“Racist is the new nigger”

Shortly after BlogHer, a friend cyber-introduced me Kelly of Mocha Momma. I don’t know how long she’s been writing in-depth about race, but after a the cake brouhaha at a BlogHer party, she’s been digging in. This, at the same time I began to write more frequently here, with a more pointed focus on race. I scoot over to Kelly’s site each week to get caught up on what she’s talking about, and we are very much on the same wavelength. Yesterday, she posted a brilliant quote by Riz Rollins, a Seattle based writer, DJ, and radio-personality:

Racist is the new nigger. For white people, the only word that begins to approximate the emotional violence a person of color experiences being called a nigger from a white person is ‘racist.’ It’s a trigger for white people that immediately conjures pain, anger, defensiveness—even for white people who are clearly racist. ‘Racist’ is now a conversation stopper almost like that device where you can skew a conversation by comparing someone to Hitler. It’s an automatic slur. And only the sickest racists will own up to the description.

Thought provoking, isn’t it? H/t and deep curtsy to my new friend for turning me on to this one.

Of course, I immediately wanted to know more about Riz Rollins, and my  search led me to Deeply Embarrassed White People Talk Awkwardly About Race, a terrific article (containing said quote), written by Jen Graves of The Stranger. Hooray! Another white chick writing about race. I want to invite Jen and Riz to dinner. (If you guys are reading, the door is open and the smothered chicken is simmering on the stove.) One quick pull for you:

White people in Seattle are more likely to own rather than rent. White people are more likely to have health insurance and a job. White people are more likely to live longer. White people are less likely to be homeless. White people are less likely to hit the poverty level. White people are less likely to be in jail. White kids are nine times less likely than African Americans to be suspended from elementary school (in high school, it’s four times higher; in middle school, it’s five times, according to the district’s data). Nonwhite high-school graduation rates in Seattle are significantly below white graduation rates—even if you’re Asian, regardless of income level.

Jen Graves’ is the visual arts reporter for The Stranger, and her piece came about after she brought up racism while teaching a course at Cornish College of the Arts (I was accepted to Cornish for undergrad, but chickened out and stayed home. It’s one of my two life regrets). Her classroom discussion led one student to call for her firing. She endured a “tortured conversation” with two white administrators before the charges against her were dropped, upon which followed a stark realization:

…it suddenly hits me how alien it has become just to try to define racism, and admit to it.

Her article is a really, really, really must read. Get your coffee, find a comfy seat and check it out; it’s not short. Come back and comment, if you have it in you. I’d like to know your thoughts.

18 Responses to “Racist is the new nigger”

  • LilSass says:

    is this thing on? did I lose you? Oh dear what have I done?

  • LilSass says:

    @kerryanne you just wrote that while I was writing me so let me revisit that

  • LilSass says:

    @kerryanne: well now that we’ve been given to go ahead ;-) Thanks for your comments and I look forward to more dialogue about this.

    ~~~~~~~~~~

    I am always SO reluctant to explain/share/admit to my observations because it’s hard (especially in electronic format) to explain these things. I am caught between, “Is that ‘observation’ I have in reference to something I have experienced, something I have ‘read about’ or something that is scientifically/factually proven?” I never want the term ‘observations’ to be used as a thinly veiled JUDGEMENT of others. Hence my carefully worded … “I saw this and don’t know if it was something that warrants comment or not.”

    Let me explain further …. if I see a white man on a date with an asian girl and in my head I ‘make note’ of this and say, “What’s with white men’s fetish for dating asian chicks?” What is this observation based on? Based on unfair judgement and racism (toward the white man? … that’s weird … )? Am I unfairly labeling their union as a “fetish” when for all I know it was a blind date or they met at the bookstore or they’re roommates or they work together or they’re on their 5th date …. but why do I notice this?… it’s none of my GD business.

    But there IS an historical context of men of power ( = white) fetishizing a ‘subordinate class’ (which can apply to women of varying races). Throughout history white men have fetishized and/or sexualized the stereotype of the passive, submissive asian woman. So am I noticing this pairing because of this or do I notice this racial difference because I am racist? By merely pointing it out am I just as guilty as the white man who’s doing the fetishizing?

    If I make race an issue when it is not (when 2 strangers are on a date) does that make me racist?

    Ugh …. this just got crazy.

    @aaryn thanks for the platform chica. Man I’m glad you’re back. And yes this was about race on a general note and then it was about adoption and now it’s back to race. I look forward to more of this!
    xox

  • kerryanne says:

    My husband and I are the parents of two children: 4 years & 15 months. Both of our boys were born in Asian countries and adopted. When talking about our sons, we purposely leave out specific details regarding their adoptions and histories; we feel strongly that it is not our right to discuss such personal things, it is for them to decide who hears what.

    When we chose to pursue adoption, initially we wanted to go via foster care. Unfortunately, this was not an option as we reside outside the United States. After months more of research, we finally settled with an agency we felt was ethically sound and had experience working with US citizens abroad.

    I can’t really pinpoint ‘why’ we wound up adopting Asian children, we were more focused on quality of agencies (we worked with a different for each of our children). While I can honestly say my husband and I did our homework as best we could in terms of what to look for in an agency, the laws and processes of countries, we were terribly naive to the bigger machine that is adoption.

    Lilsass, your observations were right on: lots of white people adopting girls (I am purposely leaving out specifying an ethnicity because it is not only true that a higher number of girls are adopted from Asian countries but also from African and other countries). Gender preference is a subject that my husband and I feel passionately about and our opinion is not entirely popular in the world of adoptive parents, and that is that we believe gender choice should not be permitted in adoption under any circumstance (one of the reasons we opted to work with the agency that assisted us in our second adoption is because they don’t allow it). We believe that gender choice fuels corruption- if the majority of prospective adoptive parents request girls, then the demand must be met.

    We also learned that there is no government truly concerned with the plight of orphans or their biological families on any continent- not one. Corruption in adoption is rampant in agencies, local and national branches of governments, there are ‘facilitators’ preying on poverty stricken families- on and on. Adoption ‘rules’ and ‘protocols’ are not designed to protect children. This includes what I am coming to understand of the Hague Convention on Inter country Adoption- the premise was to make adoptions more transparent but as far as I can tell, little seems to have improved in terms of ensuring and investigating that children available for adoption are truly orphaned or willingly relinquished by their families.

    I am not even scratching the surface on any of the things I mentioned above- and really, not nearly articulate or expert enough to do so. But, I am a parent of two beautiful boys and my eyes have been widened to an uncomfortable degree. We don’t apologize for adopting our sons and as far as we can, have faith that we made our decisions and choices as well thought out and researched as possibly could. However, we do feel it is our responsibility to be vocal about the realities of adoption. There is immense joy, sadness, fulfillment and heartbreak all rolled into one big ball. There are real, live people affected both positively and negatively by adoption and to pretend it’s all sunshine and roses would be negligent. We do not, for one minute, take our sons or their histories for granted and are humbled daily by our fortune.

    I have to add here that I hesitate to pass judgement on adoptive families based on blog entries, etc. simply because I don’t know their personal journeys- I do know based on the experiences of two friends that their adoptions through China (both boys, by the way), took almost 6 years from start to finish. I also have to add that not all people who adopt are wealthy (well, by western standards…) and I try to steer away from assuming that all adoptive parents must be rich- I can tell you now that we are nothing more than sort of average in the money department, and every penny we spent on our processes was hard earned, saved, borrowed or squeezed from a rock.

    Our best educators in adoption have been adult adoptees and people with non profit orgs working in remote and poor areas of the world with a birds eye view. Additionally, spending quality time in the countries where our children were born is a commitment we have made and promised to our sons.

    Just my two (verrrrrry long winded) 2 cents.

  • aaryn b. says:

    @Lilsass: You are totally correct in your observations. I will be writing about the corruption in adoption in the coming weeks and months, as well. The system—–international as well as domestic—is flawed, largely unregulated, and caters to (often white) prospective parents. Children too often become the commodity and this is wrong. I benefited from this tipped system, as did Kerryanne, and any other adoptive parent. Recognizing this and then working to change it for the better is part of what Beth Hall spoke about at summer camp.

    @Kerryanne: Hijack away. Bring it up. Say what you want because I’d like to hear it, too.

  • kerryanne says:

    LilSass- I don’t want to hijack Aaryn’s blog to offer my thoughts on your comments regarding (international- specifically Asian) adoption. You made some very right on observations and if it is okay, I would like to email you and share mine and my views. There is a whole lot of wrong in various aspects/views of adoption whether it be domestic or international- so much room for improvement.

  • LilSass says:

    Yes, yes and yes! I understand the context with which you speak and obviously, you have an experience that is uniquely different than mine. I love reading about your experience raising Ruby, as well as deeply admire your discussions of race in your home and on the blog.

    I think conversations of “race” … trans-ethnic and cross-cultural adoptions is HOLY SHIT FASCINATING! I shudder to think there is ‘preference’ when making adoption choices though I am not surprised by this. Just this week I happened upon someone’s blog who chronicled her recent adoption (she being white, her new daughter being Chinese). And it struck me as odd. Here were pictures of the ‘adoption tour group’ … all white parents adopting all Chinese daughters. Am I hyper-aware of the similarities or was it that obvious? Are whites more privileged (obvi) and therefore can afford ‘international’ adoptions? Why all daughters? …. are girls placed in orphanages more? All of these thoughts rang through my head.

    I don’t want to jump to conclusions upon seeing these pictures and say, “whites prefer asian babies’ when it could be possible that the chinese have more lenient adoption policies. I know next to nothing about the horrific/lengthy/expensive/complicated process of adoptions. Do I have bias because I notice this and assume there is something ‘amiss’ with this or is there something truly there? According to Dr. Crumbly there really is something there.

    As you are writing from your context, I soon will write from mine – racism in medicine.

  • kerryanne says:

    Thanks Aaryn! I was nodding my head in agreement as I read your response to my comment. Thankfully this was just an acquaintance- I have little or no contact otherwise. I do not think I was prepared for the denial I have witnessed in terms of racism against Asian people. My feeling is that as long as my boys are well behaved, smart, polite, passive and never express an opinion that might ruffle feathers, they will be ‘acceptable’. If it’s okay, I’m going to direct some folks to your response because it is so much of what I wish I coud articulate.
    Really looking forward to checking out the Pact info!

  • LilSass says:

    And one other thing …. Race was a social construct created by the white man to catalogue, categorize and furthermore eradicate the existence of the talent, education, beauty and potential of an entire group of people. “Whites are smarter than blacks. Whites are prettier than blacks. Whites deserve home loans, blacks do not.” etc. etc. etc. The creation of ‘race’ forever changed the experience and history of an entire group of humans in this country. ‘Race’ never existed until ‘the man’ created it. The history of race in this country started within the context of our horrific and ugly past. And yes, you and Sam are caucasian parents raising (wonderfully, might I add), an African American child so clearly this is the scope with which you see things. But I am bothered by the frequency with which we discuss ‘race’ and we only speak to white vs. black issues.

    Aside from your own family dynamic, why no conversations about the plight of Mexican Americans? I mean, you live 14 seconds from the border and are surrounded by the obvious class conflict of migrant workers, immigrant students, MeCHa, chicano history and …. need I go on? Where is that discussion in all this?

    A true discussion about race is not contained to the two “obvious” options.

    The asian and Hispanic voice is often lost in this.

    • Aaryn says:

      You bring up a really good point. And I have written in the past about race as it pertains to Hispanics (the first thing that comes to mind is the Arizona immigration law), and while I intend for my discussion of race to apply to all people of color, you are right, I’m writing through the lens of my family dynamic. That will shift a bit as I write, I’m sure. But Black people in this country, as you pointed out, have had a particularly “horrific and ugly” past that has created a hierarchy with them at the very bottom. When we were adopting Ruby, we watched a video lecture by Dr. James Crumbly. And while this was a lecture geared toward social workers, it was something our home study agency required us to watch. In it, Dr. Crumbly described in painful detail, the value white Americans place on skin color, generally speaking but specifically for the purpose of Crumbly’s lecture, how it applies to adoption/foster care. I’m paraphrasing here, but as it pertains to adoption, the babies of greatest desirability and worth are white babies, either American born of from eastern bloc countries. Next are tan babies, that is to say, Asian. Then Hispanic babies, but this group is further stratified with a greater value placed on lighter skinned babies with darker hued Hispanic babies falling lower on the perceived-value scale. And then, finally Black babies. Of course they’re last and, too, they are ranked from light to dark, with lighter skinned Black babies being more valued, more desired, more accepted than those with darker skin.

      Anyway, I point this out because while what you say is totally valid, there is still a very unique relationship between White and Black America. And while I believe in eradicating all racism and teaching my kid about it (when Sam and I teach Ruby about the 4th of July, she gets an earful about what the white European people did to the indigenous people who owned this land), I am extremely concerned about how our society will view my precious child when she is a grown Black woman. And so, I write from this perspective.

  • LilSass says:

    Lady, first of all … welcome back! I am so so thrilled you’ve returned to writing/blogging, etc. All your posts as of late are dragging me back to blogging. I mean, I haven’t done anything about it yet but I’ve got a brief post brewing about a lovely *sarcasm* racist incident at work recently.

    I hate living in the south

  • kerryanne says:

    Aaryn- thank you for posting that article! I have read it twice already and will be forwarding it to nearly everyone I know. Great timing because I just had an uncomfortable conversation with a white, ivy league educated acquaintance regarding the challenges my boys will face in life racially speaking- as opposed to hers and she went on about how untrue it is, how race is no longer such an ‘issue’ and that ‘white people like me’ are the ones who ‘keep perpetuating and instigating’ by ‘bringing it up’. She went so far as to roll her eyes when I gave a few examples of what we and our boys have encountered so far. She then topped it off with ‘Asians are less likely to deal with racism because they are pretty white anyway’ (!!!) I gently pointed out that her perspective was coming from white privilege, and well that just didn’t go over nicely. When I explained that my husband and I have had to come clean and confront our own ideas and prejudices (particularly really looking hard at white privilege), she told me that if we make it a big deal, we will fuck our kids up.
    I’m not describing the conversation well, but you get the idea….
    Thanks again.

    • Aaryn says:

      Kerry, I did the same thing: Re-read the article and began sending it to everyone. As for your conversation, you actually describe it very well. I’ve had the exact same conversation, though I can’t say that I’ve seen an actual eye-roll. I have found that many educated people—and academics, especially—share the viewpoints of your acquaintance, and are so deeply entrenched in the ideas they believe to be true, based on their own privileged experiences (which is not to say I don’t enjoy white privilege, but mine, like yours, is a very different path now), that they can’t even stop to think about the ideas you are presenting. It’s a very difficult situation. I sat around a dinner table with a bunch of university professors earlier this summer, and listened as they waxed on and on about race in America, using big words and citing names I’d never heard of. And yet, they were clueless about the reality of race in America. Your acquaintance’s comment about Asians is jaw-dropping, and yet hardly surprising at the same time, too. I suppose what is most stunning about it is her complete lack of awareness of the Asian experience. At Pact Camp this summer (sorry to keep bringing it up, but we learned so much there), we heard heart-wrenching stories from adult Asians who had been adopted transracially, each of whom expressed individually the pain of having little connection to their countries of origin, to their cultures, and who expressed feelings of loneliness and not belonging anywhere, all losses that they carry still as adults. And, too, they expressed example after example of the offensive stereotyping that they endured—and still endure—today. Every single one of them would have contested that “almost white” remark, and in fact, have had many opportunities to do so. Your acquaintance doesn’t know at all what she is talking about. She is oblivious and clearly is unwilling to unlearn her prejudices. That remark and the eye-roll would put that woman on my no-we-are-not-hanging-out-together list. She’s one of the get-out-of-the-way people and not one of the coming-on-the-journey-with-me people. Shall I include more words-created-with-hyphens sentences?

      Ultimately, our children have to see us talk the talk and walk the walk. We owe that to them. They have to know we have their backs. Good on you for having the difficult conversation. I don’t think it ever gets easier but you have to keep having it. Don’t let anyone make you think you are wrong or crazy, because you are not. It can start to feel that way sometimes.

      If you need any resources, I would suggest the Pact Camp bookstore. They have TONS of incredible books that you might find useful. You might even consider joining the organization. I know you’re overseas, but their newsletter is worth the membership alone. Beth Hall and her staff know what they are doing. And who knows? Maybe you guys will come this way next July and attend camp and we can finally meet! xo.

  • MarthaMc says:

    I’m one of those who always reads but never comments, however I do want to tell you that your posts almost always make me think and this one is no exception. I thank you.

    • Aaryn says:

      Hi Martha. Thank you for reading and for leaving this comment. It’s totally cool by me if you lurk. I know not everyone wants in on this cesspool (I mean that in jest with no disrespect to my commentors). I’m actually re-reading the article from The Stranger now, still sort of awed by it. I’m glad that you are able to take something away from my little neglected space.

  • aaryn b. says:

    But of course!
    It will be so fun and interesting and heated!
    xo.

  • Thank you for turning me on to that piece. May I please come to your dinner party?!

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