Thursday, June 20, 2013

Why we shouldn't just be offended by Paula Deen's racist remarks

photograph of Paula Deen is from here

The latest trending example of white's racism showing itself on the level of language-use, is white Southern cooking show/merch millionaire, Paula Deen. Here's the transcript of her deposition which is now being widely circulated and critiqued.

A common white liberal response is to be offended. And I'm not sure there's much wrong with being offended. But the problem, if the only response is to feel offended, is that we don't see racism for what it is. We accept it as the 2004 Academy Award-winning film Crash, depicts it: a problem located in how individuals act. We see it as a matter of sensibilities, feelings, and behavior between people. We psychologise and sociologise it because our response is psychological and we reduce it to a social problem.

What is also being discussed with this case is the culture of white Southerners: romantisizing that old, old culture of building an economy on slavery and apartheid and then holding that past in a romantic air. But why the nostalgia for a culture that isn't only "old": U.S. Southern white and Northern white society and its economy is still dependent on slavery. And genocide. Both are on-going and both have never gone away. Apartheid has morphed into different manifestations, but segregation built on violence and discrimination is still part and parcel of how the U.S. operates, economically, educationally, culturally, religiously, and politically.

The danger of targeting Paula Deen's attitudes and language-use (or her acceptance of her family's language-use) as "the problem" is that the deeper, more pernicious, and far more deadly problem is never even named, let alone challenged, let alone eradicated. It stays invisible which is exactly how many white supremacists, who are far more influential and powerful than Paula Deen, like it.

The problem beneath Deen's remarks is white supremacy as a political system that is institutionalised and invisibilised by whites. It simultaneously shapes and saturates, regulates and relies on capitalism, class, and colonialism; militarism, imperialism, and war; dominant forms of Christianity, gender, sexuality, and, of course: race. This is where white supremacy lives and prospers. It also shows up as offensive language, aka actionable hate speech, but according to some rules (which do shift over time).

What are the rules, currently? They include whites making racist jokes on stage and otherwise publicly, sometimes without using the most overly harmful (not just offensive) terms; whites discriminating overtly against Black and Brown people, in hiring practices, in housing decisions, in every area of social and economic life; whites holding onto our deep racism, freely displaying it when with other whites for mutual supremacist validation and as part of a larger project of white power-hoarding. The rules allow for cloaking white supremacy in calls for colorblindness and treating everyone as equal on an unequal shooting field. The rules allow for practicing slavery and committing genocide out of view of the corporate media, which intentionally ignores the atrocities, pretending a fictitious fiscal cliff or a factual revelation of Paula Deen's usually hidden remarks ought to be of central concern.

Identifying the racism problem only as a matter of language, culture, or societal mores means those with race privilege stay dissociated from it as an organised system of power that is foundationally structured into in every political institution we have, including "patriarchy". The problem with white anti-sexists pretending that "male supremacy" is our only problem is that what we know as male supremacy in the West is bound to and dependent on white supremacy. The problem with progressives being anti-capitalist, or environmentalist, or vegan, without working to eradicate male or white supremacy, is that pretending each isn't embedded in what we're fighting against means we're protecting both. Lethally.

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