(This post is coming as a result of a debate on a listserv of which I’m a member)
The first reaction to a claim of “that’s racist” or “that’s fucked up” or anything in that vein should not be kneejerk defensiveness + “I AM NOT RACIST” + “LOOK AT ALL MY MINORITY FRIENDS.” In instances where someone is calling us out, we need to listen before trying to defend ourselves.
No, blackface is not an homage, even if the wearer intended it as such. Blackface and any other cultural appropriation can be deeply offensive, even under the guise or art and political commentary. Have any of you heard the “We’re a culture, not a costume” poster campaign? If not, you should check it out. A poster on Autostraddle summed it up pretty well: “The problem with racially insensitive Halloween costumes: While people who dress up as racial stereotypes might be able to take the disguise off the day after Halloween, people who are minorities can’t. And the resonance of everything from a geisha to a terrorist stereotype persists long after the end of October.”
Another interesting discussion? This video from The View. It’s interesting because two folks “of the group being discussed” don’t agree on the matter.
My takeaway points?
- Just because some folks in a minority group are not offended does not mean that the action is suddenly okay or shouldn’t be construed as offensive to other members of that community. In this case, just because Whoopi was fine with it doesn’t discount (and shouldn’t minimize) the point that the other person was making.
- People can be very aware and sensitive around some issues, but entirely clueless about others. Also, let’s remember that just because someone makes fucked up OR super intelligent statements doesn’t mean they are fucked up OR super intelligent across the board. For example, in the Halloween video I was totally on board with the speaker opposing Whoopi, but in this video, I’m totally on board with Whoopi and her defense of Sasha Grey.
- Being ignorant about an action’s cultural baggage and the stereotypes that come along with it is UNDERSTANDABLE when folks come from a position of privilege where they have never had to think about that baggage. HOWEVER, that doesn’t mean the ignorance is OKAY or that it should be allowed to continue and be perpetuated. *This is an important distinction.*
- At the same time, people with privileges shouldn’t just expect that people from oppressed groups educate them one-on-one and on-demand. This is what happens a lot, though, and it’s exhausting as fuck. For a person who’s asking to be informed about privilege, it’s just one question; for the person getting asked, it’s sometimes a constant stream of “please educate me.” And EVEN if the people come with great intentions, they need to understand that minority groups don’t have all the time/energy to educate every single person. There needs to be empathy on both sides, of course, but we need to understand how these things work so we can see where the anger comes from. There are many resources out there at our disposal. Let’s use them. Let’s also not be *afraid* to ask our friends who are part of minority groups to help us learn, but let’s understand their potential reluctance/rejection and not take it “personally.”
- Aside from the issues around education, folks in minority communities DAILY have to deal with the systems that fuck them over. Not trying to paint this as “woe is me I’m so oppressed,” but honestly–we need to think about all the daily stressors people face around their social positions and identities so we can be more compassionate and try to understand where they’re coming from.
Finally, here are some more resources:
- An -Isms glossary. Esp. check out “collusion” and “passive oppression”
- A compilation of privilege checklists. Want to understand your privilege? Read these.
- On Privilege and What We Can Do About It – FANTASTIC. FUCKING. RESOURCE.
- Cultural Appropriation, continued. What’s the diff. between appreciation and appropriation? Is it just a “white problem”? How do I figure all of this out?