Saturday, February 07, 2009

Online Discourse Frustrations

One of the things that I've found is irritating about substantive online discourse in the blogosphere and beyond is how race and white privilege rears its ugly head in the middle of it at inopportune times.

If a Black person (or any POC) on a mixed race blog states an opinion that doesn't neatly line up with white groupthink on an issue, they are immediately challenged to prove it, provide links to it, loudly denounced as being 'racist' or the person is viciously personally attacked in order to divert attention from the original subject matter being discussed.

The same hue and cry for accuracy doesn't exist when a white person states their opinion on an issue. It's just taken as a given that it's correct, it's grounded in logic and reason and 'errbody's' supposed to accept with without debate even if it resembles barnyard feces.

The problem is that Whites and Blacks live in vastly different worlds. Black people grow up in a world in which we constantly confront racism and its deleterious effects on our lives. Whites grow up in one in which they live enveloped in that white privilege cocoon. Even if a white person transitions or is GLBT, they still carry with them white privilege as they are discriminated against and reviled by their fellow whites.

Therefore, it's illogical for example, a white feminist to say that you know what it's like to be a black woman' because you're not even though there are some things about womanhood that cross cultural and ethnic lines. But even I'm cautious about saying that line even though I've been transitioned for over a decade and probably have more credibility if I said it than you ever will.

We aren't even close to being a 'post-racial' society either. The election of President Obama and 40 years of post civil rights legislation did not magically erase the 400 plus years of racist attitudes that buttressed slavery and we never addressed post emancipation.

Those attitudes are so insidious that even if you think that you're not being offensive, there are times that the racism oozes into your statement and you're not aware of it until a POC calls you on it.

And don't even get me started on that BS race card meme or the your civil rights struggle is 'just like ours' because it isn't.

Just because POC's are bluntly expressing an opinion that happens to be diametrically opposed to yours, it doesn't make us 'angry'. If we're pissed, there will be no doubt about that because we'll definitely let you know when we are.

Too many times when POC bloggers write about various issues, some peeps get defensive about it. As one of my fave bloggers Renee says, 'If it ain't about you, don't make it about you.' If you don't exhibit the behaviors we're complaining about, then don't take it personally.

Even though online discourse can be maddeningly frustrating at times, they are also sorely needed conversations to help foster understanding as to just how deeply entrenched and pervasive these racist attitudes are in our society.

But if both sides approach them in a spirit of Kingian love, an open mind an a willingness to listen to thoughts and opinions which may uncomfortably challenge some core assumptions you've held about some issues, we'll all be better for the experiences.


gogojojo said...

too exhausted to say more than: kudos and cosigned.

Renee said...

That is exactly how you speak truth to power. Notice how those most likely to call you angry at busy frothing at the mouth?

Ceetar said...

However, there are plenty of times that 'blunt' becomes 'angry'. Especially over the internet where it's hard to tell the difference.

And when that anger gets attributed to the topic, and that topic is race, it often comes off as aggressive towards whichever race you're referencing. This makes people think elevating black over white to make up for past digressions, when it should really be about equality.

There _are_ many that cross the line from blunt to anger/aggression though.

Monica Roberts said...

The race problem is primarily between blacks and whites, and they predate the founding of the United States.

The roots of that problem can be found in the transatlantic slave trade and we are STILL dealing with the repercussions of it 150 years later.

Yes those conversations are sometimes contentious, but the conversations need to be held.

little light said...

Oh hell yes, Monica. Hear hear.

Ceetar: you know what? Sometimes anger is a fair response. And so long as you don't forget who and what you're for, I'm sorry, but getting angry about injustice ain't a sin.

Renee said...


So what if people are angry. It is not as though POC have not been wronged. Whiteness of course would be more comfortable if we would all just turn the other cheek. Let's all be honest, it's not the anger they fear, it is the possibility of revenge. Whiteness knows damn well how much they have wronged blacks and they fear being on the receiving end of the very same treatment that they had no problem dishing out.

lerchbase said...

White folks are a bunch of pansies all, "ohh you're getting angry at me!" "You should be nice and pretty and quiet and so sweet and kind so I won't really have to listen to you." "Oh my god are you getting in my face??" "Aggggggg!!!!!"

Monica Roberts said...

Watch it lerchbase, you're becoming 'verbally violent' by expressing such thoughts. ;)

But seriously, some of the problem in these cross cultural conversations is that we aren't even speaking the same language.

lerchbase said...

Monica, I wonder about the whole "different language" thing. While it's true that I'll never experience the life and *truth* of a transwoman of color, what I *can do* is listen to your language, reach out with mine, and learn with you to be as understanding as I can.

I really don't think it's that difficult if you have a caring attitude and some limited intelligence. I really have little sympathy for the excuse of different cultures/languages.

A friend of mine once said, "The bitter end result of 'identity politics' is the death of communication." (For the record, I'm not as extreme in my views as he was.)

What I think he was saying was if, because I haven't lived your reality, I can't talk to you, then we lose all possibility of communication. We have to trust and embrace empathy and caring to get as close as possible.

Monica Roberts said...

I hear you loud and clear. That 'verbally violent' comment was one that was actually aimed at me to criticize a comment I'd made on a transgender group back in the day that the person disagreed with.

But you're right on target in being open to learning about people's issues and respectfully listening to them.

Mike Brendan said...

Just trick them into violating Godwin's Law and you'll win. :)

btlowery said...

Thank you for this post. It is helpful for this white male to hear where perspectives come from and how they are informed (though I cannot truly understand).

belledame222 said...

'If it ain't about you, don't make it about you.' If you don't exhibit the behaviors we're complaining about, then don't take it personally.

no kidding.

as for the "angry" thing: well, yes, in fact, that's right, anger isn't actually going to kill anyone, especially when it's straightforwardly expressed. beats the hell out of sideways attacks and gaslighting and all the other little tricks and games so many of the people whining about "yer so meen and angry!" use...