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Gandalf’s Edict

September 7, 2006

A funny thing happened on the way to Sarcastro’s place. It happened in the comments section of his comments on commenting on someone else’s comment. From Short&Fat:

I consider racist a pretty ugly term on par with c*nt, n*gg*r, and f*gg*t especially when hurled at other people for no real apparent reason.(I flipped over and read B and AC’s respective posts). I believe this sort of invective is an attempt to invalidate a person’s point (in this case AC’s) without a discussion of a merit of their argument.
I’m not sure what B read that I missed to inspire the vitriol. But if KKK=racist and AC=racist, then AC=KKK and I just don’t believe that to be true. B may think that I’m too narrowly defining the term, but that’s what 90% (true stat) of America believes.

The syllogysm is way off here. KKK can equal racist and AC can either say racist things or may actually be a racist (I’m just shy of writing him off completely), however that doesn’t mean AC is the KKK kind of racist. All along in the Big Racism Battle that brewed over at B’s spot, people wanted to exclude themselves from the class “racist” by defining racist so narrowly as only to include the Stormfront types. One thinks as long as they treat people well enough by their own standards that they aren’t racist.

If 90% of Americans believe that being racist only means the kind of lynching, name calling attitude is racism, I’m afraid 90% of Americans are wrong. However, I really don’t buy the statistic at all. Even a dullard like Michelle Malkin can grasp this (at least when it suits her whining).

I’ve always thought that it is up to the “other” to be the ultimate arbitor of what constitutes racist behavior towards them. Like with homophobia, I don’t think of myself as a homophobe. That’s just an idea swirling around in my head that isn’t tested until I’m in interaction with a significant number of gay or lesbian people on a regular basis. My idea of myself as gay friendly hasn’t been tested in any significant way. If the barrier is simply that I’m not walking the streets with a bat looking to beat up on some poofters, then that barrier is pretty low, because there’s always other societal hurdles that may impede that kind of expression (cops, my mom slapping me, etc).

I think it’s a safe argument that a lot of people who were opining on B’s post are in a similar position. I have my doubts that they’ve had their ideas of themselves as “not racist” tested in any significant way. (Yes, yes, I know, you sit next to a Black guy at work, and a Mexican family moved in down the street from you. That amounts to anecdotal experience.) And the alternative, to suggest to themselves that they might actually be racist, or harbor ideas that may be considered racist, is so distasteful as to inspire the kind of reactions you can see above.

That isn’t to say that people can’t reflect on their own behavior re: racism. I was in a convienence store the other day and an older Puerto Rican cat was talking about New York and we got into a discussion of my 2nd favorite city in the world (Nashville is NOT #1). He asked me over the course of the conversation if I was Puerto Rican (maybe because I used the word Boricua, not sure). At the office, I told the story to a Boricua with whom I work. Afterwards, I asked myself why him? Why not other people in the office, who might have also found the anecdote amusing? Would I be at least a bit uncomfortable if an Asian person started out of the blue telling me a bunch of stories about . . . oh . . . meeting Al Sharpton?*

If you are at all concerned about the issue, concerned enough to violate Gandalf’s Edict (Thou shalt not invoke MLK’s “Dream” speech when discussing racism), then as I see it you have a couple of options; ask yourself some tough questions, or get out in the world beyond your own enclaves.

I should probably decline to comment on Short&Fat’s assertion that calling someone “racist” (yes, for “no good reason”) is the same as calling someone a n****r. Might make my headache come back. I’d like to think that at least the logical fallacy stands bare to most people, though sadly it probably does not. I would be interested to hear if he ever got into a fight with someone who called him a racist, and if people felt he was justified in swinging on the person who called him a racist.

A lot of people were inspired to comment in their own blogs about what went down over at B’s place, writing it off completely with lame snark (guess he’s one of those people who are “above racism.”) or writing it off as a “semantic debate” (it most certainly was not that simple). It got people talking, at least.

*If all you get from this is that “black people are racist, too,” then I’d be pretty sad. During any discussion about racism, even if it’s about Latinos, you’re likely to read/hear this phrase. It’s a meaningless, fallacious argument (A is bad? Well, B is bad, too!). It’s really telling. You read a long series of posts by White ex-pats living in Tokyo about problems dealing with Japanese people and inevitably, by the third page they’re talking about Black people. That’s how ingrained, how massive the issue of relations between Black and White have become. Oh, my head . . .

9 Comments leave one →
  1. September 7, 2006 3:11 pm

    If you would quit pulling out your dreads, your head would stop hurting.

  2. September 7, 2006 4:02 pm

    I didn’t write it off as a semantic debate, I said it was about semantics because the word chosen has an inflammatory connotation. In cases like this “semantics” can be quite important.

    Call me prejudiced, I’ll agree, albeit not proudly. The assumption that 99.9% of white Americans are racist for simply exisiting, that’s asinine.

    While not as vulgar as other epitaphs mentioned it’s still a hateful word to casually sling about.

  3. September 7, 2006 8:11 pm

    Lame Snark? Interesting description. I really don’t think it’s fair or mature to call something “lame” just because you were part of group I was teasing. Clearly it hit a nerve. But, if it floats your boat, go for it.

  4. September 7, 2006 8:36 pm

    Well, I happen to still like the MLK speech whether or not it suits your Gandalf Rules Of Order. Sorry if I insist on playing by my own rules.

    As far as having my sense of race equality really tested, let’s just say that I have and I’m fine with where I’m at.

  5. September 7, 2006 9:50 pm

    Mature? Coming from the guy who reduced a heartfelt discussion on a very serious issue to a dick joke? Whatever man. It wasn’t a nerve you hit, nor was it my funny bone. Earlier I’d posted how I wished that snark, which has become a substitute for substantive criticism, would lose hold on Internet discourse.

    I do seem to tee you off, however. You always seem to think I’m trying to boss you around. I fear that soon I may be called uppity. Thing is, the edict is not a rule of order, it’s like Godwin’s law: Eventually whenever race is discussed on the Internet, someone, usually a conservative, will quote the “Dream” speech. For years, as long as I can remember being interested in things like race and gender equity (since I was in jr high, and that’s er . . . a really long time ago), someone was always invoking this speech as a rhetorical tool. You know, there are people who have MLK’s picture above their Jesus paintings on their walls. Back when I was still into hero worship, it was as if someone was committing blasphemy. Now that I’m all jaded, it really smacks of gross patronization when I hear it. It says, no matter what you think or feel on the subject, I will invoke your most honored leader and thus render myself impervious to your claims. BWAHAHAHA. It’s like a photo negative of invoking Hitler.

    This is not something I pulled out of my butt, btw. There are a lot of African Americans who feel this way, who often wince when we hear the invocation of the speech, or at worst roll the eyes. It isn’t as if there is no time at all when it can be quoted, just like there are times when one can talk about the Nazis in a discussion.

  6. September 7, 2006 10:03 pm

    No, really I’m not teed off. I guess I just come off that way in print. We should have coffee or something so you realise that my “teed off” is really not as it would appear.

    I see your point about the MLK speech. Quite honestly, it doesn’t come up with me very often because I’m not very often involved in discussions of racism and when I am it is more often in the context of anti-Semitism. Since most Jews aren’t as plagued by the colour-of-skin question it doesn’t come up as often. If someone ever makes a speech about “judging not by the amount of foreskin but the content of character” then I suppose it’ll make me tired of hearing it after while.

    I guess I’m puzzled because I’m trying to have a serious, well-meaning discussion about a serious topic and it seemed as though you were doing to my points something similar (although not as egregious) as what b-dub was doing to everyone’s point.

    And on that note, b-dub, we’ve not “met”–but I was really unimpressed with your glib take on the the whole thing. The rest of us were just trying to see eye to eye, or at least understand one another’s position.

  7. September 8, 2006 9:26 am

    I get where you’re coming from, and though I haven’t read the melee over at B’s yet, I can understand a 10,000 foot interpretation of the 99% comment. Though I suspect it’s 99% of all people, not just 99% of whites. It’s just classic dualisim, “me” and “not-me”, where race is one of many things which differenitiate. Anyone who has so completely abolished dualism as to truthfully claim zero racism is probably a Buddha.

    For my own experience as example — well I certainly can’t imagine an average white boy that’s any less racist than myself, but certainly I find myself thinking things and questioning things. For example just the other night I was telling someone a story about an apartment I used to have in a ghetto area of Ft Lauderdale. Odds were pretty good that if I wasn’t the only European American in the vicinity, I was in small small company.

    What struck me, and what seems germaine to this discussion, I was proud of myself for having been content to live there, at least as content as I thought I would be to live in *any* dangerous ghetto area. But when I moved out, it was to a white redneck neighborhood that on many levels was no better than where I’d been. Certainly it was not more monied, not any cleaner, not any less run-down. But I *felt* I was safer.

    *Maybe* I realy was. Unlike in the first neighborhood, I could walk to the store without 3 or 4 crack dealers approaching me requesting my business. And to be sure, I *was* jumped once in the first neighborhood, but never in the second. *Maybe* I was really safer because I was less likely to be singled out for the color of _my_ skin. Maybe I was safer because crackheads, regardless of race, are more violent than alcholics, regardless of their race.

    But I have to ask the questions. And the fact that the questions exist illustrate that the racism still exists.

  8. September 8, 2006 2:34 pm

    Dorknation says: Coming from the guy who reduced a heartfelt discussion on a very serious issue to a dick joke? Whatever man.

    D-Bub says: I appreciate your freedom of speech. How about you appreciate mine?

    KC says: And on that note, b-dub, we’ve not “met”–but I was really unimpressed with your glib take on the the whole thing. The rest of us were just trying to see eye to eye, or at least understand one another’s position.

    B-Dub says: Sorry KC, but I disagree. It was a pure and simple pissing contest. Egos fueled this discussion. Moreover, who was convinced of anything? I’ll tell you: NO ONE. So what did youn actually accomplish?

  9. September 8, 2006 3:43 pm

    Jon, you get it but we already knew that.

    Dub, then don’t get all pissy if I call you out. “Freedom of speech” allows for the back and forth of debate. It doesn’t simply mean that you are free to say whatever you want without comment (Also, the Amendment refers to the government’s power to abridge your freedom of speech. I’m not in the FBI). You should just let the grown folks talk among themselves.

    PS. I can’t speak for KC, however, it seems to me that the accomplishment was the discussion itself.

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