White people like writing as ‘experts’ on non-white cultures.

Stuff White People Like’s #20 Being an expert on YOUR culture is about pretentious white liberals and leftists who consider themselves “experts” on non-white cultures. Unfortunately, whites who self-identify as “antiracist” may still write as “experts” on non-white cultures, and believe that such writings are “antiracist”. At least one white antiracist believes that he has direct access to the mental states of non-white people, as well as unique insights about non-white cultures.

How psychologists accessed the thoughts of others

One problem within the history of psychology has been the problem of how a psychologist can access the mental processes of other individuals. Originally, psychologists used introspection, i.e., they asked subjects to self-report their own mental processes. However, during the behavioral revolution in psychology, introspection as a method of psychological investigation was considered unreliable and unscientific.* During the behavioral revolution in psychology, mainstream psychologists studied only human behaviour and considered the concept of “mental processes” as extraneous and irrelevant. After the behavioral revolution in psychology was the cognitive revolution, however, and now psychologists are interested in mental processes again, in addition to behaviour. However, psychologists use more advanced experimental methods to investigate mental processes, and they generally consider introspection unreliable as “direct access” to human thought.

Basically, accessing the thoughts of another individual, and drawing conclusions about what she is thinking and how she thinks, is a non-trivial task. Although it is already ignorant for a person to make psychological observations about another person without any background in psychology, it is both profoundly ignorant and oppressive for a person to make psychological observations about an entire race of people.

When this person is white, and this white person is making psychological observations about non-white people in general, it an instance of racism. Such a situation would be a continuation of the white-supremacist assumption that white people are more objective than non-white people, and know better about non-white people than non-white people know about themselves. That is, under this white-supremacist framework, the white person’s assessment of the non-white person’s mind is given higher priority and more validity than the non-white person’s assessment of her own mind or mental state. (Although a person’s introspection is still unreliable, a person interpreting another person’s introspection adds another layer of unreliability.) If a white person believes that he has obvious and direct access to the mind of a non-white person, he is under the assumption that he is objective, omniscient, and completely free of any cognitive biases that human beings have.

How anthropologists studied the cultures of others

The fields of cultural anthropology and social anthropology study human culture and human society, respectively. Socio-cultural anthropology has a history of racism, as it originated from European colonialism and the colonial project of managing and pacifying non-white societies (usually colonies or potential colonies).

In early socio-cultural anthropology, white intellectuals made generalizations about non-white cultures and societies using what is now referred to as “armchair anthropology”. Basically, these white people sat around in armchairs—literally or figuratively—and theorized about non-white people based on the personal anecdotes and travel diaries of white explorers, white traders, white Christian missionaries, and white colonial officials. The white intellectuals who “studied” non-white cultures and societies never visited the places or met the people that they studied, relying on the ostensibly “objective” reports of the white observers who did. When social anthropologist James George Frazer was asked if he had met any of the non-white people he had studied, he replied, “God forbid!”

Later on, the white, socio-cultural anthropologists began actually visiting the places that they wrote about, but they did not venture too close to the people they “studied”. These white people made generalizations and observations about the non-white people by watching from afar. Anthropologist Bronisław Malinowski was perceived as a revolutionary, because he actually mingled with the non-white people living in the Trobriand Islands, learned their language, and lived among them, since he eventually got bored from being stranded on the Islands, as he had been exiled there by Australian authorities. As white people perceive living amongst non-white people to be a heroic and self-sacrificial act of voluntary demotion, white anthropologists celebrate and immortalize Malinowski’s coming “down” to the level of non-white people in the film Off The Veranda (1986).

In contemporary ethnographic research, socio-cultural anthropologists are required to live amongst the studied people and participate in the studied culture for at least two years. As the very act of writing about and interpreting the cultures and societies of others has been criticized as reinforcing the control of the powerful over the image of the powerless, postmodernists argue that an ethnography should be a collaboration between the researcher and subjects, and that the subjects’ voice should be equal to or greater than that of the researcher**.

Basically, white people have been studying non-white people, cultures, and societies for centuries, and this activity of white people has a history of racism. Contemporary socio-cultural anthropology has been criticized internally and externally as being oppressive, and new perspectives and research methods were introduced to combat and minimize white bias in the observation of non-whites, and white control over the image of non-whites. If a white person writes about the culture and society of non-white people without taking into account the racist history of socio-cultural anthropology, and without employing the research methods honed from the field’s recognition of its past racism, the white person ends up repeating and perpetuating this historical racism.

Stuff White People Do on the handshaking preferences of non-white people

White “antiracist” blogger Macon D has a blog ostensibly about Stuff White People Do. However, in one of his blog posts, shake hands our way, Macon D writes:

When two American adults meet for the first time, or when they know each other but not well enough to hug, they usually put their right hands together. Especially if they’re men. As a handbook on American customs posted on a University of Texas-Arlington web site says, “Some men might not shake hands with women unless the woman extends her hand first. Hand-shaking among women occurs even less frequently.”

Now, here’s the rest of what that handbook for foreign visitors says about how “we” shake hands–is this really how all of us shake hands?

When Americans shake hands, they normally exert a small amount of pressure on each others’ hands, move their clasped hands a bit upwards, then a bit downwards, then release their grip. People from other places where handshaking is customary may hold the other person’s hand more or less firmly than Americans do, sustaining contact for a shorter or a longer time than Americans. One’s character in the U.S. is often assumed by the appropriateness of their handshake.

Obviously, many African American men in particular have other ways of putting their hands together, and other racial groups do as well (though I’ll admit, I don’t know what forms the latter take). So this visitor’s handbook may be explaining the “normal” American method, but it’s really the “white” method.

Macon D is criticizing the University of Texas-Arlington’s handbook on American customs for claiming that the above handshaking method is the “normal” American method. Macon D argues, instead, that it is really the “white” method, and that African American men have “other” ways of putting their hands together. Not only is Macon D making a claim about African American culture, but he asserts that how African American men put their hands together is “obvious”.

Macon D’s post shake hands our way suggests that a more correct handbook on American customs would inform non-American visitors that greeting African American men with the “standard” American handshake may not be entirely appropriate (with respect to human relations programming). In other words, if Macon D had written that part of American customs handbook, he would tell non-American visitors that an American’s culture can be determined from the color of his skin, his race. For Macon D, the culture and handshaking custom of American man is immediately “obvious” from a simple visual examination of the American man’s racial features. Of course, judging the culture of another person based on the person’s racial appearance is an instance of racial prejudice.

Additionally, when Macon D “admits” that he doesn’t know “what forms” the handshaking methods of non-black, non-white racial groups take, he suggests that he knows the handshaking methods African American men. That is, he claims to be knowledgeable and informed about that how African American men shake hands. Moreover, when he “admits” ignorance of the handshaking methods of non-black, non-white people, he suggests that he does not need to admit any ignorance on his part regarding how African American men shake hands. That is, he believes that his knowledge about how African American shake hands is sufficient for him to be discussing it, and for him to be discussing cultural differences between white and black Americans.

Although Macon D’s blog is supposed to be about “stuff white people do”, shake hands our way is one of many of Macon D’s amateur excursions into socio-cultural anthropological studies of non-white culture. Unlike contemporary socio-cultural anthropology, however, Macon D’s generalizations about non-white people lack any kind of rigour or concern for the observer’s biases and assumptions.

Macon D continues in the same post to make psychological observations about the mental processes of non-white people:

What’s more interesting, though, about differences in handshaking techniques is that if a white and a non-white person encounter each other in a casual setting and decide to clasp hands, there may be uncertainty about which handshaking method to use–the one that’s become the standard, “white” one, or a common non-white one. When there is uncertainty about which to use, the fall-back is usually the standard handshake, that is, the method more likely to be used by the white person than by the one used by some non-white people. The non-white person often represses a preferred method of contact, and the white person feels little if any discomfort about being the enforcer of a standard.

In this paragraph, Macon D claims that non-white people “prefer” the handshake (stereotypically) associated with their racial group, and he claims that when a non-white American shakes hands with a white American, he is “repressing” a preference. As Macon D is a white American, he does not have direct access to the thoughts of a black, African American. As Macon D is a white American and claims that white Americans shake hands with African Americans using what he calls the “white” method, it is unlikely that Macon D himself participated in “African American” handshake culture with African Americans for an extended period of time.

Given that it is impossible for Macon D to directly access the thoughts of an African American, and given that it is unlikely that Macon D has used first hand participant observation to draw his conclusions about African American culture, an important question is how exactly did Macon D come to his conclusions about non-white thoughts and culture with respect to handshaking.

How Macon D accesses the thoughts of non-white people and studies non-white cultures

Fortunately, Macon D reveals his research methods in a comment, responding to one of Nquest’s criticisms of the shake hands our way post (Nquest is a black man). Macon D writes:

Nquest, if you can’t even remember if the post is only talking about Black people, go back and read it again. Why all the confusion? It’s about the default way that white and black men tend to shake hands when they meet each other. It’s not about how all members of one group shake hands one way and all of another group shake hands another way, and it doesn’t say that they don’t sometimes shake hands within their groups in various ways. And it’s not something I pulled straight out my azz either. It comes from watching hundreds of people shake hands. Get a grip, dude.

(emphasis mine)

In other words, Macon D believes that he can access the thoughts of non-white people and study non-white cultures by simply watching with his eyes. Macon D’s research method of accessing the thoughts of another person is not even as advanced as that of 19th-century psychology, when introspection was de rigeur. Although introspection was a crude and flawed research method, at least it was better than mere speculation by the researcher about another person’s thoughts.

If we view Macon D’s “watching” method in terms of the history of socio-cultural anthropology, it is unclear whether Macon D’s “watching” method should be classified as (i) armchair anthropology racism, or (ii) “on the veranda”, pre-Malinowski, observation-from-afar racism. If Macon D’s impressionistic memory of watching “hundreds of people shake hands” is correct and all his observations were real-life observations, then his “watching” method of observation would be best classified as observation-from-afar racism. However, if Macon D’s “watching” data includes fictional portrayals of African Americans on television shaking hands—such as in the sitcom The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air—then his “watching” method would be better classified as armchair anthropology racism. (However, classifying the latter situation as “armchair anthropology” is a charitable interpretation, since even historical armchair anthropologists relied on non-fictional second-hand accounts.)

In any case, both armchair anthropology and observation-from-afar methods of observation are archaic and racist vestiges of a colonial past. As white people who studied non-white cultures and societies were considered “liberal” during the colonial periods, it is unfortunate that some contemporary white people who are considered “liberal” or “left” today ignorantly continue to repeat the errors and racism of history. That the blog Stuff White People Do is popular with white people suggests, again, that white people are ignorant of white history.


Related posts:


* Introspection assumed that people cannot be mistaken about their own thoughts, for example. Contemporary psychology shows that people can have false memories and unconscious biases, which makes self-reporting unreliable.

** Barrett, 1996, p. 29.


References:

Barrett, S. R. (1996). Anthropology: A Student’s Guide to Theory and Method. Toronto: University of Toronto Press Incorporated.

38 Responses to “White people like writing as ‘experts’ on non-white cultures.”

  1. jwbe Says:

    great post. Now there are two role-models, how to get my thoughts together

  2. Nquest Says:

    One thing that leaped off the page was the colonial mindset that sought to “manage and pacify” non-white societies. That sounds like the other side of Macon’s “human relations” coin.

  3. jwbe Says:

    what I also find stunning in Macon’s writings is the lack of any nuances and when he found his own “truth”, valid for him and other small-minded people, no other reality can exist.

  4. Restructure! Says:

    One thing that leaped off the page was the colonial mindset that sought to “manage and pacify” non-white societies. That sounds like the other side of Macon’s “human relations” coin.

    Yes. Exactly.

  5. Lxy Says:

    This is an insightful post that connects White “anti-racist” experts today with respect to the history of Western imperial knowledge production–particularly Anthropolgy.

    Call it the Margaret Mead Syndrome.

  6. Restructure! Says:

    Hmm, people like Tim Wise and Robert Jensen talk about what white people think and do instead of talking about what people of colour think and do, if I remember correctly. However, white liberals and Macon D frame ‘racism’ as cultural misunderstanding, and ‘anti-racism’ as knowledge of non-white culture. I haven’t read all of Wise’s and Jensen’s writings, though.

  7. Nquest Says:

    Restructure, that’s exactly the point I tried to make on SWPS. I’ve read enough of Wise to know that when he talks about “cultural misunderstanding” even then the focus is on what white people think.

    Take for instance: Farrakhan Is Not The Problem
    http://www.counterpunch.org/wise05272008.html

    Wise also wrote an essay about Rev. Wright…

  8. Restructure! Says:

    @Nquest: Yeah, I remember you saying that, and I agree with you.

  9. Kathy Says:

    this is a really great post, i am so glad i found this post, but i got a question, is it ok to laugh, some of the stuff you write strikes me as really funny.

  10. Restructure! Says:

    It’s okay to laugh, but which parts are funny? I think some things I write are funny, but I have a weird sense of humour, so I wonder if you’re laughing at the same things.

  11. Kathy Says:

    hey, i have a feeling we are laughing at the same things. just making sure, you like snark like me. ok truth is when you put
    makon d’ s name in quotes to discuss a anti-racist, that is fucking funny sorry for the bad language.

  12. Jae Says:

    I’m a ‘white person’ who has been living/working throughout Asia for the last ten years. With that said …

    ‘Such a situation would be a continuation of the white-supremacist assumption that white people are more objective than non-white people, and know better about non-white people than non-white people know about themselves. That is, under this white-supremacist framework, the white person’s assessment of the non-white person’s mind is given higher priority and more validity than the non-white person’s assessment of her own mind or mental state.’

    I would say that a good number of ‘white persons’ have a more objective outlook than a good number of non-whites (i.e., Asians living in Asia) due to their a Western (science-based) education. Whether or not ‘white people’ feel they are better than non-whites, I would go ask each individual white person you happen to come across. I personally don’t feel this makes me better than a non-white/Asian. Wow, talk about stereotyping …

    ‘If a white person believes that he has obvious and direct access to the mind of a non-white person, he is under the assumption that he is objective, omniscient, and completely free of any cognitive biases that human beings have. ‘

    Really? Why don’t you go ask that ‘white person’. I wouldnt jump to conclusions … you seem to be shooting yourself in the foot here.

  13. White antiracists appropriate the words of people of colour to advance their thesis. « Restructure! Says:

    […] White people like writing as ‘experts’ on non-white cultures. by Restructure! Posted in Debunking, White People Studies. Tags: racism, race, white, stereotyping, dehumanization, stereotypes, antiracism, knowledge, Macon D, authority, appropriation, observation, white antiracist, interpretation, understanding, essentialism, white supremacy, raw data, world, translation, marginalization, knowledge industry, written word, text, paraphrase, contribution, human knowledge, subservience, intellectualism, commentary. 2 Comments » […]

  14. LaDonna Says:

    http://dalynart.blogspot.com/2009/05/hair.html

    here another “antiracist” explains black hair and what black people know about white hair

  15. brohammas Says:

    Thanks for the mention and link LaDonna. I am the first to admit that anything psychological I write would be “pop” at best. I am more “un-trained” than the next guy but in all fairness I am niether watching from afar nor sitting in my armchair.
    I have no access to another’s mind no matter the race, but I have plenty of experiance with the external actions of both black and white.
    If my observations seem 18th century than so be it. It may just be that is where we are today in terms of race relations.
    If one is required to live among the subject they study for at least two years than I have met that requirement as a white boy on Bankhead hwy in Atlanta. Or you could count my nine years of marriage to a woman whos family’s only social experiance with white people is me. I may not have access to thier minds but I would say that in an America that has a sturdy wall between the races I have at least scaled the wall and peaked over.

    OF course my blog is very open to dissenting opinion so if you feel I err or am doing damage, please share.

    I do not wish to fully explain the minds of others but more give a pragmatic perspective between these two worlds as to better facilitate interraction between the two.

  16. jwbe Says:

    brohammas,
    For me there are two kinds of people: Those sensitive enough to deal with people of all walks of life, regardless race, and those who are not. There are grey layers in between, of course.
    Those who lack the sensibility will never understand, regardless how much one ‘explains’ to them.
    And those who try to ‘exlain’ the alleged other already make the mistake to assume that ‘they’ are so different to ‘us’.
    Those who are searching to get ‘the other’ ‘explained’ already show their lack of sensibility.
    Whites have to learn to truly understand their own culture, this they feel so familiar with and comfortable and at the same time they don’t understand it, because the important question of ‘who are we’ is hardly ever asked.
    That’s my thoughts.

  17. brohammas Says:

    jwbe,
    I suppose we fundamentally dissagree. I do not think that those who don’t get it never will. I think there are many, many, good people who lack information making them ignorant. Our society at large fills this void of real life experience and information with misinformation and stereotype, which if left unchecked breeds racism.
    I think that in our society where this experience just isnt happening, but the media is at full volume, someone better speak some truth, or give some semblence of guidance or thingswill continue to get worse. If I am not qualified to help in this area then point me to who is. I don’t see or hear them.
    No I can’t know everything, but I have some understanding. I grew up even more ignorant than I am now, but through years of crashing through social obstacles I have had a change in mind set. I feel obligated to take what I have learned and share it with those who are like me. If I leave this sort of sharing to the media, ie the evening news and MTV, we will breed a whole new generation of racism. If I wait for the race experts to break it down for those less informed I will have grey hair before it happens.
    We do not interract enough for sensitive people to gain information.
    So what would you suggest we do?

  18. jwbe Says:

    >I think there are many, many, good people who lack information making them ignorant.

    Slavery wasn’t about being ignorant, the Holocaust wasn’t lacking information, dropping A-bombs wasn’t lacking informations, raping women also as a weapon of wars is not about ignorance and the attempt to appeal to the human side of oppressors is like marching towards a tank or marching across a battle field in the hope that the other side would be understanding.
    Today’s racism isn’t about being ignorant.
    And your alleged good people aren’t good people. If they were, they would understand. Without your ‘explanations’

    >If I am not qualified to help in this area then point me to who is.

    There are so many books etc. written by PoC that it does not need us whites ‘to explain’ PoC to other whites.

    >If I wait for the race experts to break it down for those less informed I will have grey hair before it happens.

    The experts, victims of white supremacy and European culture, are already talking and writing, and always have done so. It’s the message whites don’t like and therefore they dismiss their writings.

    >So what would you suggest we do?

    I don’t know what it takes for a cultural revolution

  19. jwbe Says:

    B., do you know Alice Miller’s writing? I think what she writes is important to understand ourselves better and that we first have to ‘heal’ ourselves before we can attempt to ‘educate’ other whites. Until we don’t understand how we were treated as children and why, and until we don’t understand our individual re-actions to that, we won’t be able to understand other people, regardless race.

  20. Restructure! Says:

    LaDonna,

    Wow, I just read that post now. I didn’t want to deal with it earlier because of your description of it.

    I’m not even black, I’m East Asian, and I find this “Black people don’t realize how little they know about white people and hair either” ridiculous. White people hair culture is mainstream hair culture. It’s present in TV shows, movies, commercials, white people conversations. How is it comparable to black hair culture, as if the two cultures are symmetrical in mainstream representation?

    brohammas,

    Or you could count my nine years of marriage to a woman whos family’s only social experiance with white people is me.

    So your black in-laws didn’t know that “Caucasian” hair comes in different textures and colors?

  21. brohammas Says:

    Restructure
    Yes, ridiculous. That is part of my point. If you read through my postings you will see one of my main points is that even though “we” live in the same country or city, work together or go to school together, we still don’t really know each other. And yes, it does swing both ways.
    One can say I just need to look at myself and learn about me… sure, but I’m not the only one here and I do have value to add.
    Yes white hair is the mainstream, but just because I see stars on TV and read about them in magazines, despite what I may think, I do not know these stars, even if they are “mainstream”. Visibility, even familiarity, does not equate intimacy. How many black people have touched a white persons head, or vice versa? (I know this is the pinnacle of anecdotal stories of racial foux pa).
    My in-laws WERE unaware of white hair types but possibly like some here, they were unaware that they didn’t know.

    Comments like, “what do you know, you have straight hair”, when I do not, they simply assumed I as a white guy, had straight hair (it is cut short), shock that I wash my hair every day, not realizing how much my hair naturally changes color in the sun, unawareness that naturally blonde hair can look darker at the part, not appreciating that most white women’s hair does not naturally fall that way and that they took hours with a flat iron too, all show how much they didn’t know.
    Many see the commercials, overhear some talk, read the magazines, see all the product in the store and think they know.
    For heaven’s sake, my whole point is that both sides are unaware. I used hair as an example of how many things an individual takes for granted for themselves, are not applicable to someone else. Realizing this facilitates listening rather than assuming we already know.
    Just like the point of this post, we cannot sit in our armchairs and consider ourselves experts on the “other”. This does in fact swing both ways. In this case, even though the minority is engulfed in the mainstream, the black and white worlds have developed enough that real closeness and deep interaction between the two is rare.
    We see each other but don’t know each other.
    Are the hair cultures symmetrical? No. But if one is facilitating interracial interraction, which is what I do, than the individuals from both sides have to open up a bit. Not sayin’ its equal, I’m just saying in needs to come from BOTH.

    jwbe,
    Am I really talking to holocaust perpetrators, slave drivers, and rapists? Wow. All good people naturally understand? If only the good already get it, then why does anyone need to talk or write, regardless of race?

  22. Nquest Says:

    If I am not qualified to help in this area then point me to who is. I don’t see or hear them.

    Wow. Simply wow. Nothing else I can say but… wow.

    If I wait for the race experts to break it down for those less informed I will have grey hair before it happens.

    Even more amazing. Frankly, every time some version of this worn out integration theory is promoted, the very thing I think about is how long this diversion is going to take even in the minds of the promoters. I say it because this “race relations” stuff is, IMO, way away from the point.

    I don’t know why Black people and White people, e.g., need to be “intimate” in order for racism/racial inequality to be eradicated from society/social institutions. That’s why this “integration” stuff is a diversion.

    (Note: I use that term because that was the implicit argument made at the time of desegregation — that “if we would just get to know each other better…” Well, we’re talking about an assumption formed some 50 years or so ago. You know, enough for people alive at the time to have grown gray with something that, IMO, makes interracial “intimacy”, not justice or the end of WHITE SUPREMACY or racial inequality, the goal.)

  23. jwbe Says:

    >Am I really talking to holocaust perpetrators, slave drivers, and rapists? Wow.

    indicates, that you don’t understand what racism/white supremacy is.
    I don’t know where this “let us know each other and we will love each other” comes from

  24. jwbe Says:

    and B., a question to you. Did white Americans of today ever honestly try to answer the question why their parents and grand-parents where active participants during the Jim Crow era or silent by-standers?

  25. brohammas Says:

    jwbe,
    I’m sure some have, I’m more sure that the majority have never even thought to ask that question.

  26. Kahalia Says:

    I grew up in Georgia,what some would consider the hood. white people never came to my n’hood, let alone lived in it.
    I went to mainly all black schools and when I did end up at a mixed high school I wasn’t interested in hanging out or learning much about other races.
    Yes white is the dominant culture and that standard of beauty is everywhere. But did I know that white people washed their hair everyday???
    Heck naw! Why would I. I didn’t talk to them. Who even talks about that. I with all my friends thought their hair smelled like wet dog once it got wet. I thought for sure, white girls had it easy with their hair. I thought they just woke up and it was straight and manageable.
    As i got older and went to college and interacted more with whites and felt more comfortable talking about all types of things I learned about these things.
    Does my family know these things, not neccesarily. They don’t talk to white people like that. And I know PLENTY of Black folks who don’t talk to white folks like that who don’t know a thing about white hair. Seeing it comes in different textures is not what we’re talking about here. Who is disagreeing with this? Where did you grow up?
    -Kay

  27. Restructure! Says:

    brohammas,

    Anti-racism is not human relations programming.

    No, it does not swing both ways. thelady already said why your post is ridiculous:

    How exactly do you know what “most black people know” or don’t know? And who are these unseeing black Americans that are completely unaware of the variety of hair types white people have? Even if I hadn’t been surrounded by white people my entire life (living in the USA and such) all I’d have to do is pick up a random magazine or turn on a random makeover show to have learned about the 4 main shades of white skin and wide variety of hair and just how individual each and every white person is. It is us minorities that are all alike, unknowable and exotic. I am inundated with white eurocentric standards of beauty everyday in all media so to imply that I’ve some how missed the onslaught and am completely unaware is nonsense.

    You said:

    Comments like, “what do you know, you have straight hair”, when I do not, they simply assumed I as a white guy, had straight hair (it is cut short),

    But if your hair is mistaken for straight when short, it’s still relatively straight compared to some black men’s hair when short. Also, some white and Asian people with long hair (usually women) may assume that straight short cropped hair would be straight when long.

    shock that I wash my hair every day,

    Again, this may be a long hair versus short hair thing. White women with long hair don’t typically wash their hair every day. Maybe black people with short hair also wash their hair everyday, but I don’t know.

    I remember when I was younger, I overheard a boy say to another boy, “Did you know girls don’t wash their hair every day?”

    not realizing how much my hair naturally changes color in the sun, unawareness that naturally blonde hair can look darker at the part,

    All right this may be believable, but you should not generalize to all black people or all non-white people.

    not appreciating that most white women’s hair does not naturally fall that way and that they took hours with a flat iron too, all show how much they didn’t know.

    A flat iron shouldn’t take more than an hour. Have you even used a flat iron? I assume you haven’t, since you have short straight hair (as in it is straight when short).

    For heaven’s sake, my whole point is that both sides are unaware.

    This is so typically white.

    I used hair as an example of how many things an individual takes for granted for themselves, are not applicable to someone else.

    This is exactly the problem. You apply white ignorance of black hair and think that it is applicable to black people in a symmetrical way, otherwise it would mean that there is a difference is power relations, which would implicate white people too much for you to handle.

  28. Lxy Says:

    Slavery wasn’t about being ignorant, the Holocaust wasn’t lacking information, dropping A-bombs wasn’t lacking informations, raping women also as a weapon of wars is not about ignorance and the attempt to appeal to the human side of oppressors is like marching towards a tank or marching across a battle field in the hope that the other side would be understanding.
    Today’s racism isn’t about being ignorant.
    And your alleged good people aren’t good people. If they were, they would understand. Without your ‘explanations.’”

    Yes. One popular Mainstream canard is that racism is merely a question of ignorance, and if we all just sat down, listened to one another (while singing Kumbaya), we’d all could just get along.

    At best, this idea is infantile.

    At worst, it is deliberate deception.

    Ultimately, it’s an issue of interests and power–not merely ignorance.

    If you have a system where people of European descent are at the top of the racial food chain because of their race, they will be loathe to even admit the reality of this racist system–let alone give it up.

    White Supremacy exists not because of ignorance, but because it speaks to and benefits White people as a class to one degree or another.

    W.E.B. DuBois called this the “wages of whiteness,” by which he meant that social, economic, and political benefits that one could derive from being White.

  29. macon d Says:

    Lxy, I agree that Du Bois’s notion of “the wages of whiteness” is a very useful concept, but I’m wondering, is your summary that phrase precise enough to give him the full credit he deserves for the complexity of that concept?

    W.E.B. DuBois called this the “wages of whiteness,” by which he meant that social, economic, and political benefits that one could derive from being White.

    I ask because I haven’t read Black Reconstruction, where I think he explains that concept; my understanding of it comes instead from Roediger’s book of the same name.

    From that source, I’ve gathered that Du Bois especially emphasized the social and correlative psychological benefits, or “wages,” of whiteness. What I’ve gathered is that what Du Bois emphasized with that term, “the wages of whiteness,” was how white American workers, of the 1800s especially, accepted lower wages (having been divided-and-conquered in terms of race, and thus in terms of effectively resistant class solidarity with their “non-white” co-workers) in de facto exchange for the higher social status and respect conferred by whiteness, as well as the psychological “benefit” (that’s a terrible term for it) of being able to point to non-whites, blacks especially, and say, “At least I’m not one of them!” Also, you included “economic” benefits, but didn’t Du Bois actually mean that most white people ended up less well off economically than they would have, had they not accepted these other “wages” by buying into the lie of whiteness?

    If so, that all seems to me a more accurate and fuller understanding of Du Bois’s term–a term that thus deserves continued currency–than your description of it as “the social, economic, and political benefits that one could derive from being White.” I guess I’m also saying that if Roediger’s summary of the concept is right, then I think Du Bois deserves credit for a concept that’s more complex and useful than that summary of it.

  30. jwbe Says:

    Brohammas,

    >I’m sure some have, I’m more sure that the majority have never even thought to ask that question.

    why then do you consider it as important to “explain” Black people to whites, when whites even don’t know themselves. Why don’t you think it is important for whites to find answers to these questions (about their history)?

  31. macon d Says:

    Oops, sorry–in rereading that, I see this part might be confusing:

    “I ask because I haven’t read Black Reconstruction, where I think he explains that concept; my understanding of it comes instead from Roediger’s book of the same name.”

    The Roediger book is The Wages of Whiteness (Roediger hasn’t written one also entitled Black Reconstruction).

  32. Nquest Says:

    From “Black Reconstruction” (page 700 – 701):

    “…Probably in no country in the civilized world did human life become so cheap. This condition prevails among both white and black and characterizes the South even to our day. A spirit of lawlessness became widespread. White people paid no attention to their own laws. White men became a law unto themselves, and black men, so far as their aggressions were confined to their own people, need not fear intervention of white police. Practically all men went armed and the South reached the extraordinary distinction of being the only modern civilized country where human beings were publicly burned alive. Southern papers specialized on Negro crime with ridicule and coarse caricature…..

    The political success of the doctrine of racial separation, which overthrew Reconstruction by uniting the planter and the poor white, was far exceeded by its astonishing economic results. The theory of laboring class unity rests upon the assumption that laborers, despite internal jealousies, will unite because of their opposition to exploitation by the capitalists. According to this, even after a part of the poor white laboring class became identified with the planters, and eventually displaced them, their interests would be diametrically opposed to those of the mass of white labor, and of course to those of the black laborers. This would throw white and black labor into one class, and precipitate a united fight for higher wage and better working conditions.

    Most persons do not realize how far this failed to work in the South, and it failed to work because the theory of race was supplemented by a carefully planned and slowly evolved method, which drove such a wedge between the white and black workers that there probably are not today in the world two groups of workers with practically identical interests who hate and fear each other so deeply and persistently and who are kept so far apart that neither sees anything of common interest.

    It must be remembered that the white group of laborers, while they received a low wage, were compensated in part by a sort of public and psychological wage. They were given public deference and titles of courtesy because they were white. They were admitted freely with all classes of white people to public functions, public parks, and the best schools. The police were drawn from their ranks, and the courts, dependent upon their votes, treated them with such leniency as to encourage lawlessness. Their vote selected public officials, and while this had small effect upon the economic situation, it had great effect upon their personal treatment and the deference shown them.

    White schoolhouses were the best in the community, and conspicuously placed, and they cost anywhere from twice to ten times as much per capita as the colored schools. The newspapers specialized on news that flattered the poor whites and almost utterly ignored the Negro except in crime and ridicule.

    On the other hand, in the same way, the Negro was subject to public insult; was afraid of mobs; was liable to the jibes of children and the unreasoning fears of white women; and was compelled almost continuously to submit to various badges of inferiority. The result of this was that the wages of both classes could be kept low, the whites fearing to be supplanted by Negro labor, the Negroes always being threatened by the substitution of white labor.

    Mob violence and lynching were the inevitable result of the attitude of these two classes and for a time were a sort of permissible Roman holiday for the entertainment of vicious whites. One can see for these reasons why labor organizers and labor agitators made such small headway in the South. They were, for the most part, appealing to laborers who would rather have low wages upon which they could eke out an existence than see colored labor with a decent wage. White labor saw in every advance of Negroes a threat to their racial prerogatives, so that in many districts Negroes were afraid to build decent homes or dress well, or own carriages, bicycles or automobiles, because of possible retaliation on the part of the whites.

    Thus every problem of labor advance in the South was skillfully turned by demagogues into a matter of inter-racial jealousy. Perhaps the most conspicuous proof of this was the Atlanta riot in 1906, which followed Hoke Smith’s vicious attempt to become United States Senator on a platform which first attacked corporations and then was suddenly twisted into scandalous traducing of the Negro race.”

    http://negroartist.com/writings/Black%20Reconstruction.htm

  33. macon d Says:

    Thank you very much for finding that, Nquest.

    Du Bois explained so clearly some of the ways that whiteness not only privileges, it also emiserates.

    (Damn, I gotta stop putting it off and read that thing. Amazing that it’s all online at that link.)

  34. Lxy Says:

    @ Macon D

    You’re right about DuBois’ emphasis on the psychological or social benefits of the wages of whiteness as compensation for low economic wages. I should have not included “economic” as one of the components of this wage, at least according to DuBois.

    Today, however, I think that this economic component is an important part of the wages of whiteness.

    Whiteness is like a form of social capital.

    It is an important factor in who gets economic benefits and who does not–including things like bank loans, housing, or educational opportunities.

    Whiteness is currency.

    It can be money in the bank.

  35. macon d Says:

    Yes, no doubt about that–“property,” as Cheryl Harris put it.

  36. Nquest Says:

    LXY, Macon…

    I don’t think WEB DuBois denied that there was an economic benefit that went along with the much more significant social and psychological “wages.” Indeed, he said:

    “…even after a part of the poor white laboring class became identified with the planters, and eventually displaced them, their interests would be diametrically opposed to those of the mass of white labor…”

    Emphasis on: “part of the poor white laboring class… displaced them…”

    Clearly he wasn’t saying there is absolutely no economic benefit — just one that’s not as widespread, class-wide as the social and psychological. When he mentioned how “the police were drawn from their ranks”. I can’t help but think about “How The Irish Became White” and how instrumental police and other (local) government jobs were in elevating the Irish from poor not-quiet-Whites to a group that generally was able to integrate into mainstream, working/middle-class American society — no longer (all that poor) and “White.”

    Plus the kind of social “wages” DuBois mentioned have a profound economic impact especially when compared to their non-white class counterparts. This is a point easily made when it comes to the depth of poverty in each community/group:

    “Although whites suffer poverty too, black poverty is more severe… Seven out of ten poor whites live in stable, mostly non-poor neighborhoods, while eighty-five percent of the black poor live in mostly poor areas. Blacks are three times more likely to live in extreme poverty than whites (less than half the poverty line) and six times more likely to live in concentrated poverty neighborhoods. Indeed, three-quarters of persons living in concentrated poverty neighborhoods are people of color. “

    http://www.lipmagazine.org/~timwise/deliberatefailure.html
    http://www.urban.org/publications/900238.html

    Now think of what the effect of Sundown Towns over the years. Poor Whites weren’t targets. They’re Whiteness, alone, gave them membership and with that membership came/comes access to better schools (which DuBois mentioned) than their poor Black counterparts, etc., etc., etc.

    I think their closer proximity and greater access and greater mobility (what social stigma follows poor Whites around wherever they go, no matter their appearance?) through the years also made the “American dream” and the belief in American “meritocracy” hold more sway over them.

  37. Lone Wolf Says:

    Well, I’m glad that someone put it out there that they were using the color of hair as more a metaphor, for comparisons sake. I just can’t believe (& unless I misread &/or misinterpreted it), that we would discuss who showers or washes their hair every day & if they use a hot iron or flat iron or whatever.

    In my humble opinion, that’s just another way of clouding the truth & who gives a damn who chooses to shower or straighten their hair or how often they choose to do so?

    Neither people can claim that they are all knowing of the others >.< end of story. BUT that shouldn't be the end of it. We should try to understand the other cultures that we were not raised in, though we may not have had much exposure when we were being raised. That's why as adults, we need to open our minds & see people as different, but do not condemn them for their differences.

    I honestly don't care if you are Black, African (yes, there's a difference), Mexican, Hispanic, Spaniard (yes, there's a difference), Asian (yes, there's alot of different types under that description), etc. Equally so, IF you're "White", I don't care of your English, Scottish, Dutch, Canadian, Russian, Polish etc., (yes, there's a difference). I care about being ME, but I've also got my Native American, coming from my Dad's side and that – – in it of itself, is 2 different cultures.

    I expect you to look at me as being different, but give me the courtesy of YOU getting to know MY inner workings. It's a PRIVILEDGE that we could share our insight(s)with EACH OTHER. It's more like a trade of info, I'd like to get to know YOU, how you were brought up, what you do in your everyday life, where you would go to church AND even what in your Country &/or Culture do you do for fun. What is your social ettiquette before I do something offensive?

    You see, that is how I come to UNDERSTAND you, then and only then can we accept each other for our differences.

    I ASK QUESTIONS of people I'm not familiar with, I'm excited when people tell me something that I've never been exposed to. I feel more warmth from people from other Countries than strangers in the U.S.A. It pisses me off, because people of other Locales, are actually HAPPY to talk to me about their cultures, but someone on my own block says "It's NUNYA' – – short for none of your damned business".

    You want me to understand you and I'm willing to listen & give you a chance. That's how I BELIEVE we can make the world a better place & put a cap on the Hate-Breeders.

    Be SAFE, Be WELL – – PEACE TO ALL!

    -Lone Wolf

  38. Jillian C. York Says:

    Interesting – to be honest, I didn’t even read Macon’s post to mean that he would have written the book differently, necessarily, rather, that the book itself presumes that everyone does something “one way” (e.g. the white way). I also didn’t figure that Macon was assuming that all Black people shake hands differently from white people either.


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