Stuff White People Say

October 1, 2008

“How to discuss about race”

Filed under: Uncategorized — jwbe @ 9:44 pm

“Guides” how to talk about racism almost always include that somebody should remain calm.

Online discussions lack the possibility to watch somebody else’s body language and a certain ‘group-dynamic’ seems almost always impossible to avoid: some or many other internet users will support the racist or problematic points of view and the person behind
Almost always those who rise the issue of race and racism are perceived as trouble-makers, those who are allegedly wrong, insulting, aggressive and so on. Style or the use of ‘wrong’ words (like white supremacy) are blamed that nobody is listening.
In many cases the moderator or blog-owner finally uses the power to delete – first just threads, later the account.

America is more progressive in comparison to Germany in regard of talking about white privilege, the number of blogs about racism, white supremacy and white privilege. But with real-life discussions with white Germans I realized that acknowledging white privilege isn’t the real problem. White Germany as a collective is not yet prepared to challenge this new arising topic like white Americans; white America already ‘armed’ itself with denial and founding a “new anti-racism”.
Many white German anti-racists and ar-organizations are still in their baby-steps when it comes to admit that racism is not only a right-wing thing mostly in East-Germany perpetrated against immigrants, but a problem of society, also on an institutional level. Day-to-day discrimination of PoC cannot be shown via statistics like in America. Racial profiling, housing and job discrimination are all a reality in Germany but without statistics it becomes even more difficult to talk about it and to show that these are not just individual incidents but institutional racism.

The real problem with acknowledging white privilege is that white people immediately realize that not all of their actions and successes are a product of their own hard work. Therefore the reality of white privilege itself is denied.
White people aren’t so stupid not to know that they are ‘white’ when they created a ‘black’ other and they are also not so stupid not to know which group they belong to. White privilege and ‘racial belonging’ is both crystal clear to whites.

Molly Secours compared racism to addiction. I wouldn’t call it addiction but whites as a collective are definitely used to their entitlement.
I work as a sales assistant in the same area where I live, so also the customers are quite diverse. I don’t know if there are studies how different races act as customers, both the way they act in general in a shop as well as towards staff, so I can only rely on my experiences as well as on the experiences of some co-workers. People who can be found in areas where customers aren’t allowed – signalized with signs like ‘No Entry’ – people who come into a shop just looking for people they can vent their frustration, people interrupting dialogues, coming too close or even touching or hugging out of the blue employees, and the list of some disrespectful ‘the world belongs to me’ behavior – these people are always white. Studies about this would be interesting.
Being used to this entitlement “I am always the most important” is difficult to let go because of lack of insight. White customers lack the insight that they have to leave areas prohibited to them, that they have to wait and can’t interrupt an ongoing dialogue etc. But this doesn’t mean that they don’t know what they are doing. But they feel entitled to it. And challenging their entitlement makes them in many cases defensive and aggressive.

I think the same is true when it comes to racism and white privilege. And this is where I think that some or many ‘anti-racists’ are stuck. They cannot longer just point with the finger towards somebody else but have to look into the mirror first and some won’t be so happy what they will find there. They cannot disconnect themselves from society and have to realize that they will be a part of it, if they like it or not. White supremacy is like a chameleon and so are white people in their attempt to remain in power. They adapt to new situations and take advantage of it.

And all this makes it difficult to discuss issues of race and racism in a productive manner with many white people.

And this brings me back to style and the lack of my insight why anybody should be concerned about the feelings of somebody in denial who uses all strategies to remain in the dominant position and in denial.
They demand a civil discussion while their “calm” way is sometimes full of subtle aggression and attempts to degrade and far from being “civil”. It is not style which makes people not listening, it is the message they don’t want to hear. And in this case it is similar to the situation of a person addicted to alcohol: Taking away the bottle of whiskey will always be painful for them, regardless which way.


  1. JW, what you’re talking about has a long history. In the U.S., perhaps all of the popular social movements, from Abolition to Women’s Rights, from Unionizing to Civil Rights, wherever there has been and interracial coalition, unfortunately, our White brothers and sisters have carried the nation’s (world’s) social sickness of White Supremacy with them. As if coalitions aren’t already rife with internal issues, the nature of, e.g., White-Black interracial coalitions often make questionable the motives of the White participant.

    That’s not to question their intent but only a critical question that should always be asked: “what’s in it for them?” I raise that question because the specter, if not evidence, of different agendas or, at least, different visions has often been present. Plus, I also fundamentally believe people act out of their own self-interest, however they define it and it’s all in the definition. And definitions can be deep or shallow with the degree of understanding correlating…

    I want to say a few more things but I’ll end with this:

    True empathy is a selfish act, not a favor done on someone else’s behalf. You don’t try to understand people because you expect something in return–the understanding is the return.

    (Note: I’ve been waiting to use this since I first read this on Ta-Nehisi Coates’ blog.)

    Comment by Nquest — October 2, 2008 @ 1:28 am | Reply

  2. yes I agree that people act out of own self-interest. And thank you for posting the quote

    Comment by jwbe — October 3, 2008 @ 4:15 am | Reply

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