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.

—DD

Tagged , , ,

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.

—DD

Tagged , ,

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.

Tagged , , , ,

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.

—DD

Tagged ,

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.

—DD

Tagged , ,

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.

—DD

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.

—DD

“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.

Tagged , , , ,

The “Don’t Re-Nig” Campaign and white Denial

So the Republican website that created this image, Stumpy’s Stickers, was supposedly shut down in March of this year, seeing as their products behind a national campaign were based on a racist play on the word “renege.” The site is still there and fully functioning. It includes an industrial strength roll of Confederate flag stickers sold in bulk with 500 per roll, stickers with phrases such as “Tequila: Mexican Holy Water,” and an image of a billboard comparing President Obama to Hitler. A Republican small business owner in South Dakota recently decided to continue the racist spirit of the “Don’t Re-Nig” campaign by displaying a sign with this exact slogan on it. Twice. On both sides.

This is what she had to say in her defense:

“I had no intention of trying to be racist,” said Mary Snyder, who put the sign outside the business. “It’s just ridiculous. It’s a political sign, my opinion. They think I’m slandering, uh, n*****s. That’s not it.”

Snyder said she didn’t know about the controversial national campaign. She said she intended the sign to say “Don’t Renege,” which means not to go back on a promise, undertaking or contract.

First of all, she just said the N word. Any statement that begins with “I wasn’t trying to be racist” and is followed with the word “n***ers” immediately disproves its own point. Never underestimate the power of white denial, something so ingrained it compels us to insist we aren’t racist, then comfortably use the N word in practically the same sentence. Does anyone really believe that a white person who freely says the N word to reporters didn’t “intend” to reference it on a sign? And if she intended to say “Don’t Renege,” then why didn’t she just write that on the sign? Twice. On both sides.

Second of all, whether or not she knew about the larger campaign is irrelevant. Nowhere in the interview does she claim to have misspelled the word “Renege.” There’s some meaningless discussion of what her “intentions” were, but no following explanation of why she went with “Re-Nig” instead. Was it an accident? She didn’t say it was. Will she change it now that she understands the pejorative association? She didn’t say that either. In fact, she refused to apologize for it. Her plan is that of most whites: deny racism, then hide racism behind the First Amendment. Protecting the “freedom” of hate speech = white supremacy.

Tagged , , , ,

Allies 101: Good Intentions, Bad Behaviors

To be an ally is a privilege in and of itself. It automatically means you do not personally share the experiences or oppressions of the group to which you are allied. An ally can support a struggle, but an ally does not live a struggle. As well-intentioned as white allies might be, we are limited to being intellectually or morally opposed to racism. As much as allies might understand the injustice behind the oppression they have chosen to rally against, they are not existentially implicated in suffering. There is a personal investment in ally-ship that tends to derail the goals of social movements—one of the many hazards of privileged folks re-centering issues around their character when they can’t be too vocal about their identities. Theoretically, there is nothing wrong with solidarity. When the practice of solidarity becomes a spectacle, that’s another story.

A recent phenomenon in public ally-ship begs the question: when are gay pride weeks and/or parades going to start happening on high school campuses in the US? Although folks may not be ready for that, they can handle a subliminal message about queerness sent through a very ambiguously named week-long event for straight folks. Be nice to queers: all the heterosexuals are doing it. “Gay pride week” is not going to receive the same controversial reaction as “Ally Week.” The problem isn’t the individuals who participate that may be very well-intentioned, it’s the sliver of visibility queers are given only after we are processed through a lens of heterosexual ally-ship. Both the name and the concept bring those with privilege to the forefront while relegating those without privilege to the background.

The rhetoric of “Ally Week” seems intentionally misleading; there are different identities, so there are different types of allies. Research revealed that “Ally Week” in this context is code for “Heterosexual Week.” Many good arguments have been made about the failure of heteros to recognize how they are invading a queer struggle from a place of straight privilege, but heteros are also demonstrating the privilege of charity. They are creating a charitable movement for the queer community to make us feel better, safer, and more comfortable—around them. This is where ally-ship often fails: it becomes more about making folks with privilege feel better about having it and less about meeting the needs of those without the same privilege(s).

On the white supremacist calendar in the US, there are months and holidays designated for specific non-white/cultural/gender identities because every other month is already a celebration of whiteness, white men, and white history. The same goes for heterosexuals. Heterosexism and hetero privilege is glorified, enforced, perpetuated, and generally normalized in major institutions, structures, and social attitudes on a daily basis. So why would these “allies” need a week out of the year to focus more attention on themselves than they already receive? A week for heterosexuals who identify as “allies” to queers is like a week for white folks who identify as “allies” to POC: yet another week where folks with tremendous social privilege take center stage and/or co-opt a struggle that isn’t about them. Being heterosexual and being white are positives, so there really doesn’t seem to be a need to make these experiences even better.

Here’s the thing: if you’re an ally, why aren’t you an ally every day? Allies shouldn’t need a special moment in time explicitly dedicated to kindness and charity. Allies should confront their friends whenever they detect homophobia, transphobia, ableism, sexism, or racism, not when there is a temporary spotlight promising recognition. Allies should engage in important conversations about social issues without a special occasion. Allies should understand this process is difficult and complicated, and will potentially involve many people dismissing them as insane rather than congratulating them as progressive. Allies shouldn’t take up space with their pride, take away attention from actual struggles, or expect praise for their decisions. Allies need self-criticism, not self-esteem.

Tagged , , , ,