The basis of each communication is understanding. Person A sends message x to person B who in an ideal case decodes it into message x.
Communication is based on a common language, in real life also cues, facial expression and body language as well as the knowledge about the background of the recipient of a message.
When I for example say:
“Turid Rugaas points out the importance of calming signals and that they should not be ignored.”
people without the necessary background knowledge can listen to this sentence, they might be able to recite this sentence but won’t understand the meaning of it.
The message x decodes into message y or just into a question mark.
Topics and issues often have a certain terminology and listeners without the knowledge of the specific terminology either don’t understand the meaning or believe they understand the meaning based on their own experience/knowledge and perception.
The term “white supremacy” is one example of it, which is connected by many whites with white supremacists (KKK, Neo-Nazis).
Also racism without a commonly agreed definition can be a term which is misleading.
Based on a certain understanding information also can appear to be true or not. “Whites don’t see themselves as white” can appear true for people who also hold this point of view and sounds wrong for people with another understanding or background (knowledge).
Ones own knowledge and experiences always also influences the understanding.
Another problem is projecting. a) Person A believes that his or her own experience is valid for all people or that b) the experience of one person is true for all persons of this group.
a) One example is a white co-worker of mine who believes that Neo-Nazis aren’t a threat to People of Color because she herself doesn’t feel threatend by Neo-Nazis.
b) e.g. Obama (see, if you just work hard enough)
Dialogue about race becomes complicated because the white racist [regardless degree] mind works in ‘categories’, white at the top and Black at the bottom. All “below the top” can never criticize the “top”. The “top” makes the decision which statements s/he considers as true or untrue and according this world-view criticism is filtered.
In a neutral dialogue
person A sends message x – person B receives message x
In a dialogue with somebody racist [regardless how subtle]
Person C sends message x / white person D receives message y.
D works with a “filter system” which distorts the message sent by C.
Knowledge can be gathered via reading for example, lived experience or both. Lived experience is stronger than knowledge learned by reading alone.
Reading books written by People of Color or about racism in general doesn’t make a white person an expert. S/he is able to gather theoretical knowledge. But understanding racism/white supremacy doesn’t mean to “study” non-white people but it means to study and watch those who are the perpetrators – white people. Somebody white who “studies” white people will find a lot of examples of white supremacy already exposed without the presence of People of Color. Studying white people also means that the voices of People of Color confirm what such whites can or should already see when it comes to white folks. People of Color don’t offer new information to “anti-racists” but a different point of view.
The problem when it comes to dialogues about race is also that many whites put a lot of emotions in it with the great fear to be considered a racist. It is the projection of “what could PoC think about me” based on the assumption that every PoC considers whites automatically also as racist. This can lead to a reflex of defense mechanism based on prejudices.
Many whites aren’t emotionally neutral when they talk about race with People of Color, discussions about race become struggles for the mere “survival” of some white individuals. Therefore, Person of Color C sends message x to white person D who decodes it into “do you call me racist” for example. White person D’s perception is also that each error etc. will be translated into “you are a racist” which makes them resistant towards any further learning and understanding.
The ingrained “top” position of many whites also makes it impossible to actively listen to a Person of Color. An honest dialogue isn’t possible as long as the white part acts within the hierarchy of white supremacy.
In every dialogue also the perception of the other is important as well as prejudices one may hold. Somebody with the prejudice that People of Color are more emotional than whites will look for confirmation of this stereotype and will over-estimate or misunderstand the answer of a Person of Color based on that prejudice. Somebody who is afraid of being called racist will look for imagined signs and react accordingly.
Somebody white who believes that People of Color should be grateful also will have the prejudice that all People of Color have to be “nice”, which means nothing else that People of Color should be submissive towards the white ‘savior’.
Understanding racism also doesn’t mean to ask individual People of Color how it feels or what happens to them but to gather information about the entire system. Somebody with the prejudice for example that Black people are prone to crime will cite the high incarceration rate of Black people in the USA as proof for his prejudice. His research will stop there because the prejudice is confirmed. As long as whites learn about racism without knowing their own prejudices gathered knowledge will always also lead to confirmation of stereotypes or information is gathered within the confining walls of ones prejudices or assumptions about People of Color.
Macon demonstrates in his “handshake-post” what can happen when white assumptions together with white is at the “top” ignores the voices of PoC together with distorting the messages and even not realizing the own contradictions in his own writings. Already common sense would tell any reader including the author, regardless how uninformed, that his post is nothing else then non-sense.
So, I play the German tourist not familiar with American customs and read his post:
shake hands our way
Macon gives already a lot of information he ignores himself:
When two American adults meet for the first time, or when they know each other but not well enough to hug, they usually put their right hands together.
He already says that there are different methods among Americans to greet each other, dependend on the relationship to each other.
Especially if they’re men. As a handbook on American customs posted on a University of Texas-Arlington web site says, “Some men might not shake hands with women unless the woman extends her hand first. Hand-shaking among women occurs even less frequently.
This paragraph is nothing then weird:
Obviously, many African American men in particular have other ways of putting their hands together, and other racial groups do as well (though I’ll admit, I don’t know what forms the latter take). So this visitor’s handbook may be explaining the “normal” American method, but it’s really the “white” method. Adopting it, and dropping any other “ethnic” greeting gestures, has been another way in which immigrants have adapted in order to assimilate.
Macon gives the information that African American men have “other ways”. He also writes that “other racial groups” have “other ways”, based on an assumption because he doesn’t know which one. Not knowing which one means not knowing “if”.
He comes from African Americans to “other racial groups” to immigrants. Which immigrants?
What’s more interesting, though, about differences in handshaking techniques is that if a white and a non-white person encounter each other in a casual setting and decide to clasp hands, there may be uncertainty about which handshaking method to use–the one that’s become the standard, “white” one, or a common non-white one.
The tourist from Germany rises her hand and inserts a question: Which “common non-white one”?
He ends with the sentence:
The non-white person often represses a preferred method of contact, and the white person feels little if any discomfort about being the enforcer of a standard.
but in an answer on swps Macon writes:
Where on my blog do I recommend this sort of behavior for white people interacting with non-white people, that they try to imitate the non-white person’s supposed cultural characteristics? I posted a video somewhere that obviously satirizes exactly that kind of white behavior, which is absurd, embarrassing behavior that any fairminded reader of my blog would know that I wouldn’t recommend.
the confused tourist from Germany rises her hand and asks the question: Then what was your point of this post? If the “standard handshake” supresses the “African American and all non-white” “other ways” and you tell me that there is an alleged uncertainty which one to use when meeting “non-white people”, what is then your point if not imitating the “African American way”?
There have been some non-white “complaints”, nonetheless Macon lacks the insight.
Macon works with a perception nobody knows, but for him this sort of “logic” seems to work. Whatever filter he uses, the very clear messages x sent by People of Color don’t decode into message x but y in Macons brain. Macon’s claim to listen to People of Color becomes a very empty lip service when he is even in cases like this unable to listen and to learn.
Macons name can be replaced with many other white names, because what Macon displays is just a very common white tendency. His blog can serve as an example how [subtle] racism works and how difficult it can become to combat racism which happens on this level so few are able or willing to realize.