Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Silence Is Ungolden

Solangel Maldonado at BlackProf has some interesting thoughts on the recent poll on racism I just blogged on, as well as a panel discussion.
Jared Taylor of American Renaissance magazine stated that Americans spend too much time talking about whites' racism against Blacks, but never address Blacks' racism against whites. As an example, he pointed out that Blacks can call whites "crackers" without any repercussions, but whites cannot use the "N" word. Although I do not believe this is a good example, it might be worthwhile to examine whether Blacks should be able to use potentially offensive words when referring to whites. According to Mr. Taylor, whites live in constant fear of saying something that might offend Blacks. Is this true? If so, does this "fear" hinder opportunities for cross-cultural communication and impede the development of personal and professional relationships between Blacks and whites?

Taylor is not my favorite human being, to say the least. When even FrontPageMagazine calls you a "white nationalist who has clearly rejected a multi-racial society," that's a pretty powerful sign that the charge of being a racist is not hyperbole. I have no clue how he got included on a panel on a major television network.

That being said, I agree with Professor Maldonado: Taylor's "cracker" "N-word" example is really dumb, but there is something to be said for the notion that White people walk on egg-shells when talking to Blacks. This doesn't get discussed for a variety reasons. Obviously, its difficult to start a discussion when the topic is "we're anxious about having discussions." Moreover, the Whites who do tend to broach the topic tend to be the ones like Mr. Taylor, who are appalled they can't say the "n-word" on equal grounds with Black people, rather than White people who honestly want to pursue the topic in good faith. Because of that, the public discourse on race conversation tends to come from a particular wing of Whites that doesn't seem interested in truly pursuing a race-equal society. And thus, Black people look warily on the topic as a whole as well.

This is problematic. Patricia J. Williams notes that race topics are made to be unmentionable
[both] blacks and whites will feel keenly circumscribed. Perhaps most people never intend to be racist or oppressive or insulting, but by describing zones of vulnerability, by setting up regions of conversational taboo and fences of rigidified politeness, the unintentional exile of individuals as well as races may be quietly accomplished and avoided indefinitely. [Patricia J. Williams, The Alchemy of Race and Rights 65 (1991)]

Breaking this discursive impasse has to be considered a top priority for anti-racism scholars in the years to come.


Let's talk about voting Debate Link

The 2006 Weblog Awards


Mark said...

This is a little off topic, but considering our discussion from this summer on racial memory and how to deal with the memory of injustice, if you have space in your in-box and time over break, I'd recommend Volf's End of Memory.

Another question (more related) to your topic. Are racial epithets ever OK? for example, was it acceptable practice to use derogative nicknames to refer to the Axis forces during the course a difficult (but just) war? The stakes were very high and it might be possible that such terminology helped keep the, uhm, minds of the nation focused. Is the use, introduction, or encouragment in this case the lesser of two evils (if the evil might losing and allowing the continuation of racial elimination programs such as the Japaneses against China (Nanjing) or Hitler and the extermination camps)?

Anonymous said...

Hi David,
Just thought I would mention; according to some theories on racism and discrimination, as currently taught in prominent universities (my alma mater being one of them), a distinction is necessarily drawn between racism and reactionary- or reverse-racism.

I don't necessarily fully ascibe to these theories, but this is what is being taught: a group that has been oppressed and remains in a weaker position will naturally respond to racism with analogous terms and generalizations for the body in power (i.e. "crackers" for whites), but this may not, in fact, be considered racism, as it derives from a defense mechanism, elicited by the initial racism of the powerful. Essentially, the theory attributes all negativity to the body that is in power and was, presumably, the first discriminate.

I regret that I no longer have the titles of any of the papers we were assigned on this topic, but I'd recommend that anyone interested start her or his search with topics like "reverse discrimination" and relationships of power in racism.