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23 May 2012 @ 10:49 am
So. I know the classic racist cliche is "all those people look alike." And the inability to distinguish people of another ethnicity from each other is a fairly standard marker of prejudice.

I have moderate to severe difficulty telling faces apart in general; I tend to run with context, haircuts, and broad categories, and if those change or are too close to someone else's, I can't tell people apart without a lot of familiarity. (I've occasionally mistaken my sisters for each other, or not recognized them immediately, after not seeing them for more than a year. I only have two.) And this difficulty gets worse with PoC, especially if my brain keeps categorizing hairstyles I'm less familiar with as roughly the same thing.

This is a minor inconvenience when it comes to watching movies with a bunch of white guys in suits who I keep mistaking for each other. This is a problem when it comes to my inability to recognize people I interact with on a semi-regular basis. If I've been sitting next to someone in class three days a week all semester, I should be able to recognize them when passing them on campus, and often I can't.

I do not want to be the person doing the "all you people look alike!" thing to PoC. Even if I'm not phrasing it like that. Even if it's true for white folks too.

Does anyone know a way I can fix this, or work around it better? "I'm terrible at recognizing faces and remembering names" may well be the simple truth, but if there's a way to fix this, I'd really rather do so, rather than keep assuring PoC that, hey, it's not my fault I'm confusing them with other PoC. It's not like I have complete face blindness--I can recognize most people I deal with on a regular basis, if I do so in multiple contexts--so I'm hoping there's some way to make this better.
09 May 2012 @ 09:05 am
I wear a keffiyeh. I try my best not to be appropriative about it; it's a solidarity thing and I have talked to several Palestinian friends/associates about it and am usually reassured it's a valid solidarity thing. (And then they usually take it off my head and retie it.)

Today at a coffee shop, a little girl sitting with her mum pointed at me (in a peacoat with the keffiyeh tied around my head to keep the rain off) and said, "She's like us!"

The mum was clearly embarrassed and explained that the girl's father wears the same keffiyeh I do and told her it's not polite to point. I sort of looked at my feet until I bought coffee. I just wonder if I could have handled it differently.
01 December 2011 @ 10:34 am
The police brutality you are just now noticing is what we call business as usual.


People of color
26 October 2011 @ 08:52 am
Ohio State University's STARS group (Students Teaching Against Racism) created a series of posters reminding folks that Halloween costumes supposedly portraying a member of another culture (geisha, sheikh, gang member) are racist and hurtful. View the posters here:


Several stories in the news in the past few years have discussed people throwing "ghetto" parties on college campuses and the like. Please reconsider your choices if you have planned a Halloween costume or party like this, and please speak up when you see others doing so.
05 October 2011 @ 03:52 pm
Dear White People:

When a person of color critiques a problematic statement by a White person, the thing NOT to do is respond by explaining its literal meaning or historical source, particularly if nobody asked. When you do this, you are not adding a necessary perspective. You are insulting people's intelligence. Responding to a critique that exposes the contradictions and subtleties of racial oppression with elementary explanations is a lot like a kindergarten student butting into a discussion about complex analysis with assertions that 1+1 = 2.

Hence, "shut up and listen" if you can't contribute anything worth saying to the conversation.

Case in point: That Sign at Slutwalk NYC

SLUTWALK SIGN: "Woman is the n****r of the world."
SOME BLACK WOMEN: So what does this make Black women?
MORE BLACK WOMEN: This is why I don't call myself feminist.
WHITE PEOPLE: It comes from a John Lennon song. But it was Yoko Ono's idea, and it got approval from Dick Gregory and other Important Black People.
MORE WHITE PEOPLE: Try looking at it from the women's POV. [note: this was actually said by a real person.]
EVEN MORE WHITE PEOPLE: I don't think she should be blamed for quoting a song.
BLACK WOMEN: Fuck life and the internet. >:-(
01 October 2011 @ 11:34 pm

Earlier this year, I came across a term that sums up the deepest source of conflict when it comes to simply communicating with people who are not Black. That term is diunital cognition (also known as diunital reasoning, diunital logic, and diunital worldview).

In short, it’s a “both/and” rather than “either/or” (dichotomous) worldview, but of course it’s more complicated than that. It’s a fascinating topic on its own, especially how it names, defines, and validates the surviving Africanisms in diaspora African people and communities. This is not just a cultural form, but an entire worldview. The fact that it still exists is frankly miraculous.

As amazing as these implications are, I want to talk about how this worldview tends to come into conflict with the dominant dichotomous worldview.

Case in point: The reaction to Melissa Harris-Perry’s article about the racial dynamics of how White liberals talk about President Obama.

In the dominant dichotomous discourse, people are either racist (bad) or not racist (good). So when a person tells someone with this dichotomous worldview that something they said or did could have racist implications, they see a challenge to their moral worth and thus their humanity. So, here come the “Prove racism exists” and the “I have Black friends” and the “I studied This or That Black Author” and the quotes from Martin Luther King. Not to mention the accusations of “reverse racism” and the chips on shoulders and the hating White people and so on.

And this leaves Black folks hurt, frustrated, tired, and confused when we see White people arguing vehemently against points we never made - and making the same damn arguments each and every time. And from there, we either lash out or shut down. To be frank, it’s more often the latter than the former. 

This is not an excuse, just an observation.

What a dichotomous discourse fails* to recognize or acknowledge are the nuances and complexities of a diunital worldview, which can reveal themselves in subtle ways.

(*This is not to say that dichotomous discourse is useless. It is quite valuable in many, many circumstances - especially when finding information, interpreting events, or making decisions based on empirical evidence. The problem with dichotomous thinking is that it has dominated the way Western imperialist societies have interpreted the world even when it doesn’t fit the reality.)

In these conversations, the dichotomous worldview presents a constant drive for an absolute answer, that final verdict. There is a push to resolve the question once and for all. Which is fine, if that’s what everyone agrees to. But what often happens is that dichotomous logic is assumed to be operating, so you have the inevitable conflict between racist (bad) and not racist (good) people and actions, with the drive to prove this or that racist (bad)/not racist (good) once and for all.

Speaking only for myself, until proven otherwise (and this may be a personal failing of mine), I assume a certain level of basic human decency. But, like all humans, people make mistakes that don't always reflect their good intentions or their values. Being a Good Person(TM) does not prevent anyone from doing or saying something harmful, hurtful, or flat-out wrong. If I were convinced that the person I’m about to speak to is an unrepentant bigot, I would not bother wasting my time. So if you’re not an unrepentant bigot, but a person who’s genuinely trying to do the right thing, it doesn’t strike me as necessary to constantly make that explicit if I don’t want people to lose their shit. 

(Come to think of it, I’d be insulted if someone did to me what I’m expected to do for White people - that is, reassure them of their essential goodness even as (or perhaps more than) I criticize their behavior. Maybe I’m weird, but that’s not how I treat grown-ass people. You do that shit with small children who are still learning the difference between unacceptable behavior and unacceptable person.)

But, I digress.

More often than not, when I approach these things, I do so with the intent of exploring the different facets of whatever we’re talking about.

You can see it on Tumblr. Take any discussion amongst Black women about our experiences as Black women. There is a richness and a vitality to the way our discussions unfold, whether online or in person. Not just in how we speak, but also in the way we listen. When you have a chance to observe and reflect, it’s a thing of beauty. However, this beauty requires a specific environment to thrive, and part of that environment is a diunital worldview.

You know what’s fascinating about these discussions? You don’t see a lot of debate. There can be differences of opinion, but not to the extent of trying to render the other participants’ experiences and perspectives invalid. In fact, the reaction to those who try to introduce that to the discussion is often quite harsh. That’s not because we’re Angry Black Women looking for an internet fight, but because this behavior is experienced as an invasive attack on how we understand and process our experiences. It’s policing, but it’s healthy policing, much in the same way that our immune systems resist harmful viruses and bacteria.

Of course, what a dichotomous worldview sees is not a different way of relating and communicating that has its own rules of engagement, but us being hostile (bad) when they were just trying to have a discussion (good). So, rather than expanding and enriching the conversation, what we get is a reductive, simplistic dynamic that renders it impossible to address anything except the most banal and vapid aspects of our experiences.

Hence, "shut up and listen."

22 September 2011 @ 04:46 pm
There's a meme that's been making the rounds online where some White people are proclaiming, "I am Troy Davis."

As a Black woman who has a Black father, Black grandfathers, Black uncles, Black cousins, Black nephews, Black men friends, Black male colleagues, and  Black men I would love to number in any of the above categories, I would like to tell White people . . . 


This is about as polite as I will be about this. When you say that you are Troy Davis, you are not standing in solidarity with the Black community, but consuming our identities so you can look like one of the Good White People (TM). It's insulting; it's degrading; and you need to not do it.
21 September 2011 @ 02:50 am
First post here— I've wanted to join for months but thought it might be best to read from the sidelines and only ask for membership when I had an actual question to ask. And now I do have a question, which also has been around for a bit but I didn't see anyone address it here yet. (Apologies if I missed it.)

I'm sure different people have different preferences on this, but as I gradually feel more comfortable writing about race problems and racism, I'm not sure when to speak of the Black community vs. the black community. I understand, albeit vaguely, that capital-b Black developed as a descriptor during the Civil Rights movement, but beyond the actual history of the term, I don't know when it's appropriate to use it now. I see some anti-racist activists and bloggers of various races using Black as a default (often using White as well instead of white), but for every one of them, I see someone who leaves everything lowercase. Is there a logic to this that I've missed?

In short, if Black still has connotations of Black Power and Black Pride, I want to make sure that I use Black in contexts that are respectful to those things, and I want whatever word I use to not sound well-intentioned but ultimately patronizing and presumptuous. On that same note, am I right to see a subtle difference when one uses Black and white instead of Black and White?

Thank you and I apologize if I've phrased any of this awkwardly/problematically.