Re: The ugly side of wonderful

Michelle B. Golden (mgolden@UNIX.CC.EMORY.EDU)
Sat, 22 Oct 1994 21:05:15 -0400


Oy! Now we're trying to figure out my motivations. A useful question,
because if we were all more upfront about our motives (political/personal
agendas) this would perhaps be a clearer discussion.

(though having someone try to figure it out based on a couple of posts is
disconcerting, and perhaps not as useful as a more open-ended question).

My agenda is that I believe racism (my definition, not Webster's,
arrogant me) is intimately connected to how our society is structured--I
consider power relationships quite important in this because they are
connected to resources and materially affect our lives. BUT this doesn't
really answer the more personal question Forstadt raised about my motives
(as opposed to my beliefs).

One at a time:

1. re: the idea that I don't think people of color can defend
themselves and am posting out of a patronizing attempt to "help", I can
see that that might be a motivation, but as far as I know myself, it's
not mine. I believe that racism is destructive to all of us--different
kind of destructiveness for those of us with white privilege than for the
targets of racism. I also see some connection between my attempts to do
anti-racist work and my attempts to do feminist work, though the
relationship is complex and certainly not a simple analogy. I also see some
connections between the anti-Semitism my ancestors experienced in
Germany and racism today, again not a simple connection.

2. on the whether or not I agree with Sherwin Hicks. I have several
reactions to his original post. First off, I'm not a historian or a
biologist so the debate about whether "melanin-deprived" peoples are
historically more violent, while it makes some intuitive sense to me
(but not necessarily biologically), is not within my academic scope.

Secondly, it seems to me that there are times when
rage/anger/pain may be a more appropriate response to a situation than
measured academic discourse, though the rules of polite internet (and
other) dominant culture certainly don't make room for it (please don't
confuse this with an advocacy of physical violence, which is not the
issue here). This is a debate unto itself, but it might be useful to
think about how the rules affect our response to situations we consider
unjust (and I haven't finished thinking this through myself, so don't get
all polarized about it. I offer this in the interest of exploring a
set of cultural norms, which I think some of us as anthropologists
are interested in).

Thirdly, I've been thinking about the possible usefulness of the framework
which Sherwin Hicks offers viz. white people as "melanin-deprived." Think
about it. In a society in which race is commonly thought to properly be
the concern of people of color, white people exist to some extent as "the
norm". In the term "melanin-deprived", white people are 1. Cast as "other"
and 2. Cast as inferior. How does this feel? How does it challenge us as
white people? Instead of arguing about definitions of racism, perhaps
those of us who agree that there is structural oppression of people of
color in this country could gain some insight into the situation by
shifting perspective, looking at how being put to the side of the human
circle makes us feel. And this is nothing like having this happen backed
by social and economic institutions.

A final note about my personal motivations. Two years ago, I realized that
I spent a lot of time being silent re: race and racism because I was
afraid to take the risk of speaking out. It is part of my promise to
myself that I will speak out about what I believe. The fact is, as a
white person with white skin privilege, I can walk through my life on a
day-to-day basis and ignore the realities of racism. I've decided that I
don't want to do that. And the fact that I have a choice available to me
is itself a product of my privilege.


On Sat, 22 Oct 1994, Michael Forstadt wrote:

> ...I feel very strongly that this sort of pathetic wriggling needs a
> further (brief) response. By now, most of us do not need to participate
> in delicate semantic arguments concerning the relative merits of
> Rushton's and Sherwin's similar (though opposing) contributions. I
> suspect that a red flag went up for most of us the moment we saw their
> first postings. Golden's agenda is less immediately obvious, but it may
> or may not be as ugly as that of Sherwin and Rushton. Although I feel
> that there is a difference between simple racism and structural racism, I
> don't understand the need to defend the practitioner of one form of
> racism over the practitioner of another form. I see two possible
> explanatory scenarios:
> 1) M. Golden feels the patronizing need to defend the members of the
> group to which Sherwin belongs, presumably because she feels that they
> cannot defend themselves. or,
> 2) M. Golden shares the general worldview of Sherwin.
> While I hope that neither scenario fits the reality, I fear that it is so.
> _______________________
> M. S. Forstadt
> H. University