Saturday, December 26, 2009

Race in America: Part the Next, A Partial Response to D

Continuing this conversation: Race in America: D responding to J responding to D

Wherein D owns what she says, smooths D-Fave J's ruffled feathers, and elaborates, possibly inciting deeper discussion or perhaps further division.

Sayings: owned. Feathers: unsmoothed. Further discussion: imminent. Further division: unknown.

(from my previous post): "Wow. I'm kind of surprised to read this from you at this point, D."

Ok, I'm just gonna say this. This sort sounds like I'm your pet project and I backslid or something. Am I supposed to be sorry for my comments? You should know by now that there is almost always deeper thinking behind my ideas. Rather than shame or disappoint one another, let's get right to them... [some time later] My culture is not the caricature that Eddie Murphy and Chris Rock present to great comedic effect. White America is not Buffy and Chip upset because their tee-time was pushed back half an hour because Obama's motorcade was going through town. Sure, the comedy is in the way white people are ignorant to their incredible privilege and have wackaloon ideas about what it means to be put out, but when this is the pole that I have to swing from, how can I be allowed to have a real voice in the race discussion? It has been my experience (and here I mean ME as an individual) that I am not allowed, outside of our conversations, to be taken seriously in any meaningful public discussion about race. Unless, of course, I concede to the default POC position. And in some ways, J, isn't that what your response to me tried to get me to do?

Horsehockey. This point is one that's repeatedly had my blood pressure rising. You have every right to your voice, to your process, to your indignation at caricature. And in no way was my response an attempt to get you to concede the "default" POC position (which would be questionable anyway because such a default is as contested as anything else one may care to name, and any given person of color you may talk to may have a different default). I wasn't present at these other conversations, so I can't characterize what happened there. But my response was critical and disappointed because I freaking WAS critical and disappointed. Does my mere reaction (or expression of it) deprive you of your voice? Does my disappointment in our difference in point of view mean I'm engaged in a ploy to "shame you" into line? I do see your point here, or think I do: you don't want your perspective to be sidelined or undermined by emotional valences attempting to get you to give up your point of view out of guilt, rather than engaging you on the points and convincing you, or failing to, on the logic. All well and good. But you hardly shy from expressing your emotions, clearly and strongly, on your own blog, and even when I feel somewhat besieged by a disagreement between us, I don't presume you're trying to undermine me with an end-run around logic. I felt disappointed in your perspective; maybe I'm wrong to, but I thought I understood you and you me better than this at this point, and I was surprised to read these viewpoints from you, that I've heard many times from others before and that I find disappointing. I may have been wrong every time up to and including now to be disappointed, but I don't think expressing it is an attempt to make you fall in line. It's just expressing what I feel. Whether or not you should be sorry begs the question entirely; I wasn't thinking about you, to be honest, when I said that, but about me: it was how I felt. Surprised. Because "at this point" I thought I understood where you were coming from better than I apparently do, and I didn't think we'd be having a conversation in this way on these points because, like I say, I've heard variations of what you say for years. And usually such a conversation takes place before the types of conversations you and I have had have been, um, had.

I can see how that might sound condescending, or shaming, but it's also true. And except that we have a personal relationship (that doesn't extend to having met in person =} and I don't think you have one of the same kind with the Field Negro) I don't see how my comments are different, and certainly aren't worse in emotional valence, than when you say of him "I have learned a great deal from the field and respect him immensely, I think this idea (if indeed he actually believes it) is preposterously naive." You do hedge it because you don't think he believes his own theory, or rather, that if he does perhaps it is more in the service of rabble-rousing than serious inquiry, but you surely know as well that HE "almost always deeper thinking behind [his] ideas." This applies even if his theory is serious rather than simply provocative. (I do wonder if you've taken this point up with him on his blog, I'd be eager to learn how he responds.) To briefly light on the relevant point from Field, as you summarize it, "That the black power elite are neither powerful nor elite because the real white power elite can jack-slap them back out to the fields the first time they forget their place. He usually suggests this idea after a powerful black person has fucked up royally... He violates common rules of logic when he applies his pet theory not to the broader community of high-achieving black professionals, but only to those who have fallen from grace." Insofar as I agree with this point, which is at least somewhat far, I would say it's true if stated differently. "The black power elite are neither [as] powerful nor [as] elite [because the risks, penalties to them when they do fuck up are much higher, at higher stakes than the white power elite]." This may or may not be true, but I hardly think it naive, and it doesn't violate rules of logic. If you command equal power to other elite, but only in a restricted set of circumstances -- that is, your power is equal in amplitude but much more tenuous and less stable and reliable -- than in a real way, you are less powerful. Now, one can argue many elements of that formulation, but I happen to think it's largely true. Whether or not this is the specific case of Tiger is rather like arguing whether or not Hurricane Katrina was specifically caused by Global Warming -- a direct correlation with the individual event may not be possible or valid, but it can be seen to fit into the pattern one would expect from the actions of the larger phenomenon.

Anyway. There is more to say, but I feel like we already have much to talk about. This is really a better conversation had over drinks I think--maybe we can do so some time and tape it for re-distribution on the respective blogs. There are too many nagging points, clarifications to be made, reconsidered, and remade to be an easy conversation taking place through large passages of writing, where seemingly the suite of points to be analyzed just grows continuously anyway.

(This is part of the reason I've been reluctant to return; it seems like one of those conversations like getting tangled in parachute silk, it just gets the more tangled the more you move. For example, when I try to deal with this: "I would suggest that white people are forbidden from giving explicit thought to race--at least since the 1960s. Sure, as a group, white America has a lot to make up for after 150 years of cross-burnings, lynchings, fire bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church, water hosing of freedom marchers, George Wallace attempting to prevent the integration of the U of Alabama, and promotion testing that favors white applicants. I am the first to admit that white America showed its ass. But that doesn't mean we should have to give up our voice entirely. If anyone, anywhere tries to stand up and say something about the white race these days, they are labeled a Nazi sympathizer and white supremacist as a matter of course." Is so far from comporting with my experience as to be hard to rationally address. I'm surrounded by white people who give explicit thought to race; you can read white people giving explicit thought to race in any of our nation's major publications; you can see it happening in classrooms I myself have taught and attended. Talking about "the white race" may be fraught, but I have never personally been present where a black person tries to shut someone down for saying it. It's a squeamish topic, it's one someone may be attacked for, but being attacked for your point of view in no way counts as not having a voice. Attempts to shut someone down by guilting them, criticizing them, even defaming them may make people dread to speak, but is emphatically not denying them a voice. The first and latter are, of course, not cricket, but to imply that these tactics are limited to use against those who speak of a "white race" is simply incorrect. And I would further maintain that it's not the concept of a white race which is viewed as sketchy, but rather the phrase "the white race," because of its associations with, say, neo-Nazism. Well, unfortunate connotations also don't constitute an unfair tactic by themselves.

To try to get back to big picture, what I'm trying to say is that I don't doubt you've had experiences where people have tried to guilt, shame, restrict, and condescend to you rather than addressing your actual points. However, in comparison, my experience has been that such worries have almost always been exclusively internal in conversations I've been present for. That is, white people worry about being seen in a negative light, or guilted, shamed, or unreasonably dealt with for expressing honest opinions, but never have I seen a black person in a conversation such as this try to do any of these things. There is simply an uncomfortableness and lack of easy ability to communicate; having a voice doesn't mean having a voice that doesn't require being uncomfortable. I can believe your experiences are different; that doesn't make them more, or less, representative than mine.

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