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November 11, 2005
December First is "Blog Against Racism" Day
Some of the response to my posting a criticism of that cannibal cartoon all of it from people I know to be smart and educated makes me think that the common definition of the word "racist" has been restricted to the point of near uselessness. It seems these days that many people consider it a worse thing to be called "racist" than it is to actually be racist.
I'm not saying there's no room for disagreement. For instance, I said I thought Sara Silverman is racist, and I know that's a gut feeling on my part. People can certainly disagree with that assessment without ill motive.
But it increasingly clear to me and probably has been for some time to people smarter than me that many folks think of the word "racist" as meaning something akin to the word "evil." Thus the defenses of the cartoon that focused on the artist's intent. If his intentions were benign, then he is not evil and thus not racist.
Anyone who's studied the history of racism can trot out numerous examples of racist behavior committed with allegedly good intentions, from Moynihan's "benign neglect" to the myriad acts of condescension by white liberals toward their black acquaintances. I assume, people being more or less the same now as they were two hundred years ago, that there were a number of slaveowners who told themselves they took wonderful care of their chattel property.
Ask a Klan member whether he or she has good intentions. I guarantee you the answer will be in the affirmative, even as the cross is lit.
Intentions are all well and good, but more important are the assumptions from which those intentions spring. Garbage in, garbage out: bad information times good intentions equals bad results. And those results are the most important thing of all. A cartoon depicts stereotypical dark-skinned tribes as cannibals? That's racism. The poor people who could not flee a flooding city because they had no access to transportation or a lifetime of mistrust of authority were almost all Black? That's racism. People advocate locking up enemy nationals, defined by ancestry? That's racism.
Discussion of racism is often shot down by the nervous conservatives and liberals alike - as "playing the race card," a close semantic kin to the "PC" gambit often used to squelch criticism of offensive language in the public sphere. Odd, then that objecting to the term is itself a form of political correctness: "don't say racist! That's offensive!" The thing is, if we discuss racism as a systemic ill, as a function of misinformation and reversible prejudice, if we describe racism in terms of effects rather than intent, then we do a couple things. First, we grant the possibility of redemption, the possibility that people raised in a racist society me, you, everyone I know can root out those prejudices. Second, we grant our opponents the freedom to think whatever they like: it's the effects that count.
Society needs to have this discussion. But the responsibility for discussing racism has long been relegated to those people most directly affected by it. In other words, people who aren't white. Us white folks have the luxury of not thinking about racism on a daily basis. As a result, most of us don't. I think it would be helpful if we started to do our share of that particular chore.
Which is all a very long-winded way of declaring December 1, 2005 - the 50th anniversary of Rosa Parks' heroic act of civil disobedience on that Montgomery bus - "Blog Against Racism" day, in which people post something on the very broad and complex subject of racism. You don't need to have a political blog to participate. Race, after all, affects almost every aspect of life in one way or another. Your post might be literary in nature, or historical, or concern current issues in need of political attention. You might take the opportunity to debunk scientific racism, or write poetry or essays about personal experiences, uplifting or depressing.
With luck, the discussion engendered will endure past midnight on December 2.
To participate, announce the date in your blog sometime soon to encourage others to take part. And then on December 1, 2005, Blog Against Racism! If you trackback to me here, I'll compile those trackbacks into a running tally of Blog Against Racism posts.
Questions or comments? Leave them here.
Posted by Chris Clarke at November 11, 2005 02:19 PM
TrackBack URL for this entry:
11 blog(s) linking to this post:
Blog Against Racism Day
Excerpt: (via Majikthise: Chris of Creek Running North proposes December 01 2005 as the inaugural Blog Against Racism Day. Quoth Chris: Discussion of racism is often shot down by the nervous conservatives and liberals alike - as "playing the race card," a clo...
Weblog: Malice Aforethought
Tracked: November 14, 2005 11:22 AM
Eaten the First Time
Excerpt: One: Race
December 1 is Blog Against Racism Day, for the sensible reason that:
Discussion of racism is often shot down by the nervous â conservatives and liberals alike - as "playing the race card," a close semantic kin to the "PC" gambit often u...
Weblog: green gabbro
Tracked: November 14, 2005 11:03 PM
Excerpt: It may be too late to submit, but The Third Feminist Carnival sees the world tomorrow. It's not too late to submit to "Blog Against Racism" Day, 1 December. Now get to blogging. [via BitchPh.D.]...
Weblog: Slant Truth
Tracked: November 15, 2005 03:09 PM
More Submission Requests
Excerpt: It may be too late to submit, but The Third Feminist Carnival sees the world tomorrow.
It’s not too late to submit to “Blog Against Racism” Day, 1 December.
Now get to blogging.
Weblog: Satellite Heart
Tracked: November 15, 2005 04:18 PM
Good Blogging Causes
Excerpt: Satellite Heart is a proud (although completely unofficial) sponser of The Carnival of Feminists (appearing 16 November) and Blog Against Racism Day (appearing 1 December).
We will be posting any relevant links for both blog events (although at this...
Weblog: Satellite Heart
Tracked: November 15, 2005 06:59 PM
Worth Blogginf For
Excerpt: You can find the same post over at Satellite Heart: Slant Truth is a proud (although completely unofficial) sponser of The Carnival of Feminists (appearing 16 November) and Blog Against Racism Day (appearing 1 December). I will be posting any...
Weblog: Slant Truth
Tracked: November 15, 2005 07:09 PM
Mommy, am I a racist? Yes, dear, you are
Excerpt: What if you were a racist? How would you know it? Let's do a little introspection to see what's going on in there.
Weblog: Web of Influence
Tracked: December 1, 2005 07:40 AM
How can we end racism today?
Excerpt: One of the major plotlines in Commander in Chief is when the President Mackenzie Allen (played by Geena Davis) is given an old film of her archrival, the Speaker of the House Nathan Templeton (played by Donald Sutherland), who, as a young congressiona...
Weblog: Word Munger
Tracked: December 1, 2005 01:51 PM
BLOG AGAINST RACISM: WHAT BLACKNESS LOOKS LIKE
Excerpt: I've been thinking all morning about what I could write for Blog Against Racism Day. No way can I be as eloquent as so many others who have spoken about the overall problem of racism. What can I personally add
Tracked: December 1, 2005 03:35 PM
Outrage To Action
Excerpt: Chris Clarke, December First is "Blog Against Racism" Day: Intentions are all well and good, but more important are the assumptions from which those intentions spring. Garbage in, garbage out: bad information times good intentions equals bad results. And
Tracked: December 1, 2005 08:26 PM
blog against racism day
Excerpt: So, today is Blog Against Racism Day. Seems like we could be doing this every day, doesn't it? I was originally going to do a Kansas City-centric post for this, but then on the bus tonight, I noticed the Rosa
Weblog: me, my life infrastructure
Tracked: December 1, 2005 11:14 PM
Thanks! I've been chewing this question over in an essay I'm writing for an anthology--not directly related to race, although I'm trying to find a graceful way of making comparisons to similar treatment of people of color--and this crystalizes my thinking.
Like Tom Ripley says in The Talented Mr. Ripley, no one ever truly thinks of him- or herself as evil. We're always justified somehow.Posted by: piny at November 11, 2005 02:35 PM
This is a great idea. Count me in.Posted by: nina at November 11, 2005 03:38 PM
Count me in, too.Posted by: Ancrene Wiseass at November 11, 2005 03:54 PM
Perhaps the point behind the cartoon's implicit racism is the cultural/racist stereotype it triggers in the mind of the viewer to generate the "humor." Would this be funny if middle-class Caucasians were portrayed doing this at a garden party? Or if African-Americans were shown doing this in the Fourth Ward of Houston? I think not. But to be fair, we must also acknowledge there were primitive tribes in faraway places which have collected skulls and shrunken heads (hopefully all in the past) as an important part of their culture. So are we editing away that reality for PC? I think the harm of racism is so pervasive that one must come down on the side of declaring the cartoon racist and also culturally chauvanistic, innocent though the intent of the cartoonist might have been. That "innocence" itself arises from uncritical acceptance of harnmful, unchallenged stereotypes.Posted by: biosparite at November 11, 2005 04:19 PM
Cool plan. I have dibs on the phrase, "not raised under a rock."Posted by: bitchphd at November 11, 2005 11:44 PM
To be fair, we must also acknowledge there were primitive tribes in faraway places which have collected skulls and shrunken heads (hopefully all in the past) as an important part of their culture. So are we editing away that reality for PC?
The image of African cannibals that's used in the cartoon doesn't derive its resonance from modern-day anthropology, but from 20th century popular culture.
Why do the cannibals in the cartoon have bones in their noses? Because black savages in old movies always had bones in their noses, just like injuns always wore huge feathered headdresses. It's cultural shorthand, and it has nothing more to do with reality than the image of a poor man wearing a barrel for clothes.Posted by: Angus at November 12, 2005 06:23 AM
Reading over my last comment, I see I should have been clearer --- by saying that the cartoon is untethered from reality, I'm not saying it's benign. The imagery that it's drawing on is profoundly racist --- as racist as the parallel mass-media depictions of American blacks from the middle of the last century.Posted by: Angus at November 12, 2005 06:38 AM
Excellent idea. December 1st is also World Aids Day, to mention a distressingly overlapping topic.Posted by: Joy at November 12, 2005 09:32 AM
miscegenate early, miscegenate often. but don't call it that. instead, call it love.Posted by: Miguel Alondra at November 12, 2005 12:23 PM
Good idea. Yes, I'll do this.Posted by: bridgett at November 12, 2005 06:59 PM
I respectfully disagree with all the above. I don't think the word's been "restricted to the point of near uselessness" but on the contrary think it has been expanded to the point of near uselessness. Hitler was racist. I think useful lessons can still be learned from such "ancient" history, but the point is blunted if the vocabulary is diluted. To call Bush racist based on his reaction to Katrina, or McPherson racist for that cartoon is both technically incorrect (look it up) and rhetorically counterproductive. Nevertheless (or rather, because of this), I'm in for 01 Dec too!Posted by: ostranenie at November 13, 2005 05:53 AM
Count Corrente in. I'm going to link to this post as well; embarrassed to admit I still don't understand how trackbacks work, at least on our new site.
Absolutely true that it has become a worse social sin to make the accusation that so-and-so or such-and-such is racist, than to express racist attitudes, invoke racist tropes, or retool even the most infamous cliches of American racism, as does D'Souza in his "The End Of Racism," which was consciously constructed to be a boomerang against all charges that it did exactly what it did, give a modern justification for American racism, in particular, toward African-Americans. And please note the thoroughness with which he got away with it, brilliant analysis to the contrary by a certain favorite Professor of Literature we all admire, and others like it, notwithstanding.
If it was true that the slightest hint of racism has become a PC crime so heinous that no one dare offer a peep on the subject, thus silencing all fair and rational criticism of civil rights advocates, or those who argue that racism is not a phenomenon of the American past only, then why are so many invokers of racist tropes, like D'Souza, like David Horowitz, welcomed everywhere, and never challenged on their racism?
Why was then only Supreme Court Justice wannabe, Clarence Thomas's invocation of lynching, in the face of a black woman's claims about his behavior, not playing the race card?
Just look at the response to Clinton's initiative calling for a national dialogue on race, and please don't tell me it was because Clinton wasn't committed. He was. He picked a brilliant panel to lead the discussion, starting with the Chairman, one of the most amazing Americans alive today, John Hope Franklin, still going strong in his nineties. After the panel's ignored and neglected report to the President was published, I wrote Dr. Franklin, not expecting an answer, asking him if he was convinced that the President had been committed. He did reply, with unstinting praise for Clinton's sincerity and committment. committment
We still need that dialogue.
December 1st it is; it will only be a beginning, but all dialogues have to start somewhere.
Thanks Chris, thanks so very much.Posted by: Leah A at November 13, 2005 04:27 PM
Great idea! I've got it posted, although I've just started so I'm sure there won't be many people learning about it through my site.Posted by: WhiteInQuery at November 13, 2005 10:26 PM
The money paragraph of your post uses three examples of racism:
1. "A cartoon depicts stereotypical dark-skinned tribes as cannibals? That's racism";
2. "The poor people who could not flee a flooding city because they had no access to transportation or a lifetime of mistrust of authority were almost all Black? That's racism";
3. "People advocate locking up enemy nationals, defined by ancestry? That's racism."
I disagree with two of those examples.
As for #1, the cartoon's portrayal of dark-skinned people as cannibals would be racist if it implied that all dark-skinned people are cannibals. But the (unfunny) joke depended on cannibals, per se, not on any race of them. As far as I know, all cannibals known to anthropology were dark-skinned. If the bone-in-the-nose was meant to invoke images of human-eating black Africans, then it may have been racist. But I don't think it was. I think it was meant to invoke cannibals. At worst, it appropriated racist imagery. Without knowing the author's mind, I won't call that racist. Just clumsy.
As for #2, if you meant that those black people were in those circumstances because of racism, OK. If you meant that there weren't disproportionate numbers of blacks trapped by Katrina, then you were looking at something other than what I was. If you mean it's racist to comment that it was mostly blacks getting left behind, then you've lost me. Maybe I'm missing a point, here, but I don't see it at all with #2.
As for #3, locking up people based on ancestry is racism. I agree. But isn't that a truism?
It's not racist to see things as they are. Most or all cannibal tribes have dark skin (anthropolgists, correct me if need be - it is of course possible that my opinion on this point is shaped by years of racist input). Many black people were left behind by Hurricane Katrina. And most terror attacks against U.S. interests in the past ten years have come from Arabs. It only becomes racism when the treatment of the group is based on the racial identity, rather than on situation or action.Posted by: carpundit at November 14, 2005 09:18 AM
As for #2, if you meant that those black people were in those circumstances because of racism, OK.
That is indeed what I meant.
As for #3, locking up people based on ancestry is racism. I agree. But isn't that a truism?
You'd think. But people deny it.
Most or all cannibal tribes have dark skin (anthropolgists, correct me if need be - it is of course possible that my opinion on this point is shaped by years of racist input).
I'm not an anthropologist, but I majored in it for a year. My take: anthropologists wouldn't even come close to a consensus on whether there was such a thing as a cannibal tribe. The allegation has been used as an insult so often that most of the data is suspect. Much of the purported cannibalism that's been documented is either consensual (cf: the allegations with regard to the Kwakiutl) or funerary (New Guinea, Madagascar, Pacific Islands.)
McPherson could just as easily have used the Donner Party, Jeffrey Dahmer or (fictionally) Hannibal Lecter to make the joke. (Dahmer would have been a bad choice due to the existence of surviving, um, survivors.)
But the main thing I want to say is that this thing:
" it is of course possible that my opinion on this point is shaped by years of racist input"
is the important thing, and the key to a healthy discussion of the topic even among those of us who disagree on the scope of the issue. And of course it works in both directions. So thanks, Carpundit.Posted by: Chris Clarke at November 14, 2005 09:36 AM
this sounds great, i look forward to reading all of the posts. i don't think that i can use trackbacks in blogger, though - is there some other way to facilitate sharing other than trackbacks? or am i just ignorant to the ways of blogger?
i'm really interested in the cries of "reverse racism" that one hears now. is it possible for such a thing to exist? because racism is an "ism," right, not just an individual's preferences or actions - it's a whole system related to oppression. so in that sense, for one to be "racist" one must be a position of power relative to skin color (just as to be "sexist" one must be a position of power relative to gender). so, as black people cannot be in a systematic position of power over white people, black people cannot be "racist" per se.
yes? no? maybe? i've always thought this particular phenomenon and argument to be really interesting.
i guess i'll blog about it on december 1st....Posted by: kate.d. at November 14, 2005 11:05 AM
Chris, count me in too. I have no idea what I'll write, but I'll write something. And I don't think trackback works on Blogger, as some have pointed out. Do you know how to make a technorati tag?Posted by: Dr. Virago of Quod She at November 14, 2005 12:40 PM
I'm in. Great idea. I've had a lot of posts on the tip of my tongue about racism, so this is a good opportunity to get them out.Posted by: Bella at November 14, 2005 06:20 PM
Sweet. I'm in.Posted by: SAP at November 14, 2005 08:15 PM
I read bitchphd's announcement of Blog Against Racism Day and think it's a wonderful idea. I've announced it and linked to this post, and I'll look forward to reading everyone's entries (and contributing my own) on the 1st.Posted by: maudmoon at November 14, 2005 10:07 PM
i'm doing it! and i've announced it on both my blogs.Posted by: ding at November 15, 2005 01:31 PM
I too read Bitchphd's announcement and think this is a great idea. You can count me in.Posted by: Kevin Andre Elliott at November 15, 2005 02:53 PM
I'm another Blogspotter who can't trackback, but count me in.
I'm not sure what I'll write yet - racism in Australia has a whole different history from racism in the States, although the roots of both obviously lie in European colonialism.Posted by: Viv Smythe at November 16, 2005 02:35 PM
This is a discussion that I think is long overdue. So you can count me in as well.Posted by: The Fat Lady Sings at November 16, 2005 11:19 PM
Excellent idea - count me in!Posted by: comebacknikki at November 17, 2005 01:26 PM
I'm in too. I found you via The Rock Bitch.Posted by: LAmom at November 17, 2005 06:06 PM
Count me in, even though I don't have a clue what I'll write about.Posted by: Orange at November 21, 2005 09:18 AM
I saw your link on Orange's page, and I'm spreading the word as well...Posted by: Mignon at November 21, 2005 09:50 AM
I found you through Orange, too. I'm in.Posted by: Pebon at November 21, 2005 11:11 AM
Count me in! In fact, I've already got a post up somewhere about privilege and I'll put that back up top and hopefully write something similar (Kimberlee Crenshaw is a good starting point).Posted by: a nut at November 21, 2005 11:14 AM
=v= "The race card" is a longstanding peeve with me. Is it some sort of playing card? It seems to be, since mention of it is always invoked to dismiss any discussion of race as some sort of game.
I utterly agree with sentiment: "Us white folks have the luxury of not thinking about racism on a daily basis. As a result, most of us don't. I think it would be helpful if we started to do our share of that particular chore."
It is a picky point and I'm probably being oversensitive, but the last sentence sounds to me as if "we" (the bloggers) are white people. Which may be the case of those who are tracking back, I dunno.Posted by: aetakeo at November 21, 2005 10:16 PM
Sorry for the vagueness, aetakeo. That "we" was intended to refer to the white folks who have the luxury of not thinking about racism on a daily basis.Posted by: Chris Clarke at November 21, 2005 11:25 PM
I posted my Blog Against Racism on at my place today and included a link to you but I don't have trackback(do I?). I would like to be included on the day or days that follow. Good luck in this great idea and thank you in advance. DDPosted by: deviousdiva at November 28, 2005 04:07 PM
Publius had a good post some time ago about racism and 'post-racism' that is interesting in the context of your post.Posted by: coturnix at November 28, 2005 06:57 PM
It is astounding, in a very bad way, how unaware people are to bigotry. It is evidence, I think, of how ingrained it is in us whites, and how it persists, albeit not in such blatant forms as lynchings or Jim Crow laws, or not letting women vote. Oh, we've supposedly grown beyond all that horror, but it's just gone underground. It's not just bias against people of darker colors, it's bias against women, especially "uppity" ones who expect the same earnings as any male for a job they're both qualified for, or the right to determine their own healthcare issues, without big Daddy stepping in and refusing to refill their birth control Rx.
And yes, people elsewhere in the world also have their forms of bigotry, but it's all got a common thread: Domination by a patriarchy.
I'll participate as well -- especially since press coverage of racial issues is one of the areas of focus in my blog.Posted by: Kim Pearson at November 30, 2005 09:26 AM
I'll be there. Count me in.Posted by: David Austin at November 30, 2005 04:13 PM
I am stupid and don't know how to do trackback, but I blogged against racism and linked your posting here.Posted by: DBK at December 1, 2005 07:51 AM
Excellent post - I linked to it here http://aldeamb.blogdrive.com/archive/243.html
thanks!Posted by: AldeaMB at December 1, 2005 08:18 AM
Chris, I made my Blog Against Racism Post today.Posted by: Sheelzebub at December 1, 2005 08:48 AM
I added this to my blog.lotu5 at December 1, 2005 10:34 AM
Don't know how to trackback, but I did a blog against racism day post today.Posted by: Kate at December 1, 2005 11:41 AM
http://myamusementpark.blogspot.comPosted by: EL at December 1, 2005 03:35 PM
And its up. Painful to write...been working on it for hours.
http://zenformation.blogspot.com/2005/12/how-16-year-old-black-girl-liberated.htmlPosted by: Jason at December 1, 2005 07:18 PM
I'm late, but I love in a way different time zone, and anyhow "late" has its own meaning in the Middle East.
http://savtadotty.blogspot.com/2005/12/tags-of-identity.htmlPosted by: savtadotty at December 2, 2005 12:30 AM
Er, I also live in a different time zone, but perhaps it was a Freudian type?
Oh, I meant Freudian typo. This just goes on and on...Posted by: savtadotty at December 2, 2005 08:24 AM
I am biased in that I have certain stereotypes (sometimes negative) in my head regarding people of certain races or socioeconomic classes. I am well-intentioned though, and I know that I have mistaken ideas, so I am working to fix them and replace the ignorance with open mindedness and actual knowledge.
I think on a scale from bad to less-bad are "willingly biased," "biased but don't care," "biased but don't know it," "biased and trying to fix it," and of course the unattainable "unbiased."Posted by: zandperl at December 2, 2005 02:49 PM
I'm not entirely certain I did the trackback correctly, since it's not showing up on your trackback page, but here's a link to my post just in case.Posted by: Pebon at December 2, 2005 07:16 PM
Sorry I didn't make here in time for the Blog against racism day. I did a post a few days earlier...GirlontheBlog at December 3, 2005 06:13 AM