The Nature of the Racist Conversation

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This is Melisa Riviere. White People sometimes do hip hop.
I have a reading suggestion for you. First a little background.

I’ve gotten into a few arguments on race and racism in my time, some on this blog. Racist thinking is all around us. Why just a few hours ago, a neighbor complained that his car had been robbed by the black kids that pass down our street now and then. How did he know it was the black kids? Because the people who robbed his car like hip-hop. How did he know that? Because they didn’t take his rock cds. Oh, did they take his hip hop cd’s? Well no, he doesn’t have hip hop cds. He’s not black. Why would he have hip hop cd’s?

WTF?

I had to laugh, for so many reasons. Never mind the inanity of it all. Just consider the pragmatics. The person that I know best who also is the person I know who is most into hip hop is depicted in the photo. White girl. Its not like I don’t know any African American Musicians. Hey, my nephew is an African American Musician. He’s just not into hip hop much. Well, everybody’s into hip hop, right? He just does not produce a lot of it. (Do check out his stuff, it is quite good.) Oh, and I have a student who is black who writes hip hop and studies the role of music and social change. But truthfully, by any proper definition, she is only half black, and half white. Oh, and the white girl in the picture is Hispanic. So maybe that makes her not white. Maybe it would make sense for her to steal the radio out of Bubba’s car, but leave the Rock.

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Every day I walk or drive by a pickup with a decal like this one. I wonder if this particular neighbor is an anti-Semite, a white supremacist, or just a socially inept ahistorical moron. I’m not taking any bets on this one.
Me? I’d take the rock and leave the radio. I don’t think the radio from Bubba’s “American” car would fit in my “Foreign” car (the latter made in the USA, 100%). The thing is, I suspect its not rock. I suspect it’s country. Ick. Way too white for this white boy.

Foreign cars made in America, American cars made in Wherever. People failing to live up to their skin color-determined roles all around us … the whole world turned topsy turvy. What is a good ol’ racist to do these days?

Well, my friend Stephanie Zvan has written an insightful and interesting post on her blog about what racists actually do when confronted with challenges to their thinking.

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Almost Diamonds
This is not just about their arguments, but about the process they engage in (unconsciously, I assume). Stephanie writes about things I’ve noticed before, but never formalized as she has. The racist repository of replies to the usual anti-racist arguments is fairly limited, and usually has the same sequence. The same lyrics, the same melody. Nonsensical and out of tune. Here, Stephanie analyzes the process with two or three racist commenters on a recent post that I wrote on the currently traveling Science Museum of Minnesota’s exhibit on race and racism.

A bunch of white people talking about race. Typical. But Stephanie’s post is well worth a read. Here:


What Is Race Good For?

Huh. Absolutely nothin’ …

Comments

  1. #1 Stephanie Z
    October 12, 2008

    I actually have a fair amount of early eighties rap. Of course, it’s all Falco and Soft Cell.

  2. #2 sailor
    October 12, 2008

    I think something we miss is that there are two types of racism. What we normally call racism is the just the conscious overt racism, where one group clearly does not like the other.
    The far more difficult racism to deal with is the unconscious racism that probably affects most of us in our perceptions of the other race. This kind of racism can be a factor in someone who not only thinks of himself as not a racist, but indeed would be quite open to say his daughter or sister marrying someone of the other race. None the less, given the environments we have grown up in and given that the races are still to a large extent really rather separated, I think we are all subject to such distorted perceptions to a degree and in ways most of us are completely unconscious.
    To give a rather obvious example that is being used now by the McCain Camapaign with regards to white unconsious prejudice: “who is Barak Obama?” For white people it would be impossible to apply this if Obama was white – think of saying it about Sarah Palin, it would not make any sense. I imagine all this looks quite different to a black person.

  3. #3 Doug Alder
    October 13, 2008

    Good music – he’s quite talented.

  4. #4 the real Chutzpah
    October 13, 2008

    I think the real racism is the kind we direct at ourselves, when we realize that the other is every bit as capable of holocausting our ass as we are theirs–if they had the power–and then trying to cover it up with proactive, pre-emptive and race pandering guilt.

    Reminds me of how my ancestors were suddenly ‘no longer Jewish’ and ‘ideologically socialist’when they were wiping out Russia’s Christians under Stalin…

  5. #5 Les Hussein Bursill
    October 13, 2008

    You generally can’t be half black or half white. I have white skin but I am an Aboriginal man and I don’t like being judged as white because of my skin colour. I am Aboriginal not white. So really I don;’t think skin colour has anything to do with anything?

    You are who you feel you are? And please don’t judge others until they have done something to judge them by. The guy with the skull decals maybe a really nice guy with a strange sense of style.

  6. #6 Les Hussein Bursill
    October 13, 2008

    You generally can’t be half black or half white. I have white skin but I am an Aboriginal man and I don’t like being judged as white because of my skin colour. I am Aboriginal not white. So really I don;’t think skin colour has anything to do with anything?

    You are who you feel you are? And please don’t judge others until they have done something to judge them by. The guy with the skull decals maybe a really nice guy with a strange sense of style.

  7. #7 Greg Hussein Laden
    October 13, 2008

    Les: You are certainly right about self identity. As to the guy with the funny decal: There is other information. But yes, maybe he is a perfectly nice guy underneath it all … somewhere…

  8. #8 Tony Jeremiah
    October 13, 2008

    I think something we miss is that there are two types of racism. What we normally call racism is the just the conscious overt racism, where one group clearly does not like the other. The far more difficult racism to deal with is the unconscious racism that probably affects most of us in our perceptions of the other race.

    Patricia Devine

  9. #9 Dan Hussein J
    October 13, 2008

    I’m not really into rap, but I can listen to some old NWA once in a while. There are really only two types of music that I cannot listen to: Country and Western. I was thanked profusely for introducing some co-workers of African descent to the music of Gil Scott-Heron.

    I grew up in a very non-diverse neighborhood. In the elementary school that I attended, there was only one student at that time who had dark skin. Where did the difference in the way that some students treated him compared to the way others treated him come from? During those early years, my older brothers had African-American friends who came to our home and were treated no differently from anyone else that came over. I never learned to treat them differently.

    It’s plain to me that race is a social construct; nothing more.

  10. #10 Mad Hussein LOLscientist, FCD
    October 14, 2008

    That’s some gooooooood music. I wish I had a few bucks to buy a CD or two… and that’s coming from someone who hardly ever springs for anything that isn’t classical.

    Who knows which way is up where race is concerned? Most of us are a bunch of Heinz 57s, even if we don’t look like it. I think my niece got it right when she was 3 and people would say she was black. She’d say, “No. My dad’s brown, my mom’s pink, and I’m beige.”

    When I lived in Kentucky 20 years ago, someone once asked me the Great Burning Question: “Well, would you want your sister to marry [a black man]?”

    I gave him one of my patented over-top-of-the-glasses-with-one-raised-eyebrow looks and and replied, “She did. And no one died from it. Wanna see a picture of my niece and nephew?” Funny thing, the guy (and a lot of his fellow Bubbas) gave me an extremely wide berth after that. Maybe they thought I had cooties; I don’t know, but it sure saved me a lot of aggravation!

    I just wonder what they’d say if I told them my niece has just graduated from Harvard and plans to go on to law school there, and my nephew is majoring in forestry in Washington State after spending 3 years in the Marines……

  11. #11 Mad Hussein LOLscientist, FCD
    October 14, 2008

    As for the sticker, I think it looks like a couple of early hominins in WWII German helmets – very appropriate for the fossilized troglodytic nature of the racist “mind”set.

    The next thing I thought of was: “Don’t miss our great new series, Pliocene Fight Club: The Australopithecine Wars, coming soon – only on the History Channel.”

  12. #12 Laurent
    October 14, 2008

    Cross posted on the Almost Diamonds thread:
    ——————————————-
    I’m not sure arguing down to the genetic details of “races” is anything but a slippery slope.

    Let me emphasize a few things:
    - even in subspecies in natura there’s geneflow, and genetic differenciation is only and will always only be a statistical property of a set of populations. (so there’s nothing in my opinion about the ‘continuum argument’ that is biologically relevant, but an invitation to question where limits have to be placed, and even for wild life studies this is not always a very interesting question, scientifically speaking).
    - human population genomics is only at its beginning, and there’s nothing that could prevent us to find out that there’s some genetical (since there’s already historical and cultural boundaries to human populations) basis allowing to spot different human lineages (be it close to old human taxinomies or be it radically different from this perspective).

    Given the possibility that human genetic makeups would turn such results, my point would be something like this: if there were any biological reason to classify human among different ‘races’, whatever it might be, would it follow that we ought to be racist?

    The answer is no!, of course. Even if humanity were consisting of several species there would be no obligation for specism.

    This is in my mind one of the greatest danger of genetic arguments with regard to the issue: it is irrelevant whatever the science is telling us. We decide, and this is most important, that we don’t care about whatever the other human being is, phenotypically, genotypically, culturally, and so on (the same applies to gender, sexual behaviour, political opinion etc).

    I think it is important to be affirmative about this (I see no reason to turn racist even if there were actual biological arguments for races). Anything biological is weak with regard to what I decide to hold as values.

  13. #13 Greg Laden
    October 14, 2008

    Laurent: I believe you are correct in your assertion that we need to be affirmative. In teaching and lecturing about racism, I always start out with: “Be careful what you ask for, because you might get it.”

    If the political argument is “there are no races, therefore racism is invalid” then we are truly screwed when the lost island of Neanderthals is discovered. Or anything in between, as you point out.

  14. #14 Maureen Lycaon
    November 10, 2008

    You do say you have other information on the owner of the pickup sporting the skull decals, but I’d like to make a point: given nothing else to go on, I might assume that he was: 1.) a Slayer fan; 2.) a skateboarding fan; 3.) any of a number of other things which might involve the use of pictures of skulls wearing army helmets.