Saturday Special: White People Talk Like This

I try to keep this blog as meta-free as possible, and by that I mean I try to avoid a lot of talk about me and my personal feelings or just random dealings regarding the blog. Whether or not I’m successful is another story. But I felt the need to address a particular issue that comes up regularly in the comments I don’t approve due to overwhelming ignorance on the commenter’s part. Namely, that I generalize white people, and that’s racist. Here’s a particularly choice comment I received on my last post, “Why I’m An Angry Black Woman“:

Apparently racist white woman
upyours@yahoo.com
24.159.230.213
Submitted on 2010/06/18 at 1:28am

You are completely blind to your own racism. By lumping ALL whites in one category of stupid racist crackers you commit the same offense of which all whites are supposedly guilty. But that’s ok, because ONLY whites are capable of racism. And anytime a white person criticizes a person of color it’s not because they may have a legitimate complaint it’s because they’re racist. Because blacks never do anything worthy of criticism. Fuck you.

First off, there’s the issue of improper application of the term “racism”. Then there’s the fact that referring to white people in general is not “lumping all whites in one category of stupid racist crackers”. Guess what, if what I’m saying about white people doesn’t apply to you, a white person, then it’s not about you. But if you’re getting all upset about it, chances are it probably is about you and you need to go sit in the corner and think about what I said. Furthermore, all white people benefit from the institutionalized racism that pervades our society, so the question is are you going to sit there and whine that I’m generalizing white people or are you going to take a second, breathe, and start unpacking that privilege before going off on the ignorant black girl lumping all white people into the category of stupid racist crackers? And as far as that epithet, I didn’t call anyone a stupid racist cracker, but thanks for doing it for me.

Mixed up in that comment is another common complaint I get, which is that white people can’t criticize a person of color without being called racist. This is, of course, horseshit. If you get called racist by a person of color when criticizing other people of color, it’s likely that — guess what? — you’re being racist. As a white person, you need to listen to PoC when they’re telling you something is racist, including something you said. But if you were really interested in dealing with your own internalized racism I wouldn’t have to point this out to you. Basically you’re just angry because you can’t say whatever ignorant thing pops into your head regarding PoC.

There’s a difference between a white person generalizing about people of color and a person of color talking about white people in general especially when we’re talking about power, privilege and the exercise of such. If you can’t distinguish between the two, I’m not going to hold your hand and walk you through it. I’m also not going to apologize for not qualifying my statements with “well not all white people do this”. So if you have a comment to make that involves calling me racist for referring to white people in general you can just go write a zine about it, because it’s going straight into the spam queue, point blank.

Hope that helps!

  • EC

    Great post! Good grief, the "POC can be racist too, wahhh!!" gets me infuriated every time I hear it. Anyone who says something to that effect in my presence gets a wake-up call, and a dictionary booted up their ass. With a smile.

  • Bronxgirl1

    I second that. It was truly awesome.

  • LexieDi

    Wonderful post. As a white girl it really gave me some insight. I'm the only white girl in my group of friends and I must say that sometimes it's hard to pick the right words to say in order to not offend anyone. My friends and I have talked about this and they have the same problem when talking about weight with me because I'm fat.

    It's insane how a history of discrimination can cause friends to be uneasy around one another. It's a sad thing that people are so ignorant and not willing to look at where they're coming from and where others are coming from before they open their mouths or put their fingers to keyboard.

  • Jerome

    [applause] That was awesome!

  • maggie

    Occasionally I will get into this and think "wahhhh, but *I* don't do that!" And then I do not comment or email about my sadness about ostensibly being lumped in with White People, because a) nobody cares, b) nobody should care, c) there is no way that my noting that I am not horrible will contribute anything at all and d) I get over myself.

  • Heather Flescher

    Most white people don't mind discussing racism as long as it's in a faraway place, or in the distant past. But when the message hits too close to home, they blame the messenger. One of the hardest things for me in working on my own racism and white privilege was accepting that I'll never reach some state of grace where I'm past it all. People of color will keep saying things that make me uncomfortable, or even piss me off. Those are the times I need to pay the closest attention to their voices, to understand whatever I can from them instead of getting all "zero to defensive in 3.2 seconds". I don't have the right to be comfortable all the time. I do have the responsibility to check myself and learn.

    I'm glad you posted this, Tasha. I wish it wasn't necessary, but of course… it is.

  • http://www.icedteaandlemoncake.wordpress.com icedteaandlemoncake.wordpress.com

    THIS. yes.

    “Guess what, if what I’m saying about white people doesn’t apply to you, a white person, then it’s not about you. But if you’re getting all upset about it, chances are it probably is about you and you need to go sit in the corner and think about what I said.” – this resonates with me quite a bit. i get that comment a lot with FA and feminism in general, too.

    and when the comment gets thrown around that you can’t criticize black people without being called racists drives me up the wall. you get called racist when you say/do racist things. not when you give someone else who is a poc criticism.

    awesome post.

  • badhedgehog

    The funny thing is that you pretty much did, if not walk readers through it, give some directions and accurate grid references, in your post about Obama. White people *do* want to think that everything's OK and racism's gone, just like you said in that post. Because everyone prefers to think everything's OK, if they possibly can, and everyone likes to think that they're a good person who doesn't do bad things. That much is human nature.

    And a whole massive heap of white people do not understand the difference between racial prejudice and racism. Mainly because white privilege allows us to consider things "on paper", entirely without context, with so many variables removed and ignored in order to make a fair comparison that a fair comparison is impossible because the ignored variables are the ones actually affecting the situation. It's like doing an experiment at sea level and the same experiment up a mountain and then instead of taking air pressure into account, pretending that there's no such thing as air pressure, and any discussion of air pressure is something that black people have made up just because they like to have the last word all the time.

  • http://kelly.hogaboom.org Kelly

    Oh my gosh! I totally missed the part where you, Tasha Fierce, called me, Kelly Hogaboom, a "stupid racist cracker". I'm so glad this white lady wrote in to let me know this is what you actually said. I feel better now she's exposed you.

    So anyway, fer serious now. Someone who actually makes a point of reading anti-racist material is not going to get all offended when they read "white people… such-and-such". Someone who voices the objections this person did exposes that they either A. do not make anti-racism a part of their education and personal goals, or B. only read or consume anti-racist materials in bad faith. I never know what exactly to do with/about people who say these sorts of things, and my strategies vary from case-to-case. But I personally find it tiring.

  • http://www.icedteaandlemoncake.wordpress.com icedteaandlemoncake.

    plus me=upper middle class white person in Podunk, Wyoming, grew up with some internalized racism that i haven't thought much about until recently. so, no, i'm not racist. but i do sit on a hell of a lot of privilege that i am just now unpacking. i don't see or feel you, snarky's, or any other race politics blogger calling me racist just because i'm white.

    • Jennifer

      I don't know if you'll receive this or not (depending on if you get notifications when someone comments on your posts), but All White people are racist on some level. It's something that is systematically impressed upon us our entire life. It takes proactivity, metacognition, study, open discussion with people of color and listening with your heart and not just your head and still it's never a matter of fully overcoming it, but having awareness about it and questioning your thinking.

    • Jennifer

      When a POC calls all white's racist, it's true. Now maybe there is, understandably, a great deal of anger behind his/her words, so this makes you feel attacked …which is a common response. I think POC rarely see white's stand up for them, speak OUT about racism (it's not just enough to KNOW it's wrong) or be accountable and admit their own privilege. Given this, it is understandable that POC would lump all white's together. The best thing you can do is come to terms with your privilge through aknowledging, forgiving yourself for what you truely did out of ignorance (becuause beating yourself up forever is just a distraction from action), KNOW or begin to discover that White Privilege is damaging to white people too, and working on finding a support network of other white's who recognize their privlige, because it's hard to stand alone and be an ally.

  • http://snarkysmachine.org Snarky's Machin

    I love how being called a racist is like the WORST THING IN TEH WORLD. Like correctly identifying a pattern of behaviors suddenly will have the effect of centuries of historical, racial injustice. People need to give that shit a rest.

    • http://kelly.hogaboom.org Kelly

      Snarky, even if you are careful not to call someone a racist but point out what they SAID was racist, many whites react like you're accusing them of having directed Birth of a Nation or perhaps saying they are a big cartoony version of a tobaccy-spitting redneck whose sole fun in life is to drag people to death behind their pickup truck. Much drama typically ensues.

      It's all a great derail and a great opportunity for some whites to continue to not listen and of course, not change their behaviors.

  • http://etooz.wordpress.com Jess

    FWIW, I don't think the e-mail you got was a good e-mail. I find it just as problematic as the following:

    "Guess what, if what I’m saying about white people doesn’t apply to you, a white person, then it’s not about you. But if you’re getting all upset about it, chances are it probably is about you and you need to go sit in the corner and think about what I said. Furthermore, all white people benefit from the institutionalized racism that pervades our society, so the question is are you going to sit there and whine that I’m generalizing white people or are you going to take a second, breathe, and start unpacking that privilege before going off on the ignorant black girl lumping all white people into the category of stupid racist crackers?"

    Look, I'm sorry, but I take issue with some of this. If you are writing about a group of people but do not mean every person within that group, then it is not a good idea to just use the blanket term which, in this case, is "white people." In fact, I find it somewhat hypocritical because you're actually talking about the white people who view POC as "black people." Because this upsets me, I need to go sit in a corner and think about things? Fucking no, I don't think so. You could be writing this about any race/ethnicity, and I'd be having the same problems. One of the first things I was taught in my major when i was an undergrad (Asian Studies) is that you simply do not use a blanket term like "white people," "Japanese people," "black people," what have you. It ends up being a problem and frankly, it is not the job of the reader to rationalize, it is the writer's job to not be using offensive terminology.

    As far as privilege goes? You can have it, I don't want it. I never asked for it and I just do not want it. I hate the fact that different groups receive different, institutionalized treatment. It is ridiculous to me, a person who believes not one of us is ENTITLED to a damn thing. I sorely wish we lived in a world where everyone started from the same square one. I have a huge problem with the society-sanctioned racial hierarchy we have, though on the same level it would be foolish to believe that we will ever attain true equality as it is impossible to be truly unbiased. It's just problematic when the response to one group's foolish and ignorant actions is met with a somewhat similar response.

    Also I feel like I should add that I hate the vast majority of what Obama has done, but never once was it in any way tied to race or seeing him as an "Other." I voted for him based on the campaign he ran, and am very displeased with that fact he has not done the things he ran on when he got into office. I want him out based on this– it is frustrating to be accused of things I strongly am against when I express my sentiment about the job he is doing leading my nation.

    And lastly, all of this I suppose should be taken with a grain of salt as this is YOUR blog where you make YOUR voice heard, but I did want to point out you can be potentially hurtful in the same way by using some of the words you chose.

    • http://snarkysmachine.org Snarky's Machin

      tl:dr

      Put this in your own blog. Nobody has time to walk you through why what you just wrote was all kinds of fucked up. Seriously, go away.

    • http://www.redvinylshoes.com Tasha Fierce

      Jess, your post is an excellent example of the behavior I was talking about in my post. Bravo.

    • http://loveistheslug.wordpress.com/ chriso

      So Jess, if another white person tells you you're being fucked up will you be able to accept that more and not be so butthurt about it? Because if that's the case then this white person will tell you: you're being fucked up. What you wrote is like a giant White Privilege bat signal flashing in the sky. So you're using it even when you "don't want it". A big part of how white privilege gets used in conversations about racism and white privilege is for a white person to talk about how personally hurtful to them the assertions a person of color is making, thus derailing the discussion and completely personalizing it and – hey presto! – refocusing it on the feelings and needs of the Hurt White Person. Discussions about racism and white privilege are difficult and painful by nature. But how much of the white person's hurt is actually a defensive maneuver to take the heat and pressure off of ourselves so as to not have to recognize how we're implicit in the abuse of that privilege, whether we intend to or not? Maybe you need to think about that, because it seems to be happening all over your response.

  • badhedgehog

    The whole point of white privilege is that we as white people didn't ask for it. It's an extra card we got dealt in our hand and nobody told us it was extra, so naturally we assumed that everything was OK and fair, like one would. We don't get to hand it back. I don't like racism, but that doesn't mean I can stop other people's racism from benefiting me, directly or indirectly. I can't hand that extra card back just by wishing it away.

  • IrishUp

    @Jess – OMFG!!! That is the BESTEST ironic response what illustrates exactly what the OP was talking about EVAH. You must have mucked around in a metric fuckton of assholery to put THAT together – oh, and btw BINGOOOO!!!!! – I hope you got out OK!

  • http://www.icedteaandlemoncake.wordpress.com icedteaandlemoncake.

    '…that doesn't mean i can stop other people's racism from benefiting me, directly or indirectly.'

    agreed.
    and jess, like she says, if it doesn't apply to you then…

    it doesn't apply to you. but if it does, well then…

    looks like you've got some examination of privelege to do.

  • Courtney

    @badhedgehog

    Love the metaphor for white privilege! I think I will be stealing that for future conversations. My response to people saying "I didn't ask for X privilege" is along the lines of an awful present from Grandma–no matter how much you hate it, you can't send it back.