The people you meet when you talk about race

Note: This article is cross-posted over at Racialicious.

If you’ve ever glanced at the links on the sidebar of this page, you may have noticed that I link to a *shudder* tumblr account. Yes, my guilty little pleasure is a fantastic tumblr called ‘STFUconservatives‘. It’s a sort of clearing house for random clips of stupidity that fall from the lips and fingers of conservative (mostly) Americans. Most of it is the kind of run-of-the-mill myopia and lack of critical thinking that I’ve grown accustomed to seeing from those on the right (and to be sure, there is a STFUliberals site – it’s somewhat less populated), but every now and then they put up little gems like this one:

The People You Meet When You Write About Rape

Mr. What About The Men
“The real problem here is all these false rape accusations that are destroying our society! 90 million men are falsely accused of rape every second! A woman just has to sort of mumble a word starting with ‘r’ and a man instantly gets a life sentence! There are no instances on record of a woman actually being raped!”

Ms. Tough Girl
“If women would learn martial arts–70-year-olds and women with disabilities can do this if they put their minds to it, darnit–and carry weapons everywhere, no one would ever get raped! All you have to do is be ready to threaten your own friends and lovers with lethal force at any moment, any anyone who can’t do that must be weak or something.”

There’s a list of 14 examples with a bit of snark sprinkled in for good measure. Now if this blog was a lot more popular, I’d get a lot more comments and thus would have a lot more examples to show you, but I’ll try and condense my few years of having these conversations into a similar list. And so, for your amusement, here are…

The People You Meet When You Write About Race

Mr. History
“Black people were enslaved like a million years ago. They’ve had enough time to  get their act together, but they’re still whining about their problems. I don’t want to hear about transgenerational wealth gaps and discriminatory hiring practices! Their problem is that they’re lazy! Case closed!”

Ms. Kumbayah
“We need to recognize that everyone is just the exact same on the inside. Why do we bother using labels like “black” and “white” anyway? Even though the way society treats people falls along racial lines to the detriment of some and benefit of others, we should ignore that! Aren’t we all just members of the human race?”

Mr. Hear No Evil
“It’s people like you that are the real racists! Most people don’t think twice about someone else’s race! Talking about race is what makes racism happen, not entrenched ideas that won’t change unless they’re discussed!”

Ms. Myopia
“I’m a black person, and I haven’t ever felt mistreated because of it. Therefore, nobody else has any business complaining about racism – I’m living proof that it doesn’t exist!”

Mr. Funk & Wagnalls
“Here is the dictionary definition of racism. You can see right here that it describes only one small subset of behaviour. You have no business advocating that the definition of a word change to fit a changed environment of racist behaviour, even if it still describes the old racism. You must adhere to this one definition always!”

Ms. Minimizer
“Sure, racism used to be a big problem, but there’s lots of black people in prominent positions these days. Can’t we stop talking about racism like it’s still a big issue? The President is black, and clearly nobody has any problem with that! Don’t we have more important things to talk about?”

Mr. Liberal White Guilt
“White people are the worst! You’re absolutely right. I am a white person, and I just feel so awful every time I hear about what my people are doing to yours. We need to start fixing the problems in the black community. After all, that’s what we do – go into other communities and solve their problems!”

Ms. Mythology Kook*
“White people are the worst! You’re absolutely right. I am sick and tired of watching the white man destroy us. It’s time to rise up and take to the streets. Until we show them that the black man is the original man, and that white people are an ancient genetic experiment to create a human being without a soul, we’ll never achieve true freedom.”

Mr. Bootstraps
“I’m so sick and tired of people talking about ‘white privilege’. My father was an immigrant from Switzerland, and he had to struggle just like everyone else to make money. His life was tough – you call that privilege? I didn’t get a handout from anyone, and neither should anyone else!”

Ms. Interpretation
“Affirmative action? Isn’t that just where white people aren’t allowed to have jobs because they’re all saved for less-qualified minorities? That’s just slavery but in the other direction – reverse slavery! My cousin knows a guy whose brother didn’t get into his first-choice college, possibly because of affirmative action – racism against white people is the biggest problem nowadays!”

Mr. Conspiracy
“Of course you’d say that – the NAACP has been pushing that lie since they were formed! This whole ‘anti-racism’ thing is just a way of taking white people’s hard-earned money and putting it into welfare programs and health care. It’s how black people are planning on getting reparations!”

Ms. Extraterrestrial
“You monkeys are just mad that you’re genetically inferior to our master race! Once our society, which was created by white people, shakes off this liberal brainwashing, we’ll finally be able to send you animals back to where you came from. Get over it – white people are just superior!”

But I would be remiss and completely unfair if I didn’t mention…

Mr./Ms. Has Been Listening
“This topic made me really uncomfortable when I first started talking about it, but I’m glad I did. I’m not sure if I ‘get’ everything, but my thinking has definitely changed. Here are some reasonable objections and questions that I have, and I hope we can talk about them without offending each other.”

I am really happy to report that while I have personally met all of the above people, Has Been Listening is by far my most common interaction. All of the above are conversations I relish having, and it is my fervent hope that I am slowly equipping you to navigate those waters as well as I could. As I’ve said all along, the more talking we do, the more we learn.

Like this article? Follow me on Twitter!

*A commenter over at Racialicious has taken me to task for originally calling this “Ms. Black Nationalist Kook”. She was right to do so, since the attitude is orthogonal to Black Nationalism. I have made this revision, with an apology to my Nationalist sisters/brothers who I have mischaracterized.


  1. Curt says

    Ian, this is really bloody funny!
    The humour is slightly twisted by the fact that these examples are all real but none the less, I got a good chuckle out of them. A few of them I can recognize as past aspects of my own personality, specifically variations on the Mr. History, Mr. Minimizer and Mr. Liberal White Guilt, oh and a touch of Mr. Bootstraps from my farmer upbringing. I’m pretty sure that I’m Mr. Has Been Listening these days but I can admit that I’m probably not beyond the odd knee-jerk reaction still.
    Here’s to constant education and conversation!

  2. says

    I’m glad you enjoyed it. Many of these probably resonate with you for the same reason they resonate with me – we’ve all been one of these at one point or another. It’s part of the narrative we get from society. I’m pretty sure I’ve been each and every one of these (except maybe Mr. History and Extraterrestrial) somewhere along the line.

  3. Kate from Iowa says

    Ha! I definately had a mile-wide Kumbayah streak as a kid. Then I figured out that just because I didn’t really care, that didn’t mean that no one else did, some people only see “that’s a black kid, and this is a white one.” Sad when you think about it really, but sticking you head in the sand doesn’t fix it.

    Thanks for posting this. With the temperatures what they’ve been for the last two weeks, I needed a giggle this morning.

  4. says

    I’m still laughing as I write this. Great post.

    All of these people do, of course, exist.

    I’ve known and interacted with most of these “racial theorists”.

    I think it says alot about the state of racism and racial consciousness.

    Both are in very bad shape.

  5. says

    I’ve had this conversation a few times. My dad is the one that set me straight on the “race isn’t important” axiom. His simple response: “it’s not important to whom?”

    Glad you enjoyed the post!

  6. says

    Thanks for the comment and the positive feedback!

    Yeah, we don’t, by and large, have the race conversations that need to be had. I’m hoping to carve out this tiny section of the internet as a place to prod people into talking about it. I know a lot of my friends (particularly my white friends) want to talk about this stuff, but feel unprepared and reluctant to offend. Hopefully we can start bringing about the necessary change.

  7. says

    I agree about the lack of race conversations and I think that what you’re trying to do is fantastic.

    Now, as far as bringing white people into the conversation.

    My own personal view is that when I hear or read white people talking about race & racism, I find it to be in equal parts, amusing and irrelevant.

    The fact is that despite the Obama presidency we do not live in a post racial society.

    We still have to live and function in a white supremacist society and deal with the institutional racism that it breeds in every aspect of our lives from education, housing, the job market & work place, the police, the courts, and on and on.

    As long as whites continue to benefit, they do and will continue to, from their white skin privilege in this deeply racist society that we’re born into, it means absolutely nothing what they may think or say about racism because they never have and never will experience the debasing, demoralizing, and dehumanizing effect of racism in their hearts, minds and souls.

  8. says

    I see many parallels between the way that white people talk about racism and the way men talk about feminism. In fact, I am inclined to think that they’re nearly perfectly analogous situations. We still have to live and function in a male supremacist society and deal with institutional sexism that is just as ingrained as the racism.

    That being said, it is through dialogue and understanding that men (myself included) can become fem-friendly and advocate feminist positions, even if they (we) cannot fully experience the debasing, demoralizing and dehumanizing effects of sexism to the same extent a woman can. The fact that more men are beginning to advocate feminist positions suggests to me that the same kind of thing can be accomplished for racism. However, in order to do that there need to be those ‘accommodationists’ (like myself in this case) that attempt to gently bridge the initial gap so that the ‘firebrands’ (perhaps such as yourself) can get through to them.

    It should be noted that many white people, at least the ones I know, don’t particularly like the racist system we have, even when they benefit from it. They may not understand its genesis, they may feel helpless to act against it, they may not even recognize all of its facets, but when confronted with it they react pretty much the same way I do. That is why I think part of the process towards progress must necessarily include contributions from white people. While it sounds trite (and surely is so), racism hurts them too.

  9. says

    I’m not trying to be exclusionary. I just think that the value that whites may bring into an honest, freewheeling conversation about race & racism is minimal.

    Racism & sexism are an integral part of our society. I think that it is, because it has alot more to do with our society being a class society than a male supremacist society.

    I do not believe in feminist politics because feminism never has and never will deliver full liberation to women.

    The liberation {social & political) of women, gays and people of color in the capitalist society that we live in will not be achieved by feminist & identity politics nor by individual, isolated movements fighting against racism, sexism and homophobia.

    As long as there is no class solidarity among all these groups and as long as there is no unified political movement and action by all these groups there will be no liberation of any kind that will be achieved.

  10. says

    This is probably going to end up being a far longer conversation than the comments section can accommodate, but we can try anyway.

    First, I need to you tell me what you mean when you use the words ‘class’ and ‘liberation’, because I think we have different understandings of what those words mean, and I don’t want to get into a debate when we aren’t talking about the same subjects.

    Second, I don’t see how you can say that our society is white supremacist, then pivot and say it isn’t male supremacist. I really don’t see any qualitative differences between the kinds of privilege that men are afforded and the kinds of privilege that white people are afforded. If you want to put white supremacy into the same ‘class society’ classification that you do male supremacy, then I’m fine with that. All that means is that you use white supremacy in the same way I could use male supremacy, which was my point to begin with.

    Third, I don’t know if you draw a distinction between feminism and feminist politics. I didn’t say anything about feminist politics in my previous reply; I was talking about the possibility of having one group learn to adopt the values of another group. I think it is possible for the oppressor to understand and articulate the narratives of the oppressed, even if true understanding (‘grokking’, if you will) is not possible. I don’t think there are too many feminists out there that think that it’s a bad thing that men are listening and participating.

    Fourth, do you see any merit in the idea that becoming aware of biases and privilege in one sphere might help overcome them in another? For example, many male black civil rights leaders were also supporters of the women’s rights movement. Surely involving white people in the conversation about race is one step toward the kind of unified political movement and action you and I both agree would be beneficial. One of the major fights happening in the feminist movement right now is around breaking white women out of their privilege and realizing that discussing feminism means discussing race.

    Finally, I think I may have misunderstood your initial comment. I think that the conversation about race/racism should definitely be lead by those on the receiving end as opposed to by those with the power. However, part of making that political movement powerful enough to accomplish anything is having members of the majority be a part of it, which means having them in the room. Not only that, but from a pragmatic standpoint it is much better to fight alongside allies than against enemies. Once the majority realizes that racism is a problem for everyone (“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere” and all that…), then they become comrades in the struggle rather than unwitting opponents in a struggle they don’t understand. Does that more or less fit with your position, or have I missed something?

  11. says

    What I mean by class is that we live in a society divided by class, there’s the ruling class, the rich, wealthy elite and the working class, the masses of poor people.

    By liberation I mean, complete freedom from all racial, sexist and homophobic oppression.

    I didn’t say that our society is not male supremacist. What I said was that racism & sexism are rampant in our society because we live in a class society. That is the real cause.

    Male supremacy is a result of one class having political & economic domination over everyone else.

    Feminism & feminist politics are not separate things. They go hand in hand. One defines/informs the other.

    Again, I’m not trying to be exclusionary. It is very important to have political discussions with all oppressed groups. I was just giving my opinion about the political merits of feminism.

    As far as whites being allies in the fight against racism. That will not happen until the majority of them have the political & social consciousness necessary to not just talk about racism but to actively join in the fight to end racism.

    It will take alot more than conversations for that to happen though the conversations are important.

    But it will take alot of political organizing and alot of work building class solidarity to win over the masses of whites needed to join their oppressed brothers and sisters in ending the rotten system that produces racism, sexism and homophobia.

  12. says

    But it will take alot of political organizing and alot of work building class solidarity to win over the masses of whites needed to join their oppressed brothers and sisters in ending the rotten system that produces racism, sexism and homophobia.

    In this, and the other points you make above, you and I are in more or less complete agreement.


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