The Silence of Our Friends

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Benefit of the Doubt

The comments on the last post are getting a little long, so I am promoting my last comment to a new post. I'm really wondering, how many chances do we give white allies? How many "mistakes" are they allowed to make before we can say, "Wooooo that white person has a helluva alot of racist baggage he is unwilling to own?" And why is it we don't get this nice benefit of the doubt at least once? Step out of line and we get, "Those POC, always ready to throw out the race card!"

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I'm really uncomfortable with this whole benefit of the doubt thing. In the Hmong post I found an example where Hmong people were talking about what happens when there is a dispute out in the field. In every example the white person is given the benefit of the doubt and the Hmong person is assumed to be lying. Now maybe there are a bunch of Hmong hunters out there who the DNR sided with, but I sincerely doubt it. I'd be willing to bet that it has NEVER happened.

When I heard the Chai Vang story, the Hmong hunter who shot eight white hunters, six died from their wounds, the first thing I thought of was Yoshihiro Hattori, a Japanese exchange student who was killed going to a Halloween party. It was down south, Baton Rouge, LA. He was with a white friend from school and they got the house address wrong for a Halloween party. The homeowner saw the Japanese kid approaching and thought he looked threatening, shot and killed him. The jury gave him the benefit of the doubt because we all know those Japanese people look dangerous. Yes, he is free to murder anyone approaching his property who he decides looks scary, and POC are scary people.

Meanwhile Chai Vang said that the white hunting group used racial slurs and shot at him first. I believe him. I don't think they were aiming for him, probably shot over his head or into the ground. I think these rednecks (yes, we have them up north too) thought they would have a little fun at the expense of a POC and it went tragically wrong. The Hmong man didn't get the "joke" and felt threatened instead and fought back. But no benefit of the doubt was given to the Hmong man at all. Most white people didn't believe a word he said. They thought the whites were a pleasant bunch who politely tried to explain property and land rights to a dangerous and ignorant POC. Because we all know that POC get murderously violent at the drop of a hat.

Nezua already gave Glenn the benefit of the doubt. His post was just that. He thought that maybe Glenn actually did want a discussion on race and gave it to him. He probably knew, like the rest of us, that Glenn was really just making white people feel better about their racism, it's not their fault that they can't negotiate these hidden tripwires. Now, Nezua, and the rest of us POC, are supposed to give Glenn more benefit of the doubt. When does this end?

So that quote where I said lead the racist into a discussion to prove that they are indeed racist. It's happened already. Glenn took that opportunity to ignore and dismiss most of what Nezua wrote, and attack Sylvia for making an observation about a common dynamic.

White people keep wanting more benefit of the doubt. Even when a white person uses racial slurs like Rosie O'Donnell with the "ching chong" or Richards alluding to lynching and using "nigger" that isn't proof enough for many of them. Because they are "nice" people, and made a mistake, or are under pressure, or excuse after excuse after excuse... Even when they kill one of us, well gotta give the white guy the benefit of the doubt, POC are scary!

When does the benefit of the doubt end? When do we get some of that benefit of the doubt?

Update: You'll notice there is a difference between my comment and this post. I wanted to put a name to the Japanese exchange student, Yoshihiro Hattori, so I went to look it up. I felt it was wrong to speak of him in the abstract. I also found out it was in Louisiana, not Florida.

Update 2: Made a correction to the Chai Vang case, he shot 8 and killed 6 white hunters.

51 comment(s):

Donna, I've been wanting to comment on your threads, but I've been so busy with school work I haven't had the time. But Let me just say, as I grow older and older, it's harder and harder to give people the benefit of the doubt. Back when I was young and believed in the ultimate goodness of the world, I would give people the benefit of the doubt--but then I got older and realized, it's never ending. Especially working on the internet has helped me to see, if you talk it out with one person, there is already fifty other people, a thousand other people, a million other people, who haven't even started to think about it, and they have no problem at all asking you to spend another five hours corresponding with them helping them to figure out a life time worth of information in two or three intense emails.

I have corresponded with a few white women who I trust really and honest to god *care*--but those women I have seen for myself are actually *doing* things to change. They aren't just sending emails of protest, they have actually committed to reading poc blogs, conversing with the ideas presented on our blogs *back on their own blogs* (not wasting our time on our own blogs), emailing occassionaly when they don't get it--in turn, I am willing look back at what they have to teach me--It becomes a relationship, you know? A relationship where shit can happen, but we are clearly committed to working towards a goal together.

On the other hand, I have no time for the scads of other angry/weepy/pissed off/confused emails or talks where they want me to confirm their goodness and then disappear.

And I guess that as I've gotten older, I've gotten better at figuring out who is there to be a partner in creating a better world and who is just there to "be a good person". I've gotten smoked by a few people like you said way back down in that other post (about the woman who you thought was a friend and you knew for two years but then she turned against you)--as a result, I usually don't actually open up and *trust* many people right off the bat. probably not very nice of me, but I don't. but I figure that anybody that really cares is going to stick around, just as I would. I myself have smoked a few people with my own ignorance--so I'm not asking people to do anything that I myself haven't already done.

By Blogger brownfemipower, at 3/11/2007 1:20 PM  

BFP, Oh yeah. Anyone who is here I'd be willing to give the benefit of the doubt to many times over, because I know they are making an honest effort to understand and to show me their side of the story too. I don't like the feeling I have that Sunrunner is made to stand in for Glenn Greenwald. There is a big difference between a hit and run poster who blows us off, and someone who doesn't understand us or we don't understand him or her but we're working it out.

I am not saying let's all just go to our corners and ignore each other. But I want readers here to be aware of where the "benefit of the doubt" leads us and has led us in the past.

By Blogger Donna, at 3/11/2007 1:53 PM  

I hear two things that I want to note:

1. The frustration of giving the benefit of the doubt to white people when the courtesy is not returned, and

2. The exhaustion of: it's never ending. Especially working on the internet has helped me to see, if you talk it out with one person, there is already fifty other people, a thousand other people, a million other people, who haven't even started to think about it.

I have heard the latter from friends before. I want to honor that and the combination of what both of these issues does to inhibit the conversation.

I'd like to say, as a white person, that I would take responsibility for learning what I need to know. But unfortunately, I don't think its possible to do it by myself, outside of conversation with POC.

So, my gratitude to those of you who are willing to keep on trying, and my respect to those of you who need to give it a rest.

By Blogger NLinStPaul, at 3/11/2007 2:26 PM  

I don't like the feeling I have that Sunrunner is made to stand in for Glenn Greenwald.

I don't either, but I do think part of that is not only what I brought up in my comment (the sort of... "where is she coming from?" type thing that appears to be happening), but also because some may not be as familiar with her, and her work in anti-racism and being an ally, as others.

Which thing (history and context, or lack of it) is, of course, a pitfall of all communication, but especially of online communication.

Not that people can't blow it, even in context... I do, often enough, lol.

By Blogger Nanette, at 3/11/2007 2:42 PM  

When I heard the Chai Vang story, the Hmong hunter who shot six white hunters,

Just a heads-up that you might want to fix that.

I'm going to engage with this comment, but I have a habit of doing all my critical engagement online and then running out of mojo for my schoolin'. So I will return, lesbian koalas in tow, and I will give perspective. Scout's honor.

By Blogger Sylvia, at 3/11/2007 2:42 PM  

By the way... hi Nancy! It's good to see you here, and scribe too.

I meant to say something yesterday, but I forgot.

(OMG... is this a sign? My word verification is "ego, etc". Well, minus the comma, lol)

By Blogger Nanette, at 3/11/2007 2:44 PM  

Ahh, never mind what I said. Different story entirely, and I can't read. Okay. Sylvia is moving away from the computer.

As for granting people the benefit of the doubt, it's one thing to extend the metaphorical olive branch to people trying to figure out where you're coming from without prompting from POC. It's another thing entirely for someone to sit, still as a stone on a royal pedestal, and say, "Teach it to me," looking down at you as if to say, "This better be good." When the latter attitude tries to negate my experiences because of how that pedestal is preventing serious engagement with the fact that not everything a POC knows in her gut will travel up that far an imposed distance, my benefit of the doubt terminates.

And I think that's gratuitous compared to what I've seen others put up with while trying to speak on these issues. Note: I haven't run this through my social graces or common sense filter, but that's the bare bones of how I approach the issue.

By Blogger Sylvia, at 3/11/2007 2:48 PM  

Sylvia, you are right. I do need to fix that. Chai Vang shot 8 people, killing 6. I don't want to minimize what he did, or give anyone the impression that I thought he should have been aquitted. But the lack of benefit of the doubt compared to the amount given to the white killer in the Hattori case amazes me. A Hmong man surrounded by 8 irate white people has nothing to fear; but a white man approached by a Japanese 16 yr old in a Halloween costume has reason to be terrified?

By Blogger Donna, at 3/11/2007 3:13 PM  

Nanette, nlinstpaul and scribe are here indirectly because of you. You recommended mo betta meta and I went there and followed a link to everybody comes from somewhere and I made a few comments while I was there. So thanks for bringing us together!

By Blogger Donna, at 3/11/2007 3:17 PM  

Yeah, thanks Nanette.

I used to be a regular at Booman Tribune, being stretched and prodded by people like Nanette, Ductape Fatwa and many others. Then, when a diaspora happened over some people's unwillingness to confront issues about US exceptionalism there, I found myself really missing that kind of challenge to my thinking.

So, for me, the journey has begun again. And little by litte, I'll get to more of those places on your blogroll.

By Blogger NLinStPaul, at 3/11/2007 4:02 PM  

Cool, Donna and Nancy. Glad I could help!

I wanted to drop a note in here that Kai's guest hosting of Addicted to Race podcast is up!

I've not listened yet as I just discovered it, but I'm looking forward to it!

By Blogger Nanette, at 3/11/2007 4:21 PM  

hi Donna,

I've 'seen' you around here 'n there - this is a great convo here - I've been reading for a while now & thot I'd come out of the shadows

this whole 'who gets the benefit of the doubt' question you've laid out here seems painfully obvious - but I had to have you point it out to me

so raedy to discount given the slightest 'other possible reading/interpretation' available - no matter how strained or implausible

part, I think, is a certin form of cultural deafness

I've had an intersting dialogue w/ someone the past few days, around a post of mine at mobetta a few weeks back - she still thinks I'm full of it, but I found it useful to think thru a few things

much to chew on here in yr posts

It's another thing entirely for someone to sit, still as a stone on a royal pedestal, and say, "Teach it to me," looking down at you as if to say, "This better be good."

& act as if they're so benevolent in extending you the opportunity to "dialogue" that cetainly you must appreciate that & not notice that the critical terms of your argrument ar either being ignored & slewed & you have to respond to theirs - aaarrrgh! & being white, I also often encounter an attitude of 'you can't know wtf you're talking about - you're just making shit up'

*back to listening *

(& Nanette, I'm increasingly convinced, is one of the unacknnowledged Angels of the Net

By Blogger Arcturus, at 3/11/2007 4:28 PM  

Donna I wanted to respond to this post and the comment you made about my post on Women Soldiers

When I read these threads Donna, the "shock" I feel, is accentuated by how blithly, effortlessly, and nostalgically senior soldiers in Iraq use "Indian Country" in briefings to describe the war zone in Iraq. They do it without hesitation or fear of reprisal. Such flip use of the term used in a past genocide perpetrated by American soldiers on Native Americans is certainly enough evidence to conclude there is base sickness in the 'American Identity' and that we are in crisis.

This will certainly be our downfall.

How can we 'fix' a system that arguably never worked? The illness of American consciousness shocks and sickens me to my core. And I didn't even mention the part about women soldiers not going to the toilet for fear of being raped...

Here's to hoping I feel less pessimistic tomorrow. Thanks for your comment and this series of posts.

By Blogger HopeSpringsATurtle, at 3/11/2007 4:34 PM  

oops, meant to link to the convo w/ Curmudgette if anyone's curious

By Blogger Arcturus, at 3/11/2007 4:47 PM  

I think that when it's time for certain people to "find each other" to make important exchanges, there will always be a Nanette to bring it about!

I think I am seeing where we are all more or less yearning for the some of the same things. None of us like to be prejudged by how we look. All of us would like to be given the benefit of a doubt, when/if we unintentionally hurt someone's feelings, whether from unconscious, imbedded racism, or for any other reason, for that matter. (But I've yet to run into a human being so perfect as to be always able to avoid this all of the time, and I sure know I'm not!)

All any of us can do is form our perceptions of others, and the world, from our own "window" or frame of reference": the lives we've lived so far. And in this culture, POC have by far been treated a hell of a lot worse that white people have ever been, so it's just common sense to me, to expect that POC have every reason for being leery of the intentions of white folks. How the heck else could it all have turned out?

What I say next here is NOT intended to be a "comparison of the pain" that I , as a white person, have felt in my attempts to interact with POC. Please hear that. Please. I KNOW my pain is smaller than miniscule, compared to that of POC and hardly on the scale at all.

But it is not "non-existant", either. I know, because I have felt it, like a genuine stab in my own heart, over and over, through my lifetime, when I have been rejected by POC. I'm talking about people I've met and honestly yearned to know, to understand, and to have a chance to become friends with just were not interested. My "fault"? I dunno, because I was not given any chance to talk about it with them, even when I asked for it. I was judged and discarded for the color of my skin, before there had a flying chance of it turning out any differently.

I also know how it feels to choose to rent an apartment in a mostly black apartment building, so I would have a chance to make some black friends too, and to then move out a year later, in tears, with an badly aching heart, at the total shunning, that just had no end.

The effects of this rejection (**while, again.. not even measurable at all, compared to what POC go through) also "exist" for me, and are still present in me. I am merely human like anyone else..and it HURTS, dammit! (like you don't now that!) It also has made me, and I freely admit this, sometimes reluctant to even keep trying.

In my heart that doesn't not automatically make me a racist: it makes me an ordinary fallible human who doesn't like the pain of rejection any more than POC do.

And yes, I have it easier because as part of the majority "race" it is not all that hard for me to stay away from POC if I want to.

But dammit , I DON'T want to and I have never wanted to. Because I also know, from the considerable time I have spent living in other cultures, (Native American and Mexican American) that I ended up feeling more "at home" with them than I have EVER felt in this white culture or ever will. Of course I cannot prove this, but if some fairy godmother handed me a magic wand, in a flash I would turn myself into the exact same rich color as that long dead, very mysterious, French Canadian Indian fella who apparently got it on with my great grandmother, back when this was definitely NOT the thing nice religious white girls did!

Now here I find, (at last!) POC who actually want to discuss this whole issue with me, a white person. This is good: very very good.

However, just as I do not hold anyone here on this blog responsible for the behaviors of other POC who have rejected me in my past, I also will not hold myself responsible for how other white people have treated any of you in your past.

Yes I certainly can see why you as POC would find it hard to trust me. I expect that. I also can't be sure yet, that I won't be rejected by you, if I slip up once too often, as I am almost certain I may, since this stuff is so damned hard to uproot and toss out. I know slip ups can occur either way..and will do my own part to not "over react" to any of that if it happens, and check it out first.

It t sure does make my old heart warm, tho, to see places like this in existance now..applause and gratitude from me to you all.

By Blogger scribe, at 3/11/2007 5:12 PM  

I also know how it feels to choose to rent an apartment in a mostly black apartment building, so I would have a chance to make some black friends too, and to then move out a year later, in tears, with an badly aching heart, at the total shunning, that just had no end.

But you see, those people didn't just at that moment decide that they hate whitey. They have lived their entire lives as black people, have friends, spouses, children and extended family who have lived their entire lives as black people--they are living the history of violence and abuse all on their skin. They can't make a decision to walk away when it gets to hard. They can, however, ignore and form their own communities. ANd it's insulting to have the community you formed out of self protection infiltrated by somebody who is looking for friends. They already have friends, why do they need to be your friend? because you decided it was time to fight racism?

Listen, I don't discount that it hurts being rejected. I am a woman of color, a chicana, who have had family members tell me some pretty horrible shit, and because they are family members, I have to bite my tongue and keep trying.

But I'm going to tell you--the biggest, best, more important way to confront your own racism is to fight side by side with people of color against racism. To demonstrate to people of color that you are in it for the long haul. I have a video on my site with mostly black tenets of the public housing in New orleans talking about how they respect the white people they are working with because those white people are not only shutting up and listening to what people of color need, but they are also being arrested and going to rallies and sharing strategies with the people of color.

actions are what count, not intentions. And the recognition that change hurts like hell. Some of the pain I've caused still causes me to flush deep red and tense up and grit my teeth--ten years after I caused the pain. but that's good isn't it? because that pain reminds me to think more clearly and more purposefully about my actions. I don't necessarily embrace that pain (although buddhism tells me I should, haha), but I do respect it, as it has a lot to teach me.

By Blogger brownfemipower, at 3/11/2007 5:50 PM  

I Feel I handle this badly, because when I get to the point I'm done .

I just stop talking.


I will not engage. There is little benefit of doubt in me to give.

I know this isn't about me when it gets to that point. It's about them.

And especially with " progressives" .


What i feel is often underlying is teh idea that

" after all we've done, your not properly cowed and receptive?!?!"

You must be super human or just evil or dense.

It's the very Idea you think extending courtesy my way makes you special is deplorable.

By Blogger Blackamazon, at 3/11/2007 6:24 PM  

Hi brownfemipower. You write: "They can, however, ignore and form their own communities. And it's insulting to have the community you formed out of self protection infiltrated by somebody who is looking for friends. They already have friends, why do they need to be your friend? because you decided it was time to fight racism?"

Well, first off, since we've only just met, you have no way of knowing my history, so you couldn't know can't know that I have indeed stood by POC and fought racism for a good many years. In my career (retired RN ) this was a never ending need.

And I didn't decide to live in that building because it was primarily black and I didn't have enough friends and needed more, nor did I expect that any of the folks there "needed" MY friendship, either! It was just something I hoped would happen, and I liked the location of that building, which is why I picked it. I did not know till I went to sign the lease that it there were more black tenants than white. I liked that apartment a lot, and saw this as also as an opportunity to make some more friends of other cultures. Hope that clarifies it a bit.

By Blogger scribe, at 3/11/2007 6:57 PM  

Hee, BFP, I thought respecting the pain and what it teaches was embracing it. But I may be wrong.

Now here I find, (at last!) POC who actually want to discuss this whole issue with me, a white person. This is good: very very good.

However, just as I do not hold anyone here on this blog responsible for the behaviors of other POC who have rejected me in my past, I also will not hold myself responsible for how other white people have treated any of you in your past.


Getting to this point here -- this discussion, if you're willing to participate in it, is not a one time, one "issue" discussion. I'd love it if it were that simple, but it's not really. I'm not sure if we can all realistically come to these interactions with a completely blank slate, as admirable as that position may seem.

By Blogger Sylvia, at 3/11/2007 7:00 PM  

arcturus said...

I've had an intersting dialogue w/ someone the past few days, around a post of mine at mobetta a few weeks back - she still thinks I'm full of it, but I found it useful to think thru a few things


Oh, good heavens! I don't think you're full of it. I'm not convinced in this case, but you have definitely given me a lot to think about. For that I thank you.

By Blogger Curmudgette, at 3/11/2007 7:02 PM  

" "It's the very Idea you think extending courtesy my way makes you special is deplorable."

Before I respond I want to make sure that this is in response to my post. Is it, black amazon?

By Blogger scribe, at 3/11/2007 7:07 PM  

I had stated "Now here I find, (at last!) POC who actually want to discuss this whole issue with me, a white person. This is good: very very good.

Sylvia states: "Getting to this point here -- this discussion, if you're willing to participate in it, is not a one time, one "issue" discussion."

OK. Let me look at my choice of words here: "this whole issue".

Are you saying that to you, this sounds like I see race mainly as a "one time, one issue" discussion, with no more importance (to me) that that?

Would it have worked better if I had said "people who actually want to discuss race with me, a white person?

By Blogger scribe, at 3/11/2007 7:17 PM  

curmudg:

"full of it" is my words. you certainly did appear to entertain my perspective, tho if these weren't your last thoughts on the subject, I missed where you said or implied that my viewpoint wasn't off (or 'full of it'):

"I still don't see Booman as any more racist than every other member western culture, and I just don't see it in that piece of writing"

". . .statements of fact can be misinterpreted because they resemble other memes. We can't tiptoe around certain issues just because the ideas have been abused by people with racist, xenophobic agendas."

"I remain unconvinced that Booman was trafficking in racist subtext in his unfortunate diary. But I do think his analysis was shallow and a little ignorant."


You never did say , 'fer instance, whether you could even imagine Lou Dobbs using that boober passage.

By Blogger Arcturus, at 3/11/2007 7:33 PM  

I am not all that sure we can discuss race blindly... or rather, that blind discussions of race (knowing nothing about each other beyond "I/you are white and I/you are black, and I/you are latin@" so on) are all that beneficial. At least, I have not found them to be so.

With blogs and such, we seem to have lost the art of introductions and, thus, the art of additional context.

I am not sure if that's a good thing or a bad thing?

By Blogger Nanette, at 3/11/2007 7:40 PM  

No, scribe...pardon me if that sounded dismissive. I'm saying that the "race" issue is very multifaceted, the discussions won't necessarily be socially oriented, and they can be quite painful because it's very rarely just a race issue. Other contexts seep into the mix in addition to race, and when those contexts do appear it can make things harder to discuss on a clean slate.

By Blogger Sylvia, at 3/11/2007 7:56 PM  

Nanette writes "I am not all that sure we can discuss race blindly... or rather, that blind discussions of race (knowing nothing about each other beyond "I/you are white and I/you are black, and I/you are latin@" so on) are all that beneficial. At least, I have not found them to be so.

I've wondered this too, Nanette. People who have known me long time, (in face to face life, I mean, POC as well as white) pretty well know who I am and any differences in our skin colors ceased to affect us as friends,long ago.

But here, I am a total unknown, so of course none of that is factored in, and I am just "a white person" Talking with others I can only identify by skin color too, if they tell me what it is.

But how can we ever get to the point of even wanting to know about who each other is, if we can't get past the color labels in the first place?

By Blogger scribe, at 3/11/2007 8:03 PM  

Gotcha, Sylvia..thanks for clarifying.
(Be back later..gotta run.)

By Blogger scribe, at 3/11/2007 8:06 PM  

On what gets in the way of giving the benefit of the doubt, I've had a few thoughts today.

This might be old news to all of you, but don't our brains naturally group and categorize to deal with the massive amounts of information that is available to us? And I think it takes A LOT of work to fight this temptation to place people into one these categories to try and understand them quickly. And when emotions are attached (especially anger and fear), our defenses make it that much more likely that we'll jump to a generalization to protect ourselves.

Perhaps one of the differences for white people and POC is the extent to which these generalizations are attached to the dominant white priviledged culture versus something that is idiosyncratic to an individual.

I think I'm talking now about the kind of racist thinking that is based on ignorance and lack of consciousness, more than the blantant directly hateful kind.

By Blogger NLinStPaul, at 3/11/2007 8:30 PM  

arcturus said...

You never did say , 'fer instance, whether you could even imagine Lou Dobbs using that boober passage.


I haven't made a study of Lou Dobbs, so I would have no idea. I know he's xenophobic and has strong attitudes on immigration, but I don't really listen to him often. He's good on other economic issues and very populist, and I'm glad to have someone in the big chair at CNN talking about outsourcing, ceo salaries, and the disappearance of the middle class, because most of the corporate media ignore those issues, for obvious reasons. But I don't watch his show. I haven't read his book. I can't speak to what might come out of his mouth at any given time.

As I said provide me with text from Dobbs or Duke, etc., that you think is the equivalent and I'll see what I think at that point.

I will also add, that I think people with very racist agendas will ape the language of people with more progressive agendas when they want to appeal to broader audience. David Duke, when he was running for office, moderated his tone quite a bit, and if there had not been a generous public history of racist venom, he might have fooled a few people.

Just because a known racist says something about race, doesn't make the statement racist, taken out of context. It's all in how it's bracketed.

As for thinking you're full of it, you're presuming a dismissiveness on my part that simply isn't there. I just don't read the same subtext in Booman's ruminations as you do. I'm not even saying you're wrong. I'm saying we have different interpretations.

By Blogger Curmudgette, at 3/11/2007 8:47 PM  

Nanette, I just listened to Kai's podcast. He sounds articulate, bright, clean, and like a nice looking guy! I wonder if he wants to run for president? *snicker*

He and Carmen brought up lots of good stuff. My favorite is about how we POC can be good allies to each other and that even when it doesn't directly affect us as part of the same community and country equality for all is still in our own self-interest.

Arcturus, that comparison to Mexico is racism/nationalism. Curmudgette, you don't recognize it because it's structural racism instead of the burning crosses in someone's yard kind. I think it's racist because there is this assumption that Mexico's poverty and government corruption happens in a vaccuum. Like this is the way they want it, or they are too stupid to do any better. There's also that American exceptionalism thing going on, like we'd never have any pockets of poverty over here. May I remind you of Hurricane Katrina and what it uncovered in New Orleans? We've got native americans in shacks on reservations, poor white in dilapidated trailer parks, contingents of homeless in every American city. Our wonderful system of government and it's separation of powers hasn't ever been able to eradicate poverty, even before Bush came along to destroy that government and those separations of power. We POC don't like it when white people climb on our backs to make completely unrelated points. That's what Booman did. What did Mexico have to do with American government? What does one Mexican shanty town have to do with one apparently shiny sparkly American city, which probably has it's own slum very much like that Mexican shanty town?

By Blogger Donna, at 3/11/2007 10:45 PM  

Donna said...

Curmudgette, you don't recognize it because it's structural racism instead of the burning crosses in someone's yard kind. I think it's racist because there is this assumption that Mexico's poverty and government corruption happens in a vaccuum.


Donna, I'm not an idiot. Of course I don't need to see burning crosses on someone's lawn, to recognize racism, and to know that it is often implicit and structural. As far as Martin's American exceptionalism and ignorance of the impact of our imperialism and Mexico's economy, and the world economy, I acknowledged from the outset.

I am also well aware of our own poverty and its escalation. But when I saw how Mexicans lived, I had never seen the equivalent in the US, not even in New Orleans or on Indian reservations, which I have been on. We're definitely headed there, though.

By Blogger Curmudgette, at 3/11/2007 11:10 PM  

But when I saw how Mexicans lived, I had never seen the equivalent in the US

Um... and just how do Mexicans live?

By Blogger Nanette, at 3/11/2007 11:42 PM  

Nanette, I just listened to Kai's podcast. He sounds articulate, bright, clean, and like a nice looking guy! I wonder if he wants to run for president? *snicker*

lol Donna, I just listened to it too! He was great on there and indeed would do just great on a Mr Clean bottle!

They did bring up some good points, and I thought he answered things very well, especially the stuff about various divisions, and so on. It's a whole new game in town, with the interconnection of many of the blogs and anti-racist activists. And that can only be a good thing, I'm thinking.

By Blogger Nanette, at 3/11/2007 11:46 PM  

AS much as I'd like to engage in conversation with P'sOC. I *don't* know where or what the trip wires are. It's easier to sit back and say nothing than to risk having a whole demographic jump on my head for saying the wrong thing. How do I know where I can ask honest questions and make statements without being blown off as yet another privileged white woman, or without looking like An Elightened White Person Who Feels Your Pain (because I don't, I've never been in your shoes.)

By Blogger Rootietoot, at 3/12/2007 10:42 AM  

Rootietoot, that's where white anti-racists come in. We need to teach each other.

If a whole demographic jumps on my head, what is my response going to be? Am I going to get defensive? Am I going to run away?

What if we decide as white people that getting jumped on is not such a bad thing? It can be a learning experience. We can ask for information. We can ask how to learn more. If we've totally pissed someone off, they may not answer. But we can go to someone else from that demographic and say, hey, this happened to me, help me to understand.

Instead of fearing the reaction, we can endure it (because it's not gonna be fun), and then choose to learn from it.

By Blogger Ravenmn, at 3/12/2007 11:06 AM  

But when I saw how Mexicans lived, I had never seen the equivalent in the US

The U.S. has a long history of zoning laws and other classist policies to ensure that you and I do not see that level of poverty on a daily basis. Our police herd the desperately poor away from public areas.

You won't find them if you don't go out of your way to look for them.

By Blogger Ravenmn, at 3/12/2007 11:16 AM  

scribe, you are describing POC in your neighborhood as standoffish. I can understand that. I have lived in a mostly white neighborhood for 8 years and know only the neighbors across the street well and that's only because my husband golfs with the husband over there. So the wife and I got to know each other through our husbands' friendship. I'm standoffish with my neighbors. I can tell you their names and how many children or if they have pets. But I am not friends with them. Part of it is just my personality, part of it is fear of rejection, and if I am approached, part of it is that, "why are you doing this?" that I told you about before. I don't want to be their token friend so that they can feel progressive.

I'd like to hear more about this mysterious French Canadian Indian ancestor. You might be related to me! LOL My tribe is in New Brunswick, right near the border with Quebec.

Sylvia, I think what scribe was saying is that she isn't coming to this with white guilt. She knows she can't make up for pain that other white people have caused so she is rejecting that. I told her that guilt and pity are the very worst emotions to bring here, or express to us. We end up resenting each other.

By Blogger Donna, at 3/12/2007 12:32 PM  

scribe, I doubt if BlackAmazon was responding to your post specifically. We've had some upheavals on the internet and I'm sure she is also referencing things that have happened to her in the real world.

Some white people expect a cookie for treating us like humans. The latest boiled down to a couple of white women who married black men and they were angry that we online POC wouldn't give them the proper respect for...loving their husbands and brown babies. If they married white guys and had white children would they be expecting some kind of award for loving them?

By Blogger Donna, at 3/12/2007 12:38 PM  

Donna writes:" Sylvia, I think what scribe was saying is that she isn't coming to this with white guilt. She knows she can't make up for pain that other white people have caused so she is rejecting that."

Correct. Took me a long time to get past that part though. I used to feel like I had to just "take" whatever nasty treatment I was handed by any POC, because of what other white people had done to them. Which of course, made feel like a punching bag. It also led me to relate to POC from that guilt, in my attempts to try to "make up" for what other whites have done. None of that works for me and it sure didn't for the POC people I was trying to get to know either!

Slowly, I am figuring out for myself how to balance accepting and striving for understanding of the anger and suspicion I often draw, as a white person person, and my own need to not allow myself to be treated like a punching bag for too long, either. This isn't easy, and often theres nothing I can do but "let go", if there is no mutual desire to work toward bridging the communication barriers. This appears to be something that both parties need to have at least some degree of willingness to do. One just can't do it alone, in my own experience.

By Anonymous scribe, at 3/12/2007 1:09 PM  

Donna wrote: "scribe, I doubt if BlackAmazon was responding to your post specifically."

I'll be glad if you are right about this. If you're not, then I'll just have to let go of it.

By Anonymous scribe, at 3/12/2007 1:15 PM  

But when I saw how Mexicans lived, I had never seen the equivalent in the US

The U.S. has a long history of zoning laws and other classist policies to ensure that you and I do not see that level of poverty on a daily basis. Our police herd the desperately poor away from public areas.


There's been some interesting organizing w/ around a homeless 'tent city' going on in Fresno, CA.

The US of A also has one the largest penal systems in the world, w/ over 2million people behind bars, half of whom are black.

By Blogger Arcturus, at 3/12/2007 1:18 PM  

My advice for white allies is just jump right in and let the chip fall where they may. Don't spend too much time prefacing your comments with explanations and apologies. That seems weird sometimes like what I was saying in Bewildered II, about how sometimes I feel like I have to say, "I don't mean you." I don't think it serves either anyone if we start by being defensive. So I think I should suppress that urge also and advice for both sides is, don't apologize unless you have something concrete to apologize for, instead of apologizing for coming from a different viewpoint.

nlinstpaul, you described structural racism. They are easy assumptions and stereotypes about groups of people and they can sound good or bad. I disappoint people because I'm not all mystical and spiritual and don't talk to the trees in my backyard. When I lived on the reservation, I can't tell you how many times we'd be bringing a white person for the first time and they would ask either, where are the horses, or where are the tipis? The first time it happened I thought it was just joking, but no, they were serious. I'm just thinking, for crying out loud, we aren't wearing buckskins and feathered bonnets, we are wearing regular clothes, can't they figure out we live in regular houses too by now? (My tribe never lived in tipis or used horses, by the way. Wigwams and canoes for us.)

Anyway, I got off track, like I usually do. The best way to prove you are an ally is to keep coming back. On the internet, not just this blog, get comfortable on other blogs run by POC. Do lots of reading, if you feel you have something to add, make your comment. If you have a question, ask it, and if people either don't have the answer, don't have the time to explain, or just don't want to. Don't be hurt. We are human too and sometimes are tired of playing teacher. Try asking again at a later date or at another site if you really want to know something.

And Rootie, c'mon! Say whatever you want you know everyone loves you.

By Blogger Donna, at 3/12/2007 1:24 PM  

Donna, your comments about assumptions and stereotypes makes me think about another trap us white folks fall into. But it doesn't go to the extreme of wondering about tipis and horses.

Many of us go to various trainings and workshops to learn about different cultures. That's all well and good. But when you automatically assume that all you've learned applies to every person from that culture, you get into a whole new kind of stereotyping.

For example, many of us in my field had a lot to learn about the Hmong culture back in the early 90's. But I made a big mistake when I applied some of the things I learned to individual Hmong staff I worked with. While knowing about their history was extremely helpful, if I made assumptions about things like communication styles, religion, or any number of things, I was often wrong.

I think this is at least part of what's happening to Obama these days. I might or might not support him politically - don't know yet, but these attempts to try and say he isn't "black enough" just drive me crazy. I work with a wonderfully talented African American woman, and she gets this response when she doesn't agree with other African American people in power about what's best for the kids she works with. Just drives her CRAZY!!

By Blogger NLinStPaul, at 3/12/2007 9:08 PM  

I've been doing a bit of thinking about why neighborhoods can be standoffish, of whatever color.

I live in a fairly large central city neighborhood in one of the most segregated cities in the US. There is sporadic friendliness that happens, but it's sporadic. Course I've lived here for many years, so most everybody knows me, at least by sight, but on the whole there's not a lot of friendliness, not just toward me but toward each other.

And I think a lot of that has much, much, much to do with how our american society has taught us to distrust each other. When all you see on the tv news is the latest crime victim or the latest crime perpetrator, and the police and your neighbors treat you like a potential criminal who just hasn't discovered your true criminal nature; or when you think if you let down your guard for a minute you're going to be victimized; that's a thing that goes beyond race, to me.

My problem, in giving the benefit of the doubt, is that I tend to ascribe to other poeple my own motivations. I keep thinking that if I'm going out in the world without a desire to hurt people, then they must be the same. Of course, as I get older I realize through a lot of pain that this isn't the case. But I do give people of all types the benefit of the doubt for the stupid shit they do, til I recognize that some poeple are just stuck on stupid and that's not gonna change.

There I go, personalizing the whole thing again, but that's the best way I know to come at it. This is what I've seen, what I've experienced.

When you've been fucked over enough times you stop giving the benefit of the doubt; but then you become one of those people, like too many people in too many neighborhoods in my city, who don't open their blinds, who don't sit out on their porches, who don't say hello to each other, who just look at everybody with suspicion.

I just wish that when people do stupid things or say ignorant, racist things that they would own their shit, stand up and say "boy, I blew it" and do some self-examination. And not keep defending their actions while doing the same old shit all over again.

By Blogger kactus, at 3/12/2007 10:45 PM  

Donna - First off, apologies if I sounded a little more harsh than necessary in the last thread towards sunrunner. Had a bad experience late last year with someone who I was giving the benefit of the doubt (who later proved that no such benefit was deserved) so I'm still a little testy.
If I can attempt to say this a bit more tactfully this time...I just don't think that it's POCs job to make allowances for white people's bad behavior or thoughtless communication style. Some people will of course give the benefit of the doubt because they know the person who just said something dumb or offensive, because the relationship with that person impacts the way they react. Some people are just really really kind and patient, while others have been burned too many times to have any patience left. In general though I just don't think it's appropriate to put the onus on POC to constantly give the benefit of the doubt. I think it's asking them to make sacrifices to fascilitate conversation that many, many white people are clearly not willing to make themselves, and that's not OK.
It's like the way femnists relate to male allies. When they say dumb, offensive things that reek of privilege we don't generally say "aw, that's really dumb but that's OK, I forgive you". What we usually say is "put that privilege down before you hurt yourself, buddy". Sometimes we do give benefit of the doubt if the man is someone we know and we're pretty sure his heart's in the right place, but in general? Not so much. So I just don't see why when it comes to POC people default to
"they should give us the benefit of the doubt" arguments so quickly. It's placing higher expectations on others than one places on oneself, and that's no way to treat anyone, especially an ally.

By Blogger Cassandra Says, at 3/12/2007 11:21 PM  

It's placing higher expectations on others than one places on oneself, and that's no way to treat anyone, especially an ally.

Yes, that sums up exactly what was wrong with the GG interaction. He didn't hold himself to the same standard. Either you cut your allies the same slack (at least) that you cut yourself; or you grow an elephant hide of your own, if that's what you're asking of other people.

well. What's that Mel Brooks bit? Something like, "Tragedy is when -I- get a hangnail; comedy is when -you- fall down a manhole and die."

By Blogger belledame222, at 3/13/2007 1:24 AM  

Honestly, I often don't think I deserve a benefit of the doubt. I would rather have someone see something wrong with what I said or how I said it and confront me with it than assume I'm just having an inarticulate day; the only way to improve is to make mistakes and learn from them. And at the very least, getting confronted up front gives me a chance to clarify my position.

I can't speak for anyone else, though.

By Blogger Deoridhe, at 3/13/2007 4:47 PM  

nlinstpaul, it's almost like this cultural training is a different type of stereotyping! I suppose it could be since you still aren't looking at individuals but at "them" as some sort of homogenous group who lives a certain way or does things for a certain reason. I still think it's a good idea when you are learning a people's history and background as long as you keep in mind that humans are adaptable. It's like that spear fishing issue that ravenmn brought up; native americans by treaty should be allowed to hunt, fish, forestry, etc. But the catch is these racists say that we have to do it under the same conditions and with the same tools we used when those treaties were signed. I wonder why they think that the 4th Amendment doesn't mean muskets then? When it was written there weren't semi-automatics and hollow point bullets, but gosh, they can adapt those ancient laws to modern times but only for themselves. Anyway, I think that might be part of the problem with your cultural training about the Hmong, and then come to find out that the family you are dealing with has adapted some of their lifestyle to living in the US?

By Blogger Donna, at 3/13/2007 11:56 PM  

Kactus, I wonder if part of the standoffishness is because people are more mobile too. I mean I am from CT and my husband from MI, but here we are in WI and moving to NH! People used to be born, live their life, and die all in the same town. They knew everyone their whole lives and had the help of not only extended family but the neighbors. Now we just don't know each other and sometimes people are coming and going before you get a chance to know them. I've been here 8 years and the people on both sides of me are different than the people when I first got here.

I also think that if you really want friends, you will have them. I don't here because...I make very little effort. It's just not that important. This town is conservative and votes 60+% Republican. I have very little in common with most of my neighbors and the ones I do spend some time with have a tendency to talk up Bush and I can't take it! So I stick to talking to friends in CT or Canada by phone, or email, and visiting when I can or hanging with all the wonderful people I found on the internet. My husband is the one who goes around making friends everywhere he goes and knows everyone here!

By Blogger Donna, at 3/14/2007 12:04 AM  

Cassandra, no need to apologize to me. I agreed with what you, Nezua, Deoridhe, etc were saying. The only thing that bothers me is that I think we may have misunderstood Sunrunner. I don't think she read the GG thread so that we were jumping him without giving him a chance. But he was given a chance and blew it. If that is the case then I do agree with her that context is needed and if you know that someone is usually a real friend, when they make a mistake you give them a chance or two or three. It depends if they really want to hear you and come to some sort of agreement.

Deoridhe, I'm the same way. I'd rather know if I got something wrong. I'd like to get it right! Sure, it might sting sometimes, especially when it's a long held belief, but it's just foolish to go on holding to false impressions and lies.

By Blogger Donna, at 3/14/2007 12:11 AM  

Donna - thanks, I was worried I might have ticked you off there.
To both Deoridhe's point and Donna's answer - I've always believed that a real friend is someone who will call you on your bullshit and tell you when you're acting like an idiot. It takes a certain ammount of trust to do that.
About sunrunner - I think she did feel that people were piling on her unfairly. In my case what was triggering me was that I've been in work situations where people refuse to accept that others whom they consider further down the social ladder have authority over them. Men who refuse to listen to women bosses, white people who can't accept that their black boss really does have the right to write them up when they're out of line or ask them to perform tasks that they'd rather avoid. I think that's a form of racism that often goes unquestioned, but I've seen it in the workplace and it's ugly.

By Blogger Cassandra Says, at 3/14/2007 1:31 AM  

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