With Friends Like These, Who Needs Glenn Beck? Racism and White Privilege on the Liberal-Left

This is the second part of a two-part series on racism on the right and left of the United States’ political/ideological spectrum. Part one, which can be found here, provided the reader with a working definition of racism, and then explored how racism at both the ideological and institutional levels is connected to and enhanced by American conservatism. In this essay, I will explore the other side of the equation: namely, how even liberals, progressives and leftists, despite our advocacy for equity and stated commitment to racial justice, still manage to manifest and further racism — whether deliberately or not — in our activism, messages and policy prescriptions.

His words rang out with an unmistakable certitude.

“This is the most racist place I’ve ever lived,” said the man sitting across from me, a black writer and poet whose acquaintance I had only made earlier that day.

His expression made it clear that this was no mere hyperbole spat out so as to get a reaction. He meant every word and proceeded in about twenty minutes to lay out the case for why indeed this place where we were talking — San Francisco — was far more racist, in his estimation than any of several places he had lived in the South.

Worse than Birmingham.

Worse than Jackson, Mississippi.

Worse than Dallas.

San Francisco. Yes, that San Francisco.

From police harassment to profiling to housing discrimination to a persistent invisibility he’d felt since first arriving, there was no doubt that the ostensibly liberal enclave was head and shoulders above the rest.

And it wasn’t his opinion alone. I have heard similar feelings expressed about the Bay Area by peoples of color many times since, as well as about Seattle, Portland, and any number of other supposedly progressive paradises where various “alternative” types (of white folks at least) seem to feel at home. Even those who wouldn’t rank a place like San Francisco as the most racist city in which they’d lived, are often quick to insist that its racism is comparable to what they’ve experienced elsewhere, which is to say, no less a problem.

When I’ve recounted these discussions with folks of color living in “progressive” cities to my white liberal friends, they have usually recoiled in shock, followed by a kind of white leftie defensiveness that was, sadly, unsurprising. Their responses to the news that black and brown folks don’t find the history of the Haight-Ashbury district, or the Summer of Love all that inspiring — after all, when Jefferson Airplane and the Grateful Dead were entertaining white hippies in the Fillmore, black folks were fighting for their lives across the way in Oakland — often suggest a desire on their part to believe that the people to whom I’d spoken were seeing things.

Unfortunately the pattern is all too common. If people of color complain about racism and discrimination in rural Georgia, no one is surprised. In fact, to many the image is comforting as it fulfills every stereotype, regional and political, that so many folks continue to carry around regarding who the bad guys are.

But suggest that racism and discrimination are also significant problems in more “progressive spaces,” even among self-proclaimed liberals and leftists themselves — and that it might be unearthed in our political movements — and prepare to be met with icy stares, or worse, a self-righteous vitriol that seeks to separate “real racism” (the right-wing kind) from not-so-real racism (the kind we on the left sometimes foster). And know that before long, someone will admonish you to focus on the “real enemy,” rather than fighting amongst ourselves. “What we need is unity,” these voices say, “and all that talk about racism on the left just divides us further.”

But such arguments, in addition to being terribly convenient for the white folks who typically spout them — since it relieves us of having to examine our own practices and rhetoric — are also horribly shortsighted. Only by addressing our own racism (however inadvertent it may be at times) can we grow movements for social justice. By giving short shrift to the subject, internally or in the larger society, we virtually guarantee the defeat of whatever movements for social transformation we claim to support.

It’s worth recalling that at the height of the civil rights movement it was not merely conservatives and reactionaries who were the targets of the freedom struggle. Indeed, some of the harshest criticism was reserved for moderates and even liberals, whether the white clergy whom Dr. King was chastising in his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” or Presidents Kennedy and Johnson. In the case of the latter two, neither their relative liberalism (when compared to their political opponents) or party affiliation insulated them from the legitimate ire of peoples of color and their white antiracist allies.

Going back further we should recall that it was perhaps the nation’s most progressive president, Franklin Roosevelt, who not only OKd the internment of Japanese Americans, but who was also willing to cut out virtually all African Americans from the key programs of the New Deal so as to placate southern segregationists in his own party (1). Capitulating to racism, and even practicing it, has a sad pedigree on the left of the spectrum as with the right. And it is time we faced this fact honestly.

Distinguishing Racism on the Left from Racism on the Right

That said, and before detailing what liberal and progressive racism often looks like, let me be clear: racism on the left is not exactly the same as its counterpart on the right. Whereas conservative theory lends itself almost intrinsically to racist conclusions, for reasons I explained in the first essay, liberal theory is generally egalitarian and intuitively antiracist. Liberal and left-leaning folks typically endorse notions of equality in both the political and economic realms. Likewise, most all on the left outwardly reject the attribution of biological or cultural superiority to racial groups. And those on the left are quick to acknowledge and decry the systemic injustices that have been central to the creation of racial disparities in the United States.

So too, virtually all the activists in the civil rights struggle, contrary to the revisionism of folks like Glenn Beck, were decidedly to the left. Liberals and left-radicals populated the movement and provided its energy, while leading conservatives like William F. Buckley and his colleagues at The National Review published paeans to white supremacy in which they advised that integration should wait until blacks had progressed enough, in civilizational terms, to be mingled with their betters. Dr. King — even as conservatives like Beck have tried to co-opt his message and his legacy — put forth a consistently progressive and even leftist politics, in terms of his views on race, as well as economics and militarism.

But despite the overwhelming role of liberals and leftists in the struggle for racial equity, and despite the antiracist narrative that dovetails with left philosophy, liberal and left individuals and groups in practice have manifested racism in a number of ways.

Racism 2.0: White Liberals and the Problem of “Enlightened Exceptionalism”

For years, the insistence by whites that “some of (their) best friends” were black was perhaps the most obvious if unintentional way for these whites to expose their broader racial views as anything but enlightened. Whenever we as white folks have felt the need to mention our close personal relationships with African Americans, it has usually been after having just inserted our feet into our mouths by saying something racially intemperate or even racist in the presence of someone of color.

Nowadays, the assurance that “some of my best friends are black” as a way to demonstrate one’s open-minded bona fides has been supplanted by a more tangible and ostensibly political statement: namely, that “I voted for Barack Obama.” Thus, imply the persons stating it (often quite liberal in terms of their overall political sensibilities), don’t accuse me of racism.

But as I explained in my 2009 book, Between Barack and a Hard Place: Racism and White Denial in the Age of Obama, the ability of whites to support and vote for Obama says little about our larger views regarding people of color generally, or black folks in particular. Indeed, many white liberal Obama supporters openly admitted that what they liked about the candidate was his ability to “transcend race” (which implicitly meant to transcend his own blackness), to “make white people feel good about ourselves,” and the fact that he “didn’t come with the baggage of the civil rights movement.” In other words, many whites liked Obama precisely because they were able to view him as fundamentally different than other black folks. He was an exception. His blackness wasn’t problematic. It didn’t make white people uncomfortable.

But to view Barack Obama as different from the black norm — and to view this difference as a positive thing — is to suggest that “normal” blackness is tainted, negative, to be avoided, and certainly not supported politically. It is to re-stigmatize blackness and the black community writ large, even as one praises and identifies with one black individual writ small. It is to turn Barack Obama into the political equivalent of Cliff Huxtable, from The Cosby Show: a black man with whom, despite his blackness, white America is able to identify.

Indeed, polling data suggests that plenty of whites who voted for Obama — including many who are no doubt liberal on issues like abortion or the environment — nonetheless harbor deep-seated racial biases. For instance, one AP survey in September of 2008 found that about a third of white Democrats were willing to admit to holding negative and racist stereotypes about blacks, and that about 60 percent of these nonetheless supported Barack Obama for president and intended to vote for him. Considering the research on racial bias among whites, which finds that nearly all of us continue to harbor certain anti-black stereotypes and biases, it is safe to say that millions of otherwise liberal white folks are practitioners of racism, albeit a 2.0 variety, as opposed to the old school, 1.0 type, to which we have cast most of our attention.

Beyond Individual Bias: How Liberals and the Left Practice Racism

Beyond the personal biases that exist to some extent within all of us (including those who are progressive), liberals and those on the left operate within institutional spaces and even in our political activism in ways that contribute to systemic racial inequity. This we do through four primary mechanisms. The first is a well-intended but destructive form of colorblindness. The second is an equally destructive colormuteness. These mean, quite literally, a tendency among many on the white liberal-left to neither see nor give voice to race and racism as central issues in our communities and the institutions where we operate, or their connection to and interrelationship with other issues. Both liberal/left colorblindness and colormuteness perpetuate the marginalization of people of color and their concerns, in the larger society and within progressive formations for social change.

The third mechanism by which liberal and left activists and advocates perpetuate racism is by the blatant manifestation of white privilege in our activities, issue framing, outreach and analysis: specifically, the favoring of white perspectives over those of people of color, the co-optation of black and brown suffering to score political points, and the unwillingness to engage race and racism even when they are central to the issue being addressed.

And fourth, left activists often marginalize people of color by operating from a framework of extreme class reductionism, which holds that the “real” issue is class, not race, that “the only color that matters is green,” and that issues like racism are mere “identity politics,” which should take a back seat to promoting class-based universalism and programs to help working people. This reductionism, by ignoring the way that even middle class and affluent people of color face racism and color-based discrimination (and by presuming that low income folks of color and low income whites are equally oppressed, despite a wealth of evidence to the contrary) reinforces white denial, privileges white perspectivism and dismisses the lived reality of people of color. Even more, as we’ll see, it ignores perhaps the most important political lesson regarding the interplay of race and class: namely, that the biggest reason why there is so little working class consciousness and unity in the Untied States (and thus, why class-based programs to uplift all in need are so much weaker here than in the rest of the industrialized world), is precisely because of racism and the way that white racism has been deliberately inculcated among white working folks. Only by confronting that directly (rather than sidestepping it as class reductionists seek to do) can we ever hope to build cross-racial, class based coalitions. In other words, for the policies favored by the class reductionist to work — be they social democrats or Marxists — or even to come into being, racism and white supremacy must be challenged directly.

By way of all four of the above mechanisms — which we will now explore in-depth — liberals and progressives reinforce the notion that persons of color are less important, their concerns less central to the larger justice cause, and that ultimately they are to be viewed as inferior junior partners in the movement for social change.

Liberal Colorblindness and the Perpetuation of Racism

By “liberal colorblindness” I am referring to a belief that although racial disparities are certainly real and troubling — and although they are indeed the result of discrimination and unequal opportunity — paying less attention to color or race is a progressive and open-minded way to combat those disparities. So, for instance, this is the type of colorblind stance often evinced by teachers, or social workers, or folks who work in non-profit service agencies, or other “helping” professions. Its embodiment is the elementary school teacher who I seem to meet in every town to which I travel who insists “they never even notice color” and make sure to treat everyone exactly the same, as if this were the height of moral behavior and the ultimate in progressive educational pedagogy.

But in fact, colorblindness is exactly the opposite of what is needed to ensure justice and equity for persons of color. To be blind to color, as Julian Bond has noted, is to be blind to the consequences of color, “and especially the consequences of being the wrong color in America.” What’s more, when teachers and others resolve to ignore color, they not only make it harder to meet the needs of the persons of color with whom they personally interact, they actually help further racism and racial inequity by deepening denial that the problem exists, which in turn makes the problem harder to solve. To treat everyone the same — even assuming this were possible — is not progressive, especially when some are contending with barriers and obstacles not faced by others. If some are dealing with structural racism, to treat them the same as white folks who aren’t is to fail to meet their needs. The same is true with women and sexism, LGBT folks and heterosexism, working-class folks and the class system, persons with disabilities and ableism, right on down the line. Identity matters. It shapes our experiences. And to not recognize that is to increase the likelihood that even the well-intended will perpetuate the initial injury.

Indeed, to be colorblind in the face of profound racial disparities can encourage the mindset that whatever disparities exist must be the fault of those on the bottom. As parents, for example, if we do not discuss racism and discrimination with our children — and white parents, including liberal ones, show a serious hesitance to do this — they will grow up without the critical context needed to process the glaring racial inequities they can see with their own eyes quite clearly. So, white children may well come to conclude that the reason blacks, Latinos, and American Indian folks are so much more likely to be poor, and live in “less desirable” neighborhoods or communities is because there is something wrong with them. They must not try hard enough to succeed. If colorblindness encourages us to ignore color and its consequences, as it must almost by definition, then we are left with explanations for inequity that are not only conservative in nature, but racist too. For children of color, colorblindness, no matter the liberality behind it, can lead them to be ill-prepared for discrimination when and if it occurs in their lives. It can also lead them to internalize the blame for the inequities they too can see, and to conclude that black and brown folks have less than whites, on average, because they deserve less. Although many liberal and progressive parents think colorblind child-rearing is the way to raise antiracist children, the best and most recent research on the matter completely debunks this popular notion.

Beyond the personal and familial settings, colorblindness also proves problematic in the realm of political activism. Within both liberal and further-left political advocacy and organizing, colorblindness leads persons in these formations to ignore the racial makeup of our own group efforts, and to pay no attention to how white-dominated they can often be. This colorblindness, by blinding us to the way in which liberal and left groups come to be so white (even when data says people of color tend to be more progressive than whites, and so, if anything, should be over-represented in these groups), makes it unlikely that individuals will interrogate what it is about their own practices that brings about such a skewed demographic. In short, while progressive formations should almost instinctively recoil from overwhelming whiteness — since it likely signals serious failings in coalition-building, strategy and tactics, as well as utter obliviousness to the way in which we’re going about our business and base-building — liberal-left colorblindness trades this critical introspection for a bland and dispassionate nonchalance. “Oh well,” some will say, “We put up signs and sent out e-mails, and we can’t control who comes to the meetings/rallies/protests and who doesn’t.” End of story, end of problem.

So in the case of progressive organizing, colorblindness means we’ll ignore the obvious questions we should be asking when trying to ensure a more representative and diverse movement for change. Namely, questions like: When are the organizing meetings being held and where? Are people of color in on the planning at the beginning, or merely added to the agenda after the fact, as speakers at the rally or some such thing? Are we organizing mostly online (which means we’ll miss a lot of folks of color who don’t have regular internet access), or really building relationships across physical lines of community? Are we speaking to the immediate concerns in communities of color, and linking these to whatever issue we’re organizing around (more on this below)?

Even cultural issues come into play. After all, if you’re trying to build a multiracial formation for social justice, or multiracial antiwar coalition, or movement for ecological sanity, you can’t evince a cultural style at every event that reflects what white folks may be comfortable with but which might seem distant to folks of color. So, for instance, to sing the same folk songs at a rally that you were singing forty years ago, or to come to an antiwar rally decked out in tie-dye, but not to include the music and styles of youth of color influenced by hip-hop, is to ensure the permanent marginality of your movement in the eyes of black and brown folks (and truthfully, young people of all colors). Put simply, freedom songs today are and must be different than in the sixties. But too often white-dominated liberal-left events and organizations resemble holdovers from an earlier time, rather than a movement that has grown to include multiple voices, styles and cultural norms. This is what happens when we don’t pay attention to, or care enough about, who is included and who isn’t at the table. It is the result, at least in part, of liberal-left colorblindness.

Liberal Colormuteness and the Perpetuation of Racism

But as troubling as colorblindness can be when evinced by liberals, colormuteness may be even worse. Colormuteness comes into play in the way many on the white liberal-left fail to give voice to the connections between a given issue about which they are passionate, and the issue of racism and racial inequity. So, for instance, when environmental activists focus on the harms of pollution to the planet in the abstract, or to non-human species, but largely ignore the day-to-day environmental issues facing people of color, like disproportionate exposure to lead paint, or municipal, medical and toxic waste, they marginalize black and brown folks within the movement, and in so doing, reinforce racial division and inequity. Likewise, when climate change activists focus on the ecological costs of global warming, but fail to discuss the way in which climate change disproportionately affects people of color around the globe, they undermine the ability of the green movement to gain strength, and they reinforce white privilege.

How many climate change activists, for instance, really connect the dots between global warming and racism? Even as people of color are twice as likely as whites to live in the congested communities that experience the most smog and toxic concentration thanks to fossil fuel use? Even as heat waves connected to climate change kill people of color at twice the rate of their white counterparts? Even as agricultural disruptions due to warming — caused disproportionately by the white west — cost African nations $600 billion annually? Even as the contribution to fossil fuel emissions by people of color is 20 percent below that of whites, on average? Sadly, these facts are typically subordinated within climate activism to simple “the world is ending” rhetoric, or predictions (accurate though they may be) that unless emissions are brought under control global warming will eventually kill millions. Fact is, warming is killing a lot of people now, and most of them are black and brown. To build a global movement to roll back the ecological catastrophe facing us, environmentalists and clean energy advocates must connect the dots between planetary destruction and the real lives being destroyed currently, which are disproportionately of color. To do anything less is not only to engage in a form of racist marginalizing of people of color and their concerns, but is to weaken the fight for survival.

The same is true for other issues, such as health care, where to ignore the specific racial aspects of the subject, as so many liberals and progressives do, is to further a form of colorblind racism. So, for instance, in the American health care debate, reform proponents typically focus on universal coverage alone, without addressing the way that even people of color with coverage receive inferior and often racist care, and the way that their experiences with racism (even if they have insurance) have health consequences that universal coverage cannot solve. To believe that universal coverage or even “single payer” could close racial health gaps between whites and people of color is to ignore the research on the primary causes of those gaps: research that says money and access are not the principal problems. In fact, to be blind to the importance of racism within the health care debate is to commit a huge strategic blunder as well. After all, research suggests that one of the principal reasons that the United States has such a paltry social safety net (including less comprehensive health care guarantees than those in other western industrialized nations) is because of a common belief that “those people” (meaning people of color) will take unfair advantage of such programs. So to not connect the dots between the nation’s broken health care system and racism is to miss one of the main reasons we’re in such a position in the first place!

Blatant White Privilege and Perspectivism on the Left

But more disturbing than either liberal-left colorblindness or colormuteness is the manifestation of blatant white privilege by those who claim to be progressive. Whereas colorblindness and colormuteness on the left stem largely from ignorance on the part of otherwise well-intended persons, this final aspect of liberal-left racism is far more pernicious, because it is so often assaultive and the result of seemingly deliberate indifference to people of color.

Perhaps the classic example of how liberal-left activists can manifest white privilege is that of the white-dominated women’s movement. Although women of color have long engaged in feminist theorizing, activism and advocacy, the predominant strain of American feminism — and that which has been largely responsible for setting the political agenda for women’s issues for the past five decades — has been disproportionately white. As such, the way in which that part of the movement framed issues, and made their case to an oftentimes hostile public, reflected first and foremost the concerns of white (and, it should be noted, middle-class) women. Thus, to frame the fight for women’s liberation as a fight for the right to a career and to break free from the chains of domesticity (as was so central to the early feminist writings of women like Betty Friedan), presupposed that women were not currently working outside the home. But of course, most women of color in the United States had always worked outside the home (as well as in it) and so the struggle as articulated in books like The Feminine Mystique was implicitly white, and of little value to women of color whose lived realities were different. Even the notion of “sisterhood” so central to Second-Wave white feminism was largely exclusionary to women of color, who readily pointed out (and still do) how racism and white privilege limit the extent to which they have been treated as true sisters, or heard as members of the larger community of women.

Likewise, in the struggle over reproductive freedom and choice, liberal white feminists have often been quicker to support women who seek to terminate pregnancies than to support women who are having their ability to choose motherhood restricted: women who are disproportionately of color. So when thousands of black and Native American women were being involuntarily sterilized throughout the 20th century (right up until the 1970s) — as discussed by Thomas Shapiro in his 1985 book, Population Control Politics, and Harriet Washington in her 2006 award-winning volume, Medical Apartheid — few in the white feminist community made the restriction of their reproductive freedom a central issue. Likewise, in 1991 when neo-Nazi (and state legislator) David Duke proposed bribing women on welfare to use NORPLANT contraceptive inserts as a way to control their fertility — and this he did, of course, for blatantly racist reasons, as his anti-welfare rhetoric made clear — Louisiana’s largest and most mainstream liberal pro-choice coalition (an affiliate of NARAL) refused to take a public stand against the proposed legislation (2).

By disregarding the lived realities of people of color in this way, liberal-left activists elevate a destructive white perspectivism to the level of unquestioned and unassailable universal truth, and reinscribe the concerns of whites as those of paramount importance. The same phenomenon can be observed in a range of liberal-left movements and issue causes. Among these one would have to again consider the environmental movement, in which large numbers of otherwise liberal types in the Sierra Club have for years been pushing blatantly xenophobic and racist resolutions against immigration from south of the United States border. Or, in the case of the New Orleans area Sierra Club, extending a “legislative leadership” award to the St. Bernard Parish President — so as to honor him for his work on wetlands restoration — even as he was also one of the main proponents of a “blood relative renter law” passed after Katrina, which would have made it almost impossible for blacks to return to the Parish and rent there. In fact, the Parish President even went to court to defend the law — which would have barred renting property to anyone who wasn’t a blood relative in this 95% white Parish — despite its obvious racist intent. But to the white Sierra Club leadership, his racism was unimportant. What mattered was his record on wetlands alone.

Or consider animal rights activists, especially the folks at PETA, who seem to go out of their way to appropriate the suffering of racialized minorities (as with their infamous “Holocaust on Your Plate,” and “Are Animals the New Slaves?” campaigns, the latter of which compared factory farming to the lynching of blacks). While trying to make a perfectly legitimate point about the way that cruelty to non-human animals contributes to an ethic of exploitation that is connected to cruelty to humans, such efforts disregard or minimize the suffering of racialized minorities, exploit that suffering to score cheap emotional points, and do all of this with little or no regard for the strategic wisdom of alienating millions of people deliberately. After all, to say (as PETA chief Ingrid Newkirk has) that “At least the Nazis didn’t eat the objects of their derision” as a way to convince people of the wisdom of vegetarianism, suggests not only a level of indecency and a lack of perspective that is disturbing, but more to the point, a strategic incompetence so mind-boggling as to defy rational description.

Or consider the struggle for LGBT rights and equality. Historically, the role of people of color in the movement and LGBT community has been largely ignored, and the struggle for queer liberation has been considerably whitewashed. From the whitening of the Stonewall Riots — considered the first salvo in the gay lib movement, in which Puerto Rican drag queens and trans folk like Sylvia Rivera played a central role, although mainstream white liberal remembrances of the event often obscure this fact — to the current focus on marriage equality, activists within the LGBT community have presented a largely white face for the movement. The celebrities who front the movement are white, the publications and media that are used to define the community to the larger society are white and affluent in orientation, and the desire of much of the LGBT activist community to present an image of normalcy (as in, “we’re just like straight folks”) is based on a white middle class understanding of what constitutes normal.

While lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered folks of color have long spoken out against their marginalization within the larger movement for queer liberation, the conflict between whites and people of color in the movement has been elevated even more so during the fight for marriage equality. After the passage of Proposition 8 in California — which banned gay marriage — many within the white LGBT community blamed blacks for the outcome. Although black support for the measure was higher than that for whites, early reports of 70 percent approval in the African American community were dramatically inflated and based on a small number of precincts. And since blacks only comprise a small share of the electorate in California, to blame the black community for the outcome is to ignore the much larger overall role played by whites in the election.

But despite these facts, liberal LGBT activists and writers like Dan Savage, and the leading gay publication, The Advocate, played upon blatant racial imagery in their post-Prop 8 discussions. The Advocate actually ran a cover story announcing that “Gay Is the New Black,” and Savage, for his part, launched into a thinly veiled racist tirade, in which he insisted that black homophobia was a far greater threat to gays and lesbians (presumably white ones, since he showed no recognition of the double-bind identity of queer folks of color), than white LGBT racism was to the black and brown. That the Advocate would float such an idea signaled the inherent whiteness of the publication’s perspective. To suggest that gay might be the “new black” ignored the fact that for millions of LGBT black folks, black had never stopped being an oppressed identity, and there was nothing at all “new” about their marginalization. As Maurice Tracy explained in his comprehensive takedown of the “Gay is the New Black” meme, “Gay can never be the new black because first and foremost this phrase does not acknowledge the fact that there are those of us who are already gay AND black. We live within the margins, not because we choose to but because society places us there.” And as for blaming the black community for the result on Prop 8, Tracy noted, “people who attended church regularly, regardless of race, were the ones who overwhelmingly supported Prop. 8. Therefore, what we have here is not a case of ‘black homophobia’ but religious homophobia. ‘Black culture’ therefore became an easy target for the lazy individual. The fact is that black culture is homophobic because America is homophobic.”

Given the almost non-existent outreach to the black community by the “No H8″ campaign — and the way in which the campaign relied on white celebrities and entertainers to make the public case for them — it is hardly surprising that African Americans may have come to see the LGBT struggle in California as a white one, divorced from their day-to-day concerns. But that is not the fault of people of color. Rather, the responsibility for this unhappy outcome rests almost entirely with the white-dominated LGBT movement, whose principal organizations (like the Human Rights Campaign) have only nominal people of color involvement at the top levels of policy and decision making. As L.Z. Granderson noted in his rebuttal to the “Gay is the New Black” notion, at the 2008 HRC national fundraiser in D.C., the only black people who appeared on the stage in the entire three hour program were there as entertainers. Even the way in which mainstream male “gayness” has been constructed in the mass media (with the open collaboration of persons within the gay community), as a compendium of “fabulousness,” materialism, fashion, and a unique ability to design one’s home interior (or get favorable coverage and shout-outs on the Bravo Network), alienates those who for reasons of race (and class status) have been left out of the reigning imagery of what constitutes ‘gay chic.’

Other examples of liberal-left marginalizing of folks of colors’ concerns — and thus, people of color themselves — include the way many progressives seek to consciously downplay the role of race and racism in particular political struggles, even when such matters are central to the issue at hand.

For instance, during the mid-1990s debate over welfare reform, mainstream liberals and progressive policy advocates often engaged the assault on poor folks without discussing the blatantly racist component of the anti-welfare hysteria that had, by that point, gripped the nation for several decades. At a national conference organized by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities — in which progressive messaging around budget, tax and welfare issues was being plotted and planned — white liberals at the upper echelons of the organization resisted any discussion of racism as a central motivator for the conservative attack, or using anti-racist organizing strategies as a mechanism of resistance. When the subject was raised, by myself and several others (all of us, interestingly, southerners), the response was dismissive. We were assured that bringing up racism was a sure-fire way to lose the fight. We had to stick to debunking common anti-welfare myths and appealing to white people. Bringing up racism would only distract from that goal, we were told, and provoke more backlash. The needs and interests of whites were what mattered.

Not only did the strategy of course fail, but in refusing to openly engage racism, progressive activists forfeited the opportunity to build coalitions across lines of race and class: coalitions that may have proven empowering in years to come. And by allowing welfare critics to avoid being confronted by the racism that was so inherent to their position, liberal organizations allowed those critics to remain behind a veil of innocence and denial that, if anything, strengthened their resolve. As I discuss in my newest book, Colorblind, evidence from the field of psychology suggests it is better to openly confront racism and call it out — even at the risk of causing short-term backlash and anger — as doing so forces those being called out to contemplate their real motivations, and occasionally to rethink their positions, once confronted with the possibility that those motivations are less pure than they had imagined. When racism is allowed to remain sublimated and subtle, and isn’t called out directly, it is actually more capable of controlling individual and collective behavior.

The same problem emerged in the mid-to-late 90s in California and Washington State, when white-dominated liberal activists and campaigners were trying to save affirmative action from ballot initiatives that sought to eliminate it. In both cases, despite the obvious centrality of white racial resentment to the issue, organizers avoided discussing racism, either as a motivator for the anti-affirmative action movement, or even as a reason for why affirmative action was still needed and should be defended. Rather, they chose to focus on the impact to women as women (and especially white women) if affirmative action were ended. Believing — against all evidence to the contrary — that this self-interest focus and colorblind approach would be the best way to convince whites to oppose the initiatives, these activists marginalized the concerns of people of color, privileged white interests and narratives, and weakened what could otherwise have been long-term cross-racial coalitions. The strategy not only failed but furthered white privilege and racism within the liberal community and drove wedges between forces that should have and could have been working together.

Class-Based Reductionism on the Left

Perhaps the most common way in which folks on the left sometimes perpetuate racism is by a vulgar form of class reductionism, in which they advance the notion that racism is a secondary issue to the class system, and that what leftists and radicals should be doing is spending more time focusing on the fight for dramatic and transformative economic change (whether reformist or revolutionary), rather than engaging in what they derisively term “identity politics.” The problem, say these voices, are corporations, the rich, the elite, etc., and to get sidetracked into a discussion of white supremacy is to ignore this fact and weaken the movement for radical change.

But in fact, racism affects the lives of people of color quite apart from the class system. Black and brown folks who are not poor or working class — indeed those who are upper middle class and affluent — are still subjected to discrimination regularly, whether in the housing market, on the part of police, in schools, in the health care delivery system and on the job. True enough, these better-off folks of color may be more economically stable that their poor white counterparts, but in the class system they compete for stuff against whites in the same economic strata: a competition in which they operate at a decided and unfair disadvantage. So too, poor and working class whites, though they suffer the indignities of the class system, still have decided advantages over poor and working class people of color: their spells of unemployment are typically far shorter, their ability to find affordable and decent housing is far greater, and they are less likely to find themselves in resource-poor schools than even blacks and Latinos in middle class families. In fact, lower income whites are more likely to own their own home than middle class blacks, and most poor whites in the U.S. do not live in poor neighborhoods — rather they are mostly to be found in middle class communities where opportunities are far greater — whereas most poor people of color are surrounded by concentrated poverty. And black folks with college degrees, professional occupational status and health insurance coverage actually have worse health outcomes than white dropouts, with low income and low-level if any medical care, thanks to racism in health care delivery and black experiences with racism, which have uniquely debilitating health affects at all income levels.

To ignore the unique deprivations of racism (as with sexism, heterosexism, ableism, etc) so as to forward a white-friendly class analysis is inherently marginalizing to the lived experience of black and brown folks in the United States. And what’s more, to ignore racism is to actually weaken the struggle for class unity and economic transformation. Research on this matter is crystal clear: it is in large measure due to racism — and the desire of working class whites to maintain a sense of superiority over workers of color, as a “psychological wage” when real wages and benefits have proven inadequate — that has divided the working class. It is this holding onto the status conferred by whiteness, as a form of “alternate property” (to paraphrase UCLA Law Professor, Cheryl Harris), which has undermined the ability of white and of-color working people to engage in solidarity across racial lines. Unless we discuss the way in which racism and racial inequity weakens our bonds of attachment, we will never be able to forward a truly progressive, let alone radical politics.

In other words, unless all of our organizing becomes antiracist in terms of outreach, messaging, strategizing, and implementation, whatever work we’re doing, around whatever important issue, will be for naught. Only by building coalitions that look inward at the way racism and white privilege may be operating within those formations, and that also look outward, at the way racism and privilege affect the issue around which we’re organizing (be that schools, health care, jobs, tax equity, the environment, LGBT rights, reproductive freedom, militarism or anything else), can we hope to beat back the forces of reaction against which we find ourselves arrayed. The other side has proven itself ready and willing to use racism to divide us. In response, we must commit to using antiracism as a force to unite.

(1) The New Deal, far from being a comprehensive justice initiative (the mainstream white liberal interpretation) was a highly racially-restricted set of policies and programs. President Roosevelt agreed to restrict most all African Americans from Social Security, by capitulating to southern segregationist demands that domestic workers and agricultural laborers be exempted from the program. Likewise, underwriting criteria in the FHA loan program guaranteed that almost none of the housing being underwritten by preferential government loans would go to black homeowners.

(2) I witnessed this refusal to engage on Duke’s NORPLANT bill personally. At the time, one of my activist jobs was as a campus co-coordinator in New Orleans, for a New York-based reproductive freedom coalition. More radical in orientation than the mainstream groups in the city and state (especially the NARAL-affiliated group), my colleague at the time, Anneliese Singh, and I tried to convince the older, whiter groups to join us in publicly condemning the sterilization initiative. Our entreaties were completely ignored, and indeed, Louisiana Choice took no stand on the matter, even though Duke sought to limit the “choice” of poor women (especially of color) to have children.


157 Responses to “With Friends Like These, Who Needs Glenn Beck? Racism and White Privilege on the Liberal-Left”

  1. Tim,

    What would you say to black people who advocate against welfare and advocate against cultures within black and brown communities that seem to:
    -perpetuate generational dependence on the government
    -perpetuate violence
    -perpetuate ignorance/illiteracy
    -perpetuate unhealthy sexual practices
    -perpetuate single motherhood w/numerous children?

    It sometimes seems as though white individuals who advocate against issues such as these would be labeled racist when they may not be or labeled as using white privilege when they aren’t. There are many black and brown people that would agree with stances that call for radical progressive change that may not be supported by certain cultures within Black and Brown America.

    Perhaps there is a white collectivist view that places all black and brown people in the same box, regardless of vast differences that are apparent among black and brown people; almost as if there is this notion that all people of color must be advocated for equally? However, how can people who do not want advocacy be given it? How can we help individuals that do not want to help themselves and why should we in those instances?

    Must all lived realities of black and brown people be critically addressed and analyzed? Should all lived realities of black and brown people be free from any kind of privileged criticisms from–whites, blacks, and brown people alike-since there is privilege within those racial groups as well?

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  2. Keep up the good work …
    long life, Tim!

    Rene,
    From Ottawa, Canada

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  3. I would say to those folks that there is nothing about black culture per se that is government dependent, or violent, or responsible for any of the phenomenon you mention. It is fine to critique dysfunctional adaptations to oppression — which those things you mention sometimes can be — but it becomes fundamentally racist to essentialize black culture as uniquely dependent, violent, sexually libidinous, etc when the data says that is simply not true

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  4. Tim, is it racist to suggest that Asian Americans aren’t well rounded, which you’ve done in your earlier post? Or does your anti-racism only apply to blacks and Hispanics?

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  5. This is an important reality-check for our friends on the Left–thank you! For more on the links between rave and climate change, see the Environmental Support Center’s report: http://envsc.org/esc-publications/everybodys-movement.

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  6. Yan, I did not say that. I said that according to the EVIDENCE in the book that was being referenced, Asian apps to elite schools in particular have a more similar transcript pattern and areas of concentration/success than others. It is not racist to note that because that is what the data says. I didn’t cast aspersions upon Asians as a result of noting it. Read the book. I said that because Asian American apps to these schools often have similar types of transcripts with high test scores, concentration in certain subjects and dispro apply to certain programs in those schools (like engineering or math/science programs in those schools where one applies to specific programs at the outset, like the UC system), they have a harder time potentially standing out to admissions officers. I am not making a statement about whether this is fair, legit or anything else. merely that the standout factor is real in admissions, and there is not as much differentiation among students at the top of the applicant pool (in terms of types of activities and classes) as there is in the middle of the pool. This ends up working against Asian apps and many whites too, and that is a large reason why there are differential admission odds, independent of any kind of blatant racial preferencing. You haven’t read the literature on this Yan, so please don’t presume to know what it says.

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  7. And Yan. I’m betting that I’ve written more about — and publicly spoken out more about — white racism against Asian Americans in the job market, etc than you have, frankly, and certainly more than the forces who oppose aff action. I write about it in my new book, in my last book, and in my book on aff action actually, extensively…perhaps you should read them…

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    Michael Edelman Reply:

    This sounds remarkably similar to the “I’m not racist because I have a blank friend” or “voted for Barack Obama” argument. Just because you’ve written more about Asian Americans than someone else does not mean that you’re any less prone to racial stereotypes about Asian Americans. For instance, Tim, did you notice the multiple times in this post that you mentioned how the experiences of white people differ from “brown and black” people? That seems to leave out a rather large minority group in the United States. There are over 7 million Asian Americans in San Francisco, yet no mention of Asian Americans at all in your post.

    Of all the minorities in America, are Asian Americans most often the victims of colorblindness/colormuteness? They’re quite often excluded from discussions on race in America.

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    Tim Reply:

    Michael – When I say black and brown I actually mean Asian Americans as well…sorry, should have been more clear in that regard. Would you prefer I say “yellow,” and thereby conjure the old and frankly racist characterization as it was used for years? Brown is a term I use for folks of color who are not termed or viewed as black. Imprecise to be sure, but surely not intended to leave out Asians. Sorry for the confusion

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  8. Wow Tim…I was really liking you and your ideas until I read the snarky comment you just made “I’m betting that I’ve written more about — and publicly spoken out more about — white racism against Asian Americans in the job market, etc than you have, frankly, and certainly more than the forces who oppose aff action.” It makes you sound petty and insecure to say the least.
    Aside from that, nice job, I’ll be passing this on.

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    admin Reply:

    fair enough, it was snarky. My point was that Yan’s seeming dismissal of white racism generally suggests to me that he is not likely to have spoken out much against it, even when it is deployed often against Asian Americans in the job market, etc. He sees aff action as the supreme injustice to Asian Americans, despite the evidence that it is not this, but other forms of old boy’s networks, blatant anti Asian bias in the job market, contracting (and even in schools, it is not AA which bumps most Asian applicants who get bumped, but other things like prefernces for alums and athletes, etc.).

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  9. Tim, as a teacher in a multiracial private high school (60% white, 20% black and Hispanic each, give or take), what approach(es) would you suggest I take other than treating all students exactly the same regardless of race. You’re not a high school teacher, I know, so I’m not looking for some detailed pedagogy, but I’m not clear as to what your ideal educational situation would be (though I understand this isn’t the crux of your piece). Thanks.

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    admin Reply:

    I go in to detail about what teachers can do in my newest books Tim. The keys are a) recognizing the role that race plays in the way those students experience their lives and that school (especially in private schools), which you can do by getting to know them, their lives, etc. but also by inference given what we know about identity development in teens, b) creating classroom environments that are collaborative and cooperative more so than individualistic and competitive (lots of group-based work, study groups, etc), which de-stresses the environment for everyone, but has especially important effects for kids of color who may be facing stereotype threat (the fear of confirming negative group stereotypes if they underperform), c) sending messages early in the year that you have confidence in all the students in the room in terms of their ability to succeed in the class. Obviously not everyone will get an A, but anyone in the class could, and making it clear at the outset that you believe that to be true — without specifically calling out race of course — send an important signal psychologically. And finally, regular constructive criticism and feedback. Although this may be something needed for all — and so, you’d be treating folks the same in offering it to all — it still falls under a race-conscious approach because the logic behind it is based on an understanding that the research says kids of color, especially black kids, are less likely to believe that teachers believe in their abilities. So positive feedback — mixed with constructive but affirming criticism, and constant prods to live up to what you know are their abilities — is another way to help counter stereotype threat and incentivize maximum effort. This has been shown to be critical with African American students in many cases. There is more in the book, and lots of references in that book as well you could follow up with, for more insights. I would highly recommend reading Whistling Vivaldi, by Claude Steele, which goes into more detail on the stereotype threat issue, as well as Mica Pollock’s Everyday Antiracism

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  10. What I hate is the justifications for colormuteness from leftists. Some seem to think that talking about racism and white privilege is silly in light of class differentials. Others think that mentioning racism will alienate poor whites, which is itself a racist and classist essentialization of those people as too stupid or ignorant or bigoted to be reached by appeals.

    I don’t understand why Michael Albert’s suggestion, that we treat race and culture, gender and kinship, state and politics, and economics and capital as equal spheres of interest and concern and then focus our attentions where we can, is so strongly resisted by some…

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  11. I think the article does a pretty good job breaking down racism on the mainstream left.

    In regards to the comments here, I agree with you that affirmative action is far from the greatest injustice Asian Americans face – even those with money, jobs, homes, and educations. I am annoyed by those in my community who rail against affirmative action as racist against Asians…but I have to agree with Tess that your rebuttal to Yan Shen was snarky, but more than that it was really really privileged and white.

    It started out perfectly logical and informed, and then devolved into what sounded like a white dude who was upset his authority got challenged. I think you should acknowledge that you were the one who took it there.

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    admin Reply:

    i agree that that particular snark was uncalled for and my fault, and f’d up on multiple levels. The rest of the rebuttal however (the substantive parts on the other thread, which is where all but that one post are located) was not uncalled for or wrong in any way that I can see…he impugned my intellectual integrity even after I had made several kind comments about his arguments and him personally. I fired back. It wasn’t about challenging my authority at that point, it was about implying pernicious motives to what was simply an intellectual disagreement. When that happens, I’ll call an asshole an asshole. But the stuff about my having written about/spoken about white racism against Asian Americans more than he was uncalled for and wrong, agreed, which, as I recall was Tess’s argument…

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  12. Tim, what is your response to Adolph Reed’s suggestion that you are taking the same Manichean approach you accuse “vulgar class reductionists” of taking?

    http://www.leftbusinessobserver.com/Antiracism.html

    “I remain curious why the “debate” over antiracism as a politics takes such indirect and evasive forms—like the analogizing and guilt by association, moralistic bombast in lieu of concrete argument—and why it persists in establishing, even often while denying the move, the terms of debate as race vs. class. I’m increasingly convinced that a likely reason is that the race line is itself a class line, one that is entirely consistent with the neoliberal redefinition of equality and democracy. It reflects the social position of those positioned to benefit from the view that the market is a just, effective, or even acceptable system for rewarding talent and virtue and punishing their opposites and that, therefore, removal of “artificial” impediments to its functioning like race and gender will make it even more efficient and just.

    From this perspective even the “left” antiracist line that we must fight both economic inequality and racial inequality, which seems always in practice to give priority to “fighting racism” (often theorized as a necessary precondition for doing anything else), looks suspiciously like only another version of the evasive “we’ll come back for you” (after we do all the business-friendly stuff) politics that the Democrats have so successfully employed to avoid addressing economic injustice.”

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    admin Reply:

    Well, I disagree with him obviously, as he lumps all antiracist work together in a way that elides big differences in the movement. He tends to think we are attacking overt racism and the like, rather than making an argument about institutional structures of oppression. And he utterly ignores the way that we (and certainly I) argue that racism and white supremacy are bad for white workers in the long run, actually strengthens the class system, etc. He ignores the way that the “race line” is a “class line” not in the way he defines it — as a defense of neoliberal class arrangements and capitalism — but rather as a line explaining why the class system remains entrenched and white class solidarity is so rarely formed

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  13. Where is the “share” button?

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    admin Reply:

    there should be one under every entry on the site…if it’s not showing up you may just need to hit re-load in the url bar

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  14. Thanks for a great article!

    I particularly appreciate your analyses of the intersections between racism and sexism, racism and heterosexism, racism and class discrimination. I would be interested to hear what you have to say on the intersections between racism and ageism, and between racism and ableism.

    Also, kudos for your points on education, especially in your comment – you’re exactly right on the techniques that a teacher should be using. I am a teacher in a very diverse public school, and learning those techniques has taken time, but is entirely worth it for the outcomes.

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  15. I’m glad you apologized, Tim. I know how easy it is to get heated when your motives are questioned. And it ties in to your article perfectly, because it’s related to the white, liberal ideal of being accepted by others as not racist.
    It’s as if it’s better to appear not to be racist and enjoy white privilege with other racist than to actually not be racist. One of the things I’ve had to observe in people who are easing out of White Guilt and into White Consciousness is the blurry line inside each of us when we start wondering when, exactly, or if, we cease being racist. Do academic credentials excuse us? Are Californians exempt? Do we “Have enough Black friends”? Have we attended enough rallies? These are questions racists from all walks of life ask themselves when they think they’re no longer racists.
    Next comes, “Can I ever truly be not racist?” or, “I have white privilege… what do I do with it to excuse me?”, and “Do my friends think that I’m racist still?” Getting past this stage is the hardest part because it’s hard to know that you’re in it. Some very famous White people never do, no matter how many talks they give or books they write. I’ve met some pretty infuriating racist academics in “Ethnic Studies” who feel entitled because of their education and published works.
    When do we stop being racist? When can we call ourselves antiracist? Perhaps, when we no longer feel the need to identify as “not racist”. When Consciousness replaces Guilt and we can withstand the accusations without making justifications for ourselves. When action replaces identity as the driving force behind our resistance of racism, then, though it no longer matters, we may actually no longer be racist. People police your stance on racial issues because they are still hung up on identity.
    And there are moments when activists backslide and start to doubt themselves. Doubt is not a bad thing, as long as it doesn’t interfere with what matters: action. Some lose heart when they realise they still have racist tendencies and backslide further. I’ve been through that. We should never give ourselves a “get out of being racist because of stuff I’ve done” free card. No one ever earns that, (no matter how many Black Presidents they elect). If you need to know if you’ve reached that light at the end of the tunnel, then you haven’t. That’s what the members of the White Establishment in San Francisco and the Ivory Tower of Academia need to learn before real change can occur.

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  16. Right now, the left is guilty of an appalling amount of racism, and not only the condescending soft racism of low expectations that they inflict on the African-American community.

    Anti-Semitism has almost become de rigeur for the left. In taking up the cause of the “marginalized” Muslims, the left has engaged in the most disgusting manifestation of anti-Semitism seen since the Third Reich. Odious comparisons of Israel to the Nazis are coming, not only and almost amusingly ironically from neo-Nazis, but from leftist idiots like Norman Finklestein. Finklestein at least has an excuse in that being a former Maoist, he has shown a history of being enamoured with murderous totalitarians and their personality cults. So moving over to being a fan of Hezbollah and its fuhrer Nasrallhah is a small lateral step for him.

    but there is a large movement in the Socialist left to demonize Israel and Jews. It’s disgusting and is making the term “progressive” appear to be an oxymoronic joke.

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    admin Reply:

    I disagree with you about the ubiquity of anti-jewish bigtory on the left, but surely when it exists it should be resisted. But critiquing Israel, even substantially, and even questioning Zionism, is not anti-Semitism. I have written about this, as have many other Jews, for decades. To suggest that Muslims are not marginalized in Israel and the territories, which you suggest by putting the word in quotes, is troubling. Any nation in which 80 percent of the land is off limits to entire groups of people ethnically/religiously (which is what Israel is in its land tenure laws) is racist, by definition. As a Jew it is offensive to me. And as an American, I sure as hell don’t want to pay for that kind of injustice. That similar injustices exist in Muslim nations against Jews and Christians is indisputable, and equally grotesque. But a) I am Jewish and feel the need to clean up my own groups’ crap first (it’s called personal responsibility), and b) as an American I am not implicated in the subsidizing of that injustice in, say, Iran, in the same way.

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  17. [...] lest you and I on the left feel too smugly superior, Tim follows up with an absolutely brilliant examination of liberal racism (or what I term “polite racism”) Beyond the personal biases that [...]

  18. Ah, Tim’s just on Yan’s case because he doesn’t like Asians. I joke. You really did burn alot of calories on a two line flippant remark. Chill, dude, not worth getting worked up about.

    Tim, your breakdown of the right’s stance and the implied racisim in it was extremely well thought out and well done. You nailed it.

    And having lived in the south, and currently living in Seattle, the races are much more balkanized here in the Pacific Northwest than in other southern locals in this country.

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  19. One small nitpick. Well, jot a small one, actually, and not the only one I have with this mostly excellent article. Sylvia Rivera was a Transwoman. (Transgender Woman is also acceptable language). She may or may not have performed drag during her lifetime, I don’t know. But she was NOT a dragueen. Dragqueen is a JOB, not an identity. And its a job usually forced upon transwomen for survival, socially and financially. I’m speaking of a group of people who are regularly barred from most employment opportunities, especially if they are transwomen of color. So, when speaking of identity and minority oppression, please don’t refer to transwomen as dragqueens, even if that happens to be their job. Thanks.

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    admin Reply:

    fair enough and a good point. Would you like for me to go back and make the correction, or should I let the mistake stand? I will do whatever you think is best here, and I appreciate the correction. There were indeed Puerto Rican dragqueens that were central at Stonewall, but Rivera was not properly remembered as one. She was trans, and your point is well taken.

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  20. Thomas Friedman put it well when he said, “Criticizing Israel is not anti-Semitic, and saying so is vile. But singling out Israel for opprobrium and international sanction — out of all proportion to any other party in the Middle East — is anti-Semitic, and not saying so is dishonest.”

    Your seeing a great deal of this type of anti-Semitism from the left. Of course it’s not anti-Semitic to criticize Israeli government policy. But you then include Zionism in that.

    What is Zionism other than the expression of the desire for a Jewish homeland, where Jews can live without the fear of the pogroms and discrimination they have faced for 200 years?

    The anti-Zionists are almost always people who strongly support a Palestinian homeland. So it’s okay for Palestinians to have a homeland but not Jews?

    And you never, NEVER hear anti-Zionists who condemn israel for being a Jewish state questioning the right of a homeland for Armenians, Italians, Germans, Tibetans or the right of Pakistan, Iran to be “Islamic republics”

    But Israel stand alone in their bigoted condemnation and frankly there are only two explanations, anti-Semitism or an ideological fanatic who has become a dupe to anti-Semites who are exploiting the gullability of the International Socialist crowd who blindly oppose Israel in the context of their seeing it as a “Western Capitalist Imperialist outpost.” Of course these people either are unaware or have chosen to ignore the history of imperialist nature of political Islam, which imposed itself very successfully throughout much of the world through military conquest.

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    admin Reply:

    Actually, I don’t believe in the right of any group to an ethnic/religious homeland, Jew or not, and certainly not on other people’s land. But as a Jew, and as an American, my first practical responsibility is to deal with that over which I might have control. By your logic, Americans should have spent equal time condemning the Soviets in the Cold War, and likewise, Russians should have spent equal time condemning us. I think we have to deal with our own shit, which as American Jews means U.S. policy and Jewish practice in Israel.

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  21. “Right now, the left is guilty of an appalling amount of racism, and not only the condescending soft racism of low expectations that they inflict on the African-American community.

    Anti-Semitism has almost become de rigeur for the left. In taking up the cause of the “marginalized” Muslims, the left has engaged in the most disgusting manifestation of anti-Semitism seen since the Third Reich. Odious comparisons of Israel to the Nazis are coming, not only and almost amusingly ironically from neo-Nazis, but from leftist idiots like Norman Finklestein. Finklestein at least has an excuse in that being a former Maoist, he has shown a history of being enamoured with murderous totalitarians and their personality cults. So moving over to being a fan of Hezbollah and its fuhrer Nasrallhah is a small lateral step for him.

    but there is a large movement in the Socialist left to demonize Israel and Jews. It’s disgusting and is making the term “progressive” appear to be an oxymoronic joke.”

    Of course, there’s no concern about the racist comments being MADE by Israelis, calling Palestinians “crocodiles”, nor the racist neo-Bantustans they have created. Nope.

    I do know some leftists who have crossed the line into bona fide anti-Semitism, but this is NOT an overwhelming or even representative group. The majority, rightly or wrongly, feel that the state of Israel has abhorrent policies. Period.

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  22. I hadn’t considered the interconnectedness of global warming or healthcare and racism. How do you bring it up and break that colormuteness, though, without giving the impression that you bring race up too much, ascribe everything to race? Race certainly impacts a lot and maybe absolutely every system has a racial component, but I’ve been criticized for “seeing racism everywhere”. (Or do you just do it and risk the dismissal?) And how do you bring people of color into a liberal movement in a way that doesn’t just seem like looking for token members? I mean this on a small scale. I don’t have a lot of non-white friends and I don’t want to harangue the ones I do have by asking them to join causes in which they have no interest. Thank you. (I come from the ranks of the colorblind, so these questions shouldn’t be construed as anything but genuine ignorance.)

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    Viviana Reply:

    I would suggest looking for liberal/progressive movements that are already being run by people of color and joining those (and not just Black Liberation struggles but also people of color fighting climate change, who are anti-imperialist, fighting for women’s rights, LGBT rights, etc).
    These movements are usually not as well known because they are often overshadowed by movements run by white middle class folks.
    As an example:Tim mentioned the mainstream, mostly white and affluent LGBT movement which ignores issues of race, class, poverty, etc. and how those intersect with LGBT issues. Because folks running this mainstream movement have more race/class privilege, their voices are oftenheard over those LGBT folks of color who have always simultaneously fought against, race, class, gender oppression and homophobia/heterosexism. Because of this overshadowing, many(including a lot of people of color)believe that only white middle-class folks are involved in liberal/progressive movements (because that’s all they see). So, rather than trying to integrate people of color into a movement, why not integrate yourself into a people of color movement (if that makes sense).
    I would suggest researching such movements. A great resource is Colorlines.com. It’s an online news magazine that focuses racism/race/racial oppression as it intersects with other issues/forms of oppression. For example: here’s an article looking at how the BP oil spill is affecting communities of color:
    http://colorlines.com/archives/2010/08/environmental_racism_surfacing_in_bp_spill_waste_management.html

    I hope this long comment was helpful in some way!!
    :0)

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  23. It’s interesting that you identify “the blatant manifestation of white privilege in our activities, issue framing, outreach and analysis: specifically, the favoring of white perspectives over those of people of color. . .” And you later describe “the white-dominated women’s movement” as “the classic example of how liberal-left activists can manifest white privilege.” And you provide other specific examples from the animal rights movement and the LGBT movement. But you don’t say anything about what seems to be a clear case of favoring white perspectives over those of people of color: your own career as a for-hire anti-racist activist. How often do you think your white skins has earned you a payment for a speech or workshop that might have gone instead to a person of color, equally qualified to talk about white-privilege and institutional racism? You do write in your piece about how “we” on the left manifest racism in this way or that, but when it comes you specific examples it’s you women and you queers that are included and you Tim Wise who is passed over in silence.

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    admin Reply:

    I have written about my own privilege for years and speak about it regularly. I agree, my voice carries further because of a) white privilege, b) male privilege, c) straight privilege, and d) class privilege — to a lesser extent than the others, given my class background but still, it’s part of it. I have no illusions about that. But I try — and whether I succeed in this is for other folks to determine I guess — to be accountable to folks of color in my speeches and writing, by checking in with a wide array of folks of color, who provide constant feedback to my work, articles, books, etc. I actually re-wrote my memoir to include a section on accountability because folks of color (and some other white allies) pointed out that it was glaringly missing from the first edition. I try to do what folks of color tell me they need me to do: which is a) speak to white folks about racism and white privilege, in ways that perhaps they cannot, at least as effectively, b) give credit to — and reference clearly — those folks of color from whom I get certain ideas, which I do regularly and blatantly in my work, so that white folks know where the source of any wisdom I manage to conjure often comes from, and c) be willing to take critical feedback on my work, which I try to do and have done with as much integrity and humility as possible for 20 years. If you think whites should simply go away and not challenge racism, so be it — your argument is unclear and in fact unstated — but that makes no sense at all, either to me, or to the weight of simple logic

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  24. Tim, I enjoyed this essay very much but disagree with some of your specific points on the LGBT community. On the general point of racism within the LGBT community, and pushing back against the “gay is the new black” meme, I wholeheartedly concur. But in your reference to the “NO H8″ campaign, I hope you meant to refer to the “No on 8″ campaign, i.e. the 2008 election campaign against Prop 8 in California. That campaign indeed failed to reach out to people of color (among its many other failures), a complaint widely noted by commentators immediately after the election. The NOH8 Campaign (www.noh8campaign.org) is the photographic silent protest project that arose after November 2008, and has done an excellent job of including people of color (both celebrities and ordinary people, regardless of sexual orientation). Regarding Dan Savage, I can’t recall if he apologized for his statements criticizing black voters shortly after the election, but he has since written on his blog about how blaming black voters is wrong and based on inaccurate exit polls (can’t find the link at the moment, but recall reading this). Also I have to take issue with the LZ Granderson piece you linked. A statement like “40 years [since Stonewall] is nothing compared with the 400 blood-soaked years black people have been through in this country” is completely tone-deaf. I readily acknowledge that black people have been subject to far more insidious and life-threatening discrimination than LGBT people in American history, but the comparison of 40 and 400 years fails to acknowledge the historical oppression that LGBT people suffered BEFORE they became widely visible in society, media, etc. (i.e. pre-Stonewall). And Granderson’s assertion that “the loudest critics [of Obama on LGBT issues] are mostly white” ignores the fact that LGBT people of color such as Pam Spaulding have been vocal in criticizing the administration.

    [Reply]

    admin Reply:

    Thanks Aaron for your feedback. You are right to point out the difference between the no on 8 and No H8 folks…thanks for that, and I will go and correct the error.

    Savage’s apology, if it came, is welcome. But I was just trying to show how liberal folks often manifest racism. I have never said that such persons can’t also manifest antiracism and do good things. After all, in my memoir White Like Me, that is one of my key points: we are all complicated. I’m sure Dan is too. But it is important to call attention to his/our progressive racism when it happens.

    As for the Granderson piece, yes, I have to agree with you that that part of his piece seemed gratuitous to me and unnecessary for the making of his larger, and legitimate, point. I chose to link to it anyway because of that large point, but I appreciate you pointing out the unproductive and tone deaf aspect of that part of the piece, as I concur with your assessment.

    [Reply]

  25. “If you think whites should simply go away and not challenge racism, so be it — your argument is unclear and in fact unstated — but that makes no sense at all, either to me, or to the weight of simple logic.”

    Here’s an alternative: make anti-racism action your avocation, passionately pursued, and something else your career. Also, when specifically naming others for an aspect of white privilege that puts money in your own pocket, in that very critique include yourself (even if you’ve mentioned it before)not just others.

    [Reply]

    admin Reply:

    first off, if I did something else for a career, I would logically have about 1/10th to 1/20th the time to spend on challenging racism. If you can make an intelligible case that this would be better for the struggle against racism, then make that case. But realize what that would mean. It would mean that rather than reaching millions of whites annually with an antiracist message I might reach, say, a few thousand. And it;s not as if that gap would be filled by people of color. It wouldn;t be. Most folks who get an initial dose of antiracism from me, or other whites, would likely have taken in very little antiracist message had we stopped doing our work at the level we do it. They just wouldn’t have been exposed, which means they would have been less likely to hear an antiracist message from people of color too, since hearing it from a white antiracist ally first appears from all evidence I’ve seen — and you present no evidence to the contrary — to make it more likely that whites will seek out and truly hear antiracist messages from black and brown folks.

    Tell me — and seriously I want an answer to this one — by your logic, should whites who work as lawyers in civil rights not get paid? SHould white history teachers who, being conscious of racism in history and the need to teach in an antiracist way, not accept a salary for their work? Should doctors who are white, and who inculcate an antiracist mentality to their practice do their work for free, since to accept pay for it amounts to getting paid off oppression, so to speak? I mean, where does this logic end?

    [Reply]

  26. Tell me — and seriously I want an answer to this one — by your logic, should whites who work as lawyers in civil rights not get paid? SHould white history teachers who, being conscious of racism in history and the need to teach in an antiracist way, not accept a salary for their work? Should doctors who are white, and who inculcate an antiracist mentality to their practice do their work for free, since to accept pay for it amounts to getting paid off oppression, so to speak? I mean, where does this logic end?

    I think there is a difference of kind, not just degree, between a civil rights lawyer, a history teacher conscious of anti-racism and doctors who “inculcate antiracist mentality to their practice” and professional anti-racists. The lawyer, teacher and doctor aren’t being paid to be anti-racists; they manage to incorporate anti-racism into their life’s work exactly what you say you cannot do without decimating your anti-racist work. They are antiracist lawyers, doctors and teachers; you an an anti-racist for hire. Is it that you cannot see the difference or you don’t think the difference is important?

    I didn’t present evidence contrary to the proposition that whites who hear anti-racist from white allies are more likely to then hear it from black and brown folks because I didn’t address that proposition one way or another. Does the empirical evidence you reference without citation make a distinction between whites who hear anti-racist messages from, for example, lawyers, teachers and doctors (or, perhaps, parents or friends) and those who hear them from professional anti-racists? It’s understandable that you view your contribution to an anti-racist society as singular and irreplaceable, but I’m not sure that’s a proposition easily subject to empirical verification.

    [Reply]

  27. RE: Why “white anti-racism” workers should not be compensated for their activities:

    1.They are taking jobs and money from PEOPLE OF COLOR. Every time a “white anti-racist” activist speaks at a university or gets a book deal, he is robbing PEOPLE OF COLOR. I cannot tell you how angry I would get every time my university had a white boy lecture on the evils of white racism. The “white anti-racism” activist is simply an updated version of Pat Boone, selling white ruled Amerikkka a sanitized version of the true plight of PEOPLE OF COLOR.

    [Reply]

    admin Reply:

    Well Malik, here’s the thing:

    Let’s look at what happens when a white person speaks at a college or university. Since that is my primary work, and what I am paid for, I have given this a lot of thought.

    On the one hand, it is certainly true that I am more likely to be heard and listened to by whites because I am white. No doubt. I always talk about that in the speeches themselves and point that out, because it is something we all need to be confronted with in order to challenge racism with any integrity.

    But the idea that those speeches literally take money from POC, presumably by crowding out POC who might have been brought in to give the speech for instance (which is the most commonly raised concern or possibility) is, I think, simply wrong.

    Fact is, it’s not as if schools have a set number of events each year, which will focus on race, and so if a white person gets one of those slots, that’s one less for a POC. Rather, schools know they need to address race (well, some of them do, many don’t of course), and want to expose their mostly white student bodies to antiracist material. They reason that in all likelihood, because of white privilege and ingrained supremacy, the initial message probably should come from a white person, because they know–based on experience–that when they bring POC in (which they still do, by the way, most often, to speak about race), whites don’t listen, they tune out, or they don’t even show up. So they view the white educator as someone to plant a seed. The theory (and I realize it is just that, a theory) is that this will allow for a greater likelihood of listening by whites and actually hearing a person of color say these things next time, whether it’s a guest lecturer or a professor in the class. Or for that matter, a student of color on the campus who is raising these issues.

    Now, does it really work this way? Well, I don’t know for sure. But the theory that supply generates more demand, and not merely or even mostly for more whites to do the work, but more demand for POC, is certainly reasonable. And from what I have observed in the institutional spaces where I’ve been for a speech, it seems to work this way. More people of color are brought in after I speak, and from what I hear, the reaction from students to their messages is better than it had been before. This means that it is entirely possible that POC on the campus can be more effective because of whites trying to demonstrate allyship. I know this is true from the perspective of faculty of color in many, many cases. I hear from such folks regularly about the way that, say, teaching some of my work (still a very small piece of the syllabus, which is still mostly POC material) has opened up the white students to the rest of the material by POC. So, is that good or bad? Would it be preferable to have whites totally shut down on these issues? Should we just say “f em” if they can’t hear it from POC first?

    Now obviously the fact that this is all evidence of privilege and white supremacy needs to be called out. And that is something I try to make clear in my writings and speeches. But to say that is far different than to suggest that there is no role for whites at all in the work, or that if there is, they should not be compensated for it.

    As for compensation, here’s the problem with presuming that even if whites challenge racism, they shouldn’t be paid for any of the work:

    1) Realistically, there are so many hours in day, and days in a week. If the relative handful of us whose careers involve antiracism education were to not do this work as our professional work, we would have to do something else to eat, like everyone, and to support a family. So we would do that, and if we had any time left at the end of the week, we could do antiracism. But realistically that would mean that we’d have very little time left over to do any of that. So instead of reaching a lot of people with an antiracism message, we’d reach very very few. Would that really be better for the struggle?

    2) If we follow the logic of “no compensation” to its logical conclusion, this would mean that any white person who is a teacher, and integrates an antiracist perspective into the curriculum, should then forego their salary, since a) a person of color might have gotten that teaching gig, b) the wisdom they are sharing about racism is wisdom paid for with the blood of people of color, quite literally, and c) to accept a paycheck as a teacher of antiracist material is to “benefit” from the thing about which you teach. But if that was the standard, you know full well what white teachers would do. They wouldn’t quit teaching. It’s their job after all. They would just stop teaching from an antiracist perspective. And this would be good? Likewise, whites who practice law and represent plaintiffs of color who are suing companies for discrimination, should, by your logic, not ever be paid for the work they do. Because a) a lawyer of color might have gotten that gig, and b) they are benefitting from the existence of racism, even as they are, in that one case trying to remedy. But if this were the standard, you know what would happen: these lawyers would stop taking the cases. That would mean fewer lawyers taking on discrimination for fewer plaintiffs. And that would be good?

    3) To do the work for free actually undermines people of color who do the work: here’s how…If a person of color is on the lecture circuit talking about racism, and charges, say $5000 for a speech or workshop of some sort, and a white person comes along and says, “I can do the same work for nothing” (maybe because they are independently wealthy or something, or have a spouse whose work can pay the bills, or whatever), guess what’s going to happen? Who do you think will get the speech: the person of color or the white person? It will be the white person because that person will just have underbid the person of color. And that helps thing, how?

    And finally, the biggest flaw in your entire argument here is this: you assume that whites who challenge racism are trying to speak for people of color, or that we are doing this work to ‘save” people of color. If that is what you believe, however, then you have not actually listened to what I’ve said or read what I’ve written (and what most other whites who do this work have said). I am not trying to speak for anyone but me, and I am not about saving others. I believe POC can liberate themselves from white supremacy with or without white allies, though it might be easier with allies. This was the view of H. Rap Brown, Stokely Carmichael, etc and the black militants in SNCC, even at the end of the group’s trajectory, by the way, so it’s not like we white folks are the ones who thought up the importance of allyship on our own). But I believe that white supremacy is destructive to all, and actually endangers life on the planet. I believe it is at the heart of imperialism ,militarism, the ecological crisis we all face, etc. Now, feel free to disagree, although I doubt you do, based on what you have said. So if that is true, and life itself is endangered by white supremacy, that means my life is endangered, as are the lives of my children, etc. So this is self help, not charity. If white supremacy endangers me too, then I have to fight it in self defense. And I do not need, nor will I seek permission to defend myself from a destructive force such as white supremacy. That is the problem in your critique: you assume I and others are motivated by a sense of mission to others, when frankly, it’s about survival for everyone, including us.

    None of this takes away from the clearly conflicted nature of how white privilege and supremacy have elevated many of us in the work. But it is to say that the supply/demand curve is perhaps different than you suggest, and that the work is something white folks need to be doing, not as an act of charity, but as a hedge against literal global destruction.

    [Reply]

  28. RE: “white anti-racism” activists and compensation: Since nothing will stop “white anti-racism” activists from stealing jobs and money from PEOPLE OF COLOR, here are some proposals for how they can spend their ill-gotten gains and live their lives:

    1. live in a majority PEOPLE OF COLOR neighborhood.

    2. Send your children to a majority PEOPLE OF COLOR school.

    3.Buy your food at a store owned by PEOPLE OF COLOR, if at all possible.

    4. Buy as many books written by PEOPLE OF COLOR as you can.

    5. When you buy a book written by a white author, buy it at a bookshop owned by a PERSON OF COLOR. With the internet, this should be a snap.

    6. Buy your car (if you must drive such an evil machine) from a dealership owned by a PERSON OF COLOR.

    7. When you purchase a plane ticket, do so from a company owned by PEOPLE OF COLOR.

    8. Every time you purchase a product or service from a white person, donate an amount equal to what you paid to a charity owned and run by PEOPLE OF COLOR.

    [Reply]

    admin Reply:

    I think much of this makes sense, but there are some problems even here. First, keep in mind, white antiracism educators and activists are not literally stealing jobs and money from POC in the way you suggest. We receive privilege being white of course, and I have always discussed that openly. But your understanding of supply and demand is off a bit here. For instance, if I had not written the book White Like Me, would a person of color have written that book, or another one, and the people who bought mine would have gone and bought theirs? No, not likely. The people who read WLM were reading it because it was an entry-point for most of them, to understanding the role of whiteness. It’s not as if they were at the bookstore, looked at the shelf and said, “hmmm, well I could read White Like Me, or, alternately, I could read Diop…well, let’s go with the white guy.” In fact, if anything, people who read WLM and got interested in the subject matter likely went and read things by POC after reading WLM, at a much higher rate than they would have otherwise. In other words, supply creates demand just as often as it crowds it out. Same thing with lectures. I am brought in to speak precisely because the event organizers think the initial intro to race issues for a lot of students will be more effective if it first comes from a white person. This is sad but probably true. But then they bring in people of color afterward (and were doing so before actually–most of the speakers on campus who discuss race are POC, as is appropriate of course), and from what I hear the reception is better than it otherwise would have been, or had been before. I hear the same thing from faculty of color at the campuses, so it may be that white folks doing this kind of work generate more demand for POC as speakers, writers, educators, etc. I don’t know for sure, but it is every bit as plausible as your scenario.

    Secondly, for whites to live in majority POC neighborhoods can create its own problems: it leads to widespread gentrification, which often crowds out housing stock for POC and does great harm. It is not necessarily an antiracist move. Indeed, since institutional racism and housing discrimination is what produces heavily concentrated communities of color, the goal should not be to collaborate with that dynamic so much as to end it. In other words, whites should be challenging other whites, especially in majority white neighborhoods and pushing for open and just housing access in all communities. Also, of course, there are many parts of the country where there are no majority POC neighborhoods to move into, and certainly not enough of them to accommodate your suggestions.

    I agree entirely with the importance of buying goods and services from people of color whenever possible, and buying books and other products created by POC.

    I also believe in donating money to charity, although the problem is bigger than that. I have proposed to several other white folks who in some way or another do antiracism work, the idea that we should set up a fund, to be administered by a foundation/organization run by people of color, to which we would make donations, and which would then distribute those monies to grass roots orgs led by people of color, to do the important work that so often needs resources and doesn’t get them. So far, we haven’t gotten very far in planning this, but it is something I believe in and will keep working at putting together.

    [Reply]

  29. Tim,
    That was the absolute best I have ever read, etc. re: racism and antiracism. Obviously, this is years of thought, work, research, etc. Accept a salary for your talent without defense and write more! When you write you are feeding more then just your own family! You have re-shaped my thoughts which I intend to convert into actions. I also have children and I will teach them this series (in ways they can understand). Simply brilliant.
    I am impressed as well at how you have handled these comments. You are a very balanced person. Thank you.

    [Reply]

  30. Mr. Wise, here is a test that will tell us if you are really an ally to PoC. If you had the power to magically transfer all wealth and property from every White person, yourself included, to People of Color, would you do it?If you say no, you are just another racist White man.

    [Reply]

    admin Reply:

    Transfer “all” wealth? No that is silly, because it presumes that in the absence of white supremacy those of us called white would not have had any wealth at all, and that even in a just society, all wealth would have been in the hands of persons of color. That is a literally insane proposition. I believe in restoring oppressed peoples to the condition in which they would have been absent oppression (to the greatest extent possible), which is why I support substantive reparations. But to transfer all wealth would be to give away even that portion of one’s “stuff” that one would have had, even in a just and decent society. Your test is absurd, and if that’s the only way you’ll be satisfied that one is antiracist, good luck with that…

    [Reply]

  31. Hi Tim. I want to thank you for writing an article which perfectly articulated the type of racism I experience the most. I also appreciate how you do more than wag your finger, but you make suggestions on how one might go about changing their behavior. However, I do believe the right do the above just as much as the left. I think the racism on the right which often makes it into the media are the most extreme cases. But the conservative you might have a passing conversation with in a store is more often to exhibit the behavior above. As such, I believe attributing this type of behavior solely to the left is a bit misleading. I do know the right and the left have varying differences but I believe they are very inline with each other when it comes to the kind of passive racism you described here.

    This article did make me think about how conservative whites might interact with liberal whites when speaking about racism. Maybe when speaking with a white man they are more open about their racism than a liberal white will be with another liberal white. If this article is based on your experiences in liberal white spaces as a white man I think I can understand why some of the comments above might have been put off because as I stated before, as a PoC my experiences with both groups tend to be similar.

    [Reply]

  32. How did the LGBT community vote on prop 209? A google search was fruitless.

    [Reply]

    admin Reply:

    not sure. I know that according to polling data on aff action in general — which I think I may have referenced in my 1998 piece on AA and white women — white lesbians tend to be more pro-AA than any other group of white folks. This is likely because white lesbians are somewhat less tethered to the fortunes of white men, obviously, than straight white women are. So they are not as likely to fall into the trap of defending white male privilege. And they are also more likely to see the import of AA to women, as women. But I haven’t seen actual polling or voting data on how it really went down in CA, either with lesbians or gay men.

    [Reply]

  33. I am a person of color, and I have given the whole notion of–white antiracists stealing jobs from People of Color– a great deal of thought. I can honestly say from my own experience that the white people that I know, take the whole issue of racism very lightly, and would be very hesitant to assist any kind of antiracist/white-privilege speech were it being lead by a black or brown person…and somehow i suspect that this privilege of not needing to hear the racism topic applies to a great majority of whites in this country. I think this leaves us with an alternative on how do we spike their curiosity in terms of bringing their attention to these issues, in which they play a major role without even knowing (and in some cases not wanting to know)…the only answer i think is having a white person address the issue and bring it forth to them as we know they are not interested in listening to minorities, and i have proof of this.

    Now, if we are going to have a white antiracist taking this important message out there, either you do it right or you don’t do it, at least that is my take on it. So what i mean is that you can’t have a man working part-time antiracist, and then full time some other career. This issue needs to much exposure, and it needs it all over the country and persistently. Which brings me to the crucial aspect of my point.

    I can’t see a person like Tim who has dedicated his entire life to doing this kind of work–doing it with some ill ulterior motive (e.g. becoming wealthy at the cost of POC, perpetuating white supremacy, etc)….and although we cannot take these possibilities off the table (as humans are imperfect and unpredictable), the way i see it is that ultimately that would be his problem which he will need to take up with God when his judgement comes (and it will come for all of us), if indeed to cause harm is what is driving him.

    So I don’t think that traveling all over the nation giving speeches, making appearances, speaking at conferences, writing books, etc is something that can be done part-time and at the same time provide for your family…i think it is just not feasible, yet alone logical. As a matter of fact even if he earned a living doing something else (and addressed issues of social justice in his part time), all I would see is another white person living their privileged life and contributing more to the whole system of opression, while dedicating whatever spare time he has left to these important issues…because honestly, one’s family comes before anything else, and that is how it should be, which would mean that his effort would have to be directed more towards his career which would provide for his family.

    So, I am sorry but I rather him earn a living doing antiracist work and speaking to the white population at large…hell, as far as i know he should run for office if possible, and then take that message to a political level. But then again that is just the humble opinion of a POC.

    [Reply]

    admin Reply:

    Thanks for your insights here Ernie. I agree the whole thing is complicated, and I have no problem with folks thinking it’s wrong for whites to do the work, or be paid for it, or whatever. But I hope that the people who make that argument will think it thru, because as logical as it may seem at first, it is far more complicated than that.

    For instance, and in addition to what you said about the part-time/full time problem, and doing antiracism work as a “leftover” or after thought kind of thing:

    We have to remember that in the work I do, there is actually LESS crowding out of POC than there would have been had I gone in any other direction in life, frankly. So, for instance, I write. But I don’t write for magazine or newspapers, where there is a fixed number of slots for articles or op-eds (in which case one could day it’s zero-sum, so if I get a slot, someone else doesn’t). I write for the blogosphere/internet. The blogosphere is literally limitless in that it is not zero sum. It is simply not true that there are a fixed number of potential essays that can get out there, and I’ve used up the available bandwith. Although there is absolutely white and class privilege involved in having access to a computer, being able to pay for a website to go up, etc., if I didn’t write as I do, it would not “free up” writing slots for POC.

    In terms of speeches, it ends up being the same. If the places that bring me in are telling me the truth about why they do it (and I have to assume they are), then if they didn’t bring me, it’s not as if they would just turn to a POC and bring them in. It would just be one less antiracist speech at that institution. Period.

    Now, had I gone in a different direction, what might that have been? Well, I can tell you. I would have either gone to law school and become an attorney, or I would have gotten a PhD, probably in Sociology, and become a professor, or maybe a high school teacher.

    But because of my political and social and philosophical views and passions, I wouldn’t have become, say, a tax attorney, or estate attorney, had I gone that direction. I would have gone into civil rights law, because it;s what I care about. I would have become an attorney who takes discrimination cases or some such thing. Or, had I become a sociologist, because the issue of racism is one that I consider paramount, I would have taught race-related sociology classes at some college. Or, had I become a H.S. teacher, I would have taught history, and from a blatantly antiracist perspective. But here’s the thing: had I done any of those things, I would have literally been taking a slot from someone else, because law firms and orgs that do public interest law really do have a finite amount of resources. And colleges and high schools really do have a limited number of slots to fill. So in those cases, it would be more true than it is now, that I was crowding out others. So if this is to be the standard that some folks think we should go by, it is literally impossible for a white person to ever have a job, anywhere, that involves trying to solve the problem of racism, in any way, without running afoul of it, and being called unethical.

    The bottom line is, I completely get the contradictions of allyship. I get the conflict. It’s real, and we have to be mindful of it, those of us who engage in this effort. And issues of accountability and method are always welcome discussions and helpful. The problem is when we take the leap from that place to a place that says it is inherently unethical for a white person to “profit” from the very suffering they speak against. And the reason that is jacked up is, so long as the problem exists white people are going to profit from it, whether we’re challenging it or not. So to be ethical, according to this thinking, whites would have to simply profit from it, but NOT challenge it, so as to avoid seeming like a hypocrite. So note the equation: profiting from fighting injustice = unethical, so therefore, ethical = not profiting from fighting injustice, which means not fighting injustice, since, as you note and as I argued before, if one has to do something else for a living, to “profit,” one will not have time to do much else.

    Also, by this standard, ethics would require that no white doctors every provide health care to people of color (or at least never to charge for it, even via an insurance company or government program) since to do so is to “profit” from the bad health of folks of color, which bad health was made worse by racism. I mean, the logic becomes an infinite regression, since any time a person’s job involves trying to solve a social problem (whether it’s racism, homelessness, illness, poverty, domestic violence, etc) they are, to some extent “benefitting” from the suffering of others, and “dependent” on that suffering for their livelihood. But if that makes the jobs they/we do unethical, then ethics would require that no one try and solve problems. Or at least that no one in the dominant group ever try and do so, which logically would only make the problem harder to solve it seems, not easier.

    Or so it seems to me. Thanks again for the input

    [Reply]

  34. Thanks for this great critique of myopia in activist communities. Speaking as a woman of color, I know that my voice is discounted or ignored when I say such things. So I don’t think that you are stealing shine from my people, because I KNOW people who listen to you would never listen to me. Sad but undoubtedly true…

    [Reply]

  35. “But I hope that the people who make that argument will think it thru, because as logical as it may seem at first, it is far more complicated than that.”

    But that’s the thing though. You’re still keeping Whiteness front and center in all of this. Try looking at it from the POV of POCs, and you’ll see what some of the criticisms are getting at: that POCs are expected to do the same things you’re doing for free. I address this more at my blog.

    [Reply]

    admin Reply:

    @RVCBard – I gotcha, and I see that problem. But recognition of that does not point in any direction as far as telling us what we who are white should and should not do. To begin with, most of the people getting paid for antiracism efforts are people of color, as is both logical and perfectly just. So many are not doing it for free, nor expected to. And I think people of color should indeed be paid and paid well for their wisdom on the issue, and that’s among the reasons I am very deliberate about telling places where I speak, and the organizers of those events, that it is not enough to bring me in. They must also bring in people of color to speak about these issues. I have steered them directly to such persons, and although I cannot control whether they do it or not, I can control whether I will work with them again, and my policy is not to do so unless they also bring in people of color in the interim. Now, I realize this creates a gatekeeping role, in that when I give out names and information on people of color/orgs of color they could be working with in the future, I can’t give the names of everyone out there. But I try to offer a broad range of folks, and not merely those with whom i agree, etc.

    The bottom line is, the fact that POC need to be heard on this matter, and principally so, says nothing, practically about either the ethics of, or the practical benefits of, white people also speaking out, and doing it full time. Unless there is real evidence — not conjecture but evidence — that white people (even the relative handful of us there are who do it full time) are actually crowding out voices and taking work away from people of color, rather than increasing the overall amount of antiracist exposure, thinking, etc (and thereby stimulating more demand for it, including the work of people of color), then there is no final takeaway from this larger argument. And I have seen zero evidence thusfar. And not because I haven’t looked for it. I have, because it is something anyone trying to act with integrity has to think about. But I see no evidence for it, and lots of evidence that seems to suggest the opposite.

    [Reply]

  36. Yeah, I asked before I had gotten that far in the other piece.

    It would be interesting, though, to have gotten those numbers. More searches did give results of national, state, and civic organizations that opposed prop 209, some of which where LGBT organization. Still, I just don’t recall such anxiety for the national LGBT community concerning the passage of prop 209. More indication of privilege, I presume? I’m sure I’m not the first to say this, probably not the first to make this comment here: it seems like the white LGBT is more interested in retaining white privilege than it is justice for all.

    Moving on, the data on the impact climate change is having on people of color globally is what I find most appalling. The environmental movement could use that data to bring the entire black community on board as well as knock down common conservative tropes.

    I remember once years ago hearing of western polution destroying African agriculture. The a few months later, Tucker Carlson (back before I realized who he was as I’ve only been paying attention to politics since college) ridiculed the idea and I heard nothing since. Even after polution from China was supposed to have effect Washington state’s weather. Nonetheless, conservatives are quick to dismiss the notion that the West owes Africa any apology, much less reparations. And for all the money W Bush did support going to Africa (albeit with strings attached), it pales in comparison to what Africa could do with $600billion directly in the hands of regular people, or at the very least, circulating the African economy with not IMF or World Bank strings attached.

    Moreover, for all the criticizing of Obama for allowing the Right to be so effective in attacking Van Jones, who last I checked maintains he didn’t intend to sign the truther petition, as well as Shirley Sherrod – at least the NAACP came out and issued an apology and black activists were demonstrably upset and supported Sherrod from the beginning. I can’t recall much support from environmentalists for Jones.

    [Reply]

  37. “Actually, I don’t believe in the right of any group to an ethnic/religious homeland, Jew or not, and certainly not on other people’s land.”

    DOES NOT COMPUTE. If said “other people” (who, in actuality, were mostly tenant farmers) don’t have the right to an ethnic homeland, then how can it be their land? If it’s not their land, how can you say that anyone stole it?

    “I believe in restoring oppressed peoples to the condition in which they would have been absent oppression (to the greatest extent possible),”

    Except your own oppressed people. Apparently 2000 years of various empires forcibly putting us down and keeping us out of our own country has suddenly stopped counting as oppression.

    [Reply]

    Tim Reply:

    @ Eli – you miss my point: I don’t believe anyone has a “right” to claim particular land, especially when it is not only they who have lived there. Remember, the early Zionists didn’t even talk about Palestine. Herzl was talking about parts of South America, or even Uganda at one point. He fastened on Palestine because he could make the age-old religious case based on fundamentalist reading of Scripture, so it was a smart move, but not ethical or righteous.

    And I don’t believe Jews, absent oppression, would have all, or mostly lived in Palestine. We would have spread out like others. And the “greatest extent possible” line obviously means that if restoring us to Palestine means oppressing non-jews, which it does, it is unjust, and I cannot support it and will not.

    [Reply]

  38. The bottom line is, the fact that POC need to be heard on this matter, and principally so, says nothing, practically about either the ethics of, or the practical benefits of, white people also speaking out, and doing it full time.

    I know that this discussion won’t resolve itself with a few blog posts, but what you’re saying now highlights a serious problem with anti-racist activism. The fact that you are, even despite your intentions, functioning as something of a gatekeeper is a problem. And, to be blunt, a problem that’s bigger than you. I can’t give you concrete things to do because I don’t live your life, but I would encourage you to challenge the tendency of White people (and men) to assume that all the best ideas have to come from themselves, to assume they need to be in control in order to do the most good. I’m a big believer in putting it out there if it really means something to you. Even something as simple as, “This is a problem. I refuse to accept this, but I don’t know what to do. Can you help me?”

    [Reply]

  39. “I hadn’t considered the interconnectedness of global warming or healthcare and racism. How do you bring it up and break that colormuteness, though, without giving the impression that you bring race up too much, ascribe everything to race? Race certainly impacts a lot and maybe absolutely every system has a racial component, but I’ve been criticized for “seeing racism everywhere”. (Or do you just do it and risk the dismissal?) And how do you bring people of color into a liberal movement in a way that doesn’t just seem like looking for token members? I mean this on a small scale. I don’t have a lot of non-white friends and I don’t want to harangue the ones I do have by asking them to join causes in which they have no interest. Thank you. (I come from the ranks of the colorblind, so these questions shouldn’t be construed as anything but genuine ignorance.)”

    Yeah, I think that is a valid concern. After all, ALL these issues are connected. Race, ecological concerns, animal rights concerns, statism, militarism, imperialism, white privilege, sexism, patriarchy, ageism… they’re all part of a network. So putting aside the fear of being viewed as always talking about race no matter the topic, there’s the simple fact that if we want to bring up every relevant connection, we get paralyzed incredibly quickly.

    I think, though, that the issues are

    a) Movement-wide. So while I individually may not handle all the dozens of areas above, I’m part of a movement that has all those concerns and speaks about them. Similarly, our research needs to be specialized that way.
    b) If we see that a particular movement ISN’T galvanizing attention among a group, then we do have to ask why. Left movements are famously good at marginalizing women, racial and ethnic minorities, and the poor and working class in general.
    c) Theoretical. So I might be talking about the ecology at this point, but it’s important that I have a THEORY that understands that the ecology is connected to all these other factors.

    Ecological racism and imperialism has attracted a lot of attention recently, so I think this is a perfectly understandable linkage.

    Malik continues to babble absurdities. I understand where he’s coming from, but his proposals boil down to insanity, are utterly unimplementable, and have the effect of making us feel good (or bad) about ourselves but not accomplishing anything.

    [Reply]

  40. Really liked this piece, and the preceding one! I saw much of these problematic liberal-racist issues playing out when I was in graduate school.

    In the past you’ve compared racism to alcoholism and I think that’s a very accurate analogy. The great theologian Walter Wink writes says “I’m a violent person trying to live non-violently.” I consider myself a liberal racist trying to live “non-racistly.” There’s always more to learn, always mistakes to correct and always new ways to be culturally humble.

    [Reply]

  41. Tim, you asked me a question you seriously wanted an answer to, and I’ve answered it, but as far as I can tell, my response is still awaiting moderation. Perhaps you missed it.

    [Reply]

    Tim Reply:

    @ Parse – yes, I’m sorry. What happened is, first, I had started this long response to your perfectly legit reply, and then damned if I didn’t hit a key that somehow deleted the whole thing, and then I couldn’t get it back for some reason. So I thought about re-doing it but didn’t have the energy that night. Then the issue came up elsewhere — about pay and made the argument about whether there’s a difference between doing antiracism work full time as a writer/speaker, or being a professor, or teacher, or some other professional who does antiracism work in that capacity — and so I decided to just let those explanations/points stand on their own, for good or bad. I should have let you know though. Sorry about that…

    [Reply]

  42. Essay (and the comment discussions) are intense. I absolutely need to bring you to my school district Tim. In a very diverse district where often, the commentary includes avoiding discussion about the race specific aspects of the achievement gap because, well, we’re in Super Liberal City and we’re beyond that. Besides, didn’t you know the new liberal mantra is all about the culture of poverty? I’ve heard many of the “I voted for Barack” comments and been walked to many a car with an Obama ’08 sticker on it with the passive implication being “well, I voted for Obama”. (smile). I want to share this essay with my Senior Leadership team.

    [Reply]

  43. hey tim,
    this is a fantastic set of articles. i especially liked the analysis of colorblindness/muteness. but i would also like to say that my mouth dropped when i read your downright rude response to yan, including the appeal to your credentials and unnecessary plugging of your books as a defense. i’m glad you owned it and apologized, but seriously? i’m just still surprised and disappointed…

    “and the desire of much of the LGBT activist community to present an image of normalcy (as in, “we’re just like straight folks”) is based on a white middle class understanding of what constitutes normal.”

    i think this nailed it. the mainstream gay movement (i would hesitate to call it queer or even lgbt, given its history of throwing trans folks under the bus) has shown its racism, not only through its erasure of queer people of color, but in its response to prop. 8. However, while the mainstream movement takes up a lot of space and has some dollars and fame behind it, that doesn’t mean it represents “much of the LGBT activist community,” as you state. i’m sure you know that the money and publicity behind a particular movement are a poor gauge of how many actual activists are behind it, so why this wording? saying the assimilationist (and racist, classist, and transphobic) practices of the mainstream gay movement represents “much of the LGBT activist community” is misleading, at best. why not simply say “many mainstream gay activists” or some variation?

    regarding the debate about white folks who “profit” from speaking against racism, i think it depends on how one defines “profit.” due to the reasons you and others on here have articulated, i have no moral qualms with white folks making a living doing antiracist work, but i would take issue with white folks “profiting” from it.

    “profiting” can obviously mean a number of different things. to me, in this context profiting would mean making more than a modest income (another difficult thing to define) from doing the work. even the question of where the “modest income” line is drawn aside, one cant necessarily control or restrict their income, so then what to do with the extra? its something i’ve often wondered about you tim, and other white folks who get paid for this work, how much does it actually pay? and what do you do with the “extra” – the stuff that goes above and beyond comfortable living requirements? i know its a pointed question, but i think its relevant to an ethical debate about white folks profiting from AR work.

    the other way i see white folks “profiting” from this work is the almost celebrity status they sometimes get from it (and this goes beyond white folks’ ability to be taken more seriously by other whites on issues of race. In a lot of white academic and progessive spaces i’ve been in, Tim Wise has this sort of “chosen-one” status –the end all and beat all of antiracism (notice the lack of “white” as a qualifier before that).

    so for white folks making a living from this work i would ask: how do you work against that phenomenon? and where does the money which comes from this work go?

    [Reply]

  44. In looking at the multitude of issues addressed here, the White Left would indeed do better for itself by becoming more aware of the racial dimensions of many issues of frontburner concern to them and be willing to address the direct concerns of racial minority groups.
    But my primary disagreement with the extensive article is an assertion made towards the bottom of the section on “Blatant White Privilege and Perspectivism On the Left.” Although the liberal side of affirmative action and welfare reform battles may well lose anyway, calling out the racism of the Rightist opposition (and by extension of conservative voters) will not cause mere “short-term backlash and anger.” This implication that by calling conservative voters racist they will thereby examine the purity of their own motives and “what really drives them” will not be the case. They will do no such thing; and in fact will dig in their heels still more and even be energized by the accusation, seeing a state of all-out political warfare with the Left because the latter has engaged in “name-calling.” Indeed the Right will accuse the Left of falling back on Political Correctness, of merely using the racism charge in deliberate bad faith as a means of silencing any criticisms of affirmative action policies, welfare policies, etc. These are highly predictable responses the Right generally makes in these situations; and calling out the racism of conservative voters as a central strategy in fact may marginally INCREASE the number of voters casting ballots against affirmative action, welfare, etc. Individuals who have pointed out that the rabid hatred of President Obama is substantially motivated by racism have already been accused by the Right of a bad faith effort to silence any criticism of the President.
    So in fact conservative anti-affirmative action and anti-welfare voters will not be inspired to reexamine their positions by being charged with racism, even if the accusation is fully true. If the Left argues that a liberal approach which ignores conservative racism will lose anyway, or that political morality demands that they call out racism regardless of the consequences, they shouldn’t harbor any illusions that this somehow represents a winning politics. It does not; and liberals who argue that bringing up conservative racism is a sure-fire losing proposition are absolutely correct. If Michael Eric Dyson argues that President Obama runs away from the race issue as a “Black man runs from a cop,” this is because the President and his advisers know that directly engaging the racism of their opponents will ruin both his reelection chances and his political viability. The backlash is more than merely short-term; and if the goal is to convert conservative voters, directly calling out their racism is a losing strategy. The truth of such a challenge does not matter.

    [Reply]

    Tim Reply:

    @ Chris Osborne – all I can tell you is that you need to read the literature on this matter. I reference a lot of it in my book, and it actually says that calling out racism works better than ignoring it or trying to finesse it. You are simply wrong, and are not referencing research to make your point. The data says your intuitive argument is simply incorrect. Yes, one has to be careful how one does it: you can’t just come out and say “your;e a racist,” and expect that to work, but there are ways to engage it, call it out, and do so effectively…

    [Reply]

  45. Tim, this has been a great conversation. I have only one request:Everyone should identify themselves as either a white person or as a PERSON OF COLOR at the beginning of their comments. The most important thing that we can know about a person is weather they are white or a PERSON OF COLOR.

    [Reply]

  46. Just goes to show that Willie Lynch’s philosophy/plan is still at work and is working today.Perhaps more covert than overt,but no less insidious.

    [Reply]

  47. I’m sorry, that should have read “whether,” not “weather.”

    [Reply]

  48. Wow, Tim. Defensive much?

    [Reply]

    Tim Reply:

    about what in particular, since I’m not clear what you thought seemed defensive?

    [Reply]

  49. And dismissive of what ACTUAL, REAL PoC are telling you. And you’re supposed to be all about LISTENING to us? You’re venturing into “What do you ungratefuly, inconsolable darkies expect us poor, put-upon White people to DO?!” territory.

    I guess listening to us is fine when you need to gather material but not when we lowly culluds dare to criticize you.

    [Reply]

    Tim Reply:

    where did I say anything like that? I have merely tried to articulate why I disagree with the notion that white people have no role to play, or why if we do, we should only do it for free, etc. That’s not defensiveness, it’s an argument, which may or may not be valid. But you offer no counter to them. You just throw out ad hominems…nice try

    [Reply]

  50. Good stuff tim.
    I want to pick your brain a little on the class reductionism topic. I am not a class reductionist, but I also do not want to fall into the situation of working for a multi-cultural neoliberal capitalism. Is there any way you see of getting to a desired society (my goal is an anarchist society) without passing through the stop of multi-cultural capitalism first, whereafter we can focus on class more clearly because classes based on identities have been undone? Do we have to get to the situation, say, that the scandanavians are in, where they all see themselves as the same except for their class divisions, before we can fight class society?
    I am interested in fighting against it all at the same time, fighting identity based as well as class based inequality. Where is the path that does not bring us to either classlessness only within identities, nor to a class society without identity-based classes?

    [Reply]

    Tim Reply:

    Ok, but I;m still not clear on what was particularly defensive about my comments. As for getting paid, I should note that, in fact, of all the people in this country getting paid for speaking out against racism, I’d be willing to bet that at least 9 out of 10 are people of color, as is perfectly legit and understandable. So the notion that white folks have somehow taken over the work is not really accurate. I’m not saying it couldn’t become a problem, and surely we must be mindful of it, but it doesn’t appear to be the case right now, despite whatever attention I get.

    [Reply]

  51. [...] feels particularly timely to me because of this piece on Racialicious and this piece Tim Wise wrote. You should read them. [...]

  52. Mr. Wise, when you speak before White audiences, do you acknowledge your own racism? Every white person is a racist. However, some White people admit their racism, while others hide it. Do you hide the hatred and fear that you feel for PEOPLE of COLOUR? If you do conceal it, you are useless as a speaker against racism.

    [Reply]

    Tim Reply:

    I acknowledge my own internalized racism, yes, in speeches and my memoir, White Like Me, at several different points.

    [Reply]

  53. I did not say you WERE a “What do you ungratefuly, inconsolable darkies expect us poor, put-upon White people to DO?!” type of White person. I did not say you were in “What do you ungratefuly, inconsolable darkies expect us poor, put-upon White people to DO?!” territory. I said that you were venturing into that territory.

    And no, not saying Whites have no role to play in anti-racism. But forgive us lowly culluds when we notice that those who do anti-racism work seem to get monetarily compensated more easily and in greater amounts than PoC who do the same work and we wonder why even if we wonder why out loud.

    [Reply]

  54. Ok, but I’m still not clear on what was particularly defensive about my comments.

    It would be pointless to do a sentence-by-sentence breakdown, but I’ll just say that I’m seeing it in response to criticisms being voiced here. Even if you don’t seem to want to admit it, you’re very much the Elvis Presley of anti-racism. And we all know (at least, POCs, especially Black people) how that turned out for Black musicians

    [Reply]

    Tim Reply:

    Disagreement is not defensiveness though, or at least not necessarily. If I disagree with a particular argument or critique, it does not suggest a psychological state per se. It could just be honest disagreement. I have tried to explain, as logically as I can, why I disagree with the notions that a) my work crowds out people of color, b) I shouldn’t be involved in this work, or if so, should do so for essentially free, etc, and c) it hurts the larger struggle. I could be wrong on any or all of these points. But if I am, there must be some evidence of it. Drawing analogies to Elvis is not evidence. It is ad hominem.

    If my work crowds out people of color or hurts the struggle, then there must be evidence. Present it, and explain why my reply (which made the point that supply can also generate demand, and not just for my words but the work of POC too) is wrong. Explain how blogging crowds out bloggers of color, how speaking crowds out speakers of color, etc. As for the issue of pay, that’s more philosophical, obviously, than something that is about “proof.” It’s about what one believes is or is not ethical. I have tried to make the case for why I do not think it is inherently unethical for a white person to do antiracism writing and educating professionally, although I absolutely agree that there are real issues about HOW one does the work. And not only is that a valid issue, but that’s an issue I am completely open to feedback and criticism on. I’ve gotten lots of that kind of criticism over the years, and have integrated those insights into my work. But there is a difference between discussing “what are the responsibilities of white antiracists to people of color and communities of color?” on the one hand, and saying, on the other, “whites should just stop talking about racism, or only talk about it in a volunteer capacity,” or some such thing, for reasons I’ve tried, perhaps unsuccessfully, to lay out.

    [Reply]

  55. Regarding BLACK DEVIL’s question regarding transferring wealth and property to PEOPLE OF COLOR, you call his question “silly.” All of the land currently owned by white people in Australia, the USA, New Zealand, Canada, South Africa, Zimbabwe, and Israel/Palestine was stolen (either through brute force or via “legal” chicanery)from PEOPLE OF COLOR. Do you think attempts to restore this stolen property to its rightful owners is silly?

    [Reply]

    Tim Reply:

    I called the suggestion to transfer ALL of the wealth, “silly” because it presumes that in the absence of white supremacy whites would have zero wealth; that ALL the wealth in the hands of whites is because of white supremacy, which of course makes no sense. Whites would have had wealth, albeit less of it, even without WS. That’s all. I favor substantive reparations. I do not think there is any sense in suggesting that it ALL be transferred. There is also the issue of feasibility. There is simply no way to transfer wealth and land to the extent he was calling for. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have serious recompense and reparation. It means that we also have to examine facts on the ground, however, and see where they lead us. So, for instance, it is not practical to say that all persons who are not indigenous to North America must now leave (including black folks, it should be noted) so as to return that land to its original inhabitants (especially since indigenous ancestry is not easily discerned, except by using inherently racist notions of blood quantum, which were not Indian notions, but white men’s notions). But we should, in my estimation, ensure that native peoples are entirely sovereign, have total control of and benefit from the resources under their soil, which are regularly extracted by the government, and have real reparations made, both for those on and off reservation land.

    [Reply]

  56. Tim,

    This piece was brilliant. As a professor of women’s studies and African American studies at a large public Southern University, I can directly attest to the fact that white students consistently tell me that they are more open to hearing my strident critiques of racism after listening to one of your speeches or reading one of your essays, which I routinely assign in my classes. So I absolutely dismiss the ridiculousness of those folks in this thread who attempt to critique you for doing anti-racist work seriously. One of the things that gave your work credibility to me was your willingness to acknowledge that your anti-racist propositions have the currency they have because you are a white man. You tacitly and regularly acknowledge this in your work. You do not presume that there is something special about race/racism that you are saying that Black folks haven’t been saying; instead you use your privilege to dismantle privilege among privileged folks, because you acknowledge that you have access to some spaces and some audiences that we will simply never have access to. I think folks are being ridiculous to assume that you shouldn’t make a living at what you do. It just doesn’t logically compute. As a sidenote, I help book speakers on my campus, and I can tell you that booking you, in no way affects our willingness to book other anti-racist thinkers. In fact, often we aren’t even thinking of bringing those folks to campus at all, precisely because we know that students and liberal faculty would not attend. That critique is simply not borne out by the evidence for those folks who are asserting it.

    What I do know is that when I step into my classroom and teach white kids to dismantle their privilege, all the while they are resisting me because I am a Black woman, Ph.D. not withstanding, your work becomes a critical tool in opening closed minds. After they hear you, they hear me more clearly. So I know that your work makes my work easier, and I don’t think I’m taking anything away from all the wonderful anti-racist Black scholars I teach and read to acknowledge that. Thank you for your respectful engagement with those whose critiques are misguided. And let’s be clear. I understand their frustration. It is very disheartening that it takes a white man to speak to the world about racism more effectively and often with more credibility and presumed authority than those of us who are forced to live with the material realities of racism everyday. But when we do the work of transformation, one of our end goals is to see transformed white folks, who are much more thoughtful about the operations of racism and white privilege in their daily lives. So your work is evidence of the power of our work to change lives. Why don’t folks see that? And more so than that, when I ask kids that come from rural Southern spaces to go back into their communities and challenge racism, they need to see a model for how that might look. They need to know that there are white folks who have done it passionately, authentically, and with integrity. You are a model for that. Moreover, when my Black students encounter your work, they literally breathe easier. Many of them will come and up tell me that they are shocked that there is a “white person who gets it.” They don’t feel as much pressure to represent an anti-racist point of view. And the next time they are in a discussion and they aren’t being heard or they need some backup, they now know that they can Youtube Tim Wise and there is some help for them, a quick link that they can share with their white counterparts who might not get it. I think that is absolutely powerful. And when you put it in context, your work benefits students in countless ways. So disregard the haters. You keep writing, we’ll keep teaching, and transformation will come.

    [Reply]

  57. Well, Mr. Wise, you failed my little test for white people. If given the power to magically transfer all wealth held by whites to PEOPLE OF COLOR, you would refuse to act. Fine. Let’s look at your reasoning. In your response you say, “Transfer “all” wealth? No that would be silly, because it presumes that in the absence of white supremacy those of us called white would not have had any wealth at all….”

    “Would not have had any wealth at all…” Well, what would whites have today, minus their thefts from PEOPLE OF COLOR? Let’s see what we would have to subtract: all the wealth that the white Jews stole from the Canaanites; all the wealth that Alexander the Great (love how a white butcher gets called “great”)and his Hellenistic Greek successors stole from Egypt and Asia, all the wealth that the white Romans stole from North Africa and Asia, all the wealth that the white Crusaders stole from the Middle East, all the wealth that the white Spaniards stole when they destroyed the Islamic realm of Al-Andalus, all the wealth that whites gained from the occupation of the Americas, all the wealth that white people gained from the occupation of Australia, all the wealth that white people gained from the occupation of New Zealand, all the wealth that white people gained from the African slave trade, all the wealth that white people gained from the subjugation of India, all the wealth that white people gained from ruling Africa, all the wealth that white people gained from the Chinese Opium Trace, all of the wealth that white people get from the occupation of Palestine,….Obviously, I could just keep going, as I have barely scratched the surface.

    So, Mr. Wise, if all of that wealth were given back to PEOPLE OF COLOR, what would whites have left? Heck, let’s keep it simple. Every bit of of land owned by whites in the USA and Canada (hat-tip to AZTEC LADY)was stolen from PEOPLE OF COLOR. How much wealth would whites have, if they either returned the land or paid fair market value for it?

    [Reply]

    Tim Reply:

    The jews of antiquity were not white. It is debatable about Alexander, actually…not white under modern standards, in all likelihood. The Greeks were not white.

    Your argument also assumes that had “whites” not done those things they would have done nothing. They would have just sat around in the caves of Europe twiddling their thumbs. In other words, your argument is still essentialist. It amounts to saying: these set of things happened. They resulted in mass plunder and theft (true and true). And thus, the descendants of those who did these things should now have nothing. They should be literally left to starve, in effect, because they would have had nothing BUT for that plunder. The fact is, justice is about restoring people to where they would have been, to the greatest extent possible. We can’t be sure where that would have been, but we can be sure it would be far different than now. So then the question is, what do we do? We can realistically begin to make massive reparations. We can just start expelling people (which would require mass bloodshed, and anyone who endorses that kind of thing on my page will be banned. I’m not putting up with that kind of thing here, from anyone. And I am not under any obligation to do so), we can just kill all the white folks (I”m sure some folks would be cool with that, though never are they themselves particularly revolutionary in action), or we can figure out some way to restore sovereignty to POC, autonomy to POC, real power to POC, and the like. I do not pretend to know how to do any of this effectively. But I cannot believe that anyone on here really believes that we can, should, or will be able to just get rid of the white folks…but if that is what your level of hatred requires, cool, Good luck with that.

    [Reply]

    Tim Reply:

    Continuing on this line of thought, and to clarify my thoughts on the matter:

    The problem in determining what justice would require is in figuring out the proper starting point for analysis I suppose.

    To some who have posted here, and suggested that justice means getting whites out of the U.S., for instance (or anywhere else except, I assume, our European countries of origin), there is a bright and uninterrupted line of complete and total evil, beginning with the jews of antiquity (who were not actually white but why let facts get in the way of a good all encompassing story), extending through to the Greeks (whose whiteness, and certainly in pre-modern terms, is questionable too), all the way to the genocides perpetrated against Africans, indigenous Americans, Palestinians, etc.

    The problem with this, in my estimation, is that it ignores the practical reality that we are here, wherever we are, now. And every one of us, in the U.S., like it or not, is a product of people who were only brought together in the first place because of the system of oppression. Literally, pretty much no one in the U.S. today, white or of color, would even exist but for that system. We of European descent are descended from people who wouldn’t have likely even met in the “old countries,” and so too those here of African descent. Our particular histories are forever bound up with that. Which means we cannot literally, or even logically say, “let’s restore African Americans, or Latinos, or Asian Americans to the place they would have been in the entire absence of white supremacy,” as there would be no such people, just as there would be no European Americans, or “whites” (since that term was created in the colonies, frankly, for its current purposes) I realize there probably would have come to be some of each group, as eventually, Africans, Europeans and Asians would have all navigated the globe and settled in the Americas, even without white supremacy, but surely not in the numbers that currently exist, and certainly not in the exact combinations that brought about currently living beings.

    So, given that, it seems to me that justice requires starting with the realization that we must begin by knowing that perfect justice can never be done, because we can’t undo the length of time involved, whether we put it in terms of thousands of years, or “merely” say, 500 or so. But we CAN say that those who find themselves in a certain place, should not have greater opportunity/rights/access/resources than others in that place. And we can say that laws, policies and practices should aim to bring about that rough equity, that in the absence of injustice right now, would exist naturally.

    Yes, I realize that this still leaves in place the injustice that brought us in contact to begin with, but we’re here, and that’s the bottom line. While there is no injustice in denying to whites the extra-opportunity that comes from white privilege and supremacy still very much in place (since we were not morally entitled to that anyway), to say that, a) in the absence of WS, we wouldn’t even be here, and therefore b) we should have no rights at all, and maybe should be expelled, and that c) even if we were slaughtered there would be no unique injustice in that (and yes, some have said this, though I have deleted their comments from these threads as I am not going to give voice to people who advocate genocide) is neither acceptable, nor logical. Not acceptable because in the absence of injustice black people in the U.S wouldn’t be here either, and so by the logic of this argument they too have no rights unless indigenous folks wish to grant them.

    Obviously, black folks are not responsible for having ancestors that were kidnapped and brought here forcibly — and thus, once they are here they deserve total equity from that day forward — and so too, white folks are not responsible for having ancestors who did the kidnapping. This last clause does NOT mean that we are not responsible for the unjust privilege and extra-opportunity we derive, so do not misread this as suggesting otherwise. That is a living thing that exists and must be addressed. But to say that that responsibility cancels our right to live here at all is nonsensical, and can only lead to mass bloodshed. If today’s white and black folks, for instance, are here, and none are strictly to blame, or to receive credit for what has happened before, the proper solution is equity. Real equity, not the phony kind we speak of in this country, but real equity. It means white folks should not have the dispro wealth, income, positions of status, etc that we have. That extra is the measure of injustice, which can rightly speak of redistributing, without running afoul of any rational standard of justice. But to say that because person x got thing y, because of injustice z, all persons descended from person x should forever and always have nothing at all, places around them a totalizing burden from which they can never escape. It also ensures that they will, forever and always, view themselves as the implacable enemies of persons of color, who they will–if this mindset came to dominate–see as seeking to destroy them. How that can be practically helpful in the fight against WS is befuddling to me.

    The question is: are we more concerned with rhetoric and scaring the white folks with talk of “no free speech,” and “expulsion” and “fuck you if you don’t like it,” or are we wanting to actually make folks lives better and save the planet from the destruction that it faces unless WS is eradicated? I can’t see how the rhetoric of “y’all are all the descendants of evil monsters, and so you are evil monsters too, so get the hell out of the U.S.” manages to do anything but make the people who say it feel better.

    One other point, going back to the Mugabe discussion:

    To say that Mugabe deserves thanks for crushing WS in Zimbabwe is also an odd claim. He did not crush WS at all. Ask yourself: does Zimbabwe have a functioning health care system? Schools? Currency? Food supply system? Are the people doing well? The answers, to each are “no.” Ah, now of course the reason is, in large part, the system of WS strangling the nation (and all of Africa) for so long. Agreed. But to the extent WS is capable of doing that, then it has not been eradicated. WS continues to dictate the lives of Zimbabweans even more than the dictator in Zimbabwe itself, In other words, much as Stalin’s belief that you could build socialism in one country was wrong, the notion that you can end WS in one nation is also wrong. Just as with capital, white supremacy is deployed globally and so the fight against it has to be global. There is no way to end it in one place at one time.

    [Reply]

  58. I guess all us darkies should just shut up when Massa Tim talks. Yowsu, Boss.

    [Reply]

    Tim Reply:

    @ Mr. Black – right, sure, because that is exactly what I said. Thanks for the clarity here…

    [Reply]

  59. Tim,

    Could you please stop lumping me with everyone else and putting words in my mouth and engage with the words I’m actually saying?

    What you’re doing right here is what’s really frustrating about talking to White men about race. Seriously. You’re doing some heavy whitemansplaining, and you’re not really listening. You’re spending more time demanding evidence for a point I never made than you are really engaging with the concerns I’m bringing up.

    You don’t want to listen. You just want to win. And ironically proving your point about criticisms of White liberals.

    So, there you have it. You’re right. I’m wrong. And I’ll keep my mouth shut since I clearly have no idea what I’m talking about, and I’m too stupid to understand you.

    I don’t expect this to see the light of day because I’m not striking the right tone (ain’t that ironic!), but there you have it.

    Signed,

    Queer Woman of Color Dismissed by White Anti-racist Activist

    [Reply]

    Tim Reply:

    I was honestly wanting to understand the argument you were making. To understand it, I just wanted to see some evidence to suggest that my position was wrong. I am not sure why that is wrong of me, or “white” of me, but if you say so, OK. I just wanted to see where you were coming from. But for asking for clarification, I am being a white man. Ok, I get it now I guess..

    [Reply]

    Anika Reply:

    I have a feeling that many of these posters with these bizarre posts about transferring all wealth to POC, etc. probably aren’t really black. Just a hunch!

    [Reply]

  60. Please excuse my poor English.

    Tim, you say that you “favor substantial reparations.” How substantial? The value of the land taken from PEOPLE OF COLOR in Australia, New Zealand, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Palestine, Canada, and the USA is enormous. What fraction of this amount do you regard as “substantial?”

    Tim, you made the following statement: “it is not practical to say that all persons who are not indigenous to North America must now leave (including black folks, it should be noted)so as to return that land to its original inhabitants…”

    I never said that PEOPLE OF COLOR should leave. PEOPLE OF COLOR are brothers and sisters. It is white people who set us against each other. It is the whites who have stolen the land, not PEOPLE OF COLOR. It is sad to see you, Tim, playing the old white colonialist trick of trying to play one group of PEOPLE OF COLOR against another.Since all PEOPLE OF COLOR are the victims of whites, all PEOPLE OF COLOR will be allowed to stay.

    Why is it impractical for all white people to relinquish the land that they have stolen and leave? White people left India. White people are leaving Zimbabwe.White people are leaving South Africa. White people should give up the property that they have stolen and leave.

    [Reply]

    Tim Reply:

    But your assumption that all POC can stay because all are brothers and sisters presumes then that there can NEVER be, and never have been white allies in the struggle against white supremacy. That argument is both historically absurd and untrue, and also presumes some essential biological or cultural trait in those of us called white that renders us forever, as enemies of POC. That argument is fundamentally bigoted because it presumes something inherently evil about whites. Fact is, my people didn’t really want to come here. No one who left Europe and came to this country, except for a very few elites, wanted to leave their countries of origin and come to the Americas, as James Baldwin famously noted. They came because they were unable to “make it” in their home countries, just as Mexican and Central American migrants come for that reason today, or Southeast Asians, etc. Or they came, in the case of others like the Russian side of my family, to escape pogroms. To suggest that my family’s desperation journey doesn’t matter (because, after all, we came to a land that had previously been inhabited by POC and then were allowed to “become white” over time–which is true of course), and yet any person of color anywhere who comes, can stay is to make a distinction that makes little logical sense it seems. Once here, my ancestors could have–according to your logic–immediately joined the struggle against white supremacy, and it wouldn’t matter. Their mere existence on this land would mean they were enemies of POC and should be expelled. What people do no longer matters. It only matters where they are from, or perhaps their genetic ancestry.

    It is clear that some who are posting here will not be happy until whites are either dead or all relegated to some tiny plot of land somewhere in Europe. Well, it isn’t going to happen, nor would any rational standard of justice require it. So some of you who think that is a workable program need to either start whatever race war you like to talk about — just like skinheads write me with all kinds of evil crap about killing Jews or whatever — or else go play games elsewhere. But as is often the case, the folks who scream the loudest do very little to actually bring about the world they envision. So, in the end, I’m not sure how important any of the verbiage is.

    [Reply]

  61. Tim, the USA is a monument to white power. Go to Washington, DC,: nearly every monument is dedicated to a white tyrant or institution: The Washington Monument and the very name of the city, both named after a slave owning killer of POC; the Jefferson Memorial, dedicated to a slave owning murderer and rapist of POC; the Iwo Jima Memorial, commemorating the slaughter of tens of thousands of POC;the FDR Memorial, dedicated to the architect of concentration camps for POC and the butcher of hundreds of thousands of POC in the Pacific; the Lincoln Memorial, dedicated to a vile hater and oppressor of POC, etc.

    All of these monuments are a slap in the face to POC, a constant reminder of of our subjugation. Tim, as a “white anti-racist” speaker, you can help to persuade whites to tear these monuments down. They need to be replaced with monuments to POC. The MLK Memorial is merely a baby step in the right direction. There are no statues to Hitler in Germany, and there should be no statues to American Hitlers like FDR, Lincoln, Jefferson, Washington.Your white face gives you the power to help in this great work.

    [Reply]

    Tim Reply:

    I agree that these monuments are an affront to the memory of those POC oppressed by those “leaders.” I also do not agree that there is any practicality to launching a real campaign to tear down those monuments. There are real battles to be fought that may prove winnable, and I can’t see how those are among them. I do think that pointing out the history that is conveniently whitewashed by those monuments, and textbooks, and historical “tributes” is important though.

    [Reply]

    Frederic Christie Reply:

    BP: I would say that, as regards FDR and Lincoln, the picture is a tiny bit more complex. (On board with the rest of the memorials you cite). Among black communities, Lincoln is often lionized as The Great Liberator, and Frederick Douglass ended up deeply respecting the man. My feeling is that Lincoln was a wonderfully decent man mostly, but not totally, corrupted by his environment. He at least managed to meet with men like Douglass. Also, it’s important to bear in mind that the early Republicans were pretty radical anti-capitalist left-wingers, calling for black and white workers to run their workplaces free of bosses. That was their initial appeal and how they managed to get abolitionism more mainstream: The idea that black slavery was part and parcel with white wage slavery.

    FDR similarly was a hero for progressive and radical people, even those who knew his rather stark limitations and the way that the New Deal actually functioned to lionize rather than to undermine capitalism. Even Chomsky has pointed out that the crap over Reagan’s death, the wholly artificial national outcry, was a joke, but acknowledged that the similarly large outpour after FDR’s death was much more authentic. FDR was different, in a sense, though far from acceptable.

    While I’d rather see monuments to William Lloyd Garrison, abolitionists, white anti-segregationists, labor leaders, Eugene Debs, working class people, Malcolm X, MLK, civil rights leaders, etc., if you’re going to pick monuments from the conventional mythology, you can do a LOT worse than FDR and Lincoln. (Like: Washington, Iwo Jima, etc.)

    Ultimately, at least these men had the excuse of their zeitgeist. Our modern racist, homophobic, sexist, classist, militarist, imperialist leaders don’t.

    [Reply]

  62. Gee, I wonder what we could say about mysogyny and sexism from leftist men. Same old same old. The very worst womanhatred I experience is from pro-porn leftist men, and the very fact that there is no huge movement of leftist men to eliminate rape, pornography and woman objectification fits right in with this thesis… white male liberals are actually the same as conservative males… they are the problem and always will be the problem.

    [Reply]

    Frederic Christie Reply:

    Well, we could absolutely say a lot in general, but I think the idea of pairing pro-porn or anti-porn with hatred of women is absurd and offensive. I know many people, women, for whom pornography of their fantasies is necessary and liberating. Are there problems with porn? Absolutely. And yes, leftist men need to be getting together with women to discuss their needs and desires and an equitable way of achieving them, just like we all need to be figuring out ways to get what we need, want and deserve without trampling over other peoples’ rights.

    But to say that there’s no substantial participation of men in general or leftist men in particular against rape is, I think, offensive.

    Calling your potential allies “the problem” is so amazingly sectarian that I can’t even explain it. People need to do work to convince other people, it’s not automatic and it shouldn’t be. It understandably takes some time to convince many whites (though I was on board from the first Tim article, but I am not really a median example) because their racial experience is so different from what Tim is talking about that it takes some real revisiting to see that truth. It takes some time to convince even poor workers that there might be something to economic justice. Etc. etc. I’ve always thought that, if there’s a problem, you fix it: If you’re not appealing to leftist men with a pro-pornography criticism, then you may need to understand their objections and present a counter-argument.

    In the interest of full disclosure: I actually spend quite a lot of my time working directly with victims of rape and sexual abuse, many of whom would have never opened up to conventional rape crisis lines or to feminist women and who said that feminist women in their life were unhelpful. (This is NOT an insult or anything but a gentle criticism.) I consider myself a feminist. I’m not “pro” or “anti” porn anymore than I’m “pro” or “anti” coffee: I think that pornography, like all products in a capitalist society, will be lowest common denominator crap, and we should oppose all of them and work on dealing with them. I spent a lot of time on Lucinda Marshall’s board at ZMag discussing the pornography issue, specifically arguing that a future society could equitably produce materials of sexual fantasy while remunerating people equally, not playing to or amplifying masculinist or sexist fantasies, not dehumanizing men and women, etc. etc. I absolutely support a movement to drastically reduce rape, and think we could reduce it by ten fold (and already, rape per capita has plummeted), and that we could do pretty simple things to make it so victims always come forward and rapists are always prosecuted, if not successfully. And objectification of women is horrible, though I’ve always felt that feminists confuse objectification and dehumanization with sexualization (that is, people are sexual beings, and sometimes we present THAT part of ourselves to others sans the other parts, which is fine).

    And I wouldn’t characterize myself as a hater of women, though obviously sexist thoughts go through my head before I can snuff them out…

    [Reply]

  63. I think that there is a role for the “white anti-racism” activist, provided that he goes far enough.

    Tim,how far do you go in your speeches to whites? Do you soft-pedal it, or do you tell them the hard truths that they need to hear. Namely, do you tell them that they are the descendants of thieves, murderers, and rapists of PEOPLE OF COLOR? Do you tell them that every bit of wealth that they have was stolen from PEOPLE OF COLOR? Do you tell them that they are complicit in robbing, killing, and raping PEOPLE OF COLOR? Do you tell them that nearly all of their so-called culture is stolen from POC? Do you tell them that the TANAKH and the NEW TESTAMENT (perhaps the only “pure” products of white culture)are textbooks in genocide, a trillion times more vile than MEIN KAMPF?

    [Reply]

    Tim Reply:

    @ Mzungu Fighter – No, I don’t say it like that. because I would like people to actually stick around for more than 30 seconds. Good Lord, is it more important to you to shock whites and be all bad-ass, or would you like them to actually learn something? And frankly, to say that ALL wealth in the hands of whites was stolen is to presume that if whites had not moved outside of Europe they would never have developed anything. That is a fundamentally essentialist and bigoted argument. And neither the Tanakh not the Christian scriptures are white in origin or derviation, so I’m not sure where you are coming from with that argument…The authors of those things were not white, at least in the European sense of the word.

    [Reply]

  64. Tim, I notice that you like to throw phrases around like “feasibility” and “not practical” when POC make proposals that go beyond the permissible norms of white liberalism. It’s funny, but those words only seem to come up when whites don’t want something to happen. When whites want to achieve a given objective, all things seem possible:

    1. Enslaving millions of POC and shipping them across the Atlantic.

    2. Exterminating hundreds of millions of POC in Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and the USA.

    3.Taking Palestine from POC.

    4. Expelling hundreds of thousands of POC in Palestine to make room for whites.

    5. Subjugating India

    6. Ruling Africa

    7.Dropping atomic bombs on POC in Japan.

    8. Herding millions of POC into the Middle Eastern versions of Bantustans in Gaza and the West Bank.

    9. Killing tens of millions of POC in Korea and Vietnam.

    10. The mass slaughter in Iraq

    11. The hotly anticipated genocide of the Iranian people.

    It certainly is amazing to see what whites regard as “feasible” and “practical.”

    [Reply]

    Tim Reply:

    @ Adam Clayton Powell – that is not an argument., The fact that genocide has happened does not make the plans being forwarded here to reverse it feasible. Please explain how it would be feasible to completely confiscate all the wealth of white people and give it to people of color. Or, for that matter, why this would even be the definition of justice? Fact is, reversing facts on the ground is much more difficult than may be believed. The reason the things you mention were feasible is because at the time, there was lots of land still to be conquered and stolen, and the modern nation state was at a much less developed level, less weapons that could be used to exterminate quickly en masse, etc, fewer entrenched global economic powers who could, in a heartbeat, take all their money and flee elsewhere. But now, those things do exist. The land masses of the world are now filled with far more people, far more and more deadly weapons, and global capital can strangle any attempt to bring about a major reversal in one nation, like the U.S., for instance, or anywhere, in a vacuum. I am not saying that major changes are not possible. And I’m not saying that certain things, even if they are impossible, are not worth fighting for potentially. But certainly as we look towards political agendas and making change, the matter of feasibility is not completely irrelevant?

    [Reply]

  65. Thank you for this articulate wake-up call. I now recognize that I am primarily guilty of color muteness, though there are clearly times when I over-simplify the factor race plays in social class disparities. What I realized, though, as I continued to read your piece is the fact that I have never heard or read most of the information you shared about the disproportionate impact of global warming on people of color, for example. That one is intuitive enough to me on a global level; but how was I to know that western agricultural disruptions cost African nations $600 billion annually?

    I know that I need to do my research and that listening to and reading only the mainstream media is not enough. Still, I’m at a loss for sources that will keep me fully informed; even public radio news seems to be affected by color muteness. Suggestions?

    [Reply]

  66. I will still stand substantially by my assertions in Post No. 61 of this piece. Calling out racist motivations behind the conservative or regressive position when racial wedge issues come up before the voters (as here in California, affirmative action, bilingual education, and the eligibility of illegal immigrants for basic public services during the 1990s) may be seen as a moral imperative because one either cannot emotionally bear to fudge an important topic before the general public or cannot let evil motivations go unanswered. But it doesn’t represent a winning politics in these same campaigns.
    In theory, political campaigns to preserve affirmative action, bilingual education, etc. seek to get conservative voters to reexamine their positions and/or try to prevent fence-sitters from “voting Right (unless an alternative strategy of maximizing the turnout of friendly voters is used instead).” Calling out racist motivations behind conservative voters does not get them to “repent of their sins.”
    My sources for my assertion are simply the responses/letters to the editor submitted when stories are filed online about the Left charging that racism promotes moves to repeal affirmative action, bilingual education, or blocking expansion of welfare state protections for the public at large. The defiance of conservative letter writers can logically be assumed writ large–that for every reactionary writer who responds, there are millions more who share his attitudes but for whatever reason/s did not bother to write.
    This was seen actually last summer when Mr. Wise mentioned that racism motivated a segment (though not all) of the opposition to Obamacare seen at town halls or within the public at large–the old fear or resentment that racial minorities would be the primary beneficiaries of any expansion of any type of social welfare, which has always been a force in the evolution of the modern American welfare state (from 1933 to the present). Although Rush Limbaugh’s own website purges any archival entries more than one month old, one of the first respondents last August to Mr. Wise’s video clip wrote, in an entry laced with sarcasm, “you mean to say that my opposition to Obamacare all this time was based upon the idea that Blacks would receive a disproportionate share of the benefits?! Oh, my God!, I didn’t realize!” The other responses were par for the course.
    The same type of defiance arises when the principal actors in a story did not even allege racism to begin with. Earlier this month here in Greater Los Angeles when Malibu, California police discovered the body of Mitrice Richardson 11 months after her disappearance following her release from police detention in the same city, YahooNews filed a story about possible wrongful death lawsuits which would be pending. The Richardson Family disputed the police releasing her into the night (as an act), but selected letter writers argued that a White woman in the same situation would have been given a ride or other means of transportation home after release. Hostile respondents retaliated by indicating that the police are not legally obligated to give a released detainee a ride home, but went even further by writing, “it figures that THEY (my emphasis) would make a racial issue out of it!”
    These are not people who are given to reflection upon their motives; and their attitudes would logically be writ large to millions of conservatives.
    On a non-racial matter, following last year’s California election when a majority of the voters opted to repeal a court decision allowing gay marraige, I read a piece by a gay radical lamenting the partial dishonesty of the liberal campaign defending gay rights, which submitted arguments such as “you don’t have to be in favor of gay marriage to vote No on Proposition 8 (taking the implied position that at least voters should respect a gay couple’s civil right to be “sinful” if nothing else)!” He argued instead that the campaign should have pushed for acceptance of gay marriage as on a par with heterosexual marriage; and have taken homophobia head on (although this would likely be a losing strategy).
    Actually I would like to see the Left rather than liberals manage the progressive side of a racial wedge issue campaign for its’ own sake, just as an experiment. In making the racism of the conservative opposition a major theme of their campaign, they would go down in flames on election day; and not a single conservative voter would change his mind.

    [Reply]

    Tim Reply:

    @ Chris – you can stand by your assertion, sans evidence but that doesn’t make it a strong one. The fact that hard right folks will dig in harder when called out is true. But your mistake is believing they were ever convert-able anyway. They are not the targets of the left. I am talking about the majority of reasonable people, whose biases are more implicit, and who may not even consciously desire to inculcate racist or other types of oppressive policies. What the evidence says for these folks, is that the less we talk about race and racism — and the less we force them to confront the possibility that voting a certain way may reinforce racism, and even be subtly motivated by it — the easier it is for these folks to remain behind a veil of their own innocence., And it is THIS which increases the likelihood they will do the wrong thing. The studies on this, whether you wish to believe them or not, are persuasive and extensive. I document this in my new book, and if you are interested in strategies that work, you’ll at least read it and think about it, please. I realize there are better and worse ways to call out racism. Obviously. No one is saying that anyone, least of all the president, should stand up and call people racists. But it is strategically incompetent to NEVER discuss it, even when someone else brings it up. It reeks of weakness and emboldens the other side, They beat him up with race whether he responds or not. At some point, not responding is like not responding to the bully in the playground. He could respond with humor, and subtle derision — as he did a few times in the campaign to the birther stuff and other racism memes — and it would work. So far, he isn’t even willing to call the most blatant racism, racism. And that weakens the ability of the rest of us to do it, since others will say that “even the black guy who’s president doesn’t make that argument.” So, are you prepared to never be able to call racism what it is again, just for the sake of protecting Barack Obama? Because I am not.

    [Reply]

    Frederic Christie Reply:

    To test this argument, Chris, we’d need to see how often these hard core rightists change their opinion or perceptions period.

    Well, gee, not very often, right?

    Most arguments don’t work, from liberal namby-pamby to hard radical arguments. They’re intellectual partisans. (And, to be fair, what sort of argument would THEY have to give for us to move even an inch closer to THEIR position?)

    But my experience with even hard right activists is that if I tell them, up front, my motivations, it is much more effective than sugar coating it…

    [Reply]

  67. @ Roland

    Your comment is a cynical attempt to manipulate the issue of White Liberal-Left racism (against people of color) to defend Zionism and Israel.

    Like South Africa of the past, Israel is a racist apartheid nation that is armed, sponsored, and supported by the self-proclaimed Land of the Free, the USA.

    America is Israel’s staunchest military ally in the Middle East.

    The mainstream American media and political establishment are overwhelmingly Pro-Israel and Pro-Zionist, with groups like AIPAC wielding enormous power in Washington DC.

    And America routinely defends Israel in the United Nations when resolutions arise to condemn the latter for its many crimes like the recent Flotilla Massacre.

    Yet when a handful of motley US Leftists deign to criticize Israel, they are branded as part of an explosion of anti-Semitism.

    Unbelievable.

    Israel’s Flotilla Massacre: Made in the USA
    http://www.commondreams.org/view/2010/06/07-0

    [Reply]

  68. In my third and final comment on this thread, I guess our primary difference lies in how we assess the numbers of persons who constitute a hard core Right versus the numbers of those open to the use of reason, persuasion, and learning. I clearly believe that the first category constitutes the larger group, thus I concur with the opinion of a hypercautious variety of liberals/progressives who believe that there are too many voters who are prone to backlash to run bold campaigns on these issues and win.

    [Reply]

    Tim Reply:

    Ok Chris, we’ll just agree to disagree. But I really wish you would consider taking a look at the research in my book. I was surprised by it too when I read it, but it is very informative. Thanks for your input anyway, despite our disagreement on this matter…

    [Reply]

  69. Roland, you have engaged in the same type of marginalization that ignores the real obstacles and barriers, that Tim has pointed out in this article by your incorrect use and appropriation of the term “Anti-Semitism” to mean being only anti-Jewish. Palestinians are Arabs and therefore are semites as well, Arabic happens to be a semitic language spoken by a semitic group of people.

    [Reply]

  70. Jane: The solution is, get it all. Fight race, fight gender, fight class, fight political inequality and repression. I think that Albert’s proposal for a four-sphere model is a good starting point.

    Roland: Zionism is an expression of a desire for a Jewish NATION, which is itself problematic given the inequalities and insanities inherent to a nation-state. The main problem, though, is that while certainly Jews as a diasporic group deserved some kind of representation or compensation, the fact that people LIVED on the land they took and that they made people in the Middle East pay for primarily European crimes is beyond the pale. The solution would have been what early Zionists had offered: Some kind of integrated, federated arrangement, where Jews and Palestinians cooperated on mutual issues. Unfortunately, now we’re at the point where violence and time has closed off prior avenues. Jews are now established in Israel, so it’d be ludicrous to force them to leave. But Palestinians haven’t lost their rights either. It’s a thorny issue, but certainly the ideologies that have emerged WITHIN Zionism have not helped.

    Tim is right both when it comes to America and the Middle East: Human history has been a bloodbath. The idea that anyone is innocent is pretty bizarre. For people who want to end bloodshed, we have to accept the idea that, for better or for worse, we are where we are now, and we need to advance basic rights of security, equal opportunity and access, etc. for all.

    [Reply]

  71. First off, I am a WW. Take that with all its biases.

    @admin, RVC Bard, Witschsista
    I agree very much that antiracist work is something that many POC are called on to do for free. Almost without fail, WP call on the POC in their lives and online to help them be less racist. Most of the blogs about racism I have found are run by POC (but they are outside the white blog bubble). In one way, hearing about racism from the source can be a solution if there is true honesty about the problem of racism including this action. But when the market comes in and Tim Wise benefits materially from this, it causes trauma. Now the voices of POC who did something out of their own good will is cheapened b/c a WM is paid to do it. THIS is structural racism. Is it something that comes starts and ends with Tim? No. But does it need to be addressed and not flatly refused? Absolutely. And I think it is the absolute responsibility of every WP to use their privilege to loudly advocate for underrepresented POC in every field. Its not enough just to educate other WP.

    Even more broadly, we need to rewrite the rules that govern who ‘makes it.’ Tim wants to keep things in terms of western academic reasoning, which is a symptom of this false credentialing. Where point A leads to point B leads to point C. This is sometimes useful, but it is not the only way of expressing a truth. To say that it is to use white racial framing. Its the way we hire, its the way we teach, its the way we think, and its wrong. The blatant disregard of RVC Bard and Witchsista’s comments, based on the ‘western logic’ idea is BS. I understand your reasoning for your personal choices. I trust that you have put a lot of thought into your career. BUT I am extremely uncomfortable with the idea that people need to play by the rules of linear logic in order to talk about racism here. We are here to engage with the very real problem of racism, not to rule out others’ opinions based on style.

    [Reply]

    Tim Reply:

    I don’t disagree with this at all. I am interested in having this discussion. It seems to me there are four somewhat different but related issues:

    1. Should white people be involved in the antiracist struggle at all, to any real extent?
    2. If so, should white people be able to make their living from doing antiracism work in some capacity? As writers, educators, lawyers doing civil rights work, etc?
    3. If so, what kind of living? What is the proper or legitimate level of material reward for such a thing? And how do we make that determination?
    4. Regardless of the answers to 2 and 3, what are the responsibilities of white antiracists to POC? What are our obligations? How do we structure accountability into the work?

    Obviously, even if the answers to 1 and 2 are yes, and even if the answer to three was not particularly limiting, the answer to 4 is still critical, and indisputable. What must whites who challenge racism do, and especially if they make money from the work, to directly empower people of color, steer attention and work to POC, etc?

    With regard to any of these questions, I am truly, truly interested in knowing people’s opinions. And I am open to persuasion that what I do is damaging to the struggle. But it isn’t enough to say it is damaging, obviously, just because I am white. That is not an argument, not merely under Western or white linear logic. Under any form of logic. That is not an argument. And logic is not western or white, BTW. If my work crowds out POC, there must be some kind of evidence for that, somewhere. Now, if there are POC on this very board, and elsewhere who are telling me the opposite — that in fact they are able to present their own work, and the work of other POC more easily, and with greater effect, when mixed with my own, what am I to make of that? Is that not worthy of consideration? Are the people who say this sell outs, or as some have suggested on this board — basically, those who have said the only answer to white supremacy is either to sterilize, kill or deport all white people — Uncle Toms, etc? Or is their argument feasible? If it is feasible, and I acknowledge that the opposite argument is also feasible, how do we evaluate the larger issue? There must be some way to do it? And I am honestly interested in figuring this out.

    [Reply]

    Frederic Christie Reply:

    Though I have expressed some disagreement with you, Margy, I do think your second response to Tim is right on the money. But I do need to correct what I feel is a pretty egregious error on your part.

    Constructing an argument so that A leads to B leads to C is not western male rationality. It is rationality. Period. Yes, other cultures might sometimes stress the emotive elements more, or might view the way you approach presentation as different (so Asian cultures often approach making a point in a circular fashion, like layers of an onion, while Western cultures often approach making a point linearly and directly), and so on, but near as we can tell, the idea that premises and arguments lead to conclusions is a species character.

    I find this idea so offensive and insulting for two reasons.

    First of all: It implies that women, and black folks, and the poor, and those left out of traditional Western elite hegemony, can’t express themselves that way, and so we need to come up with a new type of thinking to include them. But that’s crap. When I read and listen to Barbara Ehrenreich, or Tim, or Chomsky, or the work of one of my favorite professors Bruce Haynes (a black man doing research on African-American culture issues and Ethiopian Jewry, IIRC), or Peggy McIntosh, or the wonderful commentators at News and Notes, or MLK, I go, “Wow, that’s a great argument. I’m on board”. MLK’s essays and speeches were brilliantly written, brilliantly delivered, and emotive, but they were also scrupulously logical, appealing to metaphor, shared ethical premises, and fact to advance a point.

    It’s also offensive because “Western” rationality, science, etc. ain’t so Western anymore. We’ve seen the rise of a deep anti-rationality among white folks: Christian fundamentalism, anti-evolution, anti-science, anti-birth control, throwbacks to Puritanical ignorance and stupidity. We see people like Glenn Beck and Bill O’Reilly making arguments almost totally bereft of logic, playing entirely on fallacies, on anger, on shouting down their opponents, shutting off their mics. Beck’s famous tear in the corner of the eye strategy, borrowed from Mormon emotive practice which seems so utterly phony. We had a President who lionized ignorance and mediocrity.

    Then we have a black President of unprecedented brilliance in oration and scholarship (and I don’t even agree with the guy very much since I think he’s a corporate shill, but damn if he can’t turn a phrase or make an argument). We have Indians, Russians, Chinese and other non-whites or peripheral white groups taking over science while basic American knowledge about science and math plummets.

    Basically, the face of modern rationality, science and technology is increasingly non-white, non-Western, and non-male. Exactly as postmodern left thinkers want us to abandon rationality, conservatives are making the same appeal. Why can’t we have justice, and emotion, and hope, and dance, and music, and art on our side, AND rationality and science too?

    [Reply]

  72. “I agree very much that antiracist work is something that many POC are called on to do for free. Almost without fail, WP call on the POC in their lives and online to help them be less racist. Most of the blogs about racism I have found are run by POC (but they are outside the white blog bubble). In one way, hearing about racism from the source can be a solution if there is true honesty about the problem of racism including this action. But when the market comes in and Tim Wise benefits materially from this, it causes trauma. Now the voices of POC who did something out of their own good will is cheapened b/c a WM is paid to do it. THIS is structural racism. Is it something that comes starts and ends with Tim? No. But does it need to be addressed and not flatly refused? Absolutely. And I think it is the absolute responsibility of every WP to use their privilege to loudly advocate for underrepresented POC in every field. Its not enough just to educate other WP.”

    Margy: That’s insane.

    First of all, your premise is wrong. Plenty of prominent African-Americans are paid to fight racism, in various forms. Black anti-racist scholars, rappers and MCs who comment on racism or expose better parts of black culture…

    In fact, how messed up is it that you’re hating on someone for getting paid for doing something GOOD? Shouldn’t we be hating on the people who are getting paid to destroy our economy?

    From my own experience, Tim has been as central as Chomsky, Albert and feminist thinkers in changing my view of society. The aggregate effect of his work has been to get tons of white people interested in the ideas, surpassing shame and excuses, learning about things, interested in the fight. That alone would seem to be an argument for it.

    You yourself say that Tim needs to advocate for other POC. He does always, by recommending the work of black thinkers, poets and dreamers, and by battling the idea that the civil rights movement is a nasty secret of our past. I think even you can recognize that he satisfies your own criterion…

    [Reply]

  73. From my perspective, I think we need to constantly check ourselves. We are not breaking ground, we are catching up on how to fight racism. We are dumbing down the explanations of racism so that WP who are also behind can understand. Our knowledge about the barriers and limitations of our culture is not news to POC, only to us. We are filling a gap in the knowledge of WP that should have never been a gap.
    Second, we fight racism in the way that reaches the most people while causing the least harm. I’ll say it again. While causing the least harm. I agree that with race relations in the state they are now, its necessary for people to work full-time fighting racism. What are the conditions under which a WM should do this? If there is data that says WP will only listen to a WP first. If you actively encourage the school to dedicate funds toward a follow-up speaker who is of color. If students of color on campus are given resources to bring in POC who speaks to their experiences. Bc you speak to and for WP.
    Third, we aim to put ourselves out of a job. Because our job will be given back to people with the most experience in fighting racism and the people who have been systematically shut out of all sectors of the dominant economic system. You can be a foot in the door, but you cannot be an excuse for WP to check off the ‘tolerance’ box and not change the way they hire, admit students, etc.

    [Reply]

    Tim Reply:

    agree with all of this Margy…and those are things I do….

    [Reply]

  74. “To build a global movement to roll back the ecological catastrophe facing us, environmentalists and clean energy advocates must connect the dots between planetary destruction and the real lives being destroyed currently, which are disproportionately of color.”

    Tim, do you connect the dots between your large carbon footprint, your first world lifestyle, and your large house and the real lives being destroyed currently? Your own lifestyle does not exist without the empire, without third world exploitation. How many people in the third world are suffering because of the way you live right now? How much will your own children suffer because of the first world lifestyle that you yourself live now?

    The catastrophe resulting from overshoot is not going to take a pause so that you may implement your re-education program. What are you and your fellow anti-racist activists personally willing to give up so that millions in the third world may live?

    Until you answer this question I just cannot take you seriously.

    [Reply]

    Tim Reply:

    Well, Rose, those are fair questions, and worth being considered. I do consider them every day. We all should. But in fact, absent a movement for systemic change, simple living will save no one. NO one…so this idea that if we just don’t eat meat, don’t drive, live in sod homes, or whatever (not what you’re saying necessarily, but I’ve heard it said), that the world will survive is utter bullshit. Only fundamental, non voluntary public policy, frankly imposed on our private choices is capable of saving the world. I believe in those things. But “simple living” in a vacuum is ascetic feel-goodism, which doesn’t do a thing. And if you want to build the kind of movement that might be able to force those kinds of systemic changes, that will require a far less white movement, and a clear connection between what is killing people of color right now, and that includes, prominently, racism.

    [Reply]

  75. Please allow me to add that I do not mean that only anti-racists should consider their carbon footprints, or that anti-racists by themselves downscaling their lifestyles would have much of an impact on climate change. I mean we have to discuss exactly what lifestyle the planet could support if resources were distributed equally. I have not seen a brass-tacks discussion of just what the “American Dream” should actually entail in a just society on a planet with finite resources.

    There are many valid criticisms to level at the environmental movement. I just think that you are at least as guilty of dealing in the abstract here as many environmental activists are.

    [Reply]

    Tim Reply:

    @ Rose – OK, then, I think we agree about this larger point: the discussion about what a just society should look like is critical, in terms of distribution, etc. But movement building requires that we think in strategic terms, and that requires linking struggles and connecting dots. And historically the white dominated environmental movement has been pretty bad at that.

    [Reply]

  76. “From my perspective, I think we need to constantly check ourselves. We are not breaking ground, we are catching up on how to fight racism. We are dumbing down the explanations of racism so that WP who are also behind can understand. Our knowledge about the barriers and limitations of our culture is not news to POC, only to us. We are filling a gap in the knowledge of WP that should have never been a gap.”

    Margy: Sure. By that reasoning, no one should ever do any anti-racist work, because you have to teach white people about racism. Period.

    But actually, I would say that, in my experience, while black folks certainly experience racism and discrimination, they are sometimes surprised (especially if they’re young) about the degree of social science evidence for what their intuitions tell them. So it can be very enabling to hear someone like Tim “educate” them on race, in the sense that he’s connecting them to a research tradition they might not know about.

    And remember that we’re part of a broader movement for justice. So while black men will be plenty important in talking about and teaching race issues, black and white women have something to say to them about gender issues. We all have our perspectives. To argue that every member of our movement should be a black lesbian immigrant is insane, yet that’s the only place I can see your logic going. There wasn’t anything wrong about Engels being in the Internationale.

    “Third, we aim to put ourselves out of a job. Because our job will be given back to people with the most experience in fighting racism and the people who have been systematically shut out of all sectors of the dominant economic system. You can be a foot in the door, but you cannot be an excuse for WP to check off the ‘tolerance’ box and not change the way they hire, admit students, etc.”

    Given the amount of hate mail Tim receives, I doubt he really does that :D

    [Reply]

  77. Thank you for taking the time to respond, Tim.

    “And historically the white dominated environmental movement has been pretty bad at that.”

    Fair enough. But it isn’t just the job of environmental activists to discuss exactly what systemic change means related specifically to how we can all expect to live in a just society.

    “Only fundamental, non voluntary public policy, frankly imposed on our private choices is capable of saving the world.”

    Please correct me if I’m wrong, but it looks like American anti-racist activists have been pretty vague on exactly what material privileges white people are supposed to give up, or what material privileges people of color in the US should expect to receive.

    There is currently one country with sustainable development. Cuba. All but the poorest Americans live an unsustainable lifestyle. Are we willing to live like the average Cuban does? If not, how can we claim to care at all about global environmental or economic justice?

    A recent CBCF study showed that African Americans contribute about 20% less to carbon-dioxide emissions than white Americans. Even so, if everyone lived like the average African American, we’d need about four planets, rather than the five needed if everyone lived like Americans in general.

    I would just like anti-racist activists to be specific about what non-voluntary public policy should be imposed on all of us in the US.

    [Reply]

  78. Rose: The problem is that those discussions get abstract for a reason. We have economies to perform certain functions, like gathering up all this data. But our economy is fundamentally messed up. Which means we have to start thinking about things like how many resources we can sustainably consume per capita, like you note.

    Except we have no way of knowing. There is no way for us to meaningfully process how much each person should get, what wages should be distributed, etc. etc. without having an economy that does that job non-pathologically. That’s why I always get pissed when I hear “small and local is beautiful”. Is it? I don’t know. You don’t know. None of us know.

    So we have to speak collectively and organize collectively, not guess blindly. And that means contributing to the movement. Which needs money. It’s actually a sign of our atomistic, selfish culture that people consider reading but not paying for ZMag, or getting angry when left publishers charge money for books…

    As I commented on the Lemon video about language: One potential criticism I could see leveled against Tim is that he’s gotten onto CNN and national programming pretty frequently. I’m not talking about his white privilege here, which is real. I’m wondering what exactly makes it so one can get access to CNN (even though Don Lemon’s got a pretty good program) as someone who is as left as Tim is. I’d guess that it’s because racial issues are less central to elite concerns, so they’re more willing to tolerate discussions about it, combined with gains made by racial groups in forcing these discussions, but I wonder what other people think. After all, as Chomsky points out frequently, if the New York Times is writing good things about us, we’re probably not doing our jobs…

    [Reply]

  79. (Sorry for the double post).

    Also: The idea that POC should be allowed to own America is repellent for another reason.

    Native Americans aren’t black.

    If we wanted to restore justice within your bizarre ideology, we’d restore America to Native Americans, return blacks to Africa or the Caribbean, return whites to Europe, etc. That’s not particularly helpful and is totally repellent, but it at least makes SOME sense. You are taking the ludicrous idea that all non-whites are part of the same club and running with it.

    [Reply]

  80. Good grief. Tim, it’s a wonder you have time to be an anti-racism activist, paid or not, considering the inordinate amount of time it must take to personally respond to posts from people who either don’t “get it”, or are being deliberately obtuse because they like to tilt at windmills. It seems you’re damned if you do, and damned if you don’t. There are those who feel you’re stepping on PoC toes if you speak about racism, and those who feel you’re not doing enough. It’s depressing, speaks ill of the willingness of PoC to unify for change, and impractical. Allies are allies.
    I’m reading posts from a whoooole lot of folks who are more interested in having “power over” than “power within”. What’s that all about? Supremacist attitudes from ANY race are ugly, and unfounded.
    *sigh* And since it seems to matter, I suppose I’m obligated to state that I am a bisexual woman of color.

    Peace to you Tim. I have a feeling you could use some.

    [Reply]

  81. I guess I understand the frustrations of some of the POC here about Tim’s remuneration. As a WOC (of Indian descent), I’m asked everyday to educate the people around me in a variety of ways. It can go from “That’s a nice name, where is it from?” and “But you don’t have that red dot on your forehead, what’s up with that?” to “So, tell me, what’s so different and crucial about life as a woman that you would consider not having children on that alone?”. So seeing Tim getting money to explain stuff that I already explain everyday, that takes energy everyday, can frustrate me (it’d depend on the level of energy I’d still have).

    On the other hand, I first learned more about sexism and intersectionality from people I could relate to : other WOC. I can’t blame white people to listen more to someone they can relate to for a first exposure. On top of that, do I really want to do the Racism/Sexism 101 speech? Nope, I’d rather come in later and explain issues of intersectionality or go in details about a particular issue within those struggles.

    Yes, Tim benefits from the current kyriarchal structure as he gets hired to do the discrimination 101 speeches. But if his being hired does open the doors for more in-depth discussions and more POC being invited for in-depth talks (which he says does happen, I have no way of verifying the affirmation, but it seems plausible, so I’ll take it as true until proven otherwise), budget permitting (and that’s the catch, how many times does budget not permit further talks?), I’m all for it.

    Another option that Tim could take to help balance the scales would be to partner a network of anti-racism POC activists and sell his talks as a 2-part deal. He comes in first, does the 101 talk, then, right after or sometime later (say, a few weeks), one of the POC in the network comes to give a more in-depth talk. POC interested in skipping the 101 portion of the lecture could build similar partnerships with white anti-racism activists. I have no way to know if it’s feasible, though.

    [Reply]

  82. As a brown-skinned Apache/Chicano/Hopi man I’d like to speak to the idea of (re)turning this country and/or it’s wealth over to PoC and banishing white people from the land. (A thought I have also entertained over the years.)

    First of all, I think it is naive at best and extremely dangerous at worst to romanticize the idea of a nation without white people. PoC can be just as fallible and power hungry. To imply that this (or any) place would be free of oppression if white people were gone is to deny the other ways in which we hold (and use) power and privilege in relationship to one another currently and historically. Homophobia, sexism/misogyny, classism/castes, ableism, etc., are all very real amongst and amidst PoC. And, despite wishes and assertions to the contrary, these dynamics were present in many nations prior to European arrival and subsequent colonialism. Not only on my beloved Turtle Island but in New Zealand, on the African continent (including Egypt), in the Middle East and Asia just to name a few. To believe otherwise is irresponsible and only serves to perpetuate these dynamics.

    In my own lifetime I have witnessed way too many instances of oppressive behavior in PoC exclusive environments, organizations and communities. It is usually by men of color over women of color and almost always justified as a return to “traditional” indigenous ways. I don’t think too many sisters would sign up for that reality.

    Secondly, as has been mentioned before, we as PoC including those of us who ARE people of the First Nations would be hard pressed to choose who gets to stay and who has to go. What is the criteria? How is it measured? And, most importantly, who gets to decide? And who decides who gets to decide? What of my daughter who is descended from Apache, Hopi, Spanish, African, Indonesian, Dutch, German & Italian ancestors? Where should we propose she go? And on what grounds? And what of the wealth and resources (if there are any to speak of) held by people like my daughter and myself? Should we give back a percentage of our resources based on our percentage of European ancestry? And to whom should we give those resources? To the other part of ourselves?

    Don’t get me wrong, I have spent countless hours fantasizing about an America free of European invasion. And every time I follow that fantasy all the way through to present day the result is always the same – I don’t exist and neither do most of the people I love.

    Whether we like it or not (and I don’t like it) our country, the US, is a result of colonization, domination, slavery & genocide. It is also the result of resistance to all of the above. We are products of the collision and combination (by choice and otherwise) of many peoples over many generations. Regardless of how we got here here we are. We need to decide how to make the society we have inherited an equitable one – together.

    Peace.

    [Reply]

  83. Zahra: I can say that when Tim came to UC Davis, it was connected to talks from the local multi-cultural groups on campus. Chomsky talks are usually connected to local peace or progressive groups. So big names like Tim and Chomsky get people talking, and coming to events, and then break the ice. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with any big names, but it seems to not be worth the time worrying about…

    I generally think that to bother wondering what might be wrong about someone who does their work advancing the causes we’re interested in is as big a waste of time as I can imagine. The left loves to yell at itself, but I’m almost always convinced that we could be accomplishing more by yelling outwards…

    Oh, and also: If we’re going to attack Tim for his work, then we’re going to have to do some pretty interesting mental gymnastics to explain what a white ally COULD do. It seems like a recipe for guaranteeing reduced white interest and collaboration.

    [Reply]

  84. To Flame–

    “Allies are allies.”

    You might recall the title of Wise’s post “With Friends Like These…”

    The whole point is that a true alliance is not permanent and unchanging but subject to renegotiation. The suggestion that people of color are unwilling to unify (presumably with whites) for change begs the question: unify on whose terms? Unify means, become as one. Rather than suggest some people of color are too cantankerous and disagreeable, one could also interpret that some whites are too wedded to their privileges. This ambiguity is precisely why negotiation and renegotiation have to take place. And the ability to continue negotiating, in my opinion, is the definition of an ally and the antidote to the colorblindness and colormuteness Tim so rightly diagnoses. In the end, unify tends to mean homogenize which tends to result in a false universalism which pretends to benefit “all” but actually leaves forever unaddressed certain specific oppressions since they do not apply to all.

    [Reply]

    Frederic Christie Reply:

    Yes, but at the same time, to proceed against allies and demand that your agenda be part of it can also be sectarian. I think that, when you see someone who is on board, you have a respectful dialogue, see where you can get along, and where you can differ. To second guess them to the nth degree, as I think people here have done with Tim and I’ve seen done with Chomsky/Albert/etc., is just so problematic.

    The movement clearly needs to address racial justice. And I’m always so baffled when leftists oppose this. We want a new society. We want a good society. We want to revolutionize all of the spheres of social life. Culture is part of that, isn’t it?

    [Reply]

  85. “o, for instance, to sing the same folk songs at a rally that you were singing forty years ago, or to come to an antiwar rally decked out in tie-dye, but not to include the music and styles of youth of color influenced by hip-hop, is to ensure the permanent marginality of your movement in the eyes of black and brown folks (and truthfully, young people of all colors)” Wow, thanks for not seeing non-whites as individualistic in there tastes in music and automatically hinting that there first choice of music would be hip-hop. That sounds very “anti-racist” of you… not. Why do you suggest hip hop and not any other genre of music? There are black people out there who like folk music more than rap, a little bit of both, or they prefer more hip hop than any other genre of music. Don’t assume that they are automatically going to like rap just because that image is projected in pop culture. I know more than a dozen of black people I have encountered on the internet and personally who are die-hard metal heads , and some who exclusively listen to only the rock genre. Black people are not ants. They are individuals like the members of every other race or ethnicity. If you really want to end racism, which it seems like you want to do, judged a person as an individual , not a member of some artificial collective.

    [Reply]

    Tim Reply:

    That wasn’t judging anyone Blaire: I realize that black folks like all kinds of music. My point was that too often left events resemble burnout hippie holdover events, and those are not inviting for people of color, or really youth of any color, whose cultural styles and musical tastes are, by and large, different…all you have to do is look at music sales to see that: the Americana charts are not exactly being burned up by young people of color…

    [Reply]

  86. Tim,
    I appreciated your last response to RVC until you got here, and descended into utterly unnecessary snark: “But for asking for clarification, I am being a white man**. Ok, I get it now I guess..” This makes the rest of your response feel insincere.

    Here is what I see happening: you keep responding to RVC as if in a debate. But RVC is not debating you. She has never, in fact, claimed that you should stop doing what you do, or stop being paid for it. I hear her asking for empathy.

    I’m guessing that she wants to know that you get how hard it is for a black person in the US to watch you get paid for something she is expected to do all the time for nothing.

    I’m guessing that she wants you to state clearly that you agree that this is screwed up.

    And I’m guessing she would appreciate you asking a question like “how could I do better?” with a true desire to hear the answer.

    By the way, I’m pretty sure the answer would not involve (a)stopping doing what you’re doing (b) doing what you’re doing for free.

    **From the time I’ve spent online on anti-racist discussion sites, I would say that engaging in argument when empathy is desired is a very white habit. (I am white, btw). It also seems to be more common among men. BUt to be VERY CLEAR here, I am not talking about innate, essential qualities of white men, and I don’t think RVC was either. I am talking about Whiteness and Maleness as they are constructed and acted out in our culture.

    [Reply]

    Frederic Christie Reply:

    Julia: I’d be more sensitive to this if I hadn’t seen that kind of response before, and if RVC had said that specifically, and if Tim hadn’t been very sensitive to those concerns and asked for positive feedback…

    Sure, turning a call for empathy into a debate is a white male habit, but there are times when people are just calling out prominent members of the movement because they are prominent. I think that, as valid as RVC’s points are, they fall into that category…

    [Reply]

    RVCBard Reply:

    Uh. No. And stop hitting me with a tone argument.

    [Reply]

    Frederic Christie Reply:

    As opposed to no argument at all?

  87. Hi Tim- great article.

    I have some questions about your facts- specifically where you say in the Prop 8 issue, that the reports for how 70% of AA’s was drastically inflated. Can you tell me what evidence you have of this? I’m in an argument right now with people who are telling me that “blacks are more homophobic than the rest of America”…

    [Reply]

    Tim Reply:

    there were several media outlets that later reported on the inaccuracy, including in the gay press. I’ll try and dig up the links — it’s been a while. You can probably find it quicker searching on google though. As I recall, the numbers ended up being like 58%. And this was nowhere near enough to have made the difference, as blacks are a small share of voters in CA…the real key was the desertion of whites in the last weeks, who were scared by the ads taken out by the Pro-8 folks, about how gay marriage would hurt children.

    [Reply]

  88. A user asked that we identify ourselves. I am a queer, white male with class privilege.

    Tim: Thanks for the article addressing racism and particularly censorious behavior on the part of the Left. The most egregious of them is the dismissal of so-called “identity politics.” This is always about shutting up women, people of color, and queers so that we can get down to more Marxist claptrap. (While it’s true that fighting class helps everyone, it’s also untrue the solving class solves sexism, racism, homophobia, transphobia or ableism.)

    I’d like to comment on specific issues…

    …”Activism should be done for free”: Flatly untrue. Activism is productive work, and all those who engage in it should be compensated, even if those who engage in it are from groups of privilege. And especially if they do not. There was a good article on Feministing about this: http://jessicavalenti.com/?p=599

    I will concede that it doesn’t answer all the concerns being raised here, but it also offers a key rebuttal: simply put, if people can’t morally get paid to do this work, folks aren’t going to do much of it.

    …”Privileged activists should not be compensated”: This argument is slightly different and deserves special attention. Unfortunately, privileged people get taken more seriously than others. I don’t think anyone denies that. Those of us who have privilege have been told that we need to use it in a positive way: namely, to say the same things people of color/women/queers/people with disabilities would say themselves. And furthermore, to say that the insights we advance are not ours. So the attribution is there, and the doing what people tell us (who aren’t of some privileged group or another) is also there. It is also the case that everyone (especially people not of privilege) should be compensated for their activism. How does that add up to “people of privilege ought not be”?

    …On what constitutes defensiveness: In Privilege 101, I learned that I am not supposed to be defensive. That makes sense: if I raise an argument every time a person corrects me on my privilege for having said or done (or failed to say or do) problematic, I am not really taking responsibility for being in the dominant group, nor am I being receptive to change myself. However, the polar opposite is not a good thing either: should a person of privilege accept every criticism offered by every single person from a non-privileged person? Surely not. Then there must be some middle ground where one can be receptive to some criticisms but not others. Some people have criticisms worth hearing, and some don’t.

    Frankly, if you suggest that the test of allyship is that white people should support the transfer of the wealth of all white people (including oneself) to everybody else, then you don’t have a criticism worth hearing. (On that point. Others, maybe.)

    [Reply]

    Frederic Christie Reply:

    Yeah, I would say that privileged allies should not be compensated MORE, but not less either.

    [Reply]

  89. However, the polar opposite is not a good thing either: should a person of privilege accept every criticism offered by every single person from a non-privileged person?

    The fact that you’re bringing this up means you haven’t mastered the basics yet.

    [Reply]

    Frederic Christie Reply:

    The fact that you seem to be taking that one sentence, abusively, out of a paragraph that explains the complexities, means to me that you haven’t mastered the basics of working with other people yet.

    [Reply]

    RVCBard Reply:

    You’re right. I was wrong.

    [Reply]

    Frederic Christie Reply:

    Well, there’s two possibilities here.

    One: This is sarcastic. Okay, so anyone disagreeing with you should be met with sarcasm? That seems pretty absurd, and woefully sectarian. Based on your response to Tim above, it seems this was the case. The problem is, I have no idea why you think you’re right, nor why you think that you’re so obviously right that anyone disagreeing with you must be deluded or trapped by their identity.

    Two: This is serious. Well, then, yes, I thought I was right all along, but I was also sure that you had some interesting perspective on the topic, some reason you thought that it was important to say that, and didn’t expect that you’d change your opinion after one hyperbolic comment, nor SHOULD you.

    Julia, for example, brought an important idea to the table: The idea that it’s common for women and POC and queers to look for empathy and defensiveness on the part of men, whites and straights to respond to that with an argument. She’s right, I’ve observed that phenomenon in myself as well as others, and it’s important that we check for that. The way I’ve tried to do that is to make clear that I respect everyone I interact with until they’ve lost my respect, which is true of no one on this particular thread and in general isn’t true of anyone but a few blatant trolls on RedRoom, and if I see something they say that I think needs comment, I’ll say it honestly but try to do it as kindly as possible, and apologize if they take offense since that was not my intention. If people have advice for more productive discussion, I’m always happy to hear it: We can all learn from each other.

    But I see pretty repeatedly that you seem to be first making personal criticisms, then when other people respond either trying to get where you’re coming from or asking for clarification or to defend themselves or respond with personal criticism back, you escalate to guilt-tripping. Maybe this isn’t your intent, maybe I’m reading too much, maybe you were actually not doing this, but that’s where I’m coming from reading your comments. I think that, if people broach the personal issues (e.g. “Is YOUR work good for POC? Is what YOU do okay or is it oppressive?”), then it’s deeply unfair and hypocritical to not expect some reciprocity there. Of course, I do recognize that, for better or for worse, people like Tim are authority figures, and so they need to be very careful in criticism; and I also recognize that frequently, women or POC or queers want to say something to provoke a response, entirely appropriately, and get white folks or men or straight people to get a light turned on in their head, and then whites or men or straight people will escalate in their personal criticism to shut down the discussion rather than let it painfully go on. But I think any fair, neutral observer would conclude that Tim and other people in the discussion have been more than fair…

    RVCBard Reply:

    You’re right. I was wrong. You win.

  90. Mr. Wise

    I agree that activists should be paid for their labor. But anyone who has done hard organizing work will tell you that writing and giving speeches is the least tedious and labor intensive and most ego-boosting of activist labors. I’ve seen you plead elsewhere that you just aren’t suited to the (harder, more tedious, less ego-boosting) work of, say fundraising or ground-level organizing. But that seems to me as awfully convenient as the (sorry to go there, but) white supremacists who claimed to be unfit for manual labor in the plantations system. I mean, it sure does work out nicely for you that the one calling that fits your skill set and inclinations happens to involve collecting THOUSANDS of dollars for every speech you give. There’s getting fair wages for your work and then there’s just plain getting over. For doing little else than talking and writing essayistic books (which I’d guess you have assistants for (?) and which don’t even involve, say the intensive tedious research labor of an academic study), you’re making, I’d bet, hundreds of thousands a year. Where I grew up, that made you a rich man (though I recognize now that this is arguably ‘upper-middle class’). When this fact is added to the fact that some of your most tenacious arguments have to do with taking ‘class reductionists’ to task (as in this post), it sure as hell seems to be a case of the rich white dude protesting too much.

    [Reply]

    Tim Reply:

    First let’s be clear. I haver no research assistants or people who write for me. And the research work part is actually full-time. It’s what I do constantly.

    As for me saying I’m not “suited” for the other work, that is not what i said. I said I wasn’t very good at it, which is simply true. I wanted to be. I tried to be. But in the end, I was not very effective. It wasn’t “convenient.” It was true. And the writing and speaking happen to be the few skills I’ve had since I was younger. Yes, these things bring attention to me, and others who do them (including scholars of color, writers of color, etc) around the issue of race and racism. But unless you also suggest that those scholars of color (who are not organizers either) are also just “getting over” then this really isn’t about this, is it? It’s about me being white: not about me making money, not about me writing and speaking. It’s about me being white and only that, so cool, let’s just say what we mean and mean what we say…

    [Reply]

  91. Please forgive me, but the more intense the debate becomes the whiter you seem to act Mr. Wise. Course it’s all about the debate, not about real solutions; your job is to simply raise awareness and that’s what whites do best. Your whole career seems predicated on the debate; moreover, the more heated the debate becomes the less empathetic you appear. You claim to speak on our behalf but you seem disconnected as to why we would take ought against you. I’m sure that’s a white male trait, and you see that’s the whole problem. As your profile is raised, the movement becomes less about race- inequality, injustice and it becomes more about you and your struggles. You become the focus of the movement while the efforts of POC seem less significant in contrast. Whites appear to be instinctively drawn to one-another and will pass over a more qualified POC, assigning significance to a white person when the POC has been in the movement for years. Racism works through you still, so whether you acknowledge it or not- you profit from its effect.

    From the White Antiracist Blog: http://whiteantiracist.wordpress.com/how-and-why-it-works/
    “By claiming a white-anti-racist identity, you will have the opportunity to be a “good white person” while being critical of racism while never risking the survival of the system of white supremacy and thus your own actual centrality and privilege.”

    So you win on all counts Mr. Wise.
    Again from the site:
    “We would all do well to learn from this expert’s technique. Notice that he does NOT say that the role of whites should be to interrupt the system of white supremacy by any means necessary. No — the correct focus is on the discourse.”

    If you were to truly shoulder the responsibility of Dr. King, Dorothy Height, Fannie Lou Hamer, Medgar Evers, or Malcolm-X, your life would take a different turn I would think; FBI surveillance, a systematic effort by unknown white entities to disrupt your livelihood. Threats, arrest; loss of peace-maybe even loss of life. Something scores of black people experienced as they actively fought against racism- not simply resisting it. You play it safe by standing on the fringes, so you risk very little. Racism has not diminished one iota despite the many books you’ve written sir. By keeping your effort focused in the discourse the debate can drag on forever without ever disrupting the white man’s hold on power. You’ll be known for your ability to raise awareness yes, but you won’t be remembered as someone who fought on the front lines to end white supremacy.

    [Reply]

    Tim Reply:

    Raising awareness is more important than you may think M. That’s the first step to action always, as any good organizer knows. If you can show me one example of an effective movement for social justice that didn’t raise awareness as a first order of business, but rather, just “acted” without awareness being raised, I’ll perhaps reconsider this position. But you won’t. Because you can’t. There are no such movement. Ever. In history. Anywhere.

    Importantly, I never claimed to speak on your behalf, or “on behalf” of people of color…that’s another thing folks often claim because they haven’t been paying attention. I do not claim to speak for or on behalf of people of color. Do your homework before you spout off about things you know nothing about. If you begin your critique with an entirely false premise, everything else you say means nothing. At all. fact is, if you had read my work (which it appears you have not) you would know that I explicitly say I do not speak for people of color, nor do I even try, and more to the point, it is not even FOR people of color that I fight racism and white supremacy. I think whites who fight racism “for” people of color are paternalists. I fight white supremacy because I think a) it compromises my humanity, and that of my family, and b) I think it threatens all life on the planet. Not just folks of color, but whites too. I speak for me. Period. And I do not need your permission or acceptance to do that, by the way.

    Next, I never made the debate about me. That’s what some other folks have done by attacking my work. I was talking about white supremacy. Y’all made it about me. You’re doing it now. I guess you think if I respond to silly criticisms (as opposed to legitimate ones based on my actual work, rather than false premises about that work) then it’s my fault that the debate continues, and that somehow I’m the one responsible for making it about me…that’s convoluted logic. And no, it’s not white to say so. You must make arguments that are just as logical as would be expected from anyone else. To expect otherwise would be racist, in fact.

    The interview you cite — as if to suggest that I’m only about the discourse and not ending the system — is an absurd example of hair splitting. That interview was twelve years ago. I was talking about my work as a writer, specifically and speaker, in which capacity interrupting the discourse was and is my first job. That does not mean there isn’t more to it, but I was responding to a question that regarded my work as a writer and theorist. If you would read my work over the past fifteen years or so, rather than rely on an out of context quote from one old interview, inserted in that blog by someone who cherry-picked it for a very dishonest purpose, perhaps you’d know that.

    Since you seem to think it’s a sign of something important, perhaps I should note that I have been surveilled by the FBI for 20 years actually, so thanks…been there, done that. Had a FBI file by the time I was 20, since you seem so interested in the subject. My life or physical safety is threatened every couple of weeks too, as a matter of fact, by neo-Nazis and others. I don’t think it’s a big enough deal to talk about very often — because frankly, it comes with the territory and I’ve know that for a long time — but you seem to think it’s evidence of something important, so fine…have at it. I’m sure you’ll change the criteria now for what constitutes real antiracist commitment. You have no idea what you’re talking about. I have Nazis call my house in the middle of the night and threaten my family, so ya know what, you can pretty much…Nah, I’m not gonna say it, but I think you know. Sorry, but you say things to which there is no other legitimate reply.

    And your claim that my books haven’t ended racism, therefore, I must be insincere or whatever could also apply to every person of color working on the issue. Their work hasn’t ended it either, and so what? You haven’t ended it. I doubt you will ever say that folks of color are insincere however, just because the system remains, despite their books. Why don’t you just be honest and say what you mean, which is that you don’t think white people can ever be against racism, and you are inveterately closed off to the idea of allyship? At least then you’d be honest, rather than playing oblique games

    [Reply]

  92. I think talking about oppression among allies or rather among peoples who are logical allies but who cannot ally because there is privilege and status to be had via the maintenance of domination and power, is a difficult, if not downright dangerous conversation to have. Challenging people who should know better, who are actually assumed to know better draws firestorms, shit storms, online flamewars. People are more willing to burn bridges than to listen. They are more willing to attack those who speak truth to power especially if these people are already vulnerable. It’s so easy. All this to say, you clearly know you have the privilege/buffer needed to be able to say these things and survive. I appreciated seeing this and wish that more articles like this were written about all manner of oppression inside resistance circles. This is what weakens us, this I personally know. Be well.

    [Reply]

  93. On black inclusiveness at certain events, what if it’s not that I am consciously or subconsciously antiblack, but that I just don’t like certain elements of certain black SUBcultures, i.e., the “rap culture”? This would be like saying I don’t like white Southerners because I don’t like country music, or the “country subculture.” (And, on issues involving gender or sexual orientation, the “rap culture,” to a fair degree, though not totally, has *earned* a reputation.)

    The larger issue that this seems to point to is that there is no such thing as “one black culture” any more than there is “one white culture.” Yes, some subcultures in each racial/ethnic group may be more dominant than others, but the other subcultures still exist.

    On “colorblindness,” isn’t Obama himself partly to blame, precisely because that’s HIS schtick, not just white liberals?

    I’ll put identification at the end. White, straight, male, atheist, scientific skeptic, philosophical skeptic and other things. (And, although social sciences are still laboring to look at nonwestern cultures with the same baseline as western culture, science is not inherently “western.”)

    [Reply]

    Frederic Christie Reply:

    Well, fair enough, Socratic, but I’m not always in the mood for folk music or protest rock or U2, yet that’s what gets played there. So it’s funny that we see overwhelmingly white music played at overwhelmingly white events that are using overwhelmingly white tactics and appeals. Subcultures aside, and specific cross-cultural criticisms aside (acknowledging either of which is not tantamount to racism), there’s very little work in general to bring in POC. It’d be fine if people DID send out the letters and do what they did and folks of color didn’t come: That’d be expected. Tim talks about how, when working with POC (and I think this insight applies to marginalized people more generally), it’s important to build trust first. You can say the right things, but until you show that you’re around and you’re not going to disappear having wasted their money and time, they won’t pitch in. Building alliances is hard, but one lesson that white activists often take away is that black folks just aren’t interested when, yeah, guess what, they probably are….

    Take an advantage: During a school day, during working hours, I was able to skip class (this was back in high school) and attend an anti-war rally. This was an overwhelmingly white rally in overwhelmingly white Grass Valley, so demographics of the town explained the demo of the rally, but the rally was WRAPPING UP at like 4:00. What about working people who can’t take time off during that time? They won’t show up not because of lack of interest but because the protest was scheduled to be convenient for local college students, not for working adults…

    And sure, Obama I think is partly to blame, though I think it’s far more symptom than cause.

    Right on on science per se not being western, though certainly SCIENTISTS can be western and science as an institution at a particular frame in time and space can be Western.

    [Reply]

  94. This is one of the most ignorant, self-serving articles that I’ve had the displeasure to read. Tim has managed to state that anyone who is white, whether liberal or conservative, is a racist. Possibly for different reasons, but still a racist.
    Must make your job easy when you can point out your window and say the whole world is against me/us.

    [Reply]

  95. [...] I voted for the first one — why?  Because using “insanity” to discredit opponents trivializes persons with mental illness — a group that already experiences social marginalization and oppression.  It’s an example of what the blog FWD/Forward refers to as liberal ableism, a variation on hipster ableism, hipster racism and liberal sexism, as well as liberal racism, [...]

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