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Why I Love Tim Wise

Passing the Buck and Missing the Point:
Don Imus, White Denial and Racism in America

by Tim Wise

…those who are telling black folks to “get over it,” when it comes to racial slurs, such as those offered up by Imus, are missing an important point: namely, the slurs are not the real issue. The issue is that these slurs (be they of the “nappy-headed ho” variety, or the semi-psychotic string of vitriol spewed by Michael Richards a few months back) take place against a backdrop of systemic and institutional racism. And that backdrop–of housing and job discrimination, racial profiling, unequal health care access, and a media that regularly presents blacks in the worst possible light (think the persistent and inaccurate reports of murder and rape by African Americans in New Orleans during the Katrina tragedy)–makes verbal slights, even if relatively minor, take on a magnitude well beyond the moment of their issuance.

One thing has been made clear by the Imus incident: namely, white folks are incapable of blaming other whites for white racism and racist behavior. Despite all the demands by whites that blacks take “personal responsibility” for their lives, their behaviors, and the problems that often beset their communities–and especially that they stop blaming whites for their station in life–the fact is, we can’t wait to blame someone else when we, or one of ours, screws up. So please note, from virtually every corner of the white media (and from black conservatives who are quick to let whites off the hook no matter what we do), the conversation has shifted from Imus’s racism to a full-scale assault on rap music and hip-hop. In other words, it’s those black people’s fault when one of ours calls them a name. After all, they do it themselves, and Imus can’t be expected not to say “ho” if Ice Cube has done it. At this point, I’m halfway expecting to hear Bill O’Reilly say that white folks wouldn’t have even heard words like nigger if it weren’t for 50 Cent.

In addition to trying to shift the blame for white racism onto black folks, we whites seem to be congenitally incapable of simply condemning racism, and after such condemnation, ending the sentence with a period. No indeed, after each condemnation it appears as though we are compelled to offer a comma, followed by a semi-exculpatory clause, which minimizes or outright nullifies the force of the condemnation itself.

As in, “Yes, what Imus said was horrible, and mean-spirited” (and sometimes we’ll even admit, racist, although several were unable to verbalize this word), “but he does wonderful charity work,” or runs “a camp for kids with cancer.”

So long as the bigger problem of institutional injustice remains off the radar screens of the media however, even victories against personal bias will remain largely irrelevant. And this is so because it is that larger racial inequity that so often contributes to personal bias in the first place, by giving the impression to weak-minded individuals that those on the bottom of the social and economic structure must have something wrong with them, or else they’d be doing better. That is what our society encourages us to believe, after all. Until we get a handle on racism as a social phenomenon, we’ll be unlikely to make lasting progress on ending it as a personal one, whether for Imus, or anyone else.

Go. Read.


44 thoughts on “Why I Love Tim Wise”

  1. Dani says:

    Oh thank you for catching this! I was wondering if we’d be hearing from him on this issue.

    Of *course* we would- I tell you the man gives me hope for white people. It’s just a sliver, because white people aren’t exactly the brightest bunch of folk, but I have hope all the same.

    Thanks again,

  2. BlueGirl says:

    First of all, I am “white.” (Jewish and 2nd generation) Personally, I consider race a matter of mild genetic differences on the order of eye color – basically unimportant except to describe someone physically. I think culture, however, is where differences lie. For example, a “white” person from detroit and a “white” person from little rock are likely going to be very different culturally just as a “black” person from Jamaica and a “black” person from South Central would be. I know this is not necessarily the way most people think and certainly not the way this country or any country has thought historically.

    Ok, that context aside, I was just curious if you had ever watched the “Imus in the Morning” program?

    If all I had ever heard of Chris Rock was his “cracker” joke, I’m sure I’d be plenty offended and think of him as a racist, too. However, I’ve watched enough of his performances to know that he is very intelligent man who uses comedy to discuss issues which are both uncomfortable and unPC.

    Don Imus does the same in his own gruff style. Except he comes in the unpalatable package of being an old white male who often wears a cowboy hat. He’s a lightning rod for the whole ugly history of racism and sexism in America even if he had never said a word. Plus he’s made a lot of enemies in high places.

    I know the gains of civil rights were only forty years ago, but I think the burdon of ending racism is on all of us.

  3. H. Lewis Smith says:

    Spewing accusations back and forth accomplishes nothing. It’s your fault…no its your fault. Puh-leeze give me a freaking break. Imus, has been held accountable for his conduct. The fact of the matter is he was very disrespectful that can’t be denied. What is being denied is that rappers and black comedians are just as disrespectful.

    Rappers, comedians have taken a racist definition drenched in ignorance and degradation a word that was used to dehumanize their ancestors and have embraced it affectionately and endearingly. Just how cerebral is that? Rapper CDs are laced with fifth and garbage that poisons the minds of our youth and this is suppose to be acceptable?

    Where is the self-respect, pride, dignity and honor. There is absolutely nothing honorable nor respectful about taking a racist definition and using it on one’s self. It’s human nature (not racial discrimination) to disrespect someone who refuses to respect themselves. If you insist on DEMANDING some respect, then first things first, its IMPERATIVE you first learn to respect yourself. Rappers and black comedians are poor examples of such a quality. And I speak only of those rappers who indulge in such unrefined behavior.

  4. ABW's Guest Blogger says:


    Uh, no. Imus isn’t being targeted because he’s an ugly old white man. That’s really stupid.

    He’s being targeted because he said some ugly, offensive shit. He’s a person in a position of privilege, as most white men are, and additionally is in a position of some prominence, who chose to use that position and prominence to attack a group of people that his kind have historically oppressed and treated like shit. That’s why.

    And as Tim said, attacking rappers and comedians for reacting to oppression is a red herring. White people have been calling black women hos — and far worse, *acting* on that belief — in some way, shape, or form for nearly 400 years. That’s why most black Americans are mixed. That’s why welfare reform legislation passed so easily under Reagan; he invoked the image of a nappy-headed black woman with hordes of illegitimate children, rather than the *real* face of welfare, which predominantly consisted of rural white families. It’s also why so many black males have absorbed the lesson that black women are nothing but sex objects. When “ho” comes from a rapper it’s a *symptom* of internalized racist messages. (It’s also a form of minstrelization; since suburban white males buy more rap than anybody else, rappers who want to make money consciously use language that white boys want to hear. But that’s a side-issue.) And yeah, I agree that we need to deal with that. But where the hell do you think those messages are coming from? People like Imus are the *cause*.

    1. MixedGal says:


      Excellent POST !!!! :D


  5. Liv says:

    I agree with Tim Wise also. I mean if Snoop Dog jumps off a bridge should Don Imus do it too?

    How childish is this?
    Rappers are being held accountable in other arenas.

    Even if all blacks stopped buying rap tomorrow–that wouldn’t solve the problems.

    The context of black comedians terms are in a whole different league then what Don Imus did.
    As for the N-word Chris Rock has explained that and was called to task for it so blacks are not immune to the scrutiny.

    There are none so blind as those who will not see.

    I love Tim Wise. I agree with your post too BlueGirl…especially about the historical and unending abuse of black women throught our ENTIRE history here. Don doesn’t get a pass either.

  6. pllogan says:

    Maybe I shouldn’t have been shocked that people added the “but”. However, I was.

    FYI, I’m white, if that matters.

    I saw it as an unwarranted attack on a group of young women who were playing a game at a national level, from a national figure, on a national forum. They had done absolutely nothing to him. The whole thing was completely unnecessary and despicable.

    The man should have never said what he did in the first place, but after he did, he should have apologized without qualification. No weaseling around. No blaming rap or anyone else. And it shouldn’t be so difficult for him to figure out why people were upset by his remarks or actions.

    Whether the man gives to charity or is a nice person is irrelevant. He did a bad thing and didn’t have the guts to say so and sincerely apologize for it until an uproar forced him to. That shows more about his character than anything else.

    LOL @ Dani … intelligence is not the issue. The issues go way deeper than that.

  7. BlueGirl says:

    Hmm, I’ve been thinking about this stuff a lot as I know that all of you have. All I have is my perspective, which I try to challenge for the truth whenever I can. In a country that is 86% white, 12% black and 2% other… (The CIA Factbook does not count Hispanics seperately under ethnicity but says that it is made up of whies, blacks and others who are also hispanic), it is hard to keep perspective clear and balanced.

    I KNOW that what I’m about to talk about is super contraversial, but I’m figuring that if we can talk about this kind of challenging topics calmly and safely, then there is no end to the kind of positive changes that can be made in this country.

    The thing is, after moving in with my boyfriend a year ago, I ended up switching to his schedule of sleeping during the day and staying up all night (I’m a novelist). And here on the west coast Imus came on from 3-6 on MSNBC. So, I would be sitting at my desk writing and then my boyfriend would turn Imus on. At first I didn’t get the show. I’m the kind of woman who doesn’t call her female friends bitch or ho. (Although I have to admit that since thos debacle its been all over the internet I’ve been using the phrase Media Ho a lot.)

    So I’ve ended up watching a lot of hours of Imus. And I ended up getting his sense of humor and the way he talked about things. He actually went too far with what he said a week and a half ago, but I don’t think it was for all the historical white/black relations reasons. I think it is far more complicated than that and I think we had a perfect storm coming.

    Here’s the thing I’d like to do, if you all are agreeable. I’d like to parse out what Don Imus said.

    I’m not going to do that without some feedback tho, because I KNOW that this is delicate subject matter.

  8. BlueGirl says:

    By the way,
    Why is “the context of black comedians terms are in a whole different league then what Don Imus did”?

  9. ABW's Guest Blogger says:

    “Here’s the thing I’d like to do, if you all are agreeable. I’d like to parse out what Don Imus said.”

    I’m not agreeable. I don’t see the point. So you like Imus, I gather; that’s fine. No one’s saying you can’t like him, laugh at his jokes, feel that he really cares about you when he keeps you company at 3 a.m., whatever. His likability or mad radio show hosting skillz are not in question here. (Though I question his “skillz” if he’s stupid enough to make a comment like this on-air. If nothing else that shows questionable judgment. It also suggests that he’s resorted to being pointlessly inflammatory to get ratings, which is something that only a *bad* talk-show host should have to do, IMO.)

    What is in question is whether he said something abysmally stupid and wrong. Except that’s not in question either — he did. The only thing left to “parse out” is whether people will continue to make excuses for him, or do as Tim Wise suggests and try to understand the bigger picture.

  10. BlueGirl says:

    I guess the thing is, I’m hoping to live in a society in the future where racism doesn’t exist and people can make fun of themselves and eachother.

    But it’s pretty hard when there are things that people are not allowed to talk about simply because their skin happens to be one shade or another.

    How do we get past this?

  11. iamnotstarjones says:

    blue girl..

    work it in your day to day individual actions with people in your circles of family, friends, work.

    maybe you will be the contagion element that will past it along to others.

    do your best and hope that the people who can do their best to live in a humane society.

  12. transgressingengineer says:

    I too would love to see a world in which racism does not exist. But here is the problem…. that will never happen.

    To say that we need to move toward a world in which people are ‘not judged by the color of their skin’ (I know, not your words, but a sentiment I thought I heard in your post) denies how foundamental race has been, is, and will be to the construction of our society.

  13. BlueGirl says:

    “that will never happen”


    I know it’s been fundamental to the past.

    But the thing is, as far as the future, race is basically as important as different eye colors. I think cultures and subcultures is far more important for the future. I know it might seem like a fine-line distinction but I think it is the kind of distinction that is necessary to make.

    How do we want to construct our society?

  14. BlueGirl says:


    I like your way of thinking.

  15. ABW's Guest Blogger says:


    How can we move past this? Don’t say insulting shit based on race, or any other difference between human beings. Tell your friends not to do it either. That’s a good start.

    As for a raceless future — that’s impossible. “Race” is the product of the undeniable human need to differentiate between “us” and “them”. Until we all start looking like clones of each other, race will be around in some way, shape, or form. It’s also inextricably intertwined with culture, so to try and separate the two is kind of head-scratchy to me. The KKK doesn’t hate me just because I’m brown and have certain physical features. They hate me because of my African-derived culture, and my family’s slave history, and my parents’ activist history, and my current ability to take their jobs and help turn them into a minority just by having some kids. Can you separate my physical appearance from all that? I can’t. My looks are really the least of the matter.

    Also, your comment reminds me of another problem that I see in the SF world all the time — this tendency to believe that someday, racism will be all better because we’ll all be one “race”. I call this the “Let’s fuck racism out of existence!” theory, and it relies on a huge logic fallacy. It suggests that RACE is the problem, not RACISM, and that our only responsibility for getting rid of racism lies in having babies with someone who looks different, not in trying to make the world a better place.

    Getting rid of RACE will not get rid of RACISM, because the human tendency to differentiate will simply mutate into another form. Even when everyone is uniformly mixed and brown, should that ever happen, someone will try to draw a line between the natural blonds and the redheads and brunettes. What would fix that, then, making everyone use hair dye?

    The only way to solve this problem is not to try and wipe out our differences, but to celebrate them, and learn to fricking deal with them. This is not to say that you can’t talk about race. People talk about race all the time. But it needs to be done in a serious manner that is respectful of racism’s history and current impact — even when joking. There’s a very thin line between satire and insult, social commentary and crassness, and not everyone can feel where that line is. And the line *is* different for everyone, because racism has affected each of us in a different way. Learning where that line lies usually means understanding and accepting your own privileged position in American society, which is something most white Americans aren’t willing to do. (And I say this from a position of relative privilege myself; I have a graduate degree, and I’m comfortably middle-class. I constantly have to remember that in some ways, I’m perceived as part of the problem too.) And they don’t have to accept their privilege; that’s why they call it privilege. They can blithely go on about their lives without bothering to understand the impact of racism on themselves and others. But when they don’t bother to learn that, then they don’t know where that line between safety and insult lies. So when they trip over it, they deserve whatever ridicule and public excoriation they get, because all they had to do was fucking educate themselves and it wouldn’t have happened.

    This is why I feel no need to parse what Imus said. He was stupid. This is his career Darwin Award. I’m watching his demise with great satisfaction.

  16. Liv says:

    The context is different-not that I have seen all black comedians but when Chris Rock say N-gger he’s telling a story.

    Seems like most are telling a story-not actually calling someone out in the audience a mean name just bacsue they can.
    That’s my impression

  17. mike says:

    Tim Wise is an Idiot and contributes to the complete ignorance of what is truly racist, and more importantly, damaging to ALL black people.

    Someone calling you a name is not ‘keeping you down’ as a person. You are using it as the excuse for ills while the real racism goes on and nobody says shit.

    How do we end racism? We all agree that its education right? Firing Don Imus doesent educate anybody.

    There is an 800 pound Racism gorilla in the room and NOBODY, black or white does anything about it.

    It is our educational system. It is the same everywhere. Prominent mainly white communities have brand new schools, computers, Huge football stadiums. There is a 24 MILLION dollar HIGH SCHOOL football stadium in my home town. What if that was spent on a center to help even the gap between our races? Im disgusted.

    Go to a Black or Hispanic school. They look like they are from the 70’s because they are. Schools are funded with tax taken from the immediate community. Guess who has all the money.

    Why isn’t the tax system changed to fund all schools equally? Someone wants to keep Blacks and Mexicans uneducated. Who? Its you! You waste your breath on a non-issue while someone, somewhere, smirks as they look at the size of the white pile of money.

    Who makes drug laws that have much harsher sentences for predominately black drugs? Keep the black man in jail, destroy his family, his kids will be much more likely to have issues and the cycle continues.

    We are not educating and incarcerating black people splitting up families and stomping out any chance of success.
    I am disapointed in society as a whole.

    If someone calls you a name, forget it. Shit, we all learned sticks and stones in kindergarden. Name Calling is not keeping you down.

    Demand equal education. Demand the thousands of Black men incarcerated for inordinate terms for non-violent crimes be released to be a father.

    Hold each other accountable. Make fathers be fathers. Focus. Forget the sensational.

  18. BlueGirl says:

    Just to clarify, when I was talking about Chris Rock, I was talking about when he says “cracker.” Bwasically he had a very funny joke he told about how even if you are a Romanian who just came to this country you are still a “cracker.”

    As a “white” person, I actually experience racism all the time. From people who aren’t white. From people who put all their expectations on me. Who don’t acknowledge that as a child of immigrant parents escaping persecution, I had nothing to do with slavery in America.

    However, as an American growing up in America, I do have a lot to do with slavery in America. All of it is my heritage — what the African’s brought here by force went through, what the Irish excaping famine went through, what the puritans escaping religious persecution went through, what the chinese facing discrimination while building the railroad went through.

    If you are an American, growing up here, whatever your color, ALL of that is now your heritage.

    I’m not saying be color blind actually. However I am saying that I believe that differences based on race are a huge ugly myth that people came up with in the past so they could behave abominablly to other people without feeling guilty.

    So is that why we should continue to define ourselves by our race?

    I don’t think there is a simple answer to all of this, but I do think that maybe making a distinction between culture and race would be really helpful.

  19. BlueGirl says:

    “There’s a very thin line between satire and insult, social commentary and crassness, and not everyone can feel where that line is. And the line *is* different for everyone, because racism has affected each of us in a different way. ”

    I think that the blogger above who said this, said it very well. We all have a different line. Does that mean that we basically have to have the most insipid programming possible on tv so that no one in the world will ever be offended?

  20. transgressingengineer says:

    Hold the train, BlueGirl. I find you post here disturbing (post #18 at 4:05pm). Let me explain….

    You said: “As a “white” person, I actually experience racism all the time. From people who aren’t white. From people who put all their expectations on me. Who don’t acknowledge that as a child of immigrant parents escaping persecution, I had nothing to do with slavery in America.”

    Okay, first, ditch the quotations around the word white. You are white- you stated it in a previous post. The quotes make it appear that you are trying to seperate yourself from your whiteness, trying to deny the part you play in whiteness in the US. To many whites, having to accept their whiteness is a very hard thing to come to grips with- it sounds from your posts that you may be in the middle of this.

    Second- what you experience as a white person at the hands of people of color is not a compariative to what people of color experience at the hands of whites. You have the full power of goverment sanctioned institutionalized privilege that comes with white skin behind you. To say that you have experienced racism as a white person at the hands of people of color trivializes the VERY REAL racism that affects people of color on a DAILY basis. Regardless of your Jewish heritage or second generation status, you are still perceived as white in the US and get to enjoy all of the privileges that come with that.

    Third, from your previous posts, I heard you acknowledge that racism affected our past. But I didn’t hear you acknowledge how the past constantly and undeniably affects our present and our future. This is the most disturbing part for me. The very real policies that the US government implimented in the past affect our present and future. For example, in a comment I wrote a few weeks ago, I mentioned the the GI Bill of Rights from WWII. This policy systematically gave higher educational privileges to white male WWII vets and denied those same higher educational privileges to WWII vets of color. This bill impacted who went to college, who could finacially move forward quicker, whose children could financially attend higher educational institutions, etc, etc, etc. The effects of the GI Bill of Rights continues to effect people today- look at the stats of who (racially) is attending and graduating from higher ed institutions, gaps between how finances are past from generation to generation (by race), etc. The past is well and alive today- it is not something that is contained in history books.

  21. Mike S says:

    The other “ism” that is real and dividing in our society is the ever growing gap between the rich, poor and the vanishing middle class.

    I will admit to feeling disgust when the poor (white) person scratches off their lotto ticket they bought with their last dollar while I wait.

    Thats my inner demon that I am adressing.

  22. BlueGirl says:


    First of all transgressingengineer, I am very interested in all the history that affects our world today. Absolutely. And I thank you for mentioning the GI Bill of Rights. Anything that helps to increase my knowledge and shed light on all aspects of our American history, I find very interesting.

    However, I am stunned that you would say “what you experience as a white person at the hands of people of color is not a compariative to what people of color experience at the hands of whites.” You have no idea what I’ve experienced. I think you might want to reasses your own racist viewpoint.

    It is racist to put every “white” person in a category because of what other people have done. Racism is sloppy thinking and you’ve exhibited it.

  23. Mike S says:

    OK – I had heard some talk about this 60 Minutes episode. I am repulsed.

    I want every person, regardless of race, to comment on this.

    Angry, this mindset wont reverse race relations, it will divide the races until we do not consider ourselves the same species.
    I am more distraught about the future right now and the majority of blacks accept it as status quo. Why is a white guy more pissed that murder happens and goes unchecked in the black community?

    You are killing each other! If I was racist Id be agreeing with the policy of no snitchin. Less black people. This is not the way ANY society works.

    Defend this!

  24. Deoridhe says:

    As a ‘white’ person, I’ve experience prejudice based on my skin tone (and true friendship via the same experience) but not racism.

    Racism is systemic, not individual. The fact that a bunch of girls in sixth grade didn’t want me sitting at their table was hurtful, but it wasn’t part of a systemic and historical reality in which I was categorically labeled as “less” and “other” due to my skin color. It wasn’t part of a legal and social system which labelled my body parts as inappropriate, unprofessional, ‘ghetto’, or an indication that I am a prostitute.

    I endured some of this under sexism, which like racism is a systemic rather than individual reality, but that doesn’t give me any right to make claims about or claim I understand what it feels like to be a victim of racism.

    Hel, if you want to see how systemic racism is, take a look at who drew the country lines in the Middle East and Africa! It certainly wasn’t the people who live there! Do you really think the wars for independance and self-sovereignty don’t have their roots in colonialism? That’s like ignoring that the US armed Saddam Hussein!

  25. BlueGirl says:


    It is an interesting point you bring up, but I’m not sure I completely agree.

    The systematic part.

    Definition from below,

    I’ve heard from many prominant African-American people, ideas that strongly suggest they believe #1. I’ve experienced from many African-American people #3. I’ve also experienced that from Mexican-American, Puerto Rican people, Korean, Singaporean, Chinese and others… I actually believe I’ve experienced #1 from the Singaporeans.

    In other countries I’ve experienced definition #2 as well.

    Where does this leave us?

    “rac·ism [rey-siz-uhm] Pronunciation Key – Show IPA Pronunciation
    1. a belief or doctrine that inherent differences among the various human races determine cultural or individual achievement, usually involving the idea that one’s own race is superior and has the right to rule others.
    2. a policy, system of government, etc., based upon or fostering such a doctrine; discrimination.
    3. hatred or intolerance of another race or other races.”

  26. BlueGirl says:

    Oh, whoops. I meant, I kinda agree with the systematic part being true.

    Just not the limiting part.

  27. transgressingengineer says:

    Thank you, Deoridhe. BlueGirl- what Deoridhe stated above is what I was getting at with my post to you earlier. By the way, if it matters to you, I am a white woman. You, as a white woman, have not experienced the same degree of systematic discrimination/racism that people of color experience on a daily basis due to the color of your skin.

    I saw that you asked what white privilege is all about on a different comment string on this blog- I would friendly suggest that you read Peggy McIntosh’s “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack.” Then, follow that up with Allan Johnson’s book, “Privilege, power, and difference (second edition).”

    You also said: “It is racist to put every “white” person in a category because of what other people have done. Racism is sloppy thinking and you’ve exhibited it.”

    You are exhibiting white privilege in this very statement. Here, you are not acknowleding that racism is a systematic process that does not work at the individual level, but rather at higher levels, such as policies, laws, culture, etc.

  28. Deoridhe says:

    Bluegirl: Ur, what limiting part? *peers at her post, confused* I’m not sure what you’re disagreeing with me about.

    Re: definitions of racism

    What I’m hearing a lot of non-white people say is that definition #3 is the one they don’t experience as racism, but rather that is prejudice. In other words, #3 on your dictionary list is the one that is used to help bolster the racist system by blaming people who have been systematically discriminated against for the racism they have suffered as soon as they critique anyone white by conflating prejudice or caution (whether valid or not) with racism.

    Honestly, having heard what some of my friends have said people say about them, I’m shocked any of them give me the time of day. They have every right to be cautious about me. No matter how much I may personally reject the term ‘white’ for myself, the very fact that I think I can is an indication of, again, white privilege.

    Racism isn’t sloppy thinking. Racism is systematic prejudice. Racism is discrimination with police behind it. Prejudice can be sloppy thinking, but that’s by far the weakest form of prejudice and one easily combatted with reality.

    Part of the whole problem is that up until very recently, the people setting the language and framing the debates about racism were the people who were systematically and categorically the ones benefitting from racism. Since that is the case, the only reasonable presumption is that the people who have been victims of racism are the experts while the people who have benefitted from it are not.

    Color has nothing to do with it. JUSTICE has everything to do with it.

  29. BlueGirl says:

    You all make a lot of good points. I still disagree that i haven’t experienced racism. I’ve experienced it in the most subtle ways even from some of my closest friends.

    Transgressingengineer, thanks for the book recommendations. I’ll check them out.

    The only reason i also labelled racism as sloppy thinking is because fundamentally, judging someone pased on their race is a stupid idea. It’s so superficial. So I think that all those people in the past who set up our systematic racism were sloppy thinkers. They also didn’t have the benefit we have today of genetics and knowing just how little actual difference there is between a “black” person and a “white” person.

    Judging someone on culture…. now that’s when we start to get somewhere.

  30. BlueGirl says:

    Btw, Transgressingengineer and deoridhe, I believe you both said you are “white.” My parents are of Russian heritage and are also Jewish. I’d be interested to know what your more specific heritages/ethnicities are. I mean, how do you identify yourself when you get to know a new person.

    I would think as well, that “black” people, make distinctions between African-American whose ancestors were forced here or recent immegrants from Africa, or people whose families were in Jamaica for a while, or anywhere else.

  31. ABW's Guest Blogger says:

    (lowercase) mike,

    “Firing Don Imus doesent educate anybody.”

    So should they have not fired him, and thus educated the entire American public in the lesson that racial slurs are A-OK?

  32. ABW's Guest Blogger says:


    Wow — I haven’t checked the blog for a few days. I’m glad I didn’t; your post denying your own white privilege and trivializing institutional racism literally made me see red. Fortunately other commenters on this blog addressed the things that made me angry, and did so in a way that was probably far more diplomatic than anything I would’ve said. Thanks, folks. =)

    If I can add to the book recommendations for you, BlueGirl… I would check out any material on racial identity development theory, because I agree with whoever said you sound like you’re at stage 1 (racelessness/denial). This may be hard to find, but I would suggest Janet Helms’ A Race is a Nice Thing to Have: A Guide to Being a White Person or Understanding the White Persons in Your Life, 1992. It’s a bit dated — more recent iterations of the theory have nuanced it more than Helms does — but Helms’ version is simple and to the point and doesn’t get bogged down in academese. It gets to the core of your statements that we should do away with race, which implies that you think race itself is the problem. It’s true that race is a social construct; we could just as easily divide ourselves by tribe or clan or genetic haplogroup. The point is that how we divide ourselves really doesn’t matter, so long as we recognize how these divisions affect our thinking, and stop ourselves from falling into the usual traps of privilege and self-denial.

  33. BlueGirl says:

    I’m going to look into all the books recommended. I am going to look at them with a very open mind.

    I’m not suggesting doing away with race, I’m saying put it in its place for our future generations. Recognize its historical relevance, recognize how it affects our every day world and do what we can to longer judge based on it, whether you are judging a “person of color” or a “white” person.

    There actually is quite a bit of difference between how we differentiate ourselves. We cannot change the color of our skin. THat is why discriminating based on color is so awful.

    However, culture can be changed. And culture is learned behaviour among groups.

    believe me, I have just as much righteous anger I can call on as anyone else.

    I have a race and it is the human race. and I have a skin color and its a greenish tinged pale muddle of colors. And I belong to numerous cultures. And I do celebrate the differences. And some of the differences i don’t celebrate.

    I think the differences created by genetics allow for much of the beauty in our world. I think most of the ugliness in our world comes from learned behaviours. And actually, my parents taught me that everyone was equal and individual. And I feel like many people on this blog are fighting a future we we all accept our equal, individual identities.

    But society is trying to teach me that I’m not supposed to think that way. Why do i have to accept my own “white supremacy.” Give me a break. I have to agree that I am superior or belong to a group that believes it is superior before I can believe that we are equal?

    I really don’t get it.

  34. Angel H. says:

    I really don’t get it.

    And that’s all you need to know.

    You have this beautiful, utopian image of the future, but the fact is that *you don’t get it*. You never will get *it*. All you need to know and to understand is that *it* exists and it effects many people in many hurtful ways. And by showing solidarity with these people and showing your support, that’s the only way you’ll come closer to understanding.

  35. transgressingengineer says:

    ABW’s guest blogger,
    Thanks for reccomending Helms’s book- you are so right about the stage one comment.

    You asked how I identify myself to others… I say that I am a white woman, from a middleclass background, heterosexual, married, a soon-to-be mom, an engineer, and a graduate student. In the company of people who ‘get it,’ I also talk about aspects of privilege. I don’t talk about my ethnicities (I differentiate ethncity from race- ethnicity to me is about nationalities) much nor my religion (or absence thereof religion).

    But that is how I identify myself to others when they have no idea who I am (e.g. when I am online). In person, I have NEVER had to/ been asked to talk about aspects of my identity or how my identity has made me feel, how I have been treated because of my identity, etc. That, my friend, shows how I benefit from white privilege.

    Now, your last comment posting, BlueGirl…. the human race comment made me groan out loud. I often hear that phrase side by side with comments about being colorblind. I don’t know how else to explain to you what folks on this string have been trying to say (racism is not at the individual level- it is a systematic issue involved in laws, policies, etc). But I would like to reopen this line of comments after you have looked at the book suggestions that have been made.

  36. ABW's Guest Blogger says:


    White supremacy has nothing to do with white privilege. The former is the belief that whites are superior. The latter has nothing to do with superiority; it’s simply the fact that our society’s social, economic, and other systems are designed to benefit one group more than others. Indeed, it’s because that group *isn’t* superior that such unfair systems become necessary. After all, if the system were fair, then the demographics of those in power would resemble the demographics of society as a whole. That’s just basic statistics, and basic democracy.

    But do *you* see, for example, 50% women in charge of the US government? We represent 50% of the population. We’re (speaking as a US woman) ostensibly just as intelligent, and have just as vested in the decision-making that drives our society. But why are there so few of us in the corridors of power? Because our society is configured on a variety of levels both vast and subtle to encourage men to pursue and gain power, while discouraging women from doing the same. This is male privilege.

    White privilege works the same way.

    And honestly, I agree with transgressing; it’s difficult to have a meaningful discussion when you keep asking for explanations of such basic concepts. This stuff really isn’t difficult to figure out, and quite frankly it’s your responsibility to teach yourself about it, not our responsibility to teach you. I would strongly suggest you read some of those books, then come back. We’ll all have a more interesting discussion when you do. =)

  37. BlueGirl says:

    So, I am going to read those books. I’ve already started with one of them which is available online.

    I actually find it difficult to have a meaningful discussion with anyone who is so set in their ways of thinking that they are unwilling to look at things from a different point of view.

    Often theraists suggest finding the truth in what someone says so that you can say you have heard them before you go on and put them down.

    Its much easier to be a critic than to be a creater and a builder.

    As someone who myself is trying to understand others points of view that I have so far disagreed with, I find this shows respect.

    I don’t feel anyone who has responded to me has offered me this in return. At all.

  38. ABW's Guest Blogger says:


    “I actually find it difficult to have a meaningful discussion with anyone who is so set in their ways of thinking that they are unwilling to look at things from a different point of view.”

    The problem is that your “different point of view” really isn’t all that different from stuff we’ve heard before. You’re essentially spouting variations on the standard responses of people in denial about racism, white privilege, etc. This is why I mentioned Helms’ book — the pattern of your thinking is so common, and its usual process of evolution has been seen so often, that there’s an entire field of study built around it (identity development theory). As you’ll see when you read some of the suggested materials, a whole lot of people have simply been there, done that, read the book, gotten the t-shirt, mailed the postcards, etc.

    I actually think people have been very respectful, because they’ve tried to offer you suggestions on ways to educate yourself. Disrespect would’ve meant ridiculing or ignoring you. Instead several people have attempted to point out the fallacies in your thinking and suggest more rational viewpoints, and you’ve essentially ignored them. (Again, a common tactic of those in denial.) Please remember — it is *your* responsibility to educate yourself about racism, not the responsibility of others. To insist that others continue to rehash very old, very common arguments with you is, frankly, a bit selfish.

    I think everyone here agrees with your ideal — that racism shouldn’t exist, and that we have to change our thinking to get beyond it. The problem lies in the fact that your suggestions simply don’t acknowledge the current reality of our society. It would be nice if everyone just forgot about race and the hierarchical castelike system of racism that has been built around it. It would also be nice if we could just decide that race and culture have nothing to do with each other (though I’m honestly not sure what difference this would make; we already discriminate against each other based on culture, after all). But unfortunately, none of this is likely to happen unless we all develop species-wide amnesia. So until that science fictiony event occurs, what *else* can we do? This is where the conversation needs to go.

  39. Deoridhe says:

    The only reason i also labelled racism as sloppy thinking is because fundamentally, judging someone pased on their race is a stupid idea.

    I’d personally say assuming race exists is a fundamental disconnect with reality.

    Judging someone on culture…. now that’s when we start to get somewhere.

    Oh? Can you expand on this? What’s the basis on which we should rightfully judge people based on their culture?

    Btw, Transgressingengineer and deoridhe, I believe you both said you are “white.” My parents are of Russian heritage and are also Jewish. I’d be interested to know what your more specific heritages/ethnicities are.

    I introduce myself as an American. If they ask about my heritage, I’m Scots-Welsh, Scots-Irish, Danish, and German. I’m a full member of my clan and know how to cook several traditional German and Danish dishes. My Yule tree always has paper hearts on it.

    I don’t self-identify as “white” but I have white privilege and need to own that.

    I would think as well, that “black” people, make distinctions between African-American whose ancestors were forced here or recent immegrants from Africa, or people whose families were in Jamaica for a while, or anywhere else.
    The dark skinned Jamaicans and Carribeans were slaves too, by the way.

    Non-American dark skinned people who aren’t recent immigrants usually seem to identify either by their country – be it British, Haitian, or Nigerian – or by their tribe, such as the Yoruba or !Tung. Some American dark skinned people are seeking otu different tribal identities based on stories passed down to them; I believe that’s where some of the recent interest in block-printed patterns, traditional dance, and traditional drumming come from (please correct me if I’m wrong).

    The descendants of slaves are in a unique and undesirable position compared with both immigrants and historical slaves. Unlike prisoners of war, slaves were deliberately mixed in with different tribes so that they would lose their language and culture. They were deliberately inculturated into the European religion of Christianity in a place as a “child” to the European and USian “adult”. Much like the First Nations tribes, the children were stripped of their heritage quite deliberately, and that enough survived to become Voudoun and Santeria is amazing.

    The word “black” is in place and is useful because their connection to the past was deliberately and near-permanently severed but they are refused an equal place at the table in the white-dominated countries they live in.

    However, culture can be changed. And culture is learned behaviour among groups.

    Who, exactly, should change their culture?

    I actually find it difficult to have a meaningful discussion with anyone who is so set in their ways of thinking that they are unwilling to look at things from a different point of view.

    I don’t feel anyone who has responded to me has offered me this in return. At all.

    Five years ago, I was where you are. I was decrying the necessity of seeing color at all, ignoring how people are systematically discriminated against today, and carried a banner of “why can’t we all just get along.” I even had times when I didn’t “see” that people looked different from me and I have the required “color friendly progressive” story about coloring black people into a park scene when I was a child to show how “open minded” and “liberated” from race I was. Any person Living While White (I like that turn of phrase; I think I’ll keep it) starts off insensitive to anyone who isn’t Living While White; it’s the nature of the game.

    Yes, it is very difficult to have a discussion with someone who is so set in their ways that they are unable to see things from a different perspective. I’ve seen this issue from yours, in the past, and from where I am now (which is not as far as I hope to be, someday).

    I find it kind of sad that you assume I couldn’t have ever seen things the way you did, then consciously decided to actually listen to the oppressed instead of congratulating myself on not noticing when I walked on them.

    I find it even sadder that you claim disagreeing with you is not showing “respect”.

    Having listened to many people of color, though, I am not surprised. They experience this often, from many people many times.

  40. Deoridhe says:

    Strike “American” above as a self-identifyier. I’m a USian. This is a recent change, so it hasn’t permiated completely, yet; my appologies. The presumption that people who live in the USA are “American” is both racist and unreasonably nationalistic.

  41. Angel H. says:

    I like that! “USian”! Because technically, Mexicans, Brazilians, Guadamalans, Canadians, are “Americans” too!

  42. Deoridhe says:

    Exactly! America covers two continents, not one country.

  43. perri says:

    AGW, I love Tim Wise, too! He just gets it.

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