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July 21, 2010 / JV

Why I Write About Race: An Open Letter to People Who Don’t Get It

Because of my longstanding commenting policy, which I was moved to make a post about today, I haven’t approved some of the comments that come through my queue. This means my readers don’t get to see the often inexcusably wack shit people try to say in response to some of my blogs. These comments usually include a statement of FBI statistics or an obscene word, and they are usually coupled with an invalid e-mail address.

Today I received a comment from an individual, who, for one reason or another, thought their e-mail address didn’t matter and communicated this by entering “dont@matter.com” for their e-mail. Sorry person, but it doesn’t go down like that.

Although I see no point in approving this individual’s comment, I do think they put forth some concerns that, perhaps, many people share when they read my blog. So, in an effort to relieve inquiring minds, I am going to attempt to answer this person’s questions and concerns in an open format. Please note that their comment is in bold.

talk about racism! yo the only thing you should also consider is that racism lives on because people like you refuse to let it die. everything you see is black and white.. or whatever race. “white people love to play guitar” “white people love to go on the roof” “this is a black people neighborhood.” WHat is the purpose of this blog?

The purpose of this blog is to inspire dialogue around whatever it is I feel like talking about. Sometimes these topics are about race, sometimes politics, music, or things I find funny. If you can’t figure out the purpose, then it’s clearly not for you.

I think it’s safe to assume, based on your simple analysis of why racism “lives on” that you haven’t done much work to understand race or racism. If we let you tell it, racism exists because I write about it. How does that work?

Racism “lives” in institutions. The United States was built on racism. I’m not keeping racism alive – it’s an enduring part of history. Something like racism, which is so deeply embedded in the way this country operates, and which is largely responsible for its prosperity, doesn’t just “die” if we stop talking about it.

In talking about white people, I am trying to communicate a criticism on the construct of whiteness, which if you can’t understand, then, like i said, this blog is not for you.

Have you ever tried looking at people as being similar and equal? try it.. its nice. you identify so much with black (BLACK scientist) that you have stopped identifyin with the rest of humanity! get your shit together.

Unfortunately, because you are so simple, you’ve made it almost impossible to address your comment seriously. But, I’ll try.

I don’t force things. I don’t have the typical militant American desire to see things as equal no matter what. SHIT AIN’T EQUAL, homie. I don’t gloss things over, I don’t support ill-founded historical revisionism, I don’t make myself believe things so I can feel better. Period. When I write about whiteness, blackness, injustice, and so on, I am not talking about how I look at people. And I don’t believe in making the argument “we are all the same” to engender change, justice or equity. I think you are failing to realize that it doesn’t matter if I see people as “similar and equal”. We are talking about how people are actually treated in the eyes of the law, schools, prisons, the state.

Having an individual identity (be it racial, cultural, regional, whatever) and identifying with “humanity” do not need to be mutually exclusive. And an important thing to note about identity is that it is individual. Therefore, you can’t tell me how I identify. And again, if you can’t understand the significance of the name of this blog, then guess what? It’s not for you.

Sometimes I wish I didn’t have to do things like this but it is apparent that people can need a little direction. So I will make it easier for people who, for one reason are another, are unsure if they “get it”. If you can identify with any of the following sentiments, then you don’t get it, and it’s not for you:

If you…

1. Ask yourself why I talk about race so much.

2. Find yourself reading about white people, and thinking about someone you know (and how they’re not like that).

3. Believe that statistics about imprisonment or “crime” rates actually prove points about groups of people.

4. Believe in colorblindness.

5. Find yourself arguing about whether homos have it harder than blacks. or blacks have it harder than jews. or farmers have it worse than teachers, etc etc etc

6. Think that ethnic studies/black history month is divisive or exclusionary.

7. Believe that if we all just stop talking about race, it will disappear.

8. Find conversations about race “tiring,” or refer to people of color discussing injustice as “complaining”.

9. Find yourself using any of the following words/phrases while looking through a blog such as this one: “overanalyzing” … “liberal arts” … “reverse racism” … “melodrama” [Added April 1, 2011]

I’ll end the list there for now. Anyone who has anything to add, please do. I hope that the person who sent the flippant comment will return at least to give this post a read. And I hope that I had at least enough patience to convey an important message regarding why I discuss race. Because it affects people’s lives. It is a social and cultural discursive construct – with an undeniably vital role in history and very real present-day effects.

Welcome again friends and I hope, if you know now that you get it, that you’ll stick around.

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10 Comments

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  1. Kurt / Jul 22 2010 8:25 pm

    After taking your quiz i’m pretty sure i don’t get it, but i kind of like your blog anyway. I like the idea of making a list of qualifications for “getting it”. Maybe i’ll start my own club and do that too. That’s probably what those pool people did.

    • the black scientist / Jul 22 2010 8:51 pm

      Are you a Vonnegut fan? Salinger maybe?

  2. Des / Jul 23 2010 10:48 am

    Each individual has a unique point of view, but regardless of circumstance I believe all people are fundamentally the same. I like to read blogs because it gives insight into another’s way of thinking. It’s not necessary that we all agree and share the same thoughts to live in harmony – it’s about respecting ones right to have a different way of thinking than your own.

    “…consider is that racism lives on because people like you refuse to let it die…”

    I find this statement to be worthy of thought because the reality is for some it could be that simple. However, when you are the oppressed and racism is embedded in your history and you have first hand experience…such a comment seems outrageous. But not everyone has the same experiences and that’s reality.

    I am a big fan of supporting what I love and not putting time and energy into the negative. Just because I don’t agree with ones idea and beliefs doesn’t mean I don’t want to understand their thought process. Combating ignorance with arrogance accomplishes nothing…the person reading your blog felt the need to leave a comment and clearly the reader doesn’t understand you or your perspective.

    “You catch more flies with honey…” I occasionally enjoy a good cliché…people say them for a reason. There is something so undeniably true and relatable about such a saying. To me it means turn people on to you not off if your trying to do something positive. Anyway…I read your blog and these were my thoughts after.

    • the black scientist / Jul 23 2010 6:32 pm

      I understand the sentiment behind “all people are the fundamentally the same,” in the sense that we’re all humans, but isn’t that kind of a given in these kinds of discussions? Not to mention, the people who have historically had the habit of arguing that we aren’t “fundamentally the same” are racist pseudo-scientists who supported things like nazi eugenics.

      “…consider is that racism lives on because people like you refuse to let it die…”

      I find this statement to be worthy of thought because the reality is for some it could be that simple. However, when you are the oppressed and racism is embedded in your history and you have first hand experience…such a comment seems outrageous. But not everyone has the same experiences and that’s reality.

      The thing is – that’s not how racism works. It doesn’t exist or not exist based on your “experience.” Racism is a part of our history and a part of our reality – regardless of how you choose to experience life, or what you choose to see. LIFE is an interpretation. Inequality is everywhere. It is a symptom of white-supremacy to deny that racism exists, and to be able to acknowledge that it does should not be contingent on your personal experience. Racism is not only real for certain people, and to insinuate that it is perpetuates the notion that people who don’t identify with having had a firsthand experience with racism have no responsibility in trying to understand it or their role against it.

      Combating ignorance with arrogance accomplishes nothing…the person reading your blog felt the need to leave a comment and clearly the reader doesn’t understand you or your perspective.

      The person who made that comment was a total lost cause. Not only was their comment void of any serious thought or prior consideration, but it was profoundly disrespectful. I chose to focus on their lack of understanding in terms of the history of this country and racism, but they’re post was equally disturbing because of their apparent anger – which was completely misdirected.

      And there are probably a great number of people, of all races, who share that person’s anger around the fact that racism exists. But that’s not my problem, and I don’t see anything okay about that individual’s outburst and attempt at playing the blame-game. History happened and it belongs to all of us.

      In regards to the “catch more flies with honey” bit – it’s not important to me to be sweet about everything. This is not intended to be an elementary-level educational blog. Why, you ask? Because when I write, I am communicating on the premise that the reader has a base level of knowledge. I think the reader should put in just as much effort to understand a piece as a writer puts into writing it. If we don’t share the simplest understandings of things like “race,” then we are not going to get very far. That doesn’t mean I want us to share the same beliefs and views; in fact, I enjoy when people share different perspectives. However, if you come to this blog believing in a thing like colorblindness, for example, I don’t see much point in us having a discussion. We aren’t meant to sit together, and I’m okay with that.

      Lastly, everything doesn’t fall under “a unique point of view.” Why apologize for and excuse ignorance or hate? Every perspective does not deserve respect, in the eyes of people, or in the eyes of larger institutions, i.e. apartheid.

  3. Shafiqah Hudson / Aug 23 2010 6:59 pm

    Excellent post. (As noted above I “liked” it – am I the only who finds this new WordPress feature a little irksome? Prolly…) So much of race dialogue is repeating yourself. I can’t TELL you how many times I’ve had sophisticated points about race be reduced to some maddening, sweeping generalization like, “You just hateWhite people!” or “We’re all the same because race doesn’t really exist.” <– One of my my favorites by far. Santa Claus doesn't exist either, but you see that motherfucker everywhere at Christmas.) It can be frustrating. Keep keeping on.

  4. the black scientist / Aug 24 2010 12:01 am

    I also find the “like” feature annoying. Not sure it serves much purpose on a blog site that relies mostly on written commentary (vs tumblr for example), and where dialogue is such a crucial aspect. But thank you, and I feel you. A pretty horrible one I heard recently is that racism isn’t that bad in New York because there are so many different types of people here. I’m at the point where I know that if we’re going to talk constructively, we need to be coming to the table with a base level of knowledge – equal effort, interest and some level of understanding.

  5. Chad / Sep 12 2010 3:35 pm

    It also a big problem that many white people do not want to talk about racism.Not only with black people but with other whites as well.It makes alot of white people nervous when race comes up.
    Alot of whites think they know black people better than they know themselves.Untill alot of white people start learning,not just history but modern life for different people,theyll never understand.Because they dont HAVE to.They can stay secluded in there world by avoiding these issues and they can be colorblind because they will not see any color.If someone talks about race,especially personal experience,we need to listen.

  6. Roslyn / Oct 6 2010 12:06 am

    I’m curious whether this person has ever been asked to assimilate. And if they have what their response was. In my experience, people who call for haunting silence and/or assimilation are generally not quite as comfortable when someone tells them they can’t do/have/be/take/understand something. The whole melting pot/celebrate diversity/we are all human argument generally only works when peoples OWN identity isn’t in question, being ignored, threatened, or minimized. So my curiosity with this individual and others who bristle at “race” talk is whether they’ve ever been forced to ‘get over themselves.’ In an individualistic society like ours, I’m guessing that feeling sucked for them.

    I also take issue with the argument that you don’t care about larger scales of “humanity.” Most people that engage in discussions of race do so precisely because they DO care about humanity to such an extent that they compassionately pursue the freedom of all people which will forever be denied as long as oppression, racism, patriarchy, homophobia, classism exist. So do you engage with race because it means a lot to you, to others, and to the liberation of everyone? yeah. And do I as a white person also choose to engage in this work everyday? yeah. I’m not saying we do this in the same ways, in fact we very obviously (and strategically) can and must do this in very different ways, but its for a lot of the same reasons…

    Progress is not the result of the passage of time. It is the product of conscientious commitment to change and the future (and dealing with some fucked up shit, pardon my language) Racial binaries have entrapped and limited everyone involved and can only be broken when both parties finally become aware of their truth and consequences. The pain and oppression that Black ppl experience everyday can’t be understood until white people admit and grapple with their own shaking identity issues. In ‘The Fire Next Time,’ by James Baldwin (which might be good training wheels for this person)Baldwin talks about the act of being wicked and spineless and how it isn’t the act of being evil, but the act of DOING NOTHING that perpetuates hatred and oppression (55), and that “White people in this country will have quite enough to do in learning how to accept and love themselves and each other, and when they have achieved this- which will not be tomorrow and may very well be never- the Negro problem will no longer exist, for it will no longer be needed (22).”

    So yes, lets talk about race. And keep up your comment policy, b/c sometimes its powerful for ppl to experience new sides of power, censorship, and relevance.

    • VC / Feb 22 2011 10:51 pm

      Yessssss. I live for the points you make in this comment, especially the one about how engaging race is obviously tied to — and, I’d argue, an inalienable part of — pursuing the freedom of all people. And thank you for citing that Baldwin text – I’m inspired to revisit it.

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