On a Black blog, conversation about the poor level of journalism present in the media coverage of the presidential election campaign turned into me arguing that it would be preferable for media personalities to practice a high level and high standard based journalism instead of hoping journalist could be taught to “understand racism.” My thinking was that whether someone understood racism well or not, good, conscious, even self-conscious or self-reflective journalism could lead to the type of inquiry featured in that discussion:
What if John McCain were a former president of the Harvard Law Review? What if Barack Obama finished fifth from the bottom of his graduating class? What if McCain were still married to the first woman he said “I do” to? What if Obama were the candidate who left his first wife after she no longer measured up to his standards?
What if Michelle Obama were a wife who not only became addicted to pain killers, but acquired them illegally through her charitable organization? What if Cindy McCain graduated from Harvard? What if Obama were a member of the “Keating 5”? What if McCain was a charismatic, eloquent speaker?
If these questions reflected reality, do you really believe the election numbers would be as close as they are?
This is what racism does. It covers up, rationalizes and minimizes positive qualities in one candidate and emphasizes negative qualities in another when there is a color difference.
I bring all that up to continue to make the point I made in that conversation for the purpose of confronting this recurring issue that just doesn’t add up. Before I get directly to the meat of the issue, a recent event proves instructive. The event, of course, is the Obama Waffles drama. Perhaps that’s kind of extreme but what I want to get at and the point I was trying to make in the conversation is that the idea of getting people to “understand racism” actually requires, IMO, a lot.
Whether they have been sincere or not, people have argued that the Obama Waffles incident was what the creators said it was: a parody. No racism involved. Even more than that though, I can readily imagine how people who agree that the Obama Waffles gimmick is offensive can have, perhaps, vastly different reasons for why they think it is offensive. (And I don’t even want to consider those that do it for cachet.)
But what about other things were the offense is not so clear? What happens when someone who usually gets it… doesn’t?
As we can see, that can be a source of conflict. After weeks of not posting on Stuff White People Do, within a post or two, I’m labeled a “[concern] troll” by a poster I’ve never seen because I took issue with the faulty assumptions made to, ironically, point to racial prejudice people might have.
Now, for someone whose been accused of seeing racism under every bed, any rock, etc… the idea of me missing somewhere where racism or racial prejudice is present is new to me. What’s not a surprise, however, is how the mere fact that I would/have disagreed and been firm in my conviction and criticism of the ideas of Whites who are generally sensitive and sympathetic when it comes to race issues somehow makes me and others persona non gratas.
I’ve actually had self-identified White posters tell me they were “on my side” (pre-preemptively, mind you) and that we had “more in common” than what I thought (when my contact with that person was too new, too short for them to know what we had in common) whenever my position on a race issue challenged the limits of their ideas — they’re underlying assumptions — and what they believed were “legitimate” issues as far as race and racism was concerned.
In those situations, it never failed that someone came along (either that person and/or someone else) and had an issue with whatever philosophical disagreement I had with the person because we were on the “same side.” In every one of those situations, those statements functioned as a way to silence me. To tell me that I was in the wrong by daring to ever disagree with such an esteemed and/or sympathetic White person… a White “ally.”
How do I know that? Because nothing was ever said when those people, my self-appointed White “allies”, disagreed with me. The fact that we were on the same side didn’t matter then. Of course, I think Restructure is hardly paranoid and is definitely on to something when reflects on who is regarded as the epitome of antiracism. For those would-be White allies, those often held out as if they are the “epitome of antiracism”, the message to non-Whites critical of racism and, in so doing, the thoughts of said White allies, the message is: “We’re on the same side so you can’t be but so critical of the things I say.”
I’m thinking of about a handful of the most distinct on-line examples of that too…