Stuff White People Say

July 18, 2008

“Does ‘listening’ to people of color mean letting them vent?”

A white person needs to listen to the personal experiences of people of colour.

Why? I’m not being facetious–I’m wondering just why you think a white person needs to do so. What is a white person to do with what they hear when they do so? Anything? Or should she simply listen, as if to let the person of color vent?

I assume (and I hope not fallaciously) that you mean the “personal experiences” here that a POC has have to do with her racial membership–other kinds of personal experience seem irrelevant here. If the POC’s reported personal experiences have to do with race, then what is the white person to do with that knowledge about non-white experiences with race? What is a good way for the white person to learn from it?

(by Macon D in Common White Fallacies when Dealing with People of Colour comments at Restructure!)


Dear Macon D:

You have it completely wrong. You are not the benevolent counsellor for people of colour. You are not the great summarizer or the translator for people of colour.

You are the oppressor.

When I ask you to listen to me, I am not asking you to help me convince “those other white people” who are oppressing me. When I ask you to listen to me, I am asking you to take seriously my criticisms of you instead of ignoring them and ignoring your other critics. Listening and learning means changing yourself and changing your beliefs and changing your behaviour. Learning means realizing that you have made a mistake.

You are not Emerson’s* heroic genius who must ignore his critics and stomp his own path to achieve legendary greatness. You are not being kept down and held back from reaching your full antiracist potential by the white woman, the black man, and the asian woman. Stop thinking that you are the white saviour, and accept that you are the white oppressor.

In the comments of your blog Stuff White People Do, I already posted a link to The helplessness of white people, which is about how people of colour do not have a responsibility to teach white people about racism. Yet, later on, in the comments of Common White Fallacies when Dealing with People of Colour, you said to me, “help me learn from you”. Did you miss the link, did you forget, or did you just ignore it? This is why it looks like you are incapable of learning. I then gave you a link to a Racism 101 page and pointed to item #13, telling you again that I am not responsible for educating you as a person of colour.

Your reply was the following:

Right, you certainly don’t “have” to be nice to me, or explain anything to me–I just meant that I’d find communication with you easier to conduct if you’d tell me what you mean, instead of suggesting it with guiding questions.

Of course I don’t expect you or other PoC to do anti-racism work, nor to help me with mine. […]

Yet just today, in “Then how am I supposed to generalize the racial experiences of people of color?”, you said this to Nquest:

I’ll take what you say about not asking PoC for guidelines and weigh it against what Tim Wise and Restructure have said about the responsibility that a white person doing anti-racist work has for being “accountable” to PoC and PoC perspectives. Turning to non-white people for advice, guidance, etc. seems like one way of being accountable to them and their perspectives.

Do you have some kind of learning disability or memory impairment? Why aren’t you listening to me? It looks like you pick and choose what people of colour and Tim Wise have said, selecting words that you believe supports your agenda, and ignoring words that contradict your agenda.

No, accountability does not mean you going to people of colour and asking for help. Accountability means when people of colour come to you and point out your racism, you take it seriously instead of perceiving it as a personal attack and then ignoring them because they are getting in the way of what you want to do.

You even think this blog is a personal attack on your character, as you made this comment in “Then how am I supposed to generalize the racial experiences of people of color?”:

And I’m not trying to avoid criticism. I’m here, ain’t I, at this blog that’s all about criticizing mine? (which is certainly an honor, by the way–what’s that they say about imitation, sincerity, and flattery?)

Inflated ego, much? If somebody calls you racist, don’t just assume it’s ad hominem (a personal attack). If somebody makes a blog in response to your popular blog, it does not mean that you “must be doing something right”.

In the comments of the same post—which is about how you asked for guidelines on how you could go about making generalizations about the racial experiences of people of color—Nquest, jwbe, and I all told you specifically not to make generalizations about people of colour. Unsurprisingly, you decided that we were curbing your genius and you made your own decision:

No, I’m not going to stop using generalizations about PoC in my writings–I’ll oontinue using them in the limited, responsible sense that I’ve discussed elsewhere, and that they use about their groups as well.

Wow. So you didn’t know how to make generalizations about people of colour responsibly (which is why you asked for help on how to do so), but because our answer to “how” was “don’t”, you then decided that you will do it anyway, and that you know how.

If you don’t know how to do something, and doing it wrong might hurt people, don’t do it.

But you don’t listen.

You ignore.

Then again, we’re just “venting”, right? Our words are just hot air.**


* Context:

It seems like you’re trying to pin something on me–that I contradict myself? So I contradict myself. I am large. I contain multitudes. Consistency, I’m quite tempted to say, is the hobgoblin of little minds.

(Macon D in ask for suggestions comments at Stuff White People Do)

I replied:

So you’re basically saying that you should not be bound by logical consistency or accountability for your words. You can contradict yourself, but nobody can fault you for that, because you see it as a positive trait?

So is antiracism for you a merely a mode of self-expression, and what you write is valid to you just because you feel it?

His reponse:

No Restructure, I’m not saying that. It was late at night, and memories of Emerson and Whitman rose up in me. […]

(Macon D in ask for suggestions comments at Stuff White People Do)

Sample of Emerson’s Self-Reliance:

To believe your own thought, to believe that what is true for you in your private heart is true for all men,–that is genius. Speak your latent conviction, and it shall be the universal sense; for the inmost in due time becomes the outmost,–and our first thought is rendered back to us by the trumpets of the Last Judgment. Familiar as the voice of the mind is to each, the highest merit we ascribe to Moses, Plato, and Milton is that they set at naught books and traditions, and spoke not what men, but what they thought. A man should learn to detect and watch that gleam of light which flashes across his mind from within, more than the lustre of the firmament of bards and sages. Yet he dismisses without notice his thought, because it is his. In every work of genius we recognize our own rejected thoughts: they come back to us with a certain alienated majesty. Great works of art have no more affecting lesson for US than this. They teach us to abide by our spontaneous impression with good-humored inflexibility then most when the whole Cry of voices is on the other side. Else, to-morrow a stranger will say with masterly good sense precisely what we have thought and felt all the time, and we shall be forced to take with shame our own opinion from another.

Excerpt from Whitman’s Song of Myself:

Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)


** This is sarcasm, by the way.

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19 Comments »

  1. This is another post where the title is messed up. It’s not a direct quotation, it’s an inaccurate paraphrasing–so it shouldn’t be in quotation marks, because those are supposed to indicate, you know, direct quotations.

    As for the quotation itself, it’s another example of this blog’s egregious methodology–changing the original meaning of quotations by wrenching them from their original and explanatory context. Nice hack job. You clearly have a sharper mind than this, Restructure; why are you using it this way, as if it’s a dull, blunt instrument?

    Thanks for the lengthy disquisition. I’ll read that part of the post when I have more time to do so carefully.

    Comment by macon d — July 18, 2008 @ 3:21 am | Reply

  2. I changed the title now. Does it still seem inaccurate to you?

    The reason why I sometimes use quotation marks for things other than direct quotations is that the paraphrase is still in the voice of the “white person”. For example, “I’m a spokesperson for black people” would not make sense as “Stuff White People Say: I’m a spokesperson for black people”, which means “White people say that I’m a spokesperson for black people”, where the “I’m” would refer to the author of the blog post, me.

    I re-read this post and I realized that something is missing, which is the connection between “the personal experiences of people of colour” and how this is (or may be) a criticism of what you say. I think that’s the missing post I need to do on my main blog. (Sorry for the confusion.)

    As for decontextualization, I think the issue here is that you and I have different interpretations of what point I’m trying to make. However, if you think I’m quoting you out of context, let me know. I have added the following paragraph of the original that I quoted, although I think it doesn’t affect the point I was trying to make; it just makes it longer.

    Comment by Restructure! — July 18, 2008 @ 3:54 am | Reply

  3. Then again, we’re just “venting”, right? Our words are just hot air.

    You caught that, huh? I also see where you caught Macon trying to use you — what he want to spin out of what you said — against me. And it’s funny. All of this could have been avoided if Macon was mature enough not to think he could get-by by just bullsh*tin’ he way through, saying anything to save face and/or to avoid conflict no matter how saying one thing out one side of him mouth would turn out to conflict with the other thing he was bound to say, again, just to save face or to try, desperately, to establish a “negative” peace.

    Apparently, Macon was banking on people who would accept any bs rationalization he was willing to offer. Maybe he thought his “efforts” and anti-racist “labor” was some type of “get out of my self-created sh*t” free card. And, yes, I was lmao when he tried to use that card.

    Comment by Nquest — July 18, 2008 @ 4:31 am | Reply

  4. It isn’t even about “catching” that. I’ve been trying to *hammer* that point into his head several times, and it’s pretty blatant to me when he keeps ignoring it and saying the same stupid things over and over again.

    Comment by Restructure! — July 18, 2008 @ 4:38 am | Reply

  5. My bad. That’s the first time I seen Macon frame things PoC say as “venting.”

    Comment by Nquest — July 18, 2008 @ 4:41 am | Reply

  6. “…changing the original meaning of quotations by wrenching them from their original and explanatory context. Nice hack job.”

    Only on the internets… Only on the internets (well, quite frequently on the internets) do people try to take issue with other people doing what they do, Macon in this case, on the regular. And even worse, Macon can’t even keep the meaning of his own statements in context.

    Signed, The GUARDIAN

    Comment by Nquest — July 18, 2008 @ 4:47 am | Reply

  7. Macon, you may critizice my English on your blog and no, I won’t take any more lessons, lol, because I don’t have an intelligence deficit like almost all white Americans I met, either in real life or on internet.

    Restructure and Nquest write clearly and its obvious to me what they write.
    So a suggestion for what stuff white people do: being stupid and proud of it.
    This is probably also the reason why your damaged ego has to cite intellectuals despite the fact that you don’t understand what they write. Comprehension is the key, Macon

    Comment by jwbe — July 18, 2008 @ 11:42 am | Reply

  8. Nquest,

    Oh, I see now. You meant catch both framing things PoC say as “venting” AND using my words against you.

    Comment by Restructure! — July 18, 2008 @ 11:58 am | Reply

  9. jwbe, thank you for allowing me to criticize your English on my blog. Here’s hoping that in your future comments on the Internet, the confidence you have in your own mighty intellect really does compensate for the substandard English skills that you no longer intend to improve.

    Your suggested post title, “being stupid and proud of it,” seems directed at me, as if I’m stupid and proud of it. If so, that’s a surprisingly stupid thing to read from the keyboard of a soaringly majestic intellect like yours. I’m not stupid, at least compared to ordinary people, and I take no pride in my intellect.

    Damaged ego? Explain, please.

    I cite intellectuals, researchers, and other sorts of writers because they’re authoritative–do you know what an “expert” is? If so, can you understand the value of citing their work and writings on whatever topic you’re writing about? Or don’t they do things like that in Germany?

    Comment by macon d — July 18, 2008 @ 10:31 am | Reply

  10. [Restructure! I hope you can restructure! the comments–they’re out of order again]

    Comment by macon d — July 18, 2008 @ 10:32 am | Reply

  11. jwbe, thank you for allowing me to criticize your English on my blog. Here’s hoping that in your future comments on the Internet, the confidence you have in your own mighty intellect really does compensate for the substandard English skills that you no longer intend to improve.

    Your suggested post title, “being stupid and proud of it,” seems directed at me, as if I’m stupid and proud of it. If so, that’s a surprisingly stupid thing to read from the keyboard of a soaringly majestic intellect like yours. I’m not stupid, at least compared to ordinary people, and I take no pride in my intellect.

    Damaged ego? Explain, please.

    I cite intellectuals, researchers, and other sorts of writers because they’re authoritative–do you know what an “expert” is? If so, can you understand the value of citing their work and writings on whatever topic you’re writing about? Or don’t they do things like that in Germany?

    You don’t read what people are saying to you. I think, you just catch some words and jump on this. But for you, I can repeat:

    Macon, you may critizice my English on your blog and no, I won’t take any more lessons, lol, because I don’t have an intelligence deficit like almost all white Americans I met, either in real life or on internet.

    Restructure and Nquest write clearly and its obvious to me what they write.
    So a suggestion for what stuff white people do: being stupid and proud of it.
    This is probably also the reason why your damaged ego has to cite intellectuals despite the fact that you don’t understand what they write. Comprehension is the key, Macon

    Comment by jwbe — July 18, 2008 @ 11:27 am | Reply

  12. I think I know what happened with the comments. Now I changed the time format back to what it was before. Hopefully the comments will go back in order?

    Comment by Restructure! — July 19, 2008 @ 2:07 am | Reply

  13. Macon even doesn’t know or understand what he writes on his blog:

    Black and white people don’t talk together much about racial issues, and even when they do, I’m sure that this issue of racial trust rarely comes up. I think it’s an issue that black people know a lot more about than white people do. But that doesn’t mean it’s the job of black people to teach white people about it.
    http://stuffwhitepeopledo.blogspot.com/2008/06/believe-others-consider-them.html

    Comment by jwbe — July 19, 2008 @ 2:07 pm | Reply

  14. It’s all double-speak, JW. And maybe it is the “rote” learning Restructure pointed out in a brilliant post about the fallacy of Macon’s mode of “anti-racism” (or, more precisely, Macon’s aim as a “anti-racist”).

    The “rote” learning, human relations model says this are the things White people shouldn’t say. So once White people learn the things on the list, once they have a guideline, then they can steer clear of offending non-whites.

    The problem with this is akin to teaching to the test or, in this case, teaching word-for-word memorization of the test. Because of that, White people know how to mouth certain words like “it’s the job of black people to teach white people about it” and, somewhere along the line, people like Macon got the impression that saying those things were magic words — i.e. “if I say the right thing, it will reflect well on me.”

    But such “rote” learning is difficult to sustain in practice. As we have seen here, Macon has tried his best to persuade us to “teach white people”, Macon himself in this case. As such, Macon’s statement (“it’s the job of black people to teach white people about it”) are just empty words used for something other than communicating his belief in the idea. From what we can gather from the disconnect between his statement and his practice, Macon appears to only be saying things like that because of “rote” learning; he’s been taught or came to the conclusion that saying “it’s the job of black people to teach white people” is the kind of thing you want to say whether you (he) means it or not.

    Comment by nquest2xl — July 19, 2008 @ 5:43 pm | Reply

  15. What I find so odd, also for example with this “teach me”. Teaching what? History? There are good books and google. Racism? There are good books and google. I really think that this is a code for “I want to fight with you”.

    And also, whites can be so interesting or so when being ‘studied’ (watched). How they act. And as a white ‘undercover’ you get with some issues probably more insight than non-white people, so if a white wants to know what whites think about non-white people you only have to listen to white people. Then you know that stuff what white people do and say.

    And his topic ‘don’t pet non-white people’ is touching the issue social competence. And then he could dig deeper, the topic whites and social competence and their lack of it, whites and empathy and their lack of it, because it would simply be human respectful behavior not to touch people out of the blue.
    But what he wants to create as it seems something like a Knigge (a German book about ‘good manners’ ) which is very superficial and says nothing about the human behind the ‘good manners’

    Comment by jwbe — July 19, 2008 @ 6:30 pm | Reply

  16. I really think that this is a code for “I want to fight with you”.

    That’s certainly what it seems like. Macon sure didn’t listen to what he was being “taught” before and his curious plea for “guidelines” plainly grew out of his attempt to dispute what he was being “taught.”

    As for the “teach me” stuff… Books and Google aren’t needed either. You pointed out what’s needed and I don’t know whether empathy has anything to do with it. You don’t necessarily have to have empathy for someone to reflect on what is “simply… human respectful behavior not to touch people out of the blue.”

    Viewing people as (fully/equally) human is required, though… Perhaps that’s Macon’s problem.

    There is also this thing with associating human behavior with then negatives and not acknowledging the full range of human behavior that includes people who don’t have to be taught not to “touch people out of the blue” in a way that reflects on what the “petting” person thinks about the person being “petted.”

    Somebody said White people don’t go around touching other White people in the same manner and that indicates a different level of respect…

    Comment by nquest2xl — July 19, 2008 @ 6:47 pm | Reply

  17. I have the impression that Macon reduces POC to race and nothing else.

    Comment by jwbe — July 19, 2008 @ 9:21 pm | Reply

  18. […] the “Does ‘listening’ to people of color mean letting them vent?” thread here on SWPS, Restructure, perhaps, used the strongest of terms, Open Letter style, when […]

    Pingback by “You’re trying to make me out to be a racist…” « Stuff White People Say — November 17, 2008 @ 6:46 pm | Reply

  19. […] Stuff White People Say: “Does ‘listening’ to people of color mean letting them vent?” by Restructure! at Stuff White People Say […]

    Pingback by White people dismiss non-white knowledge before they can question it. « Restructure! — October 21, 2009 @ 12:17 am | Reply


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