Reblog: “Stomping on Eggshells” and “Why White People Freak Out When They’re Called Out About Race”

A couple of good articles about the defensiveness we’ve been seeing when white people discuss race:

Samantha Field, stomping on eggshells: on white fragility and speaking up

Quote:

Which brings me to the topic of today, which is part criticism, part education, and part encouragement for my fellow social justice advocates and progressives. In speaking with people over the past two weeks about ways to get involved and stand up for vulnerable people– especially Muslims and people of color– I’ve been seeing a common theme. It’s certainly not new, and it’s something I’ve struggled with until relatively recently. People with privilege– white, straight, male, Christian, etc– frequently want to do what’s right, but they feel like they’re “walking on eggshells.” They want to be an ally, but they don’t want to say or do the wrong thing. Many of us feel anxiety or nervousness about racial issues in particular.

I would like to gently and lovingly and directly say that this feeling of “walking on eggshells” is based in a lie, and one we believe because our privilege has made us incredibly arrogant. I don’t say this to be mean or harsh, but because I believe it’s the truth, and one I had to learn for myself sometimes painfully.

Some notes in the comments do make sense, however: A couple of commenters–one who grew up fundamentalist, where any wrong thing makes you hellbound, and one who is autistic and often made to feel like her mistakes are “pathetic screwups”–note that arrogance isn’t always the reason we feel we are “walking on eggshells.”

This is my own situation, both as NVLD (socially like autism) and having grown up fundamentalist.  I’ve already been accused of horrible things because of my social ineptitude.  Also, being fundamentalist taught me that even cussing over a banged toe could send me to Hell if I didn’t ask for forgiveness right then.  So if somebody tells me I’m doing something wrong, it can immediately be heard as “You’re going to Hell” or “You’re a wicked, evil person.”

So I can understand the sentiments in the next blog post, on “white fragility”:  Sam Adler-Bell’s Why White People Freak Out When They’re Called Out About Race

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For white people, their identities rest on the idea of racism as about good or bad people, about moral or immoral singular acts, and if we’re good, moral people we can’t be racist – we don’t engage in those acts. This is one of the most effective adaptations of racism over time—that we can think of racism as only something that individuals either are or are not “doing.”

In large part, white fragility—the defensiveness, the fear of conflict—is rooted in this good/bad binary. If you call someone out, they think to themselves, “What you just said was that I am a bad person, and that is intolerable to me.” It’s a deep challenge to the core of our identity as good, moral people.

I see this very thing going on in my family, and it’s very distressing.  I have been open to rebuke about racism since my teens, however, and this has allowed me to avoid much of the “white fragility.”  But it also means I can get terribly uncomfortable around a certain family member who is very fragile–but denies his/her own fragility.

I try to avoid discussing race issues with this person as much as possible.  I try to avoid watching TV shows/movies featuring black characters, around this person.  (When this person walks through the room while I watch, he/she will make indignant little remarks that make me have to back up the recording because I could not hear the TV.)

I have seen this person get so defensive about race on Facebook, that I removed him/her from my newsfeed and notifications.  I even avoid posting anything on Facebook about race anymore, lest this person get mad in the comments, and embarrass me.

After this person argued with one of my friends about race and discovered I did not want to break off relations with my friend, this person became indignant and guilted me over it.  This person also became irate at his/her favorite cousin (who is mixed-race) after arguing with her over race issues.

This is definitely white fragility, which is not at all helpful, as written by Adler-Bell, above:

When I’m doing a workshop, I’ll often ask the people of color in the room, somewhat facetiously, “How often have you given white people feedback about our inevitable and often unconscious racist patterns and had that go well for you?” And they laugh.

Because it just doesn’t go well. And so one time I asked, “What would your daily life be like if you could just simply give us feedback, have us receive it graciously, reflect on it and work to change the behavior? What would your life be like?”

And this one man of color looked at me and said, “It would be revolutionary.”

Let me use my white privilege to tell other whites: Dealing with someone else’s white fragility is intensely frustrating.  I can’t express myself anymore.  I can’t be myself.  I’m afraid of hurting this person’s feelings if I speak up, and getting chewed out, because I’ve already tried, and that’s what happened.  I am very embarrassed to see this person behave this way on Facebook, so much so that I took this person out of my newsfeed.

This person doesn’t seem to have any regard for how he/she is affecting other people with this constant defensiveness.  And yes, others can see exactly what’s going on, that white fragility leads to hostile, bullying behavior–yet the person doing it thinks they’re the one who’s being bullied!

White fragility leads to fractured and lost friendships.  It leads to constant stress.

I can tell you that my own friendships are still intact, including ones with minorities, that I have very few arguments online, and that I can hear about racial concerns without feeling attacked and abused.  It is a much better place to be in, than to be on the defensive all the time.

Seriously, you’ll be much happier if you stop defending your whiteness, stop telling other people what their experiences really were (that’s gaslighting), and instead just listen to their concerns.  If you’re willing to be open to what minorities are trying to tell us, and reflect on things you may unconsciously do that are racist, it doesn’t make you a bad person.  It means you can grow and help make life better for everyone.

 

 

 

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“Betty, Girl Engineer” and 1950s sexism

In general, I love the old 50s sitcom Father Knows Best.  It’s funny, and it even pushes the boundaries at times, such as one episode which addressed prejudice against Latinos, and another which showed Betty fending off a date who felt entitled to get more from her than she wanted to give.

But occasionally, it gets on my nerves with the old sexism.  For example, Father joking about Mother’s “womanly” manipulations to get what she wants, because apparently she’s not supposed to just come out and ask.

Though if you watch other media from that time period, such as movies or sitcoms, you soon discover that not all the women portrayed behaved like this.

For example, on Donna Reed, Mrs. Stone is very much against women using manipulation to get what they want.  She comes out and asks her husband for things.

The wife on Make Room for Daddy is a housewife, and occasionally submissive, but she can also be very fiery and fights back when she thinks her husband is unfair.  She and other wives also feel threatened by a new Asian bride, because they fear their husbands will expect them to wait on them hand and foot.  They soon learn that the bride is the way she wants to be, and that their husbands like them the way they are.

Alice Kramden does not strike me as the kind of person who would use feminine wiles for anything.  She’s not submissive at all.

Zelda Gilroy decides that she’ll have to be the one to work, because she’s brilliant, while Dobie Gillis is just plain lazy.

Of course, Lucy Ricardo is the epitome of manipulative and scheming females, though–in a crossover episode of Make Room for Daddy–we discover that Ricky won’t have her any other way.

As for how real women acted, I bet there were as many differences back then as there are today.  The women in the media are “types,” some more real, some more idealized.

Back to Father Knows Best.  In one episode, tomboy Kathy learns to become a Proper Girl (TM) because that’s the only way boys will want to date her.  She learns how to manipulate because that’s what girls do.

In one of the last episodes, Betty, the oldest and almost done with college, applies for a job; a young man also applying, shames her for trying to take away a job he needs for his career.  (Maybe she needs it too!)  In the end, she decides what she really wants is to be a bride, not the job.

Last night, I saw “Betty, Girl Engineer,” which I also saw back in high school.  Yeah, it annoyed me then, too, but I forgot what all happened.  Last night refreshed my memory.

A good summary is in this blog post by Shereen.  Basically, Betty goes through aptitude tests at school which show that she’d be good at engineering.  She comes home, all excited about this career choice.

But everyone at home laughs at her, like this is just one of Betty’s silly little whims, because girls don’t belong in engineering.  Father even chides her for thinking she can handle higher math such as algebra and trigonometry.

She signs up for a work-study position surveying, but is shamed out of it by the supervisor.  However, instead of telling everyone where they can stick it, and following her dreams, she succumbs to the brainwashing, puts on a dress, and the chauvinist pig supervisor becomes the latest in her long string of boyfriends.  Father even encourages the chauvinist pig to lecture Betty out of her silly dreams (since apparently girls need to be taught by men what to think).  She ditches her silly whim of being an engineer, and becomes a Proper Girl (TM).

AAAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRRGGGGGGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!

Over on the IMDB page on this sitcom, somebody brought up sexism in the show, but got shamed by everyone else for complaining about it.

[Update 6/14/17: The forum page appears to have been removed from the site, so the link no longer works.  However, someone posted a review of the episode the same time I posted mine here.  Read the other review here.]

Apparently, from the comments I read in that thread, if it happened 50 years ago, you aren’t supposed to look at it with a “modern lens,” but just accept it as “the way it was.”  And apparently, old shows are much better than godless modern ones which present fathers as goofballs etc. etc.

Hm.  So, then, when I read, say,

The Sun Also Rises and everybody rips on Cohn for being Jewish, or

The Great Gatsby where they see a couple of rich young black men and dismiss them as a couple of uppity “bucks,” or

Trilby with all the author’s prejudice against Jews, which he clearly states and then throws into the slimy character of Svengali, or

–any old book or movie in which blacks are dismissed as simple-minded,

I’m supposed to just say, “Oh, that was another time and it would be wrong for me to look at it from the lens of our modern times.”

Hm.  I’ve been critiquing various forms of media all my life for sexism, racism, and the like, without feeling I was being unfair just because it was written/filmed a long time ago.

What about the people who lived in those times and had to suffer from the sexism and racism which was so acceptable back then but not now?

If women in the 50s were perfectly happy being housewives and not following their silly, childish dreams of becoming engineers/scientists/etc., then why did we have the feminist movement just a short time later?  Why did so many women in the 60s and 70s sound so unhappy with their lot?  Yes, many women did and do want to be housewives, but many don’t.

Even back then, there were women who wanted careers.  Women weren’t just perfectly content to follow one path until Gloria Steinem came along and convinced them otherwise.  No, this was percolating for a long time.

For example, Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote that she helped Pa out in the fields, and didn’t just help Ma in the house.  She also wrote that she refused to say the word “obey” when she married Almanzo in the 1800s, and he said no decent man would want her to.

Mary Wollstonecraft wrote A Vindication of the Rights of Woman way back in 1792, arguing that women were only overly emotional because they weren’t given proper education or opportunities for careers.

George Sand–a woman who took a man’s pen name to be taken seriously–was certainly no conventional housewife.

In Jane Eyre, we find this passage:

It is in vain to say human beings ought to be satisfied with tranquility: they must have action; and they will make it if they cannot find it.

Millions are condemned to a stiller doom than mine, and millions are in silent revolt against their lot.  Nobody knows how many rebellions besides political rebellions ferment in the masses of life which people earth.

Women are supposed to be very calm generally: but women feel just as men feel; they need exercise for their faculties, and a field for their efforts as much as their brothers do; they suffer from too rigid a constraint, too absolute a stagnation, precisely as men would suffer; and it is narrow-minded in their more privileged fellow-creatures to say that they ought to confine themselves to making puddings and knitting stockings, to playing on the piano and embroidering bags.

It is thoughtless to condemn them, or laugh at them, if they seek to do more or learn more than custom has pronounced necessary for their sex (p. 129).

My Honor’s thesis in college was about women writers of Victorian times wanting to break out of society’s restrictions on them.  It was titled “I’ve Stopped Being Theirs,” a line by Emily Dickinson, whose poetry revealed an intense desire to decide her own fate.

While researching, I discovered that even Little Women seemed to be Louisa May Alcott’s ironic attempt to whitewash reality with what society said women “should” be.  Her own family was nothing like the Marches, and she was more like Jo, yet she–like Jo–was told by others how she “should” act.

(Maybe I should pull out that old thesis and post it here?  Of course, it’s quite long, because that’s required of theses.  I may have to chop it up and edit it.  But it was good enough to get an A and be filed in the school library as an example for others!  😀 )

In fact, I wrote this thesis–and became a feminist–after my experiences with a very sexist ex, Phil, who tried to force me into an old-fashioned, submissive role, even while chiding me for wanting to be a housewife.  (Doesn’t make sense, I know.  But also demonstrates why my feminism is NOT the kind which tells women they should not be housewives.  On the contrary, I believe in letting women decide for themselves.)

Also, in the early decades of the 20th century, women were already starting to break out of society’s restrictions: women doctors, women scientists, women journalists.  Remember Marie Curie?  In fact, when the Nazis took over in Germany, they forced not just Jews but many women out of their jobs, because they thought women should just be housewives.  (Their preaching on this turned around and bit them on the butt later, when the women were too content being housewives to want to help the war effort.)

It has been common for decades to hear about the “idyllic” 1950s.  That everyone was religious and everyone knew his/her place and was happy.  But if that were true, then where did the unrest of the 1960s come from?  If life were perfect, then who but an idiot would want to turn everything upside-down?  Why were there riots?  Why were there marches and protests?  Where did the feminism come from?

No, that feminism didn’t start in the 1960s.  It started centuries earlier.

Instead of looking at this as, “You can’t judge a 1950s show with your modern lens,” how about we say, “Yes, this is an example of the rampant sexism that inspired women to rebel in the 60s and 70s.  This is how tough our mothers/grandmothers had it.  Look what they had to fight against!  Let’s appreciate what they went through.”

Also see:

 

 

 

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On last week’s shootings of and by police

Yesterday, I read a blog post calling for white people to use their privilege and speak up about racial violence.  Okay, so here goes.

I have been sickened lately by all the violence by police against black people who haven’t done anything wrong.

I have also been sickened by the pushback against Black Lives Matter.  The proponents of BLM say they’re being misunderstood.  See their actual principles here: 11 Major Misconceptions about the Black Lives Matter Movement and What We Believe

This answers the charges, among others, that they hate white people and are anti-police.

Also, in the past week, I have heard African-Americans on Larry Willmore (and possibly The Daily Show) say that they’re not against the police.  They believe that most police are good people trying to serve and protect, but there is a problem with a significant minority who are racially motivated against black people, and with procedures which allow excessive force.  They need to be dealt with and police procedures need to be looked at critically, to see what needs to be changed.  Even Amnesty International says that American police procedures do not align with international standards.

Instead, I’m hearing–on Willmore, for example–that Black Lives Matter does NOT say that ONLY black lives matter.  It’s actually, “black lives matter ALSO.”  Because of slavery, which still has repercussions today despite being abolished 150 years ago, there is a unique relationship between blacks and the police which makes blacks feel as if their lives don’t matter.  They’re trying to make everyone understand that their lives matter just as much as everybody else’s, NOT that they matter more than anybody else’s.

I grew up in a city of 100,000, in which people of various races were my classmates, teachers, principals, friends.  I now live in a city which is predominantly white.  When I moved here 21 years ago to be with my husband, the sight of anyone of color (other than Hmongs) was highly unusual.  Even pickaninny statues could still be seen openly displayed on lawns!  (See article here.)  I also still find people using the term “colored people,” which has been taboo at least as long as I’ve been alive (and I’m in my 40s).

I have also heard accounts of little black children being told by other children, “I’m not allowed to play with you because you’re black.”  Not only did I hear this from my ex-friend, whose stepdaughter is mixed race and was told this at school in 2008, but the newspaper reported this happening to another girl at the Children’s Museum just a couple of years ago!

Over the years, minorities have been moving in.  Racism is here, but if you point it out, people get all offended and say, “I’m not racist!”  When a newspaper article pointed out the racism of the pickaninny statues, people said, “If you’re offended by statues, YOU’RE the one with the problem/psychological issues.”

Today’s newspaper had an article–not about the Dallas shooting, since actual news is rare in anything run by Gannett these days–but about people responding to the Dallas shooting.  It started with describing a walk in Oshkosh to show solidarity with police officers and unity in the community.  Which is all well and good, and I’m not knocking that.

But as I read on in the article, I found a disturbing trend as local GOP politicians threw in their two cents: dog whistles blaming black people for the violence against police, while ignoring the senseless violence against two black men last week, and the issues which are driving black people to protest.  No, they never came out and directly named Black Lives Matter, but you could catch the inferences in this comment by Sen. Ron Johnson:

“Five of the finest among us, slaughtered,” Johnson said during a campaign stop in Green Bay. “Let’s be clear: there’s a movement … there are political figures in this country that are stoking the fires of people that are actually putting targets on the back of men and women who serve this country trying to keep our streets safe. This has got to end. We need political leaders that are looking for areas of agreement to unify us; to heal these divisions as opposed to exploit them.”

Essentially, blaming the protestors for the violence.  Yes, it is horrible that five police officers were slaughtered, quite likely good people just doing their jobs.  But along with them, what about the fine black men who were slaughtered last week for not doing anything wrong?

Then there’s,

State Rep. David Steffen, R-Howard, said he will introduce legislation to make targeting police officers a hate crime.

“I strongly believe that anyone who targets these brave men and women, solely because of their profession, should face serious penalties,” Steffen said in a news release. “This legislation sends a clear message that the despicable attacks we’ve seen against officers throughout the country will not be tolerated in Wisconsin.”

Fine and good, but how about also introducing legislation to make it a hate crime for a police officer to kill a black man for reaching for his ID?

It is good to support the police, yes.  In fact, one of my beefs with my ex-friend was him saying we should no longer have police, period, and let us all just defend ourselves with guns.  (He’s half-white, and looks white, so I don’t give him the kind of pass I would for a black person complaining about police.)  I mourn when a police officer is shot in the line of duty, or slaughtered by someone with a vendetta.

But we also need to actually address the problems which keep leading to unarmed and innocent black people being gunned down.  Or even if they’re not innocent, excessive police force which leads to death rather than the person going to jail and being properly tried.

What disturbed me about the newspaper article was that the only ones addressing that side were Russ Feingold (Russ 2016!!!) and the president of the Milwaukee NAACP.

I don’t think most people in this state are consciously racist.  Many are not racist at all.  It seems to be an ingrained racism where you don’t even realize it exists.

I’ve encountered such things in myself, and work to root them out wherever I find them.  I tell my son, everybody has racist/prejudiced attitudes of some kind, so if we’re defensive when somebody points it out, we don’t learn anything.  We have to be willing to address it.

 

 

 

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