In the week of the “Strike Against Sopa”, this seems to need repeating: the internet isn’t as anonymous as many people think it is. What people, particularly violently threatening trolls, do not seem to realize, is that there are a lot of features on a blog alone that tell you where they’re from. Obviously: IP address. Obviously: trackbacks from other blogs. Obviously: the search terms people enter into google and other engines. Besides the usual, e.g., looking for my blog’s name or my pseudonym or some combination of feminism and race and misandry (brilliant!), the wake of the Blackface disaster has added a delightful phrase to the cluster of issues that led people here, namely: “making you think you’re racist.”
Before I ponder the implications, let me add that the wonderful thing about that phrase is that search engines will, almost exclusively, direct you to anti-racist blogs and 101s about white privilege and racist defensiveness, so that’s a plus! However, I think this phrase is too good to pass up, so…
I have never encountered more poorly executed defensiveness than when it comes to questions of racism and white privilege. Whereas the critique or mockery of sexism invites the occasional lazy troll or self-proclaimed MRA, the posts and comments one receives on anti-racist publications written by a woman of colour, be it online or offline, seem to take hypocrisy to a new height.
The good thing is: people do not want to be called racists. The bad thing is: they’re racists nonetheless. To bridge that cognitive dissonance between an anti-racist self-conception (and self-perception) and actually racist mindset and behaviour, the reproach that others are guilty of “reverse racism” or are out there to “make” you “think” you’re racist when you’re really, really not, seems to come in quite handy.
What the Schlosspark Theater refuses to acknowledge is the simple fact that it might be mind-boggling, but not uncommon to claim to be invested in anti-racist work, even stage anti-racist plays, and still employ racist schemes and practices. What the head of the theater, Dieter Hallervorden, refuses to acknowledge is that, despite his claims that his upbringing and education had eradicated every trace of racism, if he is told by people of colour that he is behaving in a racist manner, he is, and that telling hundreds of people of colour that they’re “wrong” and basically don’t have a grasp on the whole concept of discrimination is racist behaviour, too.
Things don’t always have to be as blatant as Newt Gingrich calling Barack Obama a “food stamp president” and other thinly veiled, racially charged insults to make him popular with conservative whites, but the mechanism of putting something like that phrase out there and then denying any link to racist imagery or context or history is an old strategy, and thinking you’re making an original rebel point with that gets very boring for people of colour – been there, done that.
Complaining about the increasing pushback people get for employing well-known racist strategies like these is also old and boring – I am not “making you think you’re racist”; you don’t think you’re racist, and, despite every piece of evidence to the contrary, you refuse to acknowledge that you are. If the links to historical traditions, context and present realities stifle every potential of racism denial, here comes the tone argument: you’re being mean! You’re being arrogant! Why won’t you educate me?! I am unable to learn unless you educate me! You’re being hostile! This is reverse racism!
If the tone argument fails, here comes the phrasing argument: notwithstanding the fact that german right-wingers are notorious for their poor grasp on the german language and abysmal grammatical skills, what they have in common with the average, middle-class white defender of racist practices is the love of certain stylistic devices and tropes your arguments are supposed to entail (to prove your cultural germanness) to even be acknowledged. If people do not have a firm knowledge of the lily-white canon of german writers one encounters at school and have at least five Goethe quotes up their sleeve, they do not have to be listened to. If you are not aware of certain bourgeois language codes and standard formulations of dissent, you are, according to this reasoning, automatically wrong. The irony that people who know these language codes are only those who had the (mis)fortune to be educated in a culture steeped in white privilege and are now (un)happy to perpetuate it when engaging in discussions and strategically using it, is somehow lost on the self-proclaimed anti-racist cultivated, and further exposes the imagined, multi-leveled interweaving of skin colour and intellectual and personal credibility.
When the phrasing argument fails, people then resort to the strategy of whining: You can’t say anything anymore these days, why is everyone so oversensitive? Why can’t I call you a german-speaking African? Why is Dave Chappelle allowed to put white paint on his face for a skit, but when I want to do it the other way around, it’s Blackface? Why won’t you acknowledge how hard it is to be a german (= a white, blonde, blue-eyed person) in certain quarters in Berlin? You can’t have this be a one way street, this is reverse racism!
Yes, you are right: ’tis very reminiscent of Nice Guys’™ whining about the fact that they’re actually really good people, but women are just so messed up that they will only date Bad Boys™ , because even Hitler had a girlfriend, but you’re making them think they’re sexist! Why is it not okay to post this photo (more takes on this here at Womanist Musings and here at Beauty Is Inside)? Why is it not totally emancipatory to post opposing/competing pictures of skinny and beefy, white, “able”-bodied, cis gals and then rate those women’s hotness, when the fatter ladies win the contest for once? I’m only doing this to make you ladies feel better because you feel so objectified! Don’t feel bad about your body, men love real curves! Your critique is ridiculous and you’re doing feminism wrong! I interrupt you, mock you and belittle you only because I want to liberate women! I am constantly angry at you because you just don’t understand how much of an ally I really am! Why aren’t you showing me the gratitude I’m entitled to? Also, you posted that pic of that famous dude you fancy just the other day, so you’re a total reverse sexist… Gotcha!
Nevermind the stunning personal overlap, these schemes seem to be closely related (if not actually similar): people claim they’re anti-racist/anti-sexist/anti-heterosexist, etc., and, thus, they just magically are. It’s a personal decision, apparently: once you’ve claimed that you’re not a racist, you couldn’t possibly be one. And people who call you a racist are simply out there to “make you think you’re racist”, because they’re “reverse racists”. People who criticize your idea of Nice Guy™-dom and your decision that no matter what you do or say or how you treat women*, you’re a feminist/anti-sexist, are “reverse sexists” who don’t give a damn about teh menz; misandrists even, who are here to make you think you’re sexist, even though you’re really not. Hence: the world is full of mean people out to get you, and life is really hard as a white, anti-sexist, anti-racist man* surrounded by all those vindictive, cold-hearted, fat, brown hyperfeminists. Who is the real victim now, huh?!
So… is this numerously encountered whining mechanism pure (be it self-conscious or not) defensiveness when being faced with reproaches one cannot rebut? Is it pure ignorance and indifference? What exactly makes people react this viciously to criticism that concerns the intersection of race and gender (and sexual orientation, more often than not)? Is it a feeling of being caught in the act, of feeling exposed in a bath of privilege? Is it that feeling of having your innermost self-conception questioned, of seemingly losing alleged fundamental parts of your identity, e.g., anti-racism and anti-sexism? Is it the funny feeling of being shown what a lack of self-reflexivity does to you?
People fuck up all the time. I fuck up all the time. Although running the risk of making this a personal purging tale (as it so often happens with white women trying to show their anti-racist credentials through their life stories, told on the backs of women of colour…), I can tell you that, despite having thought that I was a “tolerant person”™ (yes, eeew…) when it comes to transgender rights, for example, I would say that I have been the most horribly exoticising asshole possible, all whilst thinking these people are so great and brave and I totally support them. That is not something that goes away over night, but is something one has to work on, and one needs to get balanced with repeatedly. What helps in keeping this behaviour in check, hopefully? Not thinking that you’re an expert in a field you know absolutely nothing about. Or claiming that you know just as much as people who have to freaking live it, because you once read that book. Or thinking that because you’re discriminated against as a XYZ, you know exactly what others go through. Um… no. ‘Tis that intersectionality thing again, I’m afraid… Being discriminated against in one or two or fifty social dimensions doesn’t make discriminatory behaviour in others magically vanish, although it shifts the constellation.
Of course there is a qualitative difference between being an out-in-the-open racist or cis-sexist and being a tolerant person™ who supposedly does not judge or question other people’s personal decisions and self-conceptions and identities, but the effects of privileged behaviour are basically the same. You and I still discriminate and are still assholes, no matter if we define ourselves as explicitly anti-sexist or anti-racist or anti-cis-sexist. If people who are discriminated against tell you that you are behaving like an asshole, then you are. Period. No discussion needed. Denying your discriminatory behaviour does not improve anything. Whining about how evil all these people are against you does not improve anything. Here’s what helps: stop making it all about you. Stop telling other people what they should really be thinking or feeling, and why they’re wrong if they say you’re discriminating against them. Stop being defensive, and, you know, actually, stop talking. Listen. No, really, listen. Because no matter how many times you reiterate that there never was a story of more woe than your plight as a white, heterosexual, german cis man – it won’t get more credibility, it won’t become less ridiculous. The basic formula, discrimination = prejudice and power, is an easy one to learn. And that’s why claims that people are suffering from “reverse” racism/sexism/whatever are so freaking annoying, and that’s why I am not “making you think” you’re discriminating. You are doing it all by yourself, hun.