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Discussing whiteness

I would like to try for a continued, deeper discussion of some of the themes that have emerged from the thrice-damned politics thread.

How do you identify yourself? What's your family, where do they come from, what kind of lives have they had?

When did you start to see yourself as white, and why?

How does your family view race, and how did that affect the way you matured?

What are some experiences you have had, or witnessed, that influenced your understanding of race?

What is your psychological and emotional response to your engagement with the concept of white supremacy?

What are the responsibilities of the well-intentioned white progressive?


  • edited December 2016
    Meanwhile, on my twitter timeline......

  • Maybe I should have called this thread defending whiteness?

  • edited December 2016
    whiteness is a total construction, but a powerful one.
    I pass for white, but in the eyes of many/most, I'm not, for multiple reasons.

    Until I was around 9 I assumed my dad was black because he had dark skin, a big nose, curly hair, plus my mom was constantly talking about civil rights and taking us to Af Am museums and talks on the Chicago cops killing Fred Hampton, etc. He's from a third world country but somehow the middle east moved closer to africa in my kid logic mind?

    I missed the crazy convo of the past few days but FWIW I believe in calling racist actions racist, and calling out people who believe in white supremacy as racists. If you deny my personhood, you don't get the benefit of the doubt, you don't get me wasting time concerned about your feelings.

    I pass for white and until I moved to Oregon I didn't have to deal with anti-semitic shit, but Portland is where I heard Jew used as a verb, repeatedly (by very nice "not racist" people who just NEVER CONSIDERED wtf was coming out of their mouths until I stared at them, horrified), where nice gas station attendants told me the Jews caused 9/11, etc etc.

    The middle eastern thing is too complicated to even get into right now (all middle easterners are not muslim, nor are they arab, but history and geography are not strong suits of the american public, let's not even get into the ashkenazi vs sephardim vs mizrahi stuff) but if we've been the acceptable scapegoat recently the newly elected president is really taking it to the next level.

    I'm really worried about american muslims, and people of color, and LGBTQi people, over the next 4 years. I made my dude promise me, the day after the election, that we would hide people if we had to. I didn't think I'd need to be worried about myself, but then I was in the airport last week, and a tv was playing CNN without sound and this was onscreen for 10 minutes


    and it was like the bottom dropped out of my heart.

    Back in the 90s there was a zine, Race Traitor, with a tagline Treason to Whiteness is Loyalty to Humanity. I liked that zine, it made me think about my white privilege, and things I could do to make other white people uncomfortable. These days I read a lot of Black Twitter and it keeps me thinking, keeps me learning, keeps me on my toes.

    Is UrHo pretty much all white people? I'm guessing yes.
  • I liked that NY Mag article, and I liked the pushback to it.

    I grant the point that the tone you take has an impact on whether you're persuasive. But it's also the case that you're not obligated to have persuasion as your goal.

    I'm also just not that into people telling each other how they should protest, how they should advocate, how they should conduct themselves in opposition to inhumanity. "I agree with you BUT don't say it that way…" How about I'll do me and you do you.
  • I have moved to a mode of not telling the oppressed how to object to their oppression. I am on the side of the radicals and people who are too fed up to be polite, but their voices are more important than mine, so I'm not saying much myself. Ego is the enemy here.
  • edited December 2016
    I agree with that, with the addition that I'm really just not into white people talking about how much better at anti-racism they are than their peers. I want to hold my friends accountable, but I don't want to lapse into ego exercises or presume to put myself in the category of "not-racist". It is difficult to get that balance right.
  • As a gesture of compromise, I vow to not use any profanity when speaking directly to other UHXers. I apologize for my previous lack of verbal creativity.

    @Ed_Chigliak, that is kind of a cute story about your dad... and after all, the middle east and northern Africa is where the western definition of race falls apart so maybe you were onto something after all lol ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

    I think that CNN's headline is deadly irresponsible. We believe what we see; a message like that reaches the subconscious as an affirmative statement. It hangs in the mind like a valid question--it is only the critical reader who is trained to intervene, guarding their subconscious mind from accepting this message as truth.

    @Zin, I appreciate that you have made the point that one can object without bearing the obligation to persuade. There's something there about the semantics of the court system being applied to something it wasn't designed for, but I'm not sure what... that kind of "well you must prove your case; innocent until proven guilty."

    About that old thread I burned to the ground... the record shows that any objection I made was in response to the exact words that people said, which were themselves written to take issue with my statement that the conversation about the election needed to include racism. How can we have a conversation about better white allyship in a group that carefully considers whether it might be better to silence the whole topic to begin with?
  • edited December 2016
    I guess I started this thread because I could see that we were making assumptions about each other, and I thought that this could be a way to illuminate exactly what kind. (Note to self: skip the rhetorical questions. Figure out what you want to say, and say it.)

    When @KMikeyM closed that thread, he said that it demonstrated a poor signal-to-noise ratio. I disagree; except for poor Thor's non-sequitors, that thread had more true communication than this old board has seen in years.

    There is no demographic that chooses to be as exclusive as the middle-class white person. Any ignorance we have of race is by design; by ours, by our parents, by our grandparents before us.

    I'm white, and I see myself ethnically as from working-class Irish-Catholic people, Great Lakes region. My family have a story that is very telling as it relates to the white American identity... they came here treated like outsiders, but they prospered because they chose to distance themselves from other groups**. They were like "oh we can be racist too, watch" and the white people were like "oops my bad, I guess you are white lol!!!"

    So, to go back to my first comment, maybe what I really mean is... we need to see our perspective for what it is (no offense to those of you who don't have a paper trail).

    **specific to different regions and history but just that--SPECIFIC
  • edited December 2016
    I agree with Mike that there was communication failure. For example, I can only speak for myself, but my comments were not in any way "taking issue" with your statement that the conversation needs to include racism. Perhaps you intuited that I was responding to something you were saying, when I was reflecting on the topic more broadly?
  • edited December 2016

    I think I get it... I did not mean to say that you had said anything directly to me.
  • My heritage is mixed, but I most closely identify with my last name, which is Hispanic. I was never super clear on the specifics of that, but recently I looked more into it and it seems most likely that my ancestors were Sephardic Jews who were forced to convert to Catholicism and then left the Iberian peninsula for the Americas. So Hispanic and Jewish, which does feel right to me, even though my other grandparents brought more DNA to the party.
  • edited December 2016
    Why is Portland so white? I went to Seattle for the first time this weekend assuming it would be as bad as it is here. It is not. Not even close. What made and continues to make Portland this west coast island of being closed off to even a sorta reasonable level of diversity?
  • edited December 2016
    Really, really good question--and one with a lot of straightforward answers. Long story short: through the continued, concerted efforts of citizens, legislators, and business people. But despite that, black history in our state goes back to at least the late 18th century (it is mostly black Portland history that I focus on below, because that is what I have learned from living in historically black neighborhoods in Portland).

    1788: Cape Verdean shipman killed at Tillamook Bay (ship originated in Boston)
    1805: Lewis & Clark reach lower Columbia (Chinookan land)
    1830: Indian Removal Act (Andrew Jackson)
    1830-4: near-genocide of Multnomah people (Sauvie/Wappatoo Island) due to disease
    1843: Portland founded
    1850: Est. 55 black population in Oregon
    1830-1860: Oregon counties and cities legislate sundown laws
    1852-60: Francis family run boarding house and mercantile in Portland
    1859: Oregon becomes a state; the constitution prohibits non-white people from settling
    1860: Est. 128 population
    1880: Est. 487 population
    1890: Portland Hotel opens, employing 75 black men from N.C., S.C., and GA who buy homes, raise families, and start businesses in Portland
    1890: Pop. est. 1,186
    1899: Arcadia Saloon, opened by Burr Williams, is premier non-white saloon in Northwest
    1900: Est. 1,105 (decrease)
    1906-20: black Oregonians may vote, serve on jury, buy and rent homes anywhere; schools and restaurants not officially segregated. Large influx of European immigrants come into the area
    1919: Realty businesses begin explicit discrimination against black and Asian buyers
    1943-45: Vanport grows from 4,840-24,525 (white) and 1,276-6,317 (black)
    1948: Vanport flood makes 16,931 people homeless
    1949: Oregon passes Fair Employment Act (prevents discrimination)
    1951: Interracial marriage no longer against the law in OR
    1952: Portland Realty Board drops official position that property values decline when non-whites buy or rent homes
    1956: City Planning Commission identifies area of memorial Colosseum; a land-use survey concludes that 60% of housing is substandard. Land value increases, hundreds of families displaced
    1962: PDC declares Eliot neighborhood rezoned from residential to industrial/commerical use
    1970: Emanuel Hospital expansion razes 188 houses (residents got 90 day notice)

    Some of this information is from a great timeline:

    1970-present: TBC
  • 1970-1990s: unmitigated redlining (lenders deny loans to black homebuyers)
    1985: Lloyd Stevenson killed by Portland Police with choke hold (officers not disciplined; other officers get briefly fired when they hand out "Smoke Em Don't Choke Em" t-shirts on the day of his funeral, then re-instated with back pay)
    Late 80's: Neo-Nazis praise Portland as ideal location for white homeland
    1988: neo-Nazi gang murders Mulugeta Seraw on SE 31st and Pine
  • Emmanuel Hospital has a really weird museum-like display inside commemorating the razed neighborhood. Like an apology kind of thing, but very odd.
  • To come back and respond to some of the initial questions LT put out there:

    I've always been (i.e. thought of myself as) white, as long as I can remember. In a nearly all-white community in Alaska, I didn't think about it much as a kid. My dad's Jewish. But I didn't even really know that was a thing separate from being white, or what it meant, really.

    After that, I ended up at a white (mostly) liberal arts college in Portland, not exactly thrusting me into a racially diverse milieu.

    I feel like I missed out on a huge part of my social education in those environments. I was rarely exposed to people who weren't white, and my family never talked about race.

    Or, another way to put it is that I'd never really been forced to address questions about race throughout my upbringing. They weren't staring me in the face. I've had to seek out the topic and my own education in it, and I really don't feel like it measures up to what I expect I'd have learned through greater lived experience.

    I feel somewhat incompetent in discussions about race, and definitely scared to engage, because it's a minefield. The social consequences for errors — and I know I'll commit errors! — can be severe. It feels a lot safer to stay quiet. (Which itself is white privilege, of course…)
  • I've always thought of myself as white. I grew up in Oxnard, CA, in a pretty rough neighborhood. Our house was burgled often, and violence was fairly regular. There was more violent crime in Lemonwood than in all of Portland. The first time I saw a gun at school was in the 7th grade. White kids were a minority, and I would sometimes get bullied by kids of other races, but I was also small growing up. Not too bad though. I am Jewish, and my skin gets pretty olive in a sunny climate. Some kids thought I was Mexican and I was always surprised when that happened.

    I moved to Washington in 2009 to go to a mostly white liberal arts school. I took a Class on Maleness, Whiteness and the Politics of... can't quite remember the end of the class title. It was very eye opening, but it didn't leave me with a lot of answers or comfort. Being a punk in HS had already introduced me to whiteness and the politics of race to some extent. The political punk scene in LA had a lot of crossover with the Black Panthers, native american activism, and other groups (if you were a Crasshole like me) which probably seeded class politics and is unhelpful for critical race thinking. I'm also not that bright.

    As someone who had engaged in a lot of activism, having to admit and see racism is tough, because racists were devils who beat up black people and perpetrated the holocaust. Everything we were against, they were. Then I got to college and I wasn't around people of different origins anymore and I was being told to look at my own racism. It was hard for me (still is - I'm not that bright) because at the same time, you're studying racist propaganda and (sometimes) subtle racism in the media and you want to point and say "who cares about me, I may be racist, but I want to do good, and that is a racist that wants to do bad!" but of course the internal racism is what normalizes it in a culture and allows for the "bad" racist to thrive.

    And now it is hard for me to focus on the "long hard work of racism" in the current environment when "bad" (really bad) racists are in the white house (again). I'm just going to quote @Zin because I feel exactly the same way:
    "I feel somewhat incompetent in discussions about race, and definitely scared to engage, because it's a minefield. The social consequences for errors — and I know I'll commit errors! — can be severe. It feels a lot safer to stay quiet. (Which itself is white privilege, of course…)"

    Having to go to class in college and be called a racist were some of the worst experiences of my college career (again white privilege). Right now I am confused and scared in regards to our political situation. I am assuming (WP) that this is how some people of color feel every day of their lives. I often think about a Brietbart story that circled a few weeks before an election, where a high school student filmed a teacher saying all white people were racist. I read that and was so... hopeless. Because it's true, and that teacher was doing a good thing, but it is a conversation America is so unprepared for. The Brietbart audience thinks white people face more discrimination than people of color. Yeesh. So I have been trying to think about how to make things better, or livable, and stop losing 1-2 ours of sleep every night worrying about the next four years (White Privilege!) But how does one balance band aids against the long hard work of fighting white privilege - wars we cannot win any time soon. I think of a lesser quoted MLK letter (that I cannot find right now) where he says he does not fear the obvious bigotry, but the white majority that values security and order over justice.

    I dunno. This is me trying to be good, and failing.
  • edited December 2016

    I think of a lesser quoted MLK letter (that I cannot find right now) where he says he does not fear the obvious bigotry, but the white majority that values security and order over justice.
    This study from 2005 offers support to this quote. People were divided into three groups based on the level of racial prejudice that white participants self-reported. "Teams with low prejudiced whites solved the problem most quickly. Interracial teams involving high prejudiced whites were next most efficient. Teams with aversive racists (those who expressed egalitarian views but who showed evidence of unconscious bias) were the least efficient."

    This is why I was so passionate about addressing white supremacy in the voting thread: white liberals with unexamined bias are no less dangerous than outright bigots (and may be more so).
  • edited December 2016
    I can't edit my posts anymore. Does anyone else have the same issue?

    ETA it worked this time
  • I feel like there are two wars to fight, one long and cold, and one of hot skirmishes. The "election" of Trump is emboldening more* outright bigots to commit very real emotional, sexual, and physical violence. People are dying. The readers of Brietbart aren't ready to hear that engaging in hate is self harm, let alone that the very act of being white in a white supremacist society makes one complicit in said white supremacy.

    Liberals absolutely need to examine their own implicit privileges and biases. But that is a very long, cold war, and right now there are very hot wars to be waged against those who would normalize outright bigotry. I'm spending my free time this morning calling and emailing against the reinstatement of Pam Taylor in the Clay Development Corp in West Virginia.

    *I recognize that bigots would and do create sexual and physical violence regardless.
  • edited December 2016
    If I am understanding you correctly, your point is that battling the "cold war" oughtn't take our focus away from fighting the "hot war."

    If I understand that properly, I disagree because I don't see the reasoning. Further, I strongly believe that this positioning actively hurts POC, and that the concept of intersectionality offers a solution to "either-or" thinking.

    Per my comment above, "outright bigotry" may in fact be less of a hindrance to cross-cultural problem-solving than "soft" racism. The cross-cultural group that had the best communication included white people who were explicitly anti-racist.
  • edited December 2016
    I'm ok with respectfully disagreeing.
    I'm talking about the people who were stabbed outside of their places of worship this week or the man who was murdered last month when I talk about the hot wars. To me that is more unacceptable than a liberal not understanding their own place in perpetrating white supremacy. I see your point when it comes to cross-culture problem solving, I am talking more about living breathing attempted murder on real people.

    I don't understand the concept of intersectionality. I'll have to research that in order to have an idea of what you are talking about. I definitely don't see it as an either/or personally. I think both wars need to be fought.

    Edit: This is an unfinished thought. It has been nagging me since I posted it... thinking/evolution is currently in progress.
  • "Edit: This is an unfinished thought. It has been nagging me since I posted it... thinking/evolution is currently in progress."

    Can we not just assume this for all folks/posts on URHO? We're all learning/growing here!
  • Intersectionality has been a very defining concept for me in how I've seen "my" feminism.
    The basic point is that it subverts the white-centric focus of feminism to show that all forms of oppression are intertwined. "Mapping the Margins" by Kimberle Crenshaw is the central work, and it was published in 1993.

    Here is a real-life example.

    On my regular bus, rush hour, bus is just about getting to that point where people are standing in the aisles. An elderly man from my neighborhood was sitting on an outside seat, and no one was on the inner seat. He is elderly, black, and I have seen him walking with great difficulty with a prosthetic leg. He could have mental health issues because he grumbles to himself a lot. So this well-dressed, young, able white woman starts loudly scolding him to everyone, saying that there is a pregnant woman standing, glaring at him, saying he needs to move. I told her "he has a disability" and she kept it up. Mind you this woman was well-spoken, good-looking, and looked like she had more money than most of the people in my neighborhood.

    Without an intersectional analysis, this woman thought she was standing up against sexism... kind of a "look at this guy manspreading all over the place." In this instance, @Schlabe, here is an example of how a well-meaning, educated person's racism is not without violence. The guy grumbled about how he couldn't move to the inner seat, but she was not listening to him. What if other people on the bus only heard her, and told him to move? What if he stood up and fell? What if he got off the bus early and had to walk with greater difficulty than expected?
  • Also useful for learning and growing: research the concept of white fragility.
  • Here's a comparison: global disparities in the manufacturing industry. It's very important to white liberals that we mitigate the harm of this, so we shop carefully; we buy Tom's shoes and Tom's toothpaste, we buy local and fair-trade. Of course, it's not really possible to remove ourselves from this harm or single-handedly change the market, but we try to be aware and informed--and that information is widely considered empowering.

    The "hot" and "cold" stuff is arbitrary to me because it's like saying, "there's a war going on, and you're worried about raising the minimum wage?"
  • I have worked in Africa and have experienced being the White person out. I went with it
  • It occurs to me that many white people--maybe most--are from families who wanted to--and could--avoid the conflicts of race, power, and justice. They self-segregated and raised families who witnessed this as little as possible. But meanwhile, the world went on, these conversations advanced. Now, a lot of middle-of-the-road white people are having to come to this with very little experience or knowledge. It's kind of like a debt that accrues while it's being ignored.

    The white-power, anti-abortion, pro-Nazi, property-owners-rights far right have sure kept up the discussion in their families.
  • Well you gotta admit that since this thread started, these issues are at the forefront in a much greater way than they were before.

    Women's march - Milo/Richard - White House focus on "inner city" policing - White House takes away a financial support program for low income first time home buyers (partially an amelioration of redlining)
  • Interesting work here. Wish I had the time to read up. Feel compelled to drop some gross methodological/structural critique but simultaneously feel that's a symptom of my interiority/social position that I don't wish to exercise here & now because a) I'm doubtful it is a healthy practice for me and b) I feel like there's no way to be brief without seeming glib, ie disrespectful, which would be an utterly false label for the degree of respect I feel (tenderly).
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