Clueless White Woman

August 1, 2008

I miss living in a blue state

Filed under: history,homophobia,racism,South Carolina — by clueless @ 12:59 pm

I went to school in Boston and lived there for three years after graduating. After that we moved to Indiana, then most recently South Carolina. While I really hated the traffic and cost of living, I desperately miss the politics — and things like overturning the no-marriage-here-if-you-can’t-marry-there law just make me miss it more.

I’d probably actually be happier in San Francisco (better environmental programs and legislation out there), but I sure ain’t fittin’ in down here

Mournful moaning aside, it is interesting to explore the history of the original law a little bit.

The law specifically barred out-of-state residents from marrying here if the marriage would be considered void in their home state. The origins of the law could be traced to the national backlash over the interracial marriage of heavyweight boxing champion Jack Johnson. At the time, 30 of 48 states banned interracial marriage, and many other states, including Massachusetts, enacted provisions that would keep interracial couples from crossing borders to marry in their jurisdiction.

It is important to remember that The North, while not as institutionally racist as The South, certainly wasn’t perfect. Supporting the discrimination of another state, even if not directly practicing it yourself, encourages the practice elsewhere.

Also worth noting is that a law originally discriminating against race ended up discriminating against sexual orientation. Translation: just because YOU are not the one being negatively affected today, doesn’t mean YOU won’t be negatively affected in 95 years. Equal rights are in everybody’s interest.


July 9, 2008

AMA and institutional discrimination

Heard on NPR this afternoon: AMA To Apologize For Past Discrimination

The American Medical Association plans to apologize for past discrimination against minority physicians. The group did not take a stand against discrimination by state medical societies — including the exclusion of African-Americans — until the 1960s.

Apparently the audio will be available online in a few hours. I can’t find any press release on the AMA’s website confirming this, although I don’t mean to cast doubt on NPR’s reporting by saying that UPDATE July 10: the AMA press release is now available on their website.

This is a story to which the clueless person — by which I mean me — says, “Holy crap, that was recent! How could it possibly have gone on that long?”

Yes, I know, I’m really fucking clueless.

In practice, apparently, this wasn’t actively stating that black physicians were not eligible for membership; the central AMA left such “policy” decisions up to local branches. And despite my shock at discrimination being so recent, I was not particularly surprised to learn that the Southern branches were the ones who continued to insist on “autonomy” in such decisions. (How very neo-Confederate. What a shame they don’t believe in such autonomy when it comes to subsidizing religion on license places.)

The complete chronology of “Race and the AMA” is available at at their own site. This part seems a textbook example of historical patterns of discrimination having long-term effects:

Demographic survey results [from 2000]: House of Delegates: 88 percent male, 84 percent White, 2 percent Black, 1 percent Hispanic, 2 percent Asian, 0 percent Native American, 11 percent Unknown All physicians and medical students: 75 percent male, 51 percent White, 2 percent Black, 3 percent Hispanic, 7.9 percent Asian, 0.1 percent Native American, 33 percent Unknown.

Note not only the racial disparity in the overall population of physicians, but also the disparity between those statistics and the percentages which make up the AMA itself. No white privilege there… o_O

July 4, 2008

German toy maker is ultra-clueless

No, really, it\'s Obama

No, really, it's Obama

Präsidentschaftskandidaten Barack Obama has a new commemorative doll. Made in Germany. And this is what it looks like.

Feel free to exclaim, “Wait, what?!?

It’s not just the skin tone. It’s the combination of skin tone with the childish fat cheeks. Put dark skin with a baby face and “pickaninny” is what will come to mind for a lot of Americans. (Even if they don’t know what a pickaninny is, which I actually didn’t until recently, they’ll recognize it as how black people were caricatured for years and years…)

And he gave it a flag pin.

A good friend of mine is a political scientist in Germany who specializes in analyzing neo-Nazi groups and looking at bigotry trends. So I figured, hey, who better to ask about German racism than a German who studies racists? His response:

You know, first I read only the article and thought, huh, what is the fuss about? I mean, some guy is making money with selling stupid stuff, and he wasn’t able for whatever reason to get the colour right. Who cares? But then I actually had a look at the pictures and thought, well, now I can understand why someone could find this quite offensive.

I dunno, I’d say that this is primarily cluelessness, but one would have to talk to this guy to really find out. I think racism against black people is not really a hot topic amongst german bigots anyway. They’ll tell you that blacks can dance so well and that they admire that and stuff, but leave it at that, as black people are not something they are really interested in. The colonial past of this country is more or less forgotten, since Germany lost all of it’s colonies (and it never had many colonies anyway) already in WWI – and as a result there are only few black people living in Germany, unlike in France or the UK, which had kept their colonies longer.

So it’s possible that Offermann was being a snickering bigot. And it’s possible that he was being clueless and bumbling. Looking at the other dolls he’s made, I think it’s the latter. Try to guess who this one is…

Guess Who

Guess Who

Give up?

It’s Lady Diana. Blond and Caucasian and in a white dress equals Princess Di.

He’s just really bad — or not bothering — to create a resemblance. He’s dressing stuff up in symbolic clothes and calling it commemorative. (Ratsinger, for example, is identifiable only because he’s dressed in papal regalia and is labelled “Pope”.)

All the kerfuffle and intricacies shown in American media is apparently absent in Germany. What they know there is that a black man is running for President. And how do you show that? A pickaninny in a suit with a flag on his lapel. Obviously.

At least he didn’t show Obama breakdancing.

Melting pot problem

Filed under: cluelessness,confusion,white privilege — by clueless @ 1:29 am
Tags: , ,

Yesterday I was reading Diversity Inc’s “Why Whites Can’t Get Over Color“, a response to a letter they received. It’s very educational; the letter writer gave the laundry list of what I hear from thinking-they-mean-well white people at work — and Visconti concisely and politely rebutted each point. I’ll shamelessly borrow from it whenever I next have to endure a conversation about how the special BET channel is so racist because if whites did it (yada yada yada)…

The portion I’m going to discuss in detail today, however, was a sentence that I initially passed over as not terribly central. The letter writer said:

I love the fact that America is a big melting pot, full of color and different cultures. Why not embrace that instead of constantly bickering over it.

And the response:

You close with an illuminating contradiction. You can’t celebrate “color and different cultures” and embrace the “melting pot” at the same time. The “melting pot” is about subjugating your culture and forcing a person to “melt” into the white culture.

Melting who you are into a pot is not what makes a person American. What makes a person an American is embracing our Constitution, which empowers and protects our individual ability to remain ourselves.

My husband, who was reading over my shoulder, snorted. “That’s not what the melting pot is supposed to mean. Why are people upset about the term ‘melting pot’?” So, we had a good discussion contrasting the two interpretations: (1) the “melting pot” has lots of ingredients put into it and is tastier as a result, versus (2) the “melting pot” dilutes its various components, thus tending to marginalize minority “ingredients”.

I don’t think the first interpretation is completely invalid. I like having diverse cultures around, especially when they open restaurants near me 🙂 However, “melting pot” is almost never used on its own; it’s used in sentences like “this country is a melting pot, why are you being different”. And that is a huge contradiction. You can’t pick and choose the things you like about different cultures (in my case, usually food) and then say the rest is “just being difficult” or something.

Part of me feels like there’s a labeling problem. The simple definition of “melting pot” (lots of cultures in one space) is rather like the simple definition of “racist” (somebody who hates other races) — it gives a vague idea, but completely misses out on a lot of subtleties. Exploring the problem of racism nowadays is often about subtleties, little things that add up to big problems. Getting into a healthy, productive discussion can be hard because people get defensive. In my husband’s case, it was more that he’d never really given the alternative interpretation any thought. Both defensiveness and cluelessness are barriers.

June 27, 2008

Bit of a shock served on the side

When we moved to South Carolina a few weeks ago, it was an adjustment. It’s tough to be far from friends and family in a new state; plus, I’m a Damn Yankee at heart. But I figured, hey, it’s 2008, they’ll be all Southern Hospitality to me despite the accent. And besides, The South has totally awesome food. I’d live on sweet tea and barbecue if I could.

So one of the first questions my husband asked his co-workers was where he could go to get some good barbecue. We were living with almost zero furniture and two small kids while waiting for the moving van, and were totally exhausted — we didn’t want to eat out, but sure didn’t want to cook. Maurice’s Barbecue was recommended as “totally awesome” and “the best place in Columbia”, so Husband picked up some pulled pork on his way home.

Well, we’re never eating there again. And why might that be?

First, the food was not totally awesome. I’m not a fan of mustard-based barbecue sauce, but I’m willing to give it a taste — and this just was not all that great. Even the sides were “meh” instead of a tasty complement to the mediocre meat.

Second… and more critical… Maurice is a self-publicized neo-Confederate. Browsing for more information led to a few justifications from supporters like, “Oh, no, the Confederate flag is just about state’s rights!” Uh, no. The man got taken to the Supreme Court before he got rid of segregation in his restaurants in 1968. When combined with a cheerfully racist history like that, the Confederate flag isn’t about state’s rights. And even if it is, damn, you really want to be proud of a bunch of traitors who raised arms against their country?

And here’s the Clueless tie-in: I didn’t even know there were such things as neo-Confederates. I mean, who would possibly think it’s a good idea to restart the Civil War? Do they really bear a 140-year-long grudge? They actually want to own slaves? That ugly realization did not help the food go down. I’m a hell of a lot more proud of my ancestors that fought for the Union, though.

Maurice’s won’t see another penny from us. And anybody who knows of a good non-bigot-owned barbecue place in Columbia, please do let me know 😛

June 26, 2008

Be my black friend!

Filed under: denial,friendship,racism,stereotypes — by clueless @ 5:47 pm
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A couple discussions of race and friendship caught my eye today… first at Resist Racism.

… it occurs to me that worrying that other people might find you racist is a product of racism. Being anxious that people will not accept you when you’ve always been accepted previously is privilege and perhaps projected racism as well.

And here you are losing the ability to be real and genuine, and to have true and genuine relationships. Because if you cannot acknowledge the damage that racism has done, it is going to be very hard for me to accept you as a friend or ally.

I get that. You can’t have an honest conversation — or, really, an honest relationship — with somebody who isn’t accepting fundamental truths.

The second, a bit more sad, at Racialicious

I was suffering from racism paranoia of sorts. A form of self-fulfilling prophecy, if you will, in which I assumed that others were racist, and so I didn’t approach them, befriend them, become close to them, or share as much of myself with them as my friends of color, or even more specifically, my black friends, because I feared the worst. I feared one day they would say something racist or betray my friendship or do something to make me say, “see I told you,’ and regret having befriended them in the first place. And eventually, as my close friend circles became darker and darker in hue or colored by some sort of adversity (i.e. class or sexuality), I recognized that I had placed straight, white, middle class folks somewhere on the perimeter, fulfilling my own expectation in the first place, if not allowing it…. My believing that everyone was racist until proven otherwise was limiting me. It was making me become guarded. It was my way of protecting myself from rejection that wasn’t a given, but that I had experienced enough in the past to make me not want to taste its bitterness ever again.

Well shit, how does a straight white middle-class woman like me make friends with POC? I totally understand why you wouldn’t want to put up with that. It is painful to get to know somebody, enjoy hanging out with them, then suddenly have an ignorant bit of idiocy from them slap you in the face. And I wouldn’t want to do that to somebody that I consider a friend, even unintentionally.

I mean, I’m not looking for a token.
But I like meeting people with different backgrounds because then I can learn about where they’re coming from. And we’ve just moved to The South from Indiana… frankly I need new friends down here of whatever color I can get 🙂

June 25, 2008


Oh, Nader, Nader, Nader. Come on. As a consumer advocates, you’re helpful. But what is this bullshit?

The number one thing that a black American politician aspiring to the presidency should be is to candidly describe the plight of the poor, especially in the inner cities and the rural areas, and have a very detailed platform about how the poor is going to be defended by the law, is going to be protected by the law, and is going to be liberated by the law… Haven’t heard a thing.

Nader also says Obama wants to show he’s not “another politically threatening African-American politician. He wants to appeal to white guilt. You appeal to white guilt not by coming on as black is beautiful, black is powerful. Basically he’s coming on as someone who is not going to threaten the white power structure, whether it’s corporate or whether it’s simply oligarchic. And they love it. Whites just eat it up.”

So black people (aka poor) care about payday loan crooks and white people care about white corporate and oligarchical strength. Way to lump us all into categories. (Let me guess — Jews care about Israel, Hispanics care about immigration, Asians care about China…)

I’ll confess that part of my white self’s comfort with Obama is that he feels like somebody I could have a conversation with. He’s reasonable, intelligent, articulate, and open-minded. No, he’s not threatening. But I also don’t believe that if he was talking about “black issues”, I’d feel particularly threatened. (Seriously, “oppressed white male”, are you that afraid you won’t measure up if you’re judged only on personal merits instead of skin color? Must suck to be so lacking in self-confidence…)

If you’re going to bitch about a lack of attention to issues for the poor, don’t make it about race. It muddles your point and makes you look clueless, but then why would you stop making yourself look clueless now after all these years…

June 24, 2008

It’s hard to be a racist

Filed under: cluelessness,personal perspective,racism — by clueless @ 7:07 pm
Tags: , ,

Carmen Van Kerckhove wrote a piece for CNN called The fallacy of colorblind post-raciality, discussing why about seventy percent of respondents in a recent poll said they did not have “some feelings of racial prejudice.”

The thing I hate about the term racism is that it is so blunt. Either you are racist — with the connotation of “sheet-wearing psycho” — or not. Somebody who’s got preconceived notions (which are normal and expected) that pop into their head when they see a person who’s different in some way fall into a murky middle ground that is badly defined, sensitive, and defensive. I don’t like being lumped into a group which includes raging bigots. Who would? (I mean, besides raging bigots who are publicly proud of their bigotry, but they are fucking nuts.)

I can’t say, “I’m a racist” — and I mean I would find it physically difficult to say, because it just feels untrue based on what I have been taught about what racism is. (See? I even have biases about racists. This is getting into some serious complicated thought.) I have a hard time just admitting I have prejudices and biases; I am always quick to follow it up with explaining that I may have them, but regardless I strive to ignore those preconceptions and treat everyone equally. I can’t be colorblind, true. Physical appearance, even cultural symbols (e.g. a crucifix, or a hijab, or a Magen David) are all obvious, visual indicators of “affiliation” and things will pop into my head when I see them. But I have a desperate instinct to protest against them and justify my biasedness (biasity? biasness? uh, racism?)… I know they are part of me, but I really do not WANT them. They are annoying and get in the way and are so fucking stupid and pig-ignorant… But, being grateful I’m not the crazy sheet-wearing neo-Confederate crazy person isn’t a free pass to completely ignore my own problems.

Maybe I’ll clean the brain out someday. In the meantime, *sigh* I’m a racist, but I’m of the clueless variety, and I’m trying.

On a lighter note… I’ve got racial biases, but I hate Don Imus 🙂 I somehow don’t think he bothers with much self-examination on the race question, but prefers to wonder why those uppity minorities are always complaining about nothing. And I think I’m clueless.

June 20, 2008

SO HARD being rich!

Filed under: obscene wealth,white privilege — by clueless @ 6:38 pm
Tags: ,

Hooooo boy… Nothing says “privilege” like including botox in a list of necessities (NECESSITIES!) you can pass on to save money. What a crisis. People will have to be wrinkly. ZOMG.

It reminds me of an article in the New York Times (style section of course) which waxed tragic about how the rich are having to make huge sacrifices. “It might be hard for the average person to feel sympathetic,” the article admits; it then proceeds for another thousand words describing how the rich are selling second houses, buying less shoes, blah blah blah blah blah. Really, I do not have any ability to feel sympathy if you’re complaining about only having five million when you once had twenty million. Boo fucking hoo.

Something tells me that these are not the people who need help in a receding economy. Although people who need to be reminded that botox is pricey, maybe they do need help. “Swift smack upside the head” kind of help. “Beating with a reality stick” kind of help. That kind.

June 16, 2008

No racism anymore?

I found There’s no racism anymore, by Tami Winfrey Harris, extremely interesting. (Not only because I always find Tami’s writing interesting!)

…that’s what my stepson said to me last week when I told him about my new gig at Anti-Racist Parent: “There’s no racism anymore.” I was dumbfounded. Has he not heard his dad and I discussing the race bias in the 2008 presidential race? Did he not spend most of his life in Chicago (one of the most segregated cities I have ever seen) where young black men face profiling by citizens, shopkeepers and police officers? Is he not one of just a few children of color in his school… nuff said?

I offered my son a few examples of ways that racism most definitely does exist, including the fact that one of his teachers, though she grades him fairly, seems to treat him differently due to race. “Well, yeah, there’s that stuff,” he retorted. “But not real racism.”

I get where Tami’s stepson is coming from. In many ways we are a much more equal society than we were forty years ago, probably even twenty years ago. It’s very hard to find segregation or blatant racism, and that’s a good thing. But little things, subtle things, are still everywhere. The lack of “obvious” bigotry means that minor bias or prejudice is dismissed.

It’s hard to speak up about those “little things” — what average person wants to be called a racist? What average person wants to point a finger and call another average person that? It has become a charged word, and causes a defensive, even angry response in the accused. Nobody wants to be THAT GUY. However, the endemic nature of biases and prejudices still need to be examined and addressed somehow. If we don’t, then we’re all clueless.

It is interesting that this isn’t just a “white” thing, though. Partly because I get to feel a little guilty relief — I’m not clueless because I’m white, I’m clueless because I’m not observant or looking with a sufficiently critical eye. But also, I am quietly optimistic that maybe the younger generation will continue eradicating biases and prejudices until we really do have an equitable society. I’m going to continue reading Anti-Racist Parent in the hopes of finding strategies to raise my own (white) children to be anti-racist, the same as I will now strive to be 🙂

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