Stuff White People Say

September 17, 2008

“We’re on the same side so . . .”

Filed under: Uncategorized — nquest2xl @ 12:58 pm

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:

How racism works

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…


  1. what I don’t understand is how easy it is for somebody white to be considered as “good” and as something like an authority.
    I also don’t understand that people defend Macon just to defend him and I think that this has something to do with ‘solidarity among whites’ as well as with ‘peer pressure’ (see Milgram Experiment).
    I also don’t understand that, when somebody claims that he is still learning, this seems to be the perfect excuse to be allowed to make any mistake, to be as problematic as it can be, but this “still learning” is already considered positive and therefore nobody has the right to criticize. This also based on the wrong assumption or perception that criticism is always negative and ‘praise’ is always positive.

    Comment by jwbe — September 17, 2008 @ 9:43 pm | Reply

  2. This post by Uppity Brown Woman, How to be an “ally”, reminds me of Macon D and the white SWPD commenters who chastised us for disrupting their discourse. (How dare we disrupt the racism-free utopia of SWPD? We should be grateful to the ever-patient Macon D for not banning us!) Here are the How to be an “ally” points that resonate for me:

    4. Use the phrase, “but the [marginalized] people I know don’t find anything wrong with it…” because no one associated with you could ever be off-base with anything.

    6. Use the phrases “not always” and “that’s not what I meant” when someone has challenged you, because they don’t understand what your real intention was and you shouldn’t bother learning what was problematic with what you did say, misspoke or not.

    7. Tell people to respect your separate identity as an ally, since you are giving up a lot of your time an energy just to be an ally.

    8. Point out that everyone should engage with each other in a “respectful” manner, and not get angry, so that everyone will learn, but in the event you get angry, your anger is always justified.

    10. Say that you’re “still” learning as your personal disclaimer for any fuckups you will most certainly commit. That way no one can call you offensive since your “intent” was not there.

    11. Assume you’ve learned all there is to know about oppression and privilege, seeing as how you read a book about it. (Use it simultaneously with #10 for a total knock out!)

    12. Whenever the situation arises, distance yourself from real ___ists/___phobes, in case anyone forgets that you’re an awesome person.

    19. Agree with everything different members of the same oppressed group says, even if they are in disagreement, because a) your opinion matters so much for their validation, and b) you won’t lose any of your ally cred.

    Comment by Restructure! — September 18, 2008 @ 12:20 am | Reply

  3. I was serious when I said there are a handful of experiences I’ve had. But, first, one quick note regarding Macon and this “still learning” stuff… Okay. That’s it.

    One of the past “We’re on the same side” incidents that will always stand out in my mind happened when a poster named SheWolf on a message board I started posting on just announced, out of the blue, that she was “on my side.” Okay, we were having a discussion about race/racism — me, her and another poster. Me and the other poster were clashing, as it were. She was the antagonistic kind and, now that I think about it, it made some sense because I had posted my first thread on that board and it was rather provocative. In fact, it was a spoof of thread that was posted on a different board that I found racially offensive.

    Anyway, as I laid out my rationale for this “provocative” stance presented in my spoof thread, SheWolf more or less tried to intervene and explained why some of the things I said that set the other poster off were indeed understandable. So, SheWolf’s intervention there (and in other places) were apparently the things that established her as “on my side.” Stay with me now…

    As the conversation in that spoof thread progressed, SheWolf kept interpreting the kind of things I was saying and kept trying to help the other poster understand the rationale behind it. Of course, SheWolf couldn’t help but put her own ideas in the middle of all that, so I made a passing point in one of my posts to clarify my position and indicated how I didn’t agree with SheWolf’s assessment. Things essentially went down hill from there.

    From what I can remember, the breaking point occurred when I differed sharply with SheWolf as she espoused what I thought were some rather naive ideas — and she admitted that they were — and predictably drifted into this problematic thing so many White people do when a firm focus is placed on White racism: try to rationalize it by not-so-subtly trying to equalize all racism with White racism as if racism perpetrated by non-whites is equal to White racism and has anywhere near the negative impact on people’s lives as White racism.

    In the midst of all that, in the midst of many points of agreement/understanding and, increasingly, several points of difference or distinction… in the middle of some point of clarification I was making, SheWolf announced that she was on my side and that became a recurring theme over the time I spent posting on that board. There were plenty of topics where SheWolf and I agreed and even co-signed each other — the board had a sharply right vs. left political divide — but whenever it came to topics where our views on race/racism, in particular, differed… this “I’m on your side so…” attitude popped up. One time she even tried to defend a conservative poster on the board who always tried to lobby personal attacks at me because he was one of the more decent conservatives on the board.

    Comment by nquest2xl — September 18, 2008 @ 1:20 am | Reply

  4. > How dare we disrupt the racism-free utopia of SWPD? We should be grateful to the ever-patient Macon D for not banning us!

    something like Satire:

    The speaker, a white person, who has ‘studied’ racism and anti-racism. The audience is mixed with many white people who told everybody they know that they would attend an “anti-racist” event. Already this makes them ‘socially concerned’ citizens. Awesome! The non-white audience is necessary for diversity. A hug here and there, white people have to show other white people that they know non-white people.
    Silence, the speaker starts his lecture. White people hang on every word and admire the speaker for his wisdom and enlightment.
    After the lecture there is a discussion and some people, mostly PoC disrupt the illusion and criticize the words of the speaker. What an uncomfortable situation for white people! Therefore the criticism must be wrong, is disruptive and the product of some weird non-white people who ‘don’t get it’: That white people are trying, really trying, even if this will last the rest of their life, but at least they are trying.
    White people forget why they attended the event, they recall their race-solidarity and side with the speaker against the ‘trouble-makers’. Nquest, you are just too direct and your style is too confrontional, no no, this isn’t the way your white allies want to be treated. Your silence is welcomed, the truth hits so hard. And Restructure, how can PoC know their reality better than white folks? White folks are always superior and are learning out of books what’s your life. They will listen, but they will only listen to those who don’t criticize them.
    One white person Y tries to ask a question to the white speaker, about the way non-white people shake hands or don’t shake hands. And because the white way is oppressive and a white anti-racist doesn’t want to oppress, Y wants to know whether the dap done by somebody white isn’t similar like mocking a tradition one isn’t a part of and he also wants to know why the Black way is a synonym with the “non-white way”. Aren’t there cultures that do not even touch each other while greeting? Y is confused and wants to know whether he has to learn all culture’s ways of greeting in order to be anti-racist and non-oppressive. What is the Asian American way to greet each other? Y watched ‘Shogun’, will this help?
    The speaker can’t endure the ‘hostile’ atmosphere any longer and sends the disruptive people out of the room.
    The white allies of, of, ahem, of the white speaker applaud the decision, finally they are again among themselves, celebrating each other what good anti-racists they are.

    Comment by jwbe — September 18, 2008 @ 9:38 pm | Reply

  5. LOL

    Comment by Restructure! — September 18, 2008 @ 11:51 pm | Reply

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