Archive for December 19th, 2011

December 19, 2011

Conversations about Race or other -isms

So, I’ve watched more than one video by Jay Smooth and, for the most part, enjoy his commentary. His TED Talk has been making the rounds and while it does (if I squint at it) make some sense for trying to have productive talks about racism. Except that I disagree with this approach, which is also discussed in this video (although he admits in his TED talk that 90% of the time his strategy may not work).

Now, he tells us to focus on what people did and not what they are. Growing up with a Stern Asian Dadâ„¢ means that I was taught from the cradle to believe that actions are an expression of character. That what you do stems from who you are. That what you believe will provide the motivation and frame your actions and activities. The result? If you do something racist, you be racist. Now, this is a matter of opinion and I’m willing to agree to disagree with Jay Smooth about this.

The main problem I have with his approach is how it frames calling someone racist as equivalent to doing something racist. That is is somehow just as bad to be called a racist as to have something racist  happen to you. The framing of this discussion runs that if you call someone a racist, it’ll shut down the dialogue you could have or the teachable moment that this could be.

Except that 1) I don’t think I need to be educating racists and 2) doing something racist, as far as I’m concerned, basically shuts down any viable ability to have a constructive conversation. As far as I’ve been able to tell, there isn’t anyway to have productive conversations with racists. It doesn’t matter how gentle the tone, whether or not you stick to ‘I’ statements, if you present rational arguments, if you talk about your feelings, or any other method for trying to have a constructive conversation. The only people I’ve had constructive conversations about racism with are other PoC or white people committed to being anti-racist. Conversations with anyone else have been a shit show.

Why? Because if you cared about being anti-racist: you wouldn’t do racist shit (i.e., in my view you wouldn’t be a racist). You would spend some damn time educating yourself about the issues. You’d be the kind of person that a PoC would know, without having to walk on eggshells to protect your delicate feelings, could take criticism without being defensive or engaging in a shit-ton of whitesplaining.

For PoC who engage in horizontal hostility, I will always have more time and patience for y’all. But that is mainly cause most of you who’ve I’ve discussed racism (shockingly) get it. And you can get why horizontal hostility is a problem. These conversations have almost always been productive and worth having.

Weird how that goes, huh?

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