Saturday, June 03, 2006

Thoughts on threads from CC and The Happy Feminist

In the weeks I’ve been neglecting this blog, putting my life back together, there have been many intriguing entries on my favorites. I’ve posted the odd comment, but now finally have time to ponder a little more deeply, and two of them are linked in my mind: the first is CC’s post about the over-the-top definitions of racism used by the Seattle Public Schools The ChaliceBlog: New definitions of racism , and the second is The Happy Feminist’s surprise that the word “feminist” has negative connotations MORE STRAY THOUGHTS ON THE F-WORD

I think there two phenomena at work here. The first is the natural law that any organization takes on a life of its own, independent of its founders and purposes, and fights for life like a living thing. Conservatives will immediately think of government programs, and they’d be right, but it’s also true for private organizations. For example, the March of Dimes was created for the sole purpose of eliminating Polio; and then one day (much to their surprise) it was in fact cured- so did they disband? No, they just changed their mission statement and moved on. The second phenomenon is that activists must be unreasonable extremists- so that when people meet them halfway, they’ll have gotten what they really wanted.

When these two principals are combined in a political organization, amazing things happen. Organizations created to win women the vote, or title nine programs, etc., actually succeeded, but refused to disband... simultaneously, as society became closer to reasonable on women’s issues, the activists had to go farther and farther out on their extreme limb to maintain their distance. So when a modern young woman avoids the word “feminist” because the word means to her a man-hating communist lesbian, she has some reason to think so- that’s what some modern feminist writing sounds like to young ears. This is also how irrational writing such as the Seattle Public Schools definitions of racism came about; having won so much for race equality and relations, they have to reach farther and farther out into the ozone to try and put white hoods on people who are not in fact racist. This phenomenon is extremely damaging to all of society, but the greatest damage is being done to young African Americans.

For example, defining one form is English as standard is NOT racism. Standard English is not defined by racist white Americans, it is defined by WORLD standards. English is the lingua franca of the entire world; when Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, Imperial Japan and the USSR formed their pact to conquer the world, the conferences were held in English. When a Bolivian airliner requests permission to land in Cambodia, the request is made in English. When a Lithuanian merchant sells his line of products to stores in Argentina, the negotiations were most likely conducted in English. When a German tourist wanted information from a Parisian tour guide, the questions and answers were in English- I was there, I heard. The English that was spoken in every example above was “standard” English- there is no place on Earth outside of the hood where a person speaking only Ebonics can get a decent job, and telling the kids otherwise is only crippling their chances. Telling them that for an English teacher to correct their English is racist only fills their hearts with hatred no reason.

Telling the children that what whites have is a result of white privilege is even more damaging. More so both because it makes them resent the hard work all kids have to do to get past entry level, and therefore hate all whites whom they believe didn’t have to work for it, and because most whites simply stop listening once you start spouting that nonsense. Talking about white privilege might make sense to legacy brats, but for those of us who grew up in poverty it just sounds like bitter whining and an unwillingness to work. 100 million white Americans are working their rear ends off and living one paycheck away from homelessness... if you tell them that white privilege exists, but is invisible to whites, I’m sure they’d agree- at least about the “invisible” part.

You cannot “end” racism, not while human beings remain frail mortals. But you can makes sure the law is colorblind, and this has largely been done. Certainly, we can work harder at enforcement, but the EEOC does exist. We can make racism socially unacceptable- and this has largely been done; nothing will ruin a person in the public eye faster than a charge of racism.
Fact: while racism and sexism have not been, and will never be eliminated, neither one is the determining factor in success any more. Nothing matters more than individual effort and character. It is no longer 1964- for God’s sake, the best rapper in the world is white, the best golfer is black, and the leading candidate for President is a woman Senator. Two of the last three Secretaries of State have been female, and two of them black.


Chalicechick said...

(((Nothing matters more than individual effort and character. )))

I think I could make a case that on the whole being born with money matters more than indivdual effort and character.

I hope I would be wrong.


LaReinaCobre said...

For more information on the "invisible" privileges of being white, I highly suggest you watch the PBS documentary: Race, the Power of Illusion.

It makes an extremely strong case for the facts of white male "affirmative action" that has been taking place in this country four 350 years. If it were possible to eliminate the advantages white people in this country have gained at the expense of people of color in the 25-40 years since the Civil Rights movement (that reached well beyond the black community), I would be very interested in hearing how that has happened.

Also, as a young African American, I am forcing myself to be amused rather than annoyed at your assuming to know what is happening to me and other people like me. If you are a young African American who feels damaged by Seattle Public School's definition of racism, let's talk about that.

Joel Monka said...

CC: Being born with money is nice, but lots of people have managed to screw up their lives even so. On the other hand, people like Oprah and JK Rowling and Bill Cosby have managed to be moderately successful despite being born poor. On the whole, I still say individual effort and character are more important.

Lareinacobre: I have not been in this country for 350 years, so I will only speak of things 299 years more recent. Perhaps it was my white male privilege that made my 4th grade teacher offer to buy me a pair of shoes; I don't know, and she's not around to ask. It took no WMP to get me into college- it was a state supported school, and I had a high school diploma, so they couldn't refuse me. But when I had to drop out to help support the family, my white male privilege only netted me entry-level jobs. Of course, there's always my vast inheritance: from my father, a box of books, a rifle, and his old slide rule; my mother's funeral had to be put on my charge card, so technically what I inherited was debt. Everything else I've ever had was the result of 50-70 hour work weeks. So yes, I find my privileges and White Male Affirmative Action status *QUITE* invisible.

And no, I don't assume to know what is happening to you and other people like you- nor am I annoyed that you assume to know all about my life just because of my skin color. But if a young African American believes the Seattle school system's definitions of racism, he IS being damaged by it; it is always damaging to believe lies.

LaReinaCobre said...

I don't know anything more about you than what you write here, Joel. I've been talking about race and religion with people on the internet for half my life, and should know better than to make assumptions about people's personal stories. I also don't like it when people make assumptions about me, so why would I do this to others? If you find that I am attributing incorrect characteristics to you, please point this out to me and I will correct myself.

Racism isn't about you or any one person in particular. Frederick Douglass was able to overcome many obstacles, and ended up being more successful and well off than many white people of his day - this did not prove racism or slavery were no longer major problems in US society.

For most of my life, I believed racism was an old issue and didn't happen anymore unless one invited it on oneself - until I had a very rude awakening several years ago that almost destroyed my family.

Because of this I gradually began to educate myself about race, history, class and government. For years I'd internalized the very great lie that I was taught in school, books and other mass media: that white people were superior to all other people. Even several white people who would consider me to be their very good friend believe this lie. I don't hate them for internalizing this - I believed it once, too - to my own detriment.

I am a better person for understanding that race is a construct that does not really exist, but was created to benefit white males in this country. Knowing what I know, and having the experiences that I've had, I'd have to be a fool to believe that this history has no bearing on current reality.

I realize you are preoccupied at this time, but perhaps someday you will be able to catch the film on Race that I suggested. If not, then that is okay. My intent is not to argue with you.

I'm beginning to understand that for many white people, looking at race is painful and/or irrelevant. Maybe this is true for you, too. I'm learning not to expect white people to care about racism anymore than I expect heterosexuals to care about heterosexism. The ones that do are the exceptions, who have chosen to learn about something they have the privilege to deny or simply ignore. I don't knock people for choosing to focus on things that directly affect them. It is only human.

What does bother me is when people - especially other UUs - tell me that race doesn't matter in 2006, or that queers are "taking over" and that white men don't have any rights anymore. I vacillate between anger and total sadness at statements like these. This is my problem; I shouldn't take it personally. At the same time, there is only so far I can go in building relationship with people in my faith community when they categorically dismiss something that has had a huge impact on my life, and the lives of millions of other people.

Joel Monka said...

"...What does bother me is when people - especially other UUs - tell me that race doesn't matter in 2006..." I never said that. In fact I did say "...racism and sexism have not been, and will never be eliminated...". What I *did* say is that "...neither one is the determining factor in success any more...". Yes, race can sometimes matter, both for and against- but it is no longer *THE* factor controlling your life, your success. It has been in the past, and the fairly recent past at that- but now it's not. Race is nowadays *A* factor, like sex, good looks, whether you're fat or thin- whatever irrational criteria people use. I've been told to my face the reason for not being hired or promoted was because I'm too fat. To me, at that time and place, that was more important than my skin color.

The same is true of White Male Privilege. When a little boy is crying because his feet hurt and his parents can't afford to get him new shoes, he has a hard time understanding how privileged he is for being white. When a young man is eating food he salvaged out of the grocery store dumpster, he has trouble understanding the privileges he's enjoying because he's white. I can understand the privilege a Kerry or a Kennedy or a Bush enjoys, but I still don't see the privileges I, and millions of other whites who grew up below the poverty line enjoyed. If my parents "...gained at the expense of people of color...", and still couldn't afford to buy me a pair of shoes, they must have been bad parents indeed.

Chalicechick said...

((Even several white people who would consider me to be their very good friend believe this lie. ))

How do you judge whether your friends believe if white people are superior?

I intellectually know they aren't and don't think I feel that they are. the implicit association test gives me a slight preference for white people.

But I'd be interested to know what your criteria are.