Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Privilege and the Race Card (Updated)

I think to start, I should be very clear that no matter how introspective and aware I am becoming of privilege, in the context of race and gender, I am still prone to latent racism and misogyny. I can proudly say that I am working on it and that I am far more aware of these tendencies in myself, than a lot of people. But I am a Midwestern U.S. American - the folks who pretty much invented passive aggressive bigotry. Spending one's formative years in this environment is not terribly conducive to having a profound awareness race and privilege - it is likely to be a lifetime of effort to root all of that out.

But I am aware of this and working hard to change it. I think that most of the bloggers I regularly interact with are aware of my attitudes and where I am with all this - it certainly comes up regularly and I am not particularly shy about discussing it. I know that Greg Laden is aware of where I am with this topic, which is why I was rather dismayed about the assumptions he made during a discussion on his blog about a paper that tentatively concluded that carrying a gun in urban settings may make one less safe. My problem with the study, was that the authors evidence was collected in high poverty, high drug trafficking areas of Philly, areas that are pretty much overrun by gangs.

I should note; while this post is aimed rather directly at Greg, I decided to post it here because it is something that a lot of us are guilty of and need to consider. It is our responsibility to very seriously consider exactly what we are responding to and what it actually is, before we bring up racism or other bigotry.

All criticism of the paper itself aside, Greg then decided that I must be expressing racist attitudes. Didn't think to ask me about it - didn't think to consider my motivations or reasoning. Nope, the first thing that Greg Laden thought, was that I must be a fucking racist asshole, because I didn't think that data that by necessity would include a lot of career criminals, can be reasonably extrapolated to the general population - that DuWayne thinks he's "a different species from these inner city ghetto-troglodytes..."

I didn't say this on that post, because I was planning on writing this post. Fuck you Greg. Seriously, Fuck you. How Dare you make that kind of a vile accusation of someone you fucking well know isn't inclined to that kind of vile attitude? How fucking dare you say something that vile about a friend, without even considering asking them about what they actually think first?

I am very consistent in my absolute and utter derision for anyone who engages in the sort of vile behavior that gangbangers engage in. I have repeatedly held that any form of terrorism is reprehensible and utterly inexcusable - whether it be the Taliban, Hamas, the now defunct IRA, the ELF or fucking gangsters and many others. There isn't a single group on that list who's underlying cause I do not have a great deal of sympathy for - I sympathize with every one. I also say the same about ALF terrorists and many others, though I do not sympathize with their causes.

My absolute and utter disdain has absolutely nothing to do with race. It is all about their behaviors - behaviors that I find morally and practically reprehensible. There is no excuse for it - none. I am not and never have singled anyone out based on race or the cause they purport to support - no matter how very strongly I may feel about that cause or reasoning. And to be absolutely fucking clear, I do feel very strongly about race and poverty issues in the U.S. I am horrified by the cycle of poverty and a great many concurrent issues that the neighbors I have had most of my adult life face. But I will not - cannot countenance gang activity. Not because I hate or feel superior to brown, olive or poor people (I fit that last), but because I hate fucking terrorism.

I like you Greg, but this is absolutely disgusting behavior - and not just because it was a defamatory statement about me. Indeed I really don't care about the me in this - my attitudes about race, gender and bigotry in general speak for themselves - ultimately you sully yourself with statements like that, far more than you can sully me. So to be perfectly clear, beyond feeling somewhat betrayed (and yes, a little hurt) by someone I have generally considered my friend, this is not about me. This is about a rather ugly tendency that some people of privilege have, this tendency to use the race card as a chip in rhetorical gameplay - whether it is remotely appropriate or not.

Toaster pointed out something important, that I thought about and more or less ignored as I was writing this. When I am describing the experience of some POC and members of other outgroups, I am not speaking for ALL of them. I know many people who have absolutely NOT had the experience I am describing and sincerely apologize for implying they did. What I am describing is the experience of several people I know or aspects of their experiences, as none of them are the same.

Toaster is absolutely correct, this was inexcusable. But like I mentioned - I'm not perfect, I'm just trying...

Just think about this for a moment Greg. Consider being a person of color (or member of another outgroup). Consider growing up with the problems that implies - having to be better than everyone else, to be considered equal, having to smile and nod when people engage in passive aggressive racism - so as not to make anyone uncomfortable - your own comfort be damned, having to not only consider how your actions reflect on you, but how they reflect on everyone who has the same skin color or other out trait, having to put up with people making assumptions about you, based on their experiences with people who have the same color skin or other out trait. Consider this; This isn't a motherfucking game and the race card is not a motherfucking rhetorical device!

This is the life experience of real human beings that you are throwing out on the table, as a way to garner some self righteous, false sense of superiority. This is the shame they have endured, the anger they have endured, the pain they have endured. This is their life! It is not something that your privileged white ass has a right to bandy about as a cheap talking point and nonstarter.

Why don't you rethink that?


Greg said...

Since you have not been able to articulate my arguement, I'm not convinced you have understood it. (Clue: You seem to have ignored our earlier email exchange in which I made the point and which you blew off for unrelated reasons.) I think this is the fourth time around on this so no, I don't think you are listening.

This is not about gangs, and it is certainly not about you. It is about a fundamental mistake that a lot of people make, that tends to reinforce classist or racist ideas, and that you have made. And almost everybody else commenting on that post made as well.

I am sorry this has hurt you. I do have a very high respect for you and your approach to all of these issues. I just think you are missing a very simple but important point here.

I have to say, when I wrote the comment to which you link in this blog, I thought to myself "Can DuWayne handle some really hard language used by a friend in this context, or is his skin to thin?" ...

Then, I thought "no, no his skin is DEFINITELY too thin to handle this..." ....

Then I thought .. "Well, DuWayne, time to thicken up.... since you're a guy who likes to dish it out, this will be GOOD FOR YOU"

Nobody likes things that are good for them.

Greg said...

BTW, I tried to send you an email just now, but from my end gmail is borked. Perhaps later.

your friend,


Toaster Sunshine said...

"This is the shame they have endured, the anger they have endured, the pain they have endured. This is their life! It is not something that your privileged white ass has a right to bandy about as a cheap talking point and nonstarter."

DuWayne, where have you earned the privilege to assume that their life has been one of enduring shame, anger, or pain? By making that assumption, you are casting a blanket experience of racism over entire demographic areas, and what's more, by assuming you understand and sympathize and know, you are confusing your subjective experience of whatever racism they may have experienced for their collective objective reality. You can't project your assumptions onto a group like that while simultaneously honking loudly about privilege and expect not to stumble into hypocrisy.

DuWayne Brayton said...

You're absolutely correct Toaster and I have updated the post to clarify and apologize for my fuckup. Thank you for pointing it out.

Greg -

I will get to your comment shortly.

DuWayne Brayton said...

Greg -

I am not really trying to articulate your argument - it is irrelevant. The bottom line is that I disagree with you that there is a correlation between people who are not career criminals and people who are - who were at the least an extremely significant factor in this study. You can agree or disagree - I don't care about that.

The problem is not disagreement, it is that you used accusations of racism as a cheap rhetorical tool. It is that you took the very real and extremely unpleasant experience of a lot of people and pushed it towards irrelevance. Just like overusing words like misogyny and misandry do, using it inappropriately makes it harder to have a real conversation about it. People just shrug and ignore conversations about racism.

The problem is that most of us need to be part of that conversation. Overt racism - assholes that call people spics, niggers, faggots and worse - that may sting a little, but it mostly just makes people angry. It is being shocked that a POC is fucking brilliant that actually hurts. It is a white male prof, telling his brown female student that he is really excited about this new girl he's bringing into the lab, because she's brown and will help with funding that hurts and causes these mixed feelings that one way or another, often make one feel shame.

But because some people like to throw accusations of racism around - or accusations of misogyny - or accusations of queer bigotry, that people just shake their heads, when the discussion of things that actually cause damage come up.

Finally, if I am not understanding you, you need to clarify. I am not trying to be an arrogant asshole, but I have absolutely exceptional reading comprehension. If your point is something I am missing here, you could bloody well clarify. Keeping race and other inflammatory accusations out of it might make it easier to get your point across.

Greg said...

DuWayne, as you said in your email, we are talking past each other. That you are not interested in getting my argument but are willing to engage in a lengthy tirade about how what I am arguing is all wrong, very offensive, and so on and so forth tells me that you are definitely talking past me, and have no interest in a real dialog at this point. I'm sure that will change over time.

Do you think, under these conditions, there is any chance at all that I could respond to you? Your comment starts with a clear statement that you think my argument is irrelevant, and it ends with the statement that you have not understood my argument because I have not made it properly and that you want a clarification. But I can't mention race. Any further requirements to what I can say and not say, how to say it, and so on?

My argument is about race and classism, not that you are racist or classist (I doubt you are much) but that the form or structure of the argument you and some others are making is part of that process of maintaining alterity.

Do you want me to clarify or not? Do you want to actually try to understand what I am saying or not?

I'm not going to respond to these over the top tirades. At some point I may write something about the phenomenon. At some point maybe we can talk about it. Not now.

DuWayne Brayton said...

If that is the case, if your argument actually is about race and classism, then it behooves you to make the argument. My problem here, is that you aren't making an argument, you are just calling people racist and classist and perpetuating the very problem I talked about in this post. I am all about having a conversation about race - I am not all about throwing around accusations of racism and then refusing to explain them.

All that does is make people shrug their shoulders and the next time someone has something legitimate to say about race, they'll tell them to fuck off.

Isabel said...

I stopped reading Greg's blog after he repeatedly implied I was a "threatened" racist when I challenged his claim that hunter-gatherers have larger brains and are more intelligent than other (agrarian and "Western") human groups.

All I was asking for, as an evolutionary biology student who had never heard of such a thing and doubted it and even found it a little disturbing considering the racist history of such types of claims, was a citation, and I was attacked by Greg and others repeatedly as "telling him how to blog" and "asking him to be a go-fer and do my work for me" and constant remarks from Greg (who in the end admitted he'd made up the whole thing) about how "it's so funny how white people don't mind if it's their brains that are bigger but when the [insert insulting description of black people] are the ones with the bigger brains they get all bent out of shape" when all I was thinking about was the racist history of this kind of comparison that I had thought was debunked.

Yeah Greg I've read The Mismeasure of Man, as well the Forest People and many other wonderful books about hunter-gatherers. I was questioning your assertion that some groups of extant humans have larger brains and are more intelligent than other groups of humans. You insisted it was a serious post, so I persisted in asking for a citation. Racist-baiting only reveals your own obsessions, not mine.

Stephanie Zvan said...

If you and Greg haven't already settled this, I'll throw a little more information out there.

Criminality is problematic as a concept distinct from race and class. When we treat it as a choice that reflects something fundamental about the criminal, as you're doing in your arguments about this paper, we're ignoring how race and class shape the choices that people have to work with. We're ignoring how race- and class-based differences in policing lead to differences in criminal records that make non-criminal work more difficult to come by. We're ignoring how race and class interact with education, speech patterns that are used as a proxy for intelligence, manners and mannerisms, availability of interview clothing, and a whole host of other things that also make it tough to get an honest job. We're ignoring how neighborhoods and family situations put people in a position of susceptibility to threats and other pressure from those who need new fodder for their criminal enterprises. We're ignoring the pressure to do something to contribute to households which race and class are systematically keeping others from contributing to.

There's more, but that's probably enough. In short, if we claim that we are somehow fundamentally different from career criminals, we are denying the effects of racism and classism in a way that enables others who would do the same for much more sinister purposes.

I think that covers why race and class are critical to the discussion. As for how Greg said what he said, well, he's explained his reasoning. I won't argue for or against it. I will note that he's toughest on the people he really thinks are capable of thinking. Trust me on this.

Becca said...

When people find out results about studies that suggest things about them they don't like, they deny the study.
It's as simple as "advertisers find advertising increases product consumption!"- yet very few individuals will say they changed spending habits based on dumb advertisements, somehow they mysteriously work on the population as a whole.

DuWayne, your emotional need was to find a way the study didn't apply to you. At first, you focused on denying the study applied to anyone. When you looked at it, and could see another way around simply denying the study, you "othered" the people it applies to.
When this process occurs, for whatever reason, it's easier to "other" the people if they don't look/act like you, or live where you do, or whatever. So any subtle racism you do have will help you dismiss the study.

The number of insanely racist gun nuts means that this argument, in nearly this exact form, is rehashed again and again. I wouldn't be surprised if it's the emotional motivation for believing "guns don't kill people, people (who aren't like me) kill people (who aren't like me)"

DuWayne Brayton said...

Stephanie -

When we treat it as a choice that reflects something fundamental about the criminal, as you're doing in your arguments about this paper, we're ignoring how race and class shape the choices that people have to work with.

I'm not treating it as something fundamental about the criminal. Nor am I ignoring how race and class shape the choices people have to work with. I am merely recognizing what I believe are confounding factors in this study.

Would you argue that it is reasonable to include cops in this study? I don't and it has nothing to do with their race, class or the things that shaped their choices either. It is their profession that is the confounding factor. Not what led them into that profession.

Like I have said repeatedly, I am all for debating whether or not being a professional criminal is a valid confounding factor. But whether or not it is reasonable to assume that is a confounding factor has nothing to do with race or class. It has to do with the profession.

Becca -

DuWayne, your emotional need was to find a way the study didn't apply to you. At first, you focused on denying the study applied to anyone. When you looked at it, and could see another way around simply denying the study, you "othered" the people it applies to.

Did you read the post? I think that the conclusions do apply to me and everyone else. I just don't think this study proves it. I have consistently felt it failed for the same reason, from the first time I said it to now.

I am not sure exactly where anyone is getting the idea that I have some sort of superiority complex. I don't. If I were a professional criminal (which I more or less was at one point - petty as it might have been), then I would absolutely accept that it applies to me.

And just to make sure that no one mistakes me or misunderstands.

I assume that carrying a gun - that ANYONE carrying a gun, is more likely to get one shot, than not carrying a gun.