about a week ago, liz wrote me some very interesting feedback in response to a post i wrote that many people felt was really offensive and somewhat racist. rather than responding to it in the comments section, i wanted to re-post her comment here, and take some time to actually address it. i hope she won’t mind. here is her original comment, and then what i have to say about it:
Actually, I am a big fan of yours. I think what you do in regards to individual’s rights to raise their own food is very important. I do respect you, which is why I read your blog and why I commented. I do not and would never wish or threaten physical harm to you. (Did you really think that? Your response re plaids was pretty funny.) Usually you say what you think in a reasonable and respectful way and I respect that. I also respect your right to be unreasonable if you see fit. If I knew you in person I might have a better context for where you were coming from with this post, so if I have totally misunderstood you, I apologize. I commented because I believe that as a white person it is my responsibility to bring it up to other white/ white identified people when racism is being subtly or obviously enforced. I wasn’t very clear about it because it is a hard topic to talk about and I kept my comment to how your comments impact me personally. But as you said, Name it and claim it, so here is where I am coming from: I have been taught that racism is a system of oppression that impacts a specific group of people. In this country racism presents as a built in system that oppresses people of color to benefit white and white identified people. Prejudice is a preconceived opinion that is not based on reason or actual experience and people from any people group or culture can do that. Regarding your post: As a white person, I can wear sweats to the mall and the only thing I risk is perhaps some dirty looks and, evidently, commentary from a respected blogger. I CAN joke about it because it doesn’t seriously impact my life. People of color don’t have that luxury regarding what they wear. Their livelihood and personal safety can be at stake. In your post you turned criticism towards other white identified people, but in doing so you are still a white/white identified woman telling people what they should or should not do based on their race and using racial slurs. You were celebrating/appreciating women of color, but the way it was framed sets a standard of criticism and judgement that impacts all women. What about all the women of color who are not voluptuous or don’t have silky, caramel color skin? Does that mean they can’t proudly wear a sari (or whatever they so desire)? What if they don’t know their racial heritage or just prefer to embrace American culture? What about a woman of mixed racial heritage? What if a black woman feels most comfortable wearing blonde hair and blue eyes? Is there a place for her in your world? I agree that stereotypes are a normal fact of life, a way that we all cope with living in such a busy, multi-cultural world. But you attached harsh criticism and degrading language to those stereotypes, which makes it feel like something totally different, something harmful. I guess I just don’t understand what you were trying to say. You seem like a thoughtful caring person and I’m glad you are bold enough to talk about hard topics.
so, here’s what i have to say. first off, i have to give lots of props to liz for not shying away from addressing some sticky issues. she showed me enough respect to discuss what bothered her instead of just boycotting the blog or assuming i was an unreasonable jerk, and that takes a big person. not everyone can stand up for a principle and be cool enough about it to have a dialogue. so kudos to liz for being an adult about this 🙂
second, the popular misconception that only white people can be guilty of a harmful brand of racism, or that only that majority culture can be truly racist because we are the only ones who hold power is- i believe- an outdated notion. this is an idea that some liberals still cling to (not implying anything about where you hold politically, just commenting on who usually drags this horse out of the stable) that denies the current realities that A) anyone who is a true racist could cause harm to anyone else if they chose to, regardless of the color of their skin, and B) not everyone who espouses a viewpoint that is not “racially sensitive” or “tolerant” is a racist. some of the most racist people i have ever met have been minorities, and i don’t think for one second that their hatred was any less virulent or damaging just because their skin was un-white. and some of the most kind and truly racially sensitive people i have met have been white people who said some honest things about race and race relations.
for real now, in today’s climate the person who is the most likely to be hated on is a white christian man. they are the most popular victims of society’s vitriol and this is perpetuated and reinforced by ideas like the one that white people hold all the power and hurt others when they speak out on racial anything… so if we accept as a premise that a black person can dish all they want about- theoretically- what someone wears to the mall, because they have been victims of racial oppression and degradation in the past, but if a white person dishes about this that they are guilty of subtly causing harm to other racial groups… well, sorry but i have a problem with that line of thinking. if someone seriously thinks that in this day and age a real lynch mob could form because someone thinks a black woman shouldn’t wear ____________________, i want to know where they live and who is tolerating that nonsense in 2013.
you asked what i think about women who don’t fit neatly into any box, and what they should wear. i think they should wear the same as anyone else: whatever the heck they want. naming it and claiming it is about realizing what image you project, not about stifling who you are because some random blogger calls you out on it. at one point in time, when i had lots of babies and toddlers, i had a wardrobe of almost all plaid shirts. they were pretty much the only thing i could find that hid spit up and snot and cooking whatnot and i didn’t have to change my shirt 50 times a day (or at least that’s what i told myself 🙂 ). my mother-in-law came for a visit and told me that i dressed like a lumberjack. ouch. (attention mothers-in-law of any race: DON’T say that!) but, although the odds were against it, i lived through the experience and didn’t shatter into a million pieces. it could be because my MIL is also white, but i think it’s more likely that it’s because we don’t really die of criticism. but guess what else? i realized that when i wore a bunch of plaid all the time, i looked like either a sloppy stay-at-home mom who couldn’t be bothered to get real clothing or a lumberjack. point taken. what i chose to do with that point was up to me. (for those of you who are now on the edge of your seat, the honest answer is i did nothing. at least not for a few years…)
what do i think about a black woman who wants to “wear” blond hair and blue eyes? i think she is projecting that she isn’t proud of who she is naturally. sorry. just like black people who used to go through all types of suffering to straighten their hair so it seemed more “white” because that was somehow better, i think that a black woman who tries to be blond and blue-eyed got a head-trip somewhere along the way and absorbed a message that scandinavian was beautiful and african wasn’t. some people will go ballistic about that, but you asked my opinion, and that’s what it is. and lest you think i made that up, ask a black person some time about “good hair”…
this is also kind of where the frustration with white people who try to embrace non-white cultural things comes in. if you (not you liz- you the world) want to be sensitive and socially aware, i think that’s awesome. where i get bothered is when that bleeds over into being so in solidarity with someone else’s history that you co-opt it as your own. and people who do that tend to get a certain preachy-ness along with it that just rubs me the wrong way. so when i see a white person trying to rock an african head wrap or an indian sari and they are all smug about how much more evolved this makes them, it makes me want to hurl. i think each of us has our own journey and our own trash to pick up before we go around in someone else’s yard scavenging for tragedy. and to act like you’ve triumphed over someone else’s cultural adversity or are “down with their struggle” because you wear a piece of guatemalan jewelry only highlights just how very white and privileged you are. so to flounce around like the queen of racial benevolence is just ugh to me… perhaps i should have written a post about the attitude and not the clothing and that would have gone over better. i suppose in hindsight it was an intellectual laziness on my part to settle for writing about the external indicators instead of trying to pinpoint what really bothered me about the situation, so i do thank you (you liz, not you the world) for helping me to clarify my thoughts.
so, i guess that’s what i was really trying to say. but i want to be very careful that in explaining that, i don’t wash away the rest of the issue. i think too many white people carry unnecessary guilt over a history which is not ours and problems which we didn’t create and don’t perpetuate. we absolutely need to own that this country has a spotty history of racial interaction- but also of being kind of awful to anyone new who came here. and that includes most of our ancestors. (yes, i know that the slaves did not come here willingly. how willingly other groups came when they were fleeing one thing or another is open to debate, but i will grant you the point that the african slaves had it really really super bad, okay?) so, short of having an entire sociology discourse here (which possibly one day we should), i think it’s high time to let go of at least some of the guilt.
does that mean we shouldn’t treat each other with respect and consideration? absolutely not. we should treat each other with the utmost respect for our humanity. and that transcends skin color or country of origin.
for heaven’s sake, people, if we are going to be serious about this treating everyone equally, then let’s do it for real.