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Some Racefail thoughts

If a person has multiple identities and names, and if they state that they do not want other people to publicly associate their different identities and names, it is wrong to publicly associate their different identities and names. (There might be exceptions to this if a person has committed criminal activities. But writing things that piss you off does not count as an exception.)

It is wrong to try to shut people up by threatening legal action against their blogs. If someone has done this to you, there are resources to help you.

When talking about systemic oppression of certain groups of people, the word "privilege" is used to describe the advantages a person gets if they happen to belong to a group that is "approved" by the system. The word applies to the behavior of the system as a whole. In this context, it is not synonymous with "advantage" or "influence." Therefore, in this context, there is no such thing as oppressed groups of people having "privilege...in internet debates."

50books_poc is a really cool community.

http://asim.livejournal.com/388028.html is an awesome post.

I am interested in the possibilities of the new LJ community fight_derailing.

I agree with what papersky said about trying to blend families, and I posted this comment:
Also, sometimes this happens: A person gets away from their family of origin for a while and gets a different perspective and decides that some of the things they "made allowances" for were not just rude/crude but toxic/damaging/abusive. And sometimes this person goes back and tries to talk about this to the family. And the family isn't able to entertain the different perspective, for whatever reason, and there's a great deal of hurt on both sides.

I think this is part of what's happening too. Not only in this Racefail thing, but in discussions of racism in general, and other isms.


Edited to add: jordan179 has taken strong exception to my viewpoint about the term "privilege" and my statement in the comments that privileged people have a moral obligation to non-privileged people. He has made a post in his journal inviting people to come over here and disagree with me.

I'm not interested in repeating the whole RaceFail'09 argument in my journal. I have my journal set to screen comments from people who are not on my friends list, and I will be screening comments that I don't want to deal with. If this isn't enough to prevent my becoming seriously upset, I will freeze comments on the whole entry.

This is an excellent example of how white privilege gives me advantages. I can walk away from a conversation about race that I don't want to deal with. People of color can't, because it informs their whole lives.

Comments

( 62 comments — Leave a comment )
ljgeoff
Mar. 7th, 2009 07:00 pm (UTC)
Every time I read a post about RaceFail, my heart sinks. I've always had the idea that sf readers were the best that humanity has. Really. That's what I've thought. (Because, hey, that's me, eh?) I think, too, that if I said something stupid, it'd be ... hrm, seen as a small thing said by a small person. But when someone with a readership says something stupid, it's all over the 'net. Makes me feel all cringy.
firecat
Mar. 7th, 2009 07:15 pm (UTC)
I think some SF readers are very good humans.

I also think that good humans make mistakes sometimes.

This made my heart sink: In the January round of RF, some people were saying things like "You're approaching the text from an emotional place, and that's wrong." And some of those people identify as feminists. And that's exactly what men said to women when we first started analyzing texts from a feminist perspective.
(no subject) - kmd - Mar. 7th, 2009 07:20 pm (UTC) - Expand
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elainegrey
Mar. 7th, 2009 07:05 pm (UTC)
Yes, thanks for the links, and the stand-up clarity in your statements.
zpdiduda
Mar. 7th, 2009 07:41 pm (UTC)
I'm confused, and feeling overly naive. What exactly is RaceFail? [I followed some of the links in your post and found reference to a community designed to "fight the derailing of anti-racism conversations". Parsing out this passage would have required far more coffee than I have access to this morning.]
firecat
Mar. 7th, 2009 08:17 pm (UTC)
RaceFail is a name for a blogosphere argument centering mostly around the behavior of certain writers and fans of science fiction. The argument has been going on and off since January 09. If you want to read more about it, you can see timelines and links in rydra_wong's journal.

Here's how to parse "fight the derailing of anti-racism conversations":

When someone says "this behavior is racist," or "I am a person of color and this is how racism affects me,"

a conversation can get started about racism and how to mitigate it.

These conversations are difficult because some white people tend to get defensive and uncomfortable.

One common form of defensiveness is to say
"this isn't important! look at that more important thing over there!"

Another common form of defensiveness is to say "But what about me?"

When this happens, it is called "derailing the conversation" about race.

The community is dedicated to labeling this behavior and figuring out ways that it can be limited.

Thanks for saying that the phrase is difficult to parse. The maintainers of the community might want to unpack it a little more in the community description. I will ask them.
(no subject) - daze39 - Mar. 8th, 2009 07:01 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - firecat - Mar. 8th, 2009 07:05 pm (UTC) - Expand
jordan179
Mar. 7th, 2009 07:52 pm (UTC)
When talking about systemic oppression of certain groups of people, the word "privilege" is used to describe the advantages a person gets if they happen to belong to a group that is "approved" by the system. The word applies to the behavior of the system as a whole. In this context, it is not synonymous with "advantage" or "influence." Therefore, in this context, there is no such thing as oppressed groups of people having "privilege...in internet debates."

So the accusation of "privilege" can never be made against people who belong to an officially "oppressed" group? And those with "privilege" are bound to treat those without "privilege" more politely than those without "privilege" are bound to treat those without "privilege?"

What happens if people from the "privileged" group just laugh in your face and see this for the polylogist nonsense that it is?
firecat
Mar. 7th, 2009 08:07 pm (UTC)
So the accusation of "privilege" can never be made against people who belong to an officially "oppressed" group?

Correct.

And those with "privilege" are bound to treat those without "privilege" more politely than those without "privilege" are bound to treat those without "privilege?"

I'm not sure how you got there from what I wrote. But I personally think that there is a moral obligation for people with privilege to treat people without privilege politely. I won't make statements about the moral obligations of people without privilege.

What happens if people from the "privileged" group just laugh in your face and see this for the polylogist nonsense that it is?

They get to live with the consequences of their actions.
(no subject) - jordan179 - Mar. 7th, 2009 08:24 pm (UTC) - Expand
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rmjwell
Mar. 7th, 2009 10:07 pm (UTC)
Out of perverse curiosity, I wandered over to the link your edit. I had a wager with myself as to what I would find there and I won the wager. Defensiveness and anger in spades.

I was amused by the people who assumed you, firecat, to be male.
vito_excalibur
Mar. 7th, 2009 10:27 pm (UTC)
I didn't think it was that funny until I got to the "And I can tell just by reading this-", and then it was. :)

Sorry standing up makes you a target, firecat. Thanks for doing it anyway.
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(Deleted comment)
rmjwell
Mar. 8th, 2009 12:19 am (UTC)
Thank you for the linkage!
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stonebender
Mar. 8th, 2009 02:48 am (UTC)
Thank you and thanks for the pointers.
starblade_enkai
Mar. 8th, 2009 03:23 am (UTC)
Actually anybody can walk away from a conversation with which they do not want to deal. It's called free will.

I don't know exactly what 'informs their whole lives' means, but if you think white people aren't affected negatively by race relation failures but people of other colors are, that is by definition prejudice on your behalf.

Fighting racial hatred fire with racial hatred fire is not a productive way to heal race relations in this country.
leback
Mar. 9th, 2009 10:39 pm (UTC)
Actually anybody can walk away from a conversation with which they do not want to deal.

True, but there's the whole "out of the frying pan, into the fire" thing -- I can walk away from any given person who's saying any given thing, but it doesn't do me a lot of good if I'm not going to get more than a few steps without having to hear someone else say it. That's where I understood firecat to be coming from -- it's easy for most white people (me included) to spend a lot of our time not having to deal with race, and not as easy for most people who aren't white to get away from the topic as often.

I don't know exactly what 'informs their whole lives' means, but if you think white people aren't affected negatively by race relation failures but people of other colors are, that is by definition prejudice on your behalf.

When, in your view, do statistical generalizations become "prejudice" in a negative sense, and when are they valid heuristics for interacting with the world?

I don't have a great answer to that question myself, but I think there *has* to be an answer, because at some level, most of our interactions with the world rely on generalizing from experience. So I know that one way to answer it is just to say that some categories are valid bases for generalization, but that race is so historically problematic that we can't risk anything short of ignoring it entirely. On the other hand, a major problem with that is that many people aren't *capable* of ignoring it, at least at a subconscious level, and some other people aren't willing to. So if we reject any kind of aggregate consideration of how race affects people's lives, discrimination continues subtly and often unintentionally, and we don't have any way to point it out or try to respond to it. And meanwhile, as racial disparities continue, they keep being the basis for more prejudices. It's a situation that could perpetuate itself forever, and I see no reason to believe that well-intentioned people can stop it simply by refusing to overtly acknowledge race.

So another approach that I see is to go ahead and explicitly acknowledge where race seems to affect many people's experience -- recognizing that none of what you're describing is universal, and none of it is unalterable, but that on a large scale, this is what's happening. That has the danger that it too can be made an excuse for perpetuating racialized harms -- this comes up a lot around issues like statistical racial profiling in law enforcement -- but I think the best answer to that is to look at any given way of discussing and using the knowledge we've got, and say "Is this going to cause more harm than it remedies?"

And I personally think that it is not especially harmful to draw the statistical conclusions that most people who aren't white have been negatively affected by race more often than they've been positively affected by race, and that most people who are white have been positively affected by race more often than they've been negatively affected by race. I think it becomes harmful prejudice if I don't allow room for people to refute its applicability to them personally, or if I treat it as something that can't be changed. But I also think that taking it into account carefully and thoughtfully, and anticipating the ways in which it might affect conversational dynamics, gets me closer to treating people fairly than if I instead assume racial disparities don't exist. And I don't think it promotes racial hatred, which I agree is a bad thing -- I don't think it involves my hating anybody, or encouraging anyone else to hate anybody, and in fact, I think that by helping to counter the racial disparities that do promote racial hatred in this society, it helps to counter racial hatred.

How do you think race relations in this country can be healed?
(no subject) - firecat - Mar. 10th, 2009 12:51 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - leback - Mar. 10th, 2009 03:27 am (UTC) - Expand
zdashamber
Mar. 8th, 2009 05:19 am (UTC)
That link to asim was great. Everyone should read that. Thanks!
kmd
Mar. 8th, 2009 01:43 pm (UTC)

Hearty second.
pandarus
Mar. 8th, 2009 06:37 am (UTC)
Okay, we don't know each other but I found this via rydra-wong's links, I think. And then went to read jordan179's post, and its comments.

Jesus. I wish I could say I found it funny (I did boggle at the assumption that you were a guy - I'm pretty much assuming everyone I encounter in fannish circles on LJ is female, and your profile certainly suggests as much) but, overall - man, that was depressing and disheartening. So many people commenting there, so very cluelessly. And I can't even be mad with them about it, I'm just FRUSTRATED TO DEATH by the smugness and sense of cheerful, guilt-free entitlement, nd the straw-man arguments.

It is my sincere hope that at least some of them will, over time, be cluesticked into recognising that acknowledging white privilege, and trying to make that awareness inform your thinking and your actions, does not mean grovelling and abasing yourself and failing to engage in intelligent discourse. Somebody - I forget who, just now - posted recently that the language that EBear used pinged her particularly that this was being conceptualised as a game, with winners and losers, and that's the self same paradigm that I was seeing all over that comment thread. This idea that one can play the race card and trump the opposition.

And, fuck, that's just DEPRESSING.

You do not lose anything by recognising and acknoweledging that you benefit from (white/male/heterosexual/cisgender/whatever) privilege. You GAIN something - you gain self-knowledge, you gain perspective, you gain understanding. You get the chance to grow, and to see the world as a more layered and complex system.
firecat
Mar. 8th, 2009 08:47 am (UTC)
acknowledging white privilege, and trying to make that awareness inform your thinking and your actions, does not mean grovelling and abasing yourself and failing to engage in intelligent discourse.

I think that's well said. For me it doesn't mean going around feeling guilty (although I did go through a stage like that).

It means seeing the world, well, in color.

(When I hear people saying they are colorblind, meaning they believe that they ignore differences among people, I think it's ironic and sad, because they seem to be bragging about missing something.)
colour-blind - pir_anha - Mar. 12th, 2009 04:31 am (UTC) - Expand
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(Deleted comment)
firecat
Mar. 9th, 2009 05:40 am (UTC)
Yay new readers! (Um, I hope.)

There's rarely enough well-analyzed historical perspective. So yeah, I think it was an important and useful thing to do.
( 62 comments — Leave a comment )

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