Tough Questions About Racism

Julian Sanchez asks them.

In the process, he touches on one of my pet peeves, which I discussed previously; the lack of gradations in discussions of bigotry:

Just follow me for a second here: What image springs to mind when you think of “racism”? A Klansman burning a cross? Adolf Hitler? George Wallace barring the schoolhouse door? Images like these are iconic, easy to invoke, and extreme. They remain current because they are potent illustrations of where racism leads; their ugliness, their repugnance, is manifest.

There are still, of course, sectors of American society where the crude racism of the epithet and the noose is casually accepted. But, happily, this sort of thing is largely beyond the pale in polite company now. And this makes it beguilingly easy to conclude: “Well, I don’t go around slinging racial epithets or fuming with hatred at this or that group. Therefore I can’t be one of those awful people. Why, some of my best friends…”

But the variety of racism more common today is more subtle than that, and in a way more pernicious for it, since the overt bigot is unlikely to wield much social power. It’s the subliminal reaction of the manager looking for a new cashier who, for some reason he can’t articulate, just doesn’t think the minority candidate seems quite trustworthy enough. It’s this person who we most want examining his own attitudes. But to do that means being prepared to start from the difficult premise that even he—educated, urbane, kind, and so on—may indeed harbor racial biases. Like Hitler! Like a Klansman!

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subliminal racism in the classroom

I've experience classroom settings where there were ocassional or frequent negative subliminal remarks towards anything black or related to people of color. "Oh they can't work together in Africa, Its so much poverty in africa, those black birds are ugly ( in my study of birds course) Aids are really bad in Africa, a lot of trouble in India, We killed all the Indians, we whipped them, The list goes on and on, I tried to fire back but with not much, if any help from other "sister & brothers" they seem to be dazed, death, or scared. I thought, can't they see or hear what is going on. Anyway "recently" I decided I wasn't going to take it anymore, I started saying something. I said, "we hear alot of negative things in the media about Africa yet people keep going over there and exhausting their resources and Africa is a continent where there are different conditions not all poor, not the same. Many accused me of being over sensitive. Although I am a citizen of America not Africa I get fired up at any racism especially when negative things are constantly being said about people of color in other countries. I've started to take it more seriously, especially when I'm the only person of color in the classroom or one of two. Anyway it is amazing that there are still so many ignorant and stupid people out there. Just know that we don't have to accept being treated any less than anyone else. We don't always have to fight openly but we should always be aware of our surroundings, my grandma taught me that. She was talking about watching out for snakes but I guess a racist is a different type of snake and a poisonous one at that! But I have something for them... Love and a voice of truth which is the anti-venom.

How do you know these

How do you know these subliminal remarks are real and not just the result of your selective attention to them? Do you pay as much attention to positive things as you do to negative things? If not you will end up getting the impression that more negative things are being said, which in turn will focus your attention on this and exacerbate the bias.

I just watched Spike Lee's

I just watched Spike Lee's "Malcolm X" for the first time recently. There's this really powerful scene in a prison library that goes like this:

I think it's kind of

I think it's kind of obvious, but maybe at the time it was fresh.

On the topic, does anyone know if cultures consisting entirely of blacks show different linguistic patterns? Do they speak of blackwashing a crime scene, or being whitelisted? I have heard tell of one such culture--white being bad, for it was the color of bones and thus death, and black being good, as it was the color of rich soil. But I wonder if that's an exception, and black got its association with the negative simply because night's black, and night's fucking dangerous.

It obviously isn't obvious,

It obviously isn't obvious, or people on this blog wouldn't have had so much fun with that "black hole" post a while back. They might have understood where the guy was coming from.

Ninjas = Still Funny

I think they had fun with that because it was funny, not out of ignorance of the general negativity of the concept of blackness in the language.

Hey, Wikipedia Backs Me Up!

Black can also carry negative connotations. The reasons for this are various, but the most widely accepted explanations are that night is perceived as dangerous. Especially before electric lights, darkness was potentially threatening. A secondary reason is that stains are most visible as dark additions to pale materials. Some people associate black with evil and destruction as it naturally absorbs all light and even the Black Hole is described as 'nature's ultimate fury'.

From the "black" entry. I mean, yeah, I wrote some of that myself, but not all of it.