Tildy : Racist as Rant : ?

Damn it!  I had a four page post goin’ there, all solid gold (SOLID GOLD) and its gone!  Damn you, Flock!  I hate you and hope you get run over by a bus!

Let’s see if I can recreate it here.  Damn it.  I had clever transitions and everything!

Ahem.  I read a lot of blogs.  My blogroll over there makes up maybe half of my daily reading, and by “daily reading” I mean the list I check three or four times a day.  Yeah, I’m on vacation and got a little time on my hands, like you don’t do it too – yes you do don’t lie to me I know your mom!  I might.  I’ve noticed my blog taste is more about writing style and intelligence rather than the author’s point of view or living situation.  Granny Gets a Vibrator, the Pirate King, and Mistress Matisse are three of my favorite blogs and they couldn’t be any more different.  Liz from GGAV is a 52 year old white bodybuilder living in Louisiana, the Pirate King is a soldier poet with a knack for self sabotage, and Mistress Matisse is a professional dominatrix.  The only thing they have in common in a basic mammalian structure, and maybe a love for the gym. 

It’s a great group over there, tell you what.

Gah.  There was such a good segue here before Flock crashed.  I went off for so long about race issues after reading Liz’s Black Immersion Month series, and now all the fight is out of me.  Dammit.  I’ll make it short this time.

There is a disturbing trend in sociology about racism that generalizes the majority into an ignorant, defensive group that’s inherently prone towards bigotry.  One of the more egregious examples of this trend was a book I read last year (Why are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? by Beverly Tatum), which has inspired hours upon hours of enraged venting from yours truly.  She just annoyed me, and it was mainly for academic reasons – bad research design is one of my biggest pet peeves when you’re trying to prove a point.  Seriously, for the love of all things holy find sociological studies with more than six people in the test group.  A sociologist sitting down with four white women in college and asking how they got there is not enough to be taken seriously as a study on white advantage.  You’re a PhD, Dr. Tatum, why use so many weak studies?  I’m sure there are better ones out there. 

I’m getting off topic.

I am white.  I am female.  I have a set of parents that has an above average income, and I was taught from an early age how to get along well with authority figures.  I definitely have advantages over other women my age, white black or any other color – not to mention socioeconomic status (which is a whole other post that I’m not going to get into right now).  I consider myself to be damn lucky.  According to Dr. Tatum, this makes me racist.  If you look at racism from a systemic perspective, I am.  I am not my race, however.  She doesn’t know me.  She has no right to label me.  Nobody has a right to label anybody, whatever race they are – its just rude.

The term that made me pause on Liz’s site was “aversive racism,” and I feel like its often used as another generalization for a wide range of human reactions that can’t be summed up in one neat political phrase.  According to the Intercultural Development Research Center, an aversive racist “is characterized by the following five traits:

1. In contrast to the traditional racist, the aversive racist endorses fair and just treatment of all groups, at least in principle.

2. The aversive racist harbors negative feelings of discomfort toward other races and therefore avoids interracial interaction whenever possible.

3. When interracial contact is unavoidable, the aversive racist tries to disengage from interaction as quickly as possible.

4. When interracial contact cannot be avoided, the aversive racist adheres strictly to established rules and codes in these situations so as not to appear prejudiced.

5. When the aversive racist expresses negative feelings (thoughts, attitudes) about other races, he or she does so in ways that can be rationalized.”

Does anyone else find that loaded? 

Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that I am not racist.  Maybe I am.  Hell if I know at this point.  As an anti-racist, I (1) endorse fair and just treatment of all groups.  I live in a part of the country where I have (2) very little contact with black people (I do, actually, and I miss it.  Most of my friends from college were black, and it feels so… bleached up here sometimes – but of course for the purposes of this example you don’t know that).  A few weeks ago, I saw a very drunk, very big black man, yelling obscenities at cars, approach me at a bus stop.  I was alone, and it was late at night.  I was frightened, and (3) relieved when my bus arrived a few seconds later.  Due to the location of my store, I see a lot more black people when I am working. I use the (4) same customer service script on all customers; I have to say the same thing hundreds of times a day, if you don’t have a script you’re gonna forget something.  If I am upset with a customer, its usually (5) because they treated me rudely.  If a black woman treats me like crap when I’m trying to cashier, I will complain to my co-workers about it. 

Does this make me an aversive racist?  If you look at where I live, my behavior at the bus stop and at work, and my political stance then yes, I am.  If you look even just a little bit closer, you would see something different.  Let’s change the colors of the people in my little scenario here.  If I saw a very drunk, very big white man yelling at cars, you’d better believe Id get the hell out of there.  If a prissy white woman doesn’t make direct eye contact and answers her cell phone while I’m cashiering, of course I’m going to complain.  That’s what I do.

Let’s look at a more complicated scenario.  A customer comes up to me, slams her hands down on the counter and announces that she has some items on hold.  I don’t jump; I turn around slowly and ask her for her last name.  “Why do you need to know that?” she snarls.  I explain that that’s how we have the hold items organized; she interrupts me to say “I never gave my last name, I know what you do with that you sell that information to calling companies.  Its under ____.”  I look, and I don’t see anything under that name.  As I’m rooting around, she thunders in “is it not there?!  I knew I couldn’t trust you people!  Where’s my stuff?  I want to see my stuff!”  I turn around, straighten up, smile a terse but polite smile and say “We put things back on the floor after three days.  When did you put this on hold?”  Her cheeks puff out.  “NO ONE EVER TOLD ME YOU ONLY HOLD THINGS THREE DAYS.  They lied to me!”  I smiled again.  She continues to rant, how “they need to train their people better if they’re gonna answer my phone calls” and “I don’t know why I even come here anymore,” getting slightly louder with each pronouncement.  I continue smiling.  After a nice crescendo punctuated by more hand slamming on the counter (I don’t jump, and give her a slightly bemused look), she runs out of steam and pants for a bit as she stares me in the eye for a good thirty seconds.  I keep smiling.  We both know I’ve won.  She shoots me a rueful smile and says “well maybe you did tell me that.  I put it on hold about two weeks ago.  Can you help me find them?”  I say yes, and we go on our way.

Now.  What color do you think this person was?  Do you think my understated, perhaps patronizing response had to do with her obnoxiousness, or the fact that I was expecting this kind of thing from someone of her race?  Do you think that if a white customer were this upset, I would have jumped right to the phone to get a manager?  If you thought she was white, did you think I would be too frightened or nervous to pull something like this on a black woman?

This situation happens more than you’d think, actually.  This particular scenario has been repeated about seven times since I’ve started working retail oh so many years ago.  My first was a white man, he was memorable – after that I can’t tell you specifics but I know I’ve tried this technique on black people, white people, Hispanic people, and both genders.  They just want to yell. It’s worked almost every single time I’ve tried it.  It’s one of my best tricks.

My point is, I believe that “aversive racism” exists.  I just want to urge anybody who uses that phrase to use it carefully.  Just because you see something that might look like racism to you doesn’t mean it is.  You don’t know the context, and you can’t label me any more than I can label you.  Mutual respect and an understanding that every single person (even us privileged white people) are individuals, are very important if we’re going to get through this with any kind of dignity and empathy.

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