Apr 21

Racism and White People: How We Can Change

Quotes about racism are provided from several books, including How to Be An Antiracist, that help us understand racism better and that offer advice about making appropriate changes.

I. Ibram X. Kendi‘s How to Be an Antiracist

The opposite of racist isn’t ‘not racist.’ It is ‘anti-racist.’ What’s the difference? One endorses either the idea of a racial hierarchy as a racist, or racial equality as an anti-racist. One either believes problems are rooted in groups of people, as a racist, or locates the roots of problems in power and policies, as an anti-racist. One either allows racial inequities to persevere, as a racist, or confronts racial inequities, as an anti-racist. There is no in-between safe space of ‘not racist’.

“Institutional racism” and “structural racism” and “systemic racism” are redundant. Racism itself is institutional, structural, and systemic.

I do not use “microaggression” anymore. I detest the post-racial platform that supported its sudden popularity. I detest its component parts—“micro” and “aggression.” A persistent daily low hum of racist abuse is not minor. I use the term “abuse” because aggression is not as exacting a term. Abuse accurately describes the action and its effects on people: distress, anger, worry, depression, anxiety, pain, fatigue, and suicide.

II. Robin DiAngelo‘s White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism 

White supremacy is more than the idea that whites are superior to people of color; it is the deeper premise that supports this idea—the definition of whites as the norm or standard for human, and people of color as a deviation from that norm.

White people raised in Western society are conditioned into a white supremacist worldview because it is the bedrock of our society and its institutions. Regardless of whether a parent told you that everyone was equal, or the poster in the hall of your white suburban school proclaimed the value of diversity, or you have traveled abroad, or you have people of color in your workplace or family, the ubiquitous socializing power of white supremacy cannot be avoided. The messages circulate 24-7 and have little or nothing to do with intentions, awareness, or agreement.

If I believe that only bad people are racist, I will feel hurt, offended, and shamed when an unaware racist assumption of mine is pointed out. If I instead believe that having racist assumptions is inevitable (but possible to change), I will feel gratitude when an unaware racist assumption is pointed out; now I am aware of and can change that assumption.

III. Reni Eddo-Lodge‘s Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race.

White privilege is an absence of the consequences of racism. An absence of structural discrimination, an absence of your race being viewed as a problem first and foremost.

White people are so used to seeing a reflection of themselves in all representations of humanity at all times, that they only notice it when it’s taken away from them.

When I talk about white privilege, I don’t mean that white people have it easy, that they’ve never struggled, or that they’ve never lived in poverty. But white privilege is the fact that if you’re white, your race will almost certainly positively impact your life’s trajectory in some way. And you probably won’t even notice it.

Jun 17

Unorthodox, Little Fires, Mrs. America: Oppression

Although the following three TV series aren’t primarily about LGBTQ+ themes, each deals with oppression and other related issues. All of these—Unorthodox, Little Fires Everywhere, and Mrs. America—are recommended viewing.

Rather than describe and review, I’m simply providing some pertinent background. Warning: some spoilers ahead.

I. Unorthodox (Netflix)

Bethonie Butler, Washington Post, notes that this excellent four-parter is “loosely based on Deborah Feldman’s best-selling memoir, ‘Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots.’ The series diverges widely from its source material, which was published in 2012, but there are several nods to Feldman’s story.”

One of the truer facets is that lead character Esty (Shira Haas) was indeed left behind as a child by her mother, who left the Hasidic community and later came out as a lesbian. However, says Caitlin Gallagher (Bustle), facts regarding her relationship with her mother after Esty leaves her husband were significantly altered.

II. Little Fires Everywhere (Hulu)

Little Fires is adapted from a novel by Celeste Ng, who wrote both female leads as white. But showrunner Liz Tigelaar decided on a big switch—the series focuses on white financially well-off Elena (Reese Witherspoon), married and mother of four teens, and black and struggling single mom Mia (Kerry Washington) of teen Pearl.

States Riese, Autostraddle:

This adaptation heightens the narrative into a more wide-reaching interrogation of the actual racial dynamics of a Cleveland suburb initially and proudly created by an integration-focused coalition of black and white families in the 70s. Little Fires is unsparing and exacting in its portrayal of a specific time and place — the late 90s, the midwest —  when brutish racism (and sexism, for that matter) had been somewhat hidden from view, replaced by a facade of We Are The World multiculturalism, whitewashed fantasies of ‘not seeing color’ and what Ta-Nehisi Coates describes as ‘elegant racism’ — ‘invisible, supple and enduring,’ underpinning every aspect of American life.

Shirley Li, The Atlantic, tells us that Tigelaar had her writers study Robin DiAngelo‘s book White Fragility (subject of a recent post here) in order to be able to effectively address racial disparities.

Another characterization shift is about sexual orientation. Issues of concern to Elena’s daughter Izzy as well as Mia aren’t so evident in the book but become quite important in the series. Furthermore, it’s Izzy’s growing connection to Mia (as sort of a mother substitute) that helps her find herself.

III. Mrs. America (Hulu)

Cate Blanchett plays 70’s-era Phyllis Schlafly (1924-2016), famed political conservative who fought against the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA).

Katie Baker, The Ringer:

What stands out most about Mrs. America is how thoroughly, depressingly modern all of its most retrograde aspects, from the battle over abortion rights to the weaponization of women against one another, are. One of the through lines of the show is the plight of the Equal Rights Amendment, which to this day has still not been ratified nationally. ‘We did often sit around on set,’ [Rose] Byrne told reporters at the start of the season, ‘going, ‘Wow. We’re still talking about the same things in 2019,’ when we shot it, ‘as we are in the show, which is in 1970 to 1979.’

Some of you may know that one of Schlafly’s sons is gay. John (Ben Rosenfield) is a focus in one particular episode that “ended with Phyllis’s veiled comparison of quitting smoking to resisting his sexual attraction. ‘The mind is stronger than the body. You just have to exercise willpower,’ she told her son…” (Daniel Reynolds, The Advocate).

However, as Reynolds points out, this likely never happened. Additionally, John’s gayness wasn’t known to the world until 1992, when he was outed for political reasons. Both he and his mother proceeded to publicly defend their conservatism regarding lesbian and gay issues.

Aug 21

White Supremacy: Let’s Get “Less Stupid About Race”

Called both “a deft, angry analysis for our angry times” (Kirkus Reviews) and “insightful and irreverent” (Publishers Weekly), sociologist Crystal Marie Fleming‘s 2018 How to Be Less Stupid About Race: On Racism, White Supremacy, and the Racial Divide covers a lot of territory regarding race and racism, not only in this country but all over the world.

In explaining racism to all of us, Fleming, who identifies as black, admits that she too has needed to learn. States Kirkus: “People are stupid about race, as she herself was, because they haven’t been properly educated. They know nothing of the interdisciplinary Critical Race Theory and think that ‘white supremacy’ references should be limited to guys in hoods and other extremists.”

The following is a sampling of succinct quotes from How to Be Less Stupid About Race:

There is no biological basis to dividing humans into racial categories.

Race is a fundamentally stupid idea that refers to the belief in visible, permanent, hierarchical differences between human groups defined in terms of biology, physical appearance, or ancestry.

Everyone has an opinion about race, but 99 percent of the population has never studied it. And even many textbooks that “talk about race” are filled with lies, inaccuracies, and alternative facts.

Much of the racial stupidity we encounter in everyday life derives from the fact that people think of racism as individual prejudice rather than a broader system and structure of power.

White superiority can’t tolerate millions of people finally realizing that it is pervasive and systematic.

White supremacy persists, to a great degree, because of white folks’ refusal to aggressively challenge other whites on their racism.

There are generations of white people who have been socialized to believe that what we now call racism is just the way it is.

White supremacy is the air we breathe. It’s embedded within our major institutions, our political economy, definitions of citizenship, our cultural codes and expectations, the way resources are distributed, and our psychological biases.

Despite the valiant efforts of white observers to blame the election on the economic anxiety of white workers, study after study has confirmed that Trump’s appeal to whites was primarily driven by race–and racism–not class.

Seventy five percent of whites have no non white friends.

As long as the endemic, systemic nature of white supremacy is successfully minimized or denied, as long as “conversations about race” are mainly about individual attitudes, prejudice, or the actions of a few extremists, then attention is drawn away from the structures and pattern of racial inequality hiding in plain sight.

Racism isn’t just wearing white hoods and burning crosses. It’s also fixing the system so that black votes don’t get counted. It’s outlawing affirmative action at the state level. It’s building more prisons than schools. It’s red lining by financial institutions. It’s television programming that portrays people of color as villains and white people as their victims.

We can only change those things we are willing to face.

Oct 21

“Denial”: Deliberate Silence Spotlights Bigotry

…We’re never going to do away with racism. All we can control is how we answer it. Holocaust scholar Deborah Lipstadt (Los Angeles Times), focus of film Denial

What you can’t do is lie and expect not to be accountable for it. Lipstadt, Denial

Auschwitz was hell on earth, but the moment it’s gone is the moment someone starts to rebuild it somewhere else. Eric Kohn, Indiewire, reviewing Denial

In 1996 Deborah Lipstadt was sued for libel by British author David Irving after she’d written a book about the Holocaust. She won the case and later published her account, History on Trial: My Day in Court with a Holocaust Denier (2005). Now Rachel Weisz plays her in the courtroom drama Denial with Timothy Spall her accuser.

How does the real Lipstadt feel about the film? As told to interviewer Steven Zeitchik, Los Angeles Times“No movie is going to change the David Irvings of the world. What this can do is confront the people who think it’s OK to change facts as long as you call them ‘opinions.’”

More from the interview with Lipstadt:

Asked if she meant to connect those thoughts to the current election cycle she cut in quickly. “People say Trump.  But I don’t want to limit it to him. It’s not that I don’t want to be political; I’ll be political. But it’s that it’s so much broader than that. It’s the idea that, ‘well, there was a Holocaust but maybe no gas chambers,’ or ‘there were Muslims dancing in New Jersey on 9/11,’ or ‘vaccines cause autism’ even though it’s based on totally junk science.”

Adam Graham, Detroit News, sets up the film’s trial:

The suit is brought in British court, where the burden of proof is on the defense, meaning Lipstadt and her legal team…must prove the Holocaust happened. It is not as easy as simply putting survivors on the stand; it comes down to the complexities of the law and the intricacy of language. It’s more difficult than it sounds.

Adds Mick LaSalle, San Francisco Chronicle:

Thus, because Lipstadt’s allegedly libelous comments were unambiguous and because she and her publisher don’t want to settle, she and her lawyers have to prove two things or lose the case: (1) that Irving’s Auschwitz writings were inaccurate; and (2) — this is the hard one — that he did it intentionally, for the purpose of pushing an anti-Semitic agenda.

And Peter Keough, Boston Globe:

Lipstadt’s legal team, headed by dour and deadly barrister Richard Rampton (Tom Wilkinson at his dourest and deadliest), had determined that the best strategy for Lipstadt’s defense was to silence her, not to have her take the stand and confront her accuser and so give him the platform to present his version of reality.

Hence the denial of the title refers not so much to Irving’s, but to Lipstadt’s — her self-denial in the cause of furthering the case.

While Weisz and Wilkinson are widely admired for their portrayals, “…it’s Spall who waltzes away with the film,” states Graham.

His unrepentant, unapologetic Irving, repugnant though he may be, believes deeply in his own hate-filled views. He refuses to apologize, even when proven wrong, and Spall lends him an air of quiet sympathy.

His character bears similarities to a certain current political figure, making ‘Denial’ feel ripped from today’s headlines, and even tomorrow’s.

From Keough: “…Spall’s performance as Irving is a nuanced masterpiece of patriarchal monstrosity. He puts his character’s essential anti-Semitism and his methods of boorishness and intimidation on the docket and show them for what they are — the pernicious lies of a hateful ideologue.”

We already know the ending. So, how’s the process of getting there? Eric Kohn, Indiewire, offers one meaningful opinion:

This isn’t a debate, it’s a sledgehammer; it’s not inherently compelling drama, but it’s immensely satisfying catharsis to watch as it flattens Irving’s nonsense into nothingness. Likewise, it’s not great cinema (in fact, it’s as milquetoast and middle-brow as movies get, and its third act suffers by trying to gin up additional suspense), but ‘Denial’ does the modern world a great service by refusing to entertain the idea that there are two sides to every story, even if that means it refuses to entertain a portion of its audience in the process.

Watch the Denial trailer below: