Monica Roberts

Jasmyne's Not Racist

Filed By Monica Roberts | March 03, 2008 11:50 PM | comments

Filed in: Media, Politics, The Movement
Tags: African-American, GLBT community, Idi Amin, Jasmyne Cannick, Louis Farrakhan, race relations, racism, Robert Mugabe

One thing I've noted in our ongoing struggle in the United States to overcome our negative past in terms of race relations is we aren't speaking the same language.

Yes, we all speak our version of English here in the Estados Unidos, but Jasmyne Cannick's recent February 27 guest post points out one of the fundamental problems in erasing and eradicating racism in not only the GLBT community, but the country as well.

Blacks and Whites have different definitions and perceptions of what racism is. I'm focusing on this issue from the Black-White perspective because the drama between us predates the founding of this country, and I will leave it to Latino/a's, Asians and other people of color to speak for their own groups.

From where I and many African-Americans sit, we tend to believe that some white Americans see racism and prejudice equally. We believe that some white Americans tend to think of racism as not only linked to prejudice, but as an individual character flaw. Reference works tend to back up that definition.

But African-Americans see and define racism differently. While we agree with white Americans that 'errbody' can be prejudiced, where we part company is seeing racism and prejudice as the same animal. We see racism as prejudice PLUS power.

In other words, many of us believe that when your prejudices are backed up by political, economic, and/or military/police power or a combination of the above, and that power is used to negatively impact an individual's life in the ethnic group you hate or an enitre ethnic group, then your prejudices and behavior becomes racist.

Before y'all start firing off the comments, I will point out the instances in world history in which people of color acted in a racist manner. One prime example was during World War II when the Japanese were busy building their 'Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere'. As I was told by a former co-worker of mine who grew up in the Philippines under Japanese occupation and read in other historical accounts, they treated their Asian 'little brown brothers' and whites trapped in the Asian colonies their military forces overran harshly.

During Idi Amin's reign of terror, in 1972 he gave Uganda's 80,000 Asian citizens just 90 days to leave the country. During that time, while under threat of rape, torture and even death, Asian Ugandans suffered terribly as they scrambled to get out. In the process they lost their homes, businesses and their family fortunes.

Another example is Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe, who began forcibly taking over the 50 million acres of commercial farmland controlled by whites there in 1992 and began redistributing it without compensating the owners.

But unfortunately, over much of the sweep of world history, the ethnic group that has had the ability and opportunities to execute racist behavior have been European descended peoples.

To clarify where I'm going with this, Minister Louis Farrakhan undoubtedly has Hateraid forr Jewish people. But Minister Farrakhan doesn't have the political, economic, police, or military power to turn his prejudiced views into public policy that negatively affects our Jewish friends .

Jesse Helms is on the other end of the racism spectrum. He not only has prejudiced views about African-Americans, he had the power as a United States Senator to translate those views into public policy, block any legislative initiatives that would benefit African-Americans as well and did so. Don't forget the infamous 1995 CNN Larry King Show appearance in which a caller openly stated that Helms deserved the Nobel Peace Prize for "everything he's done to help keep down the n-----s."

I as an African-American transperson and Jasmyne as an African-American lesbian have lived through experiences long before we started interacting with the GLBT community at large that give us a different worldview. We not only as activists have to take a big picture view of events in the GLBT community, we also see GLBT issues through an African-American prism. Our opinions are not always going to line up neatly with the prevailing group-think in the GLBT community at large.

Just because we are both proud African-Americans who are Black first, everything else second, when it comes to how we identify ourselves doesn't make either of us prejudiced or anti-white.

It also doesn't make either one of us racist.


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diddlygrl | March 4, 2008 3:18 AM

I have to respectfully disagree. By your definition, this would let most skinheads and neo-nazis off the hook, since they do not really have the type of power that you speak of.

I get the point, but tend to parse the language differently. In my view, the power to enforce prejudice is "oppression," independent of the -ism it supports, and which is available to all.

Thank you, AirMonica. I was totally ignorant about African Americans and the issues, both LGBT and straight, until I came to Georgia in 2000. Living in the heart of the Civil Rights Movement has truly educated me. Most of the people I work with are African Americans and they have helped educate me. But, it is a continuing process. Having you as a friend has been the most blessed part of this education process. I will always be thankful for that.

SeaMonica

battybattybats battybattybats | March 4, 2008 7:08 AM

I understand your points and do agree that prejudice + entrenched power is a distictly different thing than ordinary prejudice. Even though oridinary prejudice tends to be expressed through whatever power the prejudiced person has at hand from nasty looks and employment discrimination to beating somone to a pulp.

But I'm not sure I'm comfortable with the semantic shift of the word to cover that definition, as we'd have to replace many instances of sexism and ablism etc to instead be sex-prejudice and able-prejudice etc when not being expressed through a mainstream political power system.

Instead perhaps another strong word should be coined for the more potent pejudicial abuse of power. I often find that when language politics are involved it's better to add new words (or to take ones from other languages) than to shift the definitions of current ones unless there are distinct bias problems with the current definitions (as is often the case with sex/gender related words in languages).

Yeah, I've never heard this distinction either, although we definitely need to start thinking power when it comes to racism, if for nothing other than to keep perspective.

I just read the comments on Jasmyne's post since it went up when I was on vacation (yes, I read all posts and most of the comments when I'm around, it's a sickness) and really what I'm thinking is the issue is that some people were looking for reasons to ignore Jasmyne's call for self-reflection.

She had that bit about things Knipp could be doing to show his love of Black people instead of his show, but I found it hard to see that as racist, just more of Jasmyne's patented incredibly dry sense of humor. Seriously, the idea that he's performing as SQL because he loves Black women is ridiculous to me even as a white/latino queer boy from the Hoosier exurbs. It should be laughed at.

And that comment about how she was "unfortunately" tied to white America, well, maybe we could take a page from the Buddhists, who when gays and lesbians formed the first identity-based temples in the US, they asked themselves why others would feel the need to do so instead of just getting mad at the gay Buddhists. Instead of calling her use of the word "unfortunately" racist, why don't we take a look at why she used it first? It's a bit harder to do, I'll grant that, but let's face it, the loci of power in white gay America have done almost nothing to help here and Knipp continues to use his identity as gay to sell tickets. Could we at least get a "Not in my name" from GLAAD?

Just because we are both proud African-Americans who are Black first, everything else second, when it comes to how we identify ourselves doesn't make either of us prejudiced or anti-white.

Frankly, I can think of a lot of queers who are white first, everything else second, but they'll never say it like that, and no one will ever call them on it, so I guess that means they there is no problem.

As a gay black man, I reject the definition "racism = prejudice + power".

First of all, Monica seems to define "power" specifically as political power. This differs a bit from other discussions I've seen wherein "power" refers to systemic racism, which in the case of America means the white supremacist system that persists in America. Either definition I find problematic. I've witnessed too many black teenagers put down the smart black kids because they're "acting white". I've been mocked by my black manager at an old job for "talking white". And I've seen many a black person complain about the evils of the white man and turn right around and mock other people of color. Such attitudes are perpetuated throughout many black communities.

The end result is that, at least in the US, whites can be racist, but blacks can't. After all, blacks have relatively little power, and the system values white skin over black skin. Consequently while a white writer discussing matters of race has to carefully avoid generalizations and offensive phrases, black writers have little obligation to do the same. Whites rather not endure the shitstorm if they slip up so they just avoid the discussion altogether.

From where I and many African-Americans sit, we tend to believe that some white Americans see racism and prejudice equally. We believe that some white Americans tend to think of racism as not only linked to prejudice, but as an individual character flaw. Reference works tend to back up that definition.

But African-Americans see and define racism differently. While we agree with white Americans that 'errbody' can be prejudiced, where we part company is seeing racism and prejudice as the same animal. We see racism as prejudice PLUS power.

Fascinating.

The end result is that, at least in the US, whites can be racist, but blacks can't. After all, blacks have relatively little power, and the system values white skin over black skin. Consequently while a white writer discussing matters of race has to carefully avoid generalizations and offensive phrases, black writers have little obligation to do the same. Whites rather not endure the shitstorm if they slip up so they just avoid the discussion altogether.

Entirely true. I, myself, tend to shy away from race relations posts (or even trans issues) on the blog just because I know some little piece will offend someone and I'll have to deal with the baying for blood that will ensue in the comments section.

It's easier to avoid it all. Not right, but it's what happens.

Monica, you know I respect you, and your opinions. But there is one thing that I don't get - the part about being black first. As a white kid who grew up in Cleveland, Ohio all I can say is I didn't grow up with privilege. Most of my close friends were dead or in jail before I turned 25. Some were white, some were black. Skin color doesn't seem to mean much when you are buried under the ground or in a steel cage. Being color blind is a dangerous thing. It can make you enemies. I would rather face those enemies every day of my life than give in to the concept that somehow the color of my skin makes me more or less of a human being. Or wise. Or stupid. Or anything. To me, that is just ignorance. Why should anyone attempt to justify or define ignorance as acceptable? The effort would be better spent destroying it. We are the one we have been waiting for. And if we are not, we should be.

Jeri,
When I say I'm Black first, I'm strictly talking in terms of how I rank all the terms that can be used to identify me.

The point is that before you even get to know me personally, I am judged based on my skin color. That judgement is based on stereotypical assumptions that have their basis in America's original sin of slavery.

Being a minority is a constant, everyday fight to maintain your personhood when the messages sent you by the dominant culture are overwhelmingly negative. When you have been told your whole life that you aren't as intelligent, you aren't as attractive, you are lazy, et cetera, et cetera, you have to have coping mechanisms in place to maintain self esteem, pride and filter out the negative BS so you can focus on the business of using your God-given talents to succeed.

Race and the color line is so weaved into the fabric of American life that it's going to take sustained attention, action and constant vigilance just to even begin to dismantle it.

Monica, I don't mean to argue but if I were to describe you the first word that would come to my own mind is intelligent. The second is woman. I think a lot of people feel the same way. Am I wrong? Or am i so unusual? I personally feel that I am very ordinary, and atypical of a large percentage of American society.

I am aware that society has been racist, and that inequities still exist. I can still remember when there were colored bathrooms in the southern states. I remember the separate lunch counters and drinking faucets, all as if it were a bad dream. Lynchings. A nightmare. Such injustice sickens me till this day.

Today, a black male is still four times more likely to go to jail than to university. While many here complain about injustice aimed at the LGBT community, I rarely see comments reflecting the inequities faced by people of color. The overwhelmingly disproportionate victims of violence in our own community. It needs to end. All of the ignorance needs to end. I just feel that we are better served not by ignoring the injustice, but by recognizing that we are all more similar than we are different. We need to break down the barriers, not re-inforce them.

Great post. The "reverse racism" crowd never ceases to amaze me at their ignorance of the impact racism has. Having someone tell you that they are reluctant to have to deal with people who are ignorant of their issues is no where near comparable to living in institutionalized white supremacy.

But I think you might be taking the Oppression = Prejudice + Power thing a bit too far. Minister Louis Farrakhan has power, it might be difficult to dissect out what kind and where, but claiming that he doesn't have the power to oppress another group is similar to saying that the HRC doesn't have the power to oppress trans people because they are LG(b).

I mean, you don't even have to have power to be able to tap into the societal institutions of power that are everywhere. I could invoke the history of racism in this country to attack the self esteem of another person of color, even being a person of color myself. Maybe we ought to be talking about horizontal oppression. And internalized oppression too. I could certainly oppress members of my own groups using some of the same systems that oppress me.

But you can't tap into a power system that doesn't exist. If a person of color slams a white person with prejudice, they're not going to be hit with the full force of centuries of anti-white history. (Hit them with classism, abelism, fatphobia, sexism, etc and that's a different story).

I think each of these are very different circumstances. Direct oppression, horizontal oppression, internalized oppression, and "reverse oppression." The last one is the only one I don't think exists.

Michael Bedwell | March 4, 2008 5:11 PM

"Would you ask me how I'd dare to compare the civil rights struggle with the struggle for lesbian and gay rights? I can compare, and I do compare them. I know what it means to be called a nigger. I know what it means to be called a faggot. And I can sum up the difference in one word: none.

Bigotry is bigotry. I have been booed before. Discrimination is discrimination. It hurts just as much. It dishonors our way of life just as much, and it betrays a common lack of understanding, fairness and compassion."

- Address by Mel Boozer, Democratic National Convention, New York City, 1980

http://www.keithboykin.com/author/images/mboozer.jpg