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View Diary: Maybe if we take “White Guilt” out of the equation it will be easier to understand? (172 comments)

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  •  I call that institutional racism. (8+ / 0-)

    My thinking is impaired by it. I think that you and I probably respond to it in very similar ways. I guess it is sort of a borderland between the institutional and the personal.

    When I am out with a black friend and somebody treats me differently from him, that is what I call privilege. It happens regardless of what I do, just because I am white. I have choices to make about how I respond to the situation, but it was created by my circumstance and not by me.

    These various terms don't have clearly defined universally accepted meaning. Find common ground for communication about them takes some work and effort.

    •  Very sound to start by discussing different terms (9+ / 0-)

      I think each of these expresses some part of the whole, complex truth. But GussieFN is so right to bring in the term Racist, because there are so many levels of racism, and we need to be able to talk about that word in all its ugliness and ubiquity.

      There is so much Unconscious Racism: There are people who refuse to admit their own prejudice, and hide it in the back of their mind; and there are people who have undercurrents of discomfort they never even noticed.

      When you were in that doctor's office, you made the better choice, to hear that "an alarm bell went off in my head", and then to listen past it. But many whites, in the same place, would've just felt uncomfortable, and would have made up some trivial excuse so they never had to go back there.

      I had a boss (Kim) who, when she was getting her Ph.D., did an experiment on unconscious racism. She told her subjects (undergrads) that they would be working with a new lab partner, she described the partner, and she asked how they felt about the prospect. She had pictures of this "lab partner" - some were white, and some were black.

      The students almost all replied that they felt equally eager to work with the white or with the black lab partner. Kim had wired them up, so they she could test their skin's resistance, and other measures of bodily stress. And more than half of the students who said they were equally eager for either, indeed many who appeared completely convinced that they were unracist, in fact were more stressed when presented with a future lab partner who was black.

      I believe this is true throughout society, and throughout Daily Kos: We live in a racist culture, and we are programmed deeper than we know. If sweet little girls know without ever being told that the black doll is the bad one even when they themselves are black, then adults in this culture have had five or ten times as long to learn similar lessons.

      There are some people who are just born good and fair-minded. There are many who are lucky enough to grow up in families that are all about love and universal dignity. But most whites grow up at least a little racist, more racist than they realize - and it's only the ones who pay full attention, and spot all their small evasions and fix them, who end up completely clear and fair-minded.

      "Every man has a right to utter what he thinks truth" Samuel Johnson

      by Brecht on Wed Jul 03, 2013 at 09:45:55 PM PDT

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      •  That lab partner experiment is interesting (1+ / 0-)
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        but I don't think that it necessarily means that stress = racism.

        It might mean that the situation of working with a black lab partner entails working outside the norm for those students; an expression of their understanding of institutional racism or perhaps being judged as racist. Who knows? Still valuable, though; would be interesting to see how pairing up men with female lab partners or with gay lab partners or asian lab partners would work as well.

        If we truly live in a culture what is racist and stratified (which I believe we do) then a white person's reaction to working with a black lab partner would be fraught/stressful even if that person wasn't "racist" in the most blatant sense. Seems to me that is what we acknowledge by such terms as "white guilt" or "white privilege" or "institutional racism."

        •  Same thing, different semantics. In one sense (2+ / 0-)
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          sidnora, badscience

          you're right, that stress is sometimes just what Richard Lyon felt in the unfamiliar doctor's office situation: Feeling weird in an unaccustomed environment.

          The most important thing is where a white person goes with that stress, which will say a lot about them. Do they recognize it and deal with it in an enlightened fashion (as Richard did), or do they just run away from discomfort (in which case, several such decisions in a lifetime will lead to alienation from the otherness that Black America feels like to them).

          Kim's experiment does not tell us what that stress meant. It's surprising to me that so many USC students, here in the melting pot of LA, felt more stress than they acknowledged in a not very strange situation.

          In another sense, semantically, I feel like White Privilege is a very useful term here. People may be less defensive about it than White Guilt, and it points accurately to a moral responsibility white people have to be aware and considerate of these issues.

          I just like the term Racism as an umbrella term. There are so many different levels and ways that our culture privileges whites, burdens blacks, and separates people into different world views. In the experiment in JoanMar's diary, the young black girls were clearly being racist, whatever more sympathetic terms we might also apply. I think there are few Americans who are entirely free of racism, at every level of their being. But I use the term here, where we're having a very self-aware conversation about these issues. If I were talking to my aunt's 80 year old friends in Texas, I'd be gingerly explaining to them what white privilege means.

          "Every man has a right to utter what he thinks truth" Samuel Johnson

          by Brecht on Thu Jul 04, 2013 at 09:40:34 AM PDT

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          •  Stress is an interesting thing. (1+ / 0-)
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            I don't know what sort of controls were in the experiment, but I would imagine there was some way of filtering out the simple stress of being hooked up to machinery, or having been previously prompted by the information about the future lab partner. And a lot of people would publicly say "no problem" even if their preference was "don't want."

            That being said, I don't think that it is surprising at all, even in Los Angeles, or especially in Los Angeles. I grew up there. While it is a very diverse city, there are a lot of racial tensions in the culture-at-large (not just black/white tensions). There is no color-blindness anywhere in meatspace ;-) Awareness of racial tensions or even stress about racial tensions doesn't necessarily equate to racism or even prejudice or cultural stereotyping.

            But I'm not arguing with the larger premise that the experiment suggests is the case, which is that issues around race cause stress! And that we have a very stratified and racist cultural structure.

      •  It's not easy (4+ / 0-)

        to think of oneself as racist, even a little, if one accepts the basic premise that racism is bad.

        I have to acknowledge that I have involuntary racist reactions. I'm a white woman. My boss, whom I adore, is black. My eye doctor, who I think is terrific both personally and professionally, is black. There are black people in my family, whom I have loved for most of my life.

        But I was raised by good-hearted people who themselves were raised with the prevailing racial attitudes of their times (in a large northern city). They were aware of racism, and were strongly condemnatory of obvious racism when they witnessed it, but they still were able to pass some of the unconscious racism that was simply part of white privilege in the 1950s on to me.

        "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself."........ "The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little." (yeah, same guy.)

        by sidnora on Thu Jul 04, 2013 at 07:59:24 AM PDT

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        •  I agree. I explained some more in my reply to (1+ / 0-)
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          badscience, right above your comment.

          I find racism useful as an umbrella term. But in practical conversation, White Privilege seems to point to whites' moral responsibility to check themselves, without making them as defensive as White Guilt or Racism might.

          Tricky stuff. The people you most need to talk about it with are the people who will get most irrational when you do.

          "Every man has a right to utter what he thinks truth" Samuel Johnson

          by Brecht on Thu Jul 04, 2013 at 09:46:25 AM PDT

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          •  Thanks for pointing up your comment above. (1+ / 0-)
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            I'm perfectly comfortable with the term "white privilege", and I understand that even though I am an "other" myself by virtue of being a non-Christian woman, I've been its beneficiary all my life. And that it is incumbent on me to be aware of that, and make conscious efforts to overcome it.

            And yes, your last sentence is the truth.

            "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself."........ "The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little." (yeah, same guy.)

            by sidnora on Thu Jul 04, 2013 at 10:09:03 AM PDT

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