The Silence of Our Friends

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Enough! Stand Up Against The Bullshit!

Many of you have probably already seen this cartoon. It's several years old and the artist is Ampersand at Alas, A Blog. I saw it for the first time probably two years ago, before I had a blog. It's simple truth spoke to me about the blindness of those who climb over others to gain power for themselves, and then forget how they got there. I'm sure it's why a corrupt and incomplete version of history is what we are taught in American schools, we are supposed to forget.

I want to draw for you a continuation of that cartoon. Imagine it, the brown kid is Condoleeza Rice, or Alberto Gonzales, and the next brown kid to come along is Martin Luther King Jr. What happens next? The first brown kid climbs on the second brown kid's back to get to the top and instead of helping him up, does the exact same thing the white kid did, claims they did it all on their own, the civil rights movement and death and suffering of that era had nothing to do with it.

White isn't just a skin color, it's an idea, it's about hierarchy, power, and an "I got mine, SUCKERS!" mentality, that's why there can be and is white POC. It also isn't limited to rightwing racists, we have them in progressive circles too. A common tactic used against people of color who want to discuss our issues and concerns, especially when we are angry because we are ignored by those on our side, is to tell us, "We have more important issues! We have to work on our issues first, and then we will get around to your special interests. Racism is dead, we are all colorblind now." (Notice in Amps cartoon, the brown kid does drop the shackles. I thought that was a very astute observation on his part. The brown kid is slightly better off, but nowhere near equal.)

This isn't an issue purely of race, feminists have heard liberal men parrot this line to them too, so have environmentalists, so have those fighting for the rights of the disabled, so have those who are poverty activists, so has labor and consumer rights activists, so has the GLBT community...BUT some of those people are also climbing on the backs of others. Here's an example, read Maha's description of Heaven and Hell at 23, and my answer at 31, it's the same as the cartoon. Notice how she and her ignorant supporters never answer my question about whether they would have had a problem with that lunch being attended by all men, except the one who wants to make a joke. Now that white women have access, they have no problem slamming the door in our faces. Their "important" issues are being addressed, so go away with our petty unimportant "identity politics", and "jealousy". That comments thread is a screaming indictment for how deep racism runs in America. No, it ain't just the rightwing bigots or skinhead extremists.

Another thing that happens commonly when people bring up the fact that America was built on racism, slavery, and genocide, is for some white people to pipe up about how they are not responsible for that. Their Irish great grandfather arrived after slavery was abolished, and reservations were established for the Native Americans, and not only that, he was discriminated against too! It's true. The Irish, Italians, Greeks, Jews, Catholics, anyone who wasn't a WASP (White Anglo-Saxon Protestant) were at one time discriminated against. They didn't enjoy all the privileges of being white -enough-. Now that cartoon doesn't make sense, those people didn't step on anyone to get up there! Because there is more to the cartoon, there isn't just one brown boy at the bottom and there isn't just one white boy at the top, and the white boy isn't as passive as the cartoon appears. When the brown boy tries to climb up on his own, the white boy pushes him back down. The white boy likes it that power is consolidated amongst a select few and he can't allow everyone to make it to the top, that means less for him and those like him. But he also has a bit of a problem, those at the bottom keep growing, and he and the small group of other whites aren't strong enough to push them all back down. So occasionally they give a hand up to a few more to help keep the others down. That's what I think about you and your great grandfather. You haven't done a damn thing to help anyone else up, and have instead been helping your former oppressor to keep everyone else down. "I got mine, SUCKERS!"

I wrote this post for the Radical Carnival of Action, first proposed by BFP and being hosted by Sylvia at the Anti-Essentialist Conundrum. You may think that I haven't suggested any grassroots activism, but I have and I will make it clearer: grassroots activism isn't just organizing protest marches, or soup kitchens, or domestic violence hotlines. I feel helpless because I would have a difficult time with any of these very important projects until I have successful surgery. But BrownFemiPower inspired me to write this. That is grassroots activism too. She energizes and motivates me to DO SOMETHING! I dedicate this post to her. I send her love and healing energy.

My grassroots activism is to inspire you to do something too.

I can see a day coming when the crowd at the bottom is going to overwhelm the few at the top. The majority of Americans are already discriminated against or oppressed in some way, but this is as it has always been. The difference is that today there are more of us discontented, alienated, and unrepresented since the turn of the century. Many of us are people of color and it's time for us to come together and shove each other to the top and pull those behind us up too. I'm tired of us vs them in every discussion. I'm tired of people saying to each other, "I must have my important issues first, then we will get back to you", and always it isn't enough. They always have more important issues and never get back to 'you'. I want to motivate you to stand up to these white people, and I do not mean skin color, reread the third paragraph.

1) The next time you hear that bullshit, stand up to it, don't let them tell an immigrant woman imprisoned in Hutto that her problem is a "pet project" that must wait, don't let them tell a disabled man that his problem is a "pet project" that must wait, don't let them tell a transwoman that her problem is a "pet project" that must wait. Don't let them tell you that your problem is a "pet project" that must wait. Don't let them dazzle you with their illogic, "We are on the same side, no circular firing squad!" argument. We are not on the same side if it is only about THEIR needs and never about ours.

2) Don't let them shove their DLC pro-wealthy candidates down your throat. Don't vote for them. I don't give a damn anymore that the Republicans are much worse than the Democrats, because no, they aren't. DLC Democrats are still consolidating power for the few at the expense of the many. Using the Democrats logic the whole Civil War could have been avoided by making sure the slaveholders didn't whip the slaves. No one with any sense in their head would say that that compromise is good enough. But that's the kind of compromise candidates the Democrats expect rousing support for? Voting for either bad or worse isn't a choice. How about we force them to run GOOD for once?

3) Don't just sit it out. Write to the DNC and DLC and tell them why you will not support candidate X, Y, or Z. Tell them "electable" isnt really. Do vote for and support real progressive candidates. Write to those candidates and politicians showing your support. Write to your newspaper or other news outlet that has letters to the editor.

4) Write a blog post like this one. Or like this one. Or like this one. Or like this one. Or like this, all of it. Speak for yourself, speak for others, speak out against the lies and bullshit and games people play to climb on others backs to achieve their own goals.

UPDATE: Ok there she goes, that, that, Sassywho! Writing almost the same thing as I wrote here, only in her fancy pants edumakated way*. For once you can say, "You're just jellus!" and I will agree.

*No she isn't one of the thieves we've been talking about lately. She didn't get the idea from me, and I didn't get mine from her. But, like me, I bet BFP was an inspiration to her too.

19 comment(s):

Awesome post Donna!!

I first got to know you when that blogger lunch thing went down, and the way you took on FDL and Maha (ugh!) really made me think cause at first I was inclined to let that whole incident slide.

'That's what I think about you and your great grandfather. You haven't done a damn thing to help anyone else up, and have instead been helping your former oppressor to keep everyone else down. "I got mine, SUCKERS!"'

This is such a good response to that pat way of thinking. I can't tell you, but I'm sure you know, how many times I've heard that "I'm not responsible . . . " line.

Thanx for this post, Donna.

By Anonymous Andrew, at 5/13/2007 7:01 PM  

I came over here immediately after reading another blogger somewhere else getting pissy about how "white privilege" is so much more "complex" (read: not as bad as you complainers say) than critics want to make it. The supposed rebuttals followed your take on it exactly! Including the "Irish great-grandfather"... Yup... just like few people ever admit to being rich, no one admits to white privilege either. You'd think all white people were 1st generation, poor, bootstrap Americans...

keep up that great work and good luck with your health issues.

I'm glad to read a fellow Milwaukeean bringing such harsh and clear critique to the world.

By Anonymous sangjin, at 5/13/2007 7:12 PM  

"electable isn't really"

right on.

and you know: sure, privilege is complex in a -general- sense. but, we're really not talking about history and abstractions and blahblah. we're talking about -right now.-

that Maha thread? i never really did read her before, but oh. my. god. what an EPIC asshat! good god, i think even T-Rex's blatant "you're not good enough, so mind your betters, neener" crap might be preferable (not that it's for me to say, but): jeeeeezus. "Buddhism," my ample ass! -weak.-

By Blogger belledame222, at 5/13/2007 8:33 PM  

oh, and the business about "identity politics:"

well, yes, insofar as anyone really -is- "only thinking of themselves," but um, tootsie roll, what makes you think "middle class white chick" isn't an -identity-? just because -you- think yer normative doesn't make it so.

By Blogger belledame222, at 5/13/2007 8:39 PM  

This comment has been removed by the author.

By Blogger Sassywho, at 5/13/2007 10:14 PM  

you know what? BFP, Belle, You, BA, Ren, Bint, and everyone else did inspire that post. I added links to BFP and BA for that reason.

I actually had a lot women in mind for that post, but I can't do the subject anywhere justice as you can.

Great post

By Blogger Sassywho, at 5/14/2007 10:09 AM  

I'm trying to unknot a long history of stuff, including buying into the privilege game myself. (There turned out to be a downside. Who knew?) Thanks for a strangely inspiring post.

By Blogger Tom, at 5/14/2007 10:44 AM  

donna! check your email!

By Blogger bfp, at 5/14/2007 2:36 PM  

Andrew, it is actually more complicated than I stated in the post. The Irish and the rest do enjoy the benefits of all that was stolen from Native Americans and from slave labor that was used to build this country, so it does involve climbing on someone's back and not just being pulled up in my metaphor. But I wanted to keep the post fairly simple since it was already getting long. But if you come across one of those people with that pat way of thinking, "I'm not responsible", you got more information now.

I won't be in Wisconsin after June, sangjin. My husband got a transfer out east and we are headed to New Hampshire. Looking forward to all the campaign ads and people knocking on the doors during the primaries...NOT!

You didn't catch that fun Maha thread before, Belle? Oh my GAWD did my blood pressure skyrocket over that one. I was a semi-regular reader and occasional commenter before that. She's bright and gets it on alot of issues, but race? Unbelievably ignorant.

By Blogger Donna, at 5/15/2007 1:30 AM  

Don't sell yourself short, Sassywho, I loved your take on it. Even if you show me up with your edumakashun and vowkabullaritee. (I used to have a good vocabulary, but the meds I take mess with it, I have to look up words in the dictionary/thesaurus all the time now!)

Tom, thanks for the strangely nice compliment. LOL I'm glad to see a new commenter around the blogs. I've seen you at a couple other places too.

By Blogger Donna, at 5/15/2007 1:38 AM  

Donna: You might be interested to know that "the DLC brand is no longer in demand."

I found this post via the Blog Report at Salon.
Apparently, the bloggers (and others) who have been complaining about the DLC have had some impact, because they haven't confirmed appeareances by many of the Democratic field.

Great post, btw!

By Blogger Karen M, at 5/15/2007 11:37 AM  

Donna, thanks for the hospitality!

Your post wasn't strange! What's strange is I often feel like I'm more part of the problem you're complaining about. And yet it was still inspiring.

By Blogger Tom, at 5/16/2007 2:31 PM  

"Complaining about" is not accurate. EDIT: "trying to solve"


By Blogger Tom, at 5/16/2007 5:32 PM  

I'm really late commenting on this -- sorry, I was having some very serious meatworld issues taking all my attention last month. But I wanted to say that I'm flattered you like my cartoon, and I really enjoyed your discussion/expansion of it.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 6/05/2007 12:23 PM  

Whoops! That previous comment was by me, Amp.

By Anonymous Ampersand, at 6/05/2007 12:24 PM  

You said:

When the brown boy tries to climb up on his own, the white boy pushes him back down. The white boy likes it that power is consolidated amongst a select few and he can't allow everyone to make it to the top, that means less for him and those like him. But he also has a bit of a problem, those at the bottom keep growing, and he and the small group of other whites aren't strong enough to push them all back down. So occasionally they give a hand up to a few more to help keep the others down. That's what I think about you and your great grandfather. You haven't done a damn thing to help anyone else up, and have instead been helping your former oppressor to keep everyone else down. "I got mine, SUCKERS!"


I hear where your coming from, I understand why you see it this way. I don't want to sound like I'm patronizing you because I don't want to patronize you. I want to work with you, for the same goals - which are freedom and equality for everyone, period.


I have to say that if you think that about me "and my grandfather" who grew up as a sharecropper and picked cotton as a child, you're not my friend. you're not my ally. you're not someone I have anything in common with, because you are so focused on demanding respect for your people and your culture and your struggle (all of which deserve respect and support) that you haven't bothered to learn anything at all about my people and my culture and my struggle. And solidarity has to go both ways.

The majority of poor people in america are "white." They have never managed to get up on top of that bar, at most they've been brainwashed into believing that they're better off because the guy on top has the same skin color as them. To move a step closer, the Scots Irish (my people) are the single poorest segment of white america, and the single largest ethnic group in america. we are the white trash redneck crackers that end up getting blamed for every braindead republican that gets elected (even though most of us don't vote) and for every racist piece of shit in the media. We are the perfect scapegoat for everyone from the most conservative reaganite to the most radical chicana blogger. And none of you will even admit that we have our own identity, our own history, our own struggle. High school american history classes forget we exist because we're poor and poor people don't count for them and college ethnic studies programs pretend we don't exist because we don't fit in with the "all whites are rich exploiters" narrative; and after all, white people don't have "real" ethnicities so there'd be no point talking about their ethnicities in an ethnic studies class, now would there?

I'm ranting, pardon me. I'm kind of angry. not so much at you as at your blindness. I would never claim that my people haven't been complicit and even active in the institutions of white supremacy and racism. I'm a tenth generation american. My ancestors participated in the genocide against native americans so they could steal their land, only to be driven off that same land a few years later by Anglo-saxon bankers and land trusts. They worked as the hired hands and slavecatchers in the south, all while having the value of their own labor undercut by the availability of cheap slave labor. Many of them fought for the confederacy during the civil war - there are reasons why the confederate flag was modeled on the Scottish flag, after all. And after the civil war they became sharecroppers, the poorest of the poor in america, always one harvest away from starvation. Oh yes, my ancestors participated in all the manifestations of white supremacy, no doubt, but I would argue that at the end of the day white supremacy and racism have hurt us far more then they have helped us. The goal of white supremecy, after all, was not just to exploit the labor of people of color and justify slavery and Jim Crow, it was too fool all of us poor stupid redneck crackers into thinking we had something in common with the Anglo Saxon in the big house just because we had the same skin color as him. It was a viscious lie, but my people bought it and supported it for generations.

So I'll accept responsibility as a member of my Clan (spelled with a C) for the actions of my clan and work to redress past grievances and current inequalities (of which there are many), but I'll kindly ask you to reconsider your assumption that just because I look (to you) like the white man on top that I am the white man on top. That's the same lie that made my ancestors slaves in everything but name and I want nothing to do with it. I am not the white man on top. I'm nowhere near him. I have nothing to lose and everything to gain by toppling the system that holds him up and if you're serious about doing the same I'll be glad to be your ally. But only if you'll stop trying to define my identity for me.

As for the Irish, Ireland was being brutally colonized and its people subjected to genocide long before Columbus "discovered" anything. Long before the slave trade began of the Conquistadors crushed the Aztec Empire. You could learn a lot about what it means to have a real culture of resistance against imperialism, genocide, racism, and colonization by learning a bit more about their history. The Irish have been fighting for their freedom for over 800 years, and they still haven't won, but they keep fighting. You should think twice before you mock their struggle. Irish Americans are another kettle of fish entirely, but to the extent that they know anything about their own history (which, like mine, is completely absent from the public schools) they have every reason to see themselves as allies in a global anti-racist and anti-imperialist struggle. provided, of course, that they don't decide people like you who mock them and their history aren't worth supporting.

By Anonymous lynx, at 8/06/2007 10:08 PM  

oh, and one last thing, if you take a look at the radical left and the white people who are seriously working for social change and standing in solidarity with people of color on these issues, you'll find that people of Irish, Scots Irish, and Scottish descent are dramatically over-represented. Sure, there are Bill O'Reily types who are saying "I got mine suckers", but that's not what most of us are saying. not by a long shot.

But then, maybe all white people just look the same to you and you haven't bothered to distinguish friends from foes?

By Anonymous lynx, at 8/06/2007 10:11 PM  

lynx: But then, maybe all white people just look the same to you and you haven't bothered to distinguish friends from foes?
This is a great point made and the only thing I can add to the above is that, there are times when friend becomes foe in the space of an opportunity at advancement.

There are times when I have observed the race card being played, but by the white guy, not the black guy. The black and white guy have been sharing information, taking lunches together, and occasionally meeting socially. Then an opportunity arises at work where the only difference between the two are whatever biases, racial and/or non-racial, the boss brings to the situation. The white guys says or does something to align himself with the boss at the expense of his "supposed" friendship with the black guy.

It is just difficult to know if the white face smiling at you has an agenda or is a "true" friend. It is shameful but examples are rife in history and experience.

Forgive us when trust has sometimes come at an awful price.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10/03/2008 10:22 AM  

When I was younger I read romances and romance mysteries by the thousands. I could not finish a book quick enough, before grabbing the next one. There was never a day that went by that I did not insure having three books in my bag, but the weekends were the worse, I would clean out the library. I had to escape my life.

My poison of choice were books set in Ireland and Scotland with England coming in at a distant third.

I loved the highlands, the clans, the lairds...ooh la the lairds. Do you know my escape was total when I read about Ireland and my return to reality was difficult.

My family is huge; eleven siblings. I was one of many and overlooked.

I love the Irish and I love the Scottish. If pressed on reincarnation, I would say I was one or the other in a previous life.

Times have changed and life is better and I now have a voice.

I am African American.

I appreciate you, lynx and I hear and feel everything in your post.

Keep holding up your end, as I hold up mine and maybe others will see our determination and begin to hold up their own.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10/03/2008 10:46 AM  

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