Okay, first of all: wow. I have written more than 700 posts on this blog, and I have never seen a response like I had on Monday afternoon. At the time of writing, my post about my objection to anti-black racism being used to deflect the “Shroedinger’s Rapist” argument has elicited 330 comments, and received nearly 20,000 hits. I’ve been quickly outed from my quiet little obscure hideaway at the middle-bottom of the FTB frontpage, and have been placed in front of many fresh pairs of eyes.
Second of all: there is apparently a need for some clarification. I was trying to make two separate points in that piece, and there seem to be a number of people who simply did not pick up on them. The first point is that connecting Shroedinger’s Rapist to anti-black racism fails to address the central question of whether or not we want women to feel more comfortable in freethinking circles; if we do, then we need to make some changes. Men being aware of how their (our) seemingly-benign behaviour may be seen as threatening is one specific change we can make.
The second point is that linking the argument to anti-black racism ignores many of the experiences of black folks who are constantly making similar adjustments to make white folks feel more comfortable. Failing to recognize this fact only highlights the ignorance of the speaker, and it is not particularly pleasant to have my story used in the service of an argument I despise by a person who will never experience it.
There were a number of other comments and misconceptions that I will attempt to clear up in this post.
“I never thought about it this way before. You changed my mind/you made me think.”
Awesome. This is why I write. I didn’t expect such a strong emotional reaction, but I never know which of my posts (did I mention there are more than 700?) is going to resonate with people.
“Doesn’t making accommodations like this perpetrate racism/This behaviour doesn’t fight racism.”
There were a few people who said this, and I’d like to offer all of them the most sincere and heartfelt “fuck you” that I can muster. Without wanting to go all “Jerry Springer” on you, you don’t know me and you don’t know my life. What you do know is that I spend hours of my day-to-day life examining, digesting, and instructing about race and race issues. You know this because you are reading this on my blog where I do this week after week after week. If you really want to throw down over who does what to fight racism, then let’s abso-fucking-lutely go.
Not everything I say and do has to fight racism. If I started an anti-racist lecture every time I spooked an old lady or caught a funny glare while waiting for the bus, I’d never get anything else done. The fact that I spend the amount of time that I do devoted to counteracting racism is a bonus – fixing racism is not the job of those against whom racist acts are perpetrated. These behaviours are me trying to survive. I’m sorry they’re not enough for you (no I’m really not and you can go fuck yourself).
Hoookay… next one
“(Everything Mallorie Nasrallah said)”
Yeah… yeah. So Mallorie showed up and said some things. She and I subsequently spoke face-to-face (via the internet). I did my level best to explain to her why people reacted to her letter the way they (we) did, which dovetails with her comments. I have no idea how successful I was in that task, and only time will tell (considering how much time we spent on general vs. universal statements, I’m not that optimistic). Perhaps it should suffice to say that I understand her position a lot better (and the things that are behind it), and while I still think she’s wrong, I at least know why, and what she is trying to say.
“I have to do those kinds of things too, so I understand”
“I have to do those kinds of things too, so you’re wrong”
I fully recognize that these behaviours, or the wish to avoid eliciting fear from strangers, is not unique to black people. I’m also quite aware that, as black folks go, I’m not exactly what Fox News viewers are afraid of. However, at the same time, I recognize the existence of anti-black prejudice. Do I know for sure that everyone that looks at me fearfully does so because of my race? Nope. But I would be a fool to pretend that anti-black racism doesn’t exist in everyone’s minds, and that my race has nothing to do with any negative reaction others might have to me. I do not attribute everything to my race, and I explicitly did not do so in my post.
“It’s only polite to do this kind of stuff!”
It is indeed polite. My objection is to the word ‘just’. I am not trying to reduce fear in others solely in order to be polite. I am doing it, in part at least, to be able to function in society. To be able to walk down a street, to be able to go to work, to be perceived as being on the same team. Part of it is tact. Part of it is necessity. It’s much harder to function in a world where everyone’s wary of you. It’s much more preferable to do whatever it takes to reduce the fear to near-zero.
“Statistics! Black criminals vs. white rapists!”
While this debate is very interesting (to people in the comments section, at least), it is entirely ancillary to the point of the post. Whether you are more likely to be molested by a white man than robbed by a black one does not speak either to the fact that women have identified a pattern of behaviours as problematic, or that using anti-black racism is an ignorant red herring. I am content to let others have this fight – I wouldn’t care either way.
“You’re just lying to white people!”
Yes, someone said this. I don’t know why. I just thought it was funny and deserved more attention. Dear white people of the world: I sincerely apologize for pretending to be slightly less skilled at walking than I actually am.
“There’s wrong on both sides of the argument”
If you don’t understand the privilege argument, then yes it would appear that there is wrong on both sides of the “don’t act like a rapist”/”don’t treat me like a rapist” dichotomy. Even if there were (and I am not convinced that is the case), that is an equivalence so false, it should be a character on Real Housewives of Logical Fallacies. I will devote an entire post to this… sometime.
“I don’t think that black people should have to do this kind of stuff”
Me either. This post was descriptive of what I do, not prescriptive of what others should.
“This story is sad”
Yeah. I didn’t realize until I wrote it all out, but it’s pretty sad. I wish we lived in a very different world where I didn’t have to worry about this, and I didn’t have to broadcast “I’m safe” signals all the time. But we don’t live in that world; we live in this one. So I do what I can to fight the battles I think I can win, and discuss the issues surrounding the ones I can’t.
Thanks for reading, and I hope those of you who are new will stick around.
Like this article? Follow me on Twitter!
Also, thank YOU for not only a clarifying and edifying post and follow-up, but for putting the extended Recent Comments widget on your sidebar. I’d never be able to follow all these nested replies without it.
Another excellent post.
“…it is not particularly pleasant to have my story used in the service of an argument I despise by a person who will never experience it.”
I imagine that this feeling (I’m taking a wild guess, I don’t know you personally man) might have contributed to why you hadn’t shared those stories before that magnificent post. The knowledge put out there is giving power freely to those who come across it (because of the interesting perspective most probably never even thought of AND your ability to communicate it so effectively) and obviously can be used counter to the obvious point(s) you had made. But this reality shouldn’t stop us from putting our experiences and ideas out there.
In fact, this helps some people coming from a more privileged side of the issue (and I’m speaking as a 30’s white male here) understand that maybe our first reaction to powerful ideas shouldn’t be “but, but, but… my PRIVILEGE??!!” True change will have a greater reach if guys like me can just SHUT UP and let the power of the idea and its inherent logic overwhelm weaker and outdated traditional thought.
Great follow up, and two excellent, consciousness-raising posts. I’m glad I’ve discovered your blog, thanks, and consider yourself followed on Twitter! (@AthiestChris)
I like how thoughtful and honest you are. It embeds hope in even the saddest of stories.
Oh…and you are funny too(in the good way).
One of the benefits of reading FTB is that it encourages me to live the truth of my convictions (and to be provisionally certain of them).
I’ve been reading your blog for a few weeks now, and I thought the Shuffling Feet post was excellent. To be honest, I think most of your posts that I’ve read so far have been excellent, and I will continue to read until I’ve read them all (and, presumably, beyond that time, as I’ve no doubt you intend to keep writing).
Your apology for pretending to be slightly less skilled at walking almost made me laugh out loud at work. Considering I read a lot of stuff here at work that has the sole purpose of being funny, that’s pretty impressive (to me at least).
On a more serious note, I would like to thank you for doing what you do (the blogging, mostly, since I’m unlikely to be overtaken by you on the street). You (along with some other excellent writers, here on FTB and other places) have made me think about my privilege, and ponder what I can do to help, and look at many of the problems in society from a more complex viewpoint than I had previously.
Truth of ones convictions….
I understand that all women, including my sister, can’t tell which man might assault them. But I’ll never be comfortable with it. My mom raised me not to accept the idea I’m a potential criminal because of what I am from Anglos/white people.
I guess I’ll keep both ideas in my head.
See – you don’t have to be comfortable with it, but you can think of it this way. The failure state of not being a bit wary of strange men may be assault (all caveats about it not being the fault of the assaulted, and that yes, even being wary may not help stipulated). The failure state of being a bit wary is that an innocent man has to deal with someone being suspicious.
You shouldn’t be comfortable with it. So what is the answer? To treat your sister’s concerns as if they don’t exist? No. The answer is to behave accordingly & compassionately *and* to do what you can to change the culture we have where rape is basically systemically condoned.
I’ve always been more concerned for my darker skinned female cousins, because it seems the corollary of men of color being some sort of perverts was that women of color were somehow “loose” and “asking for it.” I thought my light skinned sister, who looks white, was safer.
Ever hear that vile story about going to Mexico and running into a young male who was trying to prostitute his sister?
Great update. I’m also so glad that you thoroughly get it – I’ve seen your post linked approvingly in other places that then proceed to get major parts of it wrong, and… I guess I’m saying that you’ve definitely created a place where I fully trust that you’d have the back of anyone in a minority/historically oppressed group trying to defend their position.
Man, you do a lot of heavy lifting. Thanks.
I don’t know if I’ve said this ever, but thank you for being so honest in your posts. Please don’t stop. Sometimes it might be uncomfortable for people like me (ie, those with racial priviledge) to read, but that’s exactly why we need to read it. After all, if it’s uncomfortable for me to read, how uncomfortable is it for you to live?
Gender and sexual orientation issues follow a similar issues (as do, to a lesser extent, chronic and mental illness issues), but the requirement of society that you accomodate everyone around you because of the color of your skin is unique to racial issues. I sort of knew and didn’t know about it before I read your post, if that makes sense: From my boyfriend, I knew it was an issue, but I didn’t know how pervasive it was.
So thanks again, and please, please, please keep writing stuff like that post (and others I’ve read from you – I’d look them up right now but that’d be my ADHD talking and I’m supposed to be writing my thesis right now so hopefully I’ll be able to constrain myself to this comment until my lunch break – though that is by no means guaranteed). You’re fast becoming one of my favorite bloggers because you don’t back down from something that might be painful to read or write because it’s something that needs to be said.
I never know what to expect from you except that it will more likely than not be something that is challenging for me to read, be it mentally or emotionally or both. It helps me understand you and your situation, which will hopefully help me not make stupid mental and social blunders out of ignorance. People like me need to learn about stuff like this. Your posts and your perspective are priceless to me. Thank you.
In my 20s i was a punky looking skinhead girl and i’ve been on both sides of that street. I’ve crossed over when i’ve been behind an old man/woman alone so as not to scare them and i have sighed a huge sigh of relief when the potential rapist/mugger did the same for me.
I am certain that most times you do cross the road to distance yourself from the “vulnerable” person, they know what you are doing and they are saying a huge silent “thank you” for your consideration. At least, i know i was.
Great post (as usual) and lovely follow up.
Thanx for the great follow-up.
but man, don’t blame other people for your brilliant writing! Start writing crap and nobody will read it!
There’s so many layers in this whole issue, for me they’re often hard to seperate clearly.
What is polite for me is an additional burden to you because I have white privilege (the few moments I lost the German equivalent of white privilege were disturbing enough, I can’t imagine how it is living your life with that).
On the other hand, you have male privilege over me, and I clearly wouldn’t open the door for you when I’m alone at home at night, but I wouldn’t open it for PZ Myers or Jason Thimbeault either.
But you’re absolutely right, it’s my fucking problem to deal with racism (and its local equivalents).
Just like it’s the guys’ problem to make the community more wellcoming to women, it’s mine to make it more wellcoming to POC.
The “Shuffling Feet” post went up on Good Men Project, and the comments there are … yeeeaaah. Just a heads-up if anyone feels brave.
Yeah they’re pretty bad. I was surprised – I assumed people actually understood the topics under discussion. Nope!
Good Men Project also has Hugo Schwyzer writing for them…’nuff said.
Well, that was cryptic and snarky of me. I meant that Good Men Project has a history of supporting views that aren’t feminist, and therefore I’m not surprised that their commentariat might have missed the point.
Well, David Byron has already appeared, so it’s probably only a matter of time until the rest of them shows up…
David Byron? I have argued with that motherfucker on REDDIT. If it is indeed the same guy. It looks to me like these MRA types are reaching out to feminist comment sections all over the internet…
Yeah, it’s the same piece of work, starting out with accusing Crommunist of erasing male rape victims and going on from there. Empathy fail at the lowest level.
I was going to jump in and try to straighten some things out, but then I read more and realized that there aren’t enough showers in the world that I could take after diving into that.
There’s a whole bunch of hate and discontent in that website.
Excellent follow-up post(& blog).
My own experience, as a white guy: I (unfortunately) appear to many people as a stereotypical biker. Big, burly, bearded, ponytail, gruff voice, etc… In my own mind, I’m an intellectual, thoughtful, enlightened person, with an artistic bent (photographer). It took me YEARS to really understand what I looked like to others, especially women, & try to moderate my behavior accordingly.
You, of course, were born with it. It also took me years to really pick up what you’re dealing with every day. I can go whole days without thinking about my color. That’s privilege.
Anyway, keep doing what you’re doing.
I too am a biker, although while not in my leathers, I am just a balding middle aged male prone to wearing shorts and sandals while not riding.. In my case, I am very aware of the effect my differing appearances have on other people. There are many people who are obviously wary of my presence in my biker persona, not so many when I’m in sandals.
btw – Ian I am a big fan of nearly everything you write.
“Nearly” everything? UNACCEPTABLE! I demand fawning praise for every single post, IMMEDIATELY!
Seriously though, thank you. I appreciate these comments a lot – blogging can be a thankless game, but thanks to folks like you, it is anything but thankless for me.
Can please somebody explain to me carefully how not scaring people and thereby not confirming their biased fears leaves prejudices unchallenged as opposed to scaring them and therby giving them actual data to support those prejudices?
It’s probably my fuzzy pink ladybrains that fail to understand this.
But don’t you see? If you don’t actively disconfirm people’s biases, you’re FUELING them!
The answer is clearly to approach women in places where they feel unsafe, get in their face and say “You thought I was going to rape you, didn’t you? Well guess what? YOU’RE A SEXIST FOR THINKING THAT! By the way, you’re hot – gimme yo’ numbah.”
Sexism fixed! You’re welcome.
Now, your “Shuffling Feet” post was really the first I started reading here. I will be sticking around (I apologise in advance). Quite aside from the fact that you think and write in excellent and enlightening ways, your sarcasm is also an absolute work of art.
Well, as a straight white guy who wishes to be as anti-racist as possible, …
I get that some black folks have to/are willing to do stuff like that to accommodate white folks’ fears, even if to just live their lives. Everything Crommunist said. I get that.
But you seem to be implying that a black person who declines to give this deference to white fears could be described as “scaring them and thereby giving them actual data to support those prejudices.” It’s hard to put into words how strongly I disagree with that notion.
The simplest I can put it: When a black guy stays a “respectful” distance away from me and lowers his gaze to avoid meeting mine on the street, I DO NOT and WILL NOT think, “Ah, thank you dude, that sure makes me feel better! He’s totally ONE OF THE GOOD ONES.” Dare I say … “he knows his place.”
No, I think to myself, “I know why he’s doing that. It helps him live in this fucked-up world a little bit easier. I’m sorry, sir.”
Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely agree that men are in no way “oppressed” if we keep a safe distance from women to make them more comfortable. The two are not remotely equitable. Absolutely not.
But … can you see where a straight white guy is coming from, at least a little bit, when I think that it’s SO PROFOUNDLY screwed-up that black folks are forced defer to white fears like that, and then to hear that women view me that way (even if I agree, intellectually, that they have at least some solid justification for feeling that way)?
Argh, didn’t I say things are complicated?
The main problem to me comparing the man-woman vs black-white scenario is that the power-dynamics aren’t the same.
In the man-woman case, the privilege and power lie with the man. There is a risk for her. Her fears aren’t irrational.
In the black-white scenario, the power and privilege are with white people. Their fear of the big black man is irrational, while the fear of the big black man might be reasonable.
Am I making sense so far?
Disclaimer for the following:
I live in a white kids’ club. There aren’t many black or Asian people here, our immigration is mainly from Europe. Not that we don’t have racist xenophobia, but, well, all my black friends live 10.000km away. And now I’m sounding like “But I have black friends”. I don’t think that my kids have ever seen a black man outside of our holidays in France, so I’m obviously talking out of my ass when talking about black people.
Now back to the problem:
If I have an irrational prejudice and fear of black men, and this huge black guy walks silently up behind me so I get massively startled when he walks past, my thoughts aren’t going to be: “oh gosh, look, he didn’t rob me, I was wrong in my prejudice!”
They are more going to be on the line of: “that asshole, scaring me for nothing, typical!” My prejudices would be confirmed, selection bias and all that shit combined with a very negative emotional experience.
Would I be right? No. Would it happen? Yes.
Now, he shuffles his feet, gives me a bit of space. No negative emotions, no startling, no fear.
The negative connection in my brain. Maybe a slightly positive one.
There aren’t many black or Asian people here, our immigration is mainly from Europe.
Turkey’s in Asia. Isn’t it? I’m an American and therefore kind of fuzzy on geography.
Turkey is partly in Asia, as is Russia (well, Russia is mainly in Asia), but at least ethnically they aren’t usually counted as Asian.
My fault of not making my point clearer.
I should probably have said “Caucasian”, but I loathe that term.
So, yes, even though the Turkish immigrants might be from Asia, they don’t stand out like people of Chinese origin.
Actually, those times I “lost” my privilege, it was when people mistook me as a Turkish woman because of my long dark hair and eyes. I usually regain it the moment I get in contact with people, but having hurled “Turkish slut” at you across the street sticks.
I had the privilege losing experience in Germany where I was often classified “Eastern European” (I’m Finnish). It was eye-opening. Without realizing, I had been guilty of that same prejudice toward a (large and diverse) group of people I was now being lumped together with. Served me right.
Fuck the haters. Keep making us think! Count me as another one of the people who appreciates you writing this stuff and has learned a great deal over the past few months reading your words, and those of Greta Christina and others who deal with similar issues here. I’ve been looking back over various occasions in my past, and realizing how much of a condescending, and occasionally creepy, asshole I came across to certain women and POC. No use crying over spilt milk, obviously, but I’m making an active attempt to avoid it in the future.
I echo the thanks for two really thought-provoking posts; I followed the link to the original from Pharyngula, and plan to stay.
I also want to share another anecdote about altering behaviour in response to perceived fear. I worked as a bank teller for several years in a large, diverse city, and in a world where identify theft is common, identifying customers before handing over money is a legal obligation. There was always a power dynamic at work, because though my position at the bank was lowly, I could deny people access to their money if they couldn’t prove to me who they were, and it became pretty clear to me, very quickly, that for my black customers in particular, being asked for identification by a lily-white woman was very often going to seem threatening and demonstrate a lack of trust and respect, even if I was just doing my job when I asked for identification.
There’s an incident that has stuck with me, years after leaving the financial industry entirely. A a young black man, who runs a (very successful) business, ended up at my wicket and instantly sized me up, didn’t recognize me, and clearly anticipated an unpleasant time identifying and justifying himself to me as a result, so before I’d done more than say hello, he pointed out three other tellers who could vouch for him. He had a real fear, based on previous interactions at the bank and in day to day life, that he would be singled out for an excessive “identification” process based on his skin colour, and he was doing the equivalent of shuffling his feet to put me at ease.
I’ve only just encountered the phrase thanks to these two posts, but it’s apt – my customer saw me as Schroedinger’s Racist, and made accommodation to my presumed lack of trust in him as a result. I don’t like being perceived as a potential racist, but even more, I don’t like living in a world where people have no choice but to perceive me that way, for their own safety and comfort. But I don’t see how we get any closer to a world where it’s not necessary if I decide that my response is going to be anger at my customer for behaving in a particular way to deflect an uncomfortable interaction, rather than looking to my own attitudes and behaviour to try to identify the ways that I can accommodate in turn, to signal that I recognize and will do my best not to add to his fear.
Shorter me: changing our behaviour in order to be considerate of other people’s fears isn’t racist, or sexist, or whatever-ist; it can help – even if slowly – to create a less racist, less sexist society.
First of all ew at the GMP. I’ll take misnamed groups for 200.
It’s a tell tale sign of ignorance of what it’s like to
actually be discriminated against because of your skin or appearance. I really wish we weren’t some kind of exclamation mark at the end of someone’s poorly made argument.
I understood a lot of what you said. As a big white guy, I have to do some similar things to not scare smaller people and women. Of course, I’m sure it’s nothing like what you go through, since it’s not all the time, and I know what I am thinking, and it’s probably similar to what most white people you encounter are thinking, i.e. not anything I’m proud of.
Thank you for your thoughtful posts.
Just wanted to mention that, in casual interactions with black folks, I try to use “sir” and “ma’am” purposefully and, I hope, sincerely; the purpose is to counteract “boy” and “hey, you”, while not claiming in-group status that I do not feel belongs to me.
Tell me, what do you(all) think of this?
Avoiding “boy” = good idea. Counteracting it… I’m not so optimistic about the power of the word “sir”. Divorced of context, I can’t really comment more than that.
My two cents: if you wouldn’t use “sir” and “ma’am” when talking to white people, it probably sounds kind of odd. Certainly more formally than most people speak, in most circumstances. But if they’re clients, or you just have a formal way of speaking, go nuts. As for it actively changing anything, what Crommunist said.
I tend to use “sir” or “ma’am” when…well, when I’ve forgotten the person’s name or can’t reliably pronounce it. Otherwise I usually go with Mr/Ms/Dr/etc Soundso. “Boy” seems to me right out for strangers and acquaintances unless they’re under the age of 10. Well, ok, if I’m on the subway and I hear some man whining about how he’s turning 25 and feels so OLD, I might be inclined to tell him, “Come off it, you’re just a boy.” But other than that, can’t see how it could possibly be appropriate.
“Boy” was commonly used as an address to black men as a way of belittling them (us). Its colloquial use is one of those regional idiosyncrasies, but it has a very different smuggled-in meaning when used to address a black person compared to a white one. I had a friend who affectionately referred to me as “monkey”… once. She had no idea about the ghosts she was dredging up. Same with another friend who told me that I reminded her of King Kong. We had to have a long chat.
Funnily enough I recently did a presentation at work, and a bunch of people came up to me afterward to tell me how “articulate” and “well-spoken” I was. Every time they used those words, I got a little twinge. It was a bizarre experience – I knew that they didn’t mean “for a black man”, but it’s one of those things you can’t help but hear when you know the other contexts those phrases are used in. I would imagine it would be similar for women who are told they’re “good at math” or “pretty athletic” and hear the ghost of “…for a girl”.
Heh, the “monkey” thing is most unfortunate… Since we all do rather look like monkeys, after all (and although I know we are apes and not monkeys, if monkeys were a monophiletic group then apes ought to be a subset of monkeys, but I digress). Once I was at the zoo, and there was somebody from the zoo staff cleaning one of the bird cages, and I almost said to my girlfriend at the time, “Hey, an ape got in the bird cage!” Luckily, right before I said it I realized the zoo employee was black, and uh… yeah, wow, that would have been bad… I was trying to make a joke about human exceptionalism, but obviously that’s not at all how it would be perceived.
^ THIS. Usually, “You’re good at [stereotypically male activity]” doesn’t have the ghost for me, but the moment a modifier is added to good, it does (ie “pretty good at math” or “really good at math”). The more male-dominated the descriptor is, the more likely I am to feel the urge to wince (like when I was told I was “pretty brave” for doing pyrophoric chemical reactions), and the more surprised they sound, the more likely I am to feel the twinge.
I know a lot of the time, all they mean is, “I want to compliment you,” but I’ve heard it so often with the “…for a girl” added on at the end, either verbally or non-verbally.
Ian, are you like me in that if they word the compliment in a way that “… for a _______.” can’t be added to the end of it, it doesn’t have the back-handed feel? I guess what I’m trying to ask is does “I wish I was as good a speaker as you!” feel the same as “You’re so well-spoken!” ? Because I know that “I’m jealous of your technique!” feels a lot better than, “You’re pretty good at kata.” When I’m speaking to people who I know are likely to get the back-handed compliments a lot, I’ll purposely phrase them in a way that it can’t be added so they know I mean it as a simple and heartfelt compliment.
Finally, I didn’t realize that “articulate” and “well-spoken” might be trigger phrases. I’ll have to keep that in mind when talking with my coworkers.
With all racially-tinged language, I make a note of it and then decide whether or not I’m going to react. Context and tone are key. Most of the time I see it as an opportunity for instruction. Sometimes I can see the veiled insult, other times it exposes the ignorance of the speaker about the topic. In that particular example, it didn’t really take much pondering to determine that the unspoken “…for a ________” was unspoken because it was absent from the speaker’s thought process. With the “monkey” story it was an opportunity to point out “hey, here’s something you may not have known”. When someone I was talking to outside a club told me I looked like a good fighter because I’m black (explicitly), it was another story entirely.
The trick is for people to be aware of the issues. I had no idea that the phrase “getting Gypped” had racist associations until someone told me. Was I an anti-Roma bigot? Not at all – I was just ignorant. Since learning that, I’ve stopped saying it. It’s not our ignorance that determines who we are; it’s how we respond to new information.
Yeah, I felt like it would be an awkward thing to say, but I think I might do things to avoid being on the wrong side of Schrodinger’s Racist. But it’s a very different dynamic – I’m not sure it really compares. But I think as I learn more about privilege, the better I get at being accomodating.
I joked about a black friend of mine being a car thief once. I honestly think it was the kind of joke I would’ve made with any of my friends – I know a white one who woulda found it funny. But he was pretty mad about it. Now I guess being careful before making “criminal” comments towards black people counts as special treatment? But it turned out he’d heard that kinda thing a million times, sometimes from people who weren’t blissfully ignorant, or who seriously considered him a criminal. And who knows, maybe I really was airing a subconcious bias. Ew.
I really don’t know if there’s something you can do in a 30 second interaction to accomodate people of any other minority though – other than, like, not look at them weird.
Now I guess being careful before making “criminal” comments towards black people counts as special treatment?
It’s acknowledging that there’s a history and a lot of current issues there and that black people might be more sensitive to that sort of comment, for good reasons. I’d consider it more in the “shuffling feet” category: something you do to make your friends and acquaintances feel more comfortable.
Being a woman, I have certainly learned to be cautious around men, especially when I am by myself, or in some sort of compromising situation. But I’m a pretty trusting sort of lady, and generally assume everyone has the best of intentions and respect for me. Adding “white” as a descriptor of myself never really changed much for me…the hard part is being a woman. But then I married a man of Asian decent, with dark skin and decidedly non-white eyes. And wow, a whole new level of racism was made clear to me. He is the least intimidating-looking person I know (at about 5’5″, 140#) and yet we do not go through airport security without him getting stopped for a “random” secondary screening. He’s dealt with racism his entire life, and now, as his blonde, blue-eyed wife, I get to see it first hand. There is nothing he can do to make white people feel at ease, because it isn’t his stature that scares people, it’s his “foreigness.” I definitely have a better appreciation for the privileges of being white in this very white land…and it makes me incredibly sad.
I didn’t comment on the first feet post because other people had already said everything I could say and more, and said it smarter. But I just have to thank you for these two blinding threads.
Crommunist, thank you, for this post and the last one! This was excellent and also hilarious. (For the “no I’m really not and you can go fuck yourself” I would give you a clenched tentacle salute on Pharyngula but since we’re not all tentacled here I s’pose I’ll just applaud.) I never really know what to say about posts that I completely agree with and find informative, but I’ll say this: the last one connected some dots for me about the behavior of my black friends (one of whom informed me casually that she has a “White People Voice,” which I don’t even really know what that means but I get how it would be a thing), as well as leading to a discussion that alerted me to a need to change some of my behaviors (the one about social awkwardness, eye contact, and being Schroedinger’s Racist). And I’m glad you thought to attack the problem from this angle, because apparently the differential privilege argument wasn’t getting through to a lot of guys, and hopefully this will curb some of the appropriation that was going on in their arguments.
Yesterday, when a black guy conspicuously kept his distance from me on an otherwise empty street, I smiled at him, taking note of his wonderful hat (he was wearing a wonderful hat), and (since I, too, was wearing a pretty nice hat) tried to think of a funny hat-based gesture of greeting that didn’t involve me taking a sweeping bow. Couldn’t, so just smiled at him and kept walking. And thought about Shuffling Feet, and wondered whether he was acknowledging that he was Schroedinger’s Rapist or whether he was wary that I might be Schroedinger’s Racist or whether he was shuffling his feet, and thought probably all of the above, then decided to be grateful that I had run into a considerate person with a great hat. And that was on a particularly anxiety-ridden day (thanks, Mallorie! thanks, Ysanne! thanks, SIWOTI syndrome!) when I skipped a meeting because I was too stressed out and to avoid being out after dark. So, you know, decent guys, your consideration does make a world of difference. Thanks.
When I first worked at the Treasury Department I shared an office with a black man I’d known casually at grad school. Over the course of several years we became quite friendly. Once I commented that he used a different accent talking to me than he used speaking to other whites. His reply was it showed how comfortable he was with me that he didn’t use his “white voice” when speaking with me.
Thank you Crommunist.
This post, and others like it, have managed to explain to me what my wife (who is otherwise good at explaining) hasn’t managed to do.
I still get slightly annoyed, however, when a woman times an elevator or let’s a door close to ensure I’m denied the option on how far back to walk or not.
Many years ago, walking home from the clubs, there was a guy following me, shadowboxing and singing “Eye of the Tiger” really loud. (including the instrumentals) He was gaining on me pretty quick but must have noticed that I was jumpy because he switched to some impromptu ditty about “I’m drunk and happy but not craaaa-aaa-aaa-zeeee!” I cracked up, he cracked up and we some how ended up strolling along singing “Bohemian Rhapsody.”
Knowing that someone is seeing you, can acknowledge that things are weird and adjusting to make it less so, can lead to one of those tiny moments of humanity. It’s nice. I’m very grateful for the thousands of times it’s happened, even when it was a just a split second of understanding.
I do wish it was always voluntary. Learning that it is not, and remembering the myriad examples of habitual adjustment overlooked has been challenging to my view of privilege and self. It’s very frustrating to realize that individually, there is little I can do. Except to try to see other people a bit more, to acknowledge when it may be weird and try to make it less so.
There’s something odd about this analogy that I can’t quite put my finger on. Perhaps it is that some women will appropriate the parallel to masculinity themselves. They can drink, screw, take a joke “like a man” or they are “really just one of the boys.” Sometimes it that they “think like a man and don’t get along with women.” Or they’ll flaunt an association to a sub-culture that is seen as traditionally male – Sci-fi, comics, gaming, etc.
I have never heard any of my friends of color appropriate whiteness as a positive in the same way. (Although I have heard “dance like a white man.”)
As I said, I can’t quite put my finger on it. Perhaps it is only that gender-identity and racial-identity are informed by similar but distinct experiences.
Maybe it’s something about “man” carrying a connotation of praise and affirmation that “white” lacks? I remember reading Nathan McCall on “acting white” being hurled as an epithet when he was trying to succeed in journalism. But white people generally don’t praise each other directly for being white – only for being “trustworthy” or “good people”.
You’ve never heard the expression “that’s mighty white of you”?
@Brian: I’ve never heard “That’s mighty white of you” as PRAISE, no. Only as an insult or a diss.
“Mighty white of you” USED to be a compliment, before it became super uncool to be blatantly racist.
We’re just a little behind in terms of making it super uncool to be blatantly misogynist. Eventually, “man up” and similar expressions will only be used sardonically, just as “mighty white of you” now is.
“Talking white” is a thing: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KGCwsr1utJ8
It’s usually used derisively. It’s not often so explicit though. It’s usually comparing the way black people are to what’s “normal” or “polite” or “acceptable”. Whiteness is the standard, so any deviation from that is seen as odd. It’s rarely necessary to point out that the standard is white (and most people will deny that’s what they meant if you call them on it).
As a female nerd who was considered “one of the boys” (sometimes as “just looks like a girl, but isn’t”) and spending at least as much time with male friends as much as with other females, I have a quite simple explanation for this.
To put it bluntly: A “confident kid, treated as an equal by other kids (boys and girls alike), pursuing his/her own interests, practicing skills useful to grow up to be an independent adult” is commonly labelled as “like a boy”. In contrast “like a girl” really is used as a summary of “looks-focused kid who would rather whine than to try hard, lacking physical skills, with a life plan of latching on to someone for support”.
Of course, being a “girl” has a few upsides and being a “boy” does have disadvantages too, but the general slant is “boys cool & fit to do stuff”, “girls giggly & incompetent”.
Sadly, kids conform to these stereotypes, and reinforce them in turn. (Just look at all the “But girls wear pink stuff all the time! That’s because they love it!”-arguments. Well, they wear it because it’s damn hard to find non-pink girls clothes these days, and wearing boys’ stuff results in getting mocked.)
So the few girls lucky enough to not get sucked into “girlyness” tend to find friends who share their interests mostly among boys. And because it’s easier to say ‘this “girl” label doesn’t apply to me’ than to challenge the validity of the label that most others conform to, they’ll say stuff about not being “like a girl”. The boys relabel her in the same way, in order to say that they see her as their equal instead of as an empty headed (but sexually interesting) loser.
Pretty Fly for a White Guy?
( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sZQ3FiKf09M )
Thanks for these two awesome posts.
I came to your blog after reading some comments of yours on Greta’s (I think) that I found hilarious and pretty brilliant. I’ve been reading some of those 700 posts with pleasure.
I’m a feminist and a liberal (maybe even a radical 😉 ) and it’s great to have allies like you. You rock!
“Boy” was commonly used as an address to black men as a way of belittling them (us). Its colloquial use is one of those regional idiosyncrasies, but it has a very different smuggled-in meaning when used to address a black person compared to a white one.
Yeah. Sorry about not acknowledging that and being flippant. Really, I don’t think there’s any situation where a non-black person to call a black man “boy”.
In a social phenomenon that is similar yet also entirely different, women in the US are often called “girls” even when they’re well past puberty. I’m not sure if Canadians do that or not. I’ve never liked it, which makes me feel even more of an insensitive jerk for not acknowledging the issue of black men being called “boys”.
Another privilege thing, I guess: it simply never occurred to me that anyone in their right mind would seriously, not making an insensitive joke, call an adult man, especially a black man, a boy. How the heck could that ever be a good idea?
I struggle with the whole “girl” thing. I’m at an age where describing my female friends as “this girl I know” is wildly inaccurate, but “this woman I know” sounds arch (or makes them sound older than they are). I’ve taken to rewording my sentences to take the gendered noun out of the phrase (“my coworker X”, “my friend Y”) but it’s still a weird head-game.
It’s too hard to get rid of. I use “girl” for a woman if I think in the same situation I would use “guy” for a man. “Girls and guys.” But never “girls and men.”
“Girls and boys” is the gender pair. “Guys and gals” is the other, but seriously – who uses ‘gals’? It sounds like an acronym for a horrible disease – Gonadotrophic Arterial Lesion Syndrome or something.
Seems to be a cultural thing. I heard “gal” quite often in GB and Australia.
Gender in language can get pretty strange. There’s no good way in English to talk about a person (singular) of unknown gender. When writing, I tend to use s/he, him/her, etc, but that’s really awkward when speaking. Pluralization happens to avoid this problem. Not to mention passive voice.
My favorite example of difficult work arounds is from residency. I noticed that when people talk about a “default resident” they assign a gender largely on the basis of what specialty is involved and whether it is (or, at the time was) male or female dominated. Pediatrics, OB, and psychiatry were all “she”, surgery and most surgical sub-specialties “he”. It was a correct guess most of the time and if the “male” specialties were the better paid ones, oh, well, that’s society for you. So, I started to wonder what they called internal medicine, which was about 50:50 genderwise. I finally overheard the answer one day, “I’ve paged the medicine resident, but it hasn’t called back.” It. I was actually kind of flattered.
The first time I heard a white woman call an older black gentleman “boy” right in front of me, my jaw dropped. They both looked at me like *I* was nuts. Oy.
Re “girls” … I got nothing. “Young lady” and “young woman” are even worse. I’m in the southern US where I can get away with “gal” but honestly…
In Oz its Sheilas for women and maaate for men.
Well if youcan’t remeber their actual names. Sometimes anyhow.
My brother and I have been arguing over the g word for quite some time. He thinks it is no big deal to call women girls as “it’s just a word.”
I make a point of calling him a boy as often as possible. Someday, he’ll catch on, right?
Removing gender when it is not relevant is the easiest and makes the most sense.
Funnily enough I recently did a presentation at work, and a bunch of people came up to me afterward to tell me how “articulate” and “well-spoken” I was.
I don’t know about your speaking, but your writing is pretty eloquent for a person of any gender or race.
Way back when in the 2008 US presidential campaign, Biden made a remark about then long shot candidate Obama being “articulate, bright, and clean”. So I guess that problem goes all the way up.
Not sure what conclusion to draw from that besides “life sucks and is really unfair”. Maybe one can draw some consolation from the fact that Biden’s remark was considered a stupid gaffe?
It is just one of those things. I was laughing about it (my reaction, not people’s comments) to myself. I then posted about it on Facebook and people were freaking out because a bunch of them had said the same thing to me before without knowing the whole story.
Here is a video of me speaking.
Apology accepted. My perception of your walking abilities are now properly aligned with reality. Also, awesome follow-up 🙂
I did take the time to write a clarification. You don’t have to like it or agree, however if nothing else having a less accusatory conversation was helpful in understanding the basis of the complaints with my letter.
I wont post it here because I don’t want to self promote, or inadvertently say you contributed to something you despise. However I did want you to know.
It would be helpful if you posted a link so that we could see your clarification.
I enjoyed our conversation, the parts where we still disagree notwithstanding.
I enjoyed our chat as well, and I will refrain from telling the world of your threats to coddle and be super polite to me. Horrible threats, I think cake was mentioned in there somewhere.
Oooo, passive-aggressive FTW.
@Mallorie — you need to learn when to stop, and just not add the next sentence. Sometimes, restraint IS a good thing in communication.
I can see how your snarky little comment, which contains no actual criticisms could be called “passive agrgessive”. But based on the definition I can only see how my letter could be called aggressive. If that.
An open call for people to contact me via any means they choose to ask or say whatever they choose, can hardly be called “passive aggressive”.
However a hostile obscure little post on a blog, that offers absolutely no argument, no means of discourse, and shows no desire or means to resolve any conflict, that does seem to fit the definition quite nicely.
Oh, LA! I feel myself rebuked! Bring on the fainting couch!
Perhaps you also ought to become acquainted with the concept of “when you’re in a hole, quit digging“, since your new letter sadly continues to display very little understanding of what many people have tried to explain on multiple occasions — like, for example, how you did not just make statements which only applied to you and your preferences (and precise examples of where you gave universal prescriptions were supplied), and it continues to be a bit self-righteously dismissive of experiences that you apparently haven’t shared (cool for you that you haven’t shared them; not so cool that you feel it’s fine to blow off the concerns of people who have). But honestly, I’m not sure I have the patience to try to explain this to you again. You don’t get what the problem is, we got that.
But perhaps you should clarify: when you added, in your comment to Crommunist, “and I will refrain from telling the world of your threats to coddle and be super polite to me. Horrible threats, I think cake was mentioned in there somewhere.“, was that supposed to be humor, or what exactly? Because it comes across as a kind of passive-aggressive snark (maybe it didn’t to Crommunist, in which case, cool), and that was what I was actually referring to.
Given my clarification please show me exactly where I did this.
Also, the joke about coddling was just that, a joke I had stated while he and I were chatting that I feel intense guilt when I feel people are coerced in to catering to me. Given a few other contextual things he made a joke “threat” in the form of “watch out we are all going to coddle you so bad”.
It was a joke. Thats all. I hope he doesn’t mind my explaining of it, and if he prefers to explain for himself he cant. But it was harmless, and funny and I simply wanted to tip my hat to the little laugh we had.
Its not always all about you.
It was a joke. Thats all. I hope he doesn’t mind my explaining of it, and if he prefers to explain for himself he cant. But it was harmless, and funny and I simply wanted to tip my hat to the little laugh we had.
Ok, I see. No problem, then, my comment was uncalled for. I would suggest, however, that you take notice of something (and this is part of the issue with your first letter, too): things have a wider context than just private communication between you and your specific friends, when you choose to put that communication openly on the web. And the point is, the meaning which will be implicitly understood by you as applying to only you and them, is not implicitly understood by other people that way. You have put your words out there in a wider context, they will be understood in that external context, which includes things that you maybe didn’t mean and doesn’t include things that only you know about. They will be interpreted in that light. There is no way that they CANNOT be interpreted in that light. So when you are crafting words to go up in public, be aware of that.
Now, re. “how you did not just make statements which only applied to you and your preferences”, “Given my clarification please show me exactly where I did this.”
From your new letter:
Really? Really?? Really???
From your original letter:
I can’t believe you still don’t get what you said, there.
Thats still just a statement of preference… You might not agree, but that doesn’t make it more thank my preference.
and I was responding to Ian, I felt that was obvious.
Sorry was replying via my phone.
I clarified, and to claim I have not is silly its right here:
Its this that I find insulting, and this that prompted me to beg everyone in the community not to change, and
not to change our community.
its ok if you think I did a shitty job expressing that in the first place. I can accept that. What I can not accept is people continuing to tell me what I said.
The jokes and teasing bit, that is clearly a statement of preference. You can say that I value my preference above others, thats fine. But I never said anything to the tune of “women want you to be this way” I only spoke on my own behalf.
What I can not accept is people continuing to tell me what I said.
You judge yourself by what you think. Other people judge you by what you have done. When it comes to what you’ve written, you look at it and see what you were thinking when you wrote it. Everyone else in the world has only the words on the page to go by. It is a very frequent occurrence in the realm of human existence that these two things end up mismatched — this is why editors exist! And where there is a difference between these things, what is on the page is actually more important than what is in your head — because writing is done to communicate, and this is what you have communicated.
So yes — other people can tell you what you have said.
And yes, you have not only expressed yourself badly, you still don’t seem to get the fact that you continue to speak to men in fashion that looks like you are speaking on behalf of all women, not just yourself. You claim in your “clarification” Unlike several vocal feminists, I make no generalizations or assumptions about the preferences of others, thus am in no position to state anything more than my own preferences but you have repeatedly made universal prescriptions, like Don’t ever adulterate yourselves in an attempt to try to lure more vagina possessing patrons and don’t ever believe the lie that us delicate girls cant take being hit on. It’s incredibly disingenuous — or willfully stupid — to claim that you have not made generalizations; you may not have made assumptions about the preferences of others, you just instructed your friends to universally ignore them unless they are just like yours.
Your new “clarification” more comes across as just incredibly contemptuous of women who have said “there is an issue of gender imbalance.” I’ll say that much for it.
@Luna Well done.
I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again. It is very suspicious to me when a woman is being told one way or another (“when you’re in a hole, quit digging”) to just STFU. It doesn’t matter who says it.
I find this to be a very dangerous bubble: “Oh! I don’t agree with you, so I’ll do my best to convince you that you are wrong! Moreover, if you refuse to adopt my point of view, I will dismiss you publicly and tell you to shut up!” I, personally find that offensive and frankly coming from a weird (real or not) position of power. I am not defending Mallorie and I don’t even agree with her general opinion. But I, as a woman get offended (and angry and sad) when someone is trying to silence someone else.
I also wanted to say that, the way I see things, opinions (and the ideas, attitudes and behaviors that come with these opinions) are very much contextualized; so directly attacking a person who has certain opinions seems problematic to me (even if these attacks are direct or subtle) an I find it easier and more productive to attack, debunk or even disregard ideas rather than people.
On a different note, I want to thank you Ian for your writings. I live in a country where the Rroma community is very openly and hatefully discriminated, so your blog here helped me a lot in opening my eyes to my own privileges as a white, middle class, educated woman, and the discrimination I am guilty of.
English is not my first language and I apologize for any possible mistakes.