Saturday, March 6, 2010

two curious assumptions of anti-racists

Larry linked to Kate Nepveu's How to Discuss Race and Racism Without Acting Like a Complete Jerk, so I followed it, mostly to see if it mentioned class, a subject that has been taboo among the anti-racists in the science fiction and fantasy community until very recently. (Two examples: At How to Suppress Discussions of Racism, talking about class is considered a technique of suppression, and on the racist bingo card, "class issues" is a square.)

Nepveu's post touches on class tangentially in a brief section titled "The line between intersectionality and derailing can be very fine" which includes this: "first, you should be aware that people often say "well, what about X?" because, whether they realize it or not, they are uncomfortable talking about racism."

That made me see the first curious assumption of anti-racists. People who reject anti-racism's tenets are very comfortable talking about racism. When we say, "What about X?" we're not saying, "It can't be Y because it's X." We're saying there's an entire alphabet available, and you're insisting the problem is Y? We are saying, "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy." Many of us have read enough about the history of racism to know that racism was not born in a vacuum. Thandeka sums it up nicely: "...we must not forget that white racism was from the start a vehicle for classism; its primary goal was not to elevate a race but to denigrate a class. White racism was thus a means to an end, and the end was the defense of Virginia’s class structure and the further subjugation of the poor of all "racial" colors."

Recognizing one anti-racist assumption helped me spot another. Nepveu says,
Suppose I step on someone's foot. They say, "hey, ouch, you stepped on my foot."

My proper response is, "Gosh, I'm sorry. I'll be more careful." Depending on the situation, I might add something like, "I was looking for my kid's sneaker that she always kicks off," or "I've got something in my contact," etc.

My proper response is not, "Well, I didn't mean to step on your foot, so why are you angry?!"
and also
people who are subject to racism are much more likely to recognize it, especially because white people are taught that even noticing race is rude.
She assumes that patients can accurately diagnose the cause of their suffering. But that's often not true. (See, for example, Keith Sampson's story, or the story of racist fried chicken at NBC.) You may believe there's something wrong with your arm when you're having a heart attack.

Anti-racists hide a double-standard when diagnosing racism: they ignore or dismiss blacks who reject anti-racism, whether they're progressives like Thandeka or conservatives like Winkfield F. Twyman, Jr.

Why are people like Kate Nepveu so reluctant to discuss class? I suspect the answer is in her section titled ""Racism" and "privilege" are often used to mean very different things by different people." She says she is "upper-middle-class." In your own words, Ms. Nepveu: "Your privilege is showing."

Bonus curious assumption: Where she gets the idea that "white people are taught that even noticing race is rude", I dunno. Based on my googling, Bill Bennett is the only white person who thinks we live in a post-racial society, and Stephen Colbert is the only white person who can't see race.