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International Blog Against Racism Week – Ask the ABW

It’s that time again, kids! IBARW. I’m against racism, obviously. And, I have a blog. It’s a perfect match!

This is the second annual such week, and let’s hope it continues until racism is, well, gone. I participated last year and that post is still worth reading. I noted then that it seems kind of weird to participate in IBARW since I blog against racism every week. Still, it’s good to be a part of something like this, if for nothing else then to see that we who are against racism aren’t alone. Just click on the Technorati tag at the bottom of the entry to see other blogs against racism. Folks who want to ignore racism are always out to make folks like me feel alone and singular. Nice to have a big, flashing reminder that I’m not. And neither are you.

For this year’s blog against racism I thought it would be nice to try something different. Instead of doing one of my same old posts about why racism is bad and why we should eliminate it, why not reach out to my readers and do a little educating? So, I’m opening the comment section up to questions. Ask me anything about Racism. Anything at all. From What Is Racism? to Why Can’t Black People Be Racist? to Am I Racist? and anything between or beyond. I promise no one will make fun of you for asking or yell or make you feel bad (unless you act like a complete asshat). This is an honest, open conversation in which I or other commenters can, hopefully, help you to understand some of the stuff we know/experience/deal with every day.

Ground rules still apply. Be respectful and we’ll respond in kind.

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58 thoughts on “International Blog Against Racism Week – Ask the ABW”

  1. ephelba says:

    I read a mess of blogs written by various people of color. I read so that I will get a different perspective on things straight from the people doing the perspecting. It is quite eye opening and I learn a lot.

    The audience they write to is other people of color. I never comment on these blogs because I feel like I’m not part of the community writing or being written to, and it’s not my place. The last thing anybody on any of these sites wants to hear from is another white lady. However, I feel like a creepy lurker. Like I need permission to read the blogs because I’m white.
    So- Question- What is the right thing to do?
    a) Keep reading and delurk
    b) Keep reading and lurking
    c) Quit reading
    d) Other?

    Also, If I leave a comment on a site like Anti Racist Parent, and somebody assumes I’m black, do I correct the assertion? It feels icky to say “I’m not black”, like I’m saying “How could you think that!”, else why bring it up? Then again, it feels icky to not say it, because I couldn’t be more white if I tried, and it feels like a lie not to mention it because somebody is reading my comments and imagining a black person typing them…


    ABW’s answer: I can’t speak for other bloggers, but I definitely value my ally readers such as yourself. So, if you feel comfortable delurking, you should. As long as you’re not out to make the conversation all about you or all about “white issues” instead of whatever the focus of the thread is supposed to be, you’re fine. Still, there’s a value in “listening” and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with lurking if you’re comfortable with that. I know there are a lot of lurkers around here and I don’t mind that at all. Every now and then someone will delurk to ask a question. As long as they’re respectful, I’m happy to answer. I’m sure this is true of most other bloggers.

    As for people thinking you’re black when you comment, I say unless they specifically say something regarding your race, let them think what they want. If they mislabel you, you can always say something like “Though I’m not _____, I am an ally…” or whatnot. I wouldn’t worry about it too much unless the other commenters specifically say they think you’re X or Y.

  2. Daren says:

    “Why Can’t Black People Be Racist?” ??? uhhh? Can you expand on this a bit please – I’m assuming I’m missing something, but as you say above, no stupid questions here :)

    ABW’s answer: For background on this, check out the Debate I hosted on Racism.

  3. Sick of it all says:

    Hi, ABW! I’ve been enjoying the blog for awhile, but I’m not sure of a few thing, and wanted to clarify.

    First off, I am the trinity of privilege. I am a white straight male born into a working class family in a safe neighborhood. How did this happen? Well, I was born that way. I’ve been acutely aware of my luck since I was a child, and feeling guilty about it for about just as long. But lately (reading plenty of articles on just how privileged I am and just how horrible that is) a new feeling has emerged: exhaustion.

    Apart from the lesser evolved citizens of Suburbia, I’m pretty sure most whites, males, and straights have all long realized that they their lives are made easier by these traits. I’m not sure if pounding it into our heads is productive. I live in Brooklyn- I get enough dirty looks everyday to not forget that I’m white.

    You stated in several articles that there was no such thing as reverse sexism and reverse racism. I disagree. You said that there was no such thing based on the issue that sexism and racism depend on power- I think this is a semantically interesting argument, but I don’t think it holds any water. I can hardly walk around these days without getting dirty looks, getting racial insults yelled at me, and more intimidation than I care to deal with.

    This isn’t racism because my race currently has more privilege? The way I see it, I’m getting insults and threats based on the color of my skin. I fail to see how I don’t experience racism on a daily basis. Is it okay for the opressed to opress the opressor? It stinks of hypocricy.

    But mostly, it just exhausts me. It’s a pretty shitty trade off to be self-aware of your privilege and still have to deal with the constant intimidation, insults, and not-so-kind remarks about (and towards) my girlfriend. It’s just disgusting, and I bite my tongue, because I am “privileged”. I don’t know how much longer one can just stand there and take it, however.

    And this isn’t somewhere else in the country, either! I live in Brooklyn! This happens so much, I find it impossible to believe you’ve never witnessed it.

    You say that white people who think racism is over are lying, and I’d agree. I don’t think racism has- or ever really will- disappear. Things change, and all races have racists among them. I don’t think your argument about being in power to be racist makes it “count” is valid, or really applies to anything beyond a philosophical question.

    To sum it up, I’m a White Straight Male, the epitome of privilege, and I’ve never done a racist thing in my life. When something good happens to me because of my race, or my class, or my sex, I tend to reject it over feeling guilty.

    So you tell me- is it fair for me to experience harassment (you can argue whether or not it’s technically racism, but my harassers have, so far, been nearly 100% black, over the course of 6 years living in Brooklyn) on a daily basis based on the color of my skin? How is it NOT reverse racism?!

    Sick of the guilt
    Sick of the harassment
    Sick of it all to the point of becoming a hermit

    ABW’s answer: Racism and Sexism are different from race-based or gender-based prejudice. I don’t have to have any particular power to hate a white person. I don’t have to be in any particular position in society to say nasty things to one on the street or give them dirty looks. That’s prejudice. Based on race. However, if I do any of these things, it doesn’t really matter. It might hurt a white person’s feelings if I did that. It might cause them momentary discomfort. But that’s about it.

    That’s not to minimize how you feel when these things happen to you, but it is to put those things in perspective. Making you uncomfortable does not rise to the level of racism. Racism is not merely a bad attitude toward people of another race. Harassment is definitely wrong, and I’m sorry you experience it. Still, that’s all it is.

    You might also benefit from looking at the Racism debate we had last year and reading some of the articles referenced. You seem to be under the impression that my saying “black people can’t be racist” to “black people can do no wrong/cannot engage in prejudiced behaviors.” Which is not what I’m saying.

    Now, as to feelings of guilt. I had a discussion with a friend recently who expressed similar sentiments. The purpose of getting white people to understand that they are privileged isn’t about making you feel guilty. Especially if you have nothing to feel actively guilty about. If, as you say, you do not engage in racist actions, then you have nothing to feel guilty about. Be aware, that’s all. If you feel guilty about good things coming to you because you’re privileged then do something to turn it around. Become an activist of a sort. An activist on a personal, individual level, where you challenge the assumptions and actions of those around you. It’s not for you to feel guilty, though. Just to recognize how the world is and to decide how to deal with it.

  4. Matthew Milam says:

    Why does CNN feel the need to interview black women who consistently spew the same old tripe about getting white men as lovers?

    I understand you can make a choice about who you date, but to do so on the basis that the grass is greener on the other side is bull. White men are just as likely to pull some BS over you as black men and they are just as likely to kill you too.

    But low and behold, we get another one of these dumb articles.

    Why does the media seemingly interview these women, who unknowingly damage black men who probably don’t have a clue as to what the hell these women are refering to?

    ABW’s answer: CNN does what it does because it’s a media outlet and has no integrity. That’s the bottom line. They know this kind of story will hit a certain note with their core audience so they run it over and over again. It’s a staple, like stories of southerners eating dirt was in the 80’s.

  5. Calis says:

    Is it racist to notice that there are differences between races? I for one like diversity, and if we are forced to ignore the cultural differences between races I believe the world would be a lot more boring.

    As an aside I would like to state that I find it offensive that any word can be acceptable to use by one race alone…in any context.


    ABW’s answer: No, it’s not racist to notice differences. What’s racist is to make negative assumptions based on the differences you notice.

  6. Katie says:

    OK, I have a question. How does one simultaneously hold these thoughts in one’s head?

    – There is no hierarchy of oppression.
    – Some people experience multiple dynamics of oppression.

    I hear the “no hierarchy of oppression” all the time, but I’m also pretty certain that, say, your average middle-class European American guy experiences far less oppression than a working-class Hmong American woman. Maybe it’s my tendency to categorize and put things on a spectrum, which is not always productive. I think where I’m coming from is that it seems like there’s generally an implicit understanding in conversations about racism and oppression that some people get it worse than others, but I don’t know how that works with the first statement I put out there.

    Any thoughts would be appreciated.

    ABW’s answer: When most people speak about no hierarchy of oppression they are trying to derail conversations wherein someone tries to say “Sexism is worse than Racism!” or “Latin@ people have it worse than Black people!” or something like that. Certainly people experience different levels of oppression, but comparing them and trying to figure out which is worse and which folks should focus on instead of another never, ever helps anyone or anything. Each oppression is different, even if in some ways it is similar. No one is worse or better than another because it’s all badness. Now, because I am a black female I am more like to focus on oppressions that affect me personally and I think that’s fine. I will certainly lend help and visibility to folks oppressed by things I don’t have to worry about (like disability discrimination) but I also have to admit that it’s not always on my radar. I think a lot of time when people try to compare oppressions it’s because they don’t experience something and therefore assume it isn’t as bad as the thing they experience.

    Upthread I was talking about how race-based prejudice is not the same thing as Racism, and it isn’t. But that doesn’t mean race-based prejudice isn’t bad and shouldn’t be stopped. It’s just different. Some might say (and I might agree) that Racism is worse, and I guess that’s putting it in a hierarchy. But then I don’t think we should work less hard to eliminate it.

    But if one person wants to focus on oppression of Latin@ people an other want to work to eliminate Sexism and another wants to heal the divide between two minority groups that have issues with each other (say Asians and Black folks) then all of that is valid. It’s never cool to insist those people stop dealing with their particular issues because you want everyone to focus on your issue. That’s what happens when people compare oppressions.

  7. Betty says:

    When I got my blog on livejournal, I named myself for the English teakettle, “Brown Betty,” and didn’t realize for a while that a fair number of people took this as a statement of ethnicity.

    When I’m writing on my livejournal on matters of race, I situate myself first, but when I’m wandering the wider livejournal site, I don’t always bother to introduce myself before jumping in.

    So now I wonder if this is appropriating a sort of credibility on matters of race. Sometimes when getting into an argument on matters of race, I realize I’m being taken for a person of colour. Of course, it could be partly because of the positions I take; a friend of mine is also frequently taken for a person of colour, apparently merely on the strength of her anti-racism writings.

    So, when kicking trolls around on the internet, or just when commenting to tell someone “Hi, I read and enjoyed your post!” should I take the time to disclose the fact that I’m white? My instinct is not to, but I wonder if I’m not merely being ‘colourblind,’ in thinking I shouldn’t have to.

    Or is it merely a case of “for heavens sakes, no one thinks of a teakettle when they hear ‘Brown Betty,’ get a new name, girl!”?

    ABW’s answer: Like ephelba, I don’t think you should HAVE to worry about identifying your race in any discussion, even if people assume you’re black. Though I can understand why you’d feel that you’re appropriating credibility in those situations. Since you’re on LJ, there’s an easy solution to the problem – use an icon featuring yourself whenever you comment on race. If I see an icon of someone who isn’t famous I usually assume it’s that person’s real picture. therefore, if I see an icon featuring a nice white lady I’ll assume that’s what you are, despite your LJ name. If you’re not comfortable using your own picture, find a random picture of a white person on the ‘net and use them. Some folks might still assume you’re black if they’re not paying attention, but I think many people look at icons to determine something about a person before they reply to them. (You could also try having a funny icon saying “It’s a teakettle, people! Silly Americans.”)

    But just commenting on the net or doing other stuff, I wouldn’t worry about it, myself.

  8. Tom says:

    What are some good ways to work against racism?

  9. ephelba says:

    re Calis:
    I always thought that it was racist to assume a difference was going to be there based on the color of the person’s skin- ex: assuming a kid in your class celebrates Kwanza ’cause they’re black. If you’re a teacher, and you have a kiddo who is black, you can anticipate that Kwanza may be going on at home. It is statistically more likely to be an option, based on what you know about Black culture, but you can’t assume that any one Black person celebrates it.

    Not that that’s the ugliest face of racism, but it illustrates the point that it’s the assumption based on skin color that is the problem- not the celebration of cultural diversity.

    Also, the teacher above shouldn’t single any one kid out and ask them to talk about their home life- school isn’t supposed to be a zoo where children’s home lives are put on display. It’s only relevant if it affects school in some way or if a child wants to share. Off topic, but that stuff spleens me.

  10. Jinian says:

    Wow, thanks for doing this, ABW. It’s a huge contribution to IBARW, and I’m mailing the other mods to make sure they know about it too.

  11. Lloyd Webber says:

    ABW, You just might come to regret this.

  12. Sandra says:

    How about an open question – What can *I* do to help end racism?

  13. zade says:

    I interested in a couple of things

    1) Why can’t black people be racist – my first experience of racism was when I was in the first grade and my second grade friend told me she couldn’t be friends with me anymore because I was white.

    2) Racism today – how much of it has to do with class vs race?

    ABW’s answer: 1- check out the Racism Debate we had last year to understand my position on this. If you still have questions after reading, let me know.

    2 – Class issues do come into Racism issues but there isn’t universal overlap. Class doesn’t overshadow race or vice versa.

  14. rikyrah says:

    You’re brave to be opening yourself up to this question. Good blog; always something interesting.

  15. Antonio says:

    As a black man, I find the definition “Racism = Power + Prejudice” problematic and dangerous. I’ll agree that racially prejudiced whites have much more power to hinder the growth and prosperity of blacks. However, the amount of power one (or a group of people) wields doesn’t make their own faults any less despicable than the faults of the disempowered. It all goes back to the root problem: a hostility towards or ignorance of those different from us.

    One constant subject on this blog is the institutionalized discrimination that favors white males. Many times I have seen this system perpetuated by my own people. Frequently I’ve suggested trying out some new activity only to be told that’s “white people stuff” or the like. The end result is the stifling of new ideas and experiences to maintain some obscure and undefined level of ‘blackness’. I believe the black community suffers when such attitudes take over. These accusations of ‘acting white’ force black youth to choose between adopting the narrow (and frequently negative) images marketed towards blacks and being ostracized by their peers.

    There’s no need to make a distinction between the racism of whites and minorities. I believe everyone in society needs to challenge the assumptions they make about people of any race (including their own).

    ABW’s Answer: Antonio, I think this statement right here is the crux of your issue: “There’s no need to make a distinction between the racism of whites and minorities.” And I feel you couldn’t be more wrong. There is a great distinction between the racism of whites or people in true power and race-based prejudice perpetuated by minorities or people not in power. Racism isn’t just about the things one person does to another. It’s a system. A system that requires power.

    I think that what you and some others don’t understand is that by saying black people can’t be racist I’m not letting them off the hook for the bad race-based stupidity that some black people commit. But race-based prejudice by minorities is different and needs to be addressed differently than racism. It’s a different problem, even though the root — race, hostility, or ignorance — is the same.

    Also, the issue of black people saying certain things are ‘white people stuff’ or acting/speaking a certain way is ‘acting white’ is a WHOLE other issue from Racism. It’s definitely something that should be addressed, but not under that header.

  16. the Omphaloskeptic says:

    I’ve run into some of the same qualms as ephelba with talking about race and racism online. That is, I don’t want to be the white person asking for a cookie or the asshat interrupting discussions that I should really let people of color have without interference, but I still feel like it’s important for everyone, especially white people, to participate in anti-rascist discussions and efforts. Typically, my rule of thumb is to try to imagine a similar circumstance dealing with sexism rather than racism, and try to figure out what I feel would or wouldn’t be okay/helpful from a man. Mostly I’m pretty reticent online despite any cogitation, but I’ve found that a useful tool. Sexism and racism are obviously not isomorphic, but the common oppressor/oppressed dynamic is enough to pull me out of many unwittingly-racist thoughts or statements.

    And Katie, I’m really, really not an authority, but I think I have a kind of answer to “no hierarchy of oppression” && “some people are oppressed more”. It’s a thought to throw out on the matter, anyway. The “no hierarchy” idea, as far as I know, is to prevent endless argument about “racism is more important than sexism,” or sexism than racism, or class than racism, or my-oppression-here than your-oppression-here. I think it’s pretty clear how easily that line can be destructive and oppressive in its own right.

    “Some people experience multiple oppressions,” though, doesn’t diminish the impact of one -ism in favor of another more “important” one. There’s not the sense of competing and trying to kick down another person or group as having unimportant experiences.

    Long comment, sorry! And thank you very much to the always-kickass ABW for this blog and this thread.

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  21. the angry black woman says:

    I decided to put my answers to everyone’s questions IN the comments themselves. So just look for the bolded areas in the comments marked with “ABW’s answer”.

  22. blueollie says:

    I have to admit that I didn’t think too much about racism until this summer. I have a small blog and I posted a link to a Leonard Pitts column.

    some neo-nazi posted Mr. Pitt’s personal information on my site; I contacted the FBI and wrote about this on the Daily Kos; later that day I got a call from this nazi nut-job, and a week later a local group (a couple of teenagers who live with their parents) put out nazi flyers denouncing me in my neighborhood!

    It turns out that these morons talk a great deal but don’t DO diddly-squat; the KKK from Alabama in the 1950’s they are not.

    Nevertheless I found it a bit unsettling that one can be targeted by overt racists for merely expressing one’s opinion!

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  25. marcibones says:

    Hi there ABW,

    I am a half Hispanic half White woman. I have to say I am tired of
    White privileged men talking about being tired. I’m sorry perhaps I don’t know my history correct but, I don’t remember Caucasians being ripped from their home land and packed onto boats layer upon layer, starved and urinating on one another to become uneducated servants to another self proclaimed dominant nationality. There is a long history of the abuse of African Americans. As with any abuse there needs to be a time of healing. So what if you get mad dogged because you are White. Suck it up.

    ABW’s Response: I, too, get tired of hearing white folks say how tired they are of hearing about white privilege or feeling guilty. However, if we’re to build a good network of allies, those feelings should be addressed. It’s fine and dandy for them to feel that way. What they shouldn’t expect is for minorities to drop everything and comfort them when they do. What I am willing to do is acknowledge their feelings and give them suggestions on what to do about them.

  26. jennifer, aka literaticat says:

    Hi ABW!

    I have a bookstore. I try to carry and display a range of books by authors of many nationalities, colors, etc. The overwhelming majority of my customers, however, are white and wealthy (and old, but that’s another story) – and the books that sell the best tend to reflect the wealthy white (old) POV.

    I don’t have a “black fiction” section for the same reason I don’t have a “gay fiction” section – I feel like gay, or Black, or Native American, or insert-creed-here fiction authors are all fiction authors first, and Terry McMillan (for example) can easily share a shelf with Herman Melville.

    The problem is, because we have fewer titles by Black authors, the books are just sort of swimming around in the section and might not be visible. So when African-American people come to the store, I am often asked “where is the Black Fiction section” and I say there isn’t one, and then I feel like an idiot or a racist because it LOOKS like we aren’t trying to have Black Fiction! ARGH!

    So my small-potatoes question is: errm, what should I do?

    ABW’s Response: Firstly, yay for you for having a bookstore and being aware enough to even care about these issues. Booksellers are the awesomest. Since I don’t know the size or layout of your store, I don’t know if this suggestion will work, but here’s my idea. Maybe you can create little mini-sections in the store featuring different categories of books. Display 10 books, half new and half older, and use those to drive browsers to the books they’re looking for. That way, when someone comes in looking for AA books, you can say “Over there are our featured titles, and the rest are in the X section.” You might also have little cards saying “If you like this, you’ll like X” or “Look for more [author] in the X section” and cross-pollinate. Do you think that might work?

  27. mhayinde says:

    Hi, I have a couple of questions…

    What’s your opinion on the term “half-cast”? I’m a mixed-race person, half Nigerian and half white English… my mum (who is white) thinks the term is as offensive as “n*****” and I wondered what your opinion is? I also wondered if you know anything about the origins of the term (I don’t know very much.)

    I have a second question… how can I start to love my natural hair? I want to stop relaxing my hair because I feel that by doing so I am just perpetuating the idea of beauty being straight or wavy long hair, and the idea that women with African genes have something inherently wrong with their hair. Should I go natural for these reasons? How do I deal with all the people who are inevitably going to scowl at me and ask me why I was crazy enough to get rid of my long and carefully maintained relaxed hair?

    (Actually, I probably know the answer to the last question – tell them to mind their own business…)

    ABW’s Answer: I’ve never actually heard the term “Half-Cast” so I can’t give you a very informed opinion. According to Wikipedia the term is actually “Half-Caste” and it is a pejorative and considered by some to be offensive. It’s impolite, at the very least.

    You should go natural because you want to! Sure, there are other reasons to be natural. For myself, it was due to financial constraints. But I am very, very happy with my hair now and would never go back. If you think you’ll be happy with your hair once all the relaxed bits are out, then go for it. I think the idea of braiding until you’re fully natural is a good one.

    And yes, you’re right that there will be folks who will have something to say about your hair when you do go natural. Just last night my aunt said to me “I just don’t understand why you want to look like you’ve gone back to the jungle!” Meanwhile, there are women who pay hundreds of dollars to make their hair look like it’s “from the jungle”, so I guess it can’t be that bad. It’s a psychological thing. She’s lived nearly 50 years thinking that straight is prettier and she’s not going to change. Likewise, many of the people who are going to make comments at you aren’t going to change. In the end, the best thing you can say to them is “With natural hair, it takes 15 minutes from shower to done and I look damn good. How many hours and dollars did you spend to look like that?”

  28. the angry black woman says:

    There are a few more comments with answers in them now. I’m still thinking over some of the ones up there, so keep checking back. Also, keep the questions coming!

  29. Pat Logan says:

    Thanks for doing this, I’m finding it very interesting and helpful.

  30. Lucy Dee says:

    This is my first time at your blog! I think what you’re doing with your blog is what I’m doing with my standup comedy–addressing racism, but also addressing a solution. I would love to get some feedback from you on my routines. We should get in touch. BTW, I’m in NYC.

  31. Edip Toprak says:

    I’m against racism,to.

    may i shout that “I hate raaaaacismmmm”

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  34. Ccch says:

    Hi ABW and everyone
    May I be so bold as to submit a suggestion to Mhyainde re: the hair issue: If you want to grow out your relaxed hair, there’s no need to cut it all off, simply braid it, with extensions, not too fine though, redo it every 6wks while trimming the ends. After 6mths, you should have back your natural hair. It’s what I did, now I’m rocking a crazy wild Afro.

    Re: mixed kids. What does your mom call you, besides your name of course?. You see, we’re raising a biracial kid to respect and acknowledge ALL aspects of himself. What society thinks don’t play a role in our teachings.

    Awesome blog, but sometimes I feel rather intimidated by your answers and I have to say your straightforwardness towards all your posters leave me cringing sometimes, but at the same time you’re one of the few black persons who made me think, eg, your comment @ Antonio re: the distinction of racism from Whites or minorities. I’m torn on this as a black woman married to a white male. My husband goes through some rather racist comments/behaviours/slights, which hurt him to the core, same way it would me. Are you suggesting I ignore this, pat him on the back and say: “suck it up!”. Never, his pain’s as real as mine, priviledged or not.

    ABW’s Answer: Indeed, not. I’m not saying that because racism and race-based prejudice are different things and should be addressed differently, that doesn’t mean your husband doesn’t have any right to feel hurt when folks say or do things like that to him. It’s how he deals with those feelings that make a difference. If he stands around whining about it and forcing people to feel bad for him, then that’s not cool. However, I’m going to assume that he’s not like that since he’s married to you :) There are other, better ways to deal with prejudice of any kind.

  35. Joanna says:

    Hi. I think it’s really great that you are doing this, and as a white woman trying to engage effectively and respectfully in anti-racist activism, I’m personally very appreciative.

    I’ve been struggling, recently, with appropriate behavior while engaging in discussions on issues of privilege with other white people while people of color are present. My hypothetical situation is a social setting with a group of predominantly white people, but one person of color, in which issues of race, racism, and/or privilege arise. Do I speak up about issues of privilege, racism, and whiteness? Or do I keep quiet? I come at this hypothetical (but very realistic situation) with a few interconnected concerns.

    1. I don’t want to inadvertently silence or speak on behalf of a person of color who is readily willing and capable of speaking for him or herself.
    2. I don’t want to assume that because a person isn’t white, they agree with my racial politics. No minority community is a homogeneous body, and assuming as much is offensive and ignorant.
    3. I don’t want to assume that a person of color will WANT to take on the educator position. He or she will be tokenized already, as a single person of color in a discussion about race, and it’s exhausting to constantly educate people about how they benefit from your oppression.
    4. My not speaking up could be giving the silent okay to racist language or behaviors. The whole idea of silence perpetuating the problem is a big concern, for me.
    5. Being the one othered person in a group can be very overwhelming and intimidating. I’ve been the one “crazy radical feminist” when issues of sexism come up, and I often would have appreciated having an ally’s voice, or just support. I want to be able to be that ally. To make sure that he or she knows that I’m not going to think they are just another crazy black person harping on racism when they should just shove it and be happy with affirmative action. I don’t want someone to NOT speak up because they think the odds and opinions of the group are stacked against them, and they don’t have the energy to take on a whole group.

    So, I’m just not sure what to do. Speak up or don’t? How can I communicate my support without tokenizing? Any thoughts or recommendations?

    ABW’s Answer: Every situation is different, but my suggestion is the wait until you gauge whether or not the person of color is interested in having that conversation with a room full of white folks. Sometimes they won’t. If they are trying to engage with the others, you should speak up, too. Back the PoC up and don’t let the other people in the conversation get away with those suppressing tactics. If the PoC seems uninterested in discussing it, follow their lead UNLESS the other white folks are just being completely out of hand. Then you should speak up, because regardless of whether the PoC is there or not, racist crap should not go unchallenged.

  36. therealpotato says:

    Hi ABW,

    Just wanted to say thanks for writing this blog and for owning your anger! It’s an excellent blog, first of all, but I also think that by putting yourself out there as an ‘Angry Black Woman’ you help to encourage everyone else who’s oppressed and angry to speak out.

    Rock on. And thanks for inspiring me to do my own IBARW post!


  37. Daisy says:

    It’s a staple, like stories of southerners eating dirt was in the 80’s.

    I love you, ABW!

    Antonio writes:

    Many times I have seen this system perpetuated by my own people. Frequently I’ve suggested trying out some new activity only to be told that’s “white people stuff” or the like. The end result is the stifling of new ideas and experiences to maintain some obscure and undefined level of ‘blackness’. I believe the black community suffers when such attitudes take over. These accusations of ‘acting white’ force black youth to choose between adopting the narrow (and frequently negative) images marketed towards blacks and being ostracized by their peers.

    It’s important to remember that it also goes the other way; whites have been told since day ONE, that something is “black” (or the other word), and deterred from doing it, listening to it, wearing it, eating it, whatever. Only in the present generation, do we have white kids going whole-hog and not caring what their white parents think about their clothes, music, friends, etc.

    My father once pronounced my mother’s black-mirrored-tiled bathroom, with hot-pink shower curtain, towels and rug to be a ‘n-word bathroom’. Now, what the hell was THAT? It was a bathroom, people! We had a huge fight, and it veered between me yelling at him over his racism, yet demanding he explain why this decor was supposedly a black thing, which struck me as patently idiotic.

    Something being declared BLACK and therefore off-limits to whites, came first, IMHO. Blacks saying something is “white” and therefore off-limits, was a matter of self-preservation and completely different. The “white thing” in question might even have been illegal for the black person to do, at the time, or might have gotten them beaten up or worse.

  38. Susan Starr says:

    This is my first time, so please be gentle. I am an angry white woman who really appreciates your blog, which I found through ColorLines magazine. My question is, “What do you think white people acting in solidarity with individuals and communities of color should look like?” I get so tired of my people using that “s” word and sending their kids to private schools, living in lily-white suburbs, asking people like you to sanction their behavior so they can get their feelgood on…Here’s one thing I’m really angry about–I have never had a conversation about racial justice with a group of white liberals that didn’t get lickety-split to how white people FEEL. It takes a special kind of pathology to think how we feel is more important than, say, whether a Black baby eats today or a brown boy goes to jail for hanging out on the wrong street corner.

    ABW’s response: I’m not exactly sure what you’re asking with this – “What do you think white people acting in solidarity with individuals and communities of color should look like?”

  39. mhayinde says:

    To Ccch – thanks for the advice re my hair! As for the mixed-race thing… I too hate colour labels. But recently, someone used the term “half-cast” in front of my mum, about someone on TV, and my mum was furious with them. This got me on to thinking about the term, which is why I thought to raise the matter here…

  40. Dianne says:

    Can whites be non-racist? That is, is it really possible to rid oneself of subconsious bias and assumptions of privilege enough to be truly non-racist?

    ABW’s Answer: Of course whites can be non-racist. Once any person of any color makes the effort to recognize and address these issues, that’s a huge step toward ridding themselves of bias and biased actions and attitudes. Heavily ingrained things are harder to get rid of on an unconscious level, but if a person is conscious of what they should be doing and saying, that usually means they’re 90% there.

  41. Hanna says:

    This morning I posted a question regarding race in my own (personal) blog for my friends to consider, and one of them suggested that I might be interested in your answer as well. Having read this page of questions and comments, and reviewed your post last year on “What is Racism?”, I’m interested in your take on it.

    The requisite backstory. Girl (me) meets guy. Girl and guy fall in love. Guy breaks up with girl not because of relationship problems (the week before they were talking about steps to possible engagement), but because guy is Pakistani-American Mulim, and girl is non-religious American mutt who through a quirk of genetics looks completely white. Guy’s parents will not approve of girl, so guy gets rid of her.

    Since guy is still completely willing to have non-Pakistani/Pakistani-American friends…is it possible for a person to be racist/prejudiced against just one person?

    ABW’s Answer: It’s possible for someone to be prejudiced against a person, of course. And there are plenty of people who, though they are quite willing to have friends of a different race or culture they aren’t willing to marry them. Very religious Jewish folks come to mind. They feel that it’s deeply wrong to marry a non-Jew and there are many reasons for that. Some might consider those reasons racist, others not so. Culture and religion are HUGE influences on people. Parents are part of culture. From your description, it doesn’t seem that the Boy in question is being racist, he’s bending to cultural mores. That doesn’t let him off the hook — after all, at some point people should be willing to make their own decisions and not let their parents dictate their lives. But still, I can’t fault his family for wanting him to marry a girl who shares their culture. Lots of families want that.

  42. Ed says:

    You were not wrong about GEICO. Please see this report from NJ.

  43. starkeymonster says:

    “Guy breaks up with girl not because of relationship problems (the week before they were talking about steps to possible engagement), but because guy is Pakistani-American Mulim, and girl is non-religious American mutt who through a quirk of genetics looks completely white. Guy’s parents will not approve of girl, so guy gets rid of her.”

    In my experience, it is not uncommon for someone to be more comfortable being friends with people of different races, or even dating them, than marrying them.

    My brother, who is black, dated a Japanese-American woman for many years. They visited her family in Japan, things went well. When he asked her to marry him, her family went on an all out campaign to prevent this from happening. Pretty much every time a relative talked to her, it was about how she could not marry my brother and have non-Japanese babies. Sadly, it worked and they are no longer engaged.

    One of my ex-boyfriend’s parents (who is white and Jewish) were also perfectly comfortable with him dating my black self, but they didn’t want him to marry me. They wanted him to marry a Jew. Eventually this shifted to “only if she did an Orthodox conversion” and “OK fine you can.” This was particularly interesting since the two of us had no plans to get married.

  44. Betty says:

    Thanks for responding to my comment! I wanted to get an opinion from someone who was not personally fond of me.

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  47. Anonymous says:

    ABW, why do you think there’s so much strife (from Caucasians) when the question of whether blacks should receive reparations for slavery comes up? Everytime the notion is posed in a conversation relevant to the topic [that I’m a part of], the first thing that comes out of a white person’s mouth seems to indirectly refute his or her ancestors partaking in slavery. What I hear a lot of is how his or her ancestors immigrated *after* slavery and segregation. Infact, I hear this so often, I would swear white people weren’t around during slavery or segregation. It’s pretty annoying how often I see this response, but I digress.

    Next, the person will go on to say how it is unfair and racist for blacks to receive any sort of compensation for slavery, as they were “not a part of it”, or “not slaves themselves”. Then what comes up is the usual ‘blacks should forget slavery’, or ‘it happened in the past’, or whatever, and I think of how the Jews still receive reparation for the Holocaust, and how very few people would tell a Jewish person to ‘get over’ that incident, whether the Jewish person had been present to witness such an atrocity or not. While I know that racism is very-much alive and well, I just feel that it’s really disheartening.

    PS. Please forgive my uncouth rambling; I tend to do that sometimes. *sorry*

    ABW’s Answer: It’s a mixture of guilt and privilege, I suppose. People don’t want to admit that black people today are STILL suffering from the effects of slavery because, to do so, that would mean their generation is somehow complicit. And that goes against the fairy tale some whites tell themselves about race and race relations in the US. If they convince themselves that slavery and its aftereffects are over, they don’t have to think about it anymore. It’s the equivalent of little kids sticking fingers in their ears and singing lalalala.

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  50. the angry black woman says:

    Latest batch of answers are in! There’s still one questions (that two people asked) that I’ve yet to answer.

    “What can *I* do to help end racism?”/”What are some good ways to work against racism?”

    I think this answer deserves it’s own post. I’ll try to get it up next week.

    This particular post will shut down on comments Monday. Thanks, everyone, for participating!

  51. HertzaHaeon says:

    Hello and thank you for your blog. Very thought-provoking and insightful.

    I’ve read what you’ve written about racism being the sum of prejudice and power, and how blacks thus can’t be racist. I think it’s a good definition in general, but I’m not so sure I understand how it applies to specific contexts.

    I don’t have any anecdote about racism to illustrate this question with, so I’ll go with one for sexism (which, if I understand you correctly, works the same way). I’ve worked at an office with only female bosses and a big majority of female workers. In this particular setting I didn’t have any power. Women called all the shots, professionally and socially, and while there wasn’t any female conspiracy, they did have their own groups and their own methods of communication that weren’t open to me as a man. Except for a few minor occassions no woman there ever misused it, but I felt they could have if they had wanted to.

    But to the point. If I understand you correctly, even these women were still unable to be sexist. I don’t quite see how that’s possible, and in a more general sense, how all blacks or women, in all situations, can be said to have a power disadvantage to every white person and every man. What happens when individuals of oppressed minorities actually wield power in a situation, or when individuals from privileged groups lose power?

    Now, I don’t think you can turn the tables easily, but I think it can definitely be done in some situations. In my example, how else can a man with female bosses and female coworkers simply be the target of prejudice when his career and his reputation is in the hands of women? Isn’t that the power needed for prejudice to become sexism or racism? It may be limited to that context, but it sure seemed like power to me.

    I’m not trying to poke a hole in your definition, which I like and will probably use myself. I just think it’s not quite as clear cut when you look beyond society at large to smaller, more specific groups and individuals.

  52. HertzaHaeon says:

    Oops, maybe I’m too late to get a reply. Sorry if I missed the deadline.

  53. mhayinde says:

    Thanks for the reply! I guess the term “half-caste” is more of a British thing, then. I used to hear it a lot at school…

  54. Cellycel says:

    I’m not a very good artist but I like drawing. I’ve been wondering about things like race/sex issues coming across in my drawings.
    For example – I can’t really not draw people of color ever because that erases POC from the world, but I don’t want to appropriate imagery or ‘culture.’ – Put in quotations because my interpretations of POC culture would be ill informed, and I could imagine my using stereotypes without intending to. (I have a lot of race baggage to lose, and I just know that even well meant depictions of POC by me could really be terrible. O.O)

    I especially wonder about it in the context of my feminist drawings. I’m doing this little animation of a woman spinning she’s got a shocked face and I want to put words behind her like “Well what was she thinking?” and stuff like that, about the aftermath of rape. So the girl I made was white, because that’s the colour I made her (which speaks of subconscious racism doesn’t it? Women = white) and I’m watching her spin and thinking ‘something isn’t right’ and I realize the race issue, so I made her this tannish colour instead, only now I feel silly for adding it as an afterthought and…

    I don’t even know what I’m trying to ask. Umm. How do I as an ignorant white girl approach drawing pictures of people, with regards to race issues?

    Me and a woman in my comments had a conversation about this ages ago here:

    Thankyou for your time.

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  59. r@d@r says:

    i’d be interested to hear your thoughts on differences, or perceived differences, in parenting style – it seems to be an arena rife with controversy. so emotional for us all, so much baggage, so much judgment. i know we all look at each other with our kids in public and go, “is that a _____ thing or is it just him/her?” – both good and bad things. i think that how we raise our kids – the ones we have biologically, the ones we adopt, or the ones in our neighborhood we help watch – will probably end up being the most important thing we do.

  60. Jen says:

    I don’t know if you are still answering questions or not, but I am going to throw this out there, either for ABW or her readers:

    Is it wrong for a white woman to date a black man? I have been thinking about this since I recently watched Save the Last Dance, which is not a fantastic movie, but it does explore the idea that I had never even thought of as an 8th grader when I first saw it. The heroine in the movie, a white woman who moves to a lower-class, mostly black neighborhood, starts dating the hero, who is going to go far in life because of his education, etc. The sister of said hero gets mad at the heroine because she says that there aren’t very many black men available for black women to date because most of them are in gangs or prison, etc. This is resolved in some sort of pat way, but do you think it is wrong to “take” a black man off the market for black women?

    I have a boyfriend, so this is more theory than anything else, but I do wonder about it- I would hate to not date a fantastic person, but I also would feel guilty when I know at any given time there is a large difference between the number of black straight men and women.

  61. moxie says:

    Can you explain with some detail how class, race, and gender intersect to create a triumvirate of power? That is, how does dismantling one, relate to the elimination of another?

  62. bob says:

    hi – you are a racist by definition are you not .. yes you are very much so. why oh why do you insist not furthering-ly festering this faulty way of framing the thinking and take it out of it, racism is such a consent in all human nature .. i just don’t see how you are going to get anywhere by talking about something that’s clearly not at the roots and heart of the issue… you for the most part talk about your perspective.. I’m a honky and there’s just know way I can talk about “racism” the same way someone who is not a cracker.. but I’m a white Canadian I joke I don’t think I should feel any guilt or some think because my skin is white should I ? hey what part of the world has done more to confront human rights like women’s rights, what part of the world has at least acknowledged their trespass against other peoples, and challenge repression like religious fundamentalism, superstition, slavery, caste systems, exploitation,and on and on… now I know you could put together a good argument about who and how this is propagated .. I know because i’m usally blabering on about it.. maybe china has a better way of doing things… maybe the middle east there all for tolerance… maybe asia no just kiding some of the most racist people in the world. maybe Inadia hmm no wahts a caste system ? how about northern eruo noooo there white

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  65. mizzo says:

    Good thing you have here. When you get a shot, check out Thestartingfive.wordpress. We tackle racial issues.

  66. Sarah says:

    Hi ABW,

    I like your weblog. Congratulations! It gives me a free and comfy feeling reading it. I have a question for you. How the kids of a black and white parents are called? and how should they be called in terms of their race?

    Thank you,

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