Thursday, April 12, 2007

A Response to Thinking Girl

As promised, here is my response to TG's comment. I thought I'd do it in a post so I could use quotes and other fun things like that. First, here is the discussion part of her post (from my comments here):

as for my method of argument, I don't think I need to explain every detail of everything I say all the time for people who clearly have not gotten a good grasp on basics. It's not a Fem101 blog. I've spent enough time thoroughly arguing my views for the better part of two years on that blog, and you know what? It's tiring to repeat myself over and over and over, especially when there are epistemological differences going on that make it nearly impossible to discuss across them. Also, it slows down progress. In your case, I actually think I and/or others responded to all of your claims. I made a point to respond to almost every single comment on that thread for the sake of being clear about my argument, so it's actually kind of funny that you think I wasn't being sufficiently patient and/or clear about my view. And when I felt I couldn't be any more clear, and any further attempts were going to be met with more of the same from you, making the "discussion" quite pointless and useless to carry on with, I said so. I think it's perfectly valid in an ONLINE DISCUSSION BOARD to ask people to do a bit of their own legwork instead of wasting my time with basic stuff or trying to find different ways to explain something I've already
explained as best I can. I'm not here to educate, and I'm sick of being asked to. it's not my responsibility.As for that particular thread, you actually were being pretty inflammatory and rude, and I'm not one little bit convinced of any of your arguments. You were trying to compare oppressions, which is extremely short-sighted and indicative of trying to deflect attentino from the issue at hand, and you weren't actually listening. you were just getting upset that I and others were not buying what you were selling. nobody said that your experiences of class oppression, of being shy, of being an atheist, weren't valid. all I said was that they did not relate to a discussion of racism. nobody said that your hard work to get to where you are didn't matter - just that that's not what we were talking about. And all of that, all that "look at me" stuff you were doing to try to deflect from the argument at hand in order to "disprove" it, was just more and more evidence of privilege. you weren't proving your point, you were proving mine. sorry.I appreciate dialogue, discussion, and debate. If you want to come back DBB, you're welcome to. As I said, I didn't ban you. If I had banned you, I would have told you, like I have done with the oh, three people I've banned up till this point. And for the record, the people I have banned I
have done so with good reason - either personal attacks against me or blatantly hateful comments against marginalized groups. Neither of which are remotely close to that I couldn't handle the objections to my argument.

Ok, now my response.

First, regarding 'Feminism 101', 'legwork', and 'homework.' Implicit in this is an assumption on your part that I just haven't read about anything regarding the subject matter, but if I had, then I would be 'up to speed' and so there would be no need for you to talk about all the prior points allegedly settled in Feminisim 101. But of course this denies another possibility - that I HAVE read up on those particular points, but found them unconvincing. If you are saying I have to agree with everything Feminism 101 claims before we can have a conversation, that seems to stifle any chance at a conversation if I don't agree with the premise. So please keep in mind that just because someone doesn't adopt as truth what is 'taught' in Feminism 101 doesn't mean that that person did not attend the 'class' - it could mean that he or she attended and found the arguments therein unpersuasive.

Second, I find it somewhat curious that you chastise me about allegedly not knowing Feminism 101 in a thread about racism while at the same time telling me it was invalid to bring up other 'isms' involving atheism, shyness, and anti-semitism. If feminism is relevant to racism, it seems to me all those other isms should be part of the discussion as well. If those other 'isms' should not be brought up in a racism thread, then it seems that feminism should not be, either. In which case, what the heck does it matter if I'm up on 'Feminism 101' or not if the discussion was about racism? So which is it - is it valid to compare or discuss various oppressions together or not? If it is, then my bringing up other forms of discriminatino was valid. If it is not, then it is equally invalid for you to bring up feminism when discussing a thread on racism.

Third, 'responding' to a claim does not mean you have successfully refuted it. You may think you have, just like I may think I have refuted all of your claims. Certainly it is good not to leave a point unanswered. But just because you have answered it does not mean your point of view has prevailed. (Sort of like the fun of watching each side claim they 'won' a presidential debate after the debate is over).

Fourth, the primary point I was responding to and debating was actually two rather narrow, related, specific claims: That all white people are racists and that all non-white people are not racists. Something which you based on a made-up definition of racist, a word that is rather loaded with meaning about one's personal attitudes and actions. You have utterly failed to convince me on either of these points (to be fair, actually, I was mostly arguing with TFS on this), and I'm not alone in that regard.

Fifth, everything you say about not wanting to have to repeat points to me because I don't 'get it' could apply equally to you - I could say I tire of having to repeat my points over and over because you just don't get it. While there certainly could be some validity to that either way, perhaps it is most indicative of stubborness and not listening on either person's part. Or perhaps it indicates something else. When someone does not seem to 'get' what I am saying, instead of blaming them, my first instinct is to wonder how I can recraft the argument or better explain it. One ultimately wins another to one's own point of view not by berating them, but by figuring out a way to explain your POV that they can fully understand. And even then, there are no guarantees - it is entirely possible to fully understand your opponent's possition on an issue and still legitimately disagree with it. I've read many lawyer's briefs that were actually winning briefs on the law that still did a horrible job of explaining it. Really, the best explanations are the simplest ones, free of jargon, free of unwarranted assumptions. My experience has been that if a brief makes an issue seem complicated, that is usually a bad brief, whereas those briefs that make something seem so simple a child could understand them, those are the good ones. I strive to write the good ones. I am sure I have much to learn in that regard.

Sixth, any discussion about race that is premised on calling all members of one race racists is extremely likely to be inflammatory. I'm not the one who made such an inflammatory claim and you can't expect someone painted with such a broad brush not to have an equally inflammatory response. And the only rude thing I can recall doing is calling TFS a racist for his racist statements, but of course, this was only after he had called me a racist. So if I was rude for calling him a racist, then he was equally rude for calling me one. If there are other examples of rudeness on my part, please point them out to me.

And finally, again, sorry about the misunderstanding. All things considered, I rather enjoyed discussing things there.

Oh yes, one other thing I wanted to ask you (and TFS for that matter) - a hypothetical:

Bobby is 31 years old. His biological parents, who raised him, are both African-American, both descended from slaves. He grew up poor, but worked hard, went to college, and now has a very nice corporate job. Perhaps he would have done better were it not for his race. But he certainly did well with the hand he was dealt. Then he suddenly was struck by a strange virus. This virus had the unfortunate effect of making him lose all of his skin pigmentation, and now he looks 100% white and no one who knows him could tell the difference. Is he a racist? Why or why not? In ten years will he be a racist? Is there anything he can do to avoid it? And if so, why could not someone born with his new "handicap" not do the same thing to avoid it?

6 comments:

cornucrapia said...

Because I have decided never to return to TGs blog (at least as a poster, I RSS'd her blog just to see what's going on there and because it's good to read material you dissagree with from time to time I'll post this here:
A solution indeed
Now, is this guy a racist? I'd sure say so but from what I gathered from that blog he's not. I wonder what he is then? The only other term I can think to apply is hate-monger and while that is certainly appropriate, I think racist fits pretty well too

DBB said...

He's a racist.

And the only reason I did not post on TG's blog was because I thought she had banned me, but it turns out, my bad, she didn't. So I put a few posts over there today.

I think it is much more interesting to talk with people you don't agree with on everything. While there is something nice about finding those who do agree with you when you feel in the wilderness (like if you are an atheist like me) there is also great value in having to defend one's own ideas, and possibly change them, debating those who disagree with you.

cornucrapia said...

I agree with that but we weren't debating any more. We were just sayin g the same things over and over again and both getting frustrated. I'm sure you can relate. I love having discussions with people I disagree with if either of us make any progress but I might as well just hit my head against a wall talking to TG and her crew.

liberallatte said...

So what do you think of the systematic white privilege what TG and others are talking about? Do you think it exists, or is it just an anti-racism left-wing myth?

I myself don't agree with TG's new definition of "racism" as I wrote before, but I don't think that's a big issue here; it's another issue to be discussed, but not directly related to the main point. In the beginning I was outraged by her "all whites are racists" point, but if I interpret "racist" as she did I can agree with her main premise (though "to what extent" privilege exists is another issue).

Language is a tool of communication, and she may be re-defining the word "racist" but as she explained her usage we know what she means by that word. Based on HER definition of racism, do you think all whites are racists? I'm not inclined to answer yes because of the impressions I get from the word "racist", but if we analyse it logically it means "all white people are benefiting from the white privilege" which is a morally neutral sentence, in my opinion.

Regarding your hypothetical situation, it is sort of hard to argue on that as it is unrealistic; I mean if such virus existed the situations regarding racism would be very much a different one from the one we have now. But I suppose he would benefit from privileges when virus affects him and he becomes white.

DBB said...

I'll answer this more thoroughly later, but I did want to say one thing about my hypothetical. First, how realistic it is is irrelevant to the question - it still should able to be answered. It is also the sort of hypothetical you can expect to get in law school, every time you go to class (in a manner of speaking). What makes it useful is that it narrows down the issue so you can analyze it.

And secondly, after seeing Michael Jackson, it is hard to think it isn't unrealistic. ;)

DBB said...

To answer further, no, I don't think all white people benefit from what is called 'white privilge'. There are probably millions of white people who are dirt poor, who don't seem to have much if any sort of privileges.

It also seems like a rather gross generalization to make any blanket statement about an entire race.

I intend to do a post about the alleged 'white privilege' collection of 50 'things' - I read that and it seemed to strain rather hard to come up with things that are 'privileges'. Most of it is just equating demographics with privilege, which is a rather dubious thing to do.

Is there SOME benefit to being white for SOME people SOME of the time, sure. I think what there is is vastly exagerated, especially when you consider that pretty much ANY form of institutional racism is ILLEGAL now. Heck, look what happened to Imus. He says four racist words, probably more out of stupidity than anything else, on the air and now this old, rich, white guy is out of a job and he's pretty much branded as a racist. I'm not saying he should not have been fired, but it is hard to keep staying with a straight face how pervasive racism is when even a tiny slice of it can basically destroy your career. Where is his white privilege now?