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A note to my friends, family, colleagues and readers of color

Joan Walsh doesn’t speak for me.

I mean, I get her. I get the fear, the desire not to be lumped in with those bad other people who do the bad things. I get the desire to continue to enjoy the privilege of not having to think about my race day to day. I’ve been a straight person in the group of LGBT folks, the man in the group of feminist women, the cis guy talking to transfolk. Hell, I’ve been the only white person at the dinner table more often than I can count. I get that desire to start out each interaction with a pat on the back to assure me that I’m “one of the good ones.”

Don’t do me that favor.

I’ve been exceedingly fortunate in this life to have met people who have been willing to school me when I get something wrong, when I make assumptions about people’s lives based on my own experience. I’ve been fortunate to have people willing to instruct me out of my ignorance about the world outside my skin, and to do so mostly patiently, but not always. Sometimes that instruction came with justifiable peeve, or even anger.

And like Walsh, I’ve occasionally wanted to wave my lefty bonafides in front of my critic of the moment to defuse the topic, to make it more academic and a bit less uncomfortably about me. I’ve protested that just because I’m white doesn’t mean I’m conservative, or rich, or racist — and if I am racist, it’s at least not the kind that prompts me to drag people behind my truck. Like Walsh does somewhat academically in her essay, I have protested that far from being a racist, I am in fact a Nice White Guy.

But I’m learning that that criticism, as has been said here before in other contexts, is a gift. That the person taking the time to engage with me is, to appropriate a phrase from this important 2007 essay by the blogger Nanette, giving me the benefit of the doubt.

Like I said, I get Walsh’s desire to protest that we’re not all bad. I suppose I’m kind of doing it myself with this post, making my views distinct from her seeming ignorance of race privilege. Except that my goal here isn’t to separate myself from Walsh the way she wants you to separate her from the Klan. She and I are basically the same, after all, with our defensivenesses and privileges worn slightly differently.

Rather, my intent here is to thank you for the hard work you’ve put in to change the whole conversation, which you continue despite prominent people like Walsh telling you you’re doing it wrong. In ways incremental and massive; whether you were a one-time commenter on my blog with a sharp word or, well, my ex-wife who offered me two decades of private instruction in precisely where my white privilege lay; whether we’ve spoken directly at all or you’ve dissected a post of mine on your Tumblr or I’ve read something you wrote about something else and didn’t weigh in…

Well, I’m weighing in now. Thank you. You’re making the world a better place by speaking your mind candidly. Eventually, more of us will listen more of the time.

And don’t be too unnerved by Walsh’s admonition that whites need to be insulated from the scorn of people of color because “Democrats still need white support.” It’s an ugly threat on her part, but it’s an idle threat. Some of us don’t change our basic sense of ethics just because someone called us a name. I’m pretty sure Walsh is one of us, deep down. Yesterday’s essay just wasn’t some of her best work.

Comments

  1. CaitieCat says

    Wow, what a clueless post she dropped. Ick. Sounds very much (to me) like someone desperately worried that POC, when they’re the majority of USans, will treat white people the way white people have treated POC.

    Frankly, I think it’s breathtakingly cheeky of her to expect, let alone ask for, forbearance from POC for, y’know…pretty much everyfrakkinthing.

    Actually, I think this underlies a lot of the right-wing fear machine: that POC will treat white people the way whites have treated POC. And for a lot of white people, that must be terrifying, because they know what was in their heads for the last X years that they’ve been living in this society.

    Me, I figure if POC grab control of the various Western democracies against the white kyriarchy, I reckon they’re pretty much entitled to put the lot of us up against the wall, and not bother too much about whether some of the less-egregiously racist folk get caught in the net. Slavery was a big one, but there are plenty more: internments, head taxes, immigration bans, papers-please laws, endless disparagement, lynchings, genocides against First Nations people, massacres, slaughter, theft of land, breaking of treaties, Jim Crow, “No, where are you really from?”, Pretty White Girl Syndrome, miscegenation laws, Tuskegee, and a kajillion other things tiny and large.

    I don’t think that’ll happen, which is why I put myself to trying to tear down that privilege system. But I’d be hard-pressed to articulate an argument why it shouldn’t happen, save perhaps that it would probably give a fair number of POC PTSD.

  2. ck says

    I’m not sure she’s entirely wrong about everything in that article. There does need to be more talk about class, especially as a new aristocracy is in the process of being cemented in place.

  3. says

    Good piece, Chris. Thank you. Over the years, I’ve gotten angry at people for whitesplaining “native American”* things, but I try to keep in mind that most of them are simply ignorant and ignorance can be easily corrected. It’s a simple thing to help educate along the way.
     
    *Yeah, we’re not all a lump, we’re Nation specific, and not many of us are all too keen about that “American” business, either.

  4. CaitieCat says

    Caine – if I may ask, how do you as a native American feel (if you have any opinion at all, of course) about the Canadian usage “First Nations people”? It’s what I’ve grown accustomed to using here as the respectful name in the Greatly-White North, but I don’t want to use it on an American blog if it’s going to be a problematic usage.

  5. says

    CaitieCat, I’m a haffer (half Lakota Oglala) and I’m one of those who suffers a near-fatal eyeroll over “native American”. I don’t feel my opinion about the whole First Nations business is terribly relevant, however, I don’t think it’s nearly as offensive as NA, and I haven’t run across too many Canadian Indians who have a major problem with it, but it’s really not for me to say. Whenever possible, I think it’s best to be tribe/nation specific.

  6. Crip Dyke, MQ, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

    CaitieCat –

    I’ve found in Vancouver that “indigenous” is used more among my indigenous friends and law professors. Not exclusively, of course, and that excludes the Metis, but my Metis friends just call themselves Metis.

    I actually heard First Nations a ton more in the states than I do up here. None of this is scientific, of course, but I thought I should raise it.

  7. reneerp says

    That is an embarrassment. One thing that seems clear is that most POC just want to get on with our own lives, not wreak vengeance on the horrible white people. Sometimes I think this worry about how they’ll be treated after the change (as though it would be a Singularity) is a way to re-center the conversation on white people.

  8. ekwhite says

    When I read Joan Walsh’s article, I couldn’t help but think about how much of her white privilege was showing. With that being said, I can’t help but think about the disconnect between poor whites and poor people of color.

    I grew up as “poor white trash” in North Carolina, and we were barely better off than the black people around us. My family was subject to poverty, ignorance, alcoholism, dead-end jobs, violence, and the contempt of the rich folks who were our “betters.” The only things we had were family, religion, and racism. Somehow, looking down on blacks made us feel better about ourselves.

    Racism, though, prevented us from making common cause with the people who should have been our natural allies – black people who were were oppressed by the same people who oppressed us. We didn’t have to deal with the KKK and “Whites Only” signs, we lacked services and education. It was only after the civil rights movement heated up in the South that I began to get away from my own racism and bible thumping. My atheism is a direct result of the support of my Baptist pastor for racism.

    I don’t mean to imply that Joan Walsh is right, by the way. She is totally off base here. What I do mean is that we shouldn’t write off the benighted ignorant whites who vote for Romney, Rick Perry, etc. out of racism and fear. Maybe they can change. I think I have changed, although I will always have that racist voice inside me. I don’t want to say “screw them,” because some of them are my own family, even if they are horribly wrong.

    What do we do about people who vote against their own interests out of ignorance and fear? I don’t have any answers. I hope that some of you do.

  9. krubozumo says

    I can’t read the linked post at Salon, something about their scripting causes it to come up black on black which is pretty hard to discern, so I am going off the first sentence of the above comment.

    First off, one quickly realizes once one leaves the narrow confines of home turf and visits other continents for long enough and with enough exposure that POC (which I assume means people of color) have always been the global majority. That there is a privilege system partially predicated upon skin color and therefore essentially race is also perfectly obvious, and that it is skewed in favor of the minority is equally obvious.

    If as I divine from what little information I have, Joan Walsh is concerned that POC will take some kind of retribution on PONC (people of no color) then it is something of a testimonial to the fact that she apparently really has no ide WHO POC actually are. If that is so, then I agree, she cannot speak for me either.

    And yet none of you can know who I am or why I say so.

  10. CaitieCat says

    Thank you, Caine – i appreciate your taking the time to respond, and the clear wisdom of your answer. I’ll keep that in mind.

    And Crip Dyke (great name, btw, I am too, both of those), thank you for your contribution as well, much appreciated.

    Won’t continue what’s sorta offtopic, but thanks to you both for your responses.

  11. says

    Crip Dyke:

    I’ve found in Vancouver that “indigenous” is used more among my indigenous friends and law professors.

    It’s an excellent choice, too. Indigenous is used here (ND) quite a bit. Indigenous is even a Nakota blues rock group. :D

  12. Crip Dyke, MQ, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

    Whenever possible, I think it’s best to be tribe/nation specific.

    To the extent that I’m able to use that – which isn’t often enough – I think that’s a great policy. Up here especially. Down in Portland is the largest Urban population – by percentage or by total numbers I can’t remember now – of First Nations folk, but there’s massive mixing, and a huge number aren’t from PNW nations anyway. Addressing a group as if they were cohesive in nationality is just not going to work in that environment.

    While in Van there’s a lot of people from a lot of different areas, especially in the law school, the majority of indigenous folk in the city are Coast Salish, specifically Musqueam. It makes it easier to use nationality when dispossession and forced relocation were used differently and more recently than in the states. Out here in the West, people weren’t pushed as far from their homelands as they were in the States [even in the west coast states]. (Note that this isn’t to say the consequences were less severe or the program more moral, it’s just that folks weren’t as often moved to the other side of a mountain range, so it’s easier to be a part of Van and still be a part of the community whose focal-homes are no longer on Point Grey.

    I honestly don’t know a lot about this, so I wouldn’t be surprised if I have some particulars wrong, but there’s been a major change in how law is taught recently, and s35 law is now stressed, so we studied the development of Indigenous land title, which required knowing something about how far certain communities were pushed. It’s actually a pleasant surprise given the state of what’s called “Indian Law” in US law schools.

  13. bad Jim says

    Tony Hillerman once recounted a discussion about terminology among Native Americans; they weren’t crazy about “Native American” since relatively few Americans are immigrants, and they didn’t like “indigenous” because they were also the descendants of a much earlier wave of immigrants. Most said they preferred “Indian”. This was some time ago and it may not have been representative then.

  14. Crip Dyke, MQ, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

    @reneerp:

    not wreak vengeance on the horrible white people.

    Hey: that’s the White Devil to you!

    and, er, me…

  15. says

    Most said they preferred “Indian”.

    Yes, most do. Without the scare quotes. However, indigenous or Indigenous People has gained considerable ground over the years, especially as a majority of white people assume you’re talking about Eastern Indians if you say Indian.

  16. bad Jim says

    Actually, in speaking about population groups, it’s pretty straightforward to refer to the earliest immigrants as American and the second wave as European and African, so we had American-Americans, European-Americans and African-Americans, and after a few generations American-European-Americans, African-European-Americans, American-African-Americans … It sort of comes apart when Asians are introduced, because there is no clear divide between Eurasians, and the Americans are a relatively recent Eurasian offshoot.

    Labels like black, white, Indian and Latino are arguably preferable because they evoke our history and remain sadly descriptive today.

  17. says

    @Caine

    Indigenous seems to be the preferred term in Central and South America as well.

    @ekwhite

    I just read an editorial on Alternet about the results of this survey showing what they call “America’s Sadness Belt” centered on the Appalachian region. It’s just as you described. From the conclusion of the original post:

    These poll results are just the latest reminder that the region’s long-standing, intractable economic difficulties have not been resolved. The most recent issue of The Appalachian Voice points out that half a century has passed since the creation of the Appalachian Regional Commission, but political and economic problems in the area still persist. It was in 1964 that President Lyndon B. Johnson lamented that “Appalachia missed out on the abundance which has been granted to the rest of the nation.” The same could easily be said today.

  18. zibble says

    Dear people of privilege: hatred is active, prejudice is passive. No one chooses to be ignorant, it’s our natural state. You can only choose to be educated.

    People are not equipped to recognize their own ignorance, and you are not the exception.

    You do not receive a “get-out-of-bigotry” card just because you vouch for you.

  19. says

    @bad Jim

    There’s a company that does genetic screening for $99 called 23 and Me. You spit in a tube and mail it in to a lab to be processed, and they extract out millions of chunks of your DNA (not your entire gene sequence, but nearly as useful) and then you can log in to their website and read about what sorts of genetic diseases you might or might not be susceptible to, as well as displaying your ancestry, based right now on some sample set of 23 regions of the world, which I’m sure over-represents Europe and under-represents Africa and the Americas. BTW, indigenous Americans wouldn’t be “American-Americans”, from a population or genetic standpoint, they’re a subcategory of East Asian descent (crossing the land bridge, and not the wacky Book of Mormon “lost tribe of Israel” theory).

    Anyway, the point of wanting to know about your ancestry has a lot to do with what mutations might make you susceptible to diseases or whatever. The sociological aspect of race that’s layered on top is kind of a historical artifact of the fact that for the past 500 years, the rest of the planet has essentially been conquered by barbarian hordes from Northwestern Europe.

    In a “Guns, Germs & Steel” sort of way, “white” Europeans, from the days of Christopher Columbus, have conquered and subjugated the rest of the world, which leads to this strange subconscious fear that gets worse the less you confront it, among some white people, that the rest of the world is going to get its revenge soon. I think most everyone else (POC and white people clued in enough to see the Matrix, as it were) see that we live in a seriously unjust political system and it hurts the so-called First World as much as anyone else.

    As Americans, we’re hurting ourselves by being so averse to funneling more than a tiny portion of our enormous resources towards helping the poorest among us, vs. spending it on money to drop bombs on the poorest among the rest of the planet. It’s that whole libertarian Ayn Rand thing going on, I guess.

    The other thing I find hilarious/tragic is that populations generally improve in health the more mixing you have between them, because you reduce the chance of getting two copies of a recessive gene for some bad condition. So the idea of “white people” as being somehow special and desirable to be preserved? P.Z. did a good post a while back about how dog and horse breeders do all sorts of inbreedings to try to go in certain directions, but you only have to look at how messed-up some of the royal families of Europe got (like Charles II of Spain) with inbreeding to see why that’s not such a good idea in humans.

    On the sociological side, the system hurts white people too (“the 99%”) just as the patriarchy hurts men too, but at the same time, like Chris wrote, I try my best to shut up and listen when I don’t have first-hand experience of these things.

  20. says

    Anyway, the point of wanting to know about your ancestry has a lot to do with what mutations might make you susceptible to diseases or whatever. The sociological aspect of race that’s layered on top is kind of a historical artifact of the fact that for the past 500 years, the rest of the planet has essentially been conquered by barbarian hordes from Northwestern Europe.

    It’s more like 200. China was, and remains, the 800 lb gorilla, in discussing how unreservedly whites dominated since they found out there was continents on the way between them and Asia.. 500 years ago, they were also doing worse than the Ottomans, and other powers – even with the discovery and colonization of parts of the Americas. Eurocentric history is bad, mmkay?

    Re: OP
    YEah, that’s unsurprising. White people in general seem to be getting more and more offended at the idea that they contribute to the system they run and that benefits them. Avicenna had similar, and in general it isn’t novel. It’s getting obnoxious though.

  21. bad Jim says

    Jake Hamby, I did mention that Americans were Eurasians, even if they’ve been American longer than my father’s ancestors were Irish. I actually submitted a sample to the National Geographic’s Genographic project, and found that my Y-chromosome was R-1b (which they called Cro-Magnon) which is entirely consistent being named Sweeney.

    Caine, I apologize for my use of quotes. It’s a habit from my programming career, where strings and variables must be distinguished, and it was meant to be more of a use/mention clarification.

    I’m inclined to agree that immigration from South Asia is making Indian less acceptable, although having worked with people from both India and Pakistan I would be loath to use a national designator without further information. Yesterday I encountered a family which, from the father’s headgear, I surmised was Sikh, and I was tempted to ask where they were from; they sounded almost, but not exactly Scottish, but surely somewhere in the north of Britain.

    In the article Chris Clarke objects to, Joan Walsh didn’t make the point as clearly as I’d like that Obama didn’t exactly lose the white vote. He got a majority in the Northeast and an even split in the West, and ran only slightly behind in the Midwest. There’s no point in talking about national demographics if you don’t emphasize the special quality of the South.

  22. says

    bad jim:

    I’m inclined to agree that immigration from South Asia is making Indian less acceptable

    It’s not really a matter of being less acceptable, at least to Indians themselves, it’s more a matter of confusion. Particularly in the face of a lot of white people’s reactions to Indians, which is generally one of shock or surprise. It’s incredibly obnoxious, but extremely common for people to be astonished that yes, Indians are still around, and yes, we can manage to be articulate and navigate the magical internetz machine and so on.

  23. John Morales says

    [OT]

    bad Jim:

    Caine, I apologize for my use of quotes. It’s a habit from my programming career, where strings and variables must be distinguished, and it was meant to be more of a use/mention clarification.

    My personal style is to use apostrophes rather than quotation marks as delimiters to denote I’m referring to the term itself.

  24. embertine says

    Thanks Caine, that’s really interesting. In the UK we tend to say Native American because we have such a large Asian Indian population, and also because, obviously, not a lot of American Indians live here. Also because I can’t seem to get over the fact that we only said Indian in the first place because Columbus got lost, but that’s a silly reason!

    I guess my policy in the future, should it ever come up, is to start from the assumption that Indian is better but just to ask people in a low-key kind of way what they prefer. Would that seem reasonable?

  25. bad Jim says

    John Morales: good point. No need to use the shift key. In fact I think I used to do that, and I’m not sure why I changed my habit. I’ll try to keep it in mind.

    Caine, one thing that bugs me about the Latinos I know well enough to bring up the subject is how few of them seem willing to acknowledge that they might have Indio ancestry. My father’s family assumed that we did, and were disappointed when my grandmother established that we were plain old white bread European, Irish with a just a seasoning of English and German &c. Perhaps the best way to look at it is that it’s a measure of my privilege that I would find some American heritage gratifying but most would find it threatening.

    Oh, well. It’s about as reasonable to suppose we can get over centuries of genocide and exploitation in just a few generations as it is to expect Jesus to return in our lifetime or that we’ll have commercially available fusion power.

  26. CaitieCat says

    I want to gently suggest that I erred in bringing this up here, because I’m concerned that we’re putting Caine in a social-pressure situation to make this a thread to talk about names for First Nations peoples – with the absolute best of intentions, of course – but I don’t want to have started something where Caine doesn’t feel she can stop doing so.

    Caine, if I’m overstepping, I apologize; I just wanted to own it and kinda make space for you to say if it’s starting to feel a bit pressurey for you. If it isn’t, obviously I withdraw my suggestion. :)

  27. sonofrojblake says

    Blimey.

    I don’t think I’ve ever seen a clearer case of “whitesplaining”. Is that a word? It is now.

    Also: “We need to learn to talk about class”. Oh Bod, please don’t. We’re obsessed with it in the UK, and it sucks. One of the few things most people in the UK will admit is superior about life in the US is the apparent lack of a rigid class system like we have here.

  28. says

    I’m sorry, I can’t see how this conversation would go well.

    “Excuse me, do I call you Indian or Indigenous?”
    “How about you call me Susan, it’s my name.”

    j/k and not suggesting you would do this, embertine, but there’s kind of a point – it shouldn’t be the the first thing you notice or discuss!

    In Australia, we do sometimes say “Indigenous Australians”, but the proper and preferred phrase is “Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander people”. With capitals – aboriginal is not the same as Aboriginal. Never ever use “ATSI” to describe a person, it’s at best an adjective and must be spelled out in publications. Aborigine is OK with caution & respect, but only when specifically not including Torres Strait Islanders.

    “Blackfella” is liked among many Aboriginal Australians, especially in the central Australian regions, but not for government printing except maybe educational/outreach materials. And it’s only OK for whitefellas to use if you are in a casual and solidly friendly relationship. Koori, Murri, etc are nice but only if technically correct. (For instance, Ngunnawal people don’t usually want to be called Kooris!) And for the love of the FSM, do not be fooled by the Aussie love of comtractions into saying “Abo”. That is VERY BAD.

  29. says

    One of the few things most people in the UK will admit is superior about life in the US is the apparent lack of a rigid class system like we have here.

    Yeah…apparent is all it is. There’s always been a class system here, with all manner of people trying to claw their way to the top. Unfortunately, all the middle bits of that system are eaten away, and the divide between upper and lower is vast.

  30. says

    bad jim:

    Caine, one thing that bugs me about the Latinos I know well enough to bring up the subject is how few of them seem willing to acknowledge that they might have Indio ancestry.

    That might be because a lot of them don’t. Most Latino families have a very good working knowledge of their family history, and it can get complex when it comes to Latino/Hispanic heritage. Depending on specifics, there are also some complex social dynamics at play. Basically, I’d be a bit careful of projecting your desire or wish onto others.

  31. CaitieCat says

    sonofrojblake, I’d say (having grown up in the working class in both the UK and Canada, and spent a good deal of time in the US too) that I find the English approach easier to cope with than the denialism of class over here – and in this I mean both Canada and the US. Both countries want to pretend there aren’t classes, but they’re both class-ridden to an extreme degree. But the taboo nature of talking about it at anything other than a national level – i.e., saying that there is an upper class, a middle class – has meant an increasingly rigid class system in place.

    The kids of the upper class go to different schools both as children and as undergraduates; they don’t go to the same anything as middle or working class people – not clubs, nor restaurants, they don’t play or watch the same sports, and the job market is rigidly stratified – it takes exceptionality for someone from the non-upper class to make it into the sort of money where one never needs fear hunger or homelessness again. It can happen, but the numbers are considerably worse than they are in Europe, and have been for a few decades now. The upper class is also the source of by far the majority of politicians, and this becomes only more so in the Upper House of both countries (Senate in both cases).

    Honestly, I’ve experienced both, and I’ll take the in-my-face qualities of the English class structure any time. In England (I say England specifically, as it’s where I’m from – Watford – and because I haven’t lived in any other parts of the UK & NI, so I can’t speak to what it’s like there). When an English person opens their mouth to talk, it becomes rapidly apparent to any English person where that person stands in the class structure. This is much more difficult to assess in the US and Canada, though there are notable working-class dialects in both countries that make it difficult to become part of a higher class. I speak here from experience, as I was fortunate enough to have a linguistic gift, and have been able to shift my sociolect pretty strongly to a more middle-class-educated pattern.

    YMMV, of course, this is experiential and thus anecdata, making it worth about what you’re paying for it as a predictor.

  32. CaitieCat says

    Oh, crap, i wall-of-texted. Sorry, folks, time to go to bed, I think i’ve had enough of this c. indica-loquacica. Yay Canadian freedom!

  33. embertine says

    Ha, Alethea, yes indeed, and the ONLY possible way I would mention it at all would be if the discussion of heritage came up and the person I was talking to raised that aspect of it. In which case, they might well refer to themselves by one or t’other – thus neatly showing me which term they prefer to use and allowing me to follow their lead.

    Caine, sorry if we have been doing the whole racial tokensim thing, which I haaaaaaate. You are you, not just your race, and we wouldn’t have you any other way. :)

  34. sueboland says

    Leave it to a SAfrican to point out the profound difference between personal and institutional racism.
    Personal : Racism, like deism, is a learned behaviour. Kids are natural atheists and non-bigots. But when your State institutions and all its intellectual underpinnings teach you to be a racist, you soon become a ‘natural’ racist. Most of us had to make a conscious decision to overcome our early religious brainwashing to become atheists and train our brains to flinch and replace religious thinking with anti-thoughts. Same with ‘natural’ racist thinking. We had to train our brains consciously in the anti-racist struggle. Unpacking white privilege is a vital first step in that process.
    But having white privilege is not something you can consciously decide against. It is institutional – based in the society around you. You can personally decide not to be a racist but that does not mean that your black friend does not still feel the impact of your white privilege – she does every day.
    Sorry – I’m not explaining very well – I’ll stop now. I think on the whole the people here get it.

  35. says

    Glad you saw the humour, embertine :)

    Yes, blackfella is *very* specifically Australian. Popularised by the Warumpi band back in the 1980s. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tq0Nd2Btf1I

    It’s more of an in-group central Australian term than an urban one, but it’s not 100% in-group only. It can be used by whitefellas who are embedded in the community enough to be called “whitefella” and not “gubba” by the locals. It’s not at all derogatory.

  36. kage says

    Blackfella is not at all derogatory as an in- group term, but when a non-Aboriginal uses it I see it as a warning sign. Much the same way I feel about someone using ‘female’ in place of ‘woman’.

    Alethea, thanks for the preferred usage information. I tend to use indigenous over Aboriginal/Aboriginie, I shy away from Aboriginie because Abo was such a pervasive slur in my school days. I’ll now be doing some research to see what term (if any) is preferred in my region.

  37. ambulocetacean says

    Walsh’s whole article seems to me (white, male, hetero, cis Australian) to be based on a false premise. I don’t see how the fact that 90 per cent of the Romney vote was white was a result of the Democrats alienating white voters. It seems obvious that it was more a case of Republicans alienating non-white voters. They don’t use a racist dog whistle; they bring the whole marching band.

    .
    I don’t think the Democrats have difficulty in attracting the white vote so much as they have difficulty attracting the bigot vote. Walsh herself points out that while Obama lost the white vote in southern states he won or “tied” it in northern ones. Huge surprise.

    .
    The fact that she actually points this out herself makes her admonition about assuming that white people are wealthy, racist and Republican all the more laughable. And her suggestion that the Democrats don’t know the demographics of their voters is ridiculous.

    .
    The bit about how we “ought to think about how to talk to America’s newest minority with care and respect” is jaw-dropping and emetic.

    .
    Caitiecat says:

    .

    if POC grab control … they’re pretty much entitled to put the lot of us up against the wall

    .
    I understand your sentiment, but that is a ridiculous thing to say — and I’m certain that you wouldn’t say it about any other group of hundreds of millions of people.

  38. ambulocetacean says

    Alethea, Kage,

    “Blackfella” is not a word that I would ever use, even with indigenous people with whom I might be familiar enough for it not to cause offence. Coming from a non-indigenous person it sounds patronising at best, and I have no doubt that it is freighted with much heavier stuff that I have no clue about.
    .

    Koori is not a catch-all name for Aborigines, even though many well-meaning people think it is. It only applies to people from certain parts of New South Wales and Victoria.

    .
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Koori

    Wow. Now I see that Lowitja O’Donoghue objects to the term “indigenous”.

    .
    Are there any Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander Pharyngulites who can clue us in about this stuff?

  39. mendel says

    Chris linked to a blog post by “nanette”. I’ve read it and it impressed me very much (also what she wrote in the comments – possibly more so than the post itself), and I’d like to read more by nanette. But the website link under her name leads to a dead end. A web search for “feminist nanette” turned up too many of those. Does anyone know where or what nanette is writing now?

  40. The Mellow Monkey says

    CaitieCat

    Me, I figure if POC grab control of the various Western democracies against the white kyriarchy, I reckon they’re pretty much entitled to put the lot of us up against the wall, and not bother too much about whether some of the less-egregiously racist folk get caught in the net. … But I’d be hard-pressed to articulate an argument why it shouldn’t happen, save perhaps that it would probably give a fair number of POC PTSD.

    You seem very sympathetic and trying to understand issues facing POC in the rest of this thread, but your first post really bothered me for the two sentences I highlighted above.

    The argument you should articulate as to why POC shouldn’t “put the lot of [white people] up against the wall” is because it’s wrong. It’s wrong if it’s done because someone is Indian, and it’s wrong if it’s done because someone is Jewish, and it’s wrong if it’s done because someone is a woman, etc, etc. Singling out a class of people is wrong. You cannot condemn racism while promoting racism. For an oppressed class to rise up and oppress another is not justice. That’s simply more oppression.

    I can’t speak for anyone else, but I ask you sincerely to please not appropriate the genocide my ancestors were subjected to–and the cultural genocide that continues today–as an excuse for vengeance fantasies. My family includes people who are NDN, Latino, Black, Hawaiian Islander, Japanese and Chinese American and White. Most of us have some mixture of the above swimming around in our own veins. When you support POC by suggesting white people as a group should be oppressed, you are adding fuel to racist fires and ignoring the issues of mixed race people and families. POC do not have the means to “grab control” in Western nations as you’ve described, but others have the means to hurt people based on the fear of that control being grabbed.

    As I said, you do seem very sympathetic. I don’t get the impression that you’re trying to cause harm or perpetuate racism. Please consider what I’ve tried to explain here. Thank you.

  41. Ted Dahlberg says

    Mr. Clarke, since you declare that you thrive on being corrected: the last two sentences of your piece makes you come across as a condescending ass, and you would do much better arguing against the substance of the article you are commenting on rather than descending into rhetorical devices which border on the dishonest. I can see no problem with you saying the writer of the article is wrong. But to go on and say that, and I paraphrase, she would agree with you if only she knew better? That’s the same argument that, when expressed to me in the form of “you do believe in god deep down even if you won’t admit it,” rarely fails to make my blood boil.
    So I offer this advice in good faith: if you want your arguments taken seriously, treat your opponent with the same respect that you would have others give you. Credit them with enough intelligence to assume that they do mean what they say. Note, for instance, that I made this comment assuming you really meant to come across as utterly crass.

  42. Josh, Official SpokesGay says

    Well, Mr. Dahlberg, that comment didn’t come across as condescending at all, no sir.

  43. CaitieCat says

    Fair point, MellowMonkey; it’s not so much that I’m saying POC should or would or even could seek retribution, merely that morally, i’d find it hard to deny if it were to happen, given that I can see many, many instances of appalling, often murderous, behaviour by people who look a lot like me against anyone and everyone who doesn’t.

    My sincere apologies for causing harm, and you have too my appreciation for your willingness to accept it was in good faith. Also, I’m grateful that you were willing to bring it up; I will certainly keep your thoughts in mind in the future.

  44. The Mellow Monkey says

    Thanks for considering what I said, CaitieCat. I really do appreciate that.

  45. Esteleth, stupid fucking starchild Tolkien worshiping douche says

    Walsh’s piece made my eyes bug out when I saw it. I repeatedly scrolled up to make sure that I was not reading Free Republic. Or Stormfront.

    Re: terminology, my standard go-to is “What would you prefer?” if I don’t know. When dealing with the people who were in the Americas before the Europeans arrived, if I know the group they belong to, I’ll use that. I once saw someone complaining – yes, complaining – that the people where they were living (New England) were different in their customs than the people where they grew up (Great Plains). Also, complaining that neither group followed the “feathers-in-hair, live-in-teepees” model. I boggled. But then, I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised by that level of ignorance. One of the things white people are afforded is the luxury of not having to consider how other people live.

    Back to the OP, I do think the fear motivating a lot of white people is “what if the POC treat us like we treated them?” Which says quite a lot, in my opinion.

  46. CaitieCat says

    Thanks for taking the time to tell me where I was going wrong. As anything progressivist, learning to be less racist – and thus a better ally leveraging privilege to destroy itself – is and should be an ongoing process.

  47. Esteleth, stupid fucking starchild Tolkien worshiping douche says

    There was a meme going around Facebook awhile ago. It featured Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka, making a sarcastic grin. The tag line was “Scared of whites being the minority? Why? Are minorities treated badly or something?”

  48. timothycourtney says

    I read the Salon piece much less as “please be nice to white people” and much more as “don’t forget there are also white people who are disadvantaged, (and also they vote).” The parenthetical is somewhat nagging, but it’s still a valid point. The poor of Appalachia should be responsive to a message for a government that (does in fact) care for them (a lot, if you’re looking for moochers, look no further). For some reason they aren’t. They see entitlements as the gubmint taking money from them to give to black people. That’s not true, lots of that money is going to them, and we’d all benefit if they learned that.

  49. Esteleth, stupid fucking starchild Tolkien worshiping douche says

    Oh, sure. The class divide is relevant, and bears discussing. But it is also something that deserves couching in better context than “don’t dismiss white people, there’s still a lot of us.”

  50. says

    Like Caine said, there’s alot of different between various tribs. Some want tribe, some want nation. Where I grew up they used indigenous and nation legally, but tribe and indian colloquially. I know some get upset at native american, and I know some who get upset at the reverse. And I’ve also been told to use nothing but First Nations to refer to indigenous groups in Canada; that saying anything less is an insult.

    (My step father worked for the Quinalt Nation and eventually the Dept. of Interior; and my grandparents on my father’s side were from a different tribe but had moved to California.)

  51. says

    Heck, I know a couple places where there’s actual argument that Latino and Hispanic are either insulting. Very frustrating when you’re trying to be polite and just trace migratory/language history, not insult people.

  52. dianne says

    The parenthetical is somewhat nagging, but it’s still a valid point. The poor of Appalachia should be responsive to a message for a government that (does in fact) care for them (a lot, if you’re looking for moochers, look no further). For some reason they aren’t. They see entitlements as the gubmint taking money from them to give to black people. That’s not true, lots of that money is going to them, and we’d all benefit if they learned that.

    I’ve never entirely understood this, but it’s there and it’s very resistant. My desperately passing grandparents complained about people who got government handouts while eating free government cheese on a farm supported by government farm insurance. But somehow when they actually had a job and had to pay taxes it was just horrid and like the government stealing from them.

    I think that there must be some element of propaganda, i.e. what they hear on the news (and not just Fox…any mainstream news organization will start with the assumption that taxes are bad), some element of immediate punishment (smaller check on pay day) versus delayed or “invisible” benefit (payment for a failed crop comes only after a delay and no one notices the roads/schools/etc unless something’s wrong with them).

    But I think a big part of it was their desire to be the rich white person that Walsh is saying must be treated with respect and kindness. Who wouldn’t want to be? White people have an easier time in life in the US and probably many other places as well. And rich, of course, is almost never a disadvantage. So they emulated the virtues that they were told were associated with rich white people: independence, hard work, self sufficiency. A big part of that ethos is not depending on anyone else, never asking for help no matter how bad it gets, being ashamed of any help you receive (and therefore pretending it didn’t happen.) Hence, the contempt for anyone who is seen to be taking aid from the government.

    This is, of course, very handy for really rich, mostly white people who take shitloads of money from the government, but aren’t seen doing it publicly and therefore get to call themselves “self-made.”

  53. Esteleth, stupid fucking starchild Tolkien worshiping douche says

    One of the great victories of TPTB is make the lower classes distrust each other along racial lines. It was a great victory when white poor people were taught to identify with their (also white) rich oppressors rather than their POC poor neighbors. Because that makes it easier to pass laws that punish all poor people – tell the poor whites that it is about punishing those POC, they’ll vote for it cheerfully.

  54. says

    What a great post and comments. I was poised to comment, got up for a cup of coffee and returned to sit down and realize that this has been a (relatively) accordant discussion. As is usually the case when I have time to read the post and comments section completely, I’ve learned quite a bit.

    Esteleth@59: I think you’ve summed up the whole thing. It’s just that the powers that be take on many forms. POC may take on the aspirations of TPTB within their own culture. Some have taken on the aspirations of TPTB within “our culture” here in the USA. It basically comes down to some people wanting what other people have, in the aspirational sense. There is that tinge of envy and jealousy. “We” covet what the others have be it wealth, personal possessions, power, influence, etc. Whatever floats the boat. As I see it though, the more one covets or aspires to what another possesses the more trouble we are inviting into our lives. If we buy into the concept that “if I only work hard or go to school or get that advanced degree or whatever, then I can have what so and so has and declare myself a ‘success’! I definitely bought into that and it hasn’t always lead to the rosy outcome I’ve desired. But if you do not have what you aspire or desire to have, that too can lead to many bad choices.

    Basically I’m suggesting that there is nothing wrong with ambition as long as the goal benefits self and others. Leave out the ‘others’ and you simply have greed and avarice. I’m trying to cure myself of that.

    What seems to be the gist of Joan Walsh’s article is the precept that: “I’ve been the good, liberal, non-POC. So please, Democratic Party people, don’t forget me. I promise I won’t turn my back on you, but don’t turn your back on me. Because then I might support somebody else. I don’t really know who, but I just might do that.” The fear does stink it that article.

    Thanks for letting me ramble. Peace to all.

  55. John Horstman says

    Oh someone’s god. All I could hear when reading Walsh’s article was every single Nice Guy™ ever complaining about how feminists are just so damn mean to them. A widespread victimization complex among the privileged is yet another way in which White people suck.

    (Note for Walsh and other people who don’t get it: I’m White. When I say “White people suck,” I’m talking about a collective characteristic of a group to which I happen to belong. This is not the same as saying “All White people suck;” this second phrase would indicate that I think every individual White person sucks, including me, while the first is describing a collective property of the group that may or may not be the case for a given individual. This inability to grasp the difference between group characteristics and individual characteristics has threatened to derail every social justice conversation of which I have ever been a part. For example, the fact that in our present cultural space White people are privileged relative to Black people does not mean that every single or any particular White person is going to be better off than every single or any particular Black person. Privilege in this sense [when I'm talking about White privilege or male privilege] is a group characteristic, though it can also be an individual characteristic [if we were talking about my particular social positionality versus yours with respect to some particular issue], which I can understand might be a little confusing at first. Please make a careful effort to determine whether the person in question is generalizing i.e. talking about a collective characteristic of a group or whether ze is universalizing i.e. [inaccurately] asserting hir claims apply to every single member of the group in question. You will save everyone a whole lot of time and trouble if you can do this one basic thing.)

    @59: Yeah, this was an explicit political strategy following Reconstruction after the US Civil War. Poor Whites, many of whom were indentured servants, had a lot in common with the Blacks whose humanity had finally been legally established and recognized on the basis of their economic positionalities. The wealthy elite (Northern and Southern) feared that the underclass would band together to resist their ongoing exploitation thanks to the massive increase in the numbers of working-class people with political power resulting from allowing Black men to vote. The result was a series of racist propaganda campaigns to monger fear about things like “White Slavery” and The Scary Black Man (as a rapist out to violate and ‘ruin’ young White women) and drive a wedge between poor Whites and Blacks. It worked. It worked really, really well, to the point that we’re still dealing with the fallout today, as others have said.

    @60: Heh, right. Walsh is complaining about things that I just don’t see happening (branding all White people “racists” or “Republicans”). My interpretation is that she’s misinterpreting group generalizations as universalizations and feeling attacked by comments or discussions that just are not about her. White people, being accustomed to unFSMly amounts of privilege, often assume that everything is about them. In fact, lots of times the conversation has nothing to do with the person who feels attacked; hir feelings of offense are often a function of privilege-induced narcissism.

  56. says

    Re Australian language usage on Aborigines & Torres Strait Islanders – I’m not indigenous myself. My info is on what government publications use, which is after a lot of negotiation to get it right. It is somewhat cumbersome to type out that whole “Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander people” thing all the time so people get tempted into inappropriate use. “Indigenous Australians” is fine to use for variety or in labelling tables & charts, but you should use “Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander people” as the main descriptor. Blackfella/whitefella is sometimes used in educational materials – drug & HIV education campaign posters, and similar. I completely agree that it needs caution – not for all audiences.

    The problem with asking if anyone here is an Aborigine or Torres Strait Islander is the same as Caine mentioned for American Indians. One person does not speak for all. This is a continent, with many peoples, and usage across the continent is not the same and never was. Many Ngunnawal quite like being called Kooris, but some hate it. But you could never use Murri, and neither is remotely OK for an Anangu.

  57. says

    A lot of white people seem to think of themselves as the Borg – others will be killed or assimilated, problem solved. The notion of resistance is both alien and fear-inducing.

  58. Esteleth, stupid fucking starchild Tolkien worshiping douche says

    A lot of white people seem to think of themselves as the Borg – others will be killed or assimilated, problem solved. The notion of resistance is both alien and fear-inducing.

    And the thought that they will be assimilated gives rise to violent fearful thoughts. Especially if they aren’t actually in that much danger of being assimilated.

  59. says

    Esteleth:

    And the thought that they will be assimilated gives rise to violent fearful thoughts. Especially if they aren’t actually in that much danger of being assimilated.

    Oh yes, very much so. There’s too much evidence of that, unfortunately.

  60. Esteleth, stupid fucking starchild Tolkien worshiping douche says

    I have the urge to link the YouTube clip of “protecting our fluids” from Doctor Strangelove.

    Instead, I will point out the vast difference in the conduct of these two groups:
    (1) White people in the American South towards POC (especially African-Americans) in the years between 1880 and 1964, and
    (2) POC in the American South towards white people in the same span of time.

  61. mildlymagnificent says

    and neither is remotely OK for an Anangu.

    QFT

    I’m South Australian, and I was quite perplexed for a while because there seemed to be a lot of newspaper talk where the writers regarded themselves as being all hip and with-it about indigenous matters and they constantly referred to “Kooris”. (I suspect it might have been just after the Mabo court case.) Of course, I was more familiar with ‘Nunga’ and Ngarrindjeri – though I’d never dare use it myself unless I knew it was correct. I’d once seen someone drop themselves right in it referring to a Ngarrindjeri group as Nunga. Though I did once notice when I was dealing with some central Australian indigenous matters that many of these people seemed comfortable using Nunga as a general term.

    http://www.flinders.edu.au/equal-opportunity_files/documents/cdip/folio_5.pdf

  62. Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :) says

    I haven’t read the linked post yet, and am kind of shielding my residual pro-human feelings from it…but…well.

    Immediate responses based on this: I have spent so much of my life being “called names,” and all the things that are trivializingly euphemized under “called names,” for so little reason, that the idea of being subject to more of it because SOME people who “kinda look like” me but don’t have my history or neurological handicaps have had it easy and stepped on a lot of toes makes me want to curl up and cry, except curling up is difficult to reconcile with going right the fuck back to the bar and FUCK everything I have to do OR smashing things (crying, however, IS compatible).

    On the other hand, I’m deeply, abidingly grateful for the people who have explained to me how I was fucking up, when I actually was, not just stumbling into “twenty is one too few” degrees of “word association” away from fucking up, without triggering me right to hell and back seemingly for the fun of it. I’ve learned from it, and even though there’s still a bleeding, sobbing child inside of me who’s on the verge of clawing through and screaming “YOU WEREN’T THERE FOR ME BEFORE! HALF-ASSED IMPLEMENTATIONS OF WHAT YOU DID DEMAND MADE MY LIFE HARDER TO NO FUCKING AVAIL! AND NOW YOU WANT ME TO KNEEL IN PENANCE IN PLACE OF THE PEOPLE WHO THREW THEIR WHOLE BEING INTO BREAKING THROUGH THE WALL BETWEEN ME AND SUICIDE AND BARELY BARELY BARELY FUCKING FAILED JUST BECAUSE WE KINDA LOOK SIMILAR? FUCK YOU!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!“! it’s…made me a better person.

    Thank you.

  63. ambulocetacean says

    Alethea #64

    The problem with asking if anyone here is an Aborigine or Torres Strait Islander is … One person does not speak for all.

    Sure. I didn’t mean to imply that.
    .
    Mildlymagnificent #69
    .
    Thanks for the link.

  64. dianne says

    A lot of white people seem to think of themselves as the Borg – others will be killed or assimilated, problem solved.

    I disagree somewhat. I think most white people think of themselves as the only people who aren’t the Borg. White people see themselves as unique individuals(tm) who are also, somehow, also the ones who know best for everyone. Others are the Borg and the only way to avoid being assimilated into their evil Borg culture is to kill or assimilate them. Note, for example, how often the US has fought wars against enemies who see mercy as weakness and will fight to the death rather than surrender. I’ve seen that claim made about the Japanese, Vietnamese, and various Islamic cultures (including radically different Islamic cultures such as Iraq, Iran, and Afghanistan.) Somehow, the US’s enemy always seems to be just that one group that you can’t possibly show mercy to and must destroy utterly. Odd, that. Almost like it’s projection or something.

    The notion of resistance is both alien and fear-inducing.

    I agree, but I think the most conscious feeling is usually puzzlement. How could anyone not want to be a part of the wonderful western European/American culture? How could anyone suppose that the government imposed by the US will be anything less than perfectly just and egalitarian? Why should anyone want to keep their obviously inferior culture? The fear is usually subtextual, and when it does come up, it’s often again projected onto the “other”, i.e. “they hate us for our freedom”.

  65. Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

    @dianne

    I think you’re missing out on what the Borg experience of being Borg might be. Unique individuals who all shop at the gap – or torrid – or Nordstrom, but there’s this specific range of acceptable roles, and it can be hard to break out of them. At the same time, despite the difficulty in breaking out of those roles, we see ourselves as truly unique individuals – and part of the greatest society evah, duh! Canadians can be insecure towards the US, but more often feel superior to the US [in terms of national ID]. The UK has its treasured history of greatness, and whites in commonwealth nations tend to share the attitude. It’s paradoxical, but yes: white folk as a group are fairly likely to see themselves as both individuals and as vital, vital constituents of that greatest project/society upon which a living being has ever embarked, _________. For those who feel that, I imagine it’s very much like what a Borg would feel.

    No analogy is perfect. We don’t feel like we could get in a spaceship and go Warp 9 anytime we want. But I’m not at all convinced that your first paragraph is the right take.

    The Borg do fear the concept of being defeated and made to join another society – clearly it would be a loss and an imperfection. But they don’t fear that it will happen in reality b/c they’re all techno-superior, y’know. They’ll bomb the heck out of whomever and let the corpses fall where they may. White folk obviously aren’t as inhuman as the Borg, but when the Pentagon keeps stats on each individual death of a US service member, while refusing to attempt to count – even in broad terms – the Iraqi dead or Afghani dead, you have an attitude that looks a lot like Borg to a first approximation. Is this something culturally white that now infuses the multiracial pentagon? I would argue that it is. The Borg were originally one species but are now a melting pot of assimilation. The US, too, has assimilated many people from many nations. A huge amount of that has been by force, but unlike the Borg, a huge amount has been a voluntary movement of people into the US. Again, it breaks down. White folk are not the Borg. But I’m not sure that “most white people think of themselves as the only people who aren’t the Borg” gets you where you want.

    Did the Borg think they were the Borg? Did they conceive of themselves as violent, warmongering folk bent on conquest? Or did they see themselves as having the best society ever and wanting to share it, but encountering dirty, violent, messy societies full of people who just didn’t understand how awesome it was to be Borg and hated the Borg for their … perfection?

    Yeah, there are a ton of ways white folk aren’t the Borg. It’s just a silly SciFi metaphor. But i’m not at all sure that your first criticism reveals one of those differences. It really actually seems to me like it’s one of the main points of similarity.

  66. dianne says

    Crip Dyke: It’s not that I don’t see or agree with the analogy of whites being the Borg, it’s just that I don’t think that whites see themselves* as the Borg. I think they see everyone else as the Borg and themselves as humanity’s last hope of resisting the implacable enemy. Which is really a very Borg like thing to do. I didn’t follow ST:TNG all that closely so may be radically misunderstanding who the Borg are supposed to be, but I can imagine a Borg saying, “Well, ok, so there’s been some nastiness in our past and really going around yelling ‘you’ll be assimilated’ is kind of silly, but if we don’t all these evil other people will destroy our glorious civilization and all it’s built**. And that would be worse for everyone, so we have to keep being hard line. For the greater good.” Sort of like the US really does.

    *I’m conflicted as to whether to refer to whites as “themselves” or “ourselves” in this context, but the third person came out completely naturally, so I’m going to leave it. With the acknowledgement that I pass for white with no difficulty at all and am heavily influenced by white culture.

    **Again, this analogy would work better if the Borg actually did build something cool, which I’m not sure that they’re explicitly stated to ever have done in the ST universe. But I will acknowledge that white culture does have some good bits–some stolen from other cultures, but whatever, they’re in now–and it really would be a shame if they got lost.

  67. dianne says

    Is this something culturally white that now infuses the multiracial pentagon? I would argue that it is.

    I agree. US culture is not entirely white culture. There are many influences from other peoples. But the predominant and the acknowledged culture is still essentially white. Until we can acknowledge the contribution of all cultures and see all contributions as equally valid, it’s going to be essentially “white culture with occasional exotic influences.” And we’re so far from a true egalitarian culture that I’m not even sure what it would look like.

  68. Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

    It’s not that I don’t see or agree with the analogy of whites being the Borg, it’s just that I don’t think that whites see themselves* as the Borg.

    Ah. I get it.

    I was saying that white culture sees other cultures the way that Borg cultures see other cultures.

    You were saying that white culture looks at the Borg and does not see itself.

    I am in total agreement with you on that.

  69. says

    Dianne:

    some stolen from other cultures, but whatever

    This is another problem. There is a fascination with other cultures along with this need to steamroll right over them in the pursuit of white homogeneity. White attitudes towards other cultures is very cavalier. I think some white people are desperate to be part of something else, something they see as meaningful, something with a long history, so they either intrude or decide to co-opt a culture. Other people seem to think that “oh hey, that part is neat, or that’s colourful, or that would make a good holiday, we’ll keep that as a sop, but otherwise, you better fucking assimilate!”

    I can, and do, easily pass for white. That’s never been a problem. I don’t hide my particular heritage, but I don’t run about with a tattoo on my forehead, either. When I’m around new people, I hear the most interesting stuff, stuff I never, ever hear once it’s known that I’m a haffer.

  70. The Mellow Monkey says

    Caine

    I think some white people are desperate to be part of something else, something they see as meaningful, something with a long history, so they either intrude or decide to co-opt a culture.

    This, plus I think it can also be a defense mechanism against their own colonialism in a lot of cases. It allows them to recast themselves as humble adopters of a local culture, rather than the descendants and beneficiaries of conquest. Or even better, they can claim some distant ancestry to give them legitimacy. “It’s cool. My great-great grandmother was Cherokee and my great-great grandfather was half Irish, half Jewish! I totally get this stuff.” (Seriously, based on how many times I’ve heard this one, I think this couple must have had about fifty kids who then went on to breed like rabbits.)

    I think this is a major reason why you don’t run into a lot of white Americans claiming African American heritage, while so many claim Indian: A black ancestor doesn’t give them a claim to the land they’re on.

  71. Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

    @Caine:

    I can imagine the noticeable difference. The way people talk in my presence before and after I mention being trans* is quite revealing.

  72. says

    MM:

    “It’s cool. My great-great grandmother was Cherokee and my great-great grandfather was half Irish, half Jewish! I totally get this stuff.”

    Oh lord, yes. I can’t say how much I’ve heard similar. Lotsa Cherokee princesses, too. I think there’s much fascination with Indians, and I’ve seen that, but it’s always in an odd way. Those people who are fascinated to the point they co-opt “Indianness” but keep it smoothly generic, in the “wise, noble savage” manner. They pick and choose between bits they like, this tidbit from the Ashinabe, that tidbit from the Navajo, this little bit from the “Sioux”, and so on. And yes, the whole land business is a large part of it. A desire to be “one with the land”,* yada, yada, yada. The silliness is extreme.
     
    *I think some people mix up King Arthur with Indians now and then.

  73. says

    Crip Dyke:

    I can imagine the noticeable difference.

    Oh yes. Very noticeable. A lot of awkward silences.

    The way people talk in my presence before and after I mention being trans* is quite revealing.

    Oh, I imagine! It’s interesting to watch people visibly change gears.

  74. The Mellow Monkey says

    Caine

    A desire to be “one with the land”,* yada, yada, yada. The silliness is extreme.

    Yes it is. I’ve heard a lot of this, which pisses me off to no end. “We’re your allies in your defense of the Earth Mother! We have so much to learn from you!” Blech. How about “we support your political and human rights and are also concerned about the environment, because we all have to live on this fucking planet”? But no, please. Put it in terms of mystical ties to the land.

  75. says

    MM:

    Or even better, they can claim some distant ancestry to give them legitimacy.

    It’s also worth noting that those white people who do want to in some way claim this or that culture, they don’t want to actually be part of that culture. They don’t want the loss of privilege, the discrimination, the bigotry, the poverty, the addictions, none of that. They want this tinge of legitimacy, this aura of being different, but not the reality. Otherwise, why not claim you’re the ancestor of an illegitimate son of the Duke of Buckingham or something?

  76. says

    MM:

    “We’re your allies in your defense of the Earth Mother! We have so much to learn from you!” Blech.

    Oh, Christ. The Earth Mother stuff. Please, spare me. Spare everyone else. That is some of the stupidest shit ever. Who doesn’t have a stake in the environment? As far as I know, no one has a nice second residence on Neptune or anything.

  77. The Mellow Monkey says

    Caine

    Otherwise, why not claim you’re the ancestor of an illegitimate son of the Duke of Buckingham or something?

    I’ll have you know, I’m descended from the first Princess of Nottingham! Now allow me to school all of you on the noble ways of my ancestors, while I wear my people’s traditional headdress to frat parties.

  78. says

    MM:

    I’ll have you know, I’m descended from the first Princess of Nottingham!

    Oh noes! That means you have the evil of the Sheriff of Nottingham in your blood! Run Away! Run Away!

  79. says

    Otherwise, why not claim you’re the ancestor of an illegitimate son of the Duke of Buckingham or something?

    Well, I do claim do be descended from Eleanor of Aquitaine, but only because I am.

  80. chigau (unless...) says

    [not to diminish your lineage, Dalillama ;)]
    but it’s funny how people who claim a single exalted ancestor seem to forget about the other 127 nobodies (with only an occasional pimp or whore or thief or murderer).

  81. says

    Chigau

    with only an occasional pimp or whore or thief or murderer).

    You have admirably encapsulated the activities of Aquitaine’s family and associates, yes. By grace of that particular bastardy, that branch of my family were minor aristocrats until they converted to Calvinism and got run out of a succession of countries before washing up in the British Colonies. They married mostly other minor aristocrats before then, and mostly other poor white farmers afterwards. The rest of my ancestors were an assortment of Scots feudists and border raiders, up until Culloden, when they became ‘respectable landowners’ by virtue of having sided with the winners. Later on they lost the land, moved to the city, and then to the U.S. in the early 20th.

  82. Esteleth, stupid fucking starchild Tolkien worshiping douche says

    It is interesting. In my experience, many white people will run around saying “Everyone in the US is mixed ANYWAY!”

    Which is one of those things that sounds enlightened, but really carries an afterthought of “…so stop complaining about racism!”

    Also, y’know, it is also not true. A person who espoused the “everyone is mixed” belief told me that I was either (1) deluded or (2) racist for refuting it by saying that I can trace every single branch of my ancestry back to a village in either Ireland, Scotland, England, Bavaria, Saxony, or Sweden. In some of those cases, I can trace further back (the “crown jewel,” so to speak, is an entry in the Domesday Book). All of which means that if I have any non-European ancestry, then it was from someone who immigrated to Europe and had descendants that emigrated. Which is, of course, possible (the myth of Europe being lily-white before ~1800 is exactly that, a myth). It is also possible that somewhere along the line was an adoption or two – but of course, until relatively recently an adopted person would be expected to completely culturally assimilate and was of the same ethnic group as their adoptive family.

    The idea that white people “don’t have culture” and thus want to “claim” (i.e. appropriate) some other culture of their own is absurd. I mean, shit. Do they think that Europe – or, for that matter, the US – doesn’t have culture?

  83. says

    Esteleth:

    Do they think that Europe – or, for that matter, the US – doesn’t have culture?

    I’ve met all kinds of people who think America and Americans don’t have a culture. As for claiming and embracing ____ European culture, some do, but I think for a lot of people, it simply isn’t exotic enough.

  84. The Mellow Monkey says

    Esteleth

    In my experience, many white people will run around saying “Everyone in the US is mixed ANYWAY!” Which is one of those things that sounds enlightened, but really carries an afterthought of “…so stop complaining about racism!”

    I’ve heard other variations on this that are equally problematic.

    “Everybody’s an immigrant” comes with the implication of “…so those people whose ancestral lands we stole need to STFU.”

    “All humans are Africans” comes with the implication of “…so STFU about racism.”

  85. vaiyt says

    I’ve met all kinds of people who think America and Americans don’t have a culture.

    Most of the time, such affirmative carries the caveat that “(white) American experience is ‘neutral’ and ‘default’”.

  86. says

    Vaiyt:

    Most of the time, such affirmative carries the caveat that “(white) American experience is ‘neutral’ and ‘default’”.

    Very good observation, and yes, that’s true. There’s a tendency among white Americans that being a white American is the norm, and even if you aren’t white, you should aspire to a white American lifestyle.

  87. ck says

    Esteleth wrote:

    The idea that white people “don’t have culture” and thus want to “claim” (i.e. appropriate) some other culture of their own is absurd. I mean, shit.

    It’s not entirely untrue, though. White people do regularly absorb elements of other cultures and subcultures. I’d say that it’s one of the signs of a healthy culture. Cultures that are static and insular tend to collapse when exposed to another culture without that weakness. The conservative Christian WASP subcultures are losing members at a very rapid pace because it’s a culture that absolutely refuses to change. This is also the reason why there’s an increasingly urgent push by these people to force us obey their culture, regardless of if we want to or not.

  88. says

    It’s not entirely untrue, though

    Yes, it is. White people have cultures. That, as any culture, it adapts some things doesn’t change (and don’t kid yourself, even conservative WASPs do, they just do so more slowly) that they have one.

  89. dianne says

    I think this is a major reason why you don’t run into a lot of white Americans claiming African American heritage, while so many claim Indian: A black ancestor doesn’t give them a claim to the land they’re on.

    If it’s any help, I claim both. I can document at least one black ancestor and have good reason to believe that there are multiple others in my ancestry. Plus, I was born in Louisiana when the “one drop” rule was in effect, making me possibly the world’s palest non-albino “black”. The Indian is actually a significantly larger and easier to demonstrate fraction and also probably the only minority ancestry that is phenotypically apparent in me. Then there’s my ostensibly European descended father’s Y chromosome which matches absolutely no ethnic group at all…

    That being said, the only reason I don’t simply shrug and say that I’ve been successfully assimilated is that my grandmother was put through a lot of crap to make her deny her heritage (she’s Mexican/mestizo) and I’m just idiotically stubborn enough to want to try to undo that as much as I can. Which is, unfortunately, not much, but at least I can not deny it myself.

    And I have no claim at all on the ground I’m standing on. I’m probably descended from second or third wave Indian immigrants so can’t even claim to be part of the people who really discovered “America” and certainly don’t have any claim on the east coast. OTOH, I can’t imagine any of the various European or African countries my ancestors came from wanting me back, so staying where I am seems the least destructive option.

  90. The Mellow Monkey says

    dianne

    If it’s any help, I claim both.

    I do too, actually. The black ancestry in my direct line wasn’t discovered until I was already an adult and it’s not something phenotypically obvious in me, so it was more of a footnote than anything. Then my youngest niece was being babysat by a family whose kids felt the need to make a lot of comparisons between skin color and facial features. Specifically, they told my niece that her skin was ugly and black and her father was a n*****.

    …and then discussing that stuff and making it part of family identity and not just some mystery from her absentee father became really important to counteract a lot of internalized racism she was inflicted with.

  91. dianne says

    MM: Any chance of getting a new babysitter for your niece? It doesn’t sound like the current one is doing her any good.

  92. says

    Caine

    Sheesh. With the exception of a few criminals with serious flair, my ancestry is basically dull and pedestrian.

    As I noted earlier, that pretty much covers the aristocracy (anyone’s aristocracy): They’re highly successful criminals with enough flair everyone pretends they aren’t.
    Caine and Esteleth

    The idea that white people “don’t have culture” and thus want to “claim” (i.e. appropriate) some other culture of their own is absurd. I mean, shit. Do they think that Europe – or, for that matter, the US – doesn’t have culture?

    I’ve met all kinds of people who think America and Americans don’t have a culture. As for claiming and embracing ____ European culture, some do, but I think for a lot of people, it simply isn’t exotic enough.

    Very good observation, and yes, that’s true. There’s a tendency among white Americans that being a white American is the norm, and even if you aren’t white, you should aspire to a white American lifestyle.

    I think that these are all linked in the phenomenon that you’re describing. White American culture (or the local regional variant, anyway really, there’s arguably a few different ‘white cultures’ in the States) is often treated as the norm, so white Americans don’t perceive it as ‘a culture’ in a ‘fish don’t see water’ sort of way. White people who are disaffected or dissatisfied with their own culture will often look at POCs, and see that they grew up in a different culture, but also had to learn about white culture, because it’s the dominant one. So they think “Ah! That person had a choice of their own culture or mine, and chose theirs; that must mean that there’s something ‘truer’ more ‘authentic’ (fill in whatever bullshit you care to here, based on the individual white person’s prejudices/favorite fantasies) about it, so the white person tries to have the same ‘choice’ themselves. (Yes, I know how much is wrong with this model, but it’s still one I’ve seen a lot)

  93. The Mellow Monkey says

    dianne – Yeah, she got a new sitter after my sister discovered that and now has nothing to do with those kids. Thankfully.

  94. says

    Sigh – I fear that as long as people like Walsh keep focusing on race and gender the GOP will keep laughing – after all, it’s really about screwing the middle and especially working classes, regardless of race or gender. When the Boomers abandoned that fight, the USA was lost.

  95. says

    And I see in the lounge there’s talk of “first nations” as an amorphous lump, and “oh, language? official? um, oh, I guess that’s nice and okay and stuff…”

    I’ll just drop a big ol’ sigh here. I’m fuckin’ out for the day.

  96. The Mellow Monkey says

    scottruplin

    I fear that as long as people like Walsh keep focusing on race and gender the GOP will keep laughing – after all, it’s really about screwing the middle and especially working classes, regardless of race or gender.

    There are a lot of issues facing minorities and women that aren’t purely dependent upon class. Intersectionality isn’t just about facing X inequality with the addition of Y. The experience of poverty of someone who is a racial minority, a woman, a WoC, and/or a queer WoC is all very different from the experience of poverty of someone who is a straight white cis man. Hell, the issues facing the Anishinaabeg versus the ones facing the Lakota are different.

    So, yes, these things do need to be focused on and dealt with, instead of simply lumped under class and treated as if they’re all the same. It’s not a zero sum game. Paying attention to racial and gender equality doesn’t mean issues of class and economics are being ignored; many of us who do one are often doing the other, too.

  97. says

    Caine
    I’m honestly not sure what to say on that issue. I tend to be twitchy about having official languages as a thing; it just seems like a way to institutionally fuck over minorities.

  98. says

    Dalillama:

    it just seems like a way to institutionally fuck over minorities.

    Yeah, it is. It’s a sop thrown. “Hey look, we made your language official, now everyone can stop being concerned about Indian First Nation languages going extinct and stuff, okay? Now back to shit that really matters.”

    It just bothers me that whenever any issue involving Indians comes up, the main reaction seems to be along the lines of “oh, Indians. They still around?” along with the same old subtext of “everyone should speak English!”

    I am not having a good day, nasúla čhaŋháŋpi,* communication skills are down and I’d be yelling in the lounge, so Imma stay out of this one, but man, it does not help to read that sort of thing.
     
    *sugar brain

  99. The Mellow Monkey says

    I’m sorry, Caine. I sympathize with being bothered. “A sop thrown” is a great way to describe it.

  100. says

    MM:

    “A sop thrown” is a great way to describe it.

    Thanks. That’s all it is, it’s a way to say “hey, we care!” then go right back to ignoring all the actual issues of land stolen, generations of trauma, kids being kidnapped into religious schooling, the rapes, the poverty, the bigotry, the addictions, and so on. It’s just another way for white people to feel good about themselves.

  101. says

    I got into a Twitter conversation today about how atheism was basically a typically western thing, which couldn’t be explained without considering the influence of Christianity.

    That person, a journalist, did not understand why that made me, a person of mixed European-Asian descent, angry…

  102. says

    Caine
    Sorry if I stepped on your toes there.
    I treated the subject superficially. I am, academically speaking, more familiar with the issues in Latin America, and I don’t think that I can give the subject full credit when talking about First Nations. I was just pissed that the first reaction was “oh noooo, think of the poor kids who don’t learn English”

  103. The Mellow Monkey says

    Caine

    It’s just another way for white people to feel good about themselves.

    I’m put in mind of a multiculturalism class I had to take in college, in which ways to acknowledge and “honor” other cultures was for teachers to do things like teach kids “Native American” mythology and how to make construction paper wickiups.

    Sigh.

    There are institutional injustices going on right at this very moment that need to be righted, and they aren’t about a language or two being officially recognized or kids playing dress up or any of the other stupid and often offensive ways “honor” and acknowledgment are offered.

  104. says

    Giliell, no, you were fine, really. I didn’t have any problems with what you said or what you addressed. The whole business of “poor kids who don’t learn English” needs to be stomped on, hard. It wouldn’t kill people who only speak English to figure out that they could actually learn another language.

  105. says

    MM:

    “Native American” mythology and how to make construction paper wickiups.

    Yeah, because everyone knows we all have the same mythology and the same type of housing, oh yes. That sort of nonsense fosters the whole “noble savage” crap and it’s beyond annoying.

  106. says

    Mellow Monkey –

    I agree with you entirely- but I also suspect that corporate America loves paying lip service to “diversity” as a smoke screen for not paying workers a living wage. There have been some incremental gains over the last 40 years for some ethnic groups and women (with a long ways to go, of course), while class issues have fallen off the radar screen of the Democratic party. But the class fight is over – the rich won. The rest is a rearguard action at best.