1) Your Humble Editors are both white as fuck.
So, actually, we’d love to believe that we live in the sort of perfect world where “talking about identity politics while not being a member of an oppressed group” wasn’t a crime. But we’re miles from there and we don’t even know the roads.
It took me north of two decades to get over being a man and wanting to talk about feminism. It took years of being told that I ”just don’t understand, can’t understand, will never understand so shut up” before I realized that it’s really just a bullying tactic. So I stood up, defended my right to speak and periodically avoided having too much to do with people who argue that SWMs don’t have anything to offer the discussion.
Where race is concerned, I have literally no hope of ever reaching that point. No amount of empathy, data, or solid reasoning will ever outweigh my whiteness when push comes to shove. And push keeps coming to shove. Because…
2) The Race Discussion is toxic and angry.
Gabbing about gender online gets heated. And not for no reason. The oppressed, marginalized, othered, and variously abused folks of the world are looking for a place at the table. And when they’ve got even a marginal place to speak from, they’re very likely to want to say “shit was and is real fucked up.” I get that.
But for some reason, the discussions about that I’ve seen race always end up gunnysacking and whipping out past oppressions in ways that bend the discussion. This is not to say that spaces combating racism can’t discuss the effects of, say, slavery. But it does mean that I, your author, am tired out by having it wielded against me in pretty thoroughly discussions. (e.g. “You know what? When your ancestors were sold from their homes and exported to a new continent against their will, then maybe you can talk about whether public school policy in the US is racist or not.”)
And even though there are issues going back this far and further in gender discussions, this tactic is way less widespread there. I don’t know why. But I know it makes discussing sex and gender way more interesting and less tiresome than discussing race for me.
3) The Race Discussion has reached a pragmatic dead end.
This is way controversial, but here’s my claim: The kinds of things that can be ameliorated by discussion and activism have, in the area of race, largely been addressed. The high-level race-focused changes that people want out of activism have largely been achieved. Full legal standing? A pretty robust set of non-discrimination statutes? Particularly harsh punishments for hate crimes? The big stuff is done.
And the insidious, systemic racism that folks who talk about race talk about and that we can never seem to weed out no matter how hard we try? Two extremely blunt points: a) That shit is a problem that does not respond to SJ activism very well. It’s widespread, mostly hidden, and the people you want to reach to don’t read Racialicious anyway. b) This sort of problem is an unwinnable war. And like most unwinnable wars, we should suspect that the side fighting it keeps fighting because there’s some benefit for them to the fighting. No activism movement since 1960 has ever said “OK, I guess we’re done. Let’s all go home now.” Because after a certain point, the goal of a movement becomes the movement itself.
This, however, is the point I’m mostly likely to concede if pressed. Because there are still state-level actors doing some pretty fucked up shit that is pretty blatantly racist. But, uh, for every Sheriff Joe there’s also a blog post about how certain white anti-racists are doin’ it wrong. Because internal policing of movements tends to rise once major external goals are met.
4) Race Issues Are Just Class Issues in Sombreros and Other Ethnic Hats (Not All Of Which Provide Shade)
The natural response to that last point is probably something like, “No, but really, Rake, what about Sheriff Joe?” And then I would say, “That’s a very good point. I think that issues of ‘blatant racism’ as they exist today tend to be class issues masquerading as race issues.” And I’d agree with myself.
There’s no question that, say, the illegal immigration debate is often framed in racial terms and that certain sides of it are populated, frequently, by racists—unapologetic and otherwise. But the issues it reduces to are very clearly issues of money, economics, and class. No one of any note or respectability is arguing, for instance, the genetic inferiority of Mexicans as a reason why they shouldn’t be let into the United States.
It’s not that we don’t want Mexicans living next door to us because they’re brown. It’s that we don’t want them living there because they’re poor and we’re scared that they might take jobs from us or our kids.
Now, there’s racial fear in here too. There’s fear of losing our language, there’s fear of Caucasians becoming a minority. But this racial fear actually vanishes if Mexican immigrants aren’t so poor. Because poverty makes people less likely to assimilate and if they assimilated, they’d stop being viewed as Mexicans and start being viewed as Mexican-Americans, or even just Americans.
So, what I’m saying here is, if you solve class, race follows.
This means, if we talk about race here—which we will try to avoid—we will frame it in terms of class, because class interests me a bunch. Race on its own does not.
5) All of the above means that our efforts are better spent elsewhere.
We’re here to talk about what interests us, discuss issues that impress us, and hopefully make some small changes in the world around us. Where race is concerned, though? We cannot productively discuss it. The issues are muddled. The conversation is difficult. And there are not really changes that advocacy can achieve anymore. What’s left is out of our reach, as advocates.
Race is our third rail and until such time as something gets our innards in such a knot that we can’t keep silent this is the first and last you’ll hear about it.
P.S. As it turns out, Rust is a different person from me. She might write about race where I’d refuse to. I dunno. But as a rule, we’ll both generally avoid it.