"...one more round...and it ain't what [we] want..."

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Posted by Cricket on 01/27/02 - 15:22:02
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At the risk of bringing some of us back down again (& I do hope not to), I want to add my thoughts on some of the issues raised last week about free speech & racism.  If space permits, I might also like to make a few comments about turnips.

Seriously, first:
I feel quite strongly about many issues related to race.  To begin with, I see it as a virtually-meaningless concept from a biological standpoint (genetic variations are miniscule compared to similarities) -- but, culturally -- & perhaps especially in the U.S., ahhh, that's where all hell can & does break loose, causing a great deal of pain and worse.   I still have plenty to learn, & I really can't see with the perspective of someone whose experience of race in this society is quite different from my own (Caucasian, middle-class).  But to be able to talk with each other, we need to start somewhere, don't we?

I just finally re-read Jay & Kevin's & several subsequent posts.  My view of what Kevin said:  absolutely appalling in tone ("dominating and pedantic", as Eth said), provocative, nasty, & "disrespectful" doesn't even begin to cover it, AND -- no question in my mind -- RACIALLY INSENSITIVE. But I differentiate that from "racist" (though I can appreciate that to someone sensitized by past experiences of racism, one may signal the other).  Perhaps Kevin is racist: I don't know; in the post HE was the one who castigated racial "bigots" -- HE used that word -- at the same time that he went for the jugular of "liberals").

Do I think starting out by calling Jackson a "PIMP of the disenfranchised" is a good way to strike up an exchange -- with anyone, but especially with a politically progressive black person?  Of course not.  But the rest of the rant, however inflammatory, contemptuous, & "superior" in tone, seems to me more a conservative attack on IDEAS -- rather than a personal attack.  What Kevin had to say seems no different to me from what many white & black conservatives have said -- in the backlash against what they see as an over-reliance on "victim status" & "special privileges" -- really thorny, difficult issues that are extremely hard to talk about, because there is real hurt & pain, plenty of anger, and land-mines everywhere.  And I think calling someone, smugly, a "victim" can be as cooly hostile as calling someone a "racist" -- when either epithet is an ad hominem attack rather than a description of what you truly know about the person's point of view.

I go back & forth a lot, for instance, over questions like: what to do about "affirmative action".  I believe there should be real acknowledgement &, where possible, re-dress of wrongs, & extra support provided to try to make the playing field a bit more level for people who --over many generations -- have been exploited & deprived of opportunities that at least middle-class members of the majority culture could take for granted.  But I also appreciate the arguments of people like Shelby Steele (black conservative) who worries that "entitlements" undermine both the self-respect of the people who receive them and the respect they're accorded by many others: that lots of people start wondering if the recipient was judged by a different set of standards & really is not as competent as those who did not receive the "special consideration", etc. (and I've read essays by black professionals who THEMSELVES worried about such things-- and then realized what a mixed bag it was to have received the extra "help": how unexpectedly insidious such help can be).  So, politically, I support affirmative action because on balance I'd much rather err on that side -- but I do it uneasily, worrying about those insidious "unexpected results" --  & I really wish we could come up with something better.  To do that, we'd have to be able to talk with each other -- & it's so hard to do that on these topics.  I try to read broadly -- Cornel West AND Steele, for instance -- because I feel we need as many perspectives as possible.

Taking either the tone Kevin did in that post OR moving straight to charges of racism, to my mind, does nothing to help us reach understanding.  What I think the positions have in common is that, right from the outset, their proponents have written each other off: decided that the other is worse than a misguided idiot & not really worth even talking to.  Very tough to get to any new place from there!  

As for my own political bias here: I'm far more inclined to feel sympathy for Jay & Bill's reactions, & to try to understand that there are good reasons (a lot I probably can't even imagine) why Jay would take the kind of stance I think she has.

But having said that, I don't think that a claim that Kevin is racist means that he is.  We ALL have biases that affect our judgments of something like that in a situation where the evidence is ambiguous.  Jay & Bill's (& others') judgments will lead me to be more sensitive in observing & thinking about the question -- but I'm not at all decided.  As I said, just re-reading Kevin's post, I'd say mega-mega-insensitive, but not necessarily racist.  He DID play "the race card" in taunting Jay about the "white/European male" stuff -- but I see that as a garden-variety conservative attack & a claim of "reverse discrimination" -- politically polemical, inflammatory, etc...but not necessarily racist (may be, may not be-- is how I see it).

OK.  Now I've beaten this poor, still-not-dead horse, & I haven't even gotten to the part -- mostly discussed elsewhere -- about whether A-Deck is "racist-friendly".  If the evidence for that is just the fact that things are said which may be racist -- well, to me, that doesn't make the case.  I think, as a society (& in our microcosm of it here), there's much to discuss about the implications of freedom of speech: how we deal with a situation where people can say things that not only may deeply hurt others' feelings, but that can contribute to situations where actual violence occurs.

My own bias: I'm one of those card-carrying members of the ACLU who sometimes has to hold my nose tightly while supporting someone's right to say something I find offensive & infuriating. I absolutely prefer the option of trying to refute what is said, to that of interfering with [what I see as] the other's right to say it.  That's not the same as "yelling FIRE in a crowded theater." (As Kevin also commented, elsewhere.)  But we're subjective in judging whether THAT situation obtains, too.  And someone whose experiences lead them to feel more vulnerable will judge the situation differently from one who does not.  BTW, does anyone else here remember Abbie Hoffman insisting -- after Chicago -- on his right to "yell THEATER in a crowded fire"?

So, I don't know that we're a "racist-friendly" board.  It's a question I'd hope we could discuss -- if ever we could agree on what constitutes evidence!  But without that, such a charge may be only slightly less inflammatory & provocative than some of the things Kevin comes out with when he goes nuts on us: the tone is much cooler & more objective-sounding, but we're not really looking at evidence.  & To try to do that, I think we'd need to approach each other in the spirit I think Liz had in mind, when she suggested trying to read each other with open hearts & minds.  Perhaps at times giving each other "the benefit of the doubt".

This is getting way too long & I apologize -- but I'm almost done!

My sense of PK's posts (both the joke & the affectionate warning to Eth about "fascism") is that he'd like for our community to be truly a frontier: a place where we can explore freely; no rules; no Lord of the Sandbox... If we're pissed off by something, it's up to us to say it & deal with it, etc.  M.C. occasionally seems more "parental" & more willing to intervene, & there are some of us who expect, essentially, that a parent therefore should openly condemn "bad" behavior on deck.  Personally, I think we're adults & can speak for ourselves, but I can understand the wish...

An underlying question of whether & when to take an extra step to show "friendliness" to a member of a group that is widely discriminated against is a complex one that comes up in many arenas.  Some people say: yes, always try to do it; others: no, never.  To me, it's not at all simple.  What to one person is welcoming may to another person be patronizing -- I hate absolutist positions on such things!  So I'll take into consideration what some people have said about the atmosphere on A-Deck, & I'll observe as carefully as I can -- but I wouldn't assume that because there's no anti-racism proclamation we probably are racist...

OK -- Time to shutteth up.

I love & appreciate this community -- and lately I'm particularly thankful to the friends who've spoken so eloquently about the need to keep lights shining on deck: for us to share our thoughts,  music, humor, poetry, affection, & to not be silenced or simply walk away from what may hurt or anger us.  It feels terrible to have some shipmates believing that we're choosing to participate in a "racist-friendly" enterprise here -- I am very sorry they feel that -- but I don't, at least at this point, see it the same way.  I suspect that even if I did, as long as there were enough people I felt were good-hearted & of honorable intent, I'd want to stay & try to influence or change what I didn't like.

A beautiful Sunday to all --
and I know I promised some comments about turnips.  Unfortunately, we've run out of time, so I'll just say:



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