Someone pointed me to a post by Anjuli Pandavar, right here on FTB, in which she discusses people of color being racist towards White people. I am deeply unsympathetic to this post. So this is a critique.
The case of Linda Sarsour
Anjuli’s comments were prompted by Linda Sarsour. In 2011, Sarsour made a tweet towards two pro-Israel activists, saying, “I wish I could take their vaginas away – they don’t deserve to be women.” This is problematic in two ways: a) it’s identifying women with their vaginas, and b) it wrongly treats womanhood as something that must be earned.
But wait, back up. Who the heck is Linda Sarsour? Why are we talking about a tweet she made in 2011?
Linda Sarsour is best known as a co-chair of the Women’s March. We are hearing about her because the right has recently become interested in sliming her (e.g.). Some apparently think discrediting this one person will discredit the Women’s March. This is a bit silly because the Women’s March had 440-500k people and was clearly not the work of any single person. But anyways.
According to the article linked by Anjuli Pandavar, someone approached Linda Sarsour at a public event and asked her about her 2011 tweet. Sarsour’s response was captured on video:
So, let’s give some context here, because, y’know, we have — Uh, this is an event organized by an Asian American, right? Let’s just get — let’s get some context to what is going on here. Celebrating a community, right? Talking about communities of color who are being directly impacted by this moment and I have a young white man in the back who is not directly impacted by any of the issues I mentioned. [applause drowns out her voice]
…a copy and paste that he got from a right-wing blog. He doesn’t even know if it actually came from my Twitter account because he has a screenshot of it. He never actually went to my Twitter to see if it’s actually there. Right? That never happened.
But let me just say this to you: You’re college students, I was in my twenties, when was that, 2011? People say stupid shit sometimes, right? I will be judged by my impeccable track record for black lives and immigrants rights and women’s rights and LGBT rights, you judge me by that record and not by some tweet that you think I did or did not tweet ten years ago or seven years ago or whenever it was. So that’s my answer to your question. Next.
The bad: Sarsour doesn’t apologize for the comment, and implies that she didn’t make the comment in the first place. The good: She does not stand by her tweet, and rightly points out how ridiculous it is to judge her by a 2011 tweet rather than her larger track record.
So, why was Anjuli calling Sarsour racist? Oh yeah, Sarsour referred to the young white man as “a young white man”.
But that part makes sense. She’s giving a talk about Asian Americans, but for some reason this questioner is asking her a totally unrelated question, about a 6-year-old tweet that could only have been found on a right-wing site intent on sliming her. Looks like a heckler, doesn’t it? Do we have any other evidence he’s a heckler? Oh yeah, the questioner is a young white man who probably wasn’t otherwise interested in the event. Relevant point, no?
Now, after the fact, we have proof that he was a heckler, because the exchange was filmed by a Zionist group, and that’s how we have this video in the first place. This was a sting! Sarsour simply had the audacity to treat it like one.
The individual and institutional
So Anjuli read an article on right-wing news site, and completely failed to be critical of it. But let’s zoom out and focus on the larger point. Her point is that people of color are sometimes racist towards White people.
Of course, the obvious objection is that it only counts as racism if it’s systematic and has institutional support. Anjuli apparently didn’t think of this objection until someone raised it in the comments. Her response:
Of course there is such a thing as institutional or systemic racism: a civil service can be racist, as can a workforce. An all-pervasive culture can compel even those who would not otherwise indulge in racism to at least acquiesce in it. This level of racism is not possible without individual racists, alone or collectively, imposing their views and practises on the institution or system. Statutory racism, such as Segregation, Apartheid or Nazism, similarly, is at least in part dependent upon there already being a bedrock of actual or latent racism present amongst individuals.
In other words, according to Anjuli, there is racism on an individual level. And upon this foundation of individual racism, we build institutional and systemic racism. Okay, so it’s a two-tiered system: individual racism, and institutional racism.
Of course, the problem with having a single word refer to two distinct things is that there’s a danger of equivocation. For instance, if we were to (wrongly) accuse Sarsour of individual racism, and then to act like it was institutional racism, that would be equivocation. But I’m sure Anjuli, in her discernment, can avoid such an error.
Did those clapping supporters even know that what they did is exactly what happened in Nazi Germany and in Apartheid South Africa?
Oh. She compared Sarsour and her applauders to Nazism and Apartheid. Huh.
Anjuli, listen. Compared to some social justice activists, I’m relatively open to entertaining different definitions of “racism” or whatever. I accept your conclusion that Black people can be racist towards each other. But anti-White racism is something that White supremacists are extremely interested in establishing. It really doesn’t look good when you link to a conservative news site, find a bullshit article, and use that to make an argument that would be bullshit even if the article were true. You’re just being a tool. And since we’ve already pulled out the Nazi analogies, what you said has a more direct connection to actual Nazism than anything Sarsour said.
The tip of the racist iceberg
What does Anjuli blame racism on?
Political Correctness, multiculturalism and identity politics not only lend cover to racism (except, of course, if the racist is white), but encourages it, entrenches it and applauds it.
What is political correctness? What is multiculturalism? What is identity politics? Marcus Ranum has asked the same question, and as far as I know there was no response. Mostly, Anjuli seems to chant these phrases whenever she needs to blame a problem on something.
I, personally, am a product of multiculturalism, as a mixed Asian/white person. I, personally, am part of identity politics because I identify as gay and ace and a physicist and a number of other things. I’m on fucking Tumblr. Until Anjuli clarifies otherwise, she is blaming me. And if that seems like a stretch, conservatives use the very same phrases to blame people like me.
Anjuli also mentions another article from the same conservative website. It’s about some professor Williams, being mean to White supremacists. Boo hoo. Uncompelling and uninteresting. I only mention it so I can highlight another quote from Anjuli:
whites will seldom be exposed to more than the tip of the black racist iceberg, Johnny E. Williams being a rare glimpse of the depth of it.
Tip of the iceberg indeed.
After time of writing, Anjuli published “America’s black racists can all learn from this white man“. The white man in question is Fox News’ Tucker Carlson, who she refers to as a “damn good journalist”.