Saturday, July 09, 2005

A mud wrestling match I'd like to see.

So Steve is calling me a racist. Well, B-net regulars will recall that Gail used to say that I preferred black people to white people and was a traitor to my own kind.

You two fight it out and let me know, k?


Ps. Jason comments that it all comes down to how one sees oneself, though the point is that when you think for yourself, people will always see you however they want to anyway, I guess that deserves an answer. I see myself as a person muddling through these issues as best she can. I want to be fair but feel that treating people, to borrow BITB's term, as hothouse orchids is ultimately patronizing. I err on the side of assuming that people can handle life's bumps as erring on the other side is insulting and mostly I calls em as I sees em on a case-by-case basis.

I think the GA incident is a Thomas Hardy novel with no bad guys, but lots of immaturity and misunderstandings.


midwest_hick said...

Just clicked on the link(s)...perhaps Steve has some weird hidden agenda here....or he simply likes to stir &#%$......who knows.....But of course...that's just an assumption on my

PG said...

I have to say that I do think one ought to be sensitive about making assumptions that could be racially motivated, more than one has to worry about making assumptions that are clothing-choice related or glasses-wearer related, etc. For example, if someone asked you if your dad owned a 7/11, you'd think it maybe a little random but not worry that there was bias underlying the question. Due to the Simpsons (which I love), as well as a statistically accurate stereotype, a South Asian person who was asked the same question might get a little huffy because he thinks that the question is driven by a racial cliche. Perhaps racial minorities need to become more thick-skinned, but hell, one could claim that NYers should become more thick-skinned and you still wouldn't catch me making a joke about flying a plane into a building while I was in Manhattan. People often have sensitivities based on real experiences, either their own or those of people to whom they are close, and it's a sign of respect and compassion to be aware of those sensitivities and to be thoughtful in one's actions.

One of my best friends from college has a gay father, but she was embarrassed about this when she first started and so didn't tell people. As dumb young people do, some of her peers would make jokes or disparaging remarks about homosexuals, which hurt her feelings in a personal way (whereas they just pissed me off politically). People knew about my politics but not about her personal life -- once she revealed it, they never made such comments in her presence. Would it be preferable that people not say such things at all? Sure. If they're going to say them, is it better that they at least not say such things when they would hurt someone's feelings? I think so. To me, that's just basic human decency not to hurt people if you can help it and when hurting them can't do any good.

So yeah, I would say that if you see people of color and wonder whether they are service staff or fellow attendees, it would be better to ask, "Hey, do you know who can help me with my bags?" rather than "Hey, get my bag." It might be an excessive sensitivity on their part to resent being treated like service staff, and to assume that this is racially based, but the sensitivity probably has some foundation in the past. This kind of incident doesn't tell young people of color to toughen up; it teaches them that the world is just as bad as their pessimism predicts, whereas attempts to be sensitive can help to take the chip off someone's shoulder.

Chalicechick said...

To be honest, I agree with all of that. The folks who assumed the kids were bellhops were clods. I don't think they consciously wondered. I think they say a young person and assumed. And that sucks.

But the kerfuffle it has created all over the UU parts of the internet just seems disproportionate.

who, admittedly, also has a thing about nametags.

Steve Caldwell said...

Chalicechick ... I'm sorry that I wrote anything that implied you were some sort of "racist" as the term is commonly used (e.g. a person like David Duke and other overt white supremacists). That was not my intent.

I did ask a question on my blog.

Is a tendency that I've observed in some online posts to minimize the role of race as a major factor in the GA incidents due to unconscious racism or ageism?

An unconscious response that comes in part from racist influences in North American culture could be happening here.

Suggesting this possibility arising out of involuntary and unconscious cultural influences isn't the same as calling a person a "racist."

Again ... my apologies for any misunderstanding my blog words have created here.

Matthew said...

I think it is good to talk about real-life ethics. After all, real life is where ethics count. I love a good kafuffle, too. I think what bothers me about our discussion of the GA incident, however, is the swiftness with which we get to the point where we have to start apologizing to each other, especially when you consider how much we have in common. I'm reminded of a friend from my home congregation who once told me that whenever she starts to lose her temper with another member of the fellowship, she imagines how glad she'd be to see them in a room full of strangers. It isn't advice I always remember, but I thought of it today.

I think another reason the GA talk bothers me is how doctrinaire our positions can become. A lot of the focus has been on UU youth culture and its relationship with anti-racism work, but I've seen a similar kind of culture in my seminary education, too. Particularly disturbing to me is the designation of "white allies." As if anyone who doesn't subscribe to a particular theory of racism is the enemy! Steve points out something similar on his blog when his pulls up language from the 1992 Racial and Cultural Diversity Task Force report equating non-support for affirmative action with racism. This is the kind of extreme position that I hate to see institutionalized. After all, one can believe that racism is an evil and yet not think the affirmative action is the best way to remedy it. There is (still) room for reasonable people to differ on this and other issues of race and religion in the UUA. Just look at Thandeka's critical examination of the Journey Toward Wholeness program for a start!

Sometimes, the extremes of anti-racism culture are zany, like the time the (kind, handsome, and supremely well-intentioned) editor of the school newsletter suggested seminarians might combat racist drug laws by marching down a Chicago thoroughfare with cannabis in our pockets! (I never quite figured out how that was supposed to work.) Sometimes, the consequences are more disturbing. For example, candidates for UU ministry are now required to present a paper on anti-racism to the Ministerial Fellowshipping Committee. In one of his essays, Rev. David Bumbaugh points out that there is "a clear party-line and an acceptable response [from the ministerial candidate] must reflect that party-line." He goes on to point out that this requirement is all the more significant since ministerial candidates are not required to present papers on other serious issues, like militarism, capitalism, or ecology. He has never been in a mock MFC interview when a candidate was asked about his or her theology, but anti-racism is required. He concludes by saying, "I am…troubled by a kind of group-think which inhibits our ability to place this issue in a larger context. And above all, I am affronted by a mindset that uses the real challenges of racism to allow us to feel better about ourselves rather than to address the larger world. When I see this kind of problem institutionalized in such a way that we are discouraged from asking fundamental questions, my teeth begin to itch."

I'm not a tooth-itcher; my hackles rise, but I know what he means. I'm a Unitarian Universalist in part because of our support for reason and the right to individual conscience in religion, but anti-racism is one topic where our traditional religious values seem to fall quickly by the wayside.