Monthly Archives: September 2012

Racism and The Empty Chair

During Clint Eastwood’s psychotic episode speech at the RNC this year, he pretended to address President Obama by talking to an empty chair. If the symbolism of a white man talking down to a powerful person of color didn’t send the message of racism home for you, then consider the aftermath.  Eastwood used the chair to put President Obama “in his place,” while other white folks are taking this spectacle of racism to another level. The first photo shows an empty chair in Virginia with an obvious target, the second photo shows an empty chair from Texas has a less visible target. The common denominators are: Obama, lynching, and anti-Black racism.

Attention white folks: we know exactly what we’re doing when we hang shit from trees, we don’t get to take this behavior out of historical context, and we need to understand that a Black president does not mean the end of racism when this kind of racial violence continues to go down. Sometimes a picture isn’t worth a thousand words. “Racism still exists” are three words these combined pictures are worth. If you’re still unconvinced and still looking for proof, then you might consider that you have no idea what you’re looking for.

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Tumblr Q & A: Defending Racism as “Art”

Q: Hello, I was going to write a long, drawn out response to your lady gaga burqa post, but it came down to fundamental perspectives, which we probably don’t share. Lady Gaga’s religion is arguably aesthetics, and she has always referenced “”‘disrespectfully'”” Christianity. I view her wearing a burqa not as rude, but as a way of portraying the beauty of such a garment. NO religion or culture should ever be immune to the hand of an artist.

A: Well I think you are using the words “religion” and “artist” way more liberally than I would ever use them. I agree that Lady GaGa’s “religion” is “arguable” to say the least: she does not worship at a church of aesthetics, there is no history of aesthetics as an institutionalized or organized religion, and there is not a bible of aesthetics outside a cute fashion quip of “this issue of Vogue is my bible.” Furthermore, Lady GaGa is not socially oppressed, institutionally disadvantaged, or racially stigmatized because of her aesthetics “religion.” White feminists don’t try to save Lady GaGa because she is “oppressed” by aesthetics. Even if she has spoken “disrespectfully” of Christianity, this does not then give her the right to appropriate something from Islam. This also does not give her the right to disrespect Islam.

The idea of Lady GaGa as an “artist” making an artistic statement of ‘appreciation’ is giving a pop star in a racist costume an awful lot of credit that I personally think she doesn’t deserve. It takes a shit load of white privilege to see this as something profound and to defend it as something artistic, rather than see it as the racist fashion gimmick it is. Followers: this is a perfect example of where a white opinion doesn’t matter. Even if you don’t think it’s “rude,” or if you think it’s acceptable for an “artist,” Muslim folks are telling us not to do this shit, they don’t appreciate it, and they don’t care what our intentions are. The opinions of the people who are directly affected by cultural appropriation are the only ones that matter.

The argument that religion or culture should not be “immune” to the interpretations and bastardizations of artists is a very old, very European one. This is the attitude Surrealists used when they stole shit from African cultures to inspire their “creativity,” or when Van Gogh painted exact replicas of traditional Japanese prints, or when Gaugin obsessively painted “primitive” Tahitian “natives.” Rousseau spent who knows how many hours imagining what POC in the “jungle” looked like… then painted them. When white folks claim culture and religion are fair game for “artists,” we are essentially saying everything is ours for the taking. The individual “freedom” of a white “artist” does not and should not take precedence over the  objections of POC; when it does, this is white supremacy at work.

—DD

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Tumblr Q & A: white Advice

Q: Do you have any sources which can help answer my questions? I looked for posts through my lists but none addressed this question. A black friend of mine said she hated her “black afro hair” and wishes it was straight and smooth. I told her I like her hair the way it is and she shouldn’t change it. Is that racist? Because when I think about it, I was still basically telling her what she should think, which seems racist.

A: I personally think that’s a good way to start thinking about our impulses as white folks when we talk to POC. From my interpretation of your question, it seems like the post you’re looking for as a resource would be about white folks giving advice to POC. It’s not a bad idea for a post at all, but I think I can sum it up pretty easily: just don’t do it.

When I started thinking critically about my own whiteness, I gave purposeful consideration to the assumptions and impulses that seemed small while interacting with friends of color. I realized that when I was in a position to give an opinion or give advice, I focused mainly on my good intentions and forgot about my race. After years of ongoing work, I consciously stop myself when I start formulating any opinions along the lines of “I think you should [fill in the blank]” when I talk to or spend time with people of color. I think this is one part of checking our privilege as white folks: understanding that our natural reaction to what POC say, even if we want to give a well-intentioned response, has been conditioned by years of living white white privilege and existing in a racist society. Even though we are tempted to share our thoughts and opinions, we need to remember we are speaking with white power and privilege.

I will say that I don’t find anything wrong with paying friends a compliment, or, more specifically, you telling your friend you like her hair the way it is. Offering a positive where most white folks would offer a negative isn’t a bad thing. But the fundamental problem I see in your situation/question is that your friend did not ask for your advice about what to do with her hair, making your advice unsolicited. So I also think you are right to see this impulse as racist—the desire of many white folks to have answers, opinions, and thoughts on pretty much everything that isn’t about them, is all about racism and white supremacy. There is nothing wrong with asking POC “Do you want my opinion?” before you even think of it, and there is also nothing wrong with saying “I’m white so I have no comment” if you are explicitly asked for your opinion.

As white folks, we are not likely to become unproblematic or arrive at socially conscious perfection any time soon. I’ve learned there are good reasons why POC do not want/need white opinions/advice. One major reason is that I have no business and no right counseling a person of color about their decisions (or their bodies) when the social consequences and social experience will never be the same for me. Our opinions as white folks don’t matter when we never have to worry about things like skin color, hair, or racism.

You’re on the right track and I hope this helps.

—DD

white Feminism 101: Whatever the Fuck We Want

This is a very basic arc of popular white feminism in the US: first wave, second wave, and third wave feminism. I’m still waiting on tidal wave feminism that destroys the whole of patriarchy in its path. But aren’t we all. The first wave starts with white women like Charlotte Perkins Gilman and Kate Chopin in the 1800s, then the second wave washes up with white women like Gloria Steinem and Betty Friedan, then an intervention happens between the second and third waves… WOC feminists like Audre Lorde, Cherrie Moraga, and Barbara Smith bring queer and racial politics to a white-dominated movement. The white supremacy in mainstream feminism was finally called out, yet the legacy lives on.

Individual freedom and/or liberation has been and continues to be at the heart of white feminism, ranging anywhere from the freedom to vote to the freedom to wear underwear in public and not be called a “sl*t.” Like most rights and private liberty discourses in the US, liberation often translates to individuals having the power to do whatever the fuck they want. But who has the privilege to do whatever they want with a considerable amount of public safety? Who has institutional power while they exploit the social freedom of never having been reduced to a stereotype that results in oppression, violence, and death? Whether it’s a white woman wearing dreadlocks, wearing a bindi, wearing a sari, wearing a war bonnet, wearing a burqa, or getting “tribal” tattoos worn by Indigenous Filipino peoples, the only “freedom” we have is in damaging and disrespecting the cultural expressions of the women and people of color to whom these expressions belong.

We white folks are all about private property and ownership, and we have been ever since the days of chattel slavery when we owned human beings as property. European whites + capitalism + racism = slave trade, colonization, genocide. Could it be our persistent dehumanization of POC that compels us to never see cultural objects, traditions, and garments as the private property of POC? When we affirm our own “humanity” through the “freedom” of stealing from women and people of color, we devalue the humanity of those from which we steal (otherwise known as racism). For those of you that might raise the argument “but white women became the property of white men through marriage,” think of it this way: even though you may not have been alive back then, there was certainly a huge difference between working the fields of a plantation and sipping tea on the porch of a plantation mansion in silk stockings. White women were never sold and traded in chains through public auctions, and neither were their children.

In the picture below is Lady GaGa, only one contemporary example of cultural appropriation and white supremacy in mainstream feminism. Women with white skin appropriate clothing for maybe five minutes—the significance being that they “appreciate it”—and do not live in this clothing for most of their lives. Famous white women who appropriate clothing make it that much easier for their fans to act like none of what Muslim women experience matters. This is a hideous example of white feminism because it serves the interests, privileges, and liberties of white women exclusively; this is not feminism that supports and empowers the WOC being devalued, dehumanized, and dismissed by cultural theft.

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Here’s a simple list of reasons why white women should never do this kind of shit:

*If you are not a member of a group that traditionally and historically wears these garments, there is never a good reason to wear something that is not socially or culturally relevant to you.

*Mocking Islam by taking something worn for religious purposes and wearing it for Western entertainment will only benefit racist ideas and racist culture.

*If feminism is for the good of all women, then white women who oppress ‘others’ for their own empowerment are not practicing feminism. They are practicing white feminism.

*Stealing a cultural and religious garment for the sake of performance is cultural appropriation. If it is not your daily experience as a white person, it should never be your costume.

*White women do not encounter racism, oppression, or Islamophobia (the social fear and racial hatred of Islam) when they wear cultural garments that do not belong to them.

*Only white people can take something from another culture and make it “fashionable” while experiencing none of the violence POC endure.

*white privilege is having fun with racist stereotypes.

*The argument in defense of Lady GaGa that says “equality is anyone being able to wear anything they want,” really boils down to “white people can steal anything they want from POC and should be able to wear it without consequences.”

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Serena Williams Has More Game than Haters

Commentators ruin just about everything about the only sport I have ever liked. They are literally paid to disrupt the match, discussing the weather and other banalities during play while being conveniently unhelpful whenever there is controversy on the court. I was well prepared to document their shit this year when I excitedly watched Serena Williams play killer tennis at the US Open. She defeated Sara Errani in the semifinals, competing the following night after Andy Roddick’s retirement match. In this case, I couldn’t decide whether the commentators’ tireless speculation about Serena’s retirement during her match was more annoying than their merciless hounding after her match when they interviewed her with countless passive-aggressive references to her age. Even the reporter outside the locker room who interviewed her before the match asked her to comment on Roddick’s retirement, callously asking if her disappointment would sour her incredible athletic skills. Who asks a WOC athlete on a blazing trail of victory fresh off the flames of an Olympic gold medal: shouldn’t you be preparing to quit, shouldn’t you be off your game? This is a perfect example of how racism can be subtle.

Serena Williams is one of five Black female tennis stars of the last century, Althea Gibson being the first to become champion at all major tournaments in the US, France, England, and Australia in the 1950s. When white men compete, TV viewers hear all about legends of the past and generations of greatness. But never once during Serena’s semifinals or finals match did anyone mention the Black women that preceded her or Black tennis players in general. Venus Williams entered the discussion solely on the basis of being Serena’s sister. Even though Serena’s finals match with Victoria Azarenka went to a third set—the first time a women’s singles match has done this in 17 years—there was no commotion over how significant this was, only mention that it was happening. Tonight I watched the men’s singles finals match between Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic, and the male commentators went apeshit over the five set/five hour match being “epic,” “magnificent,” and “historic.” Serena got twelve aces in the first two sets of her semifinals match against Errani—twelve—and the commentators said she was playing “unsteady tennis.” Serena had over forty unforced errors in her finals match against Azarenka and they wouldn’t shut up about it.

Sure, the mouths behind the mics talk up Serena’s impressive serve a lot. During the major matches of this year’s US Open that I watched Serena play, they talked about it more than any other part of her game. It got to a point where it seemed like they were fetishizing her serve, like it was incomprehensibly fast and exotically strong “for a woman.” This attitude reveals two things: the anxiety that a Black player is strangely more amazing than most white players at something, and the idea that a Black player is “less of a woman” because she serves “like a man.” How long have white folks in the US been creating these deviant, masculinized stereotypes about Black women? Since the days of chattel slavery. Even though commentators discuss her serve this way, one was quick to doubt her ability to compete with men. As Serena cruised onto the court for her finals match with Azarenka, this particular mouthpiece offered the anecdote that Errani had told Williams after her victory in the semifinals that she “should go play men.” This white woman didn’t miss a beat when she said “Well I don’t know about THAT.” So Serena serves “like a man” but can’t compete with men? White logic: game, set, and match.

Serena is described repeatedly with two defining adjectives: powerful and strong. No matter how often she dominates on the court, no matter how many titles she’s won, there are still commentators who admit their surprise about her being “mentally tough.” This was the case in her match against Errani. If tennis was exclusively about physical strength and had nothing to do with control, strategy, calculation, and mental strength then it would be fantastically boring. Some people might find the sport boring either way, but my point is that physicality is not the deciding factor in becoming a tennis champion. Serena is not only my all-time favorite athlete, but she is also one of the greatest and most brilliant players in history. To discuss her physicality obsessively and credit her success to her muscles is insulting to her career, and has everything to do with reading her Blackness with a white lens. Australian player Samantha Stosur has a serious set of biceps and competes with ferocity, but, as a white player, these aspects of her game are rarely forced under a microscope at every moment.

Stosur defeated Williams in the “explosive” 2011 US Open match where the chair umpire ruled Serena’s shouting of “Come on!” before Stosur was able to return the ball meant she lost the point. The rules of tennis dictate that if a player is unintentionally distracted by their opponent before they return the ball, then the point should be replayed. This is exactly what happened in this year’s semifinals match between Andy Murray and Tomas Berdych: the wind took Murray’s hat off his head as he scored a point, but Berdych was the one who challenged the point and claimed he was distracted. The chair umpire ruled that the point should be replayed. He did not decide on his own that Murray should automatically lose the point for an unintentional distraction—Serena was not so lucky, or so respected. She has been widely criticized and shamed for her “outburst,” and was fined a record $82,500 from the Grand Slam Committee in addition to the $10,000 from the US Tennis Association after her “outburst” at the 2009 US Open. Meanwhile, John McEnroe is one of the most beloved and celebrated retired players, not to mention the most sought-after for match commentary, even though he has multiple epic “outbursts” under his belt.

So much has been said about how “calm” and “reserved” Serena was this time around at the Open. The commentators have been so “proud” of her for keeping her cool and her focus… as if flying into rages and temper tantrums were her natural state as a competitor, as if she is naturally a loose cannon instead of an athlete who challenges bullshit calls. They patronize her for “finally” keeping her “passion” in check and putting on her “game face.” How long have white folks been creating stereotypes about Black women being unhinged, out of control, and overly “emotional”? Since the days of chattel slavery. Plenty of male tennis players are repeat offenders when it comes to court misconduct, but, curiously, there is something uniquely and especially unacceptable about Serena’s misconduct. All of the calls made against her that provoked her objections (all of them made at suspiciously crucial points in a game), were easily debatable in their legitimacy, but Serena’s “temper” is the main subject. If the subject changes, it changes to how she had no right to “lose it.” This is her fourth US Open title, and she won because she is an exceptionally talented player at the top of her sport, because no other players in her generation can compare. She did not win because she avoided yelling at someone. No one needs to talk about her emotions when there’s no end to what can be said about her game.

—DD

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Racism 101: Prejudice vs. Power

Any time a white person uses their own personal experience of prejudice (or a fabricated one) to demonstrate how whites suffer from racism, there is an underlying tendency to believe individual experience reflects broader social and structural realities. This is not the case. Just as one white person who was harassed by a person of color does not prove “reverse” racism, one Black president does not prove the end of racism. For the few white folks with hurt pride, there are thousands more with staggering social comfort who make hurt pride an exception to the status quo; for the few POC with class/political privilege, there are thousands more with staggering social oppression who make this privilege an exception to the status quo. How much white privilege does it require to think one painful confrontation is equally damaging as living with the daily reality of racism? And how much white privilege does it require to think one isolated incident, or even several isolated incidents, are equivalent to the constant violence of racism?

Part of the problem in this case is the assumption that individuals are representative of entire groups, whether they are white or of color. Malcolm X attacked as an “extremist” and depicted/blamed as the symbol of Black “violence” ignores and erases the diverse complexities of identity and thought within Black communities. Making a case for reverse racism based on that one white girl down the street who got called a “cracker b*tch” or a “gringa” that one time ignores and erases the systemic and social power of having white skin. The fact that our whiteness protects us from racial violence and hatred 99% of the time facilitates our unjustified outrage when POC don’t value us for being white. We are so used to being valued for being white that we are quick to cry ‘injustice’ when anyone challenges the longstanding positive construction of whiteness. But don’t get it twisted: prejudice does not equal power. When white folks have legacies of social, structural, and racial power in our favor, prejudice against us is completely inconsequential and certainly not identical. Interpersonal conflict does not threaten the power of whiteness or render the suffering of racism equal along lines of race.

Until the majority of white folks have been retroactively written out of the US constitution, enslaved on the basis of being less than human, imported to work in agribusiness and industry then deported as disposable labor, and have been overwhelmingly colonized, displaced, raped, and tortured, then maybe we can talk about racism against whites. Once the majority of white folks are segregated to neighborhoods next to industrial plants and sewage refineries, have their social and political opportunities limited because of their racial identity, are discriminated against in employment and education, and have to live with constant dehumanization based on their race, then maybe we can talk about racism against whites. Stereotyping and lumping all POC under one identity by misinterpreting individual actions is racist; white folks losing their privilege because individual white people have hurt feelings is impossible.

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Tumblr Q & A: Same Racist Shit, Different Racist

Q: “racial privilege is still whites only”, and “white folks do NOT experience racism”, oh really? tell that to the one white kid living in the projects getting chased home from school everyday by kids with razor blades just for being white in the wrong neighborhood. privilege is relative, and systemic (aka institutional) racism is not the only form of racism.

A: Which one white kid am I telling this to? The one in your imagination?

The fact that there is only one white kid in your supposed example says everything. True or false, a single individual experience of harassment does not prove whites are equal victims of racism; what you’re talking about is prejudice. Even if whites get shit from POC, this doesn’t take away the power and privilege of having white skin in a racist society. This doesn’t mean POC suddenly have racial privilege. A person of color calling a white person a “cracker” or “chasing” them with razor blades (razor blades? really?) does not determine what their opportunities in life will be, it does not dehumanize them, and it does not make white supremacy disappear. Racism is prejudice and power, meaning POC do not gain any social, institutional, political, or individual power by calling out white folks.

If someone is harassed for “being white” in the “wrong” neighborhood, then the logical track of that argument means there are “right” neighborhoods for being white. That would be a result of the institutional racism you mentioned. If you understand that racism is not only systemic, then you should understand that racism is not only interpersonal either. When white folks have the systemic power of white privilege and the social power of being white, they could be chased down the street by POC with lions and assault rifles and this still wouldn’t be racism.

Give me something difficult to refute. These same old racist arguments are boring.

—DD

Tumblr Q & A: We are Not Heroic

Q: white saviors

A: Actually, I think you make a fair point. I see how this blog can be interpreted and criticized as white saviors on an internet mission. So I also think this is a good opportunity to make some clarifications that are probably needed and overdue.

Nothing we do here is heroic. Nothing. This blog exists for the purposes of educating white folks by sharing knowledge POC have shared with us. Ultimately, we exist for white folks that POC do not want to educate; we are not here as the better alternative or the voice of truth, which is very important for us to disclose. We know POC are the best teachers, and we are not here to replace them. While whites can step up and take responsibility to educate fellow white folks if it is needed, we are certainly not the source. This blog is only a small contribution to awareness and racial justice, with authors who firmly understand that racism is not our struggle to solve on the behalves of POC. No one is meant to be saved by any thoughts here—especially not POC. This is just a space to expose and discuss white privilege in our lives, our experiences, and ourselves. When it comes to racism, that’s all we’re really ‘qualified’ to talk about: being white.

Any time whites critically engage white supremacy, it is problematic simply because of the racial privilege we maintain while we criticize that which rewards us. This blog is no exception. That is why opportunities to learn and dialogue are provided, but not answers. If anything, this project is an example of how whiteness can be questioned by white folks, which might hopefully guide white readers to examine and question their own whiteness. Is this a great and noble deed? No. Despite anything we say here, we still benefit from white privilege. Even if we can get white folks to understand their privilege, this is no great achievement or honorable gesture of morality.

—DD

The Crunk Feminist Collective

The internets were all abuzz over the weekend sharing clips of our collective Black feminist shero Melissa Harris-Perry’s Saturday morning show. During the show, she lost her cool with panelist Monica Mehta, a conservative financial expert, who represented every unthoughtful mythic thing that I’ve come to believe a person has to believe in order to be a member of today’s racist Republican Party.

After I posted the clip to my FB page, a former student of mine, simply commented that this was an example of “eloquent rage.” She knew I would get the reference, because the first time she ever used it was in reference to me, and my impassioned style of teaching students about the politics of race, class, and gender. My first reaction to being characterized in this way was denial. “I’m not angry,” I told her. “I’m passionate.” And then she looked at me with a tell-tale…

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Race 101: Colorblindness and the Privilege of Not Seeing Race

For white folks to claim that race should not matter is to reveal that race has never negatively impacted us. The invented supremacy of whiteness has provided us with privilege and power in politics, social institutions, and our personal and professional lives, making it a positive issue and, by extension, easily converted into a non-issue. We are so comfortable with a white identity that we have a tendency to imagine ourselves as not possessing race at all. Part of white privilege is the freedom to simply forget we possess race because it works so effectively to our advantage. We have the power of deciding when to acknowledge race and when to ignore it because there are no negative consequences for us to suffer in the process of doing so. Whiteness is not dehumanizing to whites and it is not willfully imposed upon us as a form of oppression. White privilege removes racial oppression from our social experience and normalizes our lives to the extent that we can think of ourselves as “just human beings.” If whites make colorblind arguments, here’s what we need to understand:

*People may be part of a larger race of humans, but social experience does not reflect this.

White arguments in favor of colorblindness, or seeing everyone as “just human beings,” enables white folks to ignore history while also continuing our tradition of dictating the meanings of race. In theory, colorblindness might be a nice fantasy, but in practice it is an act of violence. To explain, not all violence is physical: the attitude that very real experiences POC have with race and racism can be dismissed by deciding not to see color is to dismiss and devalue their experiences as human beings. Race is a social experience and an institutional force, it is not just an idea. If white folks pretend not to see race, then we also refuse to see racism or racial oppression, which begs the question: who has the power to decide when race matters and when it doesn’t? Until there are social arrangements that do not create division or inequalities along lines of race, class, gender, disability, or sexuality, then these issues will always exist and matter.

*To say “I don’t see color,” means the individual claims to have made a decision to not personally “see” race even though institutions and fellow individuals will still see it.

Race is not just a matter of vision. If we think we can refuse to see someone as Black, Brown, Red, or Yellow, then what does this really mean? Are we simply pretending not to use these words? This is one of the major problems with the ‘political correctness’ of colorblind thinking: folks assuming race is a “bad thing” and stumbling to find ways of not seeing it, while we aren’t deconstructing myths or stereotypes about racial identity. Race is not just a matter of individual agency. Because race and racism are present in institutions, policies, housing, etc., an individual ignoring these issues does not make them socially disappear. When whites treat racial modifiers as “offensive” or meaningless we are also refusing to acknowledge the significance these modifiers have to POC, and we insult them by ignoring their historical, social, and cultural experiences.

*Making the argument that race “no longer exists” gives white folks the power to decide race is not an issue for POC, but we can still decide it is an issue for us.

White privilege allows us to deny racism as a reality for POC, then make a mad dash to collect, twist, and invent information that “proves” we are “victims” of racism, which requires a seriously heavy dose of historical amnesia. If we examine the current presidential election in the US we can see that white folks are very much concerned about race when there are POC in positions of power, then there are those of us that claim Barack Obama as President establishes the US as a “post-racial” society.  So which is it? If the US is “post-racial,” why are there white folks that claim they are the targets of racism? How are white folks experiencing racism if race no longer exists? If race is supposedly “over,” how can racism still exist? Colorblindness and a Black president are not going to answer those questions.

*We can’t claim to be colorblind, then freak the fuck out over the “white race” disappearing.

Recent US census statistics have revealed that there will no longer be a population majority for white folks in upcoming years, which makes the colorblindness approach that much more unlikely to survive. This information is treated as important source material for journalism and is often explained with a sense of foreboding when it is cited by conservative white politicians or anti-immigration platforms. If we only see race when it is a problem for us, then colorblindness is nothing more than a way for us to escape the accusation of racism. It is a way for us to say “I don’t see race, so I couldn’t possibly be racist.” It is a way for us to say “I don’t see race, so my issues with [insert ethnicity] people have nothing to do with color.”  When we invent blindness, we are only blind to our own racial power and privilege. Refusing to see systems of oppression and inequality is just another way to prevent their destruction.

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