One of my favorite experiences at an academic conference was when a discussant did not tear into the panelists (and their submitted papers) with gleeful viciousness. Instead, and I love this devious albeit "nice" move, he told us what he offers are "loving suggestions" regarding the work he reviewed.
Yes, it is better to lube up the knife with Teflon before sticking it through the Kevlar. The pain exists; it is just more tolerable.
Ian Reifowtiz is by all accounts cool folks. I am hoping to have him as a guest on Season Two of WARN's podcast series. In response to my piece on how Charlie Rangel accurately described the bigotry and racism of the Tea Party, Ian offered up a very nice and considerate essay that can be found here.
Language finds meaning through interpretation. I do believe that Ian "got" what I was suggesting more than he missed. However, I still have some thoughts and a loving intervention to offer in regards to his concern about harsh words and "stereotypes" used to describe the white racial reactionaries in the Tea Party.
One of my long-term projects is researching the concept of "liberal racism". Now, and I am being precise here, Ian is not, from my few interactions with him, a liberal racist, per se. However, his critique of Charlie Rangel's truth-telling about the Tea Party, can be located pretty close to, if not soundly within, the tradition that is liberal racism.
For example, there is a nice and honest embrace of the Golden Rule in Ian's critique of Charlie Rangel's truth-telling as offered here:
We anti-racists have argued for years that the decision about whether a term is offensive or not belongs to the party at whom the term is aimed. We've rightly not tolerated, in the best known example, non-black people claiming that they aren't using the n-word to refer to black people in general, just to the "bad" ones (criminals, etc.). We tell such people that they don't get to decide that their particular use of a slur is not offensive, it's simply not up to them.I think this is an admirable principle. In practice, such a principle often fails to bring results.
Intellectually, philosophically, morally, and politically, it is untenable to say that the rules of deciding what is offensive are one thing for terms aimed at whites in America, and something else for terms aimed at groups who have traditionally faced discrimination. The same goes, obviously, for other kinds of slurs, those aimed at groups defined by religion, gender, sexual orientation, etc. Men don't get to say, "I don't mean all women when I say c*^t." And gay people DO get to decide that they want to use the word "queer" as a term of empowerment.
We who reject bigotry argue that the term belongs to the ones targeted. That argument rests on strong moral grounds, and those moral grounds must apply universally. If we undercut the universality of that argument, we undercut our ability to fight hate. And applying that argument universally gives us the moral high ground when it matters most, namely when we seek to combat bigotry aimed at historically oppressed groups.
Moreover, Ian's logic is grossly under-theorized. The Golden Rule is a nice lesson to teach children. But, in the real world, do we want to suggest that when the out-group and the less-powerful talk in ways that make the in-group and the powerful uncomfortable that we should defer to them?
We can also not forget that White conservatives and White liberals are both the children of Whiteness and White Privilege.
Both deny the existence of White Privilege. The former rejects it outright. The latter just tries to dance around it. Some white liberals acknowledge that White Privilege is real while writing themselves out of it; other White Liberals want to introduce class as an over-determining variable so that race is made secondary; some White Liberals want to use the concept of White Privilege as a cudgel to beat White conservatives about the head, while denying that they too benefit from a society that gives them unearned advantages due to being "white".
In total, White liberals and others want to be talked to by people of color in a manner that is deferential to their racial privilege. Moreover, White liberals and White conservatives both want to have their feelings "respected" and not hurt by people of color who dare to engage in truth-telling about White Supremacy.
Consequently, White conservatives are for the most part the enemy of the Black Freedom Struggle. White liberals, with the exception of brothers like John Brown and the ride or die Freedom Riders, Abolitionists, and others having been duly noted, are allies of black and brown folks until it becomes inconvenient and challenges Left-leaning white folks' position of domination, privilege, power, paternalism, and ego towards non-whites.
In this way, White conservatives are much more honest racists than White liberals. White conservatives will let you know that black and brown folks are "uppity" and need to know their place. White liberals will often just derail and hijack the conversation by using thinly understood language gleamed from the introduction to books on white privilege or materials they found online.
I am curious as to your thoughts about Charlie Rangel's comments about the Tea Party. Sure, they can be described as impolitic or inconvenient. But, was Rangel wrong or inaccurate in his description of the racial politics of the Tea Party? And am I being to hard on White liberals and liberal racism in my loving intervention?