Elizabeth Scripturient (the delinquent, ecumenical (hermionesviolin) wrote,
Elizabeth Scripturient (the delinquent, ecumenical

RaceFail2009 (January edition) some highlights from what I've read thus far

It's easy to sketch an arc of causality from the Joseph story through to the revelation of the Torah at Sinai: Joseph had to be imprisoned so that he might rise up, he had to rise up so that the Israelites might come to Egypt, the Israelites had to come to Egypt in order to be enslaved -- in order to be freed by God's mighty hand and outstretched arm -- in order to wander in the desert -- in order to become ready for revelation. The story balances, each ill matched by a greater good, but if we stop and focus on any one piece the larger narrative recedes and the details can be overwhelming. Imagine the makat b'chorot pandemic, the screams and the wailing, the agonized fear. Did witnessing that suffering, even from behind our own closed (and bloodied) doors, harden our hearts in some indefinable way? Could that be part of why we had to wander forty years before we were ready to become new?

The custom of spilling drops of wine from our glasses as we describe these plagues during seder reminds us that when others suffer, our cup of joy can never be full.

-Velveteen Rabbi: Seeking compassion (Radical Torah repost)

via coffeeandink, I read nextian's post "whose stories are they?", which talks about Jewish holy texts and Christian approaches thereto, which was a really powerful read for me a text-oriented practicing Christian. 
I took a class in Genesis at the University of Chicago with a number of Christian students; it was probably the origin of me wanting to get out, to go home. I couldn't take one more person looking at the naked, undefined, unillustrated KJV and suggesting that "well maybe God wanted them to eat the apple." As though in this undergraduate class they were the first to have thought of it; as though they were the first to struggle through this question, to wonder if they could question an act of such obvious cruelty. No one asked if the apple meant sin in the first place, as no one would agree with me that, perhaps, when Abraham questioned God and Israel fought with God, such things indicated that we were allowed to do so as well. They said instead, "Well, this proves how special he was." One put forth the idea that the Akedah was a foreshadowing of Jesus.

It was the second time I'd read a naked Bible, a text without extensive annotation and commentary, without doing straight-up line searches online. It looked rude, or like I was missing half the story. I'm Reform, and I don't believe that the Talmud came down to us from sacred inspiration (Rebecca was three years old? Please, even the Talmudic scholars disagreed on that one), but -- without years of argument and debate surrounding every line, how were you supposed to work past your first assumption about the text? How were you supposed to understand what it meant to your fathers, to those of your mothers who snuck looks at the stories, to Maimonides in Al-Andalus and to Akiva who didn't think much of Jesus when he met him and to the thousands of years of commentators thinking under the yoke of the Christian world?

How was I supposed to sit in class and listen to people say, Maybe we're just not supposed to understand the contradictions in the text?

Or to the new grad student teacher, a Jew himself, telling me, We try to read the text in isolation here?

What does that even mean?


It's not cultural appropriation, because it is truly part of your culture. It's been part of your culture for about two thousand years, so you'd think I'd find it easy to let it go. It's not like this is a new thing. They are your stories, fair and square, the heroes and heroines of my childhood -- Abraham and Sarah, Deborah, Tamar, Reuben and Judah, Joseph who bears that uncanny resemblance to my little brother, Moses, Miriam, Elijah. They're yours too. You don't have to know what they mean to us to know what they meant to you.

But, still, you think that the sacred texts of our culture, the things that we are left with, those are just the optional preludes to your story. That four thousand years of a struggle to survive can be summed up, completed, by the New Testament and the story of Jesus Christ. And that is an almost unbridgeable gap. It's so big that all we can do is ignore it: ignore that, to you, we are incomplete, regressions; for all you say, and no matter how wonderful you are, and no matter how much you say everyone's interpretation is correct, the texts at the heart of our culture are still to you the optional and infrequently understood prologues to the story of your heroic and saintly lives.


From a comment thread on Jan. 26:
     buddleia: Wow, it looks like we saw completely different debates.
     annafdd: Apart from the irony, you know, this thing is spread so much around that it could well be.

The first posts everyone was reading were:
* Avalon's Willow: "Open Letter: To Elizabeth Bear"
* Elizabeth Bear: "Real magic can never be made by offering up someone else's liver."
* Deepa D.: "I Didn't Dream of Dragons" [dreamwidth mirror]

Ambling Along the Aqueduct and rydra_wong are good sources of link lists.


There was a post that mentioned how "colorblindness" (or something) is "unilateral" -- how it functions to make everyone like the (white) speaker.  I haven't been able to find it since.  Anyone know what I'm talking about and have a link?


I recommend coffeeandink's post ("The elephant in the room") on what she means (and doesn't mean) when she says you have said or done something racist (with bonus discussion of the Nielsen Haydens).

And from shewhohashope ("Cultural Appropriation and SF/F: Once More, With Feeling") [dreamwidth mirror]:
I've gone out of my way to not call anyone a racist in this, because it shuts down conversation. Racism is evil. You are not Evil. Therefore you cannot be a racist, therefore anyone who calls you a racist is making ad hominem attacks and there's nowhere to go from here at all. This entire post was set off by somebody asking me whether I wanted to get results (ie. change people's minds) or call them racists and vent my anger.

You know what? I'm not changing anyone's mind about anything anyway, so I'll just say it: If you do not care about how you represent people from marginalised ethnic groups in your writing, if you think your God given right to play with whatever cultures you like, to use people's lives and history as you see fit, to take things that people hold sacred, things which are already ignorantly dismissed, or demonised, or on the verge of being destroyed, or have already been destroyed by the dominant culture of which you are a part? To carve up pieces of people's souls to move your narrative along, is more important than taking the time to do some research, stepping back and thinking about the consequences? Then you are a racist.

And the minor hurt which you may receive from being told this is not greater than the damage and the hurt you have caused in your ignorance. Now is the time to get over yourself and get some perspective.
coffeeandink's response to this post is worth reading in full, but particularly the beginning:
I have used up my week's supply of tact, so I will say this bluntly:
  1. If this post were about fearing to write because of criticism of any other aspect of writing, the author would get mocked off the Internet for not being willing to act like a professional writer. When you publish stories and books, people will criticize them. This is an inevitable, natural, and even desirable part of reading and reacting to reading.
  2. If your commitment to social justice, good writing, or writing that more accurately represents reality is dependent on approval and reassurance of strangers on the Internet, you are not particularly committed to social justice, good writing, or writing that more accurately represents reality.
Here's what I've been doing in the latest race imbroglio: shutting the hell up, reading, and trying to learn.

Here's why: the initial discussion immediately triggered my "BUT BUT BUT" response, which is usually a sign that I need to shut the hell up and try to learn, instead of flapping my yap.

Here's my question: when is that the right thing? When does it cross into reading as silence = assent? Because I'm sure it does, at some point. At what point does "I need to shut up and learn" turn into "...and I successfully avoided having to comment on the whole mess and possibly be embarrassed!"

-jacquez ("This is a tangent. And also, what I've learned so far.")
Also, Kita's "Commentary on commentary"

White people have done a lot of not just bumping into people, but marching through crowded rooms while carrying big, awkward boxes. Also sharp objects. Also things that are on fire. And never looking where we're going, or apologizing, or even looking back. So yeah, PoC are going to brace themselves when they see white people coming, and just hope to get an elbow in the ribs this time instead of being knocked over and having their iPod stepped on.

-inlovewithnight (a post that doesn't exist anymore)
fox1013 ("On Race, Fairy Tales, and Invisible Pants") riffs off of tacky_tramp's post in deadbrowalking (One white fan on "showing your ass") where she says:
When I say, "So-and-so needs to stop showing her ass," I don't mean, "So-and-so should stay inside her house and never allow people to lay eyes on her because she's an incorrigible human being." I mean, "So-and-so needs to put on some goddamn pants."
From the comments on tacky_tramp's post:
I have noticed conversations on whether a particular statement/joke/fic whatever is offensive or not tends to get side-tracked with, "I know the writer, and she's basically a good person!"

And once it gets to there, going, "Yeah, but that one specific thing that was kind of a mistake..." doesn't really work well. It just hovers endlessly around, "She's not a terrible person, she doesn't hate black people, and she didn't mean it in the worst possible way it could be interpreted!"

It's like going, "You're fly's open," and having a friend jump in and go, "He's not a flasher!"

juliansinger and commenters discuss various metaphors ("metaphor conversion")

My ears perked up when I heard the woman say, "What about kids with pimples?  They get picked on, too:"  I'm always interested to hear people's arguments against gay, lesbian, and bisexual students' rights, particularly ones that have "Gay kids aren't the only ones that have it rough" at their core.  Because we've all been fed this message that we shouldn't be crybabies and should just "suck, it up," we often aren't aware of how this translates into being shut off from the ability to feel pain in ourselves and in others---basically a lack of empathy.

-Jeff Perrotti in When the Drama Club is Not Enough: Lessons from the Safe Schools Program for Gay and Lesbian Students (p. 181)

Gandhi's three little monkeys with their eyes or ears or mouths covered, were not shutting out the perception of difference, but of evil.

The change I want to see is not blindness to race, but the end of discrimination based on race.

I do not want to be blind to race.

I want to see the glossy dark brown skin of the new President of the United States, as his beautiful smile dazzles the world.
I want to see the epicanthic folds that crease as Lucy Lui laughs.
I want to see the nose that Jon Stewart points to as he calls himself Jewy McJewson.
I want to see the blue eyes in a a close up of Cameron Diaz.

Oh, I do want to see race. Dreadlocks and thin straight hair and thick springy hair and silky straight hair and wavy hair, and nappy hair and oily hair and black and brown and reddish-golden and white and gray hair. Hirsute and hairless chests, brown and pink nipples. Noses straight and curved and tilted and flattened and lips broad and narrow and everything in between.

And here, on the internet, I still want to see race. Your race, when you write about being the future Mrs Aamir Khan, about enjoying mangoes dripping down your arm, about having to take a personal holiday for Channukah, about crying because the one person who looked like you in a TV show died. (I want to listen to you talk about your tattoos, your anti-discrimination suits, your wheelchairs, your sex-change operations, your polyamorous lovers, your cutting, your veganism, your anger, your love for furries, your HIV positive status, your bankruptcy, your suicide attempts, your God(s/dess[es]), your fat, your alcoholism, your credit card debts, your life.)

Seeing is not a problem. Finding the strength to deal with what I see, and my reactions to it, that is the change I am working towards being.

-deepad ("Reappropriating my man") [dreamwidth mirror]
Not seeing things in terms of race is an aspect of privilege, as I've said before. I can't not see things in terms of race, because people will always see me in terms of mine.


I don't remember the first time that I was walking down the street and someone yelled at me to go home, but I remember not understanding. At first because I usually was going home, and then because I didn't see how they couldn't understand how much I wanted to. I do remember my mother holding my hand and pulling me after her, crossing the street, keeping her head down and moving faster while people shouted abuse after us. Safety is an illusion. I may not wake up to the sounds of gunshots anymore, but there is always someone willing to remind me that I'm not safe, that being who I am makes me unwelcome. A man shouting a racial epithet at me as he walks by. A woman pulling at my headscarf. A drunk man stopping from walking by him while his friends stand by and laugh. You soon learn that no matter how crowded the street is, no one will help you if someone decides to become violent.


And in those classes that I worked so hard in, there was still no place for me. My history was erased, my present unimportant. When we learned about the British Empire, the teachers spoke of countries being 'granted' their independence, with no mention of the long years of fighting for that same independence, and the force the Empire used to hold onto that power. We learned the history of the colonisers and not the colonised - revolution became mutiny and genocide became forgotten.

The books that I read, the books that were read to me, never had anybody like me in them. I didn't exist in the films and the television shows either. In books we were in that dark continent over there, away from the action, possibly sending a token to join the heroes and/or villains. Or we were the empire that threatened to crush to the land of the white-skinned heroes and take their wimmin! [...] The handful of times I did get to see people like me on television... they were nothing like me. The men were thugs and terrorists, the women were downtrodden, and waiting for white men and/or enlightened 'Western' culture to save them. Over time, the stories in my head began to be filled with people Other than me. Johns, Janes, Annes, and Peters, instead of Aaminahs, Omars, Khadijahs, and Alis.

-shewhohasope ("In the collective unconscious: cultural impositions, internalised racism & the colonised mind or; My privilege is not your Privilege")
But reading/writing is my escapism. Why bring real world problems into it?

Escapism is not so much fun when you're escaping, only to be smacked in the face by real world problems within the narrative itself. I love JRR Tolkein in an 'I'm slightly bored at points, and skip all the songs and poems' kind of way, but Middle Earth is not escapism for me when the heroes are being threatened by dark-skinned hordes fighting in the name of an evil from the East. Why, hello there, entrenched European fear of Islamic civilisations. How I haven't missed you.

-shewhohashope ("Cultural Appropriation and SF/F") [dreamwidth mirror]

coffeeandink linked to Avalon's Willow's A Conversation I WANT to have.  She talks about being Not White and how this is often treated by the dominant white culture as just dressing (this mentality helps to explain the whitewashing of the Avatar: The Last Airbender movie).  She closes:
I don't want to keep pleading with Huntsmen not to rip out my heart (The Allies Who Aren't). I don't want to have to live in fear of haircombs and ribbons and apples (Minority Cultures As Props For White Heroes). I'd rather move to a whole new kingdom.
The Latino Health Institute (LHI) in Boston runs peer leadership programs for Latino gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender youth.  [...]
     LHI's youth programs are peer led and bilingual and provide a place where students from diverse Latino cultures can connect.  Marty Martinez. a gay man who runs peer programs for LHI, has a clear vision of what groups can offer:
At some of our meetings we have food and videos.  One time we got our food at a Cuban restaurant.  We had plántanos and rice and beans, and we were having a conversation about the kids going to other activities and events.  This one kid said, "When we go to other events at other agencies, there might be food there, like potato chips or sandwich stuff.  That's great, but this is what I eat at home."  That sounds so minor, but it really is important when you're trying to create an environment where people are totally comfortable.  When I'm in an environment where I'm totally comfortable, I'm hearing salsa, meringue, or Mexican music in the background, and I'm chatting with my friends, and we have the same values and the same identities.  That's when I'm most comfortable.  That's home.
-pp. 56-57 (Chapter 2: Strategies for Change) When the Drama Club is Not Enough: Lessons from the Safe Schools Program for Gay and Lesbian Students by Jeff Perrotti and Kim Westheimer

More readings:

Bernice Johnson Reagon's essay "Coalition Politics: Turning the Century"

From "Check my what?" On privilege and what we can do about it - by Andrea Rubenstein [tekanji]:
You Can Only Sympathize, Not Empathize

This is probably the hardest one for me, personally, to wrap my mind around because I'm all about drawing links between oppressions. But, no matter how strong the link is, the facts remain that no two oppressions are the same. And it's you, as the privileged party, who needs to be extra careful about when and how you draw links. While the intent may be to show solidarity, the result is all too often that you come off as defensive, trying to one-up the non-privileged groups and appropriate their oppression. This doesn't mean you shouldn't ever try to make connections, but rather that you should think about how the connections you're drawing will come off to others.
Tags: issues: judaism, issues: race, issues: religion, issues: representation, religion: christianity

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