Wednesday, July 23, 2008

How Not To Drown In A Sea Of Empty Posturing

Via Racialicious, "How To Tell People They Sound Racist":

A few responses:

  1. Not only is separating "what you did" from "what you are" good strategy, I think it is actually closer to the truth. I wouldn't deny that there are living, breathing people who hate other people's guts because of what they are or perceive them to be, but most of the time, in everyday culture, when we're talking about racism or sexism or homophobia or whatever, that's not what we're talking about. Racism (and other attendant -isms) is something that you fall into, not necessarily something you bring with you. And anybody at any time is in danger of falling into it, no matter what you think or what you've done in your better moments. It's just that some people live there, and other people habitually stop by, while the rest of us usually do our best to try to avoid making a visit.
  2. How powerful is the empirical razor? It cuts through all of the "what is in your heart" arguments to return to the real. There should be a book, "The Everyday Metaphysics of Race" that explores all of the ways that the discourse of race departs from the empirical or the phenomenological and goes off into the la-la land of bad ontology.
  3. In case you can't tell, race is crazy on my mind these days.
  4. Bad conscience: The problem with a single-minded focus on "what you said" is that it encourages an already-existing perception that to be racist means that you say the wrong things (or rather, that saying the wrong things is a sign that you are racist) and that the way to avoid being racist is not to say the wrong things. What that leads to is an ever-enlarged list of Things That Cannot Be Said, with all the attendant loopholes and asterisks that largely depend on What You Are. It also leads to pushback, of the form "How am I supposed to teach my daughter that she can't say the N-word but black people can?" or the anti-PC "some people are so touchy, you can't say anything anymore." Again, racism is a diffuse, social phenomenon, not a substance in the heart or the brain, but it doesn't make sense to endow a specific set of words with magical racist power either. Ultimately, it's not enough to avoid being racist; you actually have to become anti-racist.

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