Tuesday, December 07, 2010

X-Post: Navigating Past Specious Allegations of Racism

Dr. Don's recent post on nihilism (make that posts on nihilism)--where, as he has done so many times before, he once again defines the term, but fails to support his belief that "the Left" espouses and promotes nihilism in all (or for that matter, anything) they do--deserves some attention, which I will at some point no doubt offer. First though--because it's far easier--a quick word or two about the "RAAAAACISM!!" charge Donald shoehorns into the debate and once again flings in the general direction of American Nihilist.

In discussing societal norms, Dr. Douglas says:
"And one of those agreed commitments is that we treat those of different races with respect --- that is, we don't abuse them with racist attacks and, even worse, defend those attacks with the most reprehensible evasions and distortions of truth imaginable. But unfortunately, that's the going program at RepRacist3's dungeon of nihilist hatred, where folks there think of me as the opposite of albino Edgar Winter. Nope, no colorblindness at RepRacist3's stalking nihilist asshat central:

These are bad people, well outside the accepted normative commitments of decency and right in society."
As you can no doubt see, on this occasion Donald is yelling RAAAAACISM!! because a guy who has commented at American Nihilist 3-4 times in total once said that "Donald is the anti-Johnny Winters."

Now, there are two issues with this. (Donald likes to intertwine and confuse them in his occasional responses, so I'm going to do all I can to present them as separate from one another as possible.) The first is, whether or not what thepalescot said is actually racially offensive. The second is, why--even if someone believes it is racially offensive (and to be clear, I do not believe it is racially offensive)--anyone other than thepalescot ought to be held responsible for thepalescot's words and intended meaning.

First, is it racially offensive? Well, PScot is saying something intended to offend Donald. In context from other comments, thepalescot holds Johnny Winters in high regard; he does not hold Donald in that same high regard, to be sure.

Whether it's racist though, is a whole other kettle of fish. Donald immediately latches on to the fact that Johnny Winter is an albino, though PScot makes no direct mention of either Johnny's or Donald's skin color until a day later, AFTER Donald brings it up. (Donald says "Edgar Winter" in his post, which I hope is just a brain fart, and not some kinda indication that white (or albino) folks all look the same to him. We can be relatively certain how he'd spin it, were it me making such an error, say, talking about Wendell Holmes' (of The Holmes Brothers) bout with cancer, but calling him Sherman. Still, we'll give him the benefit of the doubt.) There's a whole lotta ways in which Donald is dissimilar to Johnny Winter; why Donald chooses to focus on the race of each of them to the exclusion of any/all other factors that make these two men different isn't clear... ...unless he's manufacturing an "outrage, OUTRAGE!! RAAAAACISM!!!" that just wouldn't exist save for Donald's creating it, of course.

Of course, maybe PScot was referring to the fact that Johnny Winter is a very white man playing a very stereotypically black music, and was thus saying that Donald is a black man with what are still considered stereotypically white political views, which is what PScot says in his subsequent comment the next day. I'll grant you that judging the individual based on the stereotypical facts about the group is foolish--it's essentially judging the book based on the cover, or engaging in sweeping generalization, both of which lead to some really faulty conclusions--but even still, I see it as more of a racial comment than a racist one.

Contrary to what Donald appears to believe, it's not bigoted to discuss demographics. Black people (or Jewish people, or female people, or conservative people, or gay people, or people born with a particular physical abnormality, or ...), as a group, do share a collection of sociopolitical attitudes and beliefs (as well as physical attributes, of course.) None of these attitudes, beliefs, or attributes are universal throughout a given group--which is why one cannot cavalierly apply the attitudes or attributes of the group onto any individual member, any more than one can apply the attributes or attitudes of one member onto the whole group--but they do nevertheless exist, and it isn't morally wrong--that is, RAAAAACIST or BIIIIIGOTED--to talk about them.

In the realm of music, guitar blues was born of and even today continues to be largely populated by black people. Johnny Winter is an exception to that stereotype. The demographics of "blues musicians" are changing, and as time goes on, those demographics will likely keep changing. It is in no way racist to make any of those statements.

In the realm of politics, conservatism was born of and even today continues to be largely populated by white people. Donald Douglas is an exception to that stereotype. The demographics of "conservatives" are changing, and as time goes on, they will likely keep changing. It is in no way racist to make any of those statements, either.

There's definitely something to be said for a society where we're all just "people," and no one pays any attention to the demographics. Donald believes no one should pay any attention to the color of his skin, and that any mention of it is RAAAAACISM!!. I understand the appeal, but then, I also wish he would apply those same standards to gay people, to liberal people, to those people who don't fit into his notions about JudeoChristian religious belief, to people who are not Americans. If racially, people are people, then why are people with a sexual orientation other than his own also not "just people?" Why is it he believes that those who don't share his politics can be grouped together as though they are "all the same," and stigmatized by him? Why are they not just people?

Like I said, I get the appeal of a world where we're all just people, but I don't really want to live there, as lovely as it likely would be. To me, there's something to be said for having and embracing all those demographics that make you you. I don't believe people should deny or discount their ethnic or racial heritage. Whether one is Polish or black or a Scot or Israeli (or even white, even), I believe one should be proud of it and incorporate it into who they are as a person and how that heritage fits into their beliefs about being an American, too. The same goes for one's religion, their gender, their chosen political beliefs, their sexual orientation, and any/all the other "demographic" groups to which they belong. (Well, perhaps not "all." If one is in the demo "pedophile" or "murderer," it'd probably be best not to celebrate ones inclusion in those groups.)

Yes, recognition and celebration of these demographic groups do allow for racism and bigotry, often when members of one group get it into their heads that their group is superior, and one or more of those "other" groups are inferior to them --protestants v. catholics, "the right" v. "the left," straight v. gay-- but they also allow for cultural exchange and tolerance of those not like oneself. And, I believe there is an inherent good in knowing where you came from and who you are, besides.

I don't believe it's raaaaacist (or biiiiigoted)for someone to notice the color of Donald's or my skin, or to evaluate what one or the other of us has to say based on whether we self identify politically left or right; religiously Jewish, Atheist, Muslim, or Unitarian; gay or straight, married or unmarried, Ph.D, high school dropout, or somewhere in between, fully able-bodied or physically challenged, etc. Sometimes one or more of these factors will make a difference or provide a little insight into why we think as we do, and sometimes they won't, but I don't believe we should pretend that such differences between us all don't exist, in pursuit of some vague notion about equality or fairness. Yes, we're all just people, but we're also each individually a whole lot of demographic "ingredients," and yes, I do believe they matter, as well.

Obviously, I do not fully subscribe to either the belief that America is a "melting pot" or that it is a "salad bowl." The best approach is somewhere between the two, in my view. To be an American does mean one has definite characteristics, shared ideals and beliefs, but as I said above, I don't believe you have to completely renounce the rest of your "demographics" to be an American.

The bottom line is, thepalescot said Johnny Winter is white, that Donald Douglas is black, and that he prefers the work of one man over the work of the other. He did not say his preference for one over the other was based on either man's race; just that he preferred one man's work over that of the other. If you believe, as Donald seems to, that that is RAAAAACISM!!, you'll have to explain how and why, because I don't see it...

The second issue Donald's post brings up is why in God's name he believes that EVERYONE at American Nihilist is a RAAAAACIST, just because he perceives thepalescot's comment as RAAAAACIST. Now, for the rest of this post, let's all assume that Donald's perception is correct; for the sake of argument, let's all pretend that what thepalescot said was racist. (Do you understand, Donald? This is NOT what I believe, but for the sake of the argument, we're all going to pretend that we all agree with you, here. I want no misunderstanding, like last time when I said "...people don't need you, or me, or Brendan to protect them from unpleasant words or ideas." [for the benefit of those joining late, Brendan is another blogger, and Donald wanted him to delete a comment thepalescot wrote at one of Brendan's blog posts, because Donald believed the comment to be offensive], and you latched onto "unpleasant words or ideas," and convinced yourself that I was thereby saying the comment in question--thepalescot said Donald was mighty swarthy for a guy with such a Scottish name--was objectively offensive, or that I actually agreed with you, when it was clear as day from the full context, that that was not the case. Got it? OK...)

So some guy named thepalescot came to American Nihilist and made a racist comment. Now what? Am I obligated to remove the comment from view, and pretend it never happened? Must I denounce thepalescot (either together with or instead of removing his comment)? Is ignoring his bigotry not an option open to me, believing that to engage him would only encourage him to post more bigoted crap?

And if I do not denounce him, and/or delete his comment, am I really therefore a racist myself? Are the other American Nihilist authors--either those who took part in the blog comments, or those who did not--really also racists, because they didn't act as Donald seems to believe they should (deleting comments and denouncing folks)? What about the other readers? Are they too racists, according to Donald?


Does Donald really not believe that the only person responsible for a racist comment is the person who actually made it? Does he really go in for this collectivist guilt thing, where every person here at American Nihilist is responsible for every word or idea uttered by any person at American Nihilist, including any random commenter who steps in off the information superhighway? Really?!?

I think Donald is wrong to generalize about folks like that. thepalescot is an individual, and not representative of the demos "the left," or "American Nihilist writers or readers." If one is offended by a blog post or comment, one should hold the person who wrote it accountable and liable, but not pretend that that one writer speaks for every person who ever wrote at or read the blog in question. Donald has a bad habit of this kinda generalizing; one post or comment at Kos "proves" all liberals are anti-semites or communists (rather than simply holding the writer accountable). "I" (or "we") engaged in workplace intimidation because a guy who last blogged here over a year ago posted information he found at Donald's college website, and suggested that folks write the president of the college and the head of Donald's department over something Donald had posted. The fact that I objected from the get go is beside the point. By not stopping the guy and deleting his post, Donald pronounces me (or all of us) "guilty," rather than focusing on the blogger who actually made the post. Brendan is a racist for not deleting thepalescot's "swarthy" comment, even though he neither wrote it or agreed with it.

Not even Donald believes his own rhetoric, or he would've acted when this white "racist" posted the following at American Power: "Daley's political instincts are impeccable and his knows this swarthy avatar is just a tenderfoot who's another Jimmy Carter, a one-term wonder who's hemorrhaging political capital faster than GWB." Maybe it's only raaaaacist to refer to conservative biracial men as "swarthy," eh?

Donald is just plain wrong, on both counts. What thepalescot said wasn't racist, and no one except thepalescot deserves credit or blame for his words, whether racist or not.

As I've said many times before, Donald started these allegations of RAAAAACISM!! against this blog and me personally after I called him out for what I believed to be bigoted characterizations about black folks in his blogging. I believe his use of ebonics and racial stereotypes of black men (such as Obama) as fried chicken eating gangsta pimps is racially offensive (or should be, to anyone who cares about race relations in this country), and I won't stop saying so. His retaliatory responses--including these "swarthy" and "Johnny Winter" bits, as well as claiming that it's RAAAAACIST for me to call a person I disagree with a clown, provided that man is black. (One presumes it would not be racist for me to disagree with a white guy saying the same thing, and to suggest he is a clown for expressing the opinions with which I disagreed.)--just don't hold water, as far as I'm concerned...

I'd be most interested in what others have to say, whether or not you agree with me... As always, even Donald himself is welcome to reply.

American Niiiiihilist x-post

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