sarahmichigan: (Default)
This article never uses the word "privilege" but that's a large part of what it's talking about. In our egalitarian, pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps society, we like to think that two people with the same education starting out in the same job are on a "level playing field," but they're not, necessarily. 

The article explains why help from Mom & Dad early on can increase a person's net worth and nest egg dramatically later on. Surely, how well you manage your money and where you go after the help from Mom and Dad is largely under your own control. However, there are some heavy economic and social factors that keep poor families poor and richer families rich, without a lot of movement from class to class over the generations, and the author sheds some light on why that's so. 

This is why I think the reflexively defensive position on racial issues of "But slavery happened 200 years ago- why are we still talking about it today?" is so naive and misguided. Someone who was born of a slave mother and father and someone who was the son of a slave-owner are going to pass on different amounts of money and assets to the next generation, and so on as the years and centuries go on. There are bound to be lingering socio-economic effects from such a social institution even hundreds of years later.

This, of course, doesn't absolve anyone of taking charge of his or her own life and life choices- that's not the point I'm trying to make here. In fact, I've been feeling kind of ornery about the idea of being "lucky" as it's been applied to me lately. Surely, I AM lucky. I was born to two parents who had bachelor degrees, owned a house, and encouraged me to read and do well in school. In that sense, I am lucky and privileged, and I do realize that.

On the other hand, my parents were the first in their families to get those degrees, and we were quite close to the poverty line growing up. We had our phone service and gas shut off more than once when I was in grade school. I remember a Christmas when our gifts came from the Salvation Army or some similar charitable organization.

Further, the idea of being told I'm "lucky" rankles because I know that at least part of my success is from hard work and making hard choices. Yes, we have nice things, but we have nice things because we took crap jobs in our early 20s and stuck with them, and worked our way up to better jobs. Yes, I have a home and two cars and a big screen, but I also scrimped and saved and did a lot of my shopping in second-hand shops, not to mention obtaining furniture from dumpsters and the curb.

The areas this rankles most, though, are the areas I have the most control over. I remember winning a state-wide essay contest in 7th grade, and a classmate said something about how "lucky" I was. She thought I was arrogant when I said, "I'm not lucky, I worked hard for that." But it was true. That essay didn't write itself. And recently, an acquaintance said I was "lucky" to have gotten several interviews and expressions of interests for jobs. But it's not luck. I sent out nearly a hundred resumes in the last 3 months or so and networked my ASS off. That's not luck.

I don't have any conclusions, here, really. I DO understand the idea of privilege, and I realize there isn't a level playing field. On the other hand, I want some acknowledgment that I think I do work hard for at least some of the good things in my life, and it can't all just be marked up to luck of the draw.
sarahmichigan: (reading)
I've been meaning to post some more in-depth thoughts about some of the books I read in 2007 and just haven't gotten around to it yet.

Willa Cather, "My Antonia," and racial/ethnic/gender issues.
(First, I want to note that I realize I am conflating the opinions/thoughts of the protagonist Jim Burden with what Cather thinks/feels, and this isn't always a reasonable thing to do, as authors often write characters to have very different ideas or feelings than they have. But it's pretty well known that much of "My Antonia" is disguised biography, so I think it's safe to assume that Cather's thoughts and feelings are at least similar to what Jim thinks, feels and believes.)

I think it's really odd how Cather has so much sympathy for European immigrants and sees how hard-working and just like regular old Americans they are, and yet she can't seem to get past some of her weird ideas and feelings about "negroes" in the book. She has obvious admiration for pioneer immigrants, especially the women who often worked as hard or harder than the men. She obviously thinks that her fellow 'mericans who find these people to be alien are mistaken. And yet, when she talks about a blind mulatto piano player, she pulls out a lot of racial stereotyping, from the shape of the head to her line about him enjoying the music in a primitive way, "The way only a Negro can." It's pretty bizarre to me, even considering the times, that she couldn't take that one more step and see the common humanity even with the skin color difference. She goes on and on about the mulatto's yellow skin color and can't go two sentences without mentioning racial features, very much different than the way she treats the European immigrants, after getting a few descriptors out of the way early on.

In contrast, I LOVED how she talked about the difference between hard-working farm girls and hired maids and the girls who grew up middle class and never had to do any work harder than walking half a mile to school. She talks about how when the boys danced with the girls, the sedentary girls didn't move under their clothes, and their muscles seemed to be asking not to be exerted while the working girls felt very different in their arms, muscles moving powerfully. Great descriptors. It's pretty obvious why Cather is something of a lesbian icon.

The abortion debate in shades of gray. I read two books last year that touched on the ethics and morality of abortion in places, and the authors both advocated a less black-and-white approach, while coming at it from pretty different places. The first was "The Science of Good and Evil" by Michael Shermer, and the second was "Crazy for God" by Frank Schaeffer.

First off, before I discuss these two author's opinions about the abortion debate, I just want to say that while I'm firmly pro-choice, I do think that the debate is really over-polarized and that both sides often make statements or arguments that are WAY too extreme. I also think their tactics are often ridiculous. For a satire of this, check out the movie "Citizen Ruth." It makes both the virulently pro-life and the virulently pro-choice activists look like twits, and it's hi-LAR-ious. I think it's equally ridiculous to call a two-cell organism a "baby" and call an aborting mother a "murderer" as it is to call a 7-month-old fetus a "clump of cells" and to pretend that there's no moral component to the decision to abort a baby that- with modern technology- could be a viable, living human being. But there's been precious little room for gray-area thinking in the abortion debate as it's been framed post Roe v. Wade.

Schaeffer comes to the abortion debate from a strongly pro-life viewpoint.
He was one of the leaders that pushed abortion as a moral issues for evangelicals to take a stand on; before the 1970s, abortion was largely seen as a "Catholic" issue and many evangelical and fundamentalist churches had no strong stands for or against it, at least not publicly. He admits that much of his anti-abortion stance is based on emotion, that he was a teenage father who grew up with severely handicapped friends, and he finds the arguments about unwanted babies of unwed teen mothers and aborting disabled fetuses to be morally repugnant from a highly personal point of view. Later in life, he developed a more nuanced view of abortion, feeling that perhaps a 13-year-old who had been raped or molested should be allowed an abortion while two parents with plenty of income should not be able to abort a child with a minor disability just because they want a "designer baby" (although, I have to wonder how many of the latter kinds of people he's ever met or talked to- that's not even close to my experience of the reasoning behind why some of my friends have had abortions).

Shermer comes to the abortion debate from a libertarian viewpoint, and from the viewpoint that MOST moral decisions are not yes/no or black/white, and that morality is almost always along a continuum. One area where I've heard this argument before is in terms of animal rights. It seems weird and non-intuitive to give all animals 100 percent of the same rights as humans, but it also seems wrong to treat our closest relatives- monkeys and apes- and other somewhat intelligent animals, like dolphins, as though the are indistinguishable from, say, a mosquito. He proposes giving animals rights along a continuum, with humans having 1.0 human rights, with the great apes having, say, 0.9 human rights, and mosquitoes maybe 0.05 human rights (I'm making up these numbers, but you get the idea).

Similarly, he posits that many moral choices can been viewed along a continuum, with taking the morning after pill being perhaps 0.1 immoral, with killing an already-born child being 1.0 immoral, and all the variations in between falling somewhere along that continuum. Under this type of moral thinking, it makes sense to allow first-term abortions, discourage second-term abortions, and severely limit third-term abortions, for instance.

I don't necessarily agree with either in full, but I have to say it's refreshing to see people talking about abortion in shades of gray without getting bogged down in polarized dogma from either side.
sarahmichigan: (Default)
In some of my BARW posts and other race discussions in the last week or two, I've seen people talk about how you can't change society as a whole or how companies are just made up of individuals, so focusing on indivuals is all you can do (I'm paraphrasing). Of course, it's true that companies and societies are made up of individuals, but I *don't* think it's true that all one can do is influence individuals to be aware of racial inequalities and making sure hiring and other policies are fair.

If you have an established Old White Guy Network at a company, even if every individual is committed to social justice and remedying racial inequalities, it's going to take active work on the company level to get to a place where racial minorities make up more than a tiny percentage of the workforce there. There are a myriad of confounding factors, including the fact that many racial minorities come from poorly funded schools and so, as a group, may not have the same educational background that a similar-sized group of white potential hires could have.

But, there is another issue: people tend to hire people like them. This is just simple human pscyhology, and it extends past race. Studies have shown that people who have the hiring power often hire people very much like them in temperment (laid back vs. go-getter, quick decision makers vs. ponderers, and so on). Even if you're committed to racial equality, if you're not hyper-aware of this tendency, you're not going to make that effort to seek out a diverse workforce.

I think that social movements like school busing and Affirmative Action are trying, in their ham-handed ways, to try to break the cycle and make an entry point for racial minorities (and women). I'm not saying I think they've been effective, just that I think the intentions were good and that the problem that was identified was a real one.

Really, I think at least part of the solution to racial inequality in the work force, government, housing, and so on, goes back to changing the way we fund public schools at the elementary and high school levels. As it stands, rich (predominantly white) neighborhoods have better schools and more up-to-date books and poorer (predominantly minority) schools have crowded classrooms and 20-year-old books. Until we find away to spread that around a little more equally, I think Affirmative Action and similar programs are never going to be able to make a significant dent in this problem.
sarahmichigan: (Default)
I don't know this guy; he was probably googling BARW and made a brief comment on my LJ last week. I went to read his BARW post and thought it was insightful. Too many people hear "white privilege" or any discussion of racial inequality and want to immediately jump to, "This happened X years ago, how long do I have to continue feeling guilty about it?!"

Well, are people really asking you to feel guilty about it? Or are they just asking you to acknowledge that racism isn't just a one-on-one individual thing but rather a system-wide problem?
sarahmichigan: (Default)
This will probably be my last "Blogging Against Racism Week" post. I'm sure I'll post about race and racism again, just not this densely in a given week.

On some of BARW posts this week, some folks expressed an interest in talking about "reverse racism." To start off, I dislike the term, as it implies there is a normal or expected direction to racism.

Secondly, though I'm not sure I buy it entirely, I have some affinity with the idea that prejudice on the individual level is a different thing than instititualized racism. On this view, minorities can be "prejudiced" but they can't be "racist" because "racist/racism" implies the power and ability to affect someone on a fundamental level, such as denying housing or discrimination in employment hiring. Like I said, I'm not sure I entirely buy into this concept, but it seems a useful distinction that I'm going to use below: racial prejudice vs. institutionalized racism.

I don't have a lot to say about "reverse racism" because I haven't experienced much of it, and all of it has been on the individual racial prejudice level, and none of it has been on an institutionalized racism level.

Incidents in which I think I was a target of racial prejudice:
-One incident in Kalamazoo in which I was called names by young people sitting on a porch. I didn't hear every word they said, so it might not have been racial, but my assumption is that it was.
-One incident in Ypsilanti in which I was called names by young people sitting on a porch. They just called me a bitch, so maybe it had nothing to do with race.
-One incident in Ypsilanti in which some black teenagers asked J. and I what we were doing in "their" neighborhood. Possibly racially motivated, possibly not, as we were walking several blocks from our house and they may just not have seen us around on their street before.

Honestly, that's it. There may have been other incidents in which someone ignored me or didn't want to date me because I was white, but if that's the case, it wasn't overt enough for me to notice. And, to my knowledge, I've never been denied housing or a job because of my skin color or perceived race.

Compare that to the times I have been harassed or rejected for being fat: about 2,000 or more (seriously), if you count dating site rejections and being called names ("Go fatty, pedal that bike faster!") on the street. Or compare that to the times I have received street harassment or the like for being female: several dozens.

At times I have been racially insensitive or prejudiced, even though I'm actively trying not to do this sort of thing. Some examples:
-Talking more "street" when I was around racial minorities.
-On a dating site, rejecting a black man who wanted to be my submissive because the thought of having a black man as a "slave" made me insanely uncomfortable.
-Being extremely watchful and cautious of black men I encounter on the streets when I'm walking alone. To be fair, I tend to feel most young men under about 25 are barely-controlled sociopathic animals, so this is more a sexist thing than a racial one.
-Occasionally appropriating pieces of Native American culture in less-than-sensitive ways.
-Assuming that racial minorities will be grateful and positively-disposed to me because I'm exploring their music, religion, language, or culture in some way.
-Being surprised that black people eat Chinese takeout and like to go fishing.

I've also witnessed a fair amount of racial prejudice and even some institutionalized racism:
-Working for a boss who wouldn't hire black sales agents because he was afraid they would intimidate the people in his market. It apparently didn't occur to him that he could hire black agents and send them to middle class and affluent black communities.
-Working for companies (nearly everywhere I've ever worked) whose percentage of minority employees was vastly smaller than the percentage of minorities in the community generally.
-Being told by a white neighbor that she was glad a white family had moved in next door.
-Dozens of instances of racial slurs and stereotypes used in conversation by my in-laws.
-Witnessing co-workers turning instantly prejudiced and hateful toward arabic people directly after 9/11.
-Witnessing the poverty of Pottawatomi Indians near where I grew up, and then institutionalized racism against them when they wanted to start a casino and attempt to improve their lot in life, even though white Catholics in the area had been running bingo for decades.

I can imagine some situations in which white people might feel very disadvantaged and even disempowered; I've heard of white teenagers being harassed in high schools with a majority racial minority population, and I can't imagine they feel very privileged by their white skin in that sort of situation. But on the whole, as I've said, I have experienced very little racial prejudice against me on the personal level, and none on the institutional level. If "reverse racism" is some huge problem, it's not happening in my world.
sarahmichigan: (Default)
Race is a social construct, and not a biological fact. For any feature you want to pick out as being a marker for a particular “race”, it’s imperfect, but skin color is especially tricky

This couple received threats for their interracial marriage. She is “white” and he is “black.”

This woman is from India. She is “Caucasian” also known as “White”:

This man is African-American, also known as “black”:

This man, with albinoism, is also “black”:

For more info on race as a social construct:
sarahmichigan: (Default)
It's hard for me, too, to talk about race, especially with someone whose views appear to me (not saying they ARE, just that it's my perception) to be racist and/or un-informed. Instead of wanting to dialogue and figure out where that person is coming from, my first reaction is to want to scream:


I think this is because I don't want anyone to think that, because my skin color is the same color as the person with the icky-to-me views, that I think the same way that person does.
sarahmichigan: (Default)
"Why White People are Afraid"

A final fear has probably always haunted white people but has become more powerful since the society has formally rejected overt racism: The fear of being seen, and seen-through, by non-white people. Virtually every white person I know, including white people fighting for racial justice and including myself, carries some level of racism in our minds and hearts and bodies. In our heads, we can pretend to eliminate it, but most of us know it is there. And because we are all supposed to be appropriately anti-racist, we carry that lingering racism with a new kind of fear: What if non-white people look at us and can see it? What if they can see through us? What if they can look past our anti-racist vocabulary and sense that we still don't really know how to treat them as equals? What if they know about us what we don't dare know about ourselves? What if they can see what we can't even voice?


"I'm not afraid to talk about race; I'm afraid NOT to talk about race":

Many whites believe that talking openly and honestly about race and racism will lead to embarrassment and accusations of racial insensitivity, maybe even charges of racism. With these a priori assumptions, the conversations, if they occur, become defensive struggles, emotionally draining, sad attempts to avoid blame.

One more link:
Talking about race in the classroom (but applies to other situations):
sarahmichigan: (Default)
I don't think it's our minority friends' job to educate us, and white people probably should talk together more about race and other social justice issues. Sure, if racial minorities want to talk to us about these issues, that's fine, but it's not their job to get us up to speed.

Along those lines:

I was thinking of an anology; several years ago, I was talking to someone blind on-line and asking how s/he (I can't remember now) was able to read and respond on the internet. S/he ignored my questions and stopped talking to me. It wasn't that person's job to educate me; a simple search engine would have given me some answers about optical readers and other adaptive devices for helping the blind to read text. That person was probably sick to death of having to explain this sort of thing to clueless sighted people like me.

In my posts about Blogging Against Racism this week, I am not in any way setting myself up as an example. I am a racist. I'm also sexist, ageist, and so on. I think we all have hidden prejudices and assumptions that we could be examining more closely. Since I live in a society that has a centuries-old history of opressing racial minorities with after-affects that still linger today, I think it's my job to educate myself through reading, workshops, dialogues, and so on, to the best of my ability. It's easy to not think about race when you're in the majority and have had very little experience of discrimination based on your skin color. Most racial minorities don't have that privilege.

In the comments on my last "Blogging Against Racism" post, it was noted that integration only goes so far to solve racial tension and social injustices, and I probably am too optimistic about how things are going or could go in the future. I think it's true that spending time with others unlike us only goes so far to dispel our prejudices and does very little to change things like the Old White Guy networks in place in most industries in this country.

I've never seen this reality TV show, Black/White:

But from the commentary I've read about it, not even walking in the other person's shoes for a time will change a person's mind. Apparently, from what I've read, the black family just had confirmed what they suspected all along: that white people say even more blatantly racist things when they think no minorities are around. And the white Dad held onto his conviction that blacks are over-sensitive and see racism where there isn't any, even after passing as black for a time.

This discourages me.

I don't know what the answer is, but the dialogue isn't even close to being finished yet.
sarahmichigan: (Default)
Continuing on with "Blogging Against Racism Week," I thought I'd share some optimism I have about racial issues, at least in my little corner of the world.

Living in Ypsilanti, Michigan gives me hope for race relations in our time. Never before, anywhere I've lived, have I seen white, black, and brown-skinned people living and playing together with so little visible rancor.

The cul de sac I live on is so well mixed that if you plotted the race of the people who lived here, it'd look a bit like a checkerboard. It includes the crazy white Cat Lady who lives next door to our right, the black man at the end of the block who has the most immaculate lawn in the neighborhood, a married couple consisting of a Phillipina woman and a Middle Eastern man who have an incredible oriental garden in their front yard, and the couple who live next door on our left- a black man, his blonde white wife, and their cute little caramel-colored toddler. When I've been to bars here, it's not uncommon to see working class black and white folk sitting down at the same table drinking beers together. The other day on my way home from work, I drove past a chubby little black boy pedaling his banana seat bike with his little white friend riding on the back.

It's not some paradise- that's for sure. J. and I have lived here since early in 2000 and have frequently walked and biked around our neighborhood. I remember some young black kids asking us what we were doing in "their" neighborhood. But those kind of incidents are few and far between. More commonly, our neighbors of all colors smile and wave and note that we're out for our usual "evening constitutional."

About three years ago, when I was volunteering at the Friends of the Library, a sensitive ponytail man came in and talked to me and another worker about how he'd gone around that morning tearing down racist fliers that were posted in his community, targeting a mixed-race married couple who lived there. The man was from englightened, liberal Ann Arbor.

I believe that all the rich liberals in the world aren't going to make the world share a Coke; I think that kind of change is going to come from working class folks living in close proximity, noticing that the things they have in common are much more important than the differences that divide them.
sarahmichigan: (Default)
I got pointed at this blog entry from my body_impolitic feed:

Short version: Don't make it a whacking huge deal if you say something racist, or something others perceive as racist. Apologize, move on, and consider the criticism seriously so that you can improve your thinking, if need be.

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