Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Stuff White People Do: The Interview

You'll have to forgive me for sounding a bit like a high school student on summer assignment thru out this interview.    Macon of anti-racist blog Stuff White People Do (currently on hiatus), was so gracious to agree to be one of my first subjects, and then  ended up becoming my VERY first.  I'm glad it turned out this way.

As I've said here before, I credit SWPD with helping me come to a place emotionally where I finally realized that the seemingly far-flung aspects of my identity were in fact intersected as a survivor of domestic violence, sexual and physical assault and rape.  Namely, that race was NOT the least of my problems, as I had been given to believe, and that I actually HAVE experienced racism and even collaborated with racism during the course of my life.  Before this epiphany, I had believed that my being black was simply incidental to my identity... and that being trans was far more oppressive for me than anything else I'd ever been thru.  In short, SWPD snapped me out of my denial.

My views have since evolved a great deal and now I plainly see the intersection of race with other oppressions and privileges everywhere.  This has been as liberating as it has been daunting. 

SWPD is certainly not the only anti-racist blog online.  However,  I found it unique in that it openly invited white people to discuss race and anlayze their own white privilege, to be VULNERABLE in these difficult discussions and just deal with that.  And with the help of the commenting forums, unambiguously held white people accountable for their participation in White Supremacy, unwitting or no.  It was a refreshing change of pace from the allegedly"I don't even see race" whitefolks who make an effort to say only the "right" things and are given a pass for their condescension because hey... at least they're trying right?   I never encountered such a forum that openly confronted white people and DIDN'T degenerate into hysterics and derail.   Not that it wasn't inclined to happen at SWPD, but because the forum culture was committed to not letting that happen.  I was intrigued.

What intrigues me most about SWPD was that it speaks to the importance of analyzing, rather than simply calling out,  the covert and "unintentional" types of racism we take for granted from others everyday.  It also forced me to call out the ways in which I had internalized and normalized racism in my own life.   I figured if this could be done with racism..., this could be done with all other oppressions.... and boy do I have a long list to sort thru....

Anyway. I am honored to have Macon as my first official interview.   Thank you, sir, for all the complicated healing issues you have raised for me. 

Jane: When you first started Stuff White People Do, what was your original vision for the blog? Did you intend for it to become the high traffic site it eventually became?

Macon:  My original vision was just a list of what I’ve come to call “common white tendencies,” and a place to write them down whenever they occurred to me. A blog seemed like a place to do that in a more public way, which seemed good because some white people might read it and think more about their own whiteness-induced tendencies. I was also inspired by the format, and in a dissatisfied way by the content, of Stuff White People Like. Like Peggy McIntosh has said about her famous article on white privilege, I wanted to write down, but also expand upon in whatever illustrative, convincing detail I could, such white tendencies (which differ from “privileges”).

I wanted these tendencies clarified so I myself could stop doing them. I also thought, and still do, that simply getting more white people to realize that their racial membership within an ongoing and abusive hierarchy is a way of challenging the effects on POC of that hierarchy.

So my initial target audience was white people—I thought I was writing about things that most POC already know. I didn’t feel that as a white person, I should try to teach POC anything about the topic, and especially about racism. Over the past two years or so, I’ve seen that the blog’s information, written by me and by others, sometimes helps POC deal better with white people. POC have also written that because this or that post pinned down and explained an example of racism, it confirmed for them that they’re “not crazy,” or that “it’s not just me that sees that, and sees it as racist,” or that what they suspected was racism really was that, and not what the some-other-thing that society at large claimed it was instead.

In terms of traffic, I didn’t have any particular goal in mind, and still don’t. Seeing the audience grow into a fairly large, engaged, and varied one has of course been gratifying, and I think that all of that input, including a lot of guest posts, has made it a more useful blog. Gradually, though, it occurred to me at times that without me realizing it, my efforts probably caused harm as well, especially if some white readers were doing little more with the blog’s information than patting themselves on the back, because they’d ingested a daily antiracism vitamin (which I guess would mean that in those cases, the posts are actually placebos instead).

What do you value most about SWPD? What are its biggest rewards and/or challenges for you?

I hope I’ve encouraged some other white people to look at their whitened selves, and ways. I’ve especially valued the blog’s audience, and I appreciate the various values that they, or most of them, have seemed to find in it. I hope the blog’s overall effect has worked against racism.

I’ve learned a lot about my own white/whitened self, and about white supremacy more generally. Personally, I’ve also valued the pressure that maintaining the blog put on me to think through various racism-related issues and problems. Writing is a concentrated form of thinking for me, and the blog helped me clarify apparently antiracist concepts and strategies and then articulate them better in other contexts.

The biggest early challenge early on was responding to commenters who challenged the posts. Not the overtly racist ones, but the antiracist ones, who basically pointing out that although I was writing in an attempted antiracist mode, I myself was sometimes being racist, in ways that I couldn’t see yet. I’ve since learned of the common white tendency that I was enacting there, and no doubt still enact, that of defending what I’ve said, digging in my heels almost as a matter of principle, and failing to see just how much I was still stuck in my own perspective, and just not listening well enough.

As the audience grew, my biggest challenge in the comment sections became moderating the comments effectively—screening them, that is, for racism and for derailment, moderating disputes among commenters, and dealing with commenters who dismissed the entire blog and tried to get other to readers/commenters to leave it.

Which blogs do you follow/have you followed closely? Why these?

In no particular order (and I’m sure I’m missing some—I keep up with about 75 blogs in my reader):

Womanist Musings, because Renee is so insightful, inspiringly dedicated, and often entertaining as well.

Sociological Images, for its concrete examples of racist phenomena and ephemera.

Racism Review, for the access it provides to hard data related to racism.

Racialicious, for its consistently useful posting choices and its insightful and generous commenting community.

Abagond, because his work is so varied and insightful, yet succinct.

Unapologetic Mexican, especially for “News with Nezua,” because he does that so well on all levels, and because he teaches me something every time.

We Are Respectable Negroes, because I learn a lot there, and I often get to laugh as I learn.

I also regularly read (although it’s technically not a blog) Counterpunch, and for political comic-relief, Dependable Renegade.

Obligatory POC skeptic question: As a White guy who doesn't have to deal with racism if he doesn't want to... what's in it for you? Why do YOU care, specifically? Why should we trust you?

Since I’m white, I don’t think that POC necessarily should trust me. I hope they are skeptical. I know—though I suspect not as well as many POC do—that I still have, and enact, various racist tendencies and habits. Consequently, though I don’t directly say so on the blog, I would encourage POC to remain skeptical of whatever I have to say. So far, I don’t say so because (1) the blog is about stuff white people do, not stuff POC do, and (2) it seems condescending or something for me to say so—it goes against my belief that POC already tend to be skeptical about me as a white person, because experience has taught them to know as well or better than I do why such skepticism is warranted.

What’s in it for me? Some resolution for an internal conflict that I continuously feel. Not to get too abstract about it, but that internal conflict is a battle between something like my sense of justice and morality (to which I attribute my unease and outrage over racial injustice, including the unearned benefits it’s bestowed upon me), and something like another side of me that’s been told it’s okay to relax and enjoy life, including the unearned benefits handed to me by the random details of my birth, my upbringing, and my current circumstances. The world around me encourages that latter side. For me, it used to be a struggle to keep the other side awake, and active, which is of course a side-effect, and a pathological one, of privilege. Because I try to listen to and nourish my moral conscience (rather than do what I’m “supposed to do,” which is to repress it), I feel compelled to not only become and remain more vigilant and aware of racial injustice, but also to do something against it. I think that to the extent I don’t do that, I’m psychologically and emotionally deformed, and underdeveloped.

Anyway, I don’t know what else to say about why POC should trust an anonymous white blogger. I would hope that consistently convincing work over an extended period of time would alleviate some mistrust. But then, I can’t convince everyone that what I do on the blog is effective work.

How important to you is an intersectional approach to anti-racism?

It is very important, but too often, it’s important to me in a merely abstract way. As a white, cisgendered, middle-class, able-bodied, U.S.-citizened male, intersectionality, I continue to function with less awareness of intersectionality than I know I should. Thanks to my occupancy in a lot of privileged categories, and to my intense focus on white supremacy, intersectionality is something that I continually need to remind myself to attend to. I know it’s important, but I don’t yet feel enough that it’s important, and so I don’t enact it enough. I know that my blog posts, like my daily actions in general, don’t register well enough the significance of other categorical influences, and phenomena, and injustices brought about by other significant categories.

At the same time, because the blog’s focus has been de facto white supremacy, especially as manifested in common white tendencies, I think that attending too much to other categorical factors could water down that focus, and/or distract from it. Not that there’s any real danger of “too much,” though, since as I said, I know that my approach is not well-attuned to intersectionality. I suppose I hope that readers can fine tune this or that observation about white supremacy in accordance to other categories they find significant as they read, but even there, I think that’s more of an excuse than a solid justification.

How effective do you think blogging is, as anti-racist activism?

In quantitative terms, I simply don’t know, and I don’t know how that could be measured. I obviously think it can do some good, since my goals in doing it are not purely selfish. It’s another way of getting useful information out, information that can cause people to act—or, I hope, in the case of the white people who read my blog, to learn that they may well do some egregious, racist stuff, and stop doing it.

In terms of effectiveness, I’m inclined to be a patient person—another result, another symptom, of privilege. I’m certainly not saying that I think anyone else should be more patient! And I do feel an impatient, frustrated rage about injustices caused by white supremacy and its enactors. But I also know that white supremacy can’t be brought down overnight, nor by one person, and that if any progress has been made, that didn’t happen quickly either. It’s a long term struggle, of course, and I feel hopeful that many swpd readers use information from the posts and comment sections to prevent various forms of racism from happening in their own lives. Actually, I’ve seen that happen, and I’ve heard about it happening too—people write emails to me about it, and sometimes guest posts on the blog.

I do think blogging is effective antiracist activism in my own life; because I’ve clarified various racist tendencies and actions of my own by writing them out for the blog, I don’t do them anymore. That doesn’t mean I and various elements of my life are no longer racist, but it does mean that what I do in the world is less racist. And I hope that’s true for some white readers as well.

Why did you put  SWPD on hiatus?

Mostly because the energy and time it took was detracting too much from other areas of my life—from other forms of activism, as well as my personal life and my day job. Moderating comments had also become a problem that I wanted to step back from, so I can reassess how I was doing it.

After moderating comments for about two years, I still wasn’t doing it effectively. Basically, I was still failing to see some forms of derailment, and of hurtful negligence and insult toward some of the commenters, and I hope that stopping will give me a chance to develop better radar. Some of the commenters I considered most valuable were apparently driven away, or sometimes driven into exasperated frustration, by my moderation practices, and some valuable commenters were also driven away by other valuable commenters. I hope I can figure out how to better prevent such things from happening.

I also want to get rejuvenated. I did consider posting less often and reading through the moderated comments even more slowly than I was, instead of taking a break, but I also felt some burnout coming on. White supremacy doesn’t take a break, of course, and I’m continuing to fight it in other ways, but I’m hoping that stepping back will renew, and also reshape, the particular passion that I’ve had for blogging, so I can do it all better than I was doing it before.

Ever coming back?

I hope so! And I’m planning to, but I don’t know when yet, mostly because I don’t know when my other work is going to settle down, and I don’t know yet if the energy and time that blogging took from my other antiracism efforts is worth devoting to it.

Which other social causes are you passionate about besides anti-racism?

The usual suspects for someone (maybe someone white, and mlddle class, and so on?) who identifies as left of “liberal,” but especially raising awareness of, and trying to inspire action against, gendered abuse and injustice. I’m also incensed by the general oblivion in the U.S. about the fact that it’s a militant empire, a resource-stealing, murderous one. Also, the sad, disgusting, and dangerous realities the corporatized, industrial food that most of us in the U.S. eat, as well as the part that our food choices play in the lack of food and health for others in the world.

Who are your personal anti-racist role models?

I have disagreements with some of them, and I’m sure I’m neglecting some others, but those who come to mind first include Robert Jensen, James Baldwin, David Roediger, Elaine Kim, damali ayo, Adrian Piper, Toni Morrison, Ronald Takaki, Tim Wise, Lillian Smith, Renee Martin, Paul Mooney, Karen Brodkin and Thandeka. As I look at that list, I think “heroes” is a better term than “role models.”

1 comment:

  1. Thank you both for the interview.

    ...And I'm taking this opportunity to also thank you, Jane, for providing an avenue of links to follow that have led me to blogs like SWPD, which are enriching my life, and hopefully helping me to be a better human being.

    It is, of course, all about me! ;)