Monthly Archives: October 2012

Tumblr Q&A: The Myth of the Aryan Race

Q: I know you’re trying to do something good here, but do you really think white people are the only ones who are capable of being racist? Even in ancient times, Aryans from central asia created what became the Indian caste system to separate themselves from the darker dravidians. There are several examples of this throughout all of history. Please, before you tell people to check their privilege, check your facts.

A: Here’s the interesting thing about the facts I’ve checked: The word “Aryan” was used to describe folks with white skin in the eighteenth century by Europeans (one in particular, a French Orientalist thinker, by the name of Abrham-Hyacinthe Anquetil-Duperron) and was created through European translation of the Sanskrit word arya (a word that has its own specific history in India). Nothing ancient about that. It was a term Europeans appropriated and changed to describe their own white racial identity around the myth of a “pure Aryan race,” and it became popular within racial anthropology as a racist term to favorably refer to a dominant white ethnic group that supposedly “emerged” in India—also known as “Indo-Europeans.” There is a whole historical perspective of linguistic, religious, and racial classification behind the European division of Aryans and Dravidians, one that can be further understood in Aryan Idols: Indo-European Mythology as Ideology and Science by Stefan Arvidsson.

There are many scholarly studies that show the imposition of romantic European ideas and colonial thinking that created the mythology of an “Aryan race,” which was taken to violent extremes by Nazi Germany’s Third Reich. Orientalist histories and colonial racial “science”—conceived by British and fellow European colonizers—have also contributed to the idea that there were racial divisions in caste systems in India. There are also studies, both genetic and scholarly, that show archaeologists having an incredibly difficult time proving the racial difference and/or dominance of ancient Aryans. It was 17th, 18th, and 19th century European ideas of race that inscribed ancient caste systems in India (which had more to do with language, religion, and region) with racial meaning. Ideas of race, white supremacy, and racism started in these eras—not in ancient times.

Here’s what needs to be checked: colonial whitewashed ideas about cultural histories, ignored complexities and specifics of historical events, and, once again, white privilege.


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Colonialism 101: white Privilege in a “Nation of Immigrants”

In last night’s second Presidential debate, Mitt Romney used the phrase “We are a nation of immigrants” as his opening line to a voter’s question on immigration policy. This romantic idea, dripping with political correctness, manages to erase history, ignore social stigma, and homogenize the category of “immigrants” in a single sentence. The statement is horizontal; immigration is not. It suggests that the US has been a nebulous collection of travelers (which it hasn’t), all of them coming and going willfully and with agency (which they haven’t). It makes it seem as if there are no walls crossed and no lives risked, there is no degrading bureaucracy to contend with and no uniformed mercenaries waiting to harass, profile, and deport certain immigrants. It pretends as though there are not human beings designated as “legal” and “illegal.” It fails to recognize the sovereign territories of Indigenous peoples—the original inhabitants of this land—that exist within this “nation of immigrants.” The fact that Indigenous cultures are still thriving and still present in the US today invalidates that idea altogether.

Before we even get into this, let’s clear the air about Mitt Romney’s “roots.” His Mormon relatives fled to Chihuahua to escape anti-polygamy laws and his father returned to the US before Romney was born. Does that make him an immigrant? No. Do white people born to white people living in Mexico make them Mexican? No. Are US citizens living in Mexico who decide to return to the US immigrants? No.

First and foremost, the US Nation-State was created by European colonizers, and their descendents are now citizens enjoying privileged positions within the dominant culture of white supremacy. Then there were white settlers who either occupied stolen land or forcibly seized it from Indigenous peoples, and their descendants are privileged citizens also. The slaves on whose backs the US economy was built did not willfully migrate to the thirteen colonies. As a WOC professor of mine once said: “No one stood around on the shores of African countries and said ‘I wonder which slave ship I’ll take to the ‘New World’ today.’” Slave labor from Africa, imported labor from China, victims of human trafficking, and refugees don’t qualify as immigrants. Even the Bracero Program that imported laborers from Mexico, followed by a policy (“Operation Wetback”) designed to hunt down and deport disposable laborers of color… still not a “nation of immigrants.” Territories of the present-day Southwest were stolen from Mexico and colonized in the midst of violent Westward Expansionism, which means the US-Mexico border fence, US immigration policy, and white nativism are the only factors that construct folks from south of the border as “immigrants” in their homeland.

So let’s talk about US immigration policy and the creation of the US as a Nation-State direct from Mae M. Ngai, author of Impossible Subjects: Illegal Aliens and the Making of Modern America. Fast forward to neocolonialism in the 20th century with the Johnson-Reed Act of 1924 codifying the exclusion of Chinese, Japanese, and API folks in general, and establishing a system of allowing/disallowing immigrants from certain countries by numbers (national quotas) based on their “National origin.” With the passing of the Immigration and Nationality Act (McCarran-Walter Act of 1952), quotas were replaced with numerical “caps” on immigration and, for the first time, it somewhat limited previously unhindered immigration from the “Western hemisphere.” This law, still in use today, established a legal preference for “skilled professional labor” as well, creating a hierarchy of ‘desirable’ and ‘undesirable’ immigrants in the US. When immigrants have been divided along lines of race, and when race continues to determine inclusion and exclusion within immigration politics, there is no cohesive or equitable “nation of immigrants.”

But hold up—isn’t that a good a thing to say? Not if you’re white, and here’s why: Which immigrants are we? Are we the immigrants who have been excluded by law from entering the country? Are we the immigrants who live in fear of racial profiling? Are we the immigrants who get deported with our children left behind? Can we really claim to be immigrants when we are still colonizing and occupying Indigenous land?

Recent white immigrants have automatic racial belonging to the national body, and white colonizers of the past created the national body, giving whites tremendous privilege in migration power dynamics. As Toni Morrison said, “In this country American means white. Everybody else has to hyphenate.” Immigrants with white skin have the privilege and physical safety of being read as American simply according to their color, which is a privilege immigrants of color do not have. When white politicians like Mitt Romney use the “nation of immigrants” phrase, he is pandering to reformist attitudes about immigration while supporting racist immigration policies like E-verify, secure communities, and “self-deportation.” He is also making it possible for whites to benignly say we came from “immigrants” rather than admit our ancestors were Native slaughtering slave owners responsible for colonialism and genocide. “Immigrants” sounds a lot nicer, doesn’t it?

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The Learning Curve of Fake Queers and Why I am Not Inspired

I have more than a few beefs with Tim Wise, so they don’t start and/or stop with this. I will openly admit that I was once a member of the uncritical fuck-yeah-TW crowd, but I have been re-thinking this position for a number of months for a number of reasons. I’ve come to the conclusion that white anti-racists (such as myself) have a responsibility to be critically engaged with one another rather than unyieldingly supportive. It’s my personal stance that white privilege inevitably dictates that we will be wrong, misguided, confused, mistaken, or all of the above more than once when we attempt to educate and inform. There is never any guarantee (or possibility) that we will know everything, and the above screen shot of a recent Tim Wise tweet happens to be a particularly good example of this reality.

From one queer whitey to one straight whitey, here’s a five-point list of why this kind of story is not and should never be “inspiring”:

  1. First and foremost, someone who has a temporary adventure in fake queerness comfortably resumes their straight privileged life once they unpack their I-learned-so-much-from-this baggage. If you want to know what “straight supremacy” is like, then you need a lifetime of enduring it—not a one year trip to its main attractions. Actual queers do not have the luxury to return to safety and comfort because at no point are we done with being queer. We don’t go home from being queer, we are home. Queers know all about straight supremacy, so why would a straight white male ever need to teach anyone about it?
  2. For someone who does as much scholarly and professional work in critical race theory and anti-racism, you would have to know that a privileged person inhabiting or “pretending” to be an oppressed identity is an act of violence. Non-Muslim white women shouldn’t be wearing hijabs so they can learn about Islamophobia and pretend to experience oppression for a minute. How quickly would you tweet “racist dumbass” if some white guy pretended to be Black for a year to learn about white supremacy? You should have been quick to tweet “homophobic dumbass,” which is what this story is about—not an inspirational figure.
  3. Oppressed identities do not need to be invented by non-oppressed identities just so they or the uninformed can have an epiphany and gain knowledge. Oppressed folks tell their own stories and produce their own knowledge, and any prevention, derailing, or intervention of this process is in line with white supremacy. Once again, I don’t understand how you could have missed this very explicit example of appropriating a struggle and an identity that is not one’s own in order to learn about the “other.” I question why you would even give attention to something like this when queer voices rarely, if ever, speak for themselves in mainstream media.
  4. Being inspired by this homophobic farce exposes straight privilege without skipping a beat. Since I am not straight, this story triggers the fuck out of me. I can’t decide whether I’m more disgusted by the story, or more disgusted by the fact that someone/anyone would be inspired by it. How can you celebrate a straight white male for pulling offensive shit like this? Sexuality is not an experiment or an intellectual exercise; it’s not a road trip. Something as deeply personal and complex as sexuality can’t be packaged into a quick learning guide. And no one needs to learn about homophobia from a straight person in a gay costume.
  5. The experience of homophobia is not just an external one: it has social and public manifestations as much as it has deeply personal and private consequences. Being queer isn’t limited to how people treat you when your sexuality becomes known to them. Regardless of this highly offensive exercise, I will never be convinced that a straight person pretending to be queer will even remotely experience the shame, guilt, and fear that is equally involved with this identity on an internal level for many queers. The obvious fact is this: queer people don’t pretend to be queer, you don’t momentarily become queer when you’re straight, and straight people who pretend to be queer can fuck off.


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Tumblr Q&A: Manifest Destiny and The Holocaust

Q: i’d appreciate it if you could keep this ask private, as i don’t want to derail any discussion, but i’m somewhat uncomfortable with the holocaust mentions in your post about the gaps “manifest destiny” shirts. jews weren’t considered white at the time of the holocaust (as the many anti-semitic references to “the jewish race” will attest) and even today jewish racial identity is very complex, especially with anti-semitism on the rise in europe again. that said, the rest of that post is excellent.

A: I hope you won’t mind too much that I published this ask. Although I could be wrong since I say this from a position of white privilege, I think it adds to the larger discussion of race, genocide, and remembrance around this issue (as opposed to derailing it) and I think it provides an important opportunity to engage this discussion by clarifying some of the points that were made in the post.

First, I’m grateful you brought this critical feedback to the blog and I appreciate all the points you have made. I agree with you completely about the complexity of past and present Jewish racial identity and, to be honest, I was concerned that someone might see this comparison being drawn. No, the Nazis were not exterminating the white race during the Holocaust, they were exterminating the “Jewish race” as you said—a flawed, problematic, and inaccurate concept to say the least. It’s crucial to see this specific difference in these historical perspectives, especially when folks argue the Holocaust was proof of the intentional mass genocide of white people, which was not the case. I personally think this distinction needs to be made, and this is a big reason why I chose to publish your ask.

In the Gap post I wanted to make a point about the hypocritical moral outrage that would ensue if holocaust terms and ideas were on t-shirts in megastores, while most consumers see this Manifest Destiny shirt and they’re like “uhhh…what’s the big deal I don’t even know what that means.” I wanted to communicate two different ideas: one about white folks not knowing what the experience of fun with violent words/events at our expense is like, and one that involves making one act of genocide more important and better known than another. However, these ideas were only separated by some punctuation and the word “also,” which is definitely my mistake and my error in judgment. Although I will say the post was not about the Holocaust, it was about the popular celebration of the genocide of Indigenous peoples in the US, and I think these issues need different spaces.

Hopefully this clarifies and thanks again.


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Genocide on Trend: white Violence, Ignorance, and Fashion

“Apparel manufacturer The Gap is currently selling a black t-shirt bearing — with no explanation — the words “MANIFEST DESTINY.” Manifest Destiny is a polite term for the popular 19th-century belief that the United States — a white, European nation — was destined to expand westward across the continent, by any means necessary. In Indian country, the term Manifest Destiny calls to mind the suffering of previous generations of Natives through forced relocation and genocide.”

—from Indian Country Today Media Network (full article here)

On the left is an altered ad campaign image for The Gap’s new pro-genocide statement t shirt, bearing the words “Manifest Destiny.” On the right is a response from the Settler Colonial facebook page. The designer, Mark McNairy, issued a non-apology on twitter—something along the lines of “I’m sorry you thought I was racist”—after he tweeted “MANIFEST DESTINY. SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST.” Sure, these are both racist white ideas, but they mean very different things. Manifest Destiny is more so “survival of the whitest.” The philosophy behind it also involved European colonialism and genocide of Indigenous peoples being sanctioned by “God,” which doesn’t quite work with a scientific theory of evolution. If white folks don’t know the meaning of Manifest Destiny, we don’t get to create a new one that we imagine is completely separate from its specific historical and social context.

For whites to wear the Gap original, it would be continuing our long legacy of racist disregard for Indigenous peoples, our appropriation of violent ideas (or violent appropriation as an act in and of itself) to make a fashion statement, and our privilege of never knowing the harm of racist ideas and language. Folks with white skin are repeat offenders when it comes to cultural theft, and it may seem acceptable, innocuous, or even meaningless because we have absolutely no idea what that experience is like. There are no t shirts printed with statements signifying the genocide, removal, displacement, colonization, and mass killing of white folks. There are also no corporate megastores selling shirts that say “Auschwitz” or “Sieg Heil.” It’s only because of our positions on the safe and privileged (therefore ignorant) side of Manifest Destiny that we can have fun with the term and turn it into a consumer product. The good news is that The Gap has apparently agreed to stop selling the shirt. The bad news is that racism doesn’t go out of style with it.

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Tumblr Q&A: Costumes and Cultural Appropriation

Q: Hi there! Would dressing up as Frida Kahlo for Halloween be considered cultural appropriation? I’m not sure as she’s a PoC, but I wanted to do it because she is an artist and I am an artist. Thanks!

A: Great question, and one that hasn’t yet been explored in this specific way on the blog. A white opinion on this issue only goes so far, so here is what I can say: what I’ve learned from friends, organizers, and great anti-whitewashing blogs is that the cardinal rule for white folks dressing up as famous POC for Halloween is to change everything about the way we look except our skin color. Whether it’s Frida Kahlo or Kanye West, as long as you don’t use brownface or blackface you aren’t in offensive/racist territory. I personally wouldn’t dress up as POC because I don’t want to go there, but, if you must, just stay white. Change your clothes, not your skin color.

Here’s what I can’t say: I can’t tell you that all Latin@ folks who could see your costume will find it acceptable—some might be completely opposed to a white person dressing up as Frida, some might not mind at all, and some might at least appreciate that you didn’t darken your skin if they object to the costume. I can’t speak for any of these positions, nor would I want to. I just think you should keep this in mind, and consider the meaning your costume might have to fellow human beings beyond the personal meaning it has to you—especially since Frida Kahlo has become so excessively commodified, appropriated, and mass produced as a consumer image. It’s never just a costume.

As for cultural appropriation with this issue, that’s an interesting point. My white opinion here is certainly not the only one, or the most valid, but I would honestly say cultural appropriation happens any time a person turns everyday clothing or something culturally significant into a costume. Even though you both might be artists, this is a shared talent but not a shared experience. Just as a side note: it would also be more original, interesting, and completely unoffensive if you dressed up like Cindy Sherman, Diane Arbus, Annie Sprinkle, Barbara Kruger, or any number of white women artists. To me, the funny thing is there are so many famous white folks, then there are so many non-famous white folks who want to dress up like the few famous POC there are in the US (or those few who have become famous in the US). Not so funny at all is when Halloween turns into an Imperialist free-for-all shit show of white folks thinking we finally have a day to dress up like POC and get away with it.

So my advice is to re-think this costume choice and go with something different. And my vote is for Cindy Sherman—have you seen her work? It’s perfect costume material, and it wouldn’t be appropriating cultural experiences or clothing from an oppressed and/or stereotyped identity you do not share. But if you must, never forget the cardinal rule. Thanks again for the question.


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Tumblr Q&A: Prejudice and “Model Minorities”

Q: I have a question about your opinion that POC can’t be racist by definition. Would you say that, since it appears in history that white people categorized POC in their own hierarchy, hypothetically a POC could in fact reinforce racism if they were seen as better than another race by whites in history, such as a Hispanic person towards a black person? I also know of racism between cultures that involve no white people whatsoever, such as Japan/Korea hate. How do you view that?

A: I would say no, because even in instances where there are “model minorities” (usually broadly and incorrectly assumed to refer to all “Asian” peoples, when it actually refers to light skinned Japanese and Chinese folks) that make certain groups seem “closer” to whiteness because of their coloring, “shared values,” and “work ethic,” these “minorities” do not achieve whiteness. The meaning is hidden in the phrase itself: Whose model is it? And if these folks are so close to “being white” then why are they still referred to as “minorities”? The language still positions these folks beneath the constructed non-minority status of whiteness. Whether you’re talking about Latin@s over Blacks or “Asians” over both, none of them are considered to be at the same social level as whites.

If you got to this page of the blog and scroll down, you can see three Anon asks that relate specifically to Japan and Korea, and my answers. Folks with white skin, although we seem to love to do this, can’t remove Japan and Korea from a larger context of global white supremacy, capitalism, and neocolonialism. Meaning, these two countries are already implicated in global hierarchies of race. When racism and white supremacy have already existed for hundreds of years, I can’t act as if Japan and Korea are completely unrelated to these phenomena and pretend they are isolated from the rest of the planet. Japan might have issues with Korea, and their government might even claim their people are better or racially superior to Korean people, but are the Japanese claiming they are superior to every other race on the planet? The Japanese government may have practiced, ordered, and supported colonization of Korea, but did this government also then attempt and succeed in colonizing the rest of the human beings on the planet to enforce Japanese customs? There is prejudice, there is hatred, there are conflicts, there are atrocities, everywhere—that doesn’t mean all of them qualify equally as racism.


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Tumblr Q&A: Prejudice

Q: So I’m not a really big fan of the whole “reverse racism” deal either. But I wouldn’t be so confident that only white people can be racist. For example, I’ve heard my Latin@ relatives say some pretty messed up shit about African-Americans. Wouldn’t you say that they’re contributing to institutional racism?

A: I would say no, because institutional racism implies power. What your relatives are expressing is prejudice, but there is no prejudice+power—which is racism. A social and structural hierarchy of white supremacy positions whites as superior and POC as inferior, so even if there are negative racial attitudes between or among POC, this doesn’t then elevate one group to the power of whiteness over another. This kind of prejudice also doesn’t limit, diminish, or change white privilege in any way. Racism isn’t something that disappears for any POC simply because some have prejudiced views. Regardless of these views, racism will still exist. So I would disagree that someone is contributing to something that has already been targeting and working against them for centuries.


Tumblr Q & A: white Guilt

Q: You should call your blog “White Guilt”

A: I personally think you have absolutely no idea what you’re talking about, and you’re a white person hiding on Anon who thinks they have a good anti-social justice insult simply because it includes the modifier “white.”

But for the followers who might read this and wonder if this Anon has a point: This blog is about critical thought, education, and taking full responsibility for having white privilege and benefiting from white supremacy. Taking responsibility for past and present violence is exactly what white guilt doesn’t accomplish. I genuinely don’t give a fuck about protecting white people’s feelings or protecting my own feelings as a white person. I don’t talk about how “hard” it is to be white when you finally know the truth about it, I don’t cry white tears about how racism is so awful for me or whites in general in any post, and I don’t encourage other white folks to do either of these things. It’s actually a privilege to “feel bad” about something horrible that happened/happens to someone else because you’re not dealing directly with how horrible it was/is. White guilt is making every systemic oppression POC experience about the hurt feelings of a white individual, white guilt is that individual not wanting to have a discussion about racism because the topic is too painful “for them,” white guilt is a distraction that causes an emotional scene for white folks who never want to admit they did/do participate in injustice, white guilt prevents white people from owning our power and privilege because we are too busy pitying ourselves. I’m sure there are blogs where all of that happens, but this isn’t one of them.

For elaboration on these points, you can read this and this.


“The House I Live In”: New Documentary about the War on Drugs

This is the official trailer for a documentary being released today called The House I Live In, billed as a scathingly critical analysis of the failed US War on Drugs and consequential mass incarceration. A brief clip of Michelle Alexander (legal scholar and author of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness) reveals her as one of the interviewees, which bodes well, but I can’t attest to how substantive and/or thorough any racial justice discourses will be in the film. There is a pretty comprehensive review on Forbes which can be read here, and a review from Sundance that can be read here. One of the more interesting pieces of carefully guarded information I’ve found is about an interview with Abraham Lincoln scholar, Richard Lawrence Miller, who argues that “legal substances were frequently demonized only when it became clear that making them illegal could help keep a threatening minority in check. (For example, Miller cites opium laws on the West Coast directed at Chinese immigrants.)” He may have just described the whole motivation for the War on Drugs in one sentence. This should be interesting.

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