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With all the discussions going on about race, this is a meme that I see coming up again and again:  But nobody I know thinks of themselves as white!  I'm Dutch-Irish!  I'm Norwegian! I'm a proud Polish-American! And so on.  A lot of white folks get confused, or hurt, or angry when people of color start talking about how "white folks say this" and "white folks do that."  And they (we, because I'm white folks too) get pretty upset when "white" is used as a pejorative term in the commentary of people of color and their allies.  So I'm undertaking, in this diary, to explain the history that lies behind that category called "whiteness" and to help you understand why "white" has become a shorthand term to describe a power structure that, in truth, most Kossaks oppose. I will also explain why "white" and "black" are not equivalent descriptions of individuals or groups, since both definitions were imposed by white authorities on both black and white people.  This is, by the way, a long-ass essay, because some things are just too complex for sound bites.

As always, a history lesson is a good place to start. If folks want sources or a reading list, just ask.  I prefer not to clutter my text with citations because it makes for less comfortable reading, but I will be happy to back up any of my assertions with books and articles and studies.

In the U.S. in the period leading up to the Civil War, slave or free status often turned on an almost incalculable percentage of "black blood."  Those deemed to possess "black blood" were defined as saleable commodities from the period of Colonization until the Civil War, and even after the Civil War "black blood" determined where you could live, where you were physically unsafe, where you could work and play, and whether or not you could vote.

In the beginning, the Colonies imported both Africans and indentured servants for use as labor, and the status of Africans was somewhat ambiguous.  Slavery had not yet been established as the "peculiar institution" that came to distinguish the U.S.  But for a variety of economic and cultural reasons, it was more convenient and attractive to European colonists to retain the labor of African slaves, rather than to allow them the freedom and rights that indentured servants inevitably earned. Eventually, African descent marked the difference between servants who were to be manumitted and servants who were to retain that status throughout their lives.  Indentured servitude was eventually phased out, and slavery became the foundation of the laboring body that built America. It is important to note that the children of indentured servants were not indentured, but that the children of African slaves inherited the servitude of their mothers.  Slavery was thus determined by one's "African blood," and the condition was inextricably bound to the notion of "blood" and "blackness."

I would like to note, here, that European and U.S. notions of Native American "race" were the product of another crucible.  Unlike blacks, who were defined as valuable property (or potential property, if free), after a number of failures to successfully enslave Native Americans, they were defined as "non-people" -- neither valuable property nor potential American citizens, but members of a vestigial group whose eradication was either celebrated or lamented, on the path to extinction. I cannot follow this trajectory in this diary, but there are very fine Native American historians on DK whose work I heartily suggest you follow -- Ojibwa comes immediately to mind, for example -- who document the genocidal policy of the U.S.

The problem with the "African blood" demarcation is that, sufficiently diffused, African genetic heritage is invisible. And plenty of African blood was diffuse, due to generations of sexual slavery and rape. Property that can talk and walk just like free people needs to be distinguished in some fashion, and if you can't see a distinction, you need to invent one. Because African heritage was often invisible after several generations, it became crucial to define the category of people who didn't possess it: thus "whiteness" was invented. Of course there were no "white" people in the U.S. -- there were simply people of various ethnic heritages besides African.  But in order to exclude the slave class, they needed to be lumped together and defined as a larger category that was, specifically, "not-black."  Birth certificates and bills of sale became the documents that determined one's race and, as late as 1978, people who were to all visible appearance "white" in Louisiana were denied the right, by that state's Supreme Court, to change the race listed on their birth certificate from black to white.  Louisiana, of course, had a brisk trade in white-looking slave women in the Antebellum era, and it would have been illegal to buy and sell them if they were not defined as "black."

The black or white label you bore determined the course of your life. Or, rather, the black label limited the course of one's life, while the white label opened it to the opportunities offered to members of that category.

In the black community, though there was and is a level of colorism, one was historically not told one was "too white" to qualify as black, because membership in the "black" category was never voluntary. A light-skinned black might be criticized for "putting on airs" or "acting above herself," but everyone was aware of the vast rift between the categories, and the near impossibility of crossing it. (A very small percentage of Americans of African heritage did pass successfully, but in order to do so they had to leave behind every person who might be able to identify them by any means, and to successfully integrate into communities that were often suspicious of folks without "pedigree." But that, too is another story.)

On the white side, a single hint or accusation of "black blood" (no matter how white one's skin), proven or unproven, was often enough to ensure your banishment from the white community, and the stripping of white privileges and rights. This was particularly true of whites in precarious social or economic positions. The horror with which white people regarded the ability of some "blacks" to pass  was a marker of the instability of that identity. Whiteness was a protection from the horror of the "social death" that was slavery or other forms of black servitude.  In the case of poor whites, this categorical boundary was often the only item of value that they possessed, and they defended it with a fierceness that sometimes defied reason. (And if that strikes a chord today, it should.) The black or white label you bore determined your right to vote, to use "whites only" facilities, and so on.

Race mixing was forbidden in principle, but rampant in practice. White men used their privilege of sexual access to black bodies both for pleasure and to breed more slaves. In most cases the progeny of such unions were treated as any other slave and the "white blood" was ignored because the "one drop rule" means the addition of white blood to black never ultimately dilutes it. In fewer instances these children were educated and/or manumitted. (The penalty for white women who bore "tainted" children was so severe that far fewer black children were born of white women.) With all this mixing, and because the slaveowner often imposed his religious and ethnic traditions on his slaves) many black Americans also had European ethnic heritages (Scots Irish, Dutch, French, etc.). Some distinctly American traditions (the blues, for example) arose from contact between Africans and other ethnicities, notably the Scotch and the Irish.  It was clear to whites that "mere" ethnicity was not enough to separate blacks from whites: the racial distinction had to cross ethnic lines as well.

The category of whiteness arose as, literally, a master category defined by the absence of "black blood," and, in the U.S., recent immigrants were often defined by their supposed proximity to blackness. This is documented in books like How the Irish Became White. European prejudices carried over into the New World, and the British belief that the Irish were a sub-race of savages dovetailed nicely with American racism, but Irish assimilation was not as threatening as African assimilation because it did not shake the foundations of the U.S. labor system. (Unlike Chinese assimilation, which was simply forbidden.) It was not necessary to maintain the myth that immigrants who could assimilate were chattel.   ("Biracialism" is an extremely new concept in the U.S., but that's another story.)

If ethnic groups were to assimilate into white culture, their members, too, had to self-define as not-black (white) to elevate their status.  I don't know what your heritage is, but my European ancestors (German, Polish, Russian) erased every trace of accent and refused to teach subsequent generations their mother tongues in order to assimilate us more quickly.  Many immigrants understood that "becoming white" meant giving up most ethnic traits.

Most people don't know that the surge of white American interest in ethnic identity is largely a product of the Civil Rights era. These days plenty of Americans who have never been to their putative homeland, and who have no current awareness of family connections there, will proudly state their heritage. Often they go by last name, and assume a heritage based upon that.  This is not true of all white Americans, of course. In many communities where immigrants from the same country (and sometimes the same towns of origin) lived in the same neighborhood over generations, and where new waves of immigrants arrived regularly, ethnicity was preserved, but at the cost of a very slow integration into whiteness. (The Irish in Boston, the Italians in New York, the Jews in every city.)  When immigrants dispersed, however, they tended to lose their ethnic identifications, and not to pass those identifications on to their children.  Interestingly, during the Civil Rights and ensuing black pride movements, these atomized descendants of immigrants often started to explore, unearth, and, at times, invent their heritages.  Today, even Americans of Irish descent who have no ties to, say, the Irish community of South Boston, or other Irish enclaves, or even another Irish person, feel a kinship with other Irish and celebrate St. Patrick's Day. However innocent these actions are today, it's important to remember that reconceptions of white ethnic identity were often tainted with the racism that informs white American identity. For example, the St. Paddy's Day parades of Boston (a city with a lot of racial strife) became defiant responses to pressure to racially integrate Boston schools.  In short, Irishness was deliberately associated with whiteness by many.

This white ethnic identity frenzy was spurred by black people's attempts to redefine themselves and to proudly reclaim a heritage that had been denigrated throughout American history.  Interestingly, this is the moment at which some black folks in the movement started saying to other black folks that they "weren't black enough," and wanted to exclude them for a variety of markers from skin color to diction and hairstyle. In short, this is the moment at which racial identity became a sexy commodity, and all of a sudden white people wanted to have one too. Lacking color, they grabbed for ethnicity. (Though they often grabbed for color, too, which explains the sudden emergence of the black partner in buddy movies -- he's there to hipnify the otherwise bland white guy.)

As for "identifying as white," white people don't do it much (outside the white supremacy movements) and that's the point.  White is normative in America. One usually only needs to point out what is "not white" ("Look, Ma!  A black doctor!")  For white people this means, "You're in the club unless you're out, so relax." For black people, this often means that their very appearance is what Toni Morrison has called "an eruption of funk."  White people don't feel "white" until a person of color steps into the room (or the conversation, etc.).  Then the line is drawn, but the rest of the time we don't need to think about it.  Until very recently in the U.S., we could pretty much assume that we'd primarily interact with other white people and that other white people would be the people wielding power over us. (In which case, if the Italian boss doesn't like the Jewish applicant, we might suffer because of our ethnicity. My Jewish grandmother pretended to be Irish in the 1930s so she could get a job as a phone operator.)  But we very specifically don't suffer from our racial designation.

And that's what makes all the difference.  The designation of white does not hurt us in any real sense.  It does not disadvantage us at all.  Why should it? We invented the category to protect ourselves and our privileges. So when black folks define us as white, they are naming our privilege, not taking our rights away. For all the complaining from certain white folks, I have yet to see a white person injured (beyond hurt feelings) by "white people suck" comments. Or even by "whites are racist" declarations.  I think the number of white folks who have paid a real price (again beyond hurt feelings) for criticism of whites as a group is about as large as the number of voters who actually commit that voter fraud the Republicans are always screaming about preventing. And I think the complaint is about as legitimate. I don't have the right to walk around thinking nobody can ever hurt my feelings.

When black folks bitch about us, we have a choice.  We can not listen to it.  We can pay it no attention at all, and it won't change our lives one bit.  (That's what privilege means.) I've been listening to critiques (some quite harsh) of white people for 40 years now, and you know what? It ain't hurt me none. In fact, I often enjoy sitting around with groups of African Americans who might even, at some point, slam white people during the conversation.  Somehow, I manage not to cry like a baby.  Somehow I manage to understand that it's not all about me; it's about power structures that I oppose right along with the people critiquing white folks. And I know that these folks aren't talking about me, unless I'm acting like the kind of asshole white folks they criticize:  unless I'm representing an oppressive power structure, and enforcing institutional racism by flaunting my privilege to discriminate..  And hey, if I do come across some particularly nasty black person who wants to make his or her criticism personal, BFD. What the hell can they do to me?  It's not like the jerky guys on the street who yell insults and harass me, and who make me feel afraid because men as a group have a 10,000 year history of raping women as a group.  I'm afraid of those guys.  But people who say mean things about white people and maybe even call me a racist?  Not a real problem, except insofar as I want to make it my problem.  And that, my friends, is privilege.

Whatever you want to believe about fairness, or double standards, the reverse simply is not true.  That's what inequity means. It means I've got "the system" on my side, and they don't.  If I randomly accuse some African American woman in a store of shoplifting, I can be pretty sure that the cops are going to believe me.  If she protests her innocence, she can be pretty sure that the cops are going to doubt her word.  That's reality.  If I pick out some random innocent 5-year-old white child on a bus and snarl at him that he's a honky motherfucker, I am likely to upset him terribly, and I shouldn't do it because it's cruel.  But if I snarl racial epithets at a 5-year-old black child, I am both cruel and I affirm all of the stereotypes he has already subconsciously internalized -- the ones that make him, at five, think a white doll is "better" than a black doll. I will crystalize that suspicion of inferiority into an outright declaration of his worthless blackness vs. my privileged whiteness.  I may be the author of the first incidence of that horrific realization, but I will surely not be the last, as every form of media, and every institution with which he comes in contact will tell him that white is better than black. And the saddest,  most tragic thing about that situation is that I could be the lowest, least privileged white person on the planet, and I can still have the effect of reinforcing white supremacy in that little boy's mind, so that it echoes down the years every single time he runs into racism again.  

Think about that, next time you decide to get exercised because the black folks are saying mean things about you.  Because in this instance fair is not fair.

That's power, I tell you.  And if you can't see that, and can't recognize the difference, it's just because you don't want to.

5:49 PM PT: I'd like to thank folks for a really interesting discussion, and for the very interesting links and reading suggestions.  It is almost 3am in Switzerland and, given my clearly deteriorating mental capacities, I am calling it a night.  But I will check the diary when I get up tomorrow and respond to new comments.

Originally posted to Hepshiba's Pad on Thu Apr 12, 2012 at 01:53 PM PDT.

Also republished by RaceGender DiscrimiNATION, History for Kossacks, Barriers and Bridges, Black Kos community, and White Privilege Working Group.

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Comment Preferences

  •  wow. great diary. (16+ / 0-)

    You speak for me. Especially this:

    It ain't hurt me none.
    brilliant. And, you're right: Hearing "white people are racists" and such doesn't hurt me, because, besides conscious anti-racists (such as the ones found on dkos) many white people are racist, and are privileged. We have a choice upon hearing this: either fight to correct it in society at large, or ignore the critique and continue to live in complete and total privilege. The choice is up to each of us. I made the choice to fight to change it.

    They call me Gato, I have metal joints. Beat me up and earn 15 silver points. -- Gato the Robot, Chrono Trigger

    by rexymeteorite on Thu Apr 12, 2012 at 02:01:52 PM PDT

  •  I do! (11+ / 0-)

    (think of myself as white)

    Because German-Dutch-Welsh-English-French-Scottish-Irish-American is a bit of a mouthful.  And more than a little disingenuous with the most recent immigrant ancestor a good 130 or so years back.  But anyway.

    I haven't even read the diary yet, but can already tell it's going to be a good one.  Back later.

  •  Just finished reading (10+ / 0-)

    And it was time very well spent.

    Thank you!!

    I wish everyone could read this, and better yet - internalize it.

    So much truth. I think I need to bookmark this diary.

    "We have only the moral ground we actually inhabit, not the moral ground we claim." - It Really Is That Important

    by Diogenes2008 on Thu Apr 12, 2012 at 02:38:41 PM PDT

  •  Similarly, nobody (7+ / 0-)

    thinks of themselves as straight.  

    I do think your integration theory holds more true in urban areas.  In rural Minnesota, for example, there are many, many small towns with distinct ethnic heritages that only began to diminish in the latter part of the 20th century.  My father, born about half a century after his family came to the US, spoke only Polish until he went to school in the 1930s.  

    I used to be disgusted. Now I try to be amused. - Elvis Costello

    by gnbhull on Thu Apr 12, 2012 at 02:40:08 PM PDT

    •  Yeah, the ethnicity issues are fascinating (10+ / 0-)

      In homogenous towns, though, ethnic festivals are often integrated into "American" heritage:  everybody is Norwegian and knows their traditions are Norwegian, so there doesn't need to be "Norwegian Club." The Norwegian-ness becomes Americanness by the late 20th C, and you say.  And when outsiders start moving in sometimes Norwegian-ness is "revived" as a named and celebrated identity to mark the difference between original residents and newcomers.

      But German towns gave up their identities in the wake of WWI & II and switched from being German-speaking to English-speaking because of a different set of pressure.

      Identity is endlessly interesting cuz it's what makes us "us." :)

      "If you fake the funk, your nose will grow." -- Bootsy Collins

      by hepshiba on Thu Apr 12, 2012 at 02:55:35 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Tangentially, (9+ / 0-)

      From the diary:

      my European ancestors (German, Polish, Russian) erased every trace of accent and refused to teach subsequent generations their mother tongues in order to assimilate us more quickly.  Many immigrants understood that "becoming white" meant giving up most ethnic traits.
      Might not always have been voluntary (and I suspect that they were generally conscious of becoming 'american', not 'white').

      Sometime in the early 20th C, there was a widespread (official) attempt to eliminate non-english languages (which were spoken in communities across the country) outside the home. German, I'm pretty sure, went 'out of style' with the World War(s). I'll see if I can dig up that link...

      •  In my family, folks were pretty (8+ / 0-)

        aware of wanting to be "white" because Jews really weren't back then.  And it was deliberate choice on my parents' part, at least, to ensure that I was monolingual.  I often am sorry about that, especially living with a trilingual partner who switches unconsciously back and forth between German, English and Russian, depending on what language someone speaks to him.  But yeah, in other situations, a English was forced on people.  Native Americans were robbed of their linguistic heritage through outright removal from their cultures, for example.

        Love to see the reference if you can find it.

        "If you fake the funk, your nose will grow." -- Bootsy Collins

        by hepshiba on Thu Apr 12, 2012 at 03:13:55 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Probably depends on the locale/time period. (6+ / 0-)

          In my jewish family, it was about being 'american' -- Dad's generation weren't taught yiddish (though of course they picked some up) so they'd be American.

          A quick google just tells me that there are a lot of racists out there, I'll have to put a bit more effort into this linksearch :)  Wikipidia on Lauguages of the US has some hints -- the WWI & II german thing, of course, and this in the section on Finnish:

          After the independence of the US from the Kingdom of Great Britain, the government encouraged colonists to adopt the English language as a common medium of communication, and in some cases, imposed it upon them.
          I think it was sometime around WWI -- wasn't there a national (federal) effort to do things like improve nutrition, education to make better cannon fodder for the next war? Might've been part of that.
          •  This is from the NYS constitutional convention (9+ / 0-)

            in 1915, to have knowledge of English as a voting requirement.

            “Gentlemen, we must stop to think what we are. This is not a question of Nations, it is a question of races, and when all is said and done, there is not a man in this room who can deny that we are an English race, born and bred and brought up with the traditions of the men of England, of Anglo-Saxon stock. It is idle to bring to my view that that race is in the minority in our country–a little leaven leavens the whole lump, and if there is only one Anglo-Saxon left we cannot forswear our heritage. History shows, or your own hearts will show, if you stop to reason, it is true, we are Anglo-Saxon.* *
            This speech was too much for Mr. Louis Marshall, and he bellowed forth his defense of the Jews in a voice which rang to every corner of the hall. Hear Mr. Marshall, who offered an amendment to change the word “English” in the proposed new section to “any language”:

                There is not one drop of Anglo-Saxon blood that courses through my veins, and yet I think that I have as much appreciation of the spirit and genius of our institutions as has any member of this body.*

                Let me tell you, for example, that there is in this State a body of people numbering over a million who read the Yiddish language. Many of them cannot read any other language. Most of them read newspapers published only in that language. I have before me a list of five newspapers published in the city of New York, whose average daily circulation, in Yiddish, is upwards of 500,000 in the aggregate.**
            These newspapers are wide-awake. They reach an intelligent reading public, a reading public which obtains its opinions with regard to public affairs largely through their columns.

            Its a great link fot those who want to read more:

            I discovered it when I was researching opposition to Sotomayor and the problem of Spanish speaking voters in NYC.

            It's *Gandhi*, not Ghandi

            by poco on Thu Apr 12, 2012 at 03:40:39 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  My father's mother (5+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              poco, Avila, nomandates, Wee Mama, Yasuragi

              was deeply involved in the Yiddish speaking community of NY -- she acted in Yiddish theater in her "spare time".  And I remember her lamenting that Yiddish was dying when I was a kid.  But she never taught me, and so I have only a smattering (enough to make German feel a little familiar when I learned to speak it).

              My mother's side of the family refused to admit they ever spoke Yiddish.  They changed their name from Berkowitz to Berkey and took the whitest road possible.

              Thank you so much for the link!

              "If you fake the funk, your nose will grow." -- Bootsy Collins

              by hepshiba on Thu Apr 12, 2012 at 04:55:37 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  My family spoke Yiddish regularly -- (1+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:

                in fact, my grandfather, with his heavy Russian accent, often forgot, by the time he reached the end of a joke, which language he was speaking, and the punchline always came out in Yiddish.  My cousins and I, more as a means of not being left out of the laughter, made our parents teach us Yiddish.  It's spotty, of course, mostly being critical phrases (and many punchlines), but we're happy to keep at least part of it alive for another generation.

                Of course, I was raised by second-generation communists, so I suppose I had the "advantage" in not being from a family locked into striving for an American identity.

                There are 3.5 million people homeless in the US and 18.5 million vacant homes. What's wrong with this picture?


                by Yasuragi on Fri Apr 13, 2012 at 08:40:36 AM PDT

                [ Parent ]

                •  My dad grew up in Brighton Beach (2+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:
                  Yasuragi, poco

                  right next to Communist Party headquarters, but his mother made a right turn towards Goldwater.  (My folks were furious she'd taken me to a rally with her, in the Sixties. I remember her pinning flags and ribbons to me.)  She was an avid Yiddish speaker, but her husband wasn't, and my dad was told he should speak English.  Both my folks could understand substantially more than I do, but they never really spoke the language, just peppered their conversation with Yiddish words and phrases.  And, it turns out, some Russian words, which I didn't know until I used them in front of my partner, who burst into laughter. (He's a native Russian speaker.) I really wish I'd gotten more of both languages, and the Spanish from the Puerto Rican side of my family.  My mom was fluent.  Me, not so much.

                  "If you fake the funk, your nose will grow." -- Bootsy Collins

                  by hepshiba on Fri Apr 13, 2012 at 02:38:12 PM PDT

                  [ Parent ]

                  •  Cubans, here. (Of course, Fidelistas to (1+ / 0-)
                    Recommended by:

                    the bitter end.)  The result is that I have an accent so good that folks just assume I'm fluent.  Which I'm sooooo not.  :(  Still would love to learn it to some degree of fluency.

                    I'm afraid my generation, except my cousin who's a linguistics PhD (and speaks many languages), is reduced to the odd phrase here and there.  Between German (which I understand fairly well, thanks to Yiddish) and what I know of Yiddish I can put together a fractured sentence or two, but that's it.

                    My mother was fluent in French, and kept in shape by speaking to me in same.  I would answer in French as much as I could (not much), then in Spanish, Yiddish, and ultimately sign language when everything else failed.  I miss her for many reasons, but that was particularly fun.  Kept my language sense cooking at a nice simmer.

                    There are 3.5 million people homeless in the US and 18.5 million vacant homes. What's wrong with this picture?


                    by Yasuragi on Fri Apr 13, 2012 at 04:05:02 PM PDT

                    [ Parent ]

                    •  I know exactly what you mean about (3+ / 0-)
                      Recommended by:
                      Yasuragi, poco, TX Freethinker

                      the accent.  It's actually one reason why I hate trying to speak Spanish, though I'm perfectly comfortable listening and answering in English.  My accent is also perfect, and my vocabulary used to be great, but my grammar -- not so much. I really suck at learning languages and I've had to struggle for every bit of German that I've got, but I'm an excellent mimic so now I speak agrammatical German with a faint Russian accent, like my partner's.  It's kind of hilarious, because Germans and Swiss all think I'm a Russian speaking bad German and not an American.  And I know maybe 40 words in Russian. (Although every word I know, I pronounce perfectly.)  We went to Spain last summer, and I could understand everybody just fine, but when I tried speaking it was such a garble of German and Spanish I made myself and everyone around me dizzy.  I'm going to Peru for a couple of weeks next month and I'm trying to read a lot of Spanish and am trying very hard to avoid German until I leave, in hopes that the same thing won't happen. I would give my eyeteeth to be trilingual like my partner, but he's got that whole languages - music - math thing going for him.

                      "If you fake the funk, your nose will grow." -- Bootsy Collins

                      by hepshiba on Fri Apr 13, 2012 at 04:26:28 PM PDT

                      [ Parent ]

                      •  My family is also filled with language (2+ / 0-)
                        Recommended by:
                        poco, TX Freethinker

                        buffs.  My aunt and I call each other regularly with a new revelation about a word's root.  We're thrilled, everyone else wonders why.  But she's 92 and sharp as ever, and I love when she comes up with these new connections.

                        I never had the problem of confusing languages.  They're so distinct to me -- but I'm also a good mimic of accented speakers, and I find that a German accent keeps creeping in where it's definitely not warranted.   As we get older, do we turn into our grandparents?  

                        We're all musicians, without exception.  But the math thing?  Forget it.  Hopeless!

                        I envy your partner's ability.

                        The one language that's confounded me completely is Dutch.  I have friends from the Netherlands who come and stay for long visits, and I still can't make head or tail of it.  

                        There are 3.5 million people homeless in the US and 18.5 million vacant homes. What's wrong with this picture?


                        by Yasuragi on Fri Apr 13, 2012 at 04:48:52 PM PDT

                        [ Parent ]

                        •  My partner understands a lot of Dutch (2+ / 0-)
                          Recommended by:
                          Yasuragi, poco

                          Apparently a lot of German speakers do, because there's overlap.  I was thrilled, on a trip to Amsterdam, to realize I could actually pick out enough words to discern the topic of the conversation sometimes.  My German study partner was a Dutch woman, and she quickly outpaced me.

                          I've got no musical talent, no language talent, and though I'm very skilled and quick at calculation, I have no feel for higher math at all.  Totally opposite of my partner, who is a coder, a physics geek, a natural musician, and able to curse fluently in 5 languages and half a dozen Slavic dialects.

                          You are so luck not to have the cross-language word salad problem!  

                          "If you fake the funk, your nose will grow." -- Bootsy Collins

                          by hepshiba on Fri Apr 13, 2012 at 05:00:39 PM PDT

                          [ Parent ]

                          •  It's odd, because I'm always looking (1+ / 0-)
                            Recommended by:

                            for the Germanic influences in Dutch, and I just can't find them.  The accent throws me off, for one thing.  And one of them is fond of sending me e-mails in Dutch, which I then have to run through one of those perfectly inaccurate (an oxymoron?) translation programs, usually with hilarious results, as they pay no attention to syntax at all.

                            Dutch looks to me, more than any other language I've ever seen written, like nonsense words.  I can't make head or tail of all those billions and billions of double vowels.

                            I keep trying to convince myself that if I listen for German, I'd understand more Dutch.  Nope.  Once in a while I can pick out the root of a word, but even that is rare.

                            One of the things I love about sign language is that whole concepts are expressed in a single sign, and grammatical eccentricities are quickly forgiven.

                            There are 3.5 million people homeless in the US and 18.5 million vacant homes. What's wrong with this picture?


                            by Yasuragi on Fri Apr 13, 2012 at 07:37:30 PM PDT

                            [ Parent ]

                      •  I have the opposite problem (0+ / 0-)

                        I also have a very good accent when speaking Spanish.  So native speakers think I am fluent.  I can generally express myself pretty well, if I have time to think, and "translate" in my head before speaking.  But when native speakers come at me with rapid-fire Spanish, I get a phrase here, a word there, but really can't keep up.  I'm much better at reading, writing and speaking, than understanding spoken Spanish.

                        I also took one semester of Russian in college more than 35 years ago.  My Ukrainian professor congratulated me on my accent after just a month or so of class.

                        I also get annoyed listening to news commentators butchering words in languages that I don't even know.  I just know they are pronouncing them wrong.  After hearing an Arab speaker pronounce Qatar, or Mahmoud, or Al-Qaeda, I can tell when someone else screws it up, and it just bugs me.

                        Politics is like driving. To go forward, put it in "D". To go backward, put it in "R".

                        by TX Freethinker on Sat Apr 14, 2012 at 12:37:34 PM PDT

                        [ Parent ]

          •  German has been contentious longer than that (5+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            hepshiba, poco, Avila, Wee Mama, Yasuragi
            The English-only nativists who attacked the Germans used arguments similar to those heard nowadays against newer immigrants. Benjamin Franklin considered the Pennsylvania Germans to be a “swarthy” racial group distinct from the English majority in the colony. In 1751 he complained, “Why should the Palatine Boors be suffered to swarm into our Settlements, and by herding together establish their Language and Manners to the exclusion of ours? Why should Pennsylvania, founded by the English, become a Colony of Aliens, who will shortly be so numerous as to Germanize us instead of our Anglifying them, and will never adopt our Language or Customs, any more than they can acquire our Complexion?”
            Anti-German sentiment spread along with German immigration, and the nation as a whole resisted both the German bilingual schools that were established in parts of the Midwest in the 19th century and the common practise of publishing legal notices in German American newspapers. On a number of occasions the U.S. Congress again rejected motions to print laws or other documents in German as well as English. The motions were often treated jocularly and were shouted down amidst racist cries of, “What! In the Cherokee? [and in] the Old Congo language!” (Congressional Globe 1844, 7)

            from a bright young conservative: “I’m watching my first GOP debate…and WE SOUND LIKE CRAZY PEOPLE!!!!”

            by Catte Nappe on Thu Apr 12, 2012 at 04:38:51 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  I know less about German American history (5+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              Catte Nappe, poco, Avila, Wee Mama, Yasuragi

              thank I should, so thank you for the link. One of my roommates was the son of a leading German American historian, and what I know, I owe to him. Had no idea that anti-German sentiment went back that far.  The "swarthy" comment is interesting, though....

              "If you fake the funk, your nose will grow." -- Bootsy Collins

              by hepshiba on Thu Apr 12, 2012 at 04:57:48 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  Really fits your thesis (5+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                hepshiba, poco, Avila, Wee Mama, Yasuragi

                Everybody that's not like me is not "white" - even the Swedes!?!. To continue (white supremacist?) Ben Franklin's point:

                Which leads me to add one Remark: That the Number of purely white People in the World is proportionably very small. All Africa is black or tawny. Asia chiefly tawny. America (exclusive of the new Comers) wholly so. And in Europe, the Spaniards, Italians, French, Russians and Swedes, are generally of what we call a swarthy Complexion; as are the Germans also, the Saxons only excepted, who with the English, make the principal Body of White People on the Face of the Earth. I could wish their Numbers were increased. And while we are, as I may call it, Scouring our Planet, by clearing America of Woods, and so making this Side of our Globe reflect a brighter Light to the Eyes of Inhabitants in mars or Venus, why should we in the Sight of Superior Beings, darken its People? why increase the Sons of Africa, by Planting them in America, where we have so fair an Opportunity, by excluding all Blacks and Tawneys, of increasing the lovely White and Red? But perhaps I am partial to the complexion of my Country, for such Kind of Partiality is natural to Mankind.

                Yet the whole piece apears to be a kind of twisted objection to slavery.

                from a bright young conservative: “I’m watching my first GOP debate…and WE SOUND LIKE CRAZY PEOPLE!!!!”

                by Catte Nappe on Thu Apr 12, 2012 at 05:19:28 PM PDT

                [ Parent ]

                •  A glimmer of insight? Or irony? (3+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:
                  Catte Nappe, hepshiba, Yasuragi
                  But perhaps I am partial to the complexion of my Country, for such Kind of Partiality is natural to Mankind.

                  Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary? . . . and respect the dignity of every human being.

                  by Wee Mama on Fri Apr 13, 2012 at 05:57:22 AM PDT

                  [ Parent ]

                  •  I suspect irony. (0+ / 0-)

                    I'm fairly sure that Franklin was aware of Jonathan Swift's A Modest Proposal. It's influence may be at work here.

                    I know for a fact that, while he at one time held slaves, he converted to abolitionism and manumitted them. He served as President of the Pennsylvania Abolitionist Society at the time it petitioned Congress for Abolition and published several tracts agitating the issue. He publicly advocated the then radical proposal that freed slaves be actively integrated into the existing society.

                    Of course, the article cited was published 30 years before this, so he was not yet an open abolitionist.

  •  brilliant (8+ / 0-)

    thank you, hepshiba - (so pitifully inadequate).

    i loved reading every thought-provoking, important word of this.

    truly one of the best pieces of writing i've ever read (anywhere, in any form).

  •  Great diary (8+ / 0-)
    Whiteness was a protection from the horror of the "social death" that was slavery or other forms of black servitude.  In the case of poor whites, this categorical boundary was often the only item of value that they possessed, and they defended it with a fierceness that sometimes defied reason. (And if that strikes a chord today, it should.)
    ^^^ This is so true. Chord struck :)

    "...we can all shut-up and go back to our caves." - Leonard Bernstein

    by progdog on Thu Apr 12, 2012 at 02:59:11 PM PDT

  •  Powerful piece on my local NPR station (10+ / 0-)

    The link is to the text, but also includes an opportunity to hear her read it, which I think is even more impactful. It begins:

    I still remember the first time it happened.  I was dropping off my 17-year old cousin at a friend’s house in the wealthy, white suburb in which I lived.  We knocked on the wrong door. Minutes later, I was pulled over by police. Young and scared, I was interrogated about my activities, whether I was delivering drugs. What I was up to.

    I remembered.  My parents had sat me down months before when I got my license.It doesn’t matter that you are leaving to start Stanford this fall.   It doesn’t matter that you’ve never been in trouble a day in your life. When many police officers see you, all they will see is a young black girl and that can be dangerous.

    It ends:
    So, I can’t make nice. I can’t pretend. The clock is ticking, and my sons will soon be black young men.  And my husband and I have to prepare them.  You are smart, funny and sometimes silly.  Your laughter fills our hearts more than you know.  You are capable of being anything you want to be in this life – even President of the United States one day.  But when you walk out of the safety, protection and loving arms of our home, you are walking while black, and only our prayers can protect you then.
    And there is some very good stuff in the middle - including some comments directed to her well meaning white friends.

    from a bright young conservative: “I’m watching my first GOP debate…and WE SOUND LIKE CRAZY PEOPLE!!!!”

    by Catte Nappe on Thu Apr 12, 2012 at 03:03:11 PM PDT

    •  This never changes... (9+ / 0-)

      as Countee Cullen made clear in


      (For Eric Walrond)

      Once riding in old Baltimore,
          Heart-filled, head-filled with glee,
      I saw a Baltimorean
          Keep looking straight at me.

      Now I was eight and very small,
          And he was no whit bigger,
      And so I smiled, but he poked out
          His tongue, and called me, "Nigger."

      I saw the whole of Baltimore
          From May until December;
      Of all the things that happened there
          That's all that I remember.

      "If you fake the funk, your nose will grow." -- Bootsy Collins

      by hepshiba on Thu Apr 12, 2012 at 03:18:24 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Baltimore (5+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        hepshiba, poco, Avila, Wee Mama, Yasuragi

        Coincidentally, in one of the comments to that piece:

        I have walked while White in exclusively and predominantly Black neighborhoods in Baltimore, Maryland. In fact, I lived in one for over ten years. I intentionally found a neighborhood which was diverse. While I lived in Baltimore, I'd go out of the safety and loving protection of my home. When I wanted to go to clubs or bars which were mostly or exclusively Black, I was denied entrance to places that catered to Black people or to those accompanied by other Black people. When I went into neighborhoods to look at a house to buy in mostly or exclusively Black neighborhoods, I was followed and even threatened. When I visited a Black church at the invitation of a friend, I was threatened upon leaving the safety of the church. Why did that happen? I was White and I was in their neighborhood.
        Judging from his full comment, and others in the thread, he doesn't quite get it.

        from a bright young conservative: “I’m watching my first GOP debate…and WE SOUND LIKE CRAZY PEOPLE!!!!”

        by Catte Nappe on Thu Apr 12, 2012 at 04:19:39 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  I also have my doubts (6+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          progdog, poco, Avila, mamamedusa, Wee Mama, Yasuragi

          that it is true.  There are many, many accounts of whites crossing the color line with impunity, particularly in terms of visiting clubs and bars. (In fact, it's an American tradition.) There are few credible accounts of whites being endangered by this from blacks.  Though there are many cases where whites punished other whites for crossing color lines.

          When I want to rent in black neighborhoods I have to find a black realtor.  White realtors simply refuse to show me houses there. I can't remember, in 40 years of race mixing, ever having been denied entrance to any venue based on my race, although I was often the only white person in the room.

          This was true even deep within alleged "gang territory." Black gang members know full well that an attack on a white woman would be met with the full hostility of the law and all its mustered forces, and as long as I observed the same safety rules as the black friends I was accompanying, I never had a problem. The people who lived in those neighborhoods were at far more risk than I was.

          And the assertion about the black church? A slander, if you ask me.

          "If you fake the funk, your nose will grow." -- Bootsy Collins

          by hepshiba on Thu Apr 12, 2012 at 04:34:07 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Non-verbal can be powerful (5+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            poco, hepshiba, Avila, Wee Mama, Yasuragi

            Sounds like you are "comfortable in your own skin". This guys comments suggest some weird "wannabe accepted" motives. However, in fairness on the church reference he seems to be saying that in the general neighborhood outside of the church he was (or felt) threatened.

            from a bright young conservative: “I’m watching my first GOP debate…and WE SOUND LIKE CRAZY PEOPLE!!!!”

            by Catte Nappe on Thu Apr 12, 2012 at 04:45:11 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  I'm pretty comfortable (5+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              poco, mamamedusa, Avila, Wee Mama, Yasuragi

              but not foolish.  I just learned a while ago that what most people call "bad" neighborhoods are just the places that poor people live.

              I take only normal precautions and, barring bad luck, which no one can predict, odds are I will continue to be fine.  I'm a lot more likely to be killed by somebody I love, than a stranger. So I'm more careful about selecting my intimates than I am anything else....

              "If you fake the funk, your nose will grow." -- Bootsy Collins

              by hepshiba on Thu Apr 12, 2012 at 05:06:22 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  Boundaries not even that clear (5+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                hepshiba, poco, Avila, Wee Mama, Yasuragi

                When we moved here 30 or so years ago the "corporate re-lo" guidance was "you don't want to look at rentals/housing south of....!!".  Well, we had some peculiar requirements regarding price, pets, garage space, etc.  and couldn't find anything in their recommended area. Turned out those "no-go" areas weren't full of yuppies, but they were solidly middle class, mostly white, generally older neighborhoods (with aging residents). We rented for several years in the "no-go" territory, and then bought there as well. It was a "bad neighborhood" until a few years ago, when it became a prime area for McMansions replacing tear downs to meet the needs/wants of those wanting to combine urban hip with suburban comfort.

                from a bright young conservative: “I’m watching my first GOP debate…and WE SOUND LIKE CRAZY PEOPLE!!!!”

                by Catte Nappe on Thu Apr 12, 2012 at 05:32:21 PM PDT

                [ Parent ]

  •  This is interesting-- (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    and a good read--although I think there's too much emphasis on the black-white race relation framework with respect to ALL questions of race/ethnicity in this diary.

    I mean--for example--the Jews in Boston (e.g. Dorchester) lowered property values in the late 19th-early 20th century because they were seen as poor, dirty, etc. etc.  The motivation among some to change last names, assimilate, etc, wasn't about 'whiteness'...I think that's overstated here.  Same with  many other ethnic identities in this country.

    The reclaiming of these identities may in some cases be related to the civil rights era as you claim and represents, perhaps, one framework--but I think there are many, many others.

    •  One diary cannot be all things (6+ / 0-)

      to everyone.  Which is the reason there are many, many excellent books about ethnicity.

      But in the U.S., the black-white framework defines (one might say: "sets the tone for") all other discussions of race.  I say this, by the way, as a white American Jew.  In my family, for sure, it was all about graduating to "whiteness."  The Irish had already graduated to white in the 1930s-1940s, but Jews hadn't yet, which is my grandmother took on O'Hara as a fake last name when she applied to be a telephone operator in NY.

      We knew we were white when my grandfather was admitted to the Scarsdale country club, and blacks were still excluded.

      "If you fake the funk, your nose will grow." -- Bootsy Collins

      by hepshiba on Thu Apr 12, 2012 at 03:34:37 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  I'm not sure that Jews yet are counted (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        as "white."

        My father, a union organizer, was forced to legally change his name to an Anglican one, and learn to lose his native Cockney accent in order to organize workers in Binghamton, NY.

        I live in a place that had a few blacks living here in the late 'forties, early 'fifties, yet was restricted to Jews until well after (1953).  Interestingly, this is the only place I know of where Jews and blacks are second and third on the list of hated "outlanders."  Freshly arrived Italian-Americans seem to hold a spot of special scorn here, and I have no idea why.  Those who've been here for three or more generations receive no such hostility.  But Italians have the advantage of a Christian religion.  I'm amazed at the questions I'm asked about Jewish beliefs.  

        Not that we don't share the benefits of whiteness -- only that we're still seen very much as "other."

        There are 3.5 million people homeless in the US and 18.5 million vacant homes. What's wrong with this picture?


        by Yasuragi on Fri Apr 13, 2012 at 09:05:22 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Yeah, as a Jew, my mileage varies (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Yasuragi, poco

          depending on the region.  And the summer I spent on a cruise ship with my grandmother in the 1970s was the weirdest ever -- it dawned on me that she was passing when I heard other folks make anti-Semitic comments and she just nodded along with them.  I totally (and inadvertently) blew her cover by exploding at the dinner table one night. She loved me so she never really blamed me, but she switched her cruise line after that, and I'm pretty sure she was drummed out of her social circle.  Later I realized the meaning of the transformation from Sadie Muchnik to Sydney Berkey, but it's taken me decades to understand what her experience must have been.  I wish she was still alive so we could talk about it, because she died when I was too young to have the conversation.

          "If you fake the funk, your nose will grow." -- Bootsy Collins

          by hepshiba on Fri Apr 13, 2012 at 02:44:35 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  Nicely done . . . a couple of quibbles . . . (0+ / 0-)
    Slavery was thus determined by one's "African blood," and the condition was inextricably bound to the notion of "blood" and "blackness."
    That's not exactly true. "One's African blood" implies that individuals were subject to slavery by virtue of nothing other than their African blood, their blackness. That was never true in America. Black indentured servants were not slaves, and their children were not born into slavery:
    In 1619 the first black Africans came to Virginia. With no slave laws in place, they were initially treated as indentured servants, and given the same opportunities for freedom dues as whites.

    Furthermore, free blacks in the antebellum period were not slaves and their children were not born into slavery:
    On the eve of the American Civil War, 10 percent of African Americans nationwide, close to half a million people, were free . . . Some owned land, homes, businesses, and paid taxes. In some Northern cities blacks voted. . . Many free African American families in colonial North Carolina and Virginia became landowners. Some of them also became slave owners.

    But what is true is that slavery an an institution was determined by African blood. In other words, the concept of race was used to justify the inhumanity of slavery; only Africans, having been defined as something other than white, could be subjected to slavery.

    The other issue I have is with this:

    And hey, if I do come across some particularly nasty black person who wants to make his or her criticism personal, BFD. What the hell can they do to me?
    I dunno about that. Shaina Perry might disagree with that:
    Shaina Perry remembers the punch to her face, blood streaming from a cut over her eye, her backpack with her asthma inhaler, debit card and cellphone stolen, and then the laughter.

    "They just said 'Oh, white girl bleeds a lot,' " said Perry, 22, who was attacked at Kilbourn Reservoir Park over the Fourth of July weekend.

    . . .

    Perry was among several who were injured by a mob they said beat and robbed them and threw full beer bottles while making racial taunts. The injured people were white; the attackers were African-American, witnesses said.

    But I guess she can take comfort in the knowledge that what happened to her is as rare as voter fraud. I'm sure that'll help her cope with her trauma immensely.
    •  I'll match your PBS documentary (10+ / 0-)

      with Edmund Morgan's American Slavery / American Freedom any time.  My problem with conversations with you is that you you spend less time crafting arguments than you do writing them up, and that's hard for me to respect.  And you love to cherry pick examples, apply them sideways to the actual matter at hand, and then claim victory.

      For example, you use a case of physical assault in response to an argument that mere insults don't wound.  We're talking about criticism, not bottles to the face.

      The thing with armed assault is that it hurts every victim equally.  That's not the case with critique.  And this example is also disingenuous because you take a relatively rare incident (racially motivated black attack on a a white person) and use it to "prove" an equality that doesn't exist. Black perpetrators, for example, are a lot more likely to be prosecuted and convicted if the victims are white (even if they actually didn't do it, as in the Central Park jogger case) than white perpetrators if the victims are black.  So the crime, while equally heinous, takes place in a different context, with different ramifications.

      This is the only response I'm going to make to your postings in this diary, because you keep doing the same presto-chango, over and over and over in different venues.  You're simply not an interesting person to converse with -- not because you don't share my views, but because you present your own so sloppily. I love an opponent who is willing to follow his own logic to its bitter end, but you're just not that guy.

      "If you fake the funk, your nose will grow." -- Bootsy Collins

      by hepshiba on Thu Apr 12, 2012 at 03:56:44 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Pilkington (7+ / 0-)

      you can't possibly believe that Hepshibah was talking about violent assaults. Why do you choose to be malicious, not to mention inflamatory?

    •  what distinction you drew between what she said (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Yasuragi, hepshiba, poco

      about slavery and African blood, and what you said about slavery and African blood... is beyond me.

      you literally said the same thing, except you used the words "as an institution."

      surely you're not enough of an imbecil[sic] to think she meant slavery in some other way besides institutionally.

      and to whip out a violent assualt to prove a point?  take this as an example of what Denise was talking to you about a few days ago about your posting pattern in race related diaries.

      This comment is dedicated to my mellow Adept2U and his Uncle Marcus

      by mallyroyal on Fri Apr 13, 2012 at 08:31:45 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  She said that slavery was determined by (0+ / 0-)

        "one's African blood". That's simply not true. "One" could have had nothing but African blood and, if they were an indentured servant or a free person, then they would not have been subjected to slavery.

        I really don't understand this issue that you guys are trying to make re words versus actions. Does it work the other way as well; are we to excuse racist speech at Daily Kos as not important because "nobody got hurt"? I don't think any of you would agree with that.

        Re Denise's comment, I think I'm pretty civil and reasonable in my comments. I have way over 4000 comments here at Daily Kos with almost no HR's, even though the majority of my comments are critical of the diary in question.

        But the question it raises for me, is, why post in a public forum if you're going to get upset when people challenge your beliefs?

        •  Read Edmund Morgan. Really. Because (0+ / 0-)

          you're just wrong about indentured servitude, on the facts.  And you're also wrong about "freedom," which was always precarious for blacks, even when they were not enslaved. In slave states and territories they knew quite well that any misstep could result in their reenslavement, which, of course, was not a risk for whites.  If they didn't have "black blood" they wouldn't need papers to prove that they were free. And in free states, it was their "black blood" that barred them from exercising the rights of free citizens, like voting.

          And I agree that you are generally civil, though sometimes intemperate.  "Imbecile" is not a pretty word to bandy around.

          The reason I'm not inclined to engage you is that your sloppiness in formulating your arguments and mustering your evidence makes you an unworthy opponent -- and you do seem determined to set yourself up as my opponent. Seriously, read Morgan, and I will be happy to talk to you about the arguments in the book until my fingers wear into little nubs from tapping the keyboard.  But when you make completely confident assertions that I know are wrong because I've spent my career going over the historical record, and then you simply ignore it when I point out you are incorrect on matters of fact, it's hard for me not to feel like a conversation is a waste of my time.

          You seem to think we're dogmatic, without reflecting that you show the very traits you accuse us of displaying.  If you can read my diary and think that the main message is that "racist speech is not important" because "nobody got hurt," what you show is not your cleverness, but your inability to understand the gist of my writing. And I don't mean you need to think my claims are correct.  I don't have problems with people who disagree with me.  But I do have problems with people who clearly misunderstand what I write, and then insist on their interpretation, over and over, even when I and other readers point out their misapprehension.  Being pithy is an admirable skill, but not when you miss the target by 50 yards.

          Look at it from my position for a moment. I'm 52.  I've been studying African American history since I was 18. I've had the privilege of working under the best professors in the field, as well as fine professors in half a dozen other fields. I read like a demon and I write and edit for a living now, after a 25-year career as a productive and hard-working university professor. This has given me respect for the expertise that comes from dedicated work and earnest application in one's discipline, and a lot of experience with young people who are sure they know more than they do. And here I am, confronted with a person who over and over makes claims based on assumptions that I know, from familiarity with the evidence, are incorrect. When I point him to sources, he ignores them, and simply raises more unsupported and incorrect claims in a cycle of illogic that I can either allow to exhaust me (since I don't have the energy I did when I was younger) or that I can ignore like my 150-pound timberwolves ignored the yapping of small dogs who thought they were big dogs.

          If you want to play with the big dogs -- the experts in a field -- and be taken seriously, I suggest you go out there, and try to gain some intellectual weight.  I say this in all kindness, because I actually admire and respect your persistence, and because I realize that expertise is made and not born.  You might want to reflect on your own words: "the majority of my comments are critical of the diary in question."  What is this about? Why are you seeking conflict? When and where do you feel comfortable admitting you might have something to learn? I think it is possible that you and I could some interesting conversations, but only if you are willing to be constructive and not competitive.  Challenge my beliefs if you like, but please, have the respect to do it with arguments of substance.

          "If you fake the funk, your nose will grow." -- Bootsy Collins

          by hepshiba on Fri Apr 13, 2012 at 03:33:14 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  You don't know who you're talking to (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            denise b

            I'd of course prefer not to give away too many details about my personal life on a public forum, and I don't accept the validity of "pulling rank" in a discussion on the Internet, because, as they say, "on the Internet, nobody knows your a dog", but I will say that I've known on a first-name basis and had in-depth discussions of African-American history with people like St. Claire Drake, John Hope Franklin, David Garrow, Vincent Harding, Scott Brown, Clayborne Carson, Ronald Walters, and I've read far more widely than that. I'll put my knowledge of the subject up against anyone's.

            I'd love to have a more "substantive" discussion, sure. I don't make assertions of fact that aren't linked to legitimate sources. Do you deny that there were free blacks in the antebellum U.S., and that their children were not automatically born into slavery by virtue of their African blood? That was the point: your statement that slave status was determined by "one's African blood" is just simply untrue; otherwise, there's have been no such thing as free blacks. Maybe it's a fine distinction, but if you are all about not being "sloppy", then what's the problem with me pointing out that your language meant that anyone with African blood was automatically deemed a slave? That's sloppy.

            It's not a "substantive" critique of my comment to argue that even free blacks faced discrimination, or lived under the threat that they might be enslaved. Sure, I don't deny that. But that doesn't mean that they were slaves, or that their children were slaves. Children were born into slavery because their parents were slaves, not because of their African blood. This is just a fact, I don't see how or why you would deny it.

            Now, in my original comment I acknowledged that slavery as an institution was predicated on "African blood". Only black people could be slaves; not white people. As an institution, it was completely racialized, at least with respect to its victims (not all slaveowners were white, of course).

            I did not call you an imbecil. I said that I didn't think you were imbecilic enough to write a whole diary that in the end came down to "sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me". I don't think that's what the "gist" of your diary was.

            I don't see that I've ever "ignored" anything that you've said. You are the one that has pledged to ignore me. I'm excited to read and learn and discuss any issue under the sun with anyone, particularly those who know things that I don't, as you clearly do. I'll even put up with patronizing statements like,

            If you want to play with the big dogs -- the experts in a field -- and be taken seriously, I suggest you go out there, and try to gain some intellectual weight.
            if it means I might learn something new today!

            I do truly apologize if I come across as trying to "compete". I'm not. I'll admit that, as I told Mally above, I do have more fun engaging with people with whom I disagree than I do "rah-rah"-ing with people with whom I agree (luckily it's not difficult to find people that disagree with me!) But it's not for "competition's" sake. What would I win? It's because I find it intellectually rewarding to be challenged on my beliefs and to challenge others. My understanding of the world and beliefs have been in constant development throughout my life. I believe that I know infinitely more than I did just a few years ago, and I was a verifiable idiot twenty years ago, now that I look back.

            But I will also say that if I put up a statement of fact, and I link to a legitimate source for that fact, and then you respond by saying,

            you're just wrong, read X
            I don't see that as contributing to a sustantive debate. Do you seriously think that I'm not going to run out to the library and pick up this book that you've cited, read it, and then come back and continue the debate with you? This is an Internet forum, not an academic journal. If I make an assertion of fact, and you disagree with it, quote an authoritative source to the contrary, and link to it. That's the closest that we can get to "substantive" discussions in a place like this: authoritative sources quoted and linked.

            And it also doesn't help substantive debate to respond to a statement of fact with a set of other facts, as if they somehow negate that statement. If I say, African blood didn't determine slave status because there were people with African blood who weren't slaves. You can't respond by saying that free blacks also faced problems, including the possibility of being enslaved. I can grant you that free blacks also faced problems, including the possibility of being enslaved, and still believe that there were people with African blood who weren't slaves. If you want to refute that not all blacks were slaves, you have to find a source that says that all blacks were slaves, quote the relevant text, and link to it.

            So, yeah, let's have a "substantive" discussion. Let's keep it free of ad hominem attacks, free of cursory dismissals of arguments because they "sound like" someone else's arguments, free of declaratory statements of fact unsupported by quotes and links, free of appeals to one's alleged years of study and superior understanding of the subject matter, free of generalized put-downs of each other's level of intellectual acuity. No, let's make good faith arguments that directly address each other's points, and that are supported by facts established by quoting and linking to authoritative sources.

            •  This is what I mean (0+ / 0-)
              ... your statement that slave status was determined by "one's African blood" is just simply untrue; otherwise, there's have been no such thing as free blacks.
              It's a logic problem again.  Slave status was determined by one's "African blood."  White people could not, under any circumstances, be slaves.  In that, I am correct.  "Free status," for black Americans, however, was determined by a piece of paper. It was not determined, as it was for whites,  by the absence of "black blood."

              This problem you have with comprehension and logical fallacy makes conversation impossible, since you repeat the same error over and over and over again.  Until you cure yourself of that, no real exchange is possible.

              "If you fake the funk, your nose will grow." -- Bootsy Collins

              by hepshiba on Fri Apr 13, 2012 at 06:09:06 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  Because you're still wrong (0+ / 0-)

                If slave status was determined by African blood, then that would mean that all of those who had African blood were slaves. If my status as HIV positive is determined by the presence of the HIV virus in my body, it's also true that all people with the HIV virus in their bodies are HIV positive.

                But with respect to African blood and slavery, that was simply wasn't true. It's fundamentally illogical to say that "free status" was determined by a piece of paper, but slave status was not. Slaves were property, and in the English-American legal system, all property is determined by a "piece of paper". If anything, slave status was more dependent on paper than free, but actually, both were.

                Yes, white people could not under any circumstances be slaves. That is because slavery as an institution was defined by race. Only blacks could be slaves. But that does not mean that a person's slave status was determined by their African blood. It wasn't. You could have African blood and be a slave, and you could have African blood and not be a slave.

                •  It's your logic again (0+ / 0-)

                  that leads you to an inappropriate analogy.  The presumption in every Colony and territory where slavery was legal, was:

                  All black people are slaves.

                  The burden of proof was on the free black person to prove that s/he was not a slave.  

                  The proof was in the piece of paper.  But the paper was often not enough. In all slave states, it also usually depended upon the word of white men that the piece of paper was valid.

                  White people never had to produce papers to prove they weren't slaves.  

                  In order to enslave a person with white skin, or to demote them from "whiteness," society had to "discover" a percentage of "black blood" in that white body.

                  This is not equivalent to the HIV example, the difference being (and I can't believe you don't see this) that the HIV virus exists, and is measurable with a simple blood test.  

                  The entire point of my essay is that "black blood" and "whiteness" are both invented.  "Black blood" is specifically NOT measurable because it exists only as a construction in the white mind.

                  Segueing into the "property argument is a mere sidestep:

                  Slaves were property, and in the English-American legal system, all property is determined by a "piece of paper". If anything, slave status was more dependent on paper than free, but actually, both were.
                  You fail to look at your foundation assumption ("slaves were property").  The only reason that slaves could be considered property was their "black blood."  That was what determined their status as property, once again proving my point.  No white person was ever "potential property," but every free black person was by virtue of the possession of "black blood."

                  White people rarely had to produce papers to prove they owned slaves, and then, usually, only in contests over ownership with othere whites.  A white person's word was generally sufficient.  A black person's word, however, was usually not valid either in practice or in law.

                  So not only was slavery "as an institution" determined by race, but the slave/nonslave status of every individual black person was also determined by race, illustrated by the fact that free blacks lived precariously under rules determined by their "black blood," while free whites did not.  

                  This sort of sloppy logic and failure to comprehend the essence of an argument is exactly why discussions with you are not interesting.  

                  "If you fake the funk, your nose will grow." -- Bootsy Collins

                  by hepshiba on Sat Apr 14, 2012 at 10:35:23 AM PDT

                  [ Parent ]

      •  Oh, and I take unbrage to the idea that I only (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        denise b

        needle people in "race-related" diaries.  A quick perusal of my comment history will reveal that I needle people who believe all kinds of wacky things at Daily Kos. Climate Change/Peak Oil's one of my favorite topics, but I've also had lots of lively discussions about Peak Oil, health care/individual mandate, TARP/Wall Street bailouts, even abortion. I'm just the resident contrarian at Daily Kos across a range of subjects, and it suits me. I like to debate much more than I like to "rah-rah".

        •  A man after my own heart, (0+ / 0-)

          from a fellow contrarian, though one not nearly as smart as you. You frequently single-handedly raise the intellectual level of entire threads, not to mention the civility level.

          We decided to move the center farther to the right by starting the whole debate from a far-right position to begin with. - Former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay

          by denise b on Fri Apr 13, 2012 at 10:51:44 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  perhaps--don't completely agree, though. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    TiaRachel, hepshiba

    I've always experienced--at least with respect to the Jewish example--this as a desire not to be 'white' but less Jewish--in large part because of global anti-Semitism which is, of course a form of racism but not racism through the same lens.  I think the rationales vary from ethnic group to ethnic group, as well.

    •  Well... the "less Jewish" argument (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Avila, mamamedusa, Wee Mama, Yasuragi

      is often based on a presumption of Jewish self-hatred, which I just don't buy.  We'd love to be as Jewish as we wanna be, but we can't escape the racial bind of being American.

      Jews have two choices in the U.S.:  to be considered "more white" or "more black."  It's interesting to watch us navigate between those two poles, with right wing Jews dying to be more white, and left wing Jews often dying to be more black.  (The latter sometimes literally, as those Jews murdered for their participation in Freedom Summer -- Goodman & Schwerner -- attest.)

      I think my choice is pretty clear....

      "If you fake the funk, your nose will grow." -- Bootsy Collins

      by hepshiba on Thu Apr 12, 2012 at 04:03:09 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  I'm sorry--I'm just not buying this dichotomy (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        the Jewish self-hatred issue is one trajectory--but not the one I'm thinking about--it does exist but it's not articulalry prevalent.

        I'm thinking about the one in which Jews were seen as poor, dirty, etc.  and, as such, less likely to get jobs, be able to support families, etc.

        Do you think the Jews in Europe in the 20s and 30s--the ones who strove to assimilate even before Nuremberg--were doing so through the framework of black-white relations?  And in any case, that framework is distinctly American and a product of our history--whereas racism in general is as old as humanity itself.  That's why I feel that your framework--while certainly applicable in many circumstances--is overstated.

        •  articulalry = weird typo (particularly) nt (0+ / 0-)
        •  *sigh* The diary is about (6+ / 0-)

          U.S. racism. Specifically.  It's addressed in terms of U.S. history.  "Peculiar institution" and all that.  Did you read the diary?  Some U.S. ideas of racism were exported to Europe (Hitler loved Jim Crow, and it served as a model for the anti-Jewish laws) along with U.S. anti-Indian policy (it wasn't called the Lublin Reservation for nothing), but of course the Jews in Europe in the 20s and 30s were not attempting to assimilate on the same framework as Jewish Americans in that time period.  If you want to understand antisemitism in Europe, read Raul Hilberg.  If you want to understand racism in the U.S., read Omi & Winant. One size does not fit all.  Sheesh.

          "If you fake the funk, your nose will grow." -- Bootsy Collins

          by hepshiba on Thu Apr 12, 2012 at 04:20:45 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  my point is that there are intrinsic complexities (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            TiaRachel, Catte Nappe

            within all ethnic identities and I don't believe that the choice to self-identify with 'white' or self-identify with 'black' was the default framework for all assimilation in the U.S.  No, I haven't read Omi & Winant.

            •  And my point is that there (6+ / 0-)

              is no choice.  The white/black divide exists in the U.S. and immigrants have to negotiate it in their own unique fashion. There's always a push-me-pull-you aspect to inner- and outer-defined identity.

              We simply disagree on this.  And you might find Omi & Winant very interesting, not just for what they have to say about black identity, but all sorts of identity.

              "If you fake the funk, your nose will grow." -- Bootsy Collins

              by hepshiba on Thu Apr 12, 2012 at 05:09:19 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

        •  It's not an issue (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Yasuragi, hepshiba, poco

          Of  "black-white"; it is one of "white/not white"... With what is deemed "white" being even where there are no blacks or Hispanics or Asians there will still be exclusion...of Jews, of Italians etc... That is why organizations like the DAR and Mayflower Society exist; so even where everyone is "white" there is exclusion because some can claim to be whiter than others...

          Fear doesn't just breed incomprehension. It also breeds a spiteful, resentful hate of anyone and everyone who is in any way different from you.

          by awesumtenor on Fri Apr 13, 2012 at 08:44:43 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  that was supposed to be a reponse to your reply to (0+ / 0-)

    my above comment...

  •  Interesting read. (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    hepshiba, poco, Yasuragi

    I find it a bit hard to understand why the word privilege is seen as such a threatening accusation, when all it really is, is acknowledgment of a social reality.    It doesn't imply guilt, it doesn't even really demand action.  It just is.  So I always have the suspicion of projection for those who have such a hard time with it.  Maybe that's not fair, I don't know.

    I've seen the idea before, of white people (what would now be called white people) creating "black", and that in turn demanding the creation of "white" to describe all that is not black.  And the difficulty of trying to figure out what to do with groups that "white" could not bring itself to categorize as either one or the other.  I know there's substantial historical support for it, in terms of contemporary writings and the like, and it makes a lot of sense of course, people being what we are.  And that odd vacuum surrounding "white", that it is or in some way is perceived as meaningless, because it is defined as an absence, not as a presence.

    Personally I think that's overplayed, by white and non-white people alike, in part simply because white is the default and thus is invisible unless you step aside and look very carefully.  But I think that "white (American) culture" does exist by this point, and as I mentioned above, there is really no other way to describe myself that holds any meaning.  I sort of wish that more white people would be able to step back and see that clearly, and just own it without any undue level of guilt OR pride, as one of the things that just makes us who we are.

    I'd never heard before of poor people being threatened with being "outed" as black -- if you have a source for that I'd like to look into it.

    Sorry for rambling so much, I need coffee.

    •  White is only invisible (6+ / 0-)

      if you are. Otherwise it's glaringly obvious all the time.

      Derogation by reference to suspected mixed-ancestry was not an uncommon way of blackening (yes, I'm using the word deliberately) the reputations of troublesome people. It comes up in interesting ways in the legal history. See State v. Asa Jacobs N.C. 51 284 (1859) and Spencer v. Looney 116 Va. 767 (1914).  Quite a bit has been written about these cases in regards to the "one drop rule" and allegations of tainted blood.  These cases came to court, but most accusations didn't.

      "If you fake the funk, your nose will grow." -- Bootsy Collins

      by hepshiba on Thu Apr 12, 2012 at 04:13:49 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  If you are white? (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        hepshiba, mamamedusa, Yasuragi

        Yes, I'm sure that's more accurate.  I've had in the back of my mind for a long time this one episode of Northern Exposure, where much is made of Indian culture vs white non-culture -- in this case IIRC lumping the Jewish protagonist in as white, though I could be remembering this wrong.  All about Indians having so many stories and white people having none, or some such.  And I remember being so pissed off -- not so much in a "my race is being insulted" sort of way as in that feeling that was flat-out wrong (somebody's being wrong on TV!) -- what are Bible stories if not the stories our culture tells ourselves?  What are the myths of Mom and apple pie if not culture?  What is the frontier myth, or even the television shows we produce, if not cultural stories?  It's hard to see from inside, but it exists.

        And that's where that "non-white people alike" bit came from, pretty much in toto.  And it only just occurred to me that the people who wrote that episode of Northern Exposure were almost certainly not Alaskan Natives themselves.  So facepalm, of course you are right.

        Thanks for the sources.  Off to the Google.

        •  I really *loved* Northern Exposure (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Avila, Wee Mama, Yasuragi

          And I thought that episode was hilarious when it aired.  At the time I really identified with Joel, since I came from a family of NY Jews who had settled in laid-back Los Angeles in the 1960s. Interesting how we had such a different reaction.  Then again, my family is very secular and I grew up with Grimm rather than Bible stories. My dad did try to give me his childhood book of Favorite Tales from the Old Testament, but they bored me to tears.

          But that was a long, long time ago, and I have no idea of what I'd think of NE's politics now....

          "If you fake the funk, your nose will grow." -- Bootsy Collins

          by hepshiba on Thu Apr 12, 2012 at 04:50:29 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  Let me recommend a book, please (9+ / 0-)


    Actually, a history of the scientific study of racism.  Here's the New York Times review of the book, so you don't have to take my word for it.

    -7.75, -8.10; All it takes is security in your own civil rights to make you complacent.

    by Dave in Northridge on Thu Apr 12, 2012 at 05:06:00 PM PDT

  •  Louisiana birth certificate law (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    hepshiba, Wee Mama, Yasuragi

    i am very appreciative, hepshiba, that you mentioned the fairly recent (1983) laws, and Susie Guillory Phipps:

    In 1977, at the age of 43, Susie Guillory Phipps applied for a passport. She hadn't needed one before, and she needed a copy of her birth certificate to obtain one. Susie Phipps went to New Orleans to obtain a copy of her birth certificate from the Division of Vital Records.

    The clerk took Mrs. Phipps aside and showed her that her birth certificate showed the race of both parents as "Col." - colored. Mrs. Phipps responded with disbelief, shock and later said that "she was sick for 3 days."

    Susie Guillory Phipps insisted that an error had been made and wanted the birth certificate corrected. She contacted Jack Westholz Jr., state official, chief of the New Orleans section of the Office of the General Counsel of the Louisiana Department of Health and Human Resources.

    i was born in Louisiana, but this little bit of history is almost never discussed, and i don't think it's well known.  teenagers i've met don't know what "passing" means.

    Especially problematic is the use of the term mulatto.

    As the Louisiana Court of Appeals acknowledged in rendering its judgment...U.S. censuses did not provide many alternatives for racial identification. This meant that the term mulatto was often applied loosely. The late nineteenth century census records allowed only five options: white, black, mulatto, Chinese, or Indian...Limited lexical options meant that the term mulatto was used to denote anyone who did not appear all white or all black.

    from White by Definition: Social Classification in Creole Louisiana by Virginia R. Dominguez, 1986 (page 49)
    •  I was in grad school (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Wee Mama, Yasuragi, Avila

      when this case was under discussion. I can't remember who told me about it, but I do remember looking up the newspaper articles , and going to a talk about it.

      I also remember not having much sympathy for Ms. Phipps.

      "If you fake the funk, your nose will grow." -- Bootsy Collins

      by hepshiba on Fri Apr 13, 2012 at 12:58:15 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  OK. Great diary, yes indeed. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    At the same time it really amounts to the basics--yes ABCs--of critical race theory, basic vocabulary.

    I find it rather disheartening that a scholar/artist/activist of your caliber must expend this much time, effort and energy outlining (once again) the fundamentals of critical race theory for a community that professes to be informed, progressive, concerned with deconstructing/dismantling the structural foundations of racism in this country.

    You have done an excellent job. As have others (many) before you.

    I've been an on-and-off reader of this forum for a long time. And I have seen this pattern repeat itself over and over and over again. The discussion rarely gets beyond attempting to clarify what you clarify so well, namely that

    "white" has become a shorthand term to describe a power structure that, in truth, most Kossaks oppose.
    How many, excuse my Fuh-rench, fucking times does this have to be explained? And in how many ways? Nicely? Notsonicely? Academically, anecdotally? With big words like interpellate and extirpate or in monosyllabic go fuck yerself sorta stuff?

    The discussion rarely gets beyond the basics and down to the nitty-gritty issues of deconstructing and dismantling these structures because people who are unfamiliar with the terms of discourse need these "refresher courses". Over and over again.

    Maybe you should provide a reading list. Then every time the issue comes up, we can all just refer folks back to scholar X, Y or Z. Or maybe we can preface contributions on this particular subject with warnings: Please, if you are not familiar with the terms of the discourse do not participate.

    It is not about skin color. It is about power structure/s. And the fact of the matter is that the power structure/s we all oppose, well, yes, they were developed by "(dead) white men" (please note: in my use of this phrase, 'dead white men', you don't have to be dead, you don't have to be white, and you don't have to be a man to count as a "dead white man"). Except where those "dead white men" actually "borrowed" them from others, trimmed 'em up and truncated them into a format that would fit the dead white male paradigm. (cf. "democracy in America": Keywords: founding fathers, Haudenausee, Iroquois Confederacy, cultural appropriation, how-to-royally-fuck-up-a-very-good-thing-in-500-yrs-without-even trying).

    Was it bell hooks who aptly described "the problem"  as "white-supremacist capitalist patriarchy"?And it's probably not the color line DuBois had in mind when he said that this would be the problem of the 20th century. But hey, this is the twenty-first, innit?  

    Yeah, so that is what we "progressives", we "liberals", we "lefties"--whatever we call ourselves as oppositional forces in this country--are up against:

    White supremacist capitalist patriarchy.

    It's a color-money-gender-power line.

    And you can't really take on any one element of that without taking on all of them.

    Don't know who bell hooks is? Never heard of her? Never read her? Shame on you. Get to googling and look her up. (Shit, you don't even have to go to the library--professor hooks has made a lot of her work available, in video form, online, and no, I will not do the googling for you).

    Understand that if you want to combat racism and/or defuse the power of white privilege, most scholars and activists in this area agree: you have got to "shut up and listen" to what people of color have to say. bell hooks is a big one. If you want to combat racism and engage in the process of defusing white privilege: listen to what bell hooks has to say. Listen to what others like her have to say. Prepare yourself for the "difficult listening hour" (apologies to Laurie Anderson;-) If you are not invested/committed enough to that cause to seek out this information, then you don't have what it takes to engage in this battle. Your time is probably better spent fighting Mitt Romney.

    Don't like bell hooks? OK. So try someone else (this is where a reading list would be helpful). Off the top of my head I could name some names. Cornel West, Stuart Hill, Paul Gilroy, Vine Deloria, Winona Laduke, Henry Louis Gates, Gloria Anzaldua, Randall Robinson, Michele Wallace, Kobena Mercer, Elizabeth Lynn-Cook, Kwame Appiah, Loic Wacquant,  countless, countless others.....Never heard of them? No? Well, now you have. Go read their work. Listen to what they have to say. Understand that it might not be easy: intellectually, academically, emotionally.

    Don't have time? Too much work? Shit, are you one of my community college students, or are you a political activist interested in addressing the issue of racism in this country? Either way, do your homework. And spare me your accusations of drivel and your donuts because actually, in the course of conducting this research, you may run across one or two of my contributions to this scholarship. Be thankful that with today's technology you can do a lot of this work in your pajamas if you choose. Wasn't that way "back in the day" when the rest of us were cutting our teeth on these issues.

    If you are unwilling to do that, then quit pretending that you are on the side of those of us who are committed to changing these things. You aren't.

    IMO, that doesn't make you a bad person. It really doesn't. Maybe your time is better spent fighting Mitt Romney. And that's OK. Truly. It's a dirty job: somebody's gotta do it, and that somebody sure as hell ain't gonna be me!

    End of rant.

    •  I enjoyed your comment, and (6+ / 0-)

      sometimes I feel similarly, especially when it's clear that person I'm talking to is more interested in wasting my time than addressing his or her ignorance.  As a professor, I tried not to spend more time grading a paper than students had spent writing it.

      But...  Racism and Sexism 101 really are my job.  They're not my only job, but, as a public white antiracist, feminist, progressive intellectual, I need to write intro level essays on a regular basis.  I can be pretty tart when the grownups are talking and Junior bursts into the conversation ready to claim s/he knows all about race or gender and demands we listen to his/her naive views.  But I know perfectly well that in this day and age, if I'm not going to cloister myself away with only like-minded folks, that sort of derailing is bound to happen.  It'll only stop happening if people like me do our jobs, and antiracists with other jobs do them, and we're eventually politically effective.

      Even as a university professor, when I could have taught only advanced and grad courses, I always taught one intro course a semester:  Intro to American Literature, Intro to African American Studies, Intro to American History, and so on.  I really love seeing young thinkers light up when they discover the fire and passion of intellectual work.  I love the challenge of explaining what I do and why I love it to people who don't yet have the tools to do what I do.  On a bet, long before there were good low-level intro texts, I taught literary semiotics in a first-year Intro to American literature.  Turns out that its key concepts aren't nearly as hard to explain to the average undergraduate as my colleagues liked to think they were.  It took some creative thinking, the use of a lot of concrete objects as props, and finding students willing to represent every language spoken in the classroom, but in two weeks (6 hours of class time) we worked up from the definitions of symbols and signs, all the way to Beneviste's concept of the traumatic floating signifier. And for the rest of the semester (and perhaps the rest of their lives) their readings were interesting, informed and sophisticated.  (The students who actually did the coursework.  There are always students who are just warming seats.)

      Back when evolution was a contested topic and now, when evolution is a contested topic again, a lot of scholars wrote/write introductory evolution texts and essays for public consumption. This is because making sure that the general public "gets it" is important even if you're doing a lot of high-level research that is simply beyond your ability to explain to a lay audience.  Because nobody's going to fund that important high-level research unless they understand what the hell you're doing on that basic level. And because if the general public doesn't understand evolution, they're going to make a lot of bad decisions that will affect much more than high-level research projects.  This is why biologists, physical anthropologists, paleontologists, etc. all have members within their ranks who feel it incumbent upon them to write accessible essays for laypersons.  My job, as a feminist & critical race scholar, is pretty much the same -- I lay some of the groundwork for progress. The more essays there are that affirm the same concepts, but articulate them in different styles and with different illustrations, the more convincing the overall argument for those concepts becomes.  "Read a book, dude," is sometimes warranted, but not always as effective as, "Here, look. This is what you just said and here's the problem with it."

      I consider these essays in the tradition of the pamphleteer whipping up sentiment for the American Revolution.  Many, many pamphlets were penned, and read to many audiences, in many places.  Their job was not just to inform, but persuade, and each of them contributed to a debate that, even among the general public, took place at far higher levels than most public debates take today.  We understand the essential nature of Paine's "Common Sense," and its enduring persuasive power in retrospect.  But when Paine penned it, he was one voice among many, and he couldn't have known his essay would become a precious document in American history.  I'm pretty sure I'm no Tom Paine, but I do think that I can make a contribution to public discussion, and I hope that at least one or two of my readers will have some sort of aha! moment, and that some will pass it along to others so it lives as a resource.  Though I hope for a day when penning such screeds is unnecessary (when, in short, it does become common sense), until then I voluntarily assume the burden -- not in every venue at every moment, but certainly from time to time.

      "If you fake the funk, your nose will grow." -- Bootsy Collins

      by hepshiba on Fri Apr 13, 2012 at 02:12:38 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  what with the diary and this comment, (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      grumpelstillchen, hepshiba, poco

      my cup runneth over.  I hooted and stomped my feet, at times, in each.

      This comment is dedicated to my mellow Adept2U and his Uncle Marcus

      by mallyroyal on Fri Apr 13, 2012 at 08:25:16 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

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