Monday, March 24, 2008

That dialogue on race

-- by Dave

OK, just in the interest of honesty, here are some things usually associated over the years with white people that, well, I as a white person find kinda embarrassing:
Bell-bottom pants.


"Country living" decor.

Bad country music.

Bad heavy metal.

Bad dancing.

This is just a short sampling of a much longer list, but you kind of get the idea. There are a lot of dumb things associated with white folks that I, as a very melanin-challenged person myself, would hate being associated with. And for the most part, I'm fairly comfortable knowing that since I generally don't indulge these vices myself (except that I am a truly awful dancer), I don't need to worry much about being in fact associated with them.

I'm rather more concerned about certain other behaviors associated with certain white people -- things like swastika and "white power" tatoos and shaved heads; hate crimes; and the increasingly common rhetoric demonizing nonwhites for supposed characteristics like their criminality or their laziness or their lack of intelligence.

Now, I like to think that people like myself who work to expose these haters for what they are -- and there are many of us, though probably not enough -- stand as testimony to the fact that not all white folks are like them. Certainly, a broad spectrum of whites would object strenuously if others were to make that association -- why, they assure us, they don't have a racist bone in their bodies. Their best friend at work [or their Secretary of State] is black! Mind you, the right-wing component of this contingent seems to want to constantly undermine the work of people like myself, as well as nonwhites, at healing that racial divide, but that's perhaps beside the point: It's considered broadly unacceptable, in fact, to blame all white folks for the existence of neo-Nazis, skinheads, neo-Confederates, and nativists. And heaven forfend that any suggest that the "white community" is responsible for them.

I'm sure there will always be some black people who presume that all white folks are that way. But they're in a distinct minority.

I'm not sure the same thing could be said of white folks when it comes to certain blocs of the black community and how readily those translate into broad stereotypes. In fact, I'm pretty sure it can't.

I was thinking about this because Pam Spaulding wrote an interesting post (also at Pandagon) that started off talking about Pat Buchanan's latest column -- and I couldn't agree more that Buchanan, and the many people like him, are probably the foremost example of why we have a racial divide in the first damned place -- but it's morphed, in the updates, into something perhaps even more interesting.

Pam cites one of her readers, who relates the tale of his ride upon a bus, driven by a black man, in which some unpleasant black women boarded his bus and failed to pay their full fare, leading to a running verbal conflict with the driver. The line that caught my attention was this:
The driver turned to the Asian woman seated next to me in the front of the bus and informed her that in the City there were Black people and there were niggers. Those three were nothing but niggers and gave all black people a bad name.

Pam responds by pointing to Chris Rock's classic "Blacks vs. Niggaz" sketch (in the video atop this post} and noting:
What the driver (and Chris Rock) are conveying are class distinctions. Not all black folks are poor, under-educated criminals. Now the above comments by Rock and the bus driver conveniently skirt the issue of the underclass and the cycle of poverty that foments the pathologies of gang culture, disdain for educational achievement and other negative stereotypes that are a reality in those segments of the minority community. But Chris Rock speaks for a number of blacks who shake their heads every time they see a thug perp walk that inevitably will be seen by whites as representative of all black people.

And that really is the problem, isn't it: That whites will take a narrow spectrum of behaviors by black people and assume that they come to reflect the entire black community -- and black people hate that shit. As well they should.

A recent example of how this happens came in the Instapunk post discussed at length by Glenn Greenwald this week. Instapunk writes:
On the other hand, I am sick to death of black people as a group. The truth. That is part of the conversation Obama is asking for, isn't it? I live in an eastern state almost exactly on the fabled Mason-Dixon line. Every day I see young black males wearing tee shirts down to their knees -- and jeans belted just above their knees. I'm an old guy. I want to smack them. All of them. They are egregious stereotypes. It's impossible not to think the unthinkable N-Word when they roll up beside you at a stoplight in their trashed old Hondas with 19-inch spinner wheels and rap recordings that shake the foundations of the buildings. . . .

Here's the dirty secret all of us know and no one will admit to. There ARE niggers. Black people know it. White people know it. And only black people are allowed to notice and pronounce the truth of it.

Yep, it's those damned Niggaz again. And somehow, it's black people who are responsible for them.

It couldn't possibly be the responsibility of the white employers who somehow manage to overlook young black men when it comes time to hire; the white real-estate agents who won't show certain homes in certain neighborhoods or certain suburbs to blacks because, well, "blacks just don't want to live there"; it couldn't possibly be the suburban civic leaders who oppose public services and low-income housing in their towns because they might "drive down property values."

In other words, any part of the responsibility for the fact that many young, ambitious black men adopt a "gangsta" lifestyle because they know they'll never make it in the white world and don't particularly want to anyway -- that responsibility couldn't possibly lie with the people whose every step in fact closes young black people off from the very means of success that whites take for granted, could it?


When white people insist on making every other black person bear some kind of responsibility for the behavior of a small segment of their community, people who only share with them their racial identity -- the kind of responsibility that whites repudiate on their own behalf for white miscreants -- that is nothing if not "identity politics" incarnate. And as long as it persists, there's going to be a racial divide in America that will not be bridged.

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