I promise I’m really not trying to brag on myself about being a “good white” person. It’s just that I had to sit through a church-sponsored viewing of “Crash” a few weeks ago, where all the nice older white ladies ended up crying (um, because it…hurt? them?), and then concluding, “Well, this movie certainly shows us that everyone is more complex than they first appear.” And it got worse from there. So it’s awesome and good to be able to come to your site and rest and be glad and cheer.

    2. Technical note: Tsidi’s site is actually: http://www.jean-grae.com You missed a dash, and I want everyone in the whole world to be able to find her. And the hip-hop section is scandalous. I was trying to save time over Christmas and popped in to purchase a gift for my friend Heath (which is how I found your site, btw), and there was a wasteland. I kept going in circles, thinking “Hip-hop is like the biggest commercial music on the planet. You’ve got to be kidding me that Under Construction isn’t even here.” It was really bizarre, like landing on some myopic corporate Holodeck.

  12. 12 Naomi

    The OMG let’s find racism everywhere thing kind of makes my head explode. And then I actually feel guilty because like, I should probably be worrying about more important things too, but it gets under my skin for some reason.

    Basically I think white people should let POCs take the lead in calling out stuff that’s racist and deciding what’s problematic in any given context when the possible racism is aimed at the POCs, not the white people. It’s about agency and leadership and power. And that doesn’t have to be incompatible at all with personal responsibility (overused phrase) for white anti-racists or white people doing anti-racist stuff in support of POCs.

  13. 13 Chris

    I’ve been lurking around here for awhile, so I’ll emerge and say hi.
    OMGLFRE (“ohmygod let’s find racism everywhere”) Syndrome is a particularly virulent bug amongst us white people. Especially anti-racist identified people. it’s totally already been said here: it’s about self-congratulatory proclamation, and also about distance (like, “I need you to know that I can see this because I am NOT this”). Of course, the anxiety implied in being so vocal and self-involved relates directly to the moment of seeing a reflection of one’s racist self in what we’ve learned to identify as “bad behavior.”
    If there’s one thing we white people need to do individually and institutionally, it’s to follow the lead of POCs. And I agree that this is one more example of that being true. I wonder though about that thing that happens where people look to POCs for guidance about what’s racist and then try to justify their inaction around something or another by saying “well, so and so person of color doesn’t think this is racist, so I don’t either.” I think you’re speaking to this when you say this isn’t incompatible with personal responsibility… but I guess I wonder about what that support role looks like when there’s not consensus among POC about what’s racist.

  14. 14 rabi

    I was thinking maybe if he were a white person who’d been adopted and raised by a black family… but it would still be weird at best.

  15. 15 s

    what about when poc aren’t around to follow the lead of? i don’t think it’s enough to just say “follow the lead of poc in all circumstances” because it’s important for while people to point out racism when there aren’t any poc present.

  16. 16 Chris

    POCs aren’t around? Dude, where do you live? Or work?
    The point is, us white people seem to be most enthusiastic about pointing out racism when POCs *ARE* around. And anyway, there are a lot of POCs to take the lead of, whether you know them or not. And if you happen to live in some small Scandanavian town, then there are other ways to support– you are online, for one. Usually if POCs aren’t around, there’s a good reason.

  17. 17 s

    Chris –

    No no, I’m sorry, that’s not what I mean at all. Let me try to explain myself…
    There are often situations where I am in the company of only white people (I work in the sciences, this is unfortunately not an uncommon situation). If there is a racist situation (at work, in conversation, etc), I don’t think it’s appropriate, or, frankly, a feasible solution, for me to just sit back and hope that the non-existant POC working down the hall will come by and enlighten me with what they think and let me know if *this* is really a situation that merits attention or not. And even if they were there, I’m not sure it’s there responsibility to constantly be dealing with the poor uninformed white person who needs their guidance in order to see racism. After all, if they’re working in such a situation, I’m sure they have better things to deal with (even ignoring the actual work they’re there to do).

    So… I understand your point. I was never disputing that. My point was that it’s not enough to just say “follow the POC’s lead.” That’s great if the POC is there to follow the lead of. But, again I ask, what if they’re not?

    s.

  18. 18 odanu

    I know what you mean about us white anti’s getting over sensitive. I got pulled aside by a good friend a decade ago and told to stop being so gung ho about her ethnic group’s problems.

    Frankly, I think it’s an expression of privilege that we do it. When you are a POC, there is enough racism “in the air” that you have to pick your battles. A white person aware of and alarmed by racism can afford to get nit picky and oversensitive, because racism does not permeate our lives in the same way.

    As for the T-shirt, I completely agree. I work in an environment where I am surrounded by Black dialects and slang, both young adult and older adult versions. I never, ever “co-opt” the slang of the young adults, and very rarely that of the older adults (though since they are my generation, we share more slang in common, so there’s some overlap). It’s my belief that if I started spouting off street talk, it would be like wearing a t-shirt I have no right to. I am an ally, not a person of color, and I have to keep in mind my subordinate role in the fight against racism. Not my goals, but the goals of the people I’m allied with.

  19. 19 Chris

    I hear you– but this is where that “personal responsibility” piece comes in. Allowing POCs to define what racism is and how it manifests isn’t about consulting the POC down the hall for enlightenment (which is just ridiculous). At least how I understand it, it’s instead about truly engaging in the “following” part of a leadership equation. Like in a largescale, consistent way.
    The point is, community and dialogue exists that you have access to and privilege to tap into (this blog, for one). That’s the lead to be followed.

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