Internalized racism (the silent face of bigotry)

internalized-racism-the-silent-face-of-bigotry

We talk a lot about racism in America (particularly the violent sort of racism usually tied into supremacy groups) and it tends to be viewed as the only “real” problematic behavior by a lot of people. A smaller set of conversations also recognize aversive racism (stereotypes, even “positive” ones are not okay and often are completely invalid), and occasionally we even wade into this new ground of what I call “victim” racism. What’s that? That’s when people say racist things and then swear up and down they are not racist and are deeply offended at any implication that they are racist. This one often involves someone saying things like “Why is it okay to have the United Negro College Fund? That’s reverse racism” and seems to be rooted in a refusal to grasp even the slightest bit of historical context. Then again, it’s not like high school history classes are about putting events in context. For some reason in most places that doesn’t happen until college and by then the classes are mostly optional. But that’s a whole other conversation and while I might write that post, today’s offering for International Blog Against Racism Week pertains to the things that don’t get discussed outside of closed doors most of the time.

Namely what happens when you grow up in a culture saturated with racism and you are a POC. I’ve talked some about learning to love my appearance, but I don’t think I’ve ever talked about learning to love my culture. About learning to see being black as a gift and not a curse. There’s a community on LJ called Oreos which is devoted to black folks that don’t feel like they are like “those” black people. And of course there is no true yardstick of blackness, but then again that feeling of being separate isn’t about being black enough, it’s about not liking the parts of yourself that you’ve deemed as being too black. Quiet as it’s kept, I went through this whole phase where I was the black friend that said I didn’t mind white people saying nigger or who sat there silent and uncomfortable while the white people around me said things about black people and then offered (sometimes with a hint of shame) that they didn’t mean black people like me.

And of course my discomfort with myself meant that I had my share of conflicts with the “mean” black girls of such renown. Now that I am a mean black girl? I can totally see what they were trying to do when they teased me for always hanging out with white kids and my (terrifying) tendency to put up with the kind of ill shit that I’d slap someone for now. It wasn’t (just) about being mean, it was about knocking some sense into me. Because I drank from the Goblet of Internalized Racism and in between my moments of looking down on them for being ghetto (too loud, too rough, too dark, and whatever else I was so busy judging I couldn’t even consider the reality that we were growing up in the same damned neighborhood) I was setting myself up to play Happy Token Darkie. And no one likes to watch a black person coon…well except for bigots. I can’t even claim that I had no idea that I was cooning, because of course when I heard the “those black people” comments a part of me wanted to scream at them. But I didn’t. Not at first. Certainly not at Whitney Young (admittedly it wasn’t anywhere near as overt as at Downers Grove North) and it took me a while once I was surrounded by overt racism to start to find my blackness and my love for my skin and my culture. But in the pressure cooker that was life between 15 and 25 I finally found it and I’ve had to learn over the years since to nurture it and let it grow.

Of course this process hasn’t been easy or comfortable or even particularly straightforward. Because self-hating black folk have a lot of reasons to keep the hate. Start with the rewards they can reap from the establishment for jumping on the bandwagon (if I never see another black Republican sharing a stage with a guy who makes no secret of being proud of flying the Confederate flag it will be too soon) and add all the pathology that can form as a result of the reinforcement provided by the institutional racism that is part of our society and you get people that have their whole identity invested in telling other black people that they are doing it wrong. And this phenomenon isn’t limited to Bill Cosby’s rantings about pound cake, La Shawn Barber or whoever is playing Uncle Ruckus this week. They’ll expound on the subject of marriage in the black community (bonus points if they trot out that tired old gem about more black men in jail than in college), the evils of single motherhood (Welfare Queen anecdata is a given, but the real deal involves expecting them to have a crystal ball and foresee any possible changes in their circumstances), or explaining why black women aren’t attractive (something about being too independent, not feminine enough, or just flat out saying that only lighter skin tones are attractive to men of any color), because tearing each other down is a primary drive when you’ve internalized the message that you’re worth less simply because of the color of your skin. Hence we get fun things like colorism and growing up hearing about “acting white” and even the train wreck that is skin bleaching.

Now, the purpose of my posting this wasn’t to have a Race 101 conversation about terms and being nice to people who didn’t mean to say “those black people” or even to have the age old “Why are all the black kids sitting together?” discussion. No, it’s a Race 498 conversation about the insidious way racism worms it way into the fabric of a society. It’s a chance to point out that saying “My black friend X says that nigger doesn’t bother him…” doesn’t win you any cookies in a discussion about race because the people you’re talking to have already swum that stream and they know X has some shit to deal with, but that shit isn’t part of *this* conversation. See, I don’t care about your black friend (though I do want you to reevaluate how you define friend if there’s any sort of power imbalance in the relationship since generally people don’t want to torpedo their career by telling a colleague off mid-meeting) or if you’re crying hot bitter tears about someone calling you a racist. Because that’s your problem to work out, and I will never think being called a bigot (especially after you say something ignorant) is more painful than being called a nigger. I’ve been called both over the years (and I’m sure someone will say I’m projecting), but I can laugh off bigot pretty easily while nigger always draws me up short for a second or ten. So no, I don’t care about fixing race relations by using the “right tone” or about comforting the “victims” of the crime that is being called a bigot.

I care about what racism is doing to little girls with Afro puffs sitting at the mirror and wishing for straight hair. I care about little boys that can’t quite imagine their dreams coming true because of the color of their skin. In these discussions about race and representation? It’s not about the dominant culture finding us worthwhile. It’s about making sure that our children can find themselves worthwhile. It’s about being able to see our reality instead of the ugly lies that pass as the stereotype of the week. So yes, while it is a TV show, it isn’t *just* a TV show. They say money is the root of all evil, and I suppose that’s technically true. But racism is the toxin in the water flowing over those roots and unless and until we manage to purify the stream, evil has more than a toe hold in this world. It will make sure the Tree of Life continues to bear a bitter fruit that poisons us all. Combating it will require more than laws, pretty words, and the occasional step forward in the recognition of racism. It’s hard internal work that we all have to do, even if we’re not all doing the same kind of work.

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33 Responses to Internalized racism (the silent face of bigotry)

  1. 1
    attack_laurel says:

    Thank you for being willing to talk about these things. It is utterly impossible to have a truly equal love for any difference in personality, culture, or physicality while the societal definition of what is called “right” in behaviour/appearance/lifestyle/culture is so narrowly defined not only as white, but a particular kind of middle class white that persists in blaming marginalized people for not fitting in, with no consideration of historical or cultural context.

    And how crazy is it that most of the world doesn’t fit in with this cultural “ideal” (scare quotes intentional), yet is considered the minority? It drives me insane when a post-racial society ideal gets described in terms that insist that everyone behave white (I have a real problem with futurist fiction that does this). When politicians (and others) talk about “assimilation into the melting pot of America”, I always read it as code for “give up your culture and the things you love, and behave more white”.

    I’m sorry, I’m rambling. I really appreciate your post.

  2. 2
    RonF says:

    karnytha:

    I’ve talked some about learning to love my appearance, but I don’t think I’ve ever talked about learning to love my culture.

    attack_laurel

    It drives me insane when a post-racial society ideal gets described in terms that insist that everyone behave white

    What’s “my culture”? What’s “acting white”?

    Those are not scare quotes – I’m just trying to make sure that it’s clear what the specific terms I’m talking about are in this context.

    What is unique about culture for blacks in America? The difference between black people and white people when it comes to appearance is one thing, although there’s both figuratively and literally a whole spectrum there. But what would you say are cultural elements that say “black” in America? It’s telling that you say:

    sat there silent and uncomfortable while the white people around me said things about black people and then offered (sometimes with a hint of shame) that they didn’t mean black people like me.

    because it seems to me that you’re talking about white people sitting around and defining what they think black culture is – and feeling at least some guilt about doing so when faced with someone who it would be applied to. On that basis (and on discussions with more white racists than I care to enumerate) my guess is that it’s not going to be too complimentary, either. What do you say it is?

    attack_laurel, I’m going to ask you the flip side – what’s “acting white”? It seems to me that such a phrase is black people sitting around and defining what they think white culture is. My guess is that that’s not going to be too complimentary, either. Is that any more valid than white people talking about what black culture is?

    karnythia

    DG North? Did you go to DG North? My kids’ HS is in the same conference. I’ve been on that campus a few times and work with kids from that school in Scouting. Spending HS years at DG North must be a real trip for a black kid. I just checked on Wiki and it confirmed what I figured – DG is 90+% white, ~5% Asian, ~3.5% Latino and 2% black.

  3. 3
    RonF says:

    Minor diversion:

    Yeah, people do say “money is the root of all evil”. It originated as a Bible quote, but it’s a misquote of 1 Timothy 6:10

    For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.

    It’s not the money, it’s loving having it so much that you neglect God and the Christian faith to concentrate on it’s acquisition. Using the phrase is reminding people that unless they seek God’s guidance and put Him first they will inevitably fall into evil.

    No threadjack intended, if someone wants to talk about this take it to an open thread and tell me.

  4. 4
    nojojojo says:

    Ron F,

    “White culture” is what Americans see on TV. It’s what the cast of “Friends” does, in their bizarrely 99% white parallel-universe version of New York. It’s the fact that NBC chose to depict a 99% white New York, period. It’s the fact that aside from the occasional token, NBC pretty much acted as if people of color didn’t exist, and viewers didn’t immediately reject the shows as hopelessly unrealistic.

    That kind of willful blindness — or colorblindness, if you prefer — is white culture in America.

    It’s also the behavior gets modeled in movies and books, in which endless white characters play the hero and endless PoC are sidekicks and background characters and villains and maybe love interests if they’re exotic enough. It’s what we’re taught in school, where black history gets reduced to a single month or a half-chapter of the history book, while all the rest is white history. (Latina/o and Asian and Native American history don’t even get that much time.) Since you mention appearance, let’s talk hair. If a white woman wears her hair in its natural state, no one will look twice at it, provided it’s groomed and clean. When I wear mine in its natural state, it’s “political.” It can prevent me from getting a job, no matter how groomed and clean I am, because I’m deemed “radical” or “militant”, and random white people assume I hate them. The normalization of white appearance, particularly white racial features like pale skin and straight hair, is part of white culture too. (As karnythia noted with her mention of skin bleaching.)

    We are as a society immersed in white culture, to the degree that it’s invisible to most white Americans (who frequently describe themselves as “raceless” or “cultureless” when that’s just plain illogical) and to the degree that it’s relatively easy for a PoC to “act white” — if they choose to, which most don’t — but not for a white person to “act Asian” or “act black” without resorting to stereotypes. That’s because the pressure to assimilate all goes in only one direction — toward whiteness — and PoC cultures have maintained themselves or developed new traits in opposition to this. Despite this, PoC have had to learn white culture in order to survive in it. This has not been true for white Americans of PoC cultures.

  5. 5
    Karnythia says:

    RonF,

    Yep I went to Downers Grove North High School in Illinois. At the time there were 147 ethnic students. Total. The latest numbers reflect a slight increase from my stint there since I think it was something like 97% white in the early 90′s. The conversations I’m referring to were very much of the “Those black kids are so ghetto with their (insert item here from music choices to attire to slang) and it’s disgusting” or “Why are black men so aggressive” or whatever else pops up when you’re sitting with a bunch of white kids that think middle class suburbia only allows for a certain range of behaviors (it’s okay to get drunk every weekend, but smoking weed is horrible) and any deviation is because you’re from the city and you probably used to be in a gang. I have two kids now and barring a sudden removal of every major city from the map, they’ll never be in a position I was in as a teenager. My parents thought the suburbs were safer, but I think they were defining safe in circles of Hell.

  6. 6
    attack_laurel says:

    RonF: nojojojo summed it up actually more precisely than I can, I think. I did not make it clear that I am white, and I do apologize, becuase it is relevant to this post and my comment. Acting white is the pressure to translate the characters seen on TV and all around us as the sine qua non of normative behaviour. More specifically, the way that upper middle class educated people are supposed to behave – quiet, an expectation of being treated with respect, with particular speech patterns and I think quite importantly, a respect for authority. Behaviours that are a result of the privilege of trusting that authority won’t do anything bad to you, and that you don’t have to speak loudly or angrily to be heard (and that if you do get angry, people will take you seriously). Acting white is acting like you belong, and no-one can question your right to be in a particular space (this is shown up starkly when white people write indignantly about not being accepted in all black spaces, or object to PoC-only luncheons).

    As a northern European immigrant (I’m from the UK), I have never been asked to assimilate, nor has anyone implied that my culture is unrefined, ignorant, or otherwise makes other middle class white people uncomfortable, even though I have a prediliction for strange smelly foods (Marmite, kippers, fish and chips) and don’t behave the way my US friends do. My cultural references are not so different that they scare anyone. The implication seems to be that some cultural behaviours are acceptable and some are not in polite society, and they are divided along racial lines.

    PoC who model these behaviours are rewarded, but never seen as equals, and it’s a pernicious trap to fall into.

    I apologize; I will be away from my computer for a few hours, but I promise to come back.

  7. 7
    JaneDoh says:

    We are as a society immersed in white culture, to the degree that it’s invisible to most white Americans (who frequently describe themselves as “raceless” or “cultureless” when that’s just plain illogical) and to the degree that it’s relatively easy for a PoC to “act white” — if they choose to, which most don’t — but not for a white person to “act Asian” or “act black” without resorting to stereotypes. That’s because the pressure to assimilate all goes in only one direction — toward whiteness — and PoC cultures have maintained themselves or developed new traits in opposition to this. Despite this, PoC have had to learn white culture in order to survive in it. This has not been true for white Americans of PoC cultures.

    Not to derail too far from the original, really important post on the impacts of internalized racism, but I think that Nojojojo’s above statement pretty much applies to any minority group living amongst a majority culture. Minorities (PoC of course, but also sexual minorities, religious minorities, disabled people and anyone else out of the mainstream) must learn mainstream white culture to survive in the US.

    The challenge as I see it is to “fix” modern society not so that minorities don’t learn about the majority culture (since that would have the net result of restricting future options for members of that subculture), but instead making it so that minority cultures of all types are celebrated as something to be proud of, kind of like Irish and Italian culture in the modern US. Eliminating overt racism (like the whites who say racist things, “even” if only to other whites) is only the first step. I am sure there are many closet racists who keep their vile thoughts to themselves. Without making those people a small minority, there will always be an unspoken supposition of inferiority for anyone not in the mainstream. We will know we are almost there when people no longer feel the need to “pass” or think about doing so at all. My MIL thinks all people aspire to live her life as a Christian middle class white woman in the Midwest. She definitely would not think of herself as a bigot, and would be greatly insulted if called one (she doesn’t see her missionary work as anti-Christian bias for sure!). She is not racist in any overt way, and treats all individuals with respect. But she just doesn’t see that her mindset is prejudiced, and that colors everything she does. Spouse and I have tried to get her to see her state of mind is in fact, quite insulting to other people and leads her to behave in ways that can be quite offensive even if she means well (no luck so far).

    PoC culture and white culture in America are so intertwined that one cannot be healed without the other. This (unfortunately) means that the majority has a LOT more work to do, and a lot less motivation to do it (or even see that they need to).

  8. 8
    PG says:

    I will never think being called a bigot (especially after you say something ignorant) is more painful than being called a nigger.

    The truest thing I have read this week.

    That’s because the pressure to assimilate all goes in only one direction — toward whiteness — and PoC cultures have maintained themselves or developed new traits in opposition to this. Despite this, PoC have had to learn white culture in order to survive in it. This has not been true for white Americans of PoC cultures.

    This is a point I kept trying (and apparently failing) to explain to white conservatives who were upset by Sotomayor’s comments about how the experience of being a minority (in her case, a Latina), in a power structure dominated by white males, forces you to understand both sides, whereas the white males get by just fine with knowing only one side of it. She cannot have gotten to where she is without learning consciously what to do to gain the approval of white men; but she also cannot have been born Sonia Sotomayor, a Nuyorican raised in a Bronx housing project, without learning by osmosis how people live and think outside the Princeton-Yale Law-law firm partner-federal judge circles.

  9. 9
    Simple Truth says:

    My first reaction was a lot like RonF’s – what is white culture? I’m no more like the people on Friends than any of the blacks I grew up with were like the Cosbys.

    But I get it – everywhere you see white faces. Everywhere the main culture doesn’t look like you, makes you feel like an alien on the face of a white world. You can take refuge in something else, but you’ll be ostracized for it.

    I am by no means trying to discount that feeling when I say that: whites feel the same way, irregardless of if you think it’s justified.

  10. 10
    RonF says:

    I grew up in Massachusetts SW of Boston. I spent my first two years of HS there in the early ’70s. We had about 400 kids in it. There were no blacks or Hispanics, maybe a couple of Asians. There was a black kid in 5th grade, but I don’t ever remember seeing him after that. I do remember him, though. We got into a fight, oddly enough since I only got into a couple when I was a kid, and when we were brought in front of the principal he accused me of calling him a n****r. I didn’t know what the hell he was talking about and asked my mother what the word meant when I got home. The ethnic groups there were WASPS, Italians and Irish.

    My Jr and Sr years were spent at Tinley Park. Now we’re talking about 1600 kids, one of whom was black. Although one of the janitors was black and during at least one school assembly each year he would be one of the featured performers doing some kind of song and dance routine (memory fails …).

    Probably some of the greasers got drunk. Neither I nor any of my friends ever touched beer. In the Mass. HS I had literally never heard of weed. When I moved to TPHS I heard about it, but it never directly touched anyone I knew (although there was one kid who had been there for more than 4 years that it was rumored didn’t graduate because he didn’t want to leave his customer base).

    When I moved to the Chicago area I got smacked in the face with the concept of racial tensions that I had had no exposure to in Massachusetts. The day I arrived in Chicago and turned on my TV set for the first time was the day that Rev. King got killed. The very first images I ever saw on Chicago TV were live shots from the riots in Chicago. But when I got to meet and know people, what struck me as most remarkable was how damn casual it was, like you were talking about the weather. IIRC there were a certain number of people in Tinley Park/Oak Forest who moved out there from “changing neighborhoods” in Chicago. In my old neighborhood in Massachusetts when people were talking about “those people” they were talking about the Italians!

    College was a different story, but that’s for another time.

    To your response; what you say sounds pretty familiar to me and is certainly no surprise. But you referred to “my culture”. To be upset at what other people claim is “your culture” makes sense to me, especially since it was done in a negative fashion. You speak of your culture. How do you define it?

  11. 11
    Karnythia says:

    My culture? Well, my family moved North doing the Great Migration so my background is heavily colored with Southern influences. That means a lot of black churches, meals involving foods like hamhocks and pig’s feet alongside greens and sweet potatoes prepared every way you can think of (candied, baked, mashed, pie) and service was always elderly and babies first with the young adults eating last. I was raised to revere education, respect my elders, and had plenty of conversations about not engaging in behaviors that would let the white folks get me. That line of thought was primarily aimed at my male cousins (my great uncle was lynched and my Grandmother never quite got past that fear) but it wasn’t all there was to our childhood. Lots of stuff about good hair and good noses intermingled with the knowledge that we were to always carry ourselves well and put our best foot forward in life. It is music played all the time, and keeping a clean house and putting family first even when they do stupid things. But, that’s not to say that’s the only black culture. We’re part of the diaspora and our culture has as many facets as there are cities with us present.

  12. 12
    Matt says:

    You know, it weirds me out when people use Friends as an exemplar of white culture. Or Seinfeld or Woody Allen’s films. Somehow, these particular examples always come up — and each of them is to a notable degree, explicitly Jewish. It’s as if I took Cosby as an exemplar of Latino lifestyles.

    Oh, but otherwise, do love the post.

  13. 13
    PG says:

    Why is “Friends” so Jewish? The creators are Jewish, as are two of the eight main actors, but as I recall the most overtly Jewish moments of the show were Rachel’s aborted wedding to Barry and Ross’s once cleaning out a menorah. As far as ethnicity goes, Joey’s Italian heritage is the only one that is prominent, yet no one considers “Friends” an Italian-American show (and of course Matt LeBlanc was French-Canadian himself).

    Seinfeld is definitely existing in a specifically Jewish NYC, as are Woody Allen’s films to an even greater degree. But “Friends” is almost the epitome of a New York cleansed of ethnicity.

  14. 14
    Mandolin says:

    But “Friends” is almost the epitome of a New York cleansed of ethnicity.

    Agreed.

  15. 15
    Sam L says:

    But “Friends” is almost the epitome of a New York cleansed of ethnicity.

    This kind of makes Friends sound post-apocalyptic. I would SO watch a post-apocalyptic version of Friends.

  16. 16
    FurryCatHerder says:
    But “Friends” is almost the epitome of a New York cleansed of ethnicity.

    Agreed.

    Much of “Black Television” on the old Big Three networks, was cleansed of ethnicity post Cosby. “Fresh Prince” had some ethnic content, but it was mostly to show what was wrong with it (or at least, that was my reading). The only ethnicities that are acceptable are non-Black.

  17. 17
    Matt says:

    Jewishness came up all the time in fairly explicit ways on Friends. One that stands out for me is a Phoebe song about Ross and Rachel for Hannukah, where Rachel denied being Jewish. And one where Ross dresses up as an aardvark, concerned that his son will identify with Christmas. But there was also a lot of more implicit stuff. Rachel and Janice were both based on Jewish stereotypes. Personally, I’d go further. Noting that it’s common, for instance on Seinfeld (where only Jerry and his family are explicitly Jewish), to have ambiguously Jewish characters, I’ll note the rest of the cast isn’t completely not Jewish. To call it cleansed of ethnicity is really denying that Jewishness is an ethnicity.

  18. 18
    PG says:

    I think it was Chandler who said he wasn’t Jewish when Phoebe tried to shoehorn him in with Monica for the Happy Hannukah line. Rachel got rhymed with “dreidel.” And Ross dressed up as an armadillo because he misfired in trying to teach his son about his Jewish identity; Ben got upset that Santa wasn’t coming, so Ross went to a costume store to dress up as Santa, but of course no Santa costumes left, so he was stuck with the armadillo.

    Growing up in an area with very few Jews, I wasn’t familiar with the “Jewish American Princess” stereotype, so I didn’t recognize it in Rachel. I went to a big Southern university, so I knew plenty of non-Jewish girls whose life plan was to marry well and go from being supported by Daddy to being supported by their husbands. And not being Jewish myself, I would be reluctant to say, “Huh, Rachel’s spoiled, she must be Jewish!” I don’t see any Jewish stereotype that Rachel fits beyond the JAP, and that’s a very negative one — more what you would expect of non-Jewish writers.

    I consider Jewishness to be an ethnicity, but I don’t consider a show to embody it if its most prominent aspect in the show is as a negative stereotype.

  19. 19
    Ann Q says:

    White people asking “what is white culture” in America is like goldfish asking “what is water” in a goldfish bowl. It’s so ubiquitous we can’t see it. The only things we notice are the slight deviations from it, like the inclusion of a small bit of Judaism in Friends.

  20. 20
    Sailorman says:

    Ann, that’s simply not true. What it means to “be white” varies hugely from place to place, from ethnicity to ethnicity, from geographical area to class. White people asking “what is white culture” in America are generally wondering how the heck one can even refer to “white culture” as a monolith, any more than one can refer to “POC culture” as a monolith which includes all POC.

    “POC culture” would be ridiculous, and we can all see that. Why assume that someone from China has similar culture to someone from Senegal and someone from Chile, just because they’re nonwhite? nobody would do it in good faith.

    Similarly, it’s not a great assumption that a Jew from Poland shares culture with a native San Franciscan, a Tennessee hills resident, or a Boston Irish cop, just because they’re white.

    Obviously, there ARE certain shared experiences which whites and nonwhites tend to have in a general sense. But shared experiences =/ culture.

    It’s not as if whites are incapable of understanding what culture is. Asking people to describe jewish culture, or Italian culture, or irish culture, or their local culture, or WASP, or goth, or what have you… you’ll get answers.

    So rather than blaming it on the goldfish, blame it on the question. If you think that the problem is that we can’t SEE it, rather than that we can’t DEFINE it, well, how would you define it? Can you?

  21. 21
    PG says:

    Here’s a definition: White culture is the unmarked culture. It is Santa Claus. It is a white dress on the bride at a wedding. It is those experiences shared by the Polish-American Jew, the Irish-American Catholic, the native San Franciscan.

    What do you think culture is if NOT a set of shared experiences? When I started college and went to the welcoming meeting of a South Asian student group, I mentioned to another freshman from my same area of India that I wanted to go law school. She looked at me in awe and said, “How did you get your parents to be OK with that?” (Actually, I’d spent most of my senior year arguing with them about my refusal to go pre-med.) That being nagged to become a doctor is a shared experience, and that is part of my culture.

  22. 22
    Mandolin says:

    Sailorman — actually, Ann’s basically right. All the unmarked, unnoticed stuff is white culture. People tend to refer to teh “unmarked” stuff as “no culture.” That’s global, and it’s the same thing that happens when men say they have no gender (although I notice that’s changing recently, perhaps due to a shift in conversation highlighting the performative aspects of male gender roles). Culture isn’t just stuff like the weird food you eat and what holiday you celebrate – it’s also saying “hello” when you meet people and the expectation that you’ll find a toilet in a bathroom. An awful lot of that it shared between white people and POC as “American culture” and you don’t notice it until, say, a guy comes from India and finds it really hard to relax enough to go to the bathroom unless he can find a way to squat (Rohinton Mistry, Swimming Lessons).

    Also, Sailorman, your tone was really unnecessarily hostile to Ann. She wasn’t rude; the issue isn’t particularly controversial. Did your rebuttal really need to include capital letters and grand-standing adverbs? Why is this such a heated issue that’s bringing up anger for you? And if it’s not anger, why are you using heated rhetorical techniques? Please don’t answer those questions. I’d just rather not have to fight over everything from sentence A to sentence B; that’s the kind of stuff that makes me quit the blog for a while.

  23. 23
    Simple Truth says:

    http://www.picturesforsadchildren.com/index.php?comicID=102

    I found this today and couldn’t help but think of this thread.

  24. 24
    Mandolin says:

    You know, a number of authors who’ve written about the singularity have done so with a rather complex awareness of race and class. See also: Geoff Ryman’s AIR.

  25. 25
    Sailorman says:

    Culture isn’t just stuff like the weird food you eat and what holiday you celebrate – it’s also saying “hello” when you meet people and the expectation that you’ll find a toilet in a bathroom. An awful lot of that it shared between white people and POC as “American culture” and you don’t notice it until, say, a guy comes from India and finds it really hard to relax enough to go to the bathroom unless he can find a way to squat (Rohinton Mistry, Swimming Lessons).

    If something is shared between people who come from such disparate areas as do many American citizens, it is arguably pointless to define it as a culture of one particular group, in the context of discussing cultural differences. If you look at every single habit I have, every belief, and the like, and compared it to the culture of a same-class American POC, I suspect you would find much more overlap than you would differences. And even of those differences, only a portion of them would exist due to race as opposed to religion, geographic location, and the like.

    I mean, if a POC is talking about the issues which arise from living as a POC in a world based on white culture, then I assume them not to be including flush toilets and the like. Doesn’t that follow?

    IOW, since the term “white culture” basically is used only to make those comparisons, i am assuming that when people refer to “white culture” without any particular qualifier, they are referring to those aspects of culture which are selectively possessed by whites. “Sleeping with some sort of headrest” isn’t white culture, even though probably most whites do it.

    (Have you ever really run into a situation where the term “white culture” was used, outside either a conversation comparing cultures or a conversation discussing racism? I have had many discussions which bring up and positively discuss all the various cultures which make up my history. So have many people I know. I have never–and I mean that literally–had a conversation about “white” culture other than in those two situations above.

    American culture, Jewish culture, new york culture, yankee culture, class culture… you name it, I’ve had a discussion about it, outside Alas, with someone over a beer. White culture? Never. Part of a culture is usually a shared insight, a shared closeness, or a shared set of unique characteristics. Other than being white, what culture do I share with other whites?)

    Also, Sailorman, your tone was really unnecessarily hostile to Ann. She wasn’t rude; the issue isn’t particularly controversial. Did your rebuttal really need to include capital letters and grand-standing adverbs? Why is this such a heated issue that’s bringing up anger for you? And if it’s not anger, why are you using heated rhetorical techniques? Please don’t answer those questions. I’d just rather not have to fight over everything from sentence A to sentence B; that’s the kind of stuff that makes me quit the blog for a while.

    Huh. I certainly wasn’t feeling hostile (I’m still not) and don’t think I was grandstanding. But if it came across that way to you–and rereading it, i can see what you mean–I’m sorry.

  26. 26
    FurryCatHerder says:

    Sailorman,

    You recognize white culture when you’re completely removed from it, and immersed in a different culture.

    For example, most white people grow up, move out of the house, maybe leave town, and slowly loosen their family connections. That’s pretty common for white people I know. But amongst people of color, “family” is much tighter. For example, when my son was born I think a dozen or more of my in-laws and extended in-laws showed up. The house was completely full — three extra bedrooms (first child and he wasn’t sleeping in his room yet), my brother-in-law slept in the den with his girlfriend. That’s how full. That’s much more common amongst Hispanics than Whites. Another common Hispanic cultural practice is the Quinceañera — a girl’s 15th birthday. White girls may have a “Sweet 16″, but a Quinceañera is much more of an affair. Dollar dance at a wedding — the bride has dollar bills pinned to her dress by people who want to dance with her. Very tacky around whites. Animals considered acceptable for eating — I love me some goat (Cabrito). Con mucho gusto! “Goat” is not considered “good food” by whites. Pig lips? I’m Jewish, so I don’t know, but I love Turkey necks. Also not white food — edible Turkey parts are things like legs, breasts, thighs, wings. Not necks.

    The expectation of what is or isn’t “normal” is “White Culture”, and until you get out of it, and immerse yourself in non-White culture you’ll never find yourself being shocked into the realization that there are people from other cultures that do things you can’t even imagine are “normal”.

  27. 27
    Sam L says:

    White people asking “what is white culture” in America is like goldfish asking “what is water” in a goldfish bowl.

    Heh heh. Renee Descartes the Goldfish.

    Oh, I’m sorry if I’m being irreverent. I tend to read my blogroll when I’m drunk. Late night job and all.

  28. 28
    sylphhead says:

    I think Sailorman raises some good points, but I don’t know what other term can be used that can communicate the same idea quite as efficiently. Namely, that whiteness is considered the norm, and that being of any other race makes you a deviation, and even if this effect isn’t negative exactly, it still represents the first thing people will note about you. And that secondly, once they note this about you, a whole lot of assumptions will made about you based on stereotypes and historical baggage. And then you carry the burden of “representing” your entire ethnicity or race – some revel in this sort of situation, but many don’t.

    I’m not sure that “culture” is quite the right word. Perhaps the “Default (White) Paradigm”? I don’t otherwise like using the word “paradigm”, but it’s an idea.

  29. 29
    attack_laurel says:

    Argh. I’m really sorry Karynthia – I did not mean to derail your really thoughtful post into a discussion of white culture (way to center white people again!). That was a really big fail on my part, and I abjectly apologize.

    People need to be told about the pressure to be something you are not and the catch-22 of either allowing racist speech to go by or deal with the defensiveness of white people when called on it, and how exhausting it is to always be in that position.

  30. 30
    Sailorman says:

    ya, sorry, attack_laurel. i’ll bow out rather than derail any further: the original post was excellent and worth discussing without this distraction.

    Moving to the open thread.

  31. 31
    BeccaTheCyborg says:

    This is happiestsadist from LJ, saying holy shit, I love this post. I am seriously debating printing it out and posting it around.

  32. 32
    Aaron V. says:

    Defining “white culture” is tricky, but I’d say that it’s American culture in which you cannot place the ethnicity. Like much of prime-time TV, manufactured popular music (try the office-drone stations or pre-fab teen pop), or any chain restaurant advertised on TV.

    The Olive Garden. When you’re here, you’re not Italian.

    There are definitive white immigrant cultures like what FurryCatHerder describes – would any non-Pole eat czernina (duck blood soup)? Even those cultures are described as strange, and stereotypes of them pop up, usually in cartoons.

  33. 33
    Aaron V. says:

    Karnythia – I grew up in a overwhelmingly-white suburb, Bethel Park, PA.

    I would say there were 12-15 African-American kids in a class of 530, 2 Asians, and 1 Hispanic – Downers Grove seems diverse in comparison. (I managed to have 2 of the Black students as my closest friends from then until today.)

    Funny thing is that many of the white people I know see racism or “racial doubt” as an old person’s disease – the kind of thing that manifests itself in watching Bill O’Reilly or Glenn Peckerw…er, Beck.

    This is something that’s complex, though….I think this should be a longer discussion thread. People need to experience cultures to become comfortable in them, and it’s easy (and lazy, remember that!) for a white person to ignore other cultures than someone of another background in many areas of the United States to ignore dominant middle-class white non-ethnic culture.