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Aug 20 2013

JT Eberhard lectures Black Woman on How to Respond to Naively Racist Questions

By Frederick Sparks

I was just about to write something on this when I saw that Jen McCreight said pretty much everything I was going to say, to a word, so read her post.  I will emphasize that , speaking of naiveté, the assertion that anyone who attends an atheist conference is an “ally” to every member of a marginalized social group is STEEPED in naiveté.

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  1. 1
    leni

    Wow.

    It sounds like it was both a wonderful and a painful rant, and I’m sorry I missed it.

    But what JT wrote, aside from everything Jen said, still sounds like gaslighting. I’ll grant that this is probably unintentional on his part, since he and I are all natural allies and such, but that’s how it sounded.

    In other words, he should maybe worry about his own god damned tone.

  2. 2
    F [i'm not here, i'm gone]

    Wow. That’s some sad behavior on JT’s part. I’d love to have heard Bria Crutchfield’s response to that question. I’m not sure how one could respond to that without outrage.

  3. 3
    Robert B.

    Naivete isn’t usually so self-serving. If some people who attend atheist conferences aren’t allies, then it’s possible that JT might not be an ally, which he has repeatedly been at pains to tell us he is.

    The topic tends to come up, since he has a habit of sticking his foot in his mouth in just this way every few months. The pattern is such that my reaction this time was, “Oh, did he do it again?” I still condemn his behavior, or rather, my previous condemnations still stand, but I’m not even a little bit surprised any more.

  4. 4
    WithinThisMind

    Does Bria have a blog? I’d love to add it to my list of reading material.

  5. 5
    beelzebubba

    Is there a video of Bria Crutchfield’s response? Or did she post a response to JT? I’d be really interested in seeing either one to get her perspective on this. I haven’t seen Crutchfield’s “rant” yet, so I don’t know whether it was just a personal attack on the questioner or whether it addressed why the question was stupid and racist. Because JT has overreacted to other people’s anger before I’m thinking right now that this angry rant probably had more substance to it than he’s suggesting. Whether it did or not matters because “black on black crime” is something that a lot of otherwise intelligent and well-intentioned white people think is a real problem, and they don’t know why bringing it up is stupid and racist.

  6. 6
    A Surprise to Many

    The thing that astonishes me most is that JT walked out in the middle of Ms. Crutchfield’s response, which means that he missed the gift of her anger. Being angry to the point of tears makes one incredibly vulnerable, and I cannot imagine doing it in a public, archived for YouTube forum. Crutchfield gave her audience a GIFT, her honest expression of hurt and anger. And JT threw that away. Allies do not throw away the gift of honesty and vulnerability. Allies do not insist that Black women, or women in general, or transpeople, or gay or lesbian people adopt some sort of straw-Vulcan persona in order to interact with members of a dominant group. Allies recognize that people who are willing to be angry in public, especially with people who are unthinkingly racist or sexist or classist, are not excluding the targets of their anger from the group, but offering them the opportunity to respond honestly, to learn to be better allies, to examine their own experiences, and to grow in wisdom.

    On a slightly different note, it is true that humiliation and shaming are not always the way to respond to disagreements, and I think the (mostly white, often mostly male) social justice community often overuses humiliation/shaming in confrontations with people deemed to be sexist or racist or ableist or whatever. JT is right that those are not the only tools, and perhaps they are overused, but he is completely wrong that this was an instance in which they were inappropriate.

    I’ve grown immensely from the direct anger of people who do not share my privileges – I would be very interested to know how the woman to whom Ms. Crutchfield expressed her anger and hurt thinks about the experience in a few months.

  7. 7
    skemono

    Is there a video of Bria Crutchfield’s response? Or did she post a response to JT?

    She showed up in the comments of Jen’s post saying she’s going to issue a statement. I don’t know when or where she’ll post it, so it may already be up somewhere?

  8. 8
    culuriel

    I think it’s becoming clear that the Atheist+ movement is going to have to break off from the Atheist-Only movement. One group seems intent on just removing privileges for religion but keeping them for other groups.

  9. 9
    xyz

    and of course some jerk burst into Jen’s comments to address Bria directly even though she wasn’t even there, scold her and say that he WILL have lunch with her to discuss the issue. Yikes.

  10. 10
    yazikus

    The thing that astonishes me most is that JT walked out in the middle of Ms. Crutchfield’s response

    This got me too. That shows profound disrespect, even if you are bored (JT found her response “unnecessary”) with the topic. I can’t remember the last time I walked out on something… scratch that, I don’t know that I’ve ever felt the need to show my contempt to someone by walking out on them while speaking.

  11. 11
    double-m

    One thing really annoys me about this. Why are Bria Crutchfield’s anger and JT Eberhard’s response the dominant topics in this debate? Am I the only one who thinks that “question”-asking woman’s attitude is the bigger problem, because it’s not just more widespread but also very dangerous? Perhaps I’m oversensitive because I’m part of an ethnic group that’s having their houses burnt down in some parts of the world on account of such memes. But to be honest, I find the woman’s question threatening.

    She didn’t ask, “what should society do about crime”. She said, “WE, the white people who rightfully represent society, expect an answer from YOU on what YOU’re going to do about crime committed by YOUR people”. Yes, I may be overreacting, but to my ears such questions sound like there’s an implied “if you don’t come up with answers, then…”. I won’t lie, everytime I get such a question, it frightens me. There’s nothing my community can do about it, and I suspect neither can the African American community. Because the reasons for crime are universal, and only society as a whole can eliminate them.

    So basically, what these people are saying is, “we expect you to solve a problem that you can’t really solve, or else…”. Or else what? “We’ll strip more of you of their voting rights, because you’re a bunch of criminals”? “We’ll deport you to a country where you’re not really safe”? “We’ll burn your house down and shoot you when you try to run from the fire”?

    At least JT Eberhard is a flesh and blood human, whom you can call out on his bs. But that woman’s segregationist attitude is some fucking invisible meme that you can’t touch, and the people and groups that perpetuate it unfortunately aren’t as easy to fight as Mr. Eberhard. It’s like something that can strike you anytime from a distance, but it’s that much harder to strike back.

    I’ll probably be more optimistic again tomorrow or so, but right now this really hits home *sigh*

  12. 12
    Pen

    I was interested by double-m and beelzebubba addressing the very naive question because where I live this question also comes up every single time in discussions of crimes where both the perpetrators and victims are disproportionately black. One answer to the question that’s very quick and easy here is that the police force – the people we’ve collectively put in charge of fighting crime – are disproportionately white (that reveals other problems about our society, but anyway…) ‘How can the police best serve you?’ is already a much more appropriate question, even if it does just scratch the surface. I’m not sure if the situation is similar in the US but if it isn’t, it’s actually interesting that the same naive question can have different sets of answers depending on the social context.

    1. 12.1
      double-m

      One answer to the question that’s very quick and easy here is that the police force – the people we’ve collectively put in charge of fighting crime – are disproportionately white (that reveals other problems about our society, but anyway…) ‘How can the police best serve you?’ is already a much more appropriate question, even if it does just scratch the surface.

      Let me give you two examples for that from my childhood in the U.S.. From everything friends and neighbors were telling me back then, African Americans were dealing with the exact same bs (and I’m betting they still are).

      My mother was a housekeeper for a white family with an abusive husband for a short time, and I helped her out a few times. One weekend, things got so bad that neighbors called the police. The cops (all white) were very nice and compassionate toward the woman. “Did he hurt you Mrs. Something? Would you rather talk to a female officer?” Exemplary reaction, right? Well, as long as you were a white woman from a middle-class neighborhood. Unfortunately, things were quite different if you happened to be a woman with a “Pakistani” appearance and lived in a somewhat less neat and cozy appartment block.

      A member of my family was also dealing with domestic abuse at the time. One day he got drunk again and beat her up. Half an hour later, the police knocked on the door. In came two stern-looking white cops. There was nothing to misinterpret about the situation. There was a woman sitting at the table, with visible bruises and in tears. There were four other women and a few kids trying to comfort her. Then that asshole cop addressed the crowd: “your neighbors are starting to call the police”, followed by a lecture about noise regulations. When the adult women became upset about their obvious indifference toward the victim, they started yelling at us. One of them actually went for his gun. Their final words were “that’s enough, next time you disturb the peace around here, there will be consequences”. He really used the phrase “YOU disturb the peace”. And then they left. No “do you need help”. No “do you wish to file charges”. Nothing. Just a lecture and a “shut the hell up”.

      You may say “isolated incidents”, but I don’t think so. The first example was simply crime. The second example was gypsy-on-gypsy crime (substitute “black-on-black” at your discretion), and therefore only a problem for the affected community. And those subhuman savages better not let it bother their neighbors.

      Not all white people treated us like that. Some were decent people. But in any context where crime was involved, where we had to deal with white “officials”, some variation of this account unfolded. I’d like to add that we never had any such experiences with African Americans. Sure, there were some common misconceptions about gypsies (we don’t all travel around in horse wagons), but always completely harmless ones, and no systemic racism of any kind. To them, we were human beings, neighbors, friends, people you hug and have fun with. To many white Americans, we were something that had to be prevented from contaminating their world. That’s why the woman’s “question” at that conference bothers me more than Mr. Eberhard’s naivete.

  13. 13
    carlie

    I was interested by double-m and beelzebubba addressing the very naive question because where I live this question also comes up every single time in discussions of crimes where both the perpetrators and victims are disproportionately black.

    The person who had given the talk has shown up in Jen’s comments to give further information. She said that “My talk on the day in question was about how the Freethought community can learn from the Hospitality Industry – which was well received by the audience. I touched on my organization briefly, and I did not speak on the problems in the Black community that particular day.”

    So… no prior discussion of crime at all, no discussion of the Black community. The question was entirely unrelated to the talk in any way.

  14. 14
    sezit

    These comments just helped me to figure out a pattern.
    That is: many times, such a questioner seems to have an underlying assumption that every member – of every minority – is personally responsible to solve every problem of her/his minority group. At the same time, by being a member of the majority, the questioner has no responsibility except to hold the minority person accountable. That puts the questioner into a very self-appealing I win/you lose position.

  15. 15
    Pen

    Yes, I thought that was very relevant as well – and I hadn’t known it up until the point Jen highlighted her comment.

  16. 16
    beelzebubba

    “I was interested by double-m and beelzebubba addressing the very naive question because where I live this question also comes up every single time in discussions of crimes where both the perpetrators and victims are disproportionately black.”

    The way I would address it is to say that it doesn’t really exist. The way the news media portrays it is that black-on-black crime is this problem that’s unique to the black community and shows something pathological about it, so pathological and unique that it can be used to silence black criticism of systemic racism. While it’s true that most crimes committed against black people are committed by other black people, it’s also true that most crimes against white people are committed by other whites. The same is true for Latinos, Asians and every other racial group. This is because most crimes are committed either by the victim’s family member or by someone the victim knows, regardless of race. And racial groups tend to live together.

  17. 17
    hoary puccoon

    With all the discussion about this, I don’t get why JT Eberhard hasn’t rethought his position.

    First of all, the woman’s “innocent” question was completely off-topic, which is rude to any speaker (and rude to the rest of the audience who were interested in discussing the speaker’s topic.)

    Secondly, “black-on-black crime” is being repeated ad nauseum on Fox News. If the questioner was aware she was using a Fox News talking point, she should have known better than to confront an African American speaker– who was speaking on a completely different topic. So it doesn’t look to me like her question was all that innocent.

    Third, if the questioner had researched the topic on her own, she would have known that crimes against white people are about 86% committed by whites– so black-on-black crime is just a standard example of “in most crimes, the victim and perpetrator are the same ethnicity.”

    Fourth, the speaker did not mind at all having someone angrily defend her.

    And most important, there are a lot of issues about which people have a right to get angry. Subtly cutting down a speaker’s presentation of herself as a professional by making a negative assertion about her ethnic group, is exactly the kind of sneaky micro-aggression that deserves to be roundly criticized.

    If the questioner was really asking the question innocently, she should be trying to understand why her behavior was inappropriate, not blaming Bria for being angry about it.

    And JT should be doing the same thing.

    1. 17.1
      beelzebubba

      And JT doesn’t get to decide whether somebody else has the right to be angry. Especially when he’s known for his anger at the religious. He can understand why his anger is justified but he can’t apply his own logic to other people’s anger

  18. 18
    joachim

    JT Eberhard seems to have a problem with black women.

    In his post today…Oct. 15th, 2013…titled “I thought my respect for Oprah couldn’t decline any more.”, his opening sentence reads: “This video clip made me want to start firebombing things.”

    What is the matter with him? That isn’t funny. It isn’t satire.

    He has crossed a line and should be reported.

  1. 19
    How to be a Good Ally | Atheism, Music, and More…

    […] now… well, now you are losing friends and allies. People are mad at you. And it really is time you stepped back and tried to understand […]

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