Tuesday, February 25, 2020

An Exposition of "Reverse Racism"

Pumping Station One has had race issues for as long as I've been a member; I attempted repeatedly to address it, but was repeatedly put on-the-spot by PS1 leadership because I was unequipped to "prove it". PS1's approach to member management disparity leans strongly toward the convenience of a "negative peace", which is silence, as opposed to the "positive peace" that is justice, and my being unequipped to "prove it" was convenient to that negative peace: if I couldn't prove it, they didn't have to acknowledge it. No work is needed, and the greater membership is not made uncomfortable.

I was extremely frustrated for years with this, because nobody would extend themselves to help me figure out how to "prove it." As it turns out... it is provable: a couple of years ago, somebody with a relevant background proposed a survey, and workshopped the deployment of it. This is something I could never have figured out how to do from where I was standing, and they also garnered support for it that I would never have gotten.

Among other things, the survey illustrated that PS1's membership is roughly 80% white, and roughly 80% male. The report that accompanied it did a lot of work trying to spin these results, and downplay their significance... but, suddenly, the negative peace, and the character of the people promoting and benefiting from it, stood out in stark relief. For an organization that extols the equality of every member, that promotes itself as inclusive and diverse, the current practices of the organization are developed to satisfy a very narrow band of membership.

In the meantime, I encountered something that PS1's core membership was singularly unwilling, and unprepared, to acknowledge or address: aggressive misrepresentation of institutional racism to defend institutional white privilege.

History on the Chez PS1 conflict

I took issue with a sign because it was aggressively classist. At this point, I had a deep life background of experience with racism and classism, but did not have much of a background in having genuine allies on these issues, so I was uneasy in approaching it. However, the person in question turned out to be an extremely aggressive white classist, with whom I'd had previous disagreements about a living wage, about universal health care, and about the systemic disadvantage of the struggling poor... personal disagreements that could stay as such.

The sign, however, was crossing a line, as it was a public sign on a PS1 institution they controlled. PS1 is community-owned, and nobody is supposed to have private ownership of a PS1 resource, but I wasn't trying to break that... the resource was a convenience. I just wanted the sign to change, and they were very aggressive in insisting it shouldn't.

I then pointed out that, given their aggression, if any issue about the sign crossed race lines, it could be perceived as racist, and I didn't want anyone to experience that. I did feel, personally, that it was racist, but I left that out... yes, I'd encountered it, but I just wanted to make sure nobody else did. I asked and explained, repeatedly, before taking it to the public forum.

The nomination conflict

This... created a slow-brewing storm. The sign was changed quickly after, but they held a grudge for almost two years, that culminated in incredibly aggressive attempts to deploy the myth of "reverse racism"; they portrayed themselves as a victim of racism because of the prior exchange.

Their assault on my character was actually much worse; they had no boundaries. I was nominated to run for the PS1 Board, which meant there was a chance I could affect policy, and they wanted to do all the damage they could to stop it. They claimed I was racist. They portrayed me as a thief. They questioned what they referred to as my own privilege, such as my paying for my PS1 membership despite being poor, and my having a lot of free time. They even knew that my PTSD could be triggered with a certain demeaning word... and they used it. And they repeatedly and publicly portrayed themselves as a victim of racism, because I had pointed out that their choice of words, and their attitude when approached, could be experienced as racism if it crossed race lines.

And they did all of this very publicly, with no prior effort to discuss any of it, and in a forum where it could not be moderated.

On racism and "reverse racism"

If the reader has read my post "Why Promoting Equality Falls on the Privileged", you're familiar with my historical take on the unique intersectional, post-colonial power structure of U.S. society. This is pivotal.

Institutional American racism is a power structure; it's not racial biases or prejudices, which everyone has, and should mind and work with in themselves, but a conscious, organized design of racial discrimination in favor of "white" persons over all others. There has never been a system of laws, law enforcement, and judicial practice in U.S. history designed to oppress white people... nor should there be... but the very history and design of U.S. law, even to modern-day implementation, is designed around oppressing all other races as "less than" white people, with classically-eurocentric white expectations of culture being the bar that "has to be" met; a perpetually subjective set of measures that will always favor white people, because, in this society, white people define those measures from their perspective... power, and lack of experience with institutional underprivilege.

To wit: racism is a combination of prejudice and popularly-supported privilege.

The power structure of institutional U.S. racism is unique with its roots in post-colonial practice; there is no parallel power structure in the nation, and nothing that can compete without the efforts of extraordinary white allyship. This makes "racism" a uniquely-white privilege to exercise and enjoy, and a uniquely-pervasive burden everyone else has to carry and be mindful of.

This system of laws and practices is so thorough that many white people don't realize the depth of their privilege, and even practice casual racism without realizing what they're enforcing, because they're surrounded by such a massive bubble of encouragement, affirmation, and protection. On the other side of the coin, non-white people can't afford to not be perpetually aware of it; a lapse of caution can cost them their community, their job, their freedom, or even their lives... even among white allies.

In my perspective, this makes "racism" not a white word to use for themselves or their experiences; they don't experience it, the effect of growing up under such a deeply-widespread, casually-oppressive and demeaning power structure as old as the U.S.A., struggling under laws and social constructs institutionally designed to deprive you of rights and reduce you to a second-class citizen.

With this in mind, here are some of my observations on efforts to deploy the myth of "reverse racism":

Attempting to deploy the myth of “Reverse Racism” 

  • Deployed assuming or encouraging the illusion of an “even playing field”. 
  • Used to defend an expectation to privileges seen as rights, at the expense of the rights of others that are being treated as privileges. 
  • Weaponized to “punch down” from, and to maintain possession of, superior privilege, attempting to disempower the target by expecting their audience to ignore the differences in context when such terms are applied to them. They feel injured when the term is applied to them for casual abuses they expect as their right; they want to claim the privilege of being able to inflict this same “damage” back down the “same lane”, with no regard for the vast differences in context, because they resent their target “having such a privilege/weapon/opportunity” when they do not… ignoring that the fact that the very phenomenon stems from a state of deeply institutionalized and systemically exploited disadvantage. 
  • Deployed from the top down to demand uncontested respect as an authority, threatening to refuse the target basic human respect as a person if denied. 
  • Often defended by accusations that the victim should “accept” it the same way as a cost of “equality”, or “equal treatment”; ignores the context that respect for equality requires consideration for differences in privilege and opportunity from the top down; in essence, attempting to convince the target to accept a share of accountability that isn’t theirs, to create a subsequent argument of false equivalency in blame as a "compromise" that favors them.
  • Often followed by demands for efforts to “prove” otherwise, putting the burden on the target to prove their value as a person according to the transgressor’s subjective definition, rather than readily respect them as such, to further embattle and distract already-burdened and -disadvantaged people with busywork that appears to create an expectation of merit-based effort in order to be respected, ignoring the idea that they're ethically due this basic human respect regardless.
  • Avoids the expectation that privileges require work, consideration, and mindfulness on the part of the privileged. 
  • Avoids the context that the costs of many privileges related to the inequality of their respective positions are paid by their targets, and that they shouldn’t have some of these privileges in the first place, no matter how deeply they believe they should be able to expect and enjoy them.

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