Do Know That You’ve Been Heard

If you’ve been paying attention to a certain type of white progressive lately, you’ll have noticed something strange. (Okay, you’ll have noticed a number of strange things, but I’ll just be focusing on one here.)

Instead of seeing racism as a symptom of ignorance or fear or plain old stupidity, they seem to think that overcoming racism is a matter of mindlessly repeating the latest racial talking points. Thinking is neither required nor permitted. Just as long as you never question “the narrative”.

In my article Who Cares If America Is A Racist Country, I challenged one particularly worthless narrative that’s sprung up lately. Namely, the question of whether America is a racist country. I asked why anybody would waste their time on questions like these when they could be solving real racial issues. Especially when the effort to do so would be a very convincing argument against the charge of racism.

Nancy agreed that there were more important things to focus on, but couldn’t quite bring herself to put real work ahead of empty symbolism.


Nancy:

I agree with everything in your piece except the premise: What is the point of asking, "Is America racist?" The question's purpose is the same as standing up in an AA meeting and saying what is also surely obvious: I'm so-and-so and I'm an alcoholic. I'm America and I'm racist.

The answer to the question, "Is America racist?" is foundational, a place from which to act. The pundits serve a purpose in raising awareness as much as the activist in the march does and the politicians who legislate for justice. They all serve a purpose, working in tandem toward the higher cause of honoring racial equality and repairing the damage that has been, and continues to be, done.


Steve QJ:

The question's purpose is the same as standing up in an AA meeting and saying what is also surely obvious: I'm so-and-so and I'm an alcoholic

This is nice framing, it's very poetic, but there are a few problems with it.

First, America isn't a person. What does it mean to say that America is racist? That its legal system is racist? "The civil rights act was passed almost 60 years ago! There aren't any racist laws on the books anymore." That its citizens are racist? "Well I'm not racist, I have friends that are black." That it's history is racist? "Well when do we move on from that? Why won't you let the past go?" That it's institutions are racist? "But I voted for Obama! Twice!"

Each of these answers have been given a thousand times in response to these questions. They frame the issue in completely the wrong way and help nobody. The attention should be on specific issues that affect specific people. Let's focus on those. The philosophical and semantic questions can wait.

Second, an alcoholic is always an alcoholic. They never stop, they never fix it, they never stop being a recovering alcoholic. The problem with this applied to a country can best be seen in the mindset of some of the black writers here on Medium. Nothing they have to say is productive or informative. They're just depressed and fatalistic and everything that happens to them is about racism. The belief that the system is against you forever and nothing will ever change that is crippling. It's also largely untrue.

Today, race is still a factor in succes, but it's no longer a barrier to success. That's not good enough, obviously. I'm not saying that means it's time to shut up and be grateful. I'm saying that telling people, especially children, that their country is against them and always will be, is at least as harmful to their psychology as the racism they may face in their lives.

But most importantly, the question isn't "is there racism in America?" I think every person in their right mind would agree that there is. So the task at hand is to analyse and fix that. Adding the question "is America racist?" does nothing towards this goal. In fact, it distracts attention and energy from the goal, because now everybody is arguing about whether their counry is racist or not.

People who might be totally on board with addressing racism in some way, get defensive because they feel as if their country is being attacked. Where's the benefit of doing this? Who wins?

I'm sick of talk about raising awareness or honouring causes. The problems people face need action far more than they need attention. The pundits rarely achieve anything more than preaching to their already converted audiences. They make their listeners feel virtuous or as if they're achieving something simply by getting outraged or talking about how "unacceptable" it all is. By recognising that more work needs to be done. When does it get done?

Again, the question that should dominate the mind of anybody serious about improving the problem of racism is "Who does this help? And how?" Those are the only questions that matter.


Nancy:

I see you're sick and tired of semantics. I don't blame you. I am too. If I'm understanding you correctly, you want ACTION. I do too.

You make a valid rebuttal in saying America is not a person. I'm not one to think corporations are people either, so I don't know how that was allowed to go from my head to the page. I stand corrected.

Your premise is, "Who cares?" Well, I do for one. I suspect you're also sick and tired of "meeting people where they're at." I am too. But some people's ignorance requires it.

All your examples that illustrate the racism that has occurred and continues to occur permeates our society; that's why I answer yes to your question. The alt right keeps growing and is a existential threat to our democracy.

I suspect (correct me if I'm wrong) that you're also tired of POC using race as a crutch, and you wish they'd shed their feelings of victimhood. Well, once again, not everyone is in the same space as you--as far along, if you will.

Your premise, "Who cares?" was a wonderful place for you, as writer, to launch your story. It fed your piece, but in the end, it still doesn't sit right to my mind.

To each his own. I love your writing and thank you for your thoughtful response.


Ugh, I understand that sometimes you have to let a disagreement go, but if two people are having a conversation about something they both feel is important, shouldn’t they be able to get more than two comments in before giving up?

Ah wait, I see where I went wrong. I assumed that Nancy actually cares. Let’s test that…


Steve QJ:

Well, I do for one.

I guess my question would be, what is it that you care about? You care that everybody admits that America is racist? Not that there is racism in America mind you (as I said, I think almost everybody would concede that), but you want people to say America is racist? Why? Especially given that you're white. Why? What do you get out of that? What do you think black people get?

The examples I gave are of racism in America. I could find it in almost every country on Earth. So again, why do you think it's any kind of priority to go that extra step and define America itself as racist? I am absolutely certainthat every one of the people I wrote about would rather have their situation improved than debate whether America is racist.

To be perhaps brutally honest, I couldn't care less if some people aren't in a place where they can put their own ego aside and work to help those less fortunate than them. And sadly that includes some black people.

Most of the black people I see whining about microagressions on Medium have lives that are sooo much better than people who live in former redlined communities or are in jail for minor offenses as casualties of the war on drugs or who live in neighbourhoods where they get hassled by the police every day. They complain because an old lady didn't smile at them or some such crap. It's so narcissistic.

So no, I'm not interested in meeting people who aren't interested in anyone but themselves "where they're at". They were never going to say anything useful anyway so again, who cares?


Nancy:

I see that at least on one topic (microaggressions) I’ve understood even though I do not agree (see my flash fiction story, “Death by a Thousand Cuts”). Do know that you’ve been heard. My hopes and what I DO daily, I suspect align closely with your hopes. I’m an old white lady, yes, and I may not understand exactly all of what you’re saying, but I’m hearing you. And that’s what it’s all about here on Medium. Thanks for the confab, Steve QJ.


Hmm, so, still no answer to the central question.

Okay, I know when I’m not wanted. But let me at least make it clear that I see what she did there…


Steve QJ:

I won't press you again if you don't want to answer, but I'd really like an answer to the question I asked; why do you care about the semantics of America being racist rather than there being racism in America? Where do you see the value here?

Again, if you don't want to answer that's fine, I wont pester you further, I just can't wrap my head around it.


Surprise, surprise, Nancy didn’t “care” enough to answer to my question.

Believe me when I say that I find “allies” like Nancy far more infuriating than the genuine racists I occasionally deal with in my comments. Racists think racism is all made up, or that the only reason racial disparities exist is that black people are lazy and stupid. They’d certainly like nothing more than to stop asking questions like, “Is America racist?“

Believe it or not, this is a starting point. We can analyse data, we can talk about whether it’s legitimate to group people by skin colour, we can agree that there’s a great deal of dishonesty in the way that some people talk about race at the moment. We may begin a long way apart, but at least we care enough about our points of view to have a conversation.

Sure, sometimes the conversations are uncomfortable. Sometimes we don’t “hear” each other. But when we do, there’s a chance we can make real progress. I’ll take that over being “heard” any day.