Sunday, February 12, 2012

Bemused Intransigence: White Privilege: Race & Gender

I don't usually write about race/gender but after today's first hand experience with the very topic I will be discussing/presenting tomorrow, I felt the need to document the event. The issue I will be talking about is colorblindness and describing the opinions gathered from an array of surveys, personal interviews and focus groups from white people of diverse educational and occupational backgrounds. What links all of these people together is their shared notion of colorblindness; the idea we should live in a society where people are treated equally regardless of their skin color, or the belief that we are now in a society where race no longer shapes life chances. Colorblind ideology does not ignore race per se, but it does ignore racial hierarchy and privilege. This utopian idea continues to manifest itself with a certain set of rules. Under this view race is nothing more than a indication of the pigmentation of someone's skin. Race is an individual and not a collective attribute and any claims of racism, structural or institutional, are personal problems. Race ought not be used to make political, legal or social demands for equal treatment/fairness, nor does it indicate any sense of historical, social or political commitments for that individual. Proponents of this ideology tend to define everyone within a vacuum not based in reality and their definition is based on what they think an individual ought/strive to be. This abstract marking of every individual sets up a set of boundaries wherein anyone that steps outside of the definition is considered some kind of deviant. Key thing is they define each individual. All other definitions are rendered unimportant.

My experience today demonstrated that very thing. I was tweeting about race and the perils and unnecessary nature of adhering to 'colorblindness'. Striving for equality/fairness ought not entail a willful, whether intentional or unintentional, blindness to a particular attribute about a person and or group which shapes their experiences, attitudes, beliefs, goals and desires. Race and gender are important. They are not the sole defining characteristics of individuals or groups, but they are crucial in gaining an understanding the successes and failures. A follower of mine(Bottle_of_Death aka its that one guy, he may still be there, I don't know), took my tweets as calls for victimhood, self loathing, called me a bigot and a racist. He opined that we(I assume racial minorities) guilt white people everyday about the struggles we have faced. You can view the entire discussion on my time line @Rev_Xavier. I warn you now it's very long and toward the end was absolutely worthless. Despite being called a bigot/racist and whatever else he felt I was, he never took on my actual point. In order to get to equality and fair treatment of all people does not mean anyone should ignore race or gender. He continued to claim I was ignoring the ideal of equality in favor or race/gender. I did not make such a claim nor imply it. He believes race and gender are non-starters for achieving that goal and argued I am obsessed with race merely by asking that it not be ignored. He dragged in all sorts of assumptions, declared I was being ambiguous(bull shit) based on his feelings and unwillingness to discuss race/gender. That is not my problem. He also indicated something I did not anticipate; race can be discussed but to a point and this point he determines. I find his view as I stated above to be problematic and I strongly disagree with it and I told him that. What I received in return was mockery, intransigence, fake niceness, dismissive tactics, name-calling etc. We are all the same kind of animal. We do have differences.

I think his reaction is due to a few factors. First, white male privilege. I myself benefit from privilege as well, just in virtue of being a man. However I do not use my privilege to silence the legitimate claims of others, nor do I belittle them or claim race/gender automatically trumps personal responsibility. Second, he expected a weak, non-substantive reply to his intransigence. It's not that he disagreed, it's the way he did it. Disrespectful mockery will not be met with civility. Third and most important, he adheres to the description provided above for colorblindness. This reaction was not unexpected. The discussion was witnessed by a number of mutual followers and only 4 said something directly to me about his remarks that I am a racist because I do not espouse the colorblind ideology. Perhaps some of my followers agree with his stance that colorblindness is the way to go, or they felt I could handle his mockery and wild assumptions on my own, or maybe some other factor is at play. I did have a few followers try to 'make peace' between us by claiming we both had valid points. This is simply not the case. He's arguing race/gender should/ought be ignored and saying I am putting those two above equality and I am saying there is no need to ignore race/gender to achieve equality. There is no 'middle ground' here. We are not both right about this and every single follower who tried the 'fence sitting' deal with me did not help one bit. We were not discussing equality. He tried to move the goal posts by  producing a straw man for my position and saying I am not for equality with the 'bigoted' reply. By moving the goal posts and constructing a straw man he looks like he has a point but he does not. He never challenged the point I made there or made here. Not once did I say the value of striving for equality was worthless or unimportant nor did I imply it.

This isn't simply a mis-communication. It's 'shut up about race/gender' because I gain some sort of psychological comfort by ignoring race/gender or by generalizing a point not made. His tactics were dismissive and he believes color/gender is a choice. I don't get to turn off my skin color when I walk outside of my home or walk into a bank. I will not shut up about race/gender to appease white privilege or anyone who promotes the colorblind ideology. I can and will document my experience as a Black man and will call out problems concerning race/gender when I see them.

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