Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Racist Subtleties

It has occurred to me recently that perhaps there are a lot of white people out there who don't always recognize racism when they hear it. I can't speak for others, but I really think that a lot of otherwise well meaning white people simply don't understand what they hear. You see, when you live with racism directed at one group or another, over time you might tend to become immune to certain subtle remarks or words that are thrown around here and there. I'm not talking about the blatant use of the "n" word or outward distain for some ethnic group, I'm talking about small subtle remarks or words that set the stage and transfix one's thinking without sounding like anything bad.
So I thought I'd mention a few of these things in my postings so that others who might not have realized what they were hearing will perhaps in the future recognize these covert racist remarks.

Subtleties of story telling:

How many times have I heard a "true story" about some dumb person or idiotic event framed with a descriptor of race or color? Many of them start out like this:

A doctor friend of mine was working in the ER of a hospital in Chicago when this middle aged black woman came in complaining of. . . .

Back in the 60s my grandfather owned a big full service gas station in Tulsa, OK. One day this car load of Indians pulled in and asked. . . .

My father was a country doctor in Tennessee back in the 50s. One night he was called to the home of a poor rural black family to deliver a baby. . .

Ya get the idea? You know this is going to be some story of hilarious ignorance or pitiful stupidity. The stage is set between some well to do or highly educated white person and a poor dumb ignorant minority. But it's subtle, because race is only thrown in that one time in the beginning. "Why," the story teller will declare, "it's not about the person's race, it's only about a true story my uncle told me."
Then why the fuck did you even have to mention the person's race? You know damn well why. You have preyed upon whatever stereotype is lurking in the minds of your audience. Sure, it might be a funny story. It might be fucking hilarious all by itself without the racial descriptor. So why did the story tell even use the racial descriptor?
The reality is, it's just another way to take a stab at one minority group or another. Hell, I don't think a lot of the people who have told me these stupid stories even realize what they are doing. They are simply ignorant of the subtleties of prejudice around race, class, color and ethnicity. When they become shocked and indignant over being called on their bullshit, they really are so because of their own ignorance.

Should you call people on their stupid remarks? Hell yes. Stop them in their tracks. Ask them up front "does this person's race have something to do with the story?" If they say "no," ask them why they included it in the story. Be confrontational. It is up to everyone with a thinking mind to put an end to racism and it needs to be ferreted out wherever we find it.

So folks, think before you open your mouth. Realize that there is lots of racism ingrained in our society. Be prepared for it.



MacDaddy said...

Sagacious: You hit it on the head. When I think of dealing with racism, I don't think of lynchings, of people calling me the N word. I think of being in a bar, cafe or meeting and hearing people start conversations like you say, use phrases like "Indian giver," "white lies," "white trailer trash," "grease money, etc. I'm not saying these phrases or racist, but they are cues to me and other black people that they are in conversation with people who paint groups of people (gays, low-income people, blacks, men, women) in broad strokes with sweeping generalizations which are almost always negative. Trust me: black people get the point: that if they paint that group in terms of sweeping generalizations, they do it with black people and they're racist as hell.

In addition, there are the code words like "southern way of life" or "southern strategy" or "Us folks down here," etc. It goes on and on.

And, yes, although it tends to make black folks stay away from them, oftentimes they don't know that it's racist, sexist or classist. And i've heard people say about me, "You know: that Mac sure keeps to himself a lot. Why doesn't come to our table anymore...probably thinks he's better than us..."

rainywalker said...

Your point and daddyBstrong's comment are well taken. Racist commemts are just plain wrong and we should call people out. However wrong, consider where this is taking us in the context of my overall comment. For me it's the word "fuck" and for you it might be the word "whores" since thats what I call Congress. For murder veterans, Vietnam vets don't like that in front of their name. Going postal normally refers to military in many cases. If you kill someone with a knife, it's a knife. Kill someone with a weapon and they include company, name, caliber, auto, semi and likely rifling. Several countries in Europe will put you in jail or fine you for saying anything against Islam or using the term "Islamicfascist" in general conversation. This could offend terrorist Muslims. The media on most channels are still using three terms when referring to blacks. The three of us draw the line someplace, what about the other 6 billion people in the world? Use of the "N" word is wrong, but what if we let 6 billion people decide, or governments? The Fed's have a list of words, the military, the state, likely the county and city. How much of the First Amendment will be left, how many books left in the library, how many bondfires if we go there and how long is the word list going to be?

SagaciousHillbilly said...

Rainy, I don't advocate any restrictions on anyones right to free speech. I'll even defend someone's right to use the "n" word. . . in their own place and time, but what I will not tolerate is someone coming at me with racist bullshit be it subtle or blatant. If anyone wants to interact with others like that, go find a fucking klan meeting. Dig under some shit piles and join a group of white supremists, but keep it outta my sphere of existence otherwise I'm gonna call them on their bullshit.
Hell, you go restricting what people can say and I'm not gonna know who the good guys and who the bad guys are. It's difficult enough these days.

rainywalker said...

That cleared it up for me, I'm with you.

MountainLaurel said...

Sagacious, you got to what I was trying to get at in my post. The most insidious forms of racism and discriminatory behavior are often the most subtle.

I've been told that I'm hypersensitive on my personal issue, the broad-brush painting of Appalachians. I'm not so sure if it's hypersensitivity or just being aware.

Thanks again for this post. Quite thought-provoking and insightful. But then again, you usually are.

MacDaddy said...

More than anything, I think this habit or tradition of saying and doing racist things is about fear and ignorance. But we should keep in mind: some Americans choose to blissfully ignorant so as to maintain a sense of superiority or a certain level of comfort in their psyche.

TriState Saver said...

People talk about people. They do it to be funny, make themselves look better or to get a laugh.

It is all really sad because these kinds of people are missing out on some truly wonderful experiences. Imagine the REAL people you could meet or have TRUE relationships with, if you weren't such a doucher!

People that suffer this particular brand of ignorance tend to see a falling off of friends and family eventually because if they do it to others, no doubt they are doing it to you. They will exploit any and every flaw so they themselves can feel bigger about themselves and in the end they die alone and noone really gives a shit!

Keep up the good work!


SagaciousHillbilly said...

Daddy and TriState, You get to the heart of the matter. It's all about the self esteem, insecurities, inferiority defects, fears.
The greatest thing I have ever done for myself way beyond any other accomplishment is to truly grasp the concept that we are all equal. We come into this life exactly the same and we leave it exactly the same. What is in between those two events is mostly just fluff with little substance. What is real is only that which is deep down inside us all. It has nothing to do with what we decorate or defile ourselves with on the surface. When I can believe that and hold it in my mind I am always a better person.

Thank you all for all the very good thought provoking comments.

Buzzardbilly said...

Be patient with me, my dear Saggy, for I'm fresh from oral surgery and doped to the nines (legally for a change).

First, I need you to sit down because I wouldn't want any injuries to come as a result of what I'm going to say.

I totally agree with you.

Those assumptions people make when details such as race, religion, gender (as in who ya fuck), sex (as in whatchu got under that outfit), and place of origin (as in hillbilly, granola-brained Californian, or rude New Yorker) all need to be fought.

And the fighting, academically speaking, is to my thinking at least not being approached in the right way. Gender studies, queer studies, racist studies, and placist studies all limit the scope of the discussion.

The biggest point I see that's not being taught is: how to know what is a pertinant detail to a story and what isn't. A woman letting a tater grow in her crotch is funny. Labeling that woman by any of those groupings that have become handy cultural shorthand for a host of perfectly normal things that snobs see as defects detracts from the funny of the story and injects a whole host of cultural ghosts who have no business dancing on graves that haven't been dug.

And, eventually, some fine day we'll have some fine sould who wants to fight even that saying that we are picking on the stupid.

For now, that's all I can add without breaking into some medicine haze.

Yes, I agree with you and I would stand beside you to fight it. But, I draw the line at calling a person racist for one such inclusion because the action the person made (which was a rare one for the person in question on the tater story) is a subtly racist action that he (she or anyone else with a lick of human decency) would want to make a point to change and be thankful for having been shown the err of his or her ways if we do it by concentrating on the action, as opposed to labeling the actor.

Digging me or not?