Friday, 3 August 2007

WHAT IS RACISM?



Racism is the single most critical barrier to building effective coalitions for social change. Racism has been consciously and systematically erected, and it can be undone only if people understand what it is, where it comes from, how it functions, and why it is perpetuated.

[The People’s Institute]



Amidst my own, recurrent, dealings with it in this blog (in both theoretical and practical terms), a number of recent episodes conjuring up the ‘R’ word in the blogsphere prompted me to raise this question here and now. Starting from the, by all accounts, most startling:

1. A couple of days ago, blogger Kym Platt issues a post about a video game entitled “Resident Evil”, now in its fifth series, intending to denounce “the depiction of Black people as inhuman savages, the killing of Black people by a white man in military clothing, and the fact that this video game is marketed to children and young adults”, in both her own blog, “Ask This Black Woman”, and “Black Looks”. This prompted the most appalling chorus of abuse thrown at her and what I suspect is an absolute record number of comments on one single post in the shortest time span around the blogosphere – and there’s no doubt they’d been much more if comments hadn’t been disabled in the blogs where the “insulting” post originally appeared…

To be fair, being a total ignoramus myself as far as video games are concerned, I can see a point in some of the arguments put forward by commentators who claim that, in previous series of “Resident Evil”, the said “white man in military clothing” had dispensed the same treatment to “zombies” of all races and nationalities and that Kym “hadn’t properly done her research.” Yet, I still fail to understand the amount and viciousness of racial and sexist abuse the absolute majority of them has chosen to throw at her.


2. Curiously enough, the same blogger who is now being so overwhelmingly attacked for allegedly “mindlessly using the race card”, had written this just a couple of days before: “This is not a matter of race or racial injustice. I, a person of African descent, cannot stand with those Black supporters of Vick and claim that this is unfair treatment based on the color of Vick’s skin. It’s a shame that many in the Black community are unable to look beyond their own history of racial injustice to see and understand that dogfighting is a tragic and inhumane activity that causes unbelievable pain and suffering and even death of innocent animals all for the amusement and financial profit of humans.” This statement related to another controversial issue involving, rightly or wrongly, the ‘R’ word in the US (see two different points of view on this story here and here).


Then, there were the good news:

3. About a couple of weeks ago, blogger “African American Political Pundit” wrote this to Unicef: “I am concerned about the "racial overtones" of the recent campaign of placing white children in black face. As a long time UNICEF supporter, I'm concerned that UNICEF and it's German National Committee for UNICEF are involved in racial hatred with this Ad campaign.” To which UNICEF responded: “Thank you for bringing this to our attention. We agree -- these advertisements are not appropriate and run against UNICEF's mission. They have been dropped from the UNICEF German National Committee's website and there are no plans to use them in the future. We apologize for any offence caused.”


4. More recently, blogger Behailu Damte wrote that “Intel should apologize for the racist & stereotypical Ad” portraying, as he described it, “Six black men crouching and bowing down for a white guy. A racist portrayal of one race being worth less than another. A stereotypical imagery showing the black men being good only for their muscles & manual labor (and apparently more than ready to provide their services.) Where is Intel’s sense of responsibility and sensitivity?”, to which he got this answer from the Head of Advertising at Intel: “First of all, I was responsible for the ad and apologize that our ad upset you and many others. This was absolutely not our intention. Not to make excuses, but we did pull the ad back in June as soon as we realized that our approach was wrong. Unfortunately, it was run again by mistake. We are committed to preventing any similar issues in the future and I am personally taking responsibility for driving improvements necessary to avoid this type of mistake.” This statement was backed-up by a formal public apology from Intel’s Director of Global Marketing.

Did I call these the “good news”? Just follow-up the comments in the Intel blog to see how some, among black and white, object to the sort of apologies offered by Unicef and Intel…



So, I ask: isn’t it high time we people of all “races” revise and rethink our concepts of racism?!

I would suggest the attached set of definitions as a possible starting point for that exercise.




Racism is the single most critical barrier to building effective coalitions for social change. Racism has been consciously and systematically erected, and it can be undone only if people understand what it is, where it comes from, how it functions, and why it is perpetuated.

[The People’s Institute]



Amidst my own, recurrent, dealings with it in this blog (in both theoretical and practical terms), a number of recent episodes conjuring up the ‘R’ word in the blogsphere prompted me to raise this question here and now. Starting from the, by all accounts, most startling:

1. A couple of days ago, blogger Kym Platt issues a post about a video game entitled “Resident Evil”, now in its fifth series, intending to denounce “the depiction of Black people as inhuman savages, the killing of Black people by a white man in military clothing, and the fact that this video game is marketed to children and young adults”, in both her own blog, “Ask This Black Woman”, and “Black Looks”. This prompted the most appalling chorus of abuse thrown at her and what I suspect is an absolute record number of comments on one single post in the shortest time span around the blogosphere – and there’s no doubt they’d been much more if comments hadn’t been disabled in the blogs where the “insulting” post originally appeared…

To be fair, being a total ignoramus myself as far as video games are concerned, I can see a point in some of the arguments put forward by commentators who claim that, in previous series of “Resident Evil”, the said “white man in military clothing” had dispensed the same treatment to “zombies” of all races and nationalities and that Kym “hadn’t properly done her research.” Yet, I still fail to understand the amount and viciousness of racial and sexist abuse the absolute majority of them has chosen to throw at her.


2. Curiously enough, the same blogger who is now being so overwhelmingly attacked for allegedly “mindlessly using the race card”, had written this just a couple of days before: “This is not a matter of race or racial injustice. I, a person of African descent, cannot stand with those Black supporters of Vick and claim that this is unfair treatment based on the color of Vick’s skin. It’s a shame that many in the Black community are unable to look beyond their own history of racial injustice to see and understand that dogfighting is a tragic and inhumane activity that causes unbelievable pain and suffering and even death of innocent animals all for the amusement and financial profit of humans.” This statement related to another controversial issue involving, rightly or wrongly, the ‘R’ word in the US (see two different points of view on this story here and here).


Then, there were the good news:

3. About a couple of weeks ago, blogger “African American Political Pundit” wrote this to Unicef: “I am concerned about the "racial overtones" of the recent campaign of placing white children in black face. As a long time UNICEF supporter, I'm concerned that UNICEF and it's German National Committee for UNICEF are involved in racial hatred with this Ad campaign.” To which UNICEF responded: “Thank you for bringing this to our attention. We agree -- these advertisements are not appropriate and run against UNICEF's mission. They have been dropped from the UNICEF German National Committee's website and there are no plans to use them in the future. We apologize for any offence caused.”


4. More recently, blogger Behailu Damte wrote that “Intel should apologize for the racist & stereotypical Ad” portraying, as he described it, “Six black men crouching and bowing down for a white guy. A racist portrayal of one race being worth less than another. A stereotypical imagery showing the black men being good only for their muscles & manual labor (and apparently more than ready to provide their services.) Where is Intel’s sense of responsibility and sensitivity?”, to which he got this answer from the Head of Advertising at Intel: “First of all, I was responsible for the ad and apologize that our ad upset you and many others. This was absolutely not our intention. Not to make excuses, but we did pull the ad back in June as soon as we realized that our approach was wrong. Unfortunately, it was run again by mistake. We are committed to preventing any similar issues in the future and I am personally taking responsibility for driving improvements necessary to avoid this type of mistake.” This statement was backed-up by a formal public apology from Intel’s Director of Global Marketing.

Did I call these the “good news”? Just follow-up the comments in the Intel blog to see how some, among black and white, object to the sort of apologies offered by Unicef and Intel…



So, I ask: isn’t it high time we people of all “races” revise and rethink our concepts of racism?!

I would suggest the attached set of definitions as a possible starting point for that exercise.


13 comments:

Anonymous said...

Good question and good post too.
But what the definitions don't say is that blacks can also have prejudices and power and use it to practice racism against whites, right?

Nick said...

Koluki, on this post: nuff said!
Keep it up,
:)

Koluki said...

Anon.: Probably right... in very extraordinary circumstances! Trouble is, I can hardly find historical examples where that systematically holds true...

Nick: indeed, nuff said!
Keep well.

Anonymous said...

Please don’t get me wrong. I wasn’t trying to suggest that blacks actually do that, let alone systematically. I was just suggesting that’s one of the reasons whites are so afraid of “black power” and maybe why white racism perpetuates itself.

Diasporense said...

"rac•ism n (1936) 1 : a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race"
Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary

Para mim, esta definição encerra o “segredo” do racismo praticado pelo colonialismo português e porquê que ele foi mais virulento do que outros colonialismos. Trocando por miúdos, quanto mais pobre e menos avançado económica, tecnológica, cultural e científicamente o colonisador, maior necessidade ele tem de impôr a sua “superioridade” através da raça e de pretender fazer “avançar” a raça negra através da assimilação cultural e da mestiçagem racial. Estou certo ou estou errado?

Koluki said...

Anon.: Now you make an interesting point, which drives home one important aspect of racism that the definitions don’t stress enough: the consequences, spin-offs and side-effects of that “fear of black power” in the current state of social, economic, cultural and racial relations in the world. While mostly manifesting itself in ‘irrational’ or subliminal forms, it often underlines many openly aggressive attitudes, some of which are the subject of this post. One particular way in which it operates is by stifling any reactions by Blacks to the various forms of racism they are daily victimised with, directly or indirectly – my own experience with this blog has been revealing enough in that respect! – by calling and generalising it as “black racism” or “reverse racism”… Then, this tends to give place to another side-effect: the adoption by many Blacks of the most varied forms of “inverse racism” by which they internalise all those feelings of inferiority forced upon them by ‘White supremacy’ and start to suppress themselves and other Blacks as individuals and generally as people of any value in society, in short, as human beings. Hence the “calls for recolonisation”, the Black-on-Black (specially on Black women…) aggression so often heard and seen in some hipop music, etc, etc, etc. So, for as long as these things are not realised and positively acted upon, I’m afraid racism will keep alive and kicking!


Diasporense: como gostaria que estivesse errado!

sokari said...

Good post Koluki. However I note the continue deflection strategies used by white people when faced with their own racisms. Reflection is lacking - reflection is needed. In my experience very few white people reflect on whiteness and what that means in relation to people of colour.


It's been a tough week!

sokari said...

PS - you seem to be the only person I have come across that was able to relate Kym's two post - one on RE5 and the Vick post which I also posted my agreement with her.

Voz da Verdade said...

Sista, obrigada por este post - senti-o como um grito de alerta que há muito precisava de ser dado e com o volume no máximo! Gostei também dos comentários e acho que o Diasporense pôs bem o dedo na ferida em relação à ideologia racista do colonial-fascismo português que continua bem viva apesar das aparências. Só gostava de chamar atenção pra forma como as mulheres negras são atingidas por essa ideologia - - se olharmos bem para as guerras de dominação, como por exemplo Bósnia ou Darfur, vemos o papel que a violência sexual exerce e como o contínuo domínio sexual das mulheres dominadas continua a fazer parte do cardápio do vencedor da guerra de dominação. Ora, apesar de camuflado por trás de poemas líricos e imagens exóticas, esse elemento sempre foi e continua a ser uma constante daquela ideologia – o que explica como é que um povo tão profundamente católico como o português se tenha conseguido auto-proclamar “inventor dos mulatos” sem que contudo os seus colonos se tenham casado com as mulheres a quem fizeram os tais mulatos ou assumido as suas responsabilidades paternais. Há excepções à regra, sim senhor, mas essas contam-se pelos dedos de uma mão e é quase certo que há mais casamentos e relações legítimas entre raças diferentes nas ex-colónias de outros países europeus e até nos EUA ou mesmo no UK, do que em Angola ou em qualquer outra ex-colónia portuguesa. E esta hein???

Koluki said...

Hi Sokari,

I couldn’t agree more with what you say. However, it’s never enough to emphasize that we become the best agents of racism when we succumb to any form of inverse/inverted racism or self-hatred. Whites in general will not be made to reflect on the consequences of their racisms if we don’t make them to. All the major strides made against racism of all kinds, from slavery, through segregationism and colonialism, to apartheid, were achieved when Blacks assumed themselves as human beings with the right to react against any form of racial abuse against them… Sojourney Truth, Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Nkrumah, Lumumba, Biko, Mandela… were all Blacks who had their wits about them when it came to affirm and defend their own humanity and that of their people against racism. Now the damage of self-hatred to many black minds has been such that we can easily find its results, as I mentioned before, in some hipop music, in calls for recolonisation, in the levels of violence among Black communities in South Africa and specially against Black women, in the recurrent conflicts in the continent, so on and so forth. So, let's all reflect and react against any and all forms of racism.
Let's not disempower ourselves!

Koluki said...

VDV, my sis: concordo inteiramente contigo e pouco tenho a acrescentar, a nao ser o facto de que (… como a blogosfera agora nos permite ficar a saber, atraves das mascaras, dos anonimatos e dos pseudonimos…) a tentativa de dominacao sexual e as violentas formas, reais ou psicologicas e morais, que ela assume, seja atraves de “fantasismos” ou de “vulturismos”, nao faz parte apenas do cardapio do dominador, mas tambem das que se consideram dominadoras… e mais esta hein?!

VDV said...

Exata quatro, como dizia o meu tio fiticero dos 3 costados! Mas já sabes qual é a receita contra carraças né?
Já agora, ocorreu-me também mais esta: não será que toda essa ciumeira irracional de algumas piranhas frustradas sexualmente e abandonadas sós nas suas alcovas de morte é por os “homens delas gostarem tanto de pretas”???

Koluki said...

???

;-)