UPDATE!* White America: A *Genuine* Request for Information.
Why does a Black person’s general rejection of racism prompt a White person to react as if *personally* condemned?
I hope this participant does not mind me sharing our discussion. It was truly one of the most revealing gifts for me. I thank that person profusely.
I would love thoughts and perceptions as this unfolding.
As I share (w/o correcting typos), it must be understood that this is a charged area where it is an impossible expectation that anyone will escape provocation. That need not be fatal, and it was not for me. Should you choose to respond, I must ask that you do so in kind.
There should be no misunderstanding here: this is not negotiable. If you cannot maintain reach of safe space far enough back to engage, I will remove your engagement. Without the slightest pause, I should add. Thank you for your understanding.
READER REPLY: If you’re saying “white people sure are racist” to a white person — and you mean racism as a condemnation of conduct — what reaction are you hoping for?
If you mean to say something else, it got drowned out in the din of leftists trying to control everyone else’s behavior by constantly attacking them as racist. Isn’t defensiveness a perfectly sensible response?
MY FOLLOW UP (adjusted for space): Yes, ok — this is perfect!!! This is exactly what I mean. This is GREAT!! I asked twice.
ME 1st: “I had a hard time in primary. A lot of racism in the school system. Teachers graded my work aggressively. They gave the blonde kids a free pass. I am better for it but it was hard.”
ME 2nd: Racism makes life hard, but we are stronger in the end.
Yet, look at what you gave BACK:
YOU: If you’re saying “white people sure are racist” to a white person — and you mean racism as a condemnation of conduct — what reaction are you hoping for?
Did you see it? ME: …racsiM… YOU: …racisT… Why? Oh wow — I love this. I really hope you respond.
READER REPLY: I know the theory of institutional racism postulates injustice committed by no one in particular. A conspiracy without conspirators.
But your hypothetical conversation had conspirators — specific teachers who graded unfairly. Did you not intend to allege they were racist?
Certainly you might mean such remarks to be strictly about them, not about me. But we all interpret everything as it reflects on us. A says “this is terrific lasagna” and B thinks “what’s wrong with *my* lasagna?”
MY FOLLOW-UP (my apology — I am, after all, an academic and a clinician):
INSTITUTIONAL. No, nothing so academic as that — institutional racism. I could use that example — general experience 100 times and never touch an institution. So let’s put that aside.
CONSPIRACY. You see far more organized nefariousness than I. When the school bell rings, and the students go to class, do they conspire? If the new students do not are they bucking the system? What causes this immediate bent to the absolute and specific?
COMMON SENSE. Gosh, of course I do not mean all. Forgive me — I mean no ill will. But where does common sense go? If I say “men are stronger than women,” “chihuahuas are little Hitlers,” or “clear liquor is more potent than dark,” this inability to understand generalities and exceptions is undisturbed. Not here. May I ask: is it a feeling of defensiveness that perverts my meaning to your issues?
INTERNALIZING. We do not all interpret things as thing about us. We cannot. We want to, of course, but that is what maturation seeks to cure. A child has no sense of center beyond her own. An adult cannot afford centering.
This is an amazing study as a student of trends. May I share two I see?
The first is that in every single subset, where there can be two interpretations, the more insidious is subscribed as the white foe.
A faceless and defenseless Institutional crime or a question about a childhood experience? The insidious and amorphous bad “system,” a win for me against which none can defend.
A conspiracy of obvious character defect or an experience about a cumulative effect from the few actors drawing from similar understandings of race relationships? The insidious accusation of moral corruption, universally in you all.
ALL teachers and mass indictment or three when combined was more easily apparent? The insidious condemnation of all white elementary teachers.
Were this a real discussion there is so much work you created for us, there is no hope of avoiding the rabbit hole. Who has the energy to move on to the question of racism after proving first no institution, then next no conspiracy, then next no mass indictment BEFORE we even begin?
The next is that — though I assume unknowingly — you have foreclosed all paths but one: the kill hole.
Do you see that a general question must fall because it sweeps far and wide, far too broadly to defend. I cannot say I noticed a thing here b/c it provokes a distraction by “systemic.” Overcoming that, I still must pivot or spend effort proving of case by case. And should I pass by trials by fire, I fall to the fatal man of straw. A defense of all mutates into a defense of one before devolving into the three. Then the three is staged as misleading not because it was but because you tested it against what you decided was my meaning.
And in the end, the statement goes unexplored — the difficulty during this period for this reason. Because now, look at your last hurdle — you lay in wait for my specific about you. That, my friend, is the kill hole you masterfully shepherded me to.
And if I may, I must say you were really all you were ever feeling about to begin with.
And so I can never discuss a phenomenon that happened to me to keep it from repeating because you cannot bare an indictment that does not exist.
I do not understand why it must be this way. Why we say “this thing that happened was bad” and all you hear are questions in your mind about what I may be suggesting about you.
This has been one of the most helpful and revealing exchanges I have ever been in, and I thank you sincerely.
We all understand communication defects, guilt, projection, and fear. We understand concepts like snow flake, entitlement, and privilege. We understand slow social maturation. Occam’s Razorᴳᴵ is generally true, yes; but, given that White America understands this and continues doing it, perhaps there is more in play here than the obvious, the arrogant, and the simpleton.
IMO, when Black America speaks of racism generally, it goes through some converter. When it is answer, re-coded and returned, it’s missing something. Something key.
The discussion we begin is general. The rejections we get back are passionate and personal. Like this:
- BLACK PERSON: “I had a hard time in primary. A lot of racism in the school system. Teachers graded my work aggressively. They gave the blonde kids a free pass. I am better for it but it was hard.”
- WHITE PERSON: VERBALLY: “EYE was also VERY aggressively graded. I didn’t think it was racism.” Also, NON-VERBALLY: anger, defensiveness.
- BLACK PERSON: Racism makes life hard, but we are stronger in the end.
- WHITE PERSON: I feel like you are saying bad things about ME. Thus, I reject your premise that what you experienced was racism.
See? Missing puzzle piece. Blacks talk about racism. Whites respond outwardly about no-racism in a way that reeks of defense of self. This happens over and over and over and over again. It is so consistent, across so many platforms (in-person, social network, Twitter) and approaches (matter of fact, condemnation, open and accepting), it is an actual, palpable thing.
Why? That’s the missing puzzle piece. What happens between general statement and personal response? Something first creates a general statement sub-message. That same something then re-frames said sub-message. Said sub-message goes on to provoke the listener. What am I missing?
I don’t imagine White America notices. When White America engages with Black America on race, White America sometimes processes it as a “one-to-one” engagement. When so, trending is obviously impossible.
But Black America notices. Bigly. When Black America engages with White America on race, it is almost invariably intended as general — “many-to-many,” or using our personal experience as representative of our general experience. It is also almost invariably responded to as specific— “one-to-many,” or using our personal experience as representative of your general identity. Either way, we see the “many,” one at a time. Trends are impossible to *miss.*
So, again, why? What provocation am I missing that spurs the listener?
Feel free to share far and wide. I am genuinely curious.
But note: I do not subscribe to the theory that anti-racism is a necessity for the well-being of Black America. And, I do not subscribe to the theory that Blacks must teach anti-racism, or even should.
I believe anti-racism is a necessity for the well-being of White America. I believe racism is largely a White problem, in the same way rape is largely a male problem— the other team can do it, but usually as the exception to the rule. Whomever it is, I believe the actor carries the consequences, and does so exclusively.
I believe — as teacher, guide, information source, overseer, “hands washed of it”-er— Black America can participate in anti-racism however best suits the individual. That is how the world generally works, is it not?
I believe that racism is a condemnation of conduct.
I believe it is not my problem when others — be they White or Black — address it as a condemnation of people.
I believe that when I am a racism recipient, I will make it my mission to strip said racist of everything they have, do, or will own. I believe that said racist has all the control over whether such a thing will come to pass by simply choosing not to be racist.
As I say, I am genuinely curious. I hate to assume. The best course is to ask. I am asking. And, seriously, if we do this right, this could be kinda fun. If we chat it up without all the angst and drama — as should be the case, and would be, were it not for the sham of political faux-rectness. Nobody needs to die in the making of this movie, my fellow Drama Queens.
Candor + curiosity + respect + responsibility can go a long, long way.
Before you engage me or others, here are a few things to keep in mind:
Catherine Pugh is an Attorney at Law and former Adjunct Professor at the Temple University, Japan. She developed and taught Race and the Law for its undergraduate program, and Evidence, Criminal Law, and Criminal and Civil Procedure for its law program. She has worked for the Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, Special Litigation Section, and was a Public Defender for the State of Maryland.
To my sweetest of loves: I am the wall for them; you are the wall for me. And nothing — nothing — has ever gotten past you. You are my everything. #CubanKitchen.
“It takes the wisdom of the elders . . .” Thank you for teaching us, loving us, leading us all: Mary Stovall Davis Budd, Andrea Tucker, Lorenzo and Dorris Pugh, Jacqueline and Roger Wallace, Kenneth Davis, Sandra Davis, and Karen Davis.
ᴳᴵ = Google it; I’m not your mother.