Saturday, August 30, 2008
The White Liberal Conundrum
On the topic of "Political Correctness", I think The White Liberal Conundrum, by Kai Chang, says it all. Period.
Original source: http://www.kaichang.net/2007/10/the-white-liber.html
Current source of archived essay: http://www.wutang-corp.com/forum/archive/index.php?t-90711.html
The White Liberal Conundrum
by Kai Chang
Anti-racism is a rewarding but grueling journey which must be consciously undertaken and intrepidly pursued (both inwardly and outwardly) if one hopes to make serious progress along its twisting passageways and steep inclines. There's no static end-condition at which an anti-racist can arrive and definitively declare, "Hallelujah! I am Not A Racist!" Rather, it's a lifelong process of historical education, vigilant self-interrogation, personal growth, and socio-political agitation. Racism fractures our world and our own intactness; anti-racism seeks to proactively treat these bleeding wounds and restore the integrity of our humanity.
As I've often noted, many white liberals remain oblivious to the depth and breadth of anti-racist work, opting to hide behind the delusion that anyone who votes for Democrats and doesn't have a pointy hood in the closet is "a good guy" in the movement toward greater social justice — as though the Democratic Party (http://skepticalbrotha.wordpress.com/2007/10/10/any-thoughts/) is some bastion of progressivism and not one of two hands strangling US polity on behalf of the ruling class and the corporate-political establishment which sponsors its power. Some might be surprised to learn that when people of color talk about racism amongst ourselves, white liberals often receive a far harsher skewering than white conservatives or overt racists. Many of my POC friends would actually prefer to hang out with an Archie Bunker-type who spits flagrantly offensive opinions, rather than a colorblind (http://temple3.wordpress.com/2007/10/08/nothing-to-do-with-race/) liberal whose insidious paternalism, dehumanizing tokenism, and cognitive indoctrination ooze out between superficially progressive words. At least the former gives you something to work with, something above-board to engage and argue against; the latter tacitly insists on imposing and maintaining an illusion of non-racist moral purity which provides little to no room for genuine self-examination or racial dialogue.
Countless blogospheric discussions on racism amply demonstrate the manner in which many white liberals start acting victimized and angry (http://www.theunapologeticmexican.org/glosario.html#magikattax) if anyone attempts to burst their racism-free bubble, oftentimes inexplicably bringing up non-white friends, lovers, adopted children, relatives, ancestors; dismissing, belittling, or obtusely misreading substantive historically-informed analysis of white supremacism as either "divisive rhetoric" or "flaming"; downplaying racism as an interpersonal social stigma and bad PR, rather than an overarching system of power under which we all live and which has socialized us all (http://www.genderracepower.com/?p=228); and threatening to walk away from discussion if persons of color do not comform to a narrow white-centered comfort zone. Such people aren't necessarily racists in the hate-crime sense of the word, but they are usually acting out social dynamics created by racism and replicating the racist social relationships they were conditioned since birth to replicate.
Of course not all white liberals are like this. I'd say that a significant minority of white liberals are actually interested in learning about anti-racism once properly exposed to it. This requires enough humility to admit that people of color have something to teach white folks, a concept that many whites struggle with because racism teaches us that whiteness is the seat of authoritative knowledge, while brownness is the repository of murky musical mysticism which whiteness may dip into at will for spiritual support and servile entertainment. Nevertheless, some white folks manage to claw and bootstrap their way out of their own conditioning, opening their hearts and minds to previously unseen worlds from which the voices and stories of people of color emerge; studying and observing the profound effects of racist society on their own perceptual prisms and on the shape of the world (http://slanttruth.com/2007/10/03/the-common-elements-of-oppression/); and consciously, steadily working to counteract those effects. Such people become allies to people of color.
From what I can see, though, a solid majority of white liberals maintain a fairly hostile posture toward anti-racist discourse and critique, while of course adamantly denying this hostility. Many white liberals consider themselves rather enlightened for their ability to retroactively support the Civil Rights movement and to quote safely dead anti-racist icons (http://slanttruth.com/2007/10/03/on-civil-rights-leaders-that-are-loved-and-conveniently-dead/), even though their present-day physical, intellectual, and political orbits remain mostly segregated. They somehow take pride in being more "down with the brown" than their conservative brethren; indeed they exhibit a certain strange glee in highlighting and exploiting the "macaca" and "call me" moments of their political opponents. Armed with "diversity" soundbites and melanin-inclusive photo-ops, they seek electoral, financial, and public relations support from people of color. Yet the consistent outcome of their institution-building agendas is to deprioritize (http://blacksmythe.com/blog/2007/09/30/a-few-more-things-about-that-white-progressive-blogosphere/) and marginalize our voices, perspectives, experiences, concerns, cultures, and initiatives. When you get right down to it, the unrecognized political reality is that most white liberals have more in common with white conservatives — social cues, family ties, cognitive biases, cultural backdrops, etc. — than they do with people of color. I'm calling this tangle of contradictions the white liberal conundrum.
Obviously the record of white liberals when it comes to racism isn't good. Now I know that white folks frequently bemoan the guilt-laden burden of inheriting the racist legacy of their predecessors; to which I can only respond: If white folks disavow and destroy all the systemic advantages and interlocking privileges and perks of whiteness, then they're off the hook! But you can't enjoy the lifelong fruits of the legacy while disowning the accountability, right? That's not how it works.
For people of color, the white liberal conundrum manifests as an ongoing and often exhausting struggle to determine the extent to which they can or should work with, or trust, white liberals. Some feel that it's a waste of time, that most white folks will never get it and those who do will find their way into POC-led movements on their own. Others believe that some modicum of energy should be extended toward bringing white persons (http://www.prometheus6.org/node/18197) of good will on board anti-racism and forging common ground. I'm not really sure myself, but I do know that either way, communities of color are going to be on the move and organizing, resisting the racist social order with ingenuity and hope, even as white supremacist imperialism heaps its abuse (http://brownfemipower.com/?p=1880)as it always has (http://www.intrapolitics.org/node/64): outside of the imperious gaze of the mainstream; advanced by the tireless efforts of innumerable anonymous activists, organizers, visionaries, artists, collaborators, innovators; continually appropriated and/or sabotaged by the political and media establishment; reduced and glossed over by mainstream journalists and historians as the miraculous mojo magic of establishment-anointed "leaders" (http://www.tnr.com/doc.mhtml?i=w071008&s=olopade100907); and despite all that, continually inspiring vibrant cultural scenes, enabling potent spiritual networks, and undertaking positive socio-political interventions and transformations. upon dark bodies around the world. Anti-racist progress will continue to occur.
For those white liberals and progressives who become serious about extracting racism from their worlds and their lives, who wish to participate in the dismantling of white supremacy, the white liberal conundrum usually culminates in some sort of series of crossroads (http://ilykadamen.blogspot.com/2007/05/preview-of-coming-attractions.html) and reckonings; they're often forced to make tough decisions about which of their previous alliances and networks — newly illuminated and often unfavorably recontextualized by anti-racist analysis — are worth trying to maintain, which are too invested in the distortions of the white lens (http://www.theunapologeticmexican.org/glosario.html#whitelens) to salvage, and which new directions and networks to pursue.
The good news for those who wish to embark upon (http://www.amazon.com/Teaching-Learning-Anti-Racism-Developmental-Approach/dp/0807736376) the anti-racist journey is that there's plenty (http://www.rachelstavern.com/) of (http://whyaminotsurprised.blogspot.com/2006/08/for-white-folks-how-to-become-ally.html) help (http://www.timwise.org/) along (http://www.racialicious.com/) the (http://allywork.solidaritydesign.net/) way. The literature on anti-racist history, theory, and practice is voluminous. In the intertube age, it's not all that hard to find. White liberals who have no interest in engaging this vital body of knowledge, who refuse to incorporate it into their political vision and agendas, cannot be considered allies to people of color; they shouldn't act surprised when not all that many persons of color show up for their parties, contribute to their causes, or buy into their narratives. On the other hand, those who have the courage to allow themselves to be transformed by anti-racist consciousness have a shot at escaping the white liberal conundrum; they turn their critical powers upon their own lives, minds, and hearts first; they listen and read and reflect with seering honesty; and thus they begin to recognize — and actively oppose — the breadth and depth of racism's consistent, dehumanizing, body-shattering impact on the shape of this wounded world.
Posted by Kai at 04:33 PM