Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Navigating White Privilege and Liberal Racism: 10 Tips for Blogging While Black on the Daily Kos (and Other Predominantly White Spaces Too)

As demonstrated by hundreds of comments, it would appear that I am the object of no small amount of upset by some readers of the Daily Kos.
Am I surprised? No. My style of direct speaking, and commitment to always voice truth to power may not be everyone's cup of tea. That is okay.
As folks who have followed me over the last few years know, I can go all out and cut a damn good promo if need be; I also can move silently and do work with a scalpel; And at times I choose to use a garrote to ether my opponents.
In all, styles make fights and I try to use the right tool from the tool box in order to get the job done.
A few months back, some of my folks online encouraged me to check out Daily Kos and its fracas over race and blogging while black. I received emails from allies and friends asking about my thoughts on the matter, and if I were going to get involved. I'm not 'fam so I initially demurred. But, what I saw while lurking was enough to encourage me to move forward. I chose my time wisely and decided to make some small forays, to do some basic recon in order to get the lay of the land.
As Brother King and the other warriors in our glorious black freedom struggle realized, sometimes you have to shake the bushes to get the snakes out. At other times, you need to lay an ambush to get a sense of how your enemy will react.
I have long been a student of Whiteness. I am particularly interested in racism--and the many manifestations of white privilege--as performed by white liberals.
The latter are particularly fascinating on these matters because in our contemporary political imagination "racism" is something those "other people" do. White supremacy and racism are albatrosses and weights that hang from the necks of the Right, the false white populists, the Tea Party GOP and Birthers, racial reactionaries, and the bomb throwers and bigots like Buchanan, Limbaugh, Coulter, and Beck.
There sins are not "our" sins, in fact, a belief in anti-racism, and the merits of "multiculturalism," are the distinguishing marks of the contemporary left and progressives in the Age of Obama.
I knew what I would find at the Daily Kos. There would be some allies and perhaps even some friends. There would be those put off and afraid. Some would come closer and others would run away. That is the way of the world; Its diversity is a good thing.
I also knew that I would encounter white privilege, glaring examples in fact, that would further the thesis that Whiteness does real work in our society as it impacts all folks across the color line.
I always try to pass along what I have learned on my journeys to others. Here is a primer, a set of helpful hints for black folks (and other fellow travelers), who may endeavor to write about race, politics, culture, and power at the Daily Kos and other predominantly white spaces on these Internets.
Please do amend it as necessary.

10 Tips for Blogging While Black on the Daily Kos (and Other Predominantly White Spaces Too)

1. Every community has certain rules. The rule here is to be "respectful." Respect can also mean conforming, knowing your place, not rocking the boat, and staying on the approved script. Respect is also about power: who wields it; who makes the rules; who gets to decide what behavior is "inappropriate." In majority white spaces, those decisions and rules are always racialized. You probably learned those unspoken rules and life lessons as your guide for life, from a parent, elder, or other sage. Remember, those rules still apply online. Do update your Negro Motorist Green Book with entries about blogging while black at the Daily Kos.
2. Whiteness is ultimately about the maintenance of white privilege. White privilege can be understood in material, economic, legal, social, and political terms. The most basic manifestation of white privilege is the freedom and ability to determine how and when you will be uncomfortable, and under what circumstances. Thus, do not engage in any talk about race, white supremacy, identity politics, or other matters that may make certain folks "uncomfortable," "upset," "feel dirty," or "angry."
3. Your intellectual life, creative voice, and right to speak are subject to the demands of the chorus. You must get permission to speak. You must live for the approval of the (white) Kossacks. If you do not, then you will be marginalized, confronted, and told that your voice is not welcome.
4. To the above: remember that you as the Other are the perpetual teacher. Never forget that special burden. And yes, it is hard to be the teacher when your students will feign knowing more about these matters of life experience, history, and power than you do. Never forget, you are the little man behind the stove--even when others want to argue for an equivalence of insight and experience.
5. For blacks to criticize other black folks for their tom foolery, race minstrel shtick, or hostility to the empowerment of people of color, is verboten. You must speak in an approved tone that does not offend the sensibilities of white folks who may want to participate in the conversation. We live in the age of the black superpublic where there are no more "black spaces" for private talk. Moreover, the white gaze is real; never forget that your conversation and critique should always allow a space for Whiteness to participate. To do any less is both rude and uncivilized.
6. Race is always secondary to class. In fact, if we just stopped talking about all of this race stuff then our problems would be solved. Abandon intersectionality. Remember, it is always class--and you should forget that class location is a function of this country's racial hierarchy. Really, I mean it. Simply forget those inconvenient facts. Delete them now. Your life will be a lot easier.
7. The Right is lampooned and mocked for its "echo chamber" memes and tendency towards "epistemic closure." The Left has its problems in that regard as well. Be prepared.
The Freepers, Townhall, and Fox News types have "Socialist," "libtard" and "class warfare" as their Orwellian newspeak PC working conversation shutdown vocabulary. As an equivalent, many Kossacks throw about "racism" and "sexism" to marginalize those with who they disagree. Like their peers on the Right, most cannot define these terms. They are simply weapons of the lazy and the anti-intellectual. Avoid the fire, smoke, and distraction of those slow moving bludgeons by asking for a definition: most will disengage because they have none to offer.
8. The ban hammer and Daily Kos' "hide rating" is a type of cyberbullying and intimidation. Some rules appear "race neutral." In practice, we know that they are not. Tread carefully. Whiteness is a lie. Because it is a lie, Whiteness is existentially dependent on hiding the truth. The "HR" is a tool to that end.
9. There is frontstage racism and backstage racism. Frontstage racism is that which occurs in public. Backstage racism occurs in private, and in (often) all white spaces where people feel comfortable enough to let their guard down. Because racism has evolved over time, frontstage racism is heavily policed and a source of shame when the perpetrator is called out. Backstage racism continues on in the Age of Obama.
Because of their different political personality types, white liberals and white conservatives manifest racism and racial resentment in divergent, if not complementary ways. What they have in common is a type of racial heliocentrism, what we call "the white racial frame" which puts Whiteness at the center of all things. Conservatives are more honest about this fact. Liberals and white progressives are also paid the psychic wages of Whiteness, but they cash the check while feeling either very great guilty or grossly magnanimous.
10. Take the words of the Kossacks seriously for what they reveal about white privilege and liberal/left/progressive politics is invaluable. For example, on my post regarding Herman Cain's noxious race politics, the commenter Poetic Mind wrote that:
...a selection of uprates...well, my hr stands,I am still unconvinced: the presentation and the racialist undertones still make this post inappropriate for a progressive blog...sure, I am not African American, I may not be able to follow your perspective as an African American, but Dailykos has community standards and I still feel, you haven't met them...but in time with more posts you will probably understand what a progressive blog is really about... progressiveness is looking into the future, not getting hung up by the past!
Progressives are "race neutral." In fact, you need to leave the richness of your humanity and life experiences out of the conversation. Your Blues Sensibility and four centuries of experience in the New World, the Black Atlantic, and as the co-founders of this Republic, ought to be ignored. You are quintessentially American, but that essence is inconvenient. It may make some white folks uncomfortable: we are the envy of the world; but no one really wants to be black.
Ultimately, black folks are in need of a good lecture about the real meaning of "progressive" struggle.
We may have led the fight to improve American democracy and carried whole peoples and their struggles on our backs, but now we have sit at the knee of "the real progressives" and take our moment of instruction. Like John Lewis learned at an Occupy Wall Street protest, you best know your place and always ask for permission to participate.


Oh Crap said...

Yeah, Kos is every bit as bad as any white bipartisan, conservative or PUMA site.

Places like that are the reason I haven't bothered with the word "racism" for years...it's a badge of honor, coming from a Black person, no different than being on antiwar.com or freeperville.

And why not. They're each other's cousins.

Anonymous said...

I saw the comment you highlight from Poetic Dreamer while I was over at DK. I found the part about how progressiveness is "looking into the future, not getting hung up on the past", peculiar and amusing on many levels. I don't remember that progressive principle getting in the way of criticizing the President for not seeking to prosecute Bush officials. I may be wrong, but I have little doubt that this is something that Poetic Dreamer has bashed the President over. I point that out, not because I necessarily agree with Pres. Obama. It just amuses me how people pull whatever is handy out of their asses, hoping to score a point.

Abstentus said...

Although I have no experience even rubbernecking at Kos, I can see the validity of your points.

Living in America. All that.

I do have one hopefully quick note re net forums. (Yes, I have wasted way too many hours of my life on boards.)

One time, while posting at a minor but mixed (politically) board, I got so fed up, particularly with the more racist wing nuts, that I started a thread titled "In Praise of Angry Black Men." I like shaking the bushes sometimes, and that was clearly one of those instances. But I have all but given up that stuff.

Frank said...

As a white guy, I have finally realized that we aren't having "that conversation about race," as it is usually called, because white folks don't want it. Everyone else is quite willing to have it.

It would require us to face up to our white history, and that ain't pretty.

Chris Sharp said...

CD: Great post and you must be exhausted from responding to all of those negative comments over at Kos. I'm still trying to figure out the difference between "racialism" and "racism."

40 said...

Absentus beat me to it with, "Living in America. All that."

Modify the political labels of Point 7, Section 2 and you have provided a rubric for not just blogging black, but being black in a similar environment. In several work environments I've been in, I go through/reminded of 1-10 on that list pretty regularly. Glad I have the barbershop...

chaunceydevega said...

@OhCrap. They are pretty similar. It reminds me of the circle of political ideology where at both extremes there is convergence.

@Anon. He is on that flat, simple, class always wins Spartacist stuff. No nuance.

@Abstenus. Don't you dare talk about angry negroes. Don't you ever dare be one!

@Frank. Interesting. I think that we have been having a national conversation for centuries. But folks want to tell others what to think and what their experiences should be as opposed to really dialoguing and coming up with a solution that may not be what either party wants.

@Chris. I thought that racialism was some new spin on white supremacy. If you go to some of their sites that is how the polite one's talk about their politics.

@40. We should amend it. What else would you add?

Anonymous said...


I just wanted to drop a line to let you know that you are my favorite blogger and the only one that I regularly read.

I admire your skills as a writer. I also greatly respect your unwavering dedication to the truth.

Hopefully, I will write more later but that is all I have time for now.

(A fan)

Grok said...

I'm a gonna have to call bullshit on this particular episode.

Far as I can tell, you're upset that some peoples over at DailyKos did you the disservice of failing to take your rather trenchant precis of Herman Cain at face value.

At which point, you returned the favor in much the same flavor with a dash of meta: not content to take them at face value you've gone and constructed your own box around them after which you accused them of boxing their intellect...

I'm not buying it. What's wrong with this summary: you wrote something especially rough, but entirely true, about Herman Cain using language and allusions that attempt to place him, and his relationship to the present day GOP, in an historical context: all of which mightily confused some people.

What's so difficult about that? Why they gotta be racist? Can't they just be dumb? Or at least dumber than you? Maybe their intellect isn't boxed in by racism? Maybe it's just a poor intellect, or boxed in by a lack of intellectual training?

In my experience DailyKos (and many community blogs, in fact,) has the most difficulty with intelligence: being primarily written word but having a very wide spread of reading comprehensions, and not a few emotional infants, these kinds of dust-ups occur far more often, and over topics far more trivial than Herman Cain, than you might guess. I've seen smart posters been attacked in much the same way, through misperceptions, misconceptions and misinterpretations over issues that have nothing to do with race... which perceptions are often fueled by a simple case of poor reading comprehension. Whatever they might say, it's not a meritocracy over there, and the conversation tends toward the mean of intelligence.

Personally, my advice is that you ought to think more about the problems inherent to "blogging while brilliant".

Anonymous said...

I'm thinking Grok needs to check Racialicious. This stuff ain't new.

Further, I'd lay money on Grok being white.

Thank you for the post.

Grok said...

@Anonymous: "Further, I'd lay money on Grok being white."

You're going to have to explain this further... because where I sit, it appears you've turned commenting on a post about the perceptions, mis-perceptions, condemnations and ills attendant upon 'blogging while black' into straight up dismissal of someone who may, or may not, be 'blogging while white'.

your hypocrisy is about to go supernova and will soon be reborn as perversion. This qualifies you for membership in the Republican party. Congratulations.

Tom said...

CDV, great respect for even trying to talk to the folks at Kos.

Any online 'community' that lets folks like Poetic Mind police others' comments is a madhouse, not a 'community' at all.