The Human Touch

by matttbastard

When it comes to successful anti-racist activism, Carmen Van Kerckhove of Racialicious reminds us that facts and statistics aren’t enough to instill change; focusing on the human dimension is a more effective method of inspiration:

When I think back on how my own views about race have evolved over my lifetime, I realize that some of the most profound shifts in my thinking resulted not from reading theoretical treatises, but from learning about specific individuals’ experiences.

Before I read Jonathan Kozol’s book Amazing Grace: Lives of Children and the Conscience of a Nation, for example, I was a staunch believer in rugged individualism. It was Kozol’s unflinchingly vivid portraits of the day-to-day experiences of black and Latino children in Mott Haven that made me realize just how self-righteous and privileged I was to believe we were all on a level playing field.

We can (and should) talk all day long about employment discrimination, racial disparities in sentencing, redlining, disproportionate healthcare, voter suppression, segregation in public schools, the prison-industrial complex, and more.

But by solely discussing racism in such aggregate and abstract terms, I worry that we will lose sight of the real reason all of this matters. Racism is a problem not merely because it represents some abstract sense of societal injustice. It’s a problem because of the hurt, pain, anger, and suffering it causes to individual human beings.


If we want to mobilize people to take action against racism, facts and statistics are not enough. We need to put a human face on these issues.

As they, read the whole damn thing.

(Oh, and congrats to Latoya Peterson, new editor of Racialicious! Check out this open thread for some examples of what Peterson has planned for the future, and to put your two cents in, too.)

Related: Terrence McNally talks to clinical psychologist Drew Westen, author of The Political Brain: The Role of Emotion in Deciding the Fate of the Nation, on how progressives need to appeal to the emotions of voters to be successful in political endeavours. Also check out this in-depth three part series by Sara Robinson, who contends that, by studying, emulating and appropriating the strategy and tactics of movement conservatism, USian progressives might possibly regain control of the national discourse from the right.

Recommend this post at Progressive Bloggers

Unsustainable Mythology

by matttbastard

Anti-racist activist Tim Wise slices through the bullshit re: Jeremiah Wright’s “controversial” sermons with surgical precision:

What Jeremiah Wright knows, and told his flock–though make no mistake, they already knew it–is that 9/11 was neither the first, nor worst act of terrorism on American soil. The history of this nation for folks of color, was for generations, nothing less than an intergenerational hate crime, one in which 9/11s were woven into the fabric of everyday life: hundreds of thousands of the enslaved who died from the conditions of their bondage; thousands more who were lynched (as many as 10,000 in the first few years after the Civil War, according to testimony in the Congressional Record at the time); millions of indigenous persons wiped off the face of the Earth. No, to some, the horror of 9/11 was not new. To some it was not on that day that “everything changed.” To some, everything changed four hundred years ago, when that first ship landed at what would become Jamestown. To some, everything changed when their ancestors were forced into the hulls of slave ships at Goree Island and brought to a strange land as chattel. To some, everything changed when they were run out of Northern Mexico, only to watch it become the Southwest United States, thanks to a war of annihilation initiated by the U.S. government. To some, being on the receiving end of terrorism has been a way of life. Until recently it was absolutely normal in fact.

But white folks have a hard time hearing these simple truths. We find it almost impossible to listen to an alternative version of reality. Indeed, what seems to bother white people more than anything, whether in the recent episode, or at any other time, is being confronted with the recognition that black people do not, by and large, see the world like we do; that black people, by and large, do not view America as white people view it. We are, in fact, shocked that this should be so, having come to believe, apparently, that the falsehoods to which we cling like a kidney patient clings to a dialysis machine, are equally shared by our darker-skinned compatriots.

As they say, read the whole goddamn thing.

h/t Racialicious

Recommend this post at Progressive Bloggers

A “stunning lack of clarity and consensus”.

by matttbastard

As the lily-white political class continues to evaluate Obama’s denouncing rejection of Angry Scary Negro du jour Sister Soulja Rev. Jeremiah Wright (while remaining curiously silent about Rod Parsley, McCain’s virulently racist and homophobic “spiritual guide”), Kai Chang takes a wide-ranging, nuanced look at how race (and racism) have played out thus far in this primary season.

A sample:

It seems to me that one of the principal sources of confusion when it comes to racial disourse is the stunning lack of clarity and consensus regarding the exact meanings and definitions of the words “racism” and “racist”. Those of us who spend significant time doing anti-racist work end up developing a variety of nuanced concepts surrounding these words, but many people never explore those meanings and instinctively respond to talk of racism with strong emotions and weak understandings. Racism is a complex multi-dimensional interdisciplinary subject which cannot be reduced to an absurdly-shallow bifurcation of the populace into laudable “not racists” and condemned “racists”. Racism is an overarching, interlocking set of economic, political, social, and cultural structures, beliefs, and actions which systematically advantage one racial group at the expense of all others. A statement, thought, belief, assumption, or action can be described as racist when it plugs into the overarching grid of racism, like a node which lights up once it plugs into its compatible network, thus transcending an individual act of bigotry or prejudice and fusing into broader institutions and societal forces.

As for defining what makes an individual person “a racist”, I think it’s a pretty fuzzy area, and not a particularly fruitful intellectual direction. Most anti-racists are much more concerned with identifying, understanding, and dismantling racism, than in exposing any individual as “a racist”, whatever that means. Clearly, there are hate-crime types out there who organize their lives around advancing white supremacist violence and such; but most of the racism that people of color deal with in our day-to-day lives — especially those of us who interact with a lot of white liberals — is far more subtle and covert, more of a background buzz than an in-your-face threat. White liberal racism tends to manifest in unspoken assumptions, attitudes, and social dynamics which normalize and center white privilege, while deprioritizing, marginalizing, and dismissing the voices, perspectives, experiences, histories, cultures, agendas, and initiatives of people of color. White liberals who engage in these behaviors aren’t “racists” in the same sense as the hate-crime types, but they are nevertheless participating in the replication and perpetuation of racism. Pointing this out is not “playing the race card”; it is accurate socio-political observation. Pointing this out is not the same as running around indiscriminately shouting “racist!” at every white person within earshot in some kind of rageful frenzy; it is constructive anti-racist critique aimed at illuminating an important but dimly-lit pattern, for the purpose of healing wounds which continue to bleed our society and our own humanity.

Of course, as briefly intimated by Chang, there are certain individuals out there who proudly fly the flag of prejudice (and ignorance/indifference) in a manner that defies nuance and complexity.

Recommend this post at Progressive Bloggers