Monday, December 13, 2010

White People Educating POC On Racism

On the sidebar of this blog is my e-mail address.  There are days, I very much wish to remove it, because some people think that they should use it to reach out personally, and tell me about just how ignorant I am.  This weekend, I had the pleasure of receiving two such e-mails from White privilege deniers.  In the best of times, I don't have much patience for this obvious racism, but in this case, I decided to pursue the conversation, because I realized it would make a great post to share with you.  I am going to post sections of each letter for your consideration.

The first snippet comes from Gabriel Alan Cessna regarding my recent disapproval of the Whip My Hair song by a young White girl.
It's very comforting knowing that every now and then I can talk to and interact with a cornucopia of people from all over the world and be enveloped with a culturally rich environment.

I've lived in this area my whole life, and if it wasn't obvious from what I just wrote, this is a very great place to be raised without being subject to prejudice or bigotry.  Your post about black people not being able to talk about their hair is absolutely disgusting, especially considering the area you currently inhabit.  Are you so radically ignorant to the number of racial diversity in Western New York that just by stepping outside in the Buffalo region you'd be immersed in the culture and mutual respect by all citizens of this area for each other regardless of race, religion, ethnicity, or culture?  Do you leave your home?  Do you watch the news?  One of the proudest things I can say about Western New York is that I have been raised, not only myself, but nearly every single individual I've grown up with to be tolerant and accepting of other people.  You should be more than ashamed of yourself.

The entire point of the white woman covering the song by Willow Smith was to give it a twist that was culturally reflective and personally satisfying to the individual.  If you looked at the amount of views of Willow's YouTube video in contrast to the young white woman's video you would notice they are starkly differing in popularity.  You of all people should be accepting, and are in fact propagating your own racism by even considering the cover to be racially motivated. You are truly a disgusting human being.
 
Apparently the jackass was literate enough to read my e-mail on the sidebar, but not literate enough to comprehend that there are two cities named Niagara Falls, and one of them happens to be in Canada.  Yeah, Canada home of the beaver, maple syrup and rabid hockey fans. I do find it interesting that he thinks that Western New York has no racism, because of it's multicultural makeup.  This line of reasoning, is not only White fauxgressive liberal privilege, but proof that his so-called interactions couldn't possibly be that deep.  I cannot believe that there is not one person in Western New York, who does not find the area racist, or has experienced racism at the hands of knobs like this precious little douchebag.

When I rightfully told this little puke to fuck off, because I have nether the interest or the strength to deal in bullshit, he called me immature and then threatened to report me to anti-racist organization. OOOOh looks like someone had his feefees hurt, because a WOC did not want to listen to his bullshit.

Thankfully, that was pretty much the end of the conversation until...(drum roll please) his concern troll girlfriend decided to jump into the fray.  The following is a section of the e-mail sent by Sarah Ashman.
I can in no way refute your conclusion that the ad is racist. Although I'm of mixed cultural descent myself, a strange combination of German, Native American, Russian, and French, I am not black, so as a black woman it makes sense that you might read the ad differently than I read it.

By now you're probably wondering in what way I found this piece to be problematic. My problem is this: is directing your desire for racial tolerance towards questionable YouTube videos really the way you want to use your power as a blog writer? Clearly you have sway with your readers-- through your efforts the cupcakes ad was pulled! But, Ms. Martin, the ad wasn't even shown on television. It's not as if millions of Americans were viewing it as they watched prime time television every night. It would have likely only reached those who were looking at the Duncan Hines website or YouTube channel, perhaps those who were particularly devoted to discovering new baking products. I can't imagine the ad would have gone viral. It wasn't funny, it wasn't cute. Overall it was a terrible ad. Clearly you are an ardent supporter of racial equality, as am I. But there are so many important race relations issues that are plaguing the world at this moment! For instance, I'm sure you've heard of The Scott sisters. At this very moment these black women are facing life in prison for an $11 theft! Why not use your voice as a blogger to direct the attention of your readers to causes like these?

I do also fear that your condemnation of this advertisement, and especially in your condemnation of the racism of the "Whip My Hair" cover, come dangerously close to taking a position that suggests freedoms of speech should be limited in an attempt to halt racism.  I disagree vehemently. Everyone has the right to express themselves, no matter how ugly their opinion might seem. However,  this is simply a matter of opinion, and moreover, you're located in Canada, and thus not bound by the same constitution as I, so I guess that's a moot point.

 Nevertheless, please. As I said, fundamentally, I'm all for racial equality just as you are. It is for that reason that I must ask you to examine the scope of the issues which you address in your blog. So many instances of life-changing, heartbreaking, racism  still plague both of our societies. I understand that racism that is deeply embedded in the threads of  these societies, leading to the things you talk about in your pieces, but I feel that in these pieces you are attempting to fix the symptoms of racism and not the disease itself. In doing so, I fear that you are unintentionally turning a serious issue into a pantomime, a joke. After all, many people believe that racism is a problem that was solved long ago, and when media such as your blog suggest that the hot button race issues of the moment are some singing cupcakes and a white girl's mediocre cover of a black girl's song, I'm afraid they will take it as evidence that their belief is correct. So once again, I implore you to use your some of your power as a blogger to focus on some of the more dramatic manifestations of racism-- the ones that are undoubtedly caused by ill will and intolerance. If you and the rest of the media do this, I think you'll find that you might direct attention to the horrific extent to which racism still exists in society and perhaps perpetuate education, if not change. Only once this change in attitude manifests, I think, will you see a real decrease in the sort of sublime elements of racism in pop culture which you seem to so vehemently detest. After all, the disease  is racism. Ignorance is merely a symptom, and it will continue to pop up in different forms until racism is cured for once and for all.
So, Ms. concern troll felt that my efforts to combat racism were not appropriate.  Having read two posts on my blog, she knew exactly what this space is all about.  You see, everyday acts of racism aren't real racism.  I should be spending the entirety of time engaged in a battle with the KKK types and leave the decent White folks alone with their privilege.  The fact that she a White woman, and felt that she could decide what direction a Black woman took to combat racism, is of course not a sign of her utter ignorance or her desire to lead the struggle. 

I decided to take a kind approach and tell this woman to get her 101 on and come back and converse with me, after first explaining how patronizing and racist, she herself was in the original letter.  You would think that would have been enough, but unfortunately, Ashman came back for more.
I have a few things to say in return, but I think this time I might go to less trouble framing them so carefully, seeing you devoted the most of your last email to being not so much a retort to my arguments, but an attack on my personal character. I actually had left much information about me out of my previous email, because it seemed irrelevant to my point, but since you've insisted upon bringing it into this discussion, I feel obligated to provide you with a full picture.

I have indeed "gotten my 101 on," and by that I only partially mean that I took the time to read your 101 post on your blog. My secondary education has been steeped in sociology-- your blog reminded me of much that I did in an English and Textual Studies class last year, in which we devoted much of a semester to things like body theory, Orientalism, and contact zones. I actually had intended to attach a final paper for this class to this email, as it seemed quite relevant to some other issues which are often brought up in your blog, namely body theory as it applies to disabled people, specifically the wholly counterproductive nature of the "American Able" ads which were trying to spoof and shame American Apparel, but seemed to be exploiting the disabled in the process.Regretfully, it seems to have been left on my computer at home.

Concerning racism specifically, my experiences have been rich and varied. My final psychology project was a (watered down, because 18 year-olds with absolutely no funding can only do so much) study of the prevalence of lingering Western beauty ideals, in which two friends and I used morphing software to create a 9 step photo gradient of a white girl slowly morphing into a Korean girl. Upon asking students to chose the most beautiful of these images, we concluded that unfortunately Western beauty ideals still impact the way we decide what is beautiful-- men still tend to gravitate towards lighter skinned women, whereas girls prefer darker skinned men. It is from a sociology class the semester before that we borrowed this idea, the same sociology class in which we learned firsthand, from my teacher's friends who came to speak, about things like the problems trans people face in their every day life and how dreadlocks and hair are indeed significant to black people, as well as a multitude of other interesting things about gender, race, and class.

It should be dually noted that I passed all of these with high A's.

But education comes not only from the classroom, so I also wish to add that I spent 2 years of my life working in a Burger King restaurant, treating it as a time of sociological observation each and every time I got behind the counter. It was a wonderful way to watch how race, gender, and class assumptions play out in everyday life. On a more deeply personal level, I have lived for extended periods of time in foreign countries, in a minority position, unable even to speak more than a few words of the native language. This too gives one some perspective. Finally,  my parents moved from West Virginia to New York before I was born, and each time I go back to West Virginia (once or twice a year for a couple weeks each) I'm called a Yankee at least once, and I get to see real racism in action in a town where the n-word is still a well-loved adjective. (emphasis mine) Have you ever been that far south, Ms. Martin? If you have, you'll know that racist cupcakes are laughable in comparison to the kind of racism that goes on there every day.

I fear once again that these credentials will not prove adequate for you.

It is with regret that here I must consult the O.E.D.
Racism:
the belief that all members of each race possess characteristics, abilities, or qualities specific to that race , especially so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races

When you create a blog, you put forth your opinion in a pubic forum, for all to see. You are then, because you have taken up the role of blogger, obligated to hear the opinion of all who read your work. The fact that you're a blogger gives me the right to respond to your opinions with my own, Ms. Martin. That this right should be taken away because of my skin color is a very, very slippery slope. 
I am quite sure you don't need my help to break down what is wrong with her second letter.  At this time, I stopped engaging, as I refused to take another aspirin to deal with the headache this woman was giving me with her ignorance.  It is interesting that she knows all about racism, having lived a total of 18 years on the planet graced with White privilege.  It is further interesting that having taken a course, she knows more than my lived experience and the formal education that I have achieved at this point.

I think these letters should be held up as yet another example of the various ways in which people refuse to understand what is right in front of their face. Obviously, I started this blog for the purposes of raising awareness and to have the conversations that most avoid, but I certainly did not sign up to be a troll whisperer.

Editors Note:  I have once again been contacted by Ms. Sarah Ashman, demanding that I remove her racist e-mail from my blog, because she didn't give me permission to reveal to the world what a racist douchebag that she is.  Apparently, she contacted me via e-mail, because she didn't want the world to see her true colours.  I am even more determined that this post stay online, because it will teach her a powerful message about thinking before she decides it is okay to spew her racist nonsense to others.  There are consequences to every action, and before deciding to mess with a Black blogger with a reasonable size audience, she should have thought of the consequences.  This is what power looks like Ms. Sarah Ashman, when it is not in the hands of Whiteness.  Racism is never acceptable and every opportunity I have to combat it, I will.