Friday, May 7, 2010

Stigma

Here's the current conundrum I'm pondering.

It's a given, that for white people, being called a racist is one of the worst things that can happen to them in today's society. I once wrote about this phenomenon, and recently, a Tea Bagger, I mean Tea Party member, agreed with me.

We don't want the worst elements to take this over," said Brendan Steinhauser, campaign director for FreedomWorks, a national group that helps coordinate tea party activists. "If they do, the tea party loses independents, it loses moderates, it loses people who don't tolerate this. Being a racist is one of the worst things you can be in this society. No one wants to be labeled this."


I think we can all agree that white folks dread the R-word like Latinos dread traffic stops in Arizona. They consider it the nuclear option.

The thing is, white people's fear of being labeled a racist often makes them less likely to call other white people's actions racist. My theory is that many white folks have narrowed the definition of racism because it makes it less likely that they will ever have to think of themselves, their friends or their family members as racist.

This is a byproduct of a national campaign to make certain types of racism seem horrible. We've all seen the videos from the Civil Rights movement, and watched Roots, and it's quite difficult to find a white person today who will say that what happened during Jim Crow and slavery was acceptable.... Well, outside of Virginia. They typically understand that joining the Klan and calling somebody a nigger makes you a bad person.

That stigma, while limited, has helped end some of the most egregious affronts to black Americans. It's no longer considered polite to behave a certain way in public, although private events are a different story. White folks' shame has led them to avoid certain behaviors, which has made life easier for black folks.

So, the question I'm currently considering is: "Was it the right move?"

Was the shame-based approach to lessening racism the right decision?

On one hand, you have the obvious benefits of the stigma attached to being labeled a "racist." People avoid those behaviors because they don't want to feel the shame and ostracization.

Unfortunately, the behaviors associated with racism by white folks in no way encompass the totality of the problem. Plus, white folks now have a vested interest in refusing to expand their definitions of racism because that way THEY can avoid being classified as racists.

What to do, what to do...

Honestly, I don't have a solution. I'm just thinking about it. Do the benefits of the stigma outweigh the side effects of a shame-based approach to combating racism?

Have black folks gained more from the shame than they lose from the fact that white folks will do anything to avoid feeling that shame, including limiting the definition of racism so much that the most problems for black folks are ignored.

What do y'all think?

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21 comments:

Deacon Blue said...

I don't think there is a good answer, at least none that can be broadly applied. Because the answer is for whites to take a good long hard look at history and the current day and to recognize things like white privilege and inequity. Many aren't willing to do that, because they don't want to believe it exists, they are ashamed of the prospect, or whatever else.

But let's say you get them to recognize such things exist.

Then they have to CARE. And recognition doesn't always equal caring. Or at least not caring enough.

And if you're someone who thinks privilege is great and doesn't want to lose it or doesn't want to have a society that is fair and based on merit and personal traits (rather than connections, skin color, etc.), then you won't ever care.

And frankly, if you're scared (of losing jobs, of economy tanking, etc.), and you're white, you might start to see things like equitable and fair treatment as threats, even if only on a subconscious basis. And if you do, you will want to narrow things like the definition of racism.

It's all about education, and people are very selective about what they REALLY want to learn.

Problem is that we're all racist on some level, about someone or some group or something. It's all levels and gradations, though. And some people's racism has the power to do more harm than other people's racism.

But it's become a dirty word now, and so people can't see it as an accurate and useful word, and understand that it has gray areas and doesn't equal "evil."

There's not making it a neutral word again. No chance of it. And if you pick a new word, the stigma eventually attached to that will make IT a dirty word too.

People have to WANT to learn and see and understand and do better. They can only do that, I think, by continued exposure to one another and honest communication.

But I don't have much hope for that in this age of Tweets and Facebook and niche discussion boards and hypersensitivity.

I fear we've lost our ability to discuss widely, and most of us now retreat to those places and groups where we don't feel threatened.

I think about my own travels online and among people in real life, and the problem is that so often, I will try to talk about real shit with folks, and then they get defensive, no matter how diplomatic or reasonable I try to be. No matter how hard I try to show that we're both right and wrong about some things and that some things aren't cut-and-dried. But it breaks down quickly, and the ability to have real discourse disintegrates.

All too often, I've been in discussions with agnostics, atheists, racists, liberals, conservatives, etc., and I can say things like, "hey, I see your point" or "yeah, you might be right about that" but they NEVER budge on their own positions and NEVER consider that their positions need adjustment (or so rarely that it might as well be “never.”)

Discussion is a two-way street and there needs to be give and take. But very few people are really willing to give...not even a little.

It's very disheartening, and has led me to leave many online venues and to distance myself from people in real life because they ONLY want to hear their own views parroted and supported and reinforced.

I've rarely been that way. Yes, there are core concepts that I hold strongly to, but I don't hold any of them as sacrosanct because all of them rely on my own interpretations and filters, and I know that I can be wrong.

About race. About religion. About money. About politics.

But pride is a powerful thing. And so is fear.

Both work against getting over the problem you've addressed here.

Big Man said...

Damn Deac. That was a good comment. Almost your own blog post.

Deacon Blue said...

Yeah, I did run away with myself there. LOL. Might even tweak it slightly to make it a blog post.

Just wish it had more positivity in it, but frankly, I don't have any good answers as to how to get over the problem, either.

CNu said...

"discussion", including the post hoc self-talking we refer to as "thought", function primarily to rationalize/justify already firmly established positions.

in this case, the uniquely american mental illness which should be termed negrophobia because it more accurately describes this uniquely american phenomenon about which so many are in deepest denial.

why I'm so fond of the expression - everything else is merely conversation....,

Big Man said...

So CNu, are you guilty of "discussion" and "thought"?

And, you think negrophobia is uniquely American? Nah, from what I can see it's a worldwide epidemic.

CNu said...

So CNu, are you guilty of "discussion" and "thought"?

only when I fall asleep.

an increasingly infrequent phenomenon nowadays...,

CNu said...

negrophobia IS uniquely American, inasmuch as the negro himself is a uniquely American phenomenon.

from whence this term of art derives;

Jim Collier served up something apropos to the discussion a couple weeks ago. However, even beyond this meaty essay on the subject - one of his commentors served up purest clarifying gold thus;

Bravo to Carlos Dews for a very insightful article. However the difference between Roman racism and American racism is huge. A cardinal rule for racism around the globe is that each pocket of racism is highly customized as shaped by social traditions unique to that specific geographical area.

American racialism has been shaped by the unique social character of America as it evolved over more than three centuries. The American character has not only been shaped by the development of its commerce over the centuries but it is colored by the European character of its founders and other later immigrants to its shores.

I prefer to use the term NEGROPHOBIA rather than racism to identify the epidemic social disease so rampart throughout America. The phobic aspects of this social disease is what stirs strong feelings of anxiety in white people when they are accused of being racist, for in this accusatory moment the depth of their Negrophobia is unveiled to them. The Term Negrophobia as defined by Webster's dictionary is the "fear or hatred of Negroes", and is the most suitable word to describe the behaviors of white people during their everyday encounters with Negroes across the nation. Unfortunately the term racist or racism does not explicity identify which form of Negro rejection is being exhibited by a white person during such black and white encounters. Generally violence arises as a distinct possibility during a black and white social encounter if the white person harbors intense hatred of Negroes. Whereas, violence is generally non-existent during a black white social encounter if the white person harbors an intense fear of Negroes. This is the reason that NEGROPHOBIA is a far more definitive term for white rejection during a black white social encounter than the non-specific term racist.

Negrophobia is so entrenched in this country that even some white folks that work and socialize frequently with their Negro friends subconsciously harbor strong Negrophobic feelings. Through the long use of unique coping mechanisms they are able to consciously suppress their Negrophobic feelings and anxieties.

Thus, in respect to Carlos Dews' observation of white racism in America, it reached epidemic levels long before the antibellum period in America, so it persists in virtually every nook and cranny across America today.

Imhotep said...

Big Man, It's one thing to be shameful of being labeled a racist, it's quite another matter to be ashamed of BEING a racist. By any social or economic measure there exist significant disparity among the races, which can primarily be attributed to systematic racism, which is motored by racist individuals. So, from my vantage point this shame thing ain't really working.

The irony of this alleged shame is that whites only become shameful when their racism is pointed out by another white person. If a Black person calls out the racism, s/he is summarily dismissed as a malcontent or ungrateful nigga. The very act of dismissing the Black person's feelings, thoughts and response to racism is just another shameful act by whites towards a Black person’s humanity, but whites don't care. It's only a Black person’s feelings being trampled.

This meme about whites being shameful about being called racist is pure nonsense perpetuated by the white press. This shame have not moved them to loosen their strangle hold on: the boardrooms, churches, schools, institutes of higher learning, wall street, the U.S. Senate, State Senates, Governor's office, Hollywood, print media, electronic media, Sunday talking heads, research $$ to universities, government contracting, food production, real estate, etc.

No my friend that faux shame that whites display in public when the heat is on, is only done to protect their income source, it has nothing to do with how they really feel about Black people.

Thordaddy said...

Imhotep,

In an increasingly liberal society where blacks enjoy freedom of conscience, freedom of speech, freedom of travel, freedom to capitalize, freedom to worship, etc., "racism" IS SEEN FOR THE TOOL THAT IT IS.

In an increasingly liberal society where the scope of "racist" action, thought, behavior GROWS BECAUSE the definition of "racism" GROWS, savvy whites KNOW THE GAME.

"Racism" is largely a maximizing/minimizing autonomy meme.

You are Exhibit A.

Kit (Keep It Trill) said...

Big Man, This was very thought provoking.

Thordaddy said...

Negrophobia...?

Man, these black liberationists can't help but show allegiance to the radical homosexual.

See homophobia is one of those reverse psychology type tactics that serves as nothing more than a ploy to increase the homosexual's autonomy.

When we recognize that the homosexual nature desires the destruction of the heterosexual order so as to realize absolute autonomy, we KNOW THAT IT IS SOMETHING TO FEAR. This homosexual nature is destructive.

From this more truthful perspective, the accusation of homophobia BECOMES A TAUNT. It says you are irrational to fear my homosexuality and by the way my nature seeks to destroy your traditional order and we will prove it by the fact that you shrink at my accusation.

Negrophobia mimics this basic autonomy maximizing meme. Most mainstream blacks are intent on dissolving relations with white Americans ESPECIALLY if it means more freedom. The accusation is a tactic to make this happen and the proof is in the guilty white liberal.

MODI said...

Wow! The words "homophobia" and "negrophobia" are merely "tactics", but not a condition to describe why bodies show up dead (see James Byrd, matthew shepard, hundreds of year of history)... and far lesser related crimes. This logic is truly astounding. I could only guess that white/heterosexual fear of blacks or homosexuals doesn't actually exists, and thus shouldn't even be named.

----------------------

BM, great question and discussion. I also struggle with when and when not to use the "racist" word simply because it can be interpretted in so many ways. The truth is any racial double standard that is applied is by definition a racist act. I have moved in the direction of calling people's acts and deeds racist. That leaves the door open for change. Having said that, shame does have its place -- particularly for those who have shown know desire, willingness, or openness to expel the conscious or subconscious racism within themselves. I generally try to assess on a case by case basis.

Thordaddy said...

MODI,

Fear of the homosexual and black collective IS REAL.

Not only is it real, BUT IT IS entirely justified and rational.

Both these collectives are LIBERATIONIST MOVEMENTS.

Both SEEK TO DISSOLVE their most "oppressive" relations.

When leaving the relationship IS OFF THE TABLE, then DESTROYING IT becomes paramount when there is no intention of fixing it.

That's where the homosexual and black collective stand. They are destroying relations with the white heterosexual Man BECAUSE IT IS THE PATH TO LIBERATION.

So accusations of "homophobia" and "negrophobia" need to be first seen as a tactic of the liberationist seeking liberation. That's EXACTLY how these things function.

If you can't see this then you're just lying.

Imhotep said...

MODI, I believe shame matters if you genuinely care about those that you harm, as oppose to shame as a result of public opinion. If shame was a realistic motivator for racist behavior, we would be experiencing a more equitable society. The data suggest otherwise. For shame to have any impact on our society, then there would have to be a collective shame on the part of white folks, I don't see that as happening any time soon. White folks are too busy feeding their narcissisms to worry about their racist behavior towards non-whites.

Like Bigman said, whites control the definition of racism, and totally ignore Black folks or other PoC’s input on said definition. Consequently white folks have narrowed the definition to the symbolic but obsolete cross burning, and there are no contemporary definitions that white folks care to recognize. So how can they be shameful of something that does not exist?

Thordaddy said...

"So how can they be shameful of something that does not exist?" -- Imhotep

You're close...

More like, THERE IS NO SHAME in a liberal society. Any society that exalts nondiscrimination and tolerance as highest principles ceases to experience shame. And shame for "racism" is asking one to be doubly traditional as "racism" ceases to exist in a nondiscriminatory and tolerant society. To cry "racism" is to be illiberal.

Big Man said...

Imhotep

Man, thanks for adding your thoughts. I appreciated them and found myself nodding along.

MODI

I've seen you use the tactic of calling actions racist instead of people, but I haven't seen it seem to have much more success with most people. Have I missed the instances where people have been able to identify the distinction, or has it never happened?

CNu

I like that Negrophobia definition and explanation. It's a fear of blacks that drives most white reactions at a base level. Hell, Thor just admitted that the fear exists and is justified, even as he denigrated the word you introduced to the discussion.

When you recognize that it's all about fear in at some level, it makes certain actions easier to understand and then predict.

Thank you all for the points of clarification and for taking the discussion in a new and better direction.

Thordaddy said...

Lil man,

You have to seperate between fear of the black individual and fear of the black collective just as you would distinguish between fear of the homosexual and fear of the homosexual collective.

When one speaks of negrophobia or homophobia, one is not speaking of the individual, but the collective LIBERATIONIST FORCE that seeks to dissolve and destroy relations.

These are realities you seek to obscure for obvious benefit.

Big Man said...

Thor

You fear both.

But, you can pretend you don't if it makes you feel better.

Thordaddy said...

Lil man,

When you're 6' 1", 200 solid, you don't fear a lot of individuals especially ones who's "strength" is bound up in collective liberationist movements.

See, white folks don't fear lil man, they fear the raving black lunatics THAT CAN'T STAND unless they stand with collective racial support.

Big Man said...

If you say so.

My pops taught me a long time ago that you don't have to sell wolf tickets if you're really a wolf.

Thordaddy said...

Lil man,

Did your pops also teach you to wear sheep's clothing because you're where you don't want to belong?

Raving Black Lunatic