The Third Conversation

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Tod Kelly

Tod is a writer from the Pacific Northwest. He is also serves as Executive Producer and host of both the 7 Deadly Sins Show at Portland's historic Mission Theatre and 7DS: Pants On Fire! at the White Eagle Hotel & Saloon. He is  a regular inactive for Marie Claire International and the Daily Beast, and is currently writing a book on the sudden rise of exorcisms in the United States. Follow him on Twitter.

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158 Responses

  1. Avatar j r
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    says:

    Yeah Tod, this about sums up what I meant. And, as I said in another comment, I’m not saying that white people, all people really, ought not come to terms with a very real history of white supremacy. It is better that people know history than to by know it.

    I guess that I just don’t have much use for the whole concept of white guilt, whether someone is denying it or embracing it. Almost no one likes seeing their community reduced to ring a battleground in the proxy war for whitey’s salvation.

    Please excuse my own surliness.Report

    • Avatar Kim in reply to j r
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      says:

      People who got time for guilt ain’t doing enough.
      If 2/3rds of white people’s wealth is inherited from racist policies, oughtn’t we to see about giving the rest of the folks some of the pie? Maybe in a decently democratic manner?Report

    • Avatar KatherineMW in reply to j r
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      says:

      I think the purpose of a genuine conversation about race is about more than just “knowing history” (and it certainly shouldn’t be about white people looking for absolution for that history).

      It’s about understanding how the current society, culture, economy, and politics have been shaped by racism over centuries. Because without that understanding, people make claims like (for example) crime and poverty being the result of “black culture”, and politicians make decisions and policies based on those ideas, rather than looking at the major ways deliberate, systematic, institutionalized discrimination has shaped the lives of black people and created the problems that they’re blaming “black culture” for. And until we recognize the past and current policies that are at the root of such problems, we’re not going to be able to address them effectively.

      (This isn’t just an American thing. Replace “black” with “Native Canadian” and the same thing goes for Canada, although the specific policies have of course been different.)Report

  2. Avatar ScarletNumbers
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    says:

    It’s not a matter of being pissed off at you, but I think you have constructed two straw men.Report

    • Avatar lurker in reply to ScarletNumbers
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      says:

      I hate to get out of the shadows for something like this, but here we are. This is some Tumblr-level strawmanning and it doesn’t fit in with the thoughtful commentary I usually read here.

      You’ll notice that in both conversations, the etiquette breach comes before white guy says anything. It’s the very act of speaking that is framed as a callous interruption. You’re not asking for a Third Conversation, you’re asking for a monologue.

      Monologues are fine and dandy, but don’t call them conversations. I’ve read at least a half dozen articles about how “white people aren’t speaking out” or “white people are speaking out and disagreeing with me.” It’s heads I win, tails you lose. Justice-minded non-masochists don’t want to participate if there’s no way to be on the side of the angels, so the main sources of white commentary are professional self-flaggelators and the right-wing blowhards.Report

      • Avatar Brooke in reply to lurker
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        says:

        Pretty much this.

        When moderate people who want to help speak up, we get shouted down, chased away, or guilt-tripped.Report

      • Avatar Maribou in reply to lurker
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        says:

        There is also a big difference between a genuine dialogue and dominating a conversation through interruption. Did you notice how in either of these (fictitious) two examples, the white speaker doesn’t even let the black person finish the sentence before jumping in? In my experience, that’s the single most common thing I am embarrassed to see other folks doing in these conversations – far more common than the anti-racist hectoring described below.

        There’s a significant amount of research showing that women are much more likely to be interrupted than men; I really wonder if the same doesn’t apply to black people being more likely to be interrupted than white people, although I can’t find anything with a casual web search and I’m working, so shouldn’t do more than that.Report

      • Avatar Maribou in reply to lurker
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        says:

        PS My intuition is that it absolutely DOES apply.Report

      • Avatar Gabriel Conroy in reply to lurker
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        says:

        @maribou

        “that’s the single most common thing I am embarrassed to see other folks doing in these conversations – far more common than the anti-racist hectoring described below.”

        You’re probably right, and I should have noted it.Report

  3. Avatar Saul Degraw
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    says:

    You are pretty spot on here. We generally do have these two conversations and probably are trapped for really pathetic reasons.Report

  4. Avatar greginak
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    says:

    I actually agree with Scarlett here. These are mostly two strawmen. Not saying there isn’t’ some truth there, but i’m guessing less then you think.

    I do dislike the white guilt stuff. That reads to me as entirely conservative dismissing the idea of white people saying we should do something about racism. It’s making the entire topic personal about the speaker instead of addressing the topic.

    Would the third conversation include some elements of: maybe we shouldn’t systemically disenfranchise POC, maybe we should do bust down institutional barriers based on racism, maybe POC people should have more power in the institutions that matter, and maybe everybody, especially those people in groups with power, really need to spend more time STFU and listening to other people.Report

  5. Avatar Mike Schilling
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    says:

    There’s other conversations. Like:

    “You can’t change people. We just have to wait for all the old racists to die off.” Which assumes that young people are significantly less racist. Is that true? I have no idea.

    “Classifying people by race is wrong, so affirmative action is just like Jim Crow.” Which throws away the best tool for integrating police departments in places like Ferguson.

    “I stand with the people demonstrating in Ferguson.” Not from your quiet living room you don’t, any more than the 101st Keyboarders stood with the troops in Iraq.

    “You can’t ask people today to pay for the sins of the past.” Because the effects of racism ended 30 years ago. Really, no matter what year it is now, it ended 30 years ago. It’s the opposite of when we’ll have fusion power.Report

    • Avatar Brooke in reply to Mike Schilling
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      says:

      Anecdotally, young people do seem more liberal, open-minded, and less racist than older people on the whole. There are, of course, still racist individuals in any group, but the overt racism of 50-70 years ago is much less of a factor in 2014.

      “I stand with the people demonstrating in Ferguson.” Not from your quiet living room you don’t, any more than the 101st Keyboarders stood with the troops in Iraq.’

      This seems a bit ridiculous to me. So you’re not allowed to agree with the sentiments people are expressing unless you’re in that exact location at that exact moment carrying a sign? Sorry, but that’s not practical.Report

      • Avatar Murali in reply to Brooke
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        says:

        Its one thing to agree with other people, and think that their actions are correct and justified. It is another to “stand with them”. That carries a whole lot of other connotations. You only stand with someone when you are bearing the same risks that they are. Saying you stand with them when you are at home on your computer is less about showing support for them and more about self aggrandizing statementsReport

      • Avatar Brooke in reply to Brooke
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        says:

        I disagree about the specific connotations of “stand with” always meaning that you are bearing the same risks. I’ve seen it used quite often to mean “hold the same stance/opinion” or “I agree with you.” I guess it comes down to how literally versus figuratively you interpret it.Report

  6. Avatar Jaybird
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    says:

    White guy: We should talk about racism.

    White guy #2: If only we knew a black guy.Report

  7. Avatar Chris
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    says:

    We’ve had that “but conservatives” one here a few times. The first one, though, I’ve never seen foo quite like that.Report

  8. Avatar Brooke
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    says:

    I’m all for having a serious conversation about racism, but here’s something that a lot of these discussions seem to gloss over – don’t tell me I’m your adversary. Don’t make generalizations about who “white people” are and what they believe, how they act, or how they’re all part of the problem.

    Members of minorities don’t want to be treated unfairly or punitively because of who they are. I agree, and I don’t want to be treated that way either. This conversation shouldn’t be about making me feel guilty for who I am, either. So let’s talk about policy solutions, but let’s do it without acting like every “white” person is personally responsible for the situations facing members of minority groups in this country.Report

    • Avatar LWA in reply to Brooke
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      says:

      I heard it said that Obama’s political genius was that he was able to approach white people without the guilt and hostility of Black Grievance.
      The theory is that he allows white people to join as part of the solution, without the initial genuflecting to guilt and shame.Report

      • Avatar Brooke in reply to LWA
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        says:

        That makes sense to me. The problems we’re trying to solve involve dismantling the remainder of the institutional blocks to the full equality and participation of minorities in civic and economic life.

        If we share the same goal, being angry at me or trying to make me feel guilty for my identity isn’t helpful.Report

      • Avatar ScarletNumbers in reply to LWA
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        says:

        [Obama] was able to approach white people without the guilt and hostility of Black Grievance.

        It helps that Obama isn’t descended from slaves.Report

    • Avatar Mike Dwyer in reply to Brooke
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      says:

      To add on to what Brooke is saying, current laws can be addressed without a history lesson. The most racist thing in America is the Drug War. We don’t need to discuss the Reagan administration in order to deal with its current effects. Both of Tod’s examples involve the black guy talking about historical racism. That immediately shuts down the conversation for a lot of people. My oldest daughter has been voting for two years. To my knowledge she doesn’t have a drop of racism in her. If she isn’t being scolded about the actions of her great-grandfather she would probably be inclined to vote for politicians who want to end bad/racist policies.Report

      • Avatar greginak in reply to Mike Dwyer
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        says:

        Mike, what does “being scolded about the actions of her great-grandfather” mean? If it means not discussing the history of this country and racism, then that seems more like “don’t talk about racism because it makes me feel bad.” If it means don’t tell me i’m evil because my GF was a slave holder, then yeah i can see that.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Mike Dwyer
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        says:

        The most racist thing in America is the Drug War.

        To quote from a linky in Tod’s Forest/Trees post:

        One 2007 study … found that whites “actually become more supportive of the death penalty upon learning that it discriminates against blacks.”

        And Researchers showed white commuters a short video that featured a series of inmate mugshots … according to the researchers, “the blacker the prison population, the less willing registered voters were to take steps to reduce the severity of a law they acknowledged to be overly harsh.”

        I’d say the War on Drugs is evidence of the most racist thing in America. You know, that actual racism.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Mike Dwyer
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        says:

        If she isn’t being scolded about the actions of her great-grandfather she would probably be inclined to vote for politicians who want to end bad/racist policies.

        Are you implying that if she is scolded, she won’t be inclined to vote in favor of ending racist policies.

        It doesn’t sound quite so good when said that way, does it?

        I hear ya, tho. Racial scolding seems counterproductive at best.Report

      • Avatar Brooke in reply to Mike Dwyer
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        says:

        I’d say the War on Drugs is evidence of the most racist thing in America. You know, that actual racism.

        There is actual racism, but I think there’s an important difference between the conscious racism of our parents’ generation and unconscious bias that even well-meaning people can have. How do you go about changing the unconscious part? And how responsible is any particular individual for it?

        I think focusing the conversation on the laws and institutions that are racist would yield the best results. We know those have a concrete impact and we have ideas about how to go about dismantling them. What’s less clear is how you change what’s in someone’s head. Time is the best cure for that.Report

      • Avatar Brooke in reply to Mike Dwyer
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        says:

        I don’t see that rehashing history is all that useful. Knowing about it is one thing. Most of us learn enough about it in school to appreciate the impact that it has had on minority communities. Being lectured by members of a minority community certainly doesn’t help. And beyond that, treating each and every “white” person as though he or she is uniquely and personally guilty doesn’t get us anywhere.

        Let’s talk about problems in terms of impact without assigning blame to individual people and focus on solutions.Report

      • Avatar Road Scholar in reply to Mike Dwyer
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        says:

        I think focusing the conversation on the laws and institutions that are racist would yield the best results. We know those have a concrete impact and we have ideas about how to go about dismantling them.

        I’m skeptical. Mind you, I’m all for ending the war on (some) drugs, but can someone explain to me how laws of general applicability are inherently racist?

        It’s been well-documented that POC are pulled over for alleged traffic violations at much higher rates than whites in many jurisdictions. Does that mean speed limits are racist?

        See, there’s a couple things that bother me about linking the WOD to racism. The first is the implication that blacks engage in the activity more than whites, which AFAICT simply isn’t true and may actually be completely backwards. But by talking about the WOD as a racist policy we’re just feeding the false narrative that some people hold as a defense against charges of racist enforcement.

        Which leads into my second objection, which is that it avoids talking about the real issue wrt institutional racism which is disparate enforcement and sentencing. Sure, getting rid of the drug laws will end a lot of the arrests and imprisonment in general, but do advocates of that particular “solution” seriously imagine that other laws won’t be used as excuses for oppression? How many moles do you intend to whack in that manner? Hell, POC are targeted for disparate enforcement and sentencing for practically every law on the books. They get the shit kicked out of them by fascist assholes and not infrequently killed for the crime of simply existing, walking down the street minding their own business.

        There’s lots of good reasons to end the war on drugs, but Michael Brown wasn’t a casualty of the WOD. He was a casualty of the war on dark skin and anything that obscures that fact is a distraction from the real conversation we need to have.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Mike Dwyer
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        says:

        Excellent comment, Road Scholar. I agree that there’s a bit of confusion – or potential confusion – about the phrase “the war on drugs is racist”. Some of it is (differential sentencing for crack and powder) but most of it is not. With respect to the racism of the WOD, anti-drug/tough on crime legislation provides a cover the expression of existing racism. IT strikes me that that view of things needs to be distinguished from views regarding the justness of those laws: pot should be legal, it’s (sorta) oxymoronic to call a victimless crime a “crime”, punition vs restitution/rehabilitation in our criminal just system, etc. A third view about the WOD is that it’s institutionally fucked up on a number of levels including effed up institutional incentives almost all the way around, including the straight ahead monetary accounting of size, direction, utility and source of the monies flowing thru that War.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Mike Dwyer
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        says:

        OK, re-reading that comment my point may not have been very clear. There are many ways to criticize the WOD, one if which is that it’s racist. Within that category of criticism, it seems to me that insofar as the drug war is racist, that judgment results from cops and courts utilizing various legislative tools to express already existing racism. WHich is to say, the WOD merely facilitates the expression of (already existing) racism but does not cause it.Report

      • Avatar Brooke in reply to Mike Dwyer
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        says:

        @road-scholar My comment was not in regard to the drug war specifically, but about the impact of all institutional racism on minority communities in the country.Report

      • Avatar Zac in reply to Mike Dwyer
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        says:

        @road-scholar “There’s lots of good reasons to end the war on drugs, but Michael Brown wasn’t a casualty of the WOD. He was a casualty of the war on dark skin and anything that obscures that fact is a distraction from the real conversation we need to have.”

        Dude, that entire post was fantastic, and the quoted bit in particular just nails it. The “war on dark skin”, as you so aptly put it, is the crux of all of this.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Mike Dwyer
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        says:

        Brooke,

        There is actual racism, but I think there’s an important difference between the conscious racism of our parents’ generation and unconscious bias that even well-meaning people can have. How do you go about changing the unconscious part? And how responsible is any particular individual for it?

        Q1: By having conversations about it. Changing the public discourse. All that.

        Q2: Pretty doggone? If they unconsciously hold animus against other people based on their skin color, then they’re 100% responsible for refraining from changing that view, no? Especially in a cultural climate hypersensitive to that very topic.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to Mike Dwyer
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        says:

        2/3rds of white wealth is inherited from racist policies. Blacks have a tenth of the wealth of white folks, on average.
        Those old-school policies are VERY RELEVANT to my neighborhood and my city. (course, I also live in a soddin’ old city, full of stupid yinzers).Report

    • Avatar Hoosegow Flask in reply to Brooke
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      says:

      acting like every “white” person is personally responsible for the situations facing members of minority groups in this country.

      This is an unfortunately, yet all too common, interpretation of the dreaded “p-word”. It’s not that white people today are necessarily responsible for creating those situations, it’s that they benefit from them and often perpetuate them, whether intentionally or not.Report

      • Avatar Brooke in reply to Hoosegow Flask
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        says:

        It makes sense to say that “white” people can benefit from a stacked deck in some parts of our society, but I don’t think most of us are perpetuating the situation. What is it that we can do on a daily basis that could or should change things, but isn’t?

        What personal actions are people actually looking for when this conversation takes place between individual citizens?Report

      • Avatar Hoosegow Flask in reply to Hoosegow Flask
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        says:

        I don’t know if any data exists, but I would bet that the vast majority of Americans do not believe in, or are completely unfamiliar with, the concept of privilege. It seems to me there is plenty that an individual can do, but it’s uncomfortable, difficult, and straining to personal relationships.Report

      • Avatar Brooke in reply to Hoosegow Flask
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        says:

        I’m always wary of introducing privilege into the discussion because it has turned from a semi-useful term into an internet social justice crusade buzzword.

        It seems to me there is plenty that an individual can do, but it’s uncomfortable, difficult, and straining to personal relationships.

        Such as?Report

      • Avatar Hoosegow Flask in reply to Hoosegow Flask
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        says:

        If some other term were used instead, it would take on all the baggage.

        Such as?

        White people talking to other white people. We could likely end most unfair policies unilaterally.Report

      • Avatar ScarletNumbers in reply to Hoosegow Flask
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        says:

        @hoosegow-flask

        What “unfair policies” did you have in mind?Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to Hoosegow Flask
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        says:

        Brooke,
        Okay, we have some studies, I can pull them if you want — showing that a black name gets hired less than a white name, for the same experience.

        I want two things here:
        1) Black kids to get told to abbreviate their first name if it’s “black” as people earning more is good for society.
        2) You, as Joe In Charge, to take this into account, and give the black person a bit more experience than it actually says on the page.

        That’s just one thing. Want another?

        White teenagers are the most likely folks to steal from a liquor store.
        STOP following the damned middle age black professor around!!!
        (What can you do, if you’re not a security professional? Talk to them,
        let them know you’ll take your business elsewhere if they don’t cut the crap out).Report

    • Avatar Chris in reply to Brooke
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      says:

      This is so true! The problem with discussions of race and racism is that people don’t do enough to make their white interlocutors feel comfortable! Finally, somebody recognizes the true victims of racism: white people who don’t consider themselves racist!Report

      • Avatar Brooke in reply to Chris
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        says:

        What can you hope to get out of a conversation on a difficult topic if you’re not communicating in a way that someone is going to be receptive to? One of the basic rules of effective communication – find common ground, invite others in, and make them comfortable. Someone who is defensive is not going to be open to your point of view.Report

      • Avatar Murali in reply to Chris
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        says:

        It is particularly telling that it is they who must make you comfortable and not the other way around right?Report

      • Avatar Brooke in reply to Chris
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        says:

        This isn’t controversial. It’s basic advice given in any communications class or literature on business practices. In any conversation, if you want to win others to your point of view, there are techniques that work and those that don’t. Anger, accusations, and trying to make others feel guilty are on the list of ones that don’t work.Report

      • Avatar Murali in reply to Chris
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        says:

        And likewise if you wish to bring them over to your point of view, you should likewise make them feel more comfortable etc etc etc. But you’re placing the burden entirely on them without making any effort on your part to convince them of your view merely assuming that your view is obviously correct by default.Report

      • Avatar Brooke in reply to Chris
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        says:

        But you’re placing the burden entirely on them without making any effort on your part to convince them of your view merely assuming that your view is obviously correct by default.

        In these types of conversations, there’s no view I’d be trying to advance. I’m already in opposition to racism and to laws and institutions that perpetuate it. What remains is a discussion of how to address it.Report

      • Avatar ScarletNumbers in reply to Chris
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        says:

        @murali

        How familiar are you with the writings of Dale Carnegie?Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Chris
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        says:

        Brooke, if you do.not understand that what you’ve said in this comment section is not only a position, but one the advancement of which pretty dramatically alters the space of possible discourse, then trust me, in such a concersation, either your discomfort or the conversation’s pointlessness are inevitable.Report

      • Avatar Road Scholar in reply to Chris
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        says:

        @chris , It might help if you climbed down off of your high horse. Insisting that any conversation on racism start with the white guy doing mea culpas for being part of the problem in some way as-yet-unspecified is pretty much the lefty equivalent of the righty insisting that any conversation has to first acknowledge the “truth” contained in Murray’s The Bell Curve.

        Seriously dude, it’s a pretty shitty starting point to maintain that a claim of innocence is proof of guilt.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Chris
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        says:

        Road, I will be sure not to insist that the white person begin with mea culpas. Thank you for warning me of doing that in the future, since I was certainly about to, even if I hadn’t yet.

        I’m not on a high horse. I’m not the one who has said the problem with racist discussions is that it’s always about how white people are all responsible, when I’m not a racist, and am in fact an anti-racist, and the only way a conversation can proceed is if that is universally recognized and no guilt whatsoever is assigned to me. I’m not the one agreeing with the person who said that. I’m simply pointing out how stupid it is to say that. Because it is. It’s more than stupid, it’s self-contradictory.

        Seriously dude, read what I said, not what you’re afraid I’m going to accuse you of.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Chris
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        says:

        Said at least slightly less intemperately, I’m objecting to someone insisting that the only way a conversation on racism can proceed is if we accept a.) one person, the white person who is not directly affected by racism in his or her daily life in obvious ways, is not part of the problem, before we’ve even worked out the breadth and depth of the problem is and who might contribute to it how, much less what its content is, and b.) we don’t talk about racism proper at all, in fact, so the conversation about depth and breadth and content aren’t even on the table, but instead talk only about what to do about it, again with the recognition that it’s not the one person, the white person, who has to change, but other people.

        I’m not saying that you can’t say those things in the conversation. Hell, if that’s the way you think, you should start by saying that. But making a recognition of those things a condition of even having the conversation? That’s a problem.

        Also, if you start with that (not as conditions, but as your opening remarks), don’t be surprised when the conversation doesn’t go in the direction you were hoping. And don’t be surprised when it doesn’t leave you feeling like the person you’re talking to doesn’t believe you play a role in a society and culture of racism.Report

  9. Avatar Hoosegow Flask
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    says:

    I’ve seen the “I’m one of you” thing play out on twitter with some frequency.

    It starts with (at best) some tone-deaf comment, which the person gets called out on.

    It often winds up with: “What? How dare you criticize my comments?! I am an ally!”Report

  10. Avatar Kazzy
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    says:

    To the extent that you’re wrong, you’re talking to the wrong white people. Plenty of white people contribute constructively to conversations about race and racism.

    To the extent you are right, often the issue for whites (collectively) is that they are not contributing to conversations but rather are pontificating.

    When I think about the conversation around the divergent responses of the use of variants of the “n-word”, I think white people’s primary (if not sole) role is to shut up, listen, and learn. Listen and understand how that word when used by white folks impacts black folks and decide accordingly what your usage of it will entail. Listen and acknowledge that the use of the word by black folks is a conversation for black folks to have with one another and a decision ultimately left up to them; contribute only if/when asked.

    Listening, learning, and acting upon that learning are just as important components of a conversation as talking.

    Don’t get me wrong… There are plenty of race/racism conversations in which whites should take an active, if not lead, role. But those should be focused on what whites — first as individuals and eventually onward and upward towards whiteness as a self-perpetuating racist institution — should be doing to combat racism.

    If you’d like to see these conversations happening, I can invite you to some groups.Report

    • Avatar Brooke in reply to Kazzy
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      says:

      To the extent you are right, often the issue for whites (collectively) is that they are not contributing to conversations but rather are pontificating.

      Sounds like we have had different experiences, because my impression is that I’m often the one being pontificated to, not doing the pontificating. The implication is that it’s my place to validate the experiences of the minority person doing the talking and to express appropriate shame or contrition regardless of what I have actually done.

      The “n-word” conversation is different, but particularly annoying for me. I’m not a fan of different rules for different people. I don’t use that word because I find it offensive, but I don’t enjoy being told some words are permitted to some people and not to others.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Brooke
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        says:

        Exhibit A, @brooke .

        No one is making rules. People are talking to you about their feelings. Black folks — both those I know personally and as I understand their general collective feelings to be on the matter — are offended if I use that word. Given how uninterested I am in using that word, this is an easy request to honor. Period. End of story. They talked. I listened. Why does it matter if their feelings are different for other people? They’ve made a request of me and I listened.

        I let my wife hold my hand. I wouldn’t let you. Is this an acceptable set of “different rules”?

        And why do you object to being pontificated to? To being asked to understand the experiences of someone other than you? Can you see how that mindset might be part of the problem?Report

      • Avatar Brooke in reply to Brooke
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        says:

        People are talking to you about their feelings. Black folks — both those I know personally and as I understand their general collective feelings to be on the matter — are offended if I use that word.

        I have no objection to listening to other people’s feelings on the matter. It’s what I’d expect to happen in a conversation, and that the respect would be returned to me when I speak. As I said above, I do not use that word because I also find it offensive, so we’re on the same page. The concept that bothers me is that I can be told that I don’t get to have an opinion or that mine doesn’t count simply because of something I have no control over.

        I let my wife hold my hand. I wouldn’t let you. Is this an acceptable set of “different rules”?

        This is completely irrelevant. We’re not talking about the differences in interpersonal relationships between two people. The conversation was about why it bothers me that two different groups of people should have different rules for what language is acceptable.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Brooke
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        says:

        “The concept that bothers me is that I can be told that I don’t get to have an opinion or that mine doesn’t count simply because of something I have no control over.”

        Who has said this to you, @brooke ?Report

    • Avatar Murali in reply to Kazzy
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      says:

      @kazzy

      Something seems off about the second part of your comment and let me see if I can try to locate what is wrong.

      There are two distinct interrelated claims being made. The first is about who decides what is or isn’t offensive and disrespectful. The second is about what to do in light of such determinations. There are a number of different principles at work which pull the appropriate response in different ways. Let me try to tease out different strands and try to see where they pull us.

      1. It seems to be that people do have a real interest in not being offended. That is to say, many people would ceteris paribus, prefer not to be offended and they would prefer that other people refrain from saying offensive things. At the very least, under many plausible accounts of what people’s interests consist of (hedonistic, preference satisfactionist etc), people have at least some interest in not being offended.

      2. There seems to be either a general interest in saying whatever you want to say or a contextual interest given internet discussion boards in discussing any topic that strikes one’s fancy. People want to have particular conversations and they can just as legitimately (at least on the face of it) claim that their interests are genuinely set back if they don’t have that conversation

      3. Anglo American norms about free speech have often weighted the interest in having a given conversation much more heavily than the interest in not being offended. When it comes to free-speech laws, just about everyone here will affirm that no one has a right not to be offended. At least some of the arguments that count against having laws restricting what kinds of things people may talk about also count against having more informal norms restricting what people may talk about.

      4. Given that people wish to invoke informal norms to constrain others’ behaviour the distinction between law and informal norm doesn’t seem particularly relevant. After all, it is not like you are merely invoking a sort of club rule which says that “in this community you shouldn’t use the n-word” you are trying to get at something a bit more universal.

      5. The reasoning that attaches lower importance to being offended is that if we weighted being offended so highly, since people be offended by many different things, we would end up not being able to say a lot of things and that would be much worse than being able to say anything we want while risking offending and being offended by others. If it is presumptuous to say that it is better to be offended than to avoid certain conversations (after all the people making that determination tend to be the people who are not being offended by those terms or those conversations) then does that undermine the justification for free speech more generally? Maybe it really is better to have OB Markers for conversations.

      6. It also seems that if injunctions about the appropriateness of a particular term or practice are to be binding in the way people often seem to want them to be, it must be in the moral sense. It is not merely the case that using the N-word is offensive, using it is morally wrong. If it is morally wrong, it cannot be morally wrong merely on the say so of some people. It may very well be offensive on the say so of some people, but it does not necessarily follow that anyone has any obligation to respect that fact.

      7. That is to say if something is a moral norm that is binding on someone, there is good reason to think that the reasons that would justify that norm are accessible to those whom the norm binds. The whole notion of shutting up and listening goes against this idea in that the person who has to shut up is placed in a subordinate position and seemingly made to adhere to norms that allegedly bind him regardless of his input even when he does have a prima facie legitimate interest.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Murali
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        says:

        @murali

        I apologize for not responding earlier but I’ve read through your comment a few times now and can’t quite parse it. This is very likely a reflection of my own comprehension level. Would you be able to break it down a different way? I’d like to engage with your perspective.

        Thanks.Report

      • Avatar Murali in reply to Murali
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        says:

        @kazzy

        Its probably my own incomprehensible writing style, not your comprehension level. There are a number of issues that surround the problem of “white people talking about race*” that count against the “shut-up and listen” position.

        At the same time, there is something to what you say too. So, part of the confusion that you saw was me trying (if not as clearly as I would like**) separate the aspect where I think you are correct from where I think you go too far.

        So, where I think you are right: Each group has a prima facie primacy in determining which statements about them are offensive. I also think that while some statements are assholish, they need not be criminalised. But, since they are assholish, people ordinarily have a moral obligation to refrain from making such statements.

        Making statements offensive to a group stops being ass-holish if it turns out that the group has too many things which are offensive to them. Then the shoe is on the other foot. The dynamic which I earlier described about the prerogative to define things as offensive to oneself also changes. We can imagine a situation where it seems reasonable to tell a person to stop being an asshole and finding every other thing offensive. That’s usually what happens when he starts finding so many things offensive that avoiding offending him becomes burdensome.

        So, there seems to be a line such that on one side of the line the group can legitimately define what is offensive to it and everyone else is morally obligated to avoid offending the group and on the other side of the line the group can be considered unreasonable at least some of the time for regarding certain things offensive the corresponding obligation to avoid offense is likewise more attenuated.

        If there is such a line, then it would be wrong to ask the dominant group (e.g. white people) to just shut up and listen. This would be the case even if the underprivileged group had not crossed the line. The reason for this is because it is unreasonable to prevent anyone from an input in demarcating social norms when that person has a legitimate interest in the shape those norms take. Since if the line were crossed, there would be a legitimate interest in reducing the burden placed on (for example) me in avoiding offense, keeping me from the conversation enables the other guy to unilaterally determine whether the line is crossed. Since it is in his interest to always claim that the line is not crossed, if I have no input he can unilaterally impose any amount of burdens on me. And that would be unfair.

        Another reason to look suspiciously on worrying about offending others is that western society has traditionally weighted the interest in saying whatever you want a lot more heavily than the interest in not getting offended. This doesn’t necessarily mean that doing so is right, but it seems that none of you would be willing to endorse the restrictions on speech that would seem warranted by taking the interest in not getting offended more seriously.

        To be clear, saying that the line is crossed does not imply that the group in question has reached parity or something. It may still be underprivileged and discriminated against but it may nevertheless be wrong to ask other people to refrain from doing or saying something offensive.

        *mutatis mutandis with men and feminism, cis het people and LGBTQ issues or any other allegedly privileged group talking about the oppression of some underprivileged group

        **Let me plead to thinking out loud instead of proposing any settled position. I hope I have done a better job of breaking things down.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Murali
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        says:

        @murali

        What you say makes sense. I also worry that I might have been a bit hyperbolic in my language. When I say that whites should “shut up and listen”, I don’t literally mean that they should be silent, passive recipients of information. I just meant that their role in the conversation should be different than it typically is for dominant groups, which is to say that this is a conversation where we (white folks) are neither the leaders nor the “dispensers of knowledge”, a position we tend to assume in conversation regardless of the topic.

        Asking clarifying questions, respectfully pushing back, and other interactions that seek to broaden understanding are necessary parts of constructive dialogue. But first and foremost, whites need to listen.Report

      • Avatar dragonfrog in reply to Murali
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        says:

        @murali – you lost me around the step from (3) to (4). I think the distinction between law and informal norm is immensely relevant.

        Legal penalty can strip a person, temporarily or permanently, of rights (including, in some US states, the right to life), and so should only be brought to bear against me should I deprive others of their rights. Informal social sanctions (unless they are themselves enforced through crime) can only strip me of things that are not mine by right, and so may be brought to bear when my behaviour falls short of depriving others of their rights.

        If I, a white guy of glistening pallor, were to use the n word in almost any circumstance, I would fully expect and hope that anyone around me whose opinion I respect, would find their opinion of me dropping rapidly. Perhaps some would be kind enough to warn me to shut my mouth while I still have friends. If I did it repeatedly, I might quite appropriately receive fewer dinner invitations, a less friendly welcome at my favourite bakery, no more gifts of apples from the neighbour’s tree. None of those is a thing I have a right to.Report

      • Avatar Murali in reply to Murali
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        says:

        @dragonfrog

        I would agree with you if you are comparing jail terms with social exclusion. The difference narrows a lot if the penalty was closer to a fine like in a parking ticket. Or a forced apology. Also, I was thinking about behaviour under full compliance so the size of the penalty didn’t strike me. But I take your point well enough. But it seems that we may define the legal penalty mildly enough that it is as burdensome as informal social penalties. Given that people often lose their jobs over shit like this, I wouldn’t want to say that the informal penalties are mild. I’d rather pay a $200 fine than lose my job.Report

  11. Avatar Michael Drew
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    says:

    No argument that these conversations are pretty worthless. But I think it’s worth noting that if you’re looking at a conversation about racism that a white person in America has in real life with a black person you’re actually looking at a rare event already. This vast majority of conversations about racism that white people in America have are with other white people, which is why they’re so clueless when/if that moment that they actually have a conversation with a black person comes. To be clear, I’m paradigmatic in this way, and indeed may be extrapolating my experience to form a false statistical fact here. But I think I’m right.Report

  12. Avatar Damon
    Ignored
    says:

    Let’s have a real conversation about race.

    Let’s talk about:

    White vs Black
    Black vs White
    White vs Asian
    Asian vs Black
    Black vs Asian
    Asian vs White

    Add Hispanic, native american, and anyone else you want and run the permutations. I’ve seen and experienced several of the examples above–personally.

    Let’s talk about those allegedly “more liberal” areas, which I live in, and let’s talk about the racial animosity brewing in those liberal white folks that will open up to you when you’re alone, had a few beers, or think you’re “like them”….

    Yeah, let’s talk about all that…in particular the last one….Report

  13. Avatar Gabriel Conroy
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    says:

    When it comes to how I often feel, I’ll admit I often share most of the feelings that Brooke expresses in most of her comments. I can’t speak for her or for anyone else, but my gut reaction to these types of conversations that Tod is calling for is to construct a scenario along these lines:

    Anti-racist activist: We need to talk about race.

    White person: Yes, we should try to find a way to end x, y, and z discriminatory practices.

    Anti-racist activist: Those will only end when you address your own racism.

    White person: Well, I do sometimes feel nervous when I’m around black people I don’t know, and I usually avoid them, say, when walking alone at night. I know that’s wrong, but that’s what I do

    Anti-racist activist: This issue isn’t supposed to be therapy session for whites. Your racism is your problem. There are real problems out there, like x, y, and z, that need to be solved. And they’ll only be solved when you confront your own racism.

    Now, I’ll say a few things about that “conversation.” First, I don’t think it’s ever happened. At least in my experience it has not. So it’s a straw man argument inasmuch as that’s not really the conversation people are urging. But second, it is on an emotional level one of the go-to’s that I think I am facing whenever racism and the possibility that I as a white person might contribute to the conversation by more than just listening. Third, I purposefully said “anti-racist activist” rather than “black person” because, as Michael Drew points out above, these conversations are most often between whites and not usually between whites and blacks, or other persons of color. Fourth, I say “activist” because I think that activists, when they’re wearing they’re “activist” hat, are much more likely to adopt the almost circular form of argument I note above, what someone else on this thread has called a “heads I win, tails you lose” argument.

    Finally, I want to stress what I’m describing is my gut reaction. My feelings on the matter. Intellectually, I take a different stance. If I feel that I don’t have an opportunity to contribute to the conversation, I do realize that I probably “contribute” in more ways than I realize. My privilege is real and probably more pervasive than I fully know. And it’s better for me to listen than to preach or turn it around to how *I* feel. But there is a frustration there, and it’s part of what I was trying to convey to Tod in my first comment to his “forest for trees” post. And while I admit freely that my frustration as a white person is of only secondary importance to most of the issues at hand, I do think it affects my and probably others’ willingness to participate in such conversations.

    *The main exception is the n-word. I don’t really have a problem with members of marginalized groups taking on derogatory terms as their own.Report

  14. Avatar Brooke
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    says:

    Thinking about this a bit more, I’ve identified what bothers me about the framing of the original post and about some of the comments on it.

    When I hear “I think we should have a conversation about racism,” what that means to me is that the conversation is about doing something about racism, lessening its impact on minority communities in America and making progress toward real equality for all citizens. It’s the “let’s solve the problem” conversation.

    The original post’s statements from the point of view of the black person and several of the responses to it seem focused around a completely different kind of conversation, the “truth and reconciliation” conversation. As others have pointed out, this really isn’t much of a conversation. It’s more of an exercise in listening to grievances. There’s a place for that, but I bet it’s not what most people are thinking when someone invites them to a conversation about a difficult topic. They probably imagine an exchange of views instead of an expectation that one person will remain silent while another speaks from experience.

    The latter kinds of conversations are difficult because the tone of the monologue easily turns to one of resentment or anger, with the listener expected to become a proxy for other people or systems that have victimized the speaker. Sometimes, this might lead to increased understanding on the listener’s part, but I’ve found that more often it leads to a sense that the listener should feel guilty for “being a part of the problem.”

    One particular statement bothered me, “whiteness as a self-perpetuating racist institution.” Racism is particularly pernicious because it denigrates people for who they are instead of recognizing them as individuals with the same dignity as all other individuals. But framing the identity of the majority as being inherently racist is equally problematic. It’s why white people who believe in equality and oppose racism feel attached by these kinds of statements.

    As should be fairly obvious from my posts, I’m against racist practices, attitudes, and institutions. I’m not the problem, but one of the people looking for a just solution. When these kinds of conversations take a turn toward trying to make me feel guilty or telling me that I couldn’t possibly understand or contribute, they’re unhelpful and even destructive.Report

    • Avatar Gabriel Conroy in reply to Brooke
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      says:

      @brooke

      As I noted in my comment above, I share many of the same feelings you’ve expressed, even if I phrase it and ultimately interpret those feelings differently differently from how you do. *might* is a key word here because I’m not sure my position is all that different from yours.

      I like your distinction between conversations about “ending [and I would add, identifying] racist practices” and conversations about “truth and reconciliation.” To be honest, when I hear “let’s talk about racism,” my mind usually jumps to the “truth and reconciliation” kind of conversation.Report

    • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to Brooke
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      says:

      +1Report

    • Avatar Chris in reply to Brooke
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      says:

      You have determined that you are not part of the problem, that your anti-racism is sufficient, and you demand that anyone you talk with accept your determination. This demonstrates rather conclusively that you are part of the problem, that you accept, and contribute to, a culture of white supremacy, and no fruitful conversation about racism is possible with you.Report

      • Avatar ScarletNumbers in reply to Chris
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        says:

        This demonstrates rather conclusively that you are part of the problem

        You are begging the question.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Chris
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        says:

        If the question is racism, and the answer is, “we can’t even talk abiut it unless you accept that I am not part of the problem,” then so be it. I’d rather beg the question then make asking it impossible.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Chris
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        says:

        Put differently, we can have this conversation in a few different ways: 1) on only the white person’s terms (Brooke’s preferred solution), 2) on only the black person’s terms, or 3) on mutually negotiated terms. #1 pretty much renders a discussion of racism impossible. It’s basically Tod’s “why can’t I say the n-word?”Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Chris
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        says:

        @chris

        Even if we accept your diagnosis of @brooke ‘s current level of enlightenment & self-awareness, why would we even want to conclude that no fruitful conversation about racism with @brooke is possible? The entire point of any conversation would be to try to bring about some more enlightenment and self-awareness on the topic. Then conversations with Brooke might even be fruitful by your standards. But even if they’re not now, a conversation that moved Brooke toward that point would in fact be fruitful. Is such a conversation with Brooke impossible right now? I see no reason to conclude that.

        I make this point to remind us that the point, or at least a very valuable function, of any conversations along this line is to move people from their current attitudes to better informed and more understanding ones. It’s not just about trying to be sure only statements that we don’t have a problem with are voiced or moving the ball down the field in terms of state-of-the-art thinking on race.

        The entire enterprise of anti-racism is basically an exercise in remedial education. To engage in it you have to be willing to hear and talk about the ideas that are deficient and with those who hold them, and you have to remain even irrationally open to seemingly unlikely signs of progress in whatever form and degree you might be able to detect them.

        /sermonReport

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Chris
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        says:

        She has actually explicitly said that she is not interested in conversations about racism, only about solutions to racism. The idea that the latter can be had without a conversation about the former is absurd, as absurd as saying that we can talk about what it would take to cure cancer without knowing what cancer is.

        What’s more, even if we were to somehow steer a conversation about solutions into a conversation about the nature of the problem, she has already decided that such a conversation has to take place on her grounds, accepting that she knows what the problem is and that she is not part of it. This means that if it were to turn out that the nature of the problem encompasses her, that is if she is in fact part of it, we would be incapable of having a conversation about it.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Chris
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        says:

        So if she thinks she’s not interested in conversations but you’re managing to engage her in them, and you think conversations are a necessary means to progress in this endeavor, then aren’t those conversations by definition fruitful compared to her pre-existing attitude?

        And wrt to the terms she demands for such conversations that, if adopted, would render conversations fruitless, wouldn’t a conversation then be fruitful if it managed to get her to moderate those demands, or even think about doing so? Recall that I’m not taking issue with you saying that any given conversation you’ve just had wasn’t fruitful. That’s very fair. The issue is concluding that it is therefore impossible to have a fruitful conversation with her going forward? What’s your basis for concluding that no conversation with her (Is @brooke her for sure?) In the future is going to feature a softening in her stance about the terms for conversations? My view is that it’s contrary to the basic aim of these conversations to actively look for reasons to conclude that in any instance.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Chris
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        says:

        So if she thinks she’s not interested in conversations but you’re managing to engage her in them,

        What you say is true, but you have moved up several levels of abstraction, from “conversations about racism” to “conversations,” rendering the truth irrelevant to the topic at hand. Moving back down several levels of abstraction, we’re not even having a conversation about racism here. We’re having a conversation about having conversations about racism. Could that be fruitful with her? Possibly. That’s sort of the point, right? Having a conversation about having conversations about racism so that conversations about racism can be fruitful? We haven’t gotten there yet with Brooke, though.

        And wrt to the terms she demands for such conversations that, if adopted, would render conversations fruitless, wouldn’t a conversation then be fruitful if it managed to get her to moderate those demands, or even think about doing so?

        It is undoubtedly true that if she were to moderate her stance, she could have a fruitful conversation about race. However, given the parameters she has set for conversations about race, such a moderation is extremely unlikely in a conversation about race. What you’re basically positing here is a situation in which she has a conversation about race within her parameters that do not meet her parameters. In other words, you’ve violated the law of the excluded middle. Therefore, see what I said above about this conversation.Report

      • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to Chris
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        says:

        @chris

        When you are talking about having a conversation about racism, is this “in the general”, or “in the specific”?

        The sense that I got from @brooke was that she has had the conversation about race you think she should have, and she has probably had it numerous times, & “gets it” about as well as any specific white person can*, and is personally pretty much tired of having that conversation again, and again, and again, & would like to move on to conversations regarding what we can do to move things along.

        *And let’s be honest, any given white person, myself included, is only going to “get it” a certain amount, and then that is where it will stop. We can only “get it” to the point where our personal experiences stop having any further relevance to what someone else experiences. Additional applications of “truth & reconciliation” type conversations will likely continue to have rapidly diminishing returns with regard to whatever degree of understanding is sought, but will increase frustration.

        So if someone says, “I get it, I understand there is a problem & I want to help, let’s move on to what I can do to make things right.” & they are met with a reply of, “No, I don’t think you do get it yet, we need to make you understand it more/better/harder.” A person can only do that so many times before they grow weary of it & decide they have better ways to spend their efforts. Or they just buy in whole hog & become a true-blue activist for the cause. But how many people get frustrated & dis-engaged for every true-blue activist you win?Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Chris
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        says:

        @mad-rocket-scientist I don’t get that impression at all. In fact, given what she’s said about it, I have the strong impression that she hasn’t had many real conversations about it at all.

        What’s more, it’s my experience that, while there are certainly limits to what I can understand, given that I will never experience racism in the way that black people do in our country today, it is virtually impossible to “get it” so much that one reaches that limit within a lifetime.

        I have conversations about race and racism often. Not every day, not even every week, but often enough to know that I have much to learn, and that very rarely do such conversations go the way Brooke seems to believe they do. It is true that they can sometimes be uncomfortable, and perhaps she’s interpreting that as an intentional attempt to make her feel guilty, but if that is the case, then I am all the more certain that she is nowhere near “getting it” as much as she can.

        Honestly, if you think that you understand it as much as it is possible for you to understand it, you are the sort of person who most needs to be listening and not talking, because you are in for a surprise. I say this as someone who (as I’m sure you know) is not prone to shutting up, and who therefore took a very long time to realize that it’s precisely what I should be doing most of the time when the topic of race is broached by people who live it.

        As I suggested above, one of the major ways in which racism plays out is when white people silence people of color, even when they don’t realize that’s what they’re doing. By thinking that you’ve “gotten it” as much as you can, and that it’s time to move on to talking about what you want to talk about, you are part of the problem.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Chris
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        says:

        In all cases, where I have said conversations here I have meant conversations about racism. Indeed, I have meant conversations about racism with Brooke of roughly the sort you envision. I think you are mis-assessing or mis-characterizing the degree of *possibility* of fruitfulness. Its possible. I think you’re setting the bar for the mere existence of the possibility of future fruitfulness too high. You’re forgetting that any progress *is* (would be) progress, I think. And progress is fruitful.Report

      • Avatar Gabriel Conroy in reply to Chris
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        says:

        @chris

        I don’t recall Brooke saying in this thread she wasn’t part of the problem. She may very well have and I missed it, and it seems that can be inferred from some of what she’s said here. But I don’t think we can conclude that she has completely closed herself off from the possibility that some of her actions and decisions may contribute to racism. And whether or not she has had “many real conversations about racism” is kind of besides the point. I don’t know her well enough to know how many conversations she’s had about it or if they were real enough, and I’m wary of drawing that conclusion from her blog comments. Even if it’s the right conclusion, it’s not particularly useful.

        I’m also a bit disturbed about the possibility that saying “I realize I’m part of the problem” might become something more of a signal or a shibboleth, a way that some white liberals claim to be engaging racism, but without doing much more than tsk-tsking others who are so unwilling to make that acknowledgement.

        I used to be that kind of white liberal. I still am, I fear. My comments in this post and the one I made in Tod’s “forest for trees” post were efforts to explore for myself the limits of that kind of shibboleth’ing I think, however, I’ve learned enough to know that I need to actually listen to people, especially those who are marginalized by racism, while also keeping in mind that any one person’s view does not represent the views of all members of that marginalized group. I’ve also learned enough to know that racism is reproduced in part by my own decisions and choices. That’s why I feel I’m skirting the edge of being inconsiderate in the comments I have written on the subject lately. (And that’s also why I’ve tried to take pains to point out that my imaginary conversation between the “activist” and the “white person” may never have actually happened….I make leaps about these types of conversations and perhaps need more “real” conversations to check my quick assumptions.)

        But going back to addressing Brooke. Maybe the stance she’s taken is not particularly productive to discussing racism, especially when it’s a “truth and reconciliation” discussion. But I do feel that what she’s written is an honest portrayal of what she feels about the issue. And frankly, having been a “I’m part of the problem too” white liberal, it’s easier to go with the flow and not raise honestly-held concerns. And frankly, I imagine there are a lot of nominally racially “progressive” white liberals who harbor the same feelings she does but who choose not to voice them.

        So we have to choose to engage her where she’s at, or to write her off as someone who cannot be spoken with. And maybe in certain contexts, writing someone off is the right decision. I’m not sure it’s the right decision here, though. And you’re right that this conversation in this sub-thread is becoming “a conversation about having conversations about racism”–also, as far as I know, in this sub-thread, it’s a conversation among white people–but that also seems to be the point of the OP and not quite a tangent from what Tod has opened up for discussionReport

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Chris
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        says:

        From Brooke’s comments:

        This conversation shouldn’t be about making me feel guilty for who I am, either. So let’s talk about policy solutions, but let’s do it without acting like every “white” person is personally responsible for the situations facing members of minority groups in this country.

        And beyond that, treating each and every “white” person as though he or she is uniquely and personally guilty doesn’t get us anywhere.

        It makes sense to say that “white” people can benefit from a stacked deck in some parts of our society, but I don’t think most of us are perpetuating the situation.

        In these types of conversations, there’s no view I’d be trying to advance. I’m already in opposition to racism and to laws and institutions that perpetuate it. What remains is a discussion of how to address it.

        And finally, most explicitly:

        As should be fairly obvious from my posts, I’m against racist practices, attitudes, and institutions. I’m not the problem, but one of the people looking for a just solution. When these kinds of conversations take a turn toward trying to make me feel guilty or telling me that I couldn’t possibly understand or contribute, they’re unhelpful and even destructive.

        As you can see, she actually typed the words “I’m not the problem.” She also explicitly says that we don’t need to talk about racism, only what to do about it (and you agreed, if I recall). So I’m not going out on a limb in saying that she doesn’t think she’s part of the problem. What’s more, because she’s made it clear that the conversation can’t take place on grounds that don’t include avoiding making her feel guilty, or which do include discussing the problem itself, and not what to do about it (since she’s already perfectly familiar with the problem, and knows she’s against it), we can’t really even discuss whether she’s part of the problem. It has to be taken as a given to have the discussion. Given how much ground this places off limits, I fail to see how having a conversation about racism with her would be the least bit useful.

        I’m also a bit disturbed about the possibility that saying “I realize I’m part of the problem” might become something more of a signal or a shibboleth, a way that some white liberals claim to be engaging racism, but without doing much more than tsk-tsking others who are so unwilling to make that acknowledgement.

        Well, sure, it’s possible that saying “I realize I’m part of the problem” is a shibboleth that allows the speaker to avoid having to get his or her hands dirty. It’s also possible that it’s a statement of recognized fact, and precedes a genuine questioning of how that individual might go about working on that. If we can’t recognize that we’re part of the problem without being accused of mere signalling or posturing, and it turns out that we are, in fact, part of the problem, then we’re truly fucked.

        But going back to addressing Brooke. Maybe the stance she’s taken is not particularly productive to discussing racism, especially when it’s a “truth and reconciliation” discussion. But I do feel that what she’s written is an honest portrayal of what she feels about the issue. And frankly, having been a “I’m part of the problem too” white liberal, it’s easier to go with the flow and not raise honestly-held concerns. And frankly, I imagine there are a lot of nominally racially “progressive” white liberals who harbor the same feelings she does but who choose not to voice them.

        Oh, she’s all too common. Hell, Tod wrote this post about her type, suggesting that he’s seen it often enough to be rather irked about it. And my initial comment is where I stand: she’s come to this discussion acting as though she is the true victim in discussions of racism, and the only way conversations can proceed is if we recognize that. Anything else is merely her being lectured by “minorities,” intentionally made to feel guilty for no other reason than to make her feel bad. On this topic, she and her ilk are little children, and I feel no reason not to simply let them pout in the corner, wallowing in their pseudo-victimhood and ignore them. I’d much rather listen to the grownups.Report

      • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to Chris
        Ignored
        says:

        @chris

        Congratulations, you’ve just made my point for me!

        Listen, if you were a POC & wanted to have a conversation about racism with me, from your perspective. I’ll listen, because what the hell, you may have something unique to offer & it costs me very little to listen.

        But you, as a white person, have nothing. Except, apparently, to scold other white people that they don’t care enough, or understand enough, according to your definition of “enough”. Yeah, then I’m done listening to you on this topic. You offer me nothing new, nothing useful, & nothing unique. You do not advance my understanding in any fashion, but you do harden my receptiveness to hearing others who may have something unique to offer.

        Your problem is that you are demanding time & attention of me that I am not willing to give you, and you are failing to make any decent argument that I should be willing to give them. I’ve already agreed there is a problem, & I am ready to help. Telling me that I don’t understand enough is counter-productive. I might as well tell Will Truman he isn’t libertarian enough & he needs to sit there & listen to me tell him about every time the government has abused & oppressed me, and then we are going to have a reading circle where we cover everything Hayek & Friedman wrote & discuss it in detail.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Chris
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        says:

        @mad-rocket-scientist fine with me. As I said elsewhere, I’d rather listen to the adults on this topic. I’ll add to you that I’d rather talk to them too. Adults don’t go into a conversation about other people’s experience demanding that the conversation be limited to aspects of the experience that can’t make them feel guilty or like they might be part of the problem. Adults go into such conversations open to the possibility that they may have to look hard at themselves, that what they hear may make them uncomfortable, and that they may, in fact, be part of the problem. This is all I’ve been getting at here. That you find this unacceptable only demonstrates my point more conclusively: ya’ll are not worth listening or talking to on this topic. There’s no point. Ya got nothing, and you’ll never have anything, because the moment it gets real you’ve got your fingers in your ears screaming “Nananananananana.” Like you’re doing now.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Chris
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        says:

        I don’t know, Chris. If you want the conversation to go anywhere, you’re probably going to have to expand the discussion beyond those you’re willing to consider adults. Otherwise you’re just writing off the majority of the people you presumably want to reach.

        As I see it, while Brooke doth protest too much, there are distinctions that you’re overlooking, which are the distinction between the institutions and the person, and between talking about how the person may not realize how the institutions disproportionately benefit them, and trying to make them feel guilty (or inadvertently doing so, or sneering at them if somehow they think you’re doing so).

        What’s your top value here? Moral righteousness or a strategy of changing others’ minds? Because I think you really want the latter, but I think you’re really focusing on the former.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Chris
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        says:

        James, let me be clear. I’m not trying to take any moral high ground here. This is strictly anger speaking. The moral high ground in such a case would have been to simply ignore what Brooke said, recognizing that she has taken herself out of the category of people who can contribute to any dialogue on race, and is therefore not worth the time or the effort. Instead, I reacted, and have continued to do so, ’cause it really pisses me off.

        However, it’s been my experience that there are plenty of adults with whom these things can be discussed, not all of whom already agree on everything about racism. It has also been my experience that the folks who take a position like Brooke’s, about which I’ve meant everything I’ve said, are not worth trying to convince, because they’re not amenable to hard truths; they’re threatened by them, as Brooke has basically said over and over again. So they derail every conversation at the start by insisting that it happen on their terms, terms which render the conversation benign and banal.

        Also, I’m not overlooking distinctions at all. In fact, part of what I’m saying is that what Brooke is doing is limiting the conversation to impersonal institutional forces and divorcing herself entirely from them, thereby eliminating whole swaths of important areas of discussion about racism. When she says what we need to talk about is policy, what she’s doing is eliminating whole swaths of issues that can only be talked about in the realm of the social and the individual. When she says that we have to essentially leave her out of it, and leave white people in general out of it, she’s limiting us to institutions, but more than that, she’s limiting us to solutions to institutional issues that don’t involve talking about the social forces that benefit from and perpetuate racist institutions.

        I do not think white people need to begin every conversation about racism with an act of contrition, or by saying, “Hi, my name is Chris. I’m a racist. Teach me how to be better.” Hell, the conversations would be equally bad that way. What I do think is that white people need to go into conversations about racism with an open mind, willing to accept that it may be uncomfortable, willing to listen more than to speak (which does not mean only listening), and willing to accept that they may not be as divorced from the problem as they think. There are a bunch of white people who are willing to do these things. Those are the white people who will be able to work with people of color to create meaningful change. Brooke and MRS will not be among them.Report

      • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to Chris
        Ignored
        says:

        @chris

        As I said elsewhere, I’d rather listen to the adults on this topic. I’ll add to you that I’d rather talk to them too.

        Welcome to your echo chamber, have a nice day…day…day…day…Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Chris
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        says:

        Seriously, if you think being open to new and different ideas, which is what I’m advocating and what Brooke is rejecting, and which by agreeing with her you too are rejecting, is what “echo chamber” means, then have I got news for you!

        As I told James, it’s been my experience that there are plenty of adults willing to talk about racism in an open way, and these adults come to the table with many different views. The only views they don’t come to the table with are ones that render discussion impossible from the start. That’s what makes them adults.

        Hell, I’ve witnessed and participated in real discussions with old school Southern conservatives. They didn’t come to the table demanding that their feelings remain unscathed and that no one dare suggest that they might not be squeaky clean when it comes to racism in society. They didn’t dictate the bounds of the discussion by insisting that because they were squeaky clean, only discussions on what to do at institutional levels were within bounds. They were grownups. They were racist-ass grownups, but they were grownups, and that meant that it was possible to change their minds to some degree, which meant having a conversation with them was not pointless.Report

      • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to Chris
        Ignored
        says:

        @chris

        Adults go into such conversations open to the possibility that they may have to look hard at themselves, that what they hear may make them uncomfortable, and that they may, in fact, be part of the problem.

        Adults do not assume that because the person they are talking to is white & is not demonstrating the attitude they want to see, that said person has not already had such conversations, repeatedly, with multitudes of persons with direct experience of personal & institutional racism, has not already achieved a degree of understanding sufficient to see that such problems are real & in need of addressing in a large scale way, and is not interested in doing all they reasonably can to help put an end to such.

        In short, you don’t know me, & you have no clue what my history is. You assume way too much, and I absolutely will not stand & be lectured by the likes of you over whether or not my ken of racism is sufficient to the cause of working to end it.

        When someone says I’m here & willing to help, if the next words out of your mouth are not “Great! Here’s what you can do.”, you are doing it wrong.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Chris
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        says:

        I’m not the one agreeing with the person who has said “conversations about racism can only take place if you agree with me about X, Y, and Z.” I’m not the one suggesting that I am above criticism on the topic of racism. You are. I’m not lecturing you. I am dismissing you. I’m dismissing you as someone who is incapable of having a meaningful conversation about racism, and therefore as someone I can be fairly certain has never had one before. I’m not assuming, I’m reasoning. There is a difference.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Chris
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        says:

        Chris,

        Anger may not represent the moral high ground, but I do think it represents moral righteousness, and that’s the term I used.

        If you think you’ve done a good day’s deed further alienating her from the types of discussions you’d like to have, well, think back about my experiences here along the same line.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Chris
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        says:

        She alienated herself. I haven’t done a good deed, I’ve just made myself feel better. And as my very first response to her indicates, that’s really all I was interested in. I’ve responded to MRS angrily, but at least in detail, because I at least know that he is worth talking to on other subjects. Brooke? All I’ve seen from her is a little dose of white supremacy.Report

      • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to Chris
        Ignored
        says:

        No, Chris, you are the one who sucks at winning friends & influencing people.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Chris
        Ignored
        says:

        Finally you speak truth!Report

      • Avatar Patrick in reply to Chris
        Ignored
        says:

        @mad-rocket-scientist

        Were we having a conversation about how to win people to your cause, or were we having a conversation about what the problem was in the first place?

        Granted, the presentation was decidedly NOT aimed at winning Brooke over to listening, but Chris isn’t wrong about any of his main points, as near as I can tell.

        You have determined that you are not part of the problem, that your anti-racism is sufficient, and you demand that anyone you talk with accept your determination. This demonstrates rather conclusively that you are part of the problem, that you accept, and contribute to, a culture of white supremacy, and no fruitful conversation about racism is possible with you.

        I pretty much agree with that, entirely. Not necessarily that Brooke is that person, but I would definitely say that if you believe that you are not part of the problem, that your anti-racism is sufficient, and you demand that anyone you talk with accept your determination as a prior to the conversation starting, then yeah.

        You’re doing it wrong.

        Honestly, if you think that you understand it as much as it is possible for you to understand it, you are the sort of person who most needs to be listening and not talking, because you are in for a surprise.

        This too.

        Indeed, most of the problem that we have with “talking about race” is that everybody wants to start talking, instead of shutting the fuck up already and listening to the folks that are actually impacted by the thing.

        Even if the one instance of “that folks” that’s currently doing the talking is making you want to interrupt with #notallwhitepeople (or #notallmen, or #notallnerds, or whatever). They’re coming from a place of anger and that’s uncomfortable to listen to. It’s the listening that’s important, really. You don’t have to accept that person’s judgment, but you really should listen to the experience.Report

      • Avatar ScarletNumbers in reply to Chris
        Ignored
        says:

        @chris

        @mad-rocket-scientist : No, Chris, you are the one who sucks at winning friends & influencing people.

        Chris: Finally you speak truth!

        Well at least Chris acknowledges that he is being off-putting with his rhetoric.

        Chris, I have no idea why you are taking this so personally. You should keep in mind that @brooke is under no obligation to have any conversation with you. This does not make her any less of an adult.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Chris
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        says:

        She alienated herself.

        And you did your damndest to make sure it stuck.

        I haven’t done a good deed, I’ve just made myself feel better.

        Well, yes, that’s what I said. But how much lasting satisfaction do you get from it?Report

      • Avatar Gabriel Conroy in reply to Chris
        Ignored
        says:

        @chris

        Well, I guess she did say “I’m not part of the problem,” which, by the way, is close to what I had said in my comment: “She may very well have and I missed it, and it seems that can be inferred from some of what she’s said here.”

        I don’t recall agreeing to “we don’t need to talk about racism, only what to do about it,” but it’s quite possible that in one of my responses to her above, in which I said I agreed with what she had said, perhaps that could be inferred. If so, then bad on me for not writing clearly, because I don’t believe “we don’t need to talk about racism, only what to do about it.”

        As for your answer to my “shibboleth’ing” concerns, you’re probably right that if someone is part of the problem, then they should recognize it, and recognizing it can be signal of good faith for further conversation. I don’t follow you all the way to the point that one must recognize it before a conversation can even begin, however.

        I agree with James that Brooke is perhaps protesting too much. And yet, when I last read through the comments (this morning), she seems to have had to face a fairly robust critique of her position. What I mean is, she’s put herself out there, probably knowing that she’d get something like the pushback she did. In my experience, only two types of people do that, trolls and people who want to stake out what they truly believe but also what they know is an unpopular position among the more sensible people here. And she’s not a troll.

        I have in my own way tried to engage her as well as advance my own concerns about how these “conversations about conversations about racism” go. Last I checked (again, this morning) she chose not to respond (which is her prerogative) and my own concerns haven’t been really addressed, either (which isn’t an injustice because comment threads thread the way they will and if I really want to push the issue I can write a guest post).

        Finally, you make a pretty strong point in this sub-thread about why people who come to conversations about racism need to have an open mind. I agree! Perhaps you might consider whether “people like Brooke” might be conversated with after all? Or if you can’t go that far, then I’ll ask whether in your upbringing you ever felt as Brooke does and how you changed your mind on that score? I for one have my own story to tell about how I got where I am, which I think is probably closer to your starting-point-for-conversation requirement than you might think from my comments in this thread. I wasn’t always the person who sees my role as part of the problem, and sometimes I toy with pushing back on that notion myself (with questions like, “what can one person really do?,” “sometimes I choose to act certain ways that I know are wrong but that seem really rational in the moment and that I probably won’t stop anytime soon, why?”).Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Chris
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        says:

        @james-hanley it kinda did.

        @scarletnumbers where I come from, what Brooke said is all too common among a certain type (educated white southerners). She’s certainly under no obligation to speak to me. To be honest, on this subject I’d rather she not, because her stance pisses me off (if you hadn’t noticed). But I’m under no obligation not to tell her exactly what I think of her stance.

        @gabriel-conroy , fair enough, I don’t mean to lump you in with views that you don’t share.

        Where, when, and how I grew up, which was in the middle of a sea of overt and tacit racism, certainly made discussions of racism hard for me. There is nothing so threatening to the belief that one is an enlightened soul, a belief I held before I became as jaded and cynical as I am today, than hearing that one may in fact not be a perfect anti-racist, or anti-sexist, or anti-homophobe. It seems to me there are two ways one can deal with this: protect one’s self-image completely, but avoiding any discussion that might lead to such a threat, or thinking long and hard about whether one is, in fact, as enlightened as one thinks. The former, which is the tact Brooke has taken, is fine if all you want to do is sail through life without having to look hard at yourself. The latter, however, is where growth and progress begin, if not social, then at least personal. I’m not going to pretend that I’ve always taken the second route, because it’s the difficult route, and sometimes I want nothing to do with hard and painful. I’ve certainly never been proud of taking the first route, though, and I’ve never suggested, as Brooke has here, that in taking it I am on the high road and that anything that challenges my enlightenment is destructive not merely of my own self-image, but of progress itself.Report

      • Avatar Gabriel Conroy in reply to Chris
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        says:

        @chris

        Thanks for the honest answer. I and for all the sturm und drang I’ve offered here, I do agree with this:

        It seems to me there are two ways one can deal with this: protect one’s self-image completely, but avoiding any discussion that might lead to such a threat, or thinking long and hard about whether one is, in fact, as enlightened as one thinks.

        I just think it’s really hard to know where someone else is at, deep down. I suppose we can usually rely only on what people say and their actions. And in blog threads, we can’t really assess actions, so we have to rely on words. And Brooke’s words, I admit, present a view that’s hard to discuss with. I get that point and agree with it. And yet, I’ve been there and in some respects still am there and find it hard to relay the very real ambivalence I have about these types of discussions. (There I go, making it about me! 🙂 ) When others raise those concerns or similar ones–and I admit that while I think those concerns are important, they’re not as important as others, such as actually listening to people’s experiences–that is, I think, an opportunity to enrich the discussion.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Chris
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        says:

        There is nothing easy about discussing racism, but we have to remember that we, white people, are not the ones with the really hard parts. Sure, deep, meaningful introspection and personal change are difficult, but they pale in comparison to what those who experience what we’re talking about deal with simply because of where they were born and with what skin color.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Chris
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        says:

        Racism and privilege seem inextricably linked to me. Asking someone to revise their racist beliefs and actions – even the seemingly innocuous ones – is equivalent to asking them to revise a self-concept based propped on the teetering foundation of privilege. Add in some glorification of punition and a cultural status based on relative power, and you get something awful. Something hard to change.

        Of course, I might be getting a bit melodramatic about all this….Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Chris
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        says:

        If it were easy, we’d have done it by now.Report

      • Avatar Gabriel Conroy in reply to Chris
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        says:

        If it were easy, we’d have done it by now.

        True that.Report

    • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Brooke
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      says:

      @brooke

      I wrote the statement that particularly bothered you. You are misinterpreting it. Whiteness — not white people — is an institution steeped in racism and which serves to maintain its power and privilege. I do not assign blame to individuals or even groups for creating it as it existed long before any of us were alive. However, we bear responsibility for changing the system.Report

    • Avatar Kim in reply to Brooke
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      says:

      Having just had one of these conversations — “truth and rec” conversations that is, NO, folks are understandably upset, but really just like to share. A Lot. Because things that White People Do are outrageous (not that some things Black People Do aren’t also outrageous, but offtopic).

      Allowing people to vent is one thing.
      Understanding that people venting IS conveying information from person X to person Y is important.

      I sat down and I learned that one racist ass bitch could attempt to turn an entire neighborhood against a new black neighbor — sending her kid home in tears (she doesn’t live in that neighborhood anymore, capiche?).

      I learned that a black woman in a suit can be effectively stalked while working for the city (including having people follow her to the restroom, to make sure she’s not “up to something”).

      Everyone around here knows I collect stories and share them too. It’s always good to keep your ears open.Report

  15. Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist
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    says:

    @patrick

    You have determined that you are not part of the problem, that your anti-racism is sufficient, and you demand that anyone you talk with accept your determination. This demonstrates rather conclusively that you are part of the problem, that you accept, and contribute to, a culture of white supremacy, and no fruitful conversation about racism is possible with you.

    I’m pretty sure that is some kind of Zen Koan with some word replacement done to it. What you & Chris seem to be suggesting to me is that I am not allowed to assess my own anti-racism & determination to help. That I must subject myself to the opinion of others as to whether or not I am sufficiently … something… in order to be able to skip the lecture/scolding & go straight to the “what the hell do we do about it” conversation.

    Which is pretty rich coming from some pretty privileged white folks (at least, Chris has admitted he is, and I think you are; although I could be wrong about you). As I said before, …if you were a POC & wanted to have a conversation about racism with me, from your perspective. I’ll listen, because what the hell, you may have something unique to offer & it costs me very little to listen. So talk to me about how you’ve experienced institutional racism, or personal racism (which, if you are white & living in North America, will be a neat trick). But don’t presume to lecture me about whether or not I am understanding enough, because you are not in a position for it to be even remotely possible to know.

    In other words, check your privilege.Report

    • Avatar Patrick in reply to Mad Rocket Scientist
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      says:

      What you & Chris seem to be suggesting to me is that I am not allowed to assess my own anti-racism & determination to help.

      No, not at all. You can assess your own anti-racism and your own determination to help, sure. I didn’t see Chris say that, at all, either.

      One might think that it’s entirely possible that… as a member of the majority class… your own perceptions of your own anti-racism may have confirmation bias problems. Hits me every once in a while, why shouldn’t it hit you?

      That I must subject myself to the opinion of others as to whether or not I am sufficiently … something… in order to be able to skip the lecture/scolding & go straight to the “what the hell do we do about it” conversation.

      It seems very weird to me that listening to other people talk about their experience of racism is necessarily regarded as “lecturing and scolding”. That sounds an awful lot like dancing on the edge of reverse-projection.

      Granted, it can be. Just like listening to some feminists talk about men or some libertarians talk about liberals. Or some liberals talk about libertarians.

      But I’ve had plenty of interesting conversations about race that weren’t predicated by someone telling me how I was part of the problem, just like I’ve had plenty of interesting conversations about feminism that weren’t predicated with “all sex is rape”. Sometimes we started off the conversation not talking about me being part of the problem and in the process of having the conversation I realized that yeah, to an extent, I’m part of the problem. The fact that I most folks don’t have The Talk with their kids and they don’t realize that minority folks have The Talk with their kids? That means they’re part of the problem… not in a causal sense but in an environmental sense.

      I’ve even managed to have a number of conversations with liberals *and* libertarians about libertarianism or liberalism that haven’t digressed immediately into “let me tell you what they think”.

      As to the “must subject yourself to the opinion of others”… well, yeah. We all need to do that every day.

      Hell is other people. Don’t know what else to tell you on that score.

      Chris’s objection to Brooke wasn’t that she wanted to defend herself from lecturing and scolding. Chris’s objection to Brooke was that she mandated, as an entry to the conversation, that she be recused from any lecturing or scolding. At least, that’s how I read what he wrote, and that’s how I read what she wrote, myself, and that’s what I was agreeing with in principle if not perhaps presentation.

      But don’t presume to lecture me about whether or not I am understanding enough, because you are not in a position for it to be even remotely possible to know.

      I don’t recall doing that, myself. I didn’t say that you weren’t understanding enough. I said that if you’re choosing to mandate that the conversation can’t include you possibly not being understanding enough, you’re doing it wrong.

      In other words, check your privilege.

      I don’t know if you were throwing that in an attempt to be amusing or not, but it’s undermining your credibility if it was intended to be funny.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Patrick
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        says:

        Chris’s objection to Brooke was that she mandated, as an entry to the conversation, that she be recused from any lecturing or scolding. At least, that’s how I read what he wrote, and that’s how I read what she wrote, myself, a

        Considering that you talked about the possibility and value of discussions that don’t involve scolding, I’m not sure what your objection to her objection to being scolded is.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Patrick
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        says:

        There are times when scolding is called for, to be sure, but I don’t think discussions of racism with white people have to involve scolding. Hell, even when in the course of discussion the possibility that you, or I, or Brooke, are part of the problem, this is not necessarily a scolding. But she’s ruled that possibility out too.

        I’ll repeat my position again (which I think Patrick summarizes pretty well): if you want to have a discussion about racism, or let’s go beyond racism, anything that you don’t directly experience but others do, you can’t go into such discussions dictating not only how it can be discussed, but actually what can be discussed, and hope to have a fruitful discussion.

        Here’s my challenge to anyone who’s willing to take it: next time a conversation about race pops up that is not just among white people, use Brooke’s exact quotes and see what reaction you get from the black people in the discussion. See how well they take to being told that if they don’t automatically accept your saintliness on the issue of racism, they are doing nothing more than making you feel guilty. See how well they take being told that you can’t discuss their experience of racism, because you already know all about it and think it’s bad, so what you and they should be doing is discussing policy solutions. See how well that conversation goes.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Patrick
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        says:

        you can’t go into such discussions dictating not only how it can be discussed, but actually what can be discussed, and hope to have a fruitful discussion.

        Fortunately you haven’t done that at all.Report

      • Avatar Patrick in reply to Patrick
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        says:

        Considering that you talked about the possibility and value of discussions that don’t involve scolding, I’m not sure what your objection to her objection to being scolded is.

        Um, because I’ve had conversations that weren’t focused on me and my demands for how the conversation rolls down that turned out to be difficult and annoying but productive?

        Also: just because something actually reveals that you have a bias about something doesn’t mean that characterizing it as “scolding” is accurate?

        There are a multitude of ways these conversations can start. Just a couple:

        “Let me tell you why all white people are racist” happens, I’m sure, but I’ve heard it about as frequently as “Let me tell you why all sex is rape”. That is, not much really (and even the folks who started off a conversation that way still might have something to say).

        “Let us talk about racism but #notallwhitepeople and specifically #notme needs to be added to all descriptions of racism or I’m not participating” is unlikely to go anywhere, for one thing, but you’re very unlikely to be able to ever actually learn if you have a blind spot because you’ve already established that you getting offended at someone else saying something that you find uncomfortable is their fault, and not possibly a result of *you being wrong about something*.

        I see the second as an overly broad rejection of the first. Why the hell does the conversation need to be about you at all? Can’t we recognize that in a conversation about systemic and pervasive badness, it’s going to come about that we’re going to be exposed to some uncomfortable moments and maybe we should just put on our big boy/girl pants and deal with it?

        I watched “Black Sheep Squadron” when I was a kid. Conversations about “The Japs” got me a lecture from my grandfather who spend most of WWII in Bataan. Those were uncomfortable, but they were a legitimate case of me perpetuating a stereotype although I didn’t mean anything bad by it.

        A lot of conversations about race are going to involve the majority class realizing that something that they say, or do, or assume, is inherently prejudicial to a class of folks and that maybe they ought to cut that shit out.

        Saying, “No, we can’t have conversations that make me feel uncomfortable” sorta makes conversations about “what do we do about it” not possible, because we can’t even define with “it” is first.Report

      • Avatar Patrick in reply to Patrick
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        says:

        you can’t go into such discussions dictating not only how it can be discussed, but actually what can be discussed, and hope to have a fruitful discussion.

        Fortunately you haven’t done that at all.

        Pithy, but a cheap shot, James.

        “I reject your requirements” isn’t quite the same thing as “My requirements trump yours”, now, is it? What’s the null hypothesis here?Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Patrick
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        says:

        @james-hanley that would be a fair criticism if you hadn’t left out some key parts of that quote, specifically this:

        if you want to have a discussion about racism, or let’s go beyond racism, anything that you don’t directly experience but others do,

        If you think I have done what I’m accusing Brooke of doing, given the full quote, I’m open to being shown precisely how.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Patrick
        Ignored
        says:

        Can I stipulate that discussions of libertarianism not result in lecturing or scolding? If nothing else, it would make a refershing change,Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Patrick
        Ignored
        says:

        Seems to me that Chris is dictating that discussion of “I am not responsible” is off-limits, or even a request to have the discussion without claims of blame is off-limits.

        I’m not arguing in favor of Brooke’s position understand. I’m just thinking that your claims to be the adult in the room, and your claim that you’re not lecturing, are not really ringing true in this set of responses, and I’m wondering how long the satisfaction of moral indignation is really going to last. I know for myself it never lasts that long.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Patrick
        Ignored
        says:

        Mike,

        I think you missed the part where I haven’t defended Brooke’s position.Report

      • Avatar Patrick in reply to Patrick
        Ignored
        says:

        Seems to me that Chris is dictating that discussion of “I am not responsible” is off-limits

        Er… isn’t that backwards? I would say that Chris is saying, “you don’t get to dictate that ‘I am not responsible’ is a precondition for the discussion.”

        or even a request to have the discussion without claims of blame is off-limits.

        If we’re talking about systemic disadvantage applied to a minority population, I’m pretty sure that cause will have to be attributed if you’re going to have any possibility of addressing cause. Moving forward and all that. Seems to me that attributing cause will be regarded as “placing blame” in any universe in which humans have conversations. Maybe that’s me?

        I’m not arguing in favor of Brooke’s position understand.

        No, I got that.

        I’m just thinking that your claims to be the adult in the room, and your claim that you’re not lecturing, are not really ringing true in this set of responses

        Is that directed at me or at Chris?

        I’ll readily admit he came across as lecturing. I don’t know that this is a fatal blow for his point, though.

        Me, I never claimed to be the adult in the room.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Patrick
        Ignored
        says:

        Maybe you’re not responsible. That’d be a good thing to discuss, wouldn’t it? It’s too bad we can’t under Brooke’s framework. We should all feel free to under mine.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Patrick
        Ignored
        says:

        Oh, and I pretty clearly said I’d rather listen to and talk to adults, the people who don’t enter a conversation about racism with a whine about how they’re victimized when racism comes up because people don’t recognize their saintliness and talk about what they want to talk about. Whether I am one of the adults is another matter entirely.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Patrick
        Ignored
        says:

        “I’m not going to have this conversation if X”

        “If you say that, we’re not going to have any conversation.”

        Both are kind of dictatorial, no?

        I get Chris’s point that we can’t actually discuss this one thing unless we also discuss this other thing. But that’s ignoring how real conversations work, which are always fuzzier and less straightforward than “A must precede B” would indicate.

        Or in other words, Brooke could be engaged, on what appear to be her terms, or at least closely enough to allay her fears and keep her in the conversation, and then the discussion could be around to the “A” issues, couched in terms to break down or sneak past her defenses.

        Or she could be yelled at, and told how terribly racist she is. As in all such cases (including all my own) which response is chosen says more about the responder than it does about Brooke.Report

      • Avatar Patrick in reply to Patrick
        Ignored
        says:

        I dunno, James, maybe.

        See my sidebar post about the antivax movement to grok why maybe I’m more supportive of Chris’s attitude today than I might have been had this post gone down six weeks ago.

        After you get into certain conversations enough times, you can see where the blocks are. Deciding that you’re not willing to have conversations with the folks who aren’t willing to admit that the blocks are even there can be necessary to prevent PTSD.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Patrick
        Ignored
        says:

        A) Comparing Brooke to an anti-vaxer is pretty harsh, and I don’t think there’s the evidence to support it. It seems to me folks like Chris haven’t even tried to talk to her whenever she’s appeared; she’s just heen harshly criticized. That can’t be justified on the grounds she’s as unreachable as an anti-vaxer if no one’s seriously tried to have a nice conversation with her and repeatedly failed.

        B) Yelling at someone that you’re not going to have a conversation with them because they’re not good enough is not not having a conversation with them.Report

      • Avatar Patrick in reply to Patrick
        Ignored
        says:

        A) Comparing Brooke to an anti-vaxer is pretty harsh, and I don’t think there’s the evidence to support it.

        I wasn’t comparing Brooke to an anti-vaxer, I was comparing my fatigue with talking with anti-vaxers with Chris’s fatigue with talking about race.

        It seems to me folks like Chris haven’t even tried to talk to her whenever she’s appeared; she’s just heen harshly criticized.

        I’ll note that you’ve taken some pains to mention that you don’t support Brooke’s comments and here you’ve noted (fairly) that she was harshly criticized but you haven’t really said that she has been unfairly criticized.

        That can’t be justified on the grounds she’s as unreachable as an anti-vaxer if no one’s seriously tried to have a nice conversation with her and repeatedly failed.

        That’s a fair point. For what it’s worth, again, I was not trying to draw a comparison between Brooke and anybody.

        B) Yelling at someone that you’re not going to have a conversation with them because they’re not good enough is not not having a conversation with them.

        I don’t think this is a fair assessment of Chris’s point. You’re attributing a normative value of goodness to a pretty specific non-normative point Chris was making (remember, dude’s a crazy relativist to begin with).

        Chris was yelling at Brooke that he didn’t want to have a conversation with her because he thought she was demanding that the conversation be on terms he thought were counterproductive. I mean, that’s pretty clear.

        That’s not the same charge as “I don’t think you’re ‘good’ enough to converse with”.Report

      • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to Patrick
        Ignored
        says:

        @patrick
        Let me tell you all a story, & then I’m bowing out of this conversation.

        In all my 40 years on this troubled ball of mud, I’ve had exactly one white person* who I’ve had a useful conversation about racism with, both at large & within myself. She was my Soc134 (American Issues with Race & Ethnic Minorities) professor, a class I took on a whim in order to fulfill my breadth & depth requirement (UWs attempt to make sure engineers have something approaching a well rounded education). It was a summer class, taught by a woman whose Irish ancestry was stereotypically obvious. She spent 8 weeks having a conversation about race with the whole class. She managed to not judge us, to help us all recognize the biases we picked up like burdocks & taught us how to pick those biases apart enough to know when they are expressing themselves. We learned to listen to people tell their stories, and to try to see ourselves in their shoes, while recognizing that it is not something most of us will never be able to truly relate to. There was never any accusations of racism, or judgement, or any such hostile\negative aspects. She was hands down one of my favorite, & most memorable professors, and she was just a visiting faculty member, who’d never taught the class before. She basically grabbed an old syllabus & winged it.

        The vast majority of conversations about race that I’ve had with white people before that class, & since, have been annoying, judgemental, hypocritical & largely without depth. A large number of them have been exercises in social signalling, with the other person only interested in expressing just how much they CARE!

        Since I’ve seen how the conversation can happen & be constructive without being accusatory, I’m going to push back on people like Chris who say things like This demonstrates rather conclusively that you are part of the problem, that you accept, and contribute to, a culture of white supremacy, and no fruitful conversation about racism is possible with you.

        This is doing it wrong. It is accusatory, inflammatory, and if Brooke was perhaps willing to rethink her position before, unhelpful crap like this is going to run a solid chance of turning her off the conversation altogether. This is assuming whole reams of things & then laying them at the feet of a person who is very likely expressing a valid frustration with how certain people insist on having conversations with regard to race. It does not foster a conversation, it shuts it down, HARD! It’s pretentious & it smacks of the kids who are busy having said conversations in an effort to show how much they care & some other person doesn’t (hence my privilege snipe).

        Perhaps, instead of letting his admitted anger get the better of him, Chris could have been more artful, could have recognized a person who is frustrated because they feel like they aren’t being afforded some measure of respect or an opportunity to help make things better (which is how I read Brooke’s comments). Could have found a better way. Instead, in my opinion, he went straight for “be a dick”.

        Perhaps that’s not how you read it. Perhaps you wish to give Chris a more generous reading. And that’s fine. It’s more than the reading Chris gave Brooke.

        *In my time in the Navy, I had lots of conversations about race with my crew mates, who hailed from all corners and ran the gamut of race & privilege. The conversations were born of frustration in the face of some pretty naked racism from one of our 1st Class Petty Officers. I think I’ve mentioned him before, and he was a horrible person, but the chain of command would not do anything because the guy was set to retire in a few years, and nobody wanted to destroy him so late in the game. Instead we all had to tolerate his crap, and as a bunch of E-1s through E-3s, if our CoC was willing to turn a blind eye, we were powerless to stop it.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Patrick
        Ignored
        says:

        Glad you had such a professor. She sounds like a good one.

        Have you ever read Audre Lorde? Do you think she has any important insights into racism? Do you think that if she’d taught that class, it would have gone quite the same way? Would you have gotten anything out of it, other than Brooke’s feeling that she’s the victim in all of this, if it hadn’t?Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Patrick
        Ignored
        says:

        Also, my relativism, such as it is, is perfectly sane.Report

      • Avatar Patrick in reply to Patrick
        Ignored
        says:

        @mad-rocket-scientist

        She managed to not judge us, to help us all recognize the biases we picked up like burdocks & taught us how to pick those biases apart enough to know when they are expressing themselves.

        I’m at a loss to imagine how someone can make someone else realize that they have a bias, and that that bias is pervasive and destructive, and not have the subject find themselves to have been judged. Isn’t that what judgement *is*? “Look, here’s where you’re being a racist prick”, that can be expressed in lots of easy to digest ways, with compassion and all, but it’s still pretty much a judgment (although certainly it came come without being presented as judgmental). Sure, there is “effective building of dialogue” as a worthy goal in and of itself, and “drawing in participation from people who might be inclined not to participate”. Those are both good things, don’t get me wrong. But it sure sounds like your prof was leading you to a judgment, still.

        I think part of the disconnect is here:

        Perhaps, instead of letting his admitted anger get the better of him, Chris could have been more artful,

        Certainly.

        … could have recognized a person who is frustrated because they feel like they aren’t being afforded some measure of respect….

        I’ll stop you right there for a second, if I may.

        When it comes to many issues, how you feel about the issue really should be something that you can stick in a bag for a minute or three. When it comes, in particular, to racism… something that impacts a large number of folks in a way that it doesn’t measure anywhere near on the same scale when it comes to how it impacts you… getting bent out of shape because you don’t feel like you’re getting respect is a problem that you really need to get over if you’re going to be able to listen to other folks.

        I’m not saying that people don’t deserve respect.

        I’m saying that you have to expect that respect is something that you probably won’t be granted by default in this conversation, for all sorts of long-standing reasons, most of which have very little to do with you, as an individual, and everything to do with the expression of institutional racism that you may represent to the other folsk in the conversation… which… let’s face it… looks, sounds, walks, and talks quite a bit like you.

        You can earn it, and get it.

        You can demand it (that’s your right, you deserve it), but that’s probably going to burn bridges… and remember, you’re the one in the privileged position, so “giving a little” (or even a lot) seems to be a small price to bear. If what you want to do is participate, anyway.

        I mean, “my kid is really, really unlikely be shot in the street accidentally even after shoplifting something” is a big win for me (recognized or no). “Having to put up with being the listener and letting the other folks set the context for the conversation” seems a relatively small price to pay.

        Instead, in my opinion, he went straight for “be a dick”.

        Granted.

        But being a dick and being wrong are two different things. To the extent that you remove the frustration and the dickishness and focus on the content, the content is pretty important.

        You can’t make a conversation about your societal privilege (and that’s what racism *is*, for the people in the majority population) into a conversation where your privilege is off-limits. You’re not going to go anywhere.

        Anyway, that’s how I’ve seen it go down. I could be wrong on that score.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Patrick
        Ignored
        says:

        @mad-rocket-scientist , to be fair, I didn’t go straight to dick. I went to snark, to be sure (perhaps a bit dickish), and then spent a fair amount of time explaining my snark. Then you and Road came in and told me to get off my high horse and that I, “as a white person, have nothing. Except, apparently, to scold other white people that they don’t care enough, or understand enough, according to your definition of ‘enough.'”

        So then I went full dick. But to be fair, I was matching dick to dick. I’m just better at it.

        Perhaps you don’t see my quandary here, so I’ll lay it out for you: I expressed a view of what Brooke said, and of the approach to conversations about racism that her remarks typify. I defended it to Gabriel and Michael Drew. It was straw-manned by Road, to which I responded with the level of respect that deserved, and then when I answered your comment fairly evenly, but without stepping back from my message, you said what I quoted above. So I had a choice: either not express my opinion, or be accused of being on a high horse, of posturing, or just looking to scold, or whatever, simply for having it. Hell, at the same time you are defending Brooke for saying that she has an opinion, you tell me that because I don’t have one you share, I don’t have anything. In other words, you did the same thing she did: shut down conversation by essentially saying that I had to agree with you for us to even have one. You’ve proven repeatedly that I am right about you on this topic, and continue to do so every time you reply.

        So yeah, I went full dick. And you deserved at least a fair amount of it. Perhaps I went overboard, but I tell you what, next time you are a dick, I’ll be one right back. And I’ll still be better at it.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Patrick
        Ignored
        says:

        What’s more, I haven’t said a damn thing in this thread that I haven’t defended with reasons. And I stand by every single thing I’ve said. You’ve responded basically by telling me that I’m a dick repeatedly. Maybe you are actually better at it.Report

  16. Avatar Stillwater
    Ignored
    says:

    In defense of Chris…

    Seems to me I never hear anyone say they’re a racist. No one. Hell, I just read a story about the KKK, and sure enough the grandmaster (or whatever they’re called) said “we’re not racist”. A while ago I wrote a post about racism and the view expressed in comments is that the GOP isn’t racist, nor are conservatives. And lawd knows I’ve never heard a liberalsay they’re racist. Libertarian? Not racist. Christians? Nope. Hindus/muslims/Jews? Nah. Me? Of course not!!!

    THe conclusion is that noone’s racist. Yet, when we look at crime and other societal statistics and listen to black people’s personal experiences, it seems readily apparent that racism exists. But if noone’s racist, where to all these expressions of racism come from? What accounts for them? Alsotoo, if noone’s racist how are we supposed to know what changes to make to ensure that the thing noone’s doing doesn’t continue to be expressed? How is that conversation supposed to go? (Which is Chris’s frustration, it seems to me.)

    Seems to me when we take a wide view of racism a critique of contemporary white culture is unavoidable. And it’s a pretty negative critique, it seems to me. (Not as bad as it once was, of course, but not even close to 99.44% pure.) Of course, I’ve yet to meet a white person who admits to being racist, so there’s a huge gap between the critique and the personal responsibility. At least for some folks.

    Or, alternatively, we can go all Dinesh D on the topic and just say that there isn’t any racism in the US. And lots of people seem inclined to do just that, blaming the victim rather than admit what ought to be a pretty obvious fact. (No one on this site. Anymore anyway.)

    So the conversation we’re talking about having is gonna be pretty damn uncomfortable, pretty antagonistic, pretty laced with ignorance and denial and all that. In short, impossible.Report

  17. Avatar ScarletNumbers
    Ignored
    says:

    Considering that there has been a lot of good discussion on this post, and multiple people have accused you of strawmanning, I think it would be nice if you could comment at some point.Report

    • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to ScarletNumbers
      Ignored
      says:

      There has indeed been a lot of great conversation on this post. I’ve been impressed, and so I’m not sure that my voice is necessarily needed.

      As to the straw man thing, well…

      I assume that what people are probably meaning with the strawmanning accusations is that I was being glib or facetious in my dialogues, which is certainly true. I was, and intentionally so.

      And if they weren’t? Well then, I’m not sure what to say. I presented two dialogues — one where a white person defined racism as a thing people who believe differently from them (but not them) do, and one where a white person refused to engage in a talk about racism as it occurs in ways that negatively impact disenfranchised non-whites.

      It seems like there’s enough of both of those in this very thread for the strawman objections to sound a bit ironic to my ear.Report

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