Stuff White People Say

July 27, 2008

“It’s a matter of life or death for non-white people…”

Filed under: Uncategorized — nquest2xl @ 1:17 am

Like the idea of “examining Whiteness“, it’s thoughts like these, in the type of context they often appear in, that show evidence of an old paradigm. The idea begs the question:

What do White anti-racists feel is at stake for them and for Whites, generally, when it comes to trying to understand race, Whiteness, White Privilege and how things work and impact people, particularly White people, in a system of WHITE SUPREMACY?

Put another way: what is it a matter of for White anti-racist?

Is it an “intellectual exercise” as LLB confessed about his previous approach…? Is it just another topic, another cause or issue like any other issue? Or is it, is all the talk about being anti-racist, all the rhetoric about trying to counteract WHITE SUPREMACY, is it for some so-called White anti-racists, consciously or not-so-consciously, intentionally or damn-near-instinctively, a defense mechanism as Barbara Karens speculates?

“…we white anti-racists will fight to feel and present [ourselves] like “good white people” as if we are fighting for our very lives. Because culturally, we are… We will give this up if and only if this inhumane Euro-white cultural/structural/spiritual system dies or gets destroyed…”


  1. I think it would be a very rare individual who is white and for whom anti-racism didn’t start out as something more or less abstract, especially for someone like me, for whom other forms of discrimination typically don’t apply either, white heterosexual males. I don’t have any actual experience with racism against me, so the lack of direct impact forces one to start with an idealization of the issues, thoughts of justice and equality, and not personal safety and security.

    I actually think this is probably one of the best reasons for arguing that white people need to follow the lead of people of color in anti-racism, because of this combination of working against their interests and being motivated by something less than personal experience.

    This doesn’t mean that white people won’t have very meaningful and concrete reasons for wanting to oppose white supremacy, and the number and depth of connections one has to people of color largely dictates this because it then moves into something personal. I just think there is something obviously lacking in the average white persons experience that makes developing anti-racist beliefs (and from belief, action) a move from the conceptual to the concrete, rather then developing these concepts out of the concrete realities of their lives.

    Comment by LLB — July 27, 2008 @ 2:08 am | Reply

  2. Thanks, LLB. That was very insightful.

    I’m also wondering if people of colour fighting racism are doing it for selfish reasons then, because racism does directly impact us. There is still some amount of abstraction for us, because as antiracist people of colour, we try to fight against elevating ourselves at the expense of other people of colour within white society.

    Comment by Restructure! — July 27, 2008 @ 3:42 am | Reply

  3. LLB, I appreciate your post but I’m really hoping for my question to be addressed:

    What do White anti-racists feel is at stake for them and for Whites, generally…
    Put another way: what is it a matter of for White anti-racist?

    I can change that and have it apply for any White person who is concerned about racism. And, actually, part of the impetus for this thread was the very thing I attempted to point out on your blog via Tim Wise’s statement against the mindset, the old paradigm of “we’re doing it for [them] other people…”

    You talk about not having personal experience as far as racism against you and I’m trying to make the point or, rather, ask the question why is that the point for you? for Whites, anti-racist or not?

    Your focus then is not on what’s at stake for you. It’s as if racism doesn’t impact White people like it’s a smart bomb that hits it target and the target only, leaving White people untouched — unchanged by centuries of racism. As if racism and WHITE SUPREMACY hasn’t impacted White folks. Like their life experiences exists outside of racism and are, somehow, untainted by WHITE SUPREMACY.

    I’m thinking of a lot of things here. I’m thinking of several points Wise made in his Paleness As Pathology essay. I’m thinking of all those “it’s class, not racism” arguments and the disconnect. One that Wise highlights in this clip:

    So, for a lot of White people, there’s plenty of things in their experience that should inform and motivate them… There just seems to be a disconnect most of which revolves around seeing racism as somebody else’s problem.

    (For more of the historical context, see this commentary at

    Comment by nquest2xl — July 27, 2008 @ 4:43 am | Reply

  4. (()) I’m also wondering if people of colour fighting racism are doing it for selfish reasons…

    I’ve asked myself the same question but it should be noted that, now, more than ever certain PoC can and do believe that racism isn’t that big of a deal and some may not have had any personal experiences they would classify as racism or discrimination against them personally.

    Dismissing Jesse Jackson as “behind the times”, a newspaper quoted someone saying “…racism really isn’t the main thing right now.” Situate that in the mix with the cliche that “racism is more subtle now” and the rather “abstract” idea (for some) of “institutional racism” absent the social control systems in the U.S.A.’s past (the system of slavery and the Jim Crow, apartheid system), e.g., then this idea gets a little shaky.

    And, really? When has fighting against racism been in the personal interests of PoC? The system doesn’t reward let alone encourage that. Indeed, the social penalties are a plenty.

    Comment by nquest2xl — July 27, 2008 @ 4:57 am | Reply

  5. what I find scary with white people as a collective is their belief in authorities. They sit within a system which is created for them and take all things for granted. They do not question what this system makes out of them or wants to make out of them: Silent followers who obey the rule of money. They sell their souls to this system to be ‘successful’ and at the same time they are disconnected from life and also themselves.
    They do not realize how this competitive system also forces them to disrespect people in general, when somebody wants to be successful according white definition.
    I had many discussions with my friend about empathy and today I am sure that many whites can’t feel empathy with people in general, regardless race. This makes a lot of human relationships empty and superficial.
    We are willing to kill for money which is in reality just paper. We call certain stones like gold or diamonds precious and exploit people for this. Stones are more important than human beings, how sick is this?
    We want to believe the lies that nuclear power is safe or that wars are in our interest, “security”.
    We work our entire lifes only to be rejected when we are old. “Ballast” for society, slowly dying in nursing homes.
    But whites like it to go somewhere else to educate people there, how ‘bad’ they are or what they should do to improve their lives within our system which oppresses them. Instead of looking on their own lifes and changing the own system, but this is because they can feel superior again together with all their lies and excuses.
    They invent race to justify their sickness, we are witnesses how this is just happening with Muslims, the dehumanization of people happens in front of our face and many don’t realize that but jump on the train, feeling superior and civilized with the right to “educate” them about humanity and democracy, without realizing that we Europeans/whites don’t have both of it.

    Comment by jwbe — July 27, 2008 @ 1:16 pm | Reply

  6. Nquest,

    I did answer your question. Perhaps I didn’t answer it very well, but the desire for justice and equality was the answer. However, I am quite the neophyte on this, and so I have no doubts that I am disconnected to other issues that do directly impact me. I will read the Wise piece and look at the other materials you offered. Thanks again.

    Comment by LLB — July 27, 2008 @ 2:11 pm | Reply

  7. LLB, there is a huge disconnect. Compare the title to your answer:

    “It’s a matter of life or death for non-white people…”

    __________________ vs. ____________________

    “[It’s a matter of] justice and equality for white people…”

    The question, again, was:
    What do [Whites or] White anti-racists feel is at stake for them…

    Please explain how justice and equality is FOR you. FOR Whites… When you refer to racism, you’re saying Whites have had justice and equality denied them? If that’s not what you meant to say then how do the issues of justice and equality “directly impact” you?

    Comment by Nquest — July 27, 2008 @ 2:21 pm | Reply

  8. “Racism is a disease. It affects whites as well as blacks. It may even be a kind of mental illness. But the effect on black people is greater because we are the victims of it. The effect on whites is severe because it deforms their thinking and gives them a distorted picture of the world. But because the economics of racism is inarguably in their favor, most whites learn to live with it, even to deny it.” — Sister Souljah

    Comment by nquest2xl — July 27, 2008 @ 3:02 pm | Reply

  9. I think we all will agree that probably the most damaging effect of segregation has been what it has done to the soul of the segregated as well as the segregator. — Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

    Comment by nquest2xl — July 27, 2008 @ 5:05 pm | Reply

  10. Nquest,

    I thought what LLB was saying was that antiracism starts out abstract for the white person, but as the white person learns more, the connections to real life start to form. He also said that personal connections to people of colour helps move this from the abstract to the personal.

    Those are interesting quotes, but I think the average white person, even maybe the average white antiracist, doesn’t care if their thinking is deformed and their picture of the world is distorted. This deformed and distorted reality has worked for the average white person for such a long time that it’s considered a valid perception, and that the view that argues that the white view is deformed/distorted is “just another point of view”.

    Comment by Restructure! — July 27, 2008 @ 5:30 pm | Reply

  11. […] Filed under: Uncategorized — jwbe @ 5:57 pm Tags: anti-racist, white, white supremacy Restructure said: “I think the average white person, even maybe the average white antiracist, doesn’t care if […]

    Pingback by “What is a white anti-racist?” « Stuff White People Say — July 27, 2008 @ 5:57 pm | Reply

  12. ((*)) I thought what LLB was saying was that antiracism starts out abstract for the white person

    And I’ve argued that it’s increasing abstract for the non-black person. That’s why Whites feel questions like “how have you been discriminated against”, “what racism have you personally experience” and remarks like “there are no slaves alive today” are meaningful.

    Besides that, my question was rather specific and had a specific purpose. Any answers that don’t deal with “what’s at stake FOR you (Whites)” then are off point. Whether ‘the avg. white person’ or white anti-racists feel any of the things I quoted to be relevant is not the issue either. When a response to a question that asks “what’s at stake FOR you” drifts into something other than “what’s at stake FOR [them]”, whatever that is, however ‘they’ see it… then I’m not going to pretend like my question was answered when it was not.

    Comment by nquest2xl — July 27, 2008 @ 6:09 pm | Reply

  13. LLB, what do you mean with “abstract”?
    Sometimes when I read from white people and their struggles or so to acknowledge white privilege and to understand racism – I really wonder, what are they talking about.
    An “unmaking”, as if it were possible to put one white layer after the next away and suddenly a new identity is here.

    Comment by jwbe — July 28, 2008 @ 12:30 am | Reply

  14. Nquest. I guess I’m not sure how to answer that question any more. Previously, when I had said justice and equality, it wasn’t that I meant whites had been denied these, but rather that once the truth about white supremacy is known, there is a certain psychological discomfort at knowing that ones position in the world is a result of justice and equality being denied others, and that the benefit for a white anti-racist would be the resolution of this discomfort by advocating justice and equality for those previously denied it.

    I understand how lame that sounds in comparison to what you stated is at stake for people of color, but I would not claim (or would not have previously claimed, I don’t know now) that whites had as great a stake in the anti-racist movement as people of color, which is what I had stated earlier when I said this was a reason that whites should follow the lead of PoC in anti-racism.

    From your quotes and from the Wise article, I can see now that there are certainly a number of other issues besides the resolution of psychological dissonance at risk for white people with anti-racism, and I want to thank you for bringing these issues to my attention, it has given me a lot to think on that had previously gone unnoticed.

    To jwbe,

    By abstract, I meant that the white persons concerns for justice and equality were matters of self-image and ideals, and not concrete incidents of injustice and inequality being perpetrated against them. However, Nquest has brought it to my attention that even this is assuming too much, since he stated that even for PoC these issues are increasingly becoming abstract. I hope that adequately answers your question. I haven’t been doing very well with answering questions up till now.

    Comment by LLB — July 29, 2008 @ 1:23 am | Reply

  15. Nquest,

    And I’ve argued that it’s increasing abstract for the non-black person.

    Wait, I read this wrong. I read ‘non-white’ the first time. What do you mean?

    Comment by Restructure! — July 29, 2008 @ 2:05 am | Reply

  16. I meant to write “increasingly abstract for non-white” and specifically Black people (because I hear from Blacks all the time) as opposed to “non-black.” So you read it right, though I wrote it wrong in that instance.

    Post #3 has an example of someone Black dismissing the prevalence, potency and, hence, the urgency of dealing with racism. Again, it’s something I hear all the time…

    Comment by Nquest — July 29, 2008 @ 3:47 am | Reply

  17. Thanks, that does make more sense. (“…feel free to delete [previous] comment…” = Done by NQ.)

    Comment by LLB — July 29, 2008 @ 3:54 am | Reply

  18. “I understand how lame that sounds in comparison to what you stated is at stake for people of color…”

    My point had nothing to do with making comparisons. My issue is with the age old problematic idea of Whites approaching the issues of justice and equality denied with an attitude or mindset that they are doing it for somebody else as opposed to doing it for themselves. That was the point of me highlighting the disconnect…

    The original question was:
    What do White anti-racists feel is at stake for them and for Whites, generally…
    Put another way: what is it a matter of for White anti-racist?

    I’m suggesting that Whites need to approach this on their own terms for their own reasons and do it out of their own self-interests, however Whites come to define those interests. So, if the feeling of discomfort motivates someone past shame and guilt into “not in my name” action or whatever then I’m saying that makes much more sense to me and, frankly, it’s preferable from my standpoint as a PoC.

    In these race conversations, especially when they include White political conservatives, I’ve come to the conclusion that [White] guilt is a useless emotion. It doesn’t do me, as a PoC, any good. It actually seems like an immobilizing emotion. So if the feeling of discomfort is anything like that then something has to change in the approach/paradigm of Whites who are against racism.

    So I am asking a genuine and, I guess, thought-provoking question when I ask what is at stake for White anti-racist. The question has to do with how invested you (i.e. White people are) in fighting racism. As long as racism remains something that’s so distant from Whites… as long as it is perceived as somebody else problem… Then, I guess I will reluctantly have to agree with the point in the “White anti-racist is an oxymoron” piece you posted on your blog.

    Also, the point of the Tim Wise video was to highlight how, at least for poor/working class Whites, the economic bottom line, the very economic potential of Whites is impacted. People are saying the U.S. is in decline with the current economic slump the beginning of the roll downhill. America’s racism is implicated in that and the degree to which future generations in a “browning” America will not be as competitive in the global economy as they could be if the country would have invested in the Black, brown and poor (Whites) in America today and yesterday.

    The link to Wise’s essay speaks directly about “Understanding Self-Interest.” (BTW, that is the basic way in which I view racism or, instead, WHITE SUPREMACY — as a matter of self-interests, however defined, and not necessarily malice or any of those, perhaps, overly moralized ideas.)

    Comment by Nquest — July 29, 2008 @ 4:13 am | Reply

  19. That was very clear. I’ll write some more later, but I wanted to thank you for taking the time to explain this to me. I hadn’t had a chance to see the Wise video until now, but it makes your point very clear as well. Why aren’t more anti-racists saying things like this? My previous exposure to anti-racism has all been moralizing crap, basically what you said, like it is someone else’s problems. Do you think I could share your comment with my family, perhaps post it on my blog or something?

    Comment by LLB — July 29, 2008 @ 5:50 am | Reply

  20. LLB, if you get anything out of the stuff I say (lol), you’re free to post it, bottle it and put it on the open free-market.

    Comment by nquest2xl — July 29, 2008 @ 6:30 am | Reply

  21. I think the problem is that it is a human survival strategy to risk as less as possible. I once read an article why revolutions for example normally only start when much enough people suffer directly and quite severe under a system. People try to adapt to systems, creating some sort of comfortable zone. And because whites don’t directly feel the impact of racism, many don’t act or act out of a wrong understanding.
    Racism is always against democracy and also a threat to internal peace, but white people can live the illusion to be safe. As long as they are silent they are still relatively safe.
    And they also believe that things will remain that way for them. That capitalism can continue that way. Not realizing for example that the system of Germany can’t survive with politics we have now. With stigmatizing non-white non-Germans and non-white Germans, an education system where it is clear that many young people of today won’t have any real chance to get a job or a job with which they can make a living. The birthrate of German children is falling, the number of jobless people is rising, also because of investments and companies going abroad, the number of old people is increasing, there will be the day when this system will break apart because there won’t be enough working people who can support all these people any more. Already today almost 50% of my salary goes away for taxes etc and I am lower income. In some areas, particularly East Germany, living on welfare is more profitable than working. But instead of challenging the government people blame welfare recipients and are more likely to fight for an decrease of the payment of welfare than an increase of their salary etc.
    Wages are behind inflation rate, so the very core capitalism is build on, a great mass with bying power, gets more and more lost, which means more and more rationalization or shut downs of companies. Small businesses who are no longer able to compete with the prize dumping big companies, who let produce their products outside Germany etc. This will escalate in the sooner future.
    The list is endless and nonetheless the political apathy of the average German is stunning. Running towards the abyss with open eyes and rather killing and discriminating against people who do have less power than they than challenging the system and government in unity.

    Comment by jwbe — July 29, 2008 @ 11:15 am | Reply

  22. jw, that brings up a question that I had been intending on asking Nquest as well. Do you think that capitalism is inherently flawed then, or just the way it is being used today? By used today, I mean something like Free trade vs. Fair trade.

    Comment by LLB — July 29, 2008 @ 1:30 pm | Reply

  23. “…because whites don’t directly feel the impact of racism, many don’t act or act out of a wrong understanding.”

    That’s exactly my point…

    Comment by Nquest — July 29, 2008 @ 2:26 pm | Reply

  24. Can anyone else see my comment from July 29, 1:30PM? I’d offer a link to it, but I suspect it isn’t showing up because I included two links in it.

    Comment by LLB — July 29, 2008 @ 5:21 pm | Reply

  25. now it’s here

    Comment by jwbe — July 29, 2008 @ 5:53 pm | Reply

  26. or just the way it is being used today?

    I am not an economy expert, so I can just tell you my thoughts. Capitalism caused already a lot of problems back in history. First the greed to produce wealth which leads to maximizing profit as well as trying to gain control over resources. The Iraq war is about control over oil. European colonies were also about control over resources and slavery a result of capitalism.
    When you think about that for example really every country on earth would live with the living standard of the USA then it wouldn’t take very long that natural resources run out and the pollution would make life impossible. Capitalism always also encourages consumerism.
    In the future also the long transportation ways from eg China to the US or Europe, all this costs money and oil. People flying around in air planes to make holidays etc.
    So we have to find alternatives that the resources of planet earth can be used by all people in a meaningful way, without exploitation and environmental destruction.
    Farming etc. should be done where the products are used, and not like today, that for example the food for the animals we produce in factory farming in Europe is produced in third countries. The consumption of meat in industrialized countries must go down and also consumerism. Fair Trade may be an alternative at the moment, you can make the decision if you buy coffee or tea etc out of exploitative and sometimes deadly labor or Fair Trade.
    Another great problem of capitalism is monoculture.
    In a global market I don’t believe that capitalism can be reformed or controlled. You will always have people who will exploit it and in a capitalist society those with money have the power.
    Governments aren’t ‘free’. They are controlled by corporations and corporations also control the media.

    Comment by jwbe — July 29, 2008 @ 7:07 pm | Reply

  27. […] just recently been in a rather intense discussion (intense for me at least) regarding white anti-racists. Nquest in particular was of tremendous help […]

    Pingback by the laughing linden branch » What’s in it for Whites? — July 30, 2008 @ 2:13 am | Reply

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