Thursday, February 4, 2010

Diversity XXI: Race in the Theater. Or rather, Race in Conversation

Not much I can say on the subject except:

Part 1 - RVCBard

Part 2 - Thomas Garvey

Part 3 - 99 Seats

There's a lot of rage out there. A few brief thoughts:
  1. Thomas Garvey says: "But please, try to skip the temptation to continue the "ongoing dialogue." Let's not "dialogue" anymore - let's just bring city services to Roxbury instead, okay? Let's just pass national healthcare. Let's improve education. Let's move forward."

    Sorry - you can't stop a dialogue, unfortunately. There will always be a dialogue about race. That's just the way it goes.

  2. 99 Seats says: "Did I mention fuck you? Because, if I didn't, hey, pal, fuck you."

    It's a tough conversation we're having, and I believe you're pissed. And you make some good criticisms of Mr. Garvey. Imagine how much more powerful that post would be if it wasn't lost in a sea of fucking.

  3. The part of RVCBard's original post that start all of this: "In contrast, my experiences with White people have been confusing, uncomfortable, frustrating, and exhausting in this regard. I can't quite put my finger on why, but I always feel a kind of pressure to perform around White people. It's like I have to prove I'm worthy of their presence. It's proven very difficult to get a White person's attention, especially a White man's. It's even harder to maintain it for more than about 15 minutes. And if you're White, and you met me in person, I'm probably talking about you."

    Time for some carefully chosen words.

    Well, as someone who I guess is white (half-African doesn't count for me because it's Jewish African... anyways) sometimes it is confusing, uncomfortable, frustrating, and exhausting for the White People too. That's what Chris Matthews was talking about. NOT THAT I AGREE WITH WHAT HE IS SAYING. But Matthews has been told a lot that he's racist (because sometimes he is), and he doesn't want to be, so he's relieved for a moment to escape that confusing, uncomfortable, frustrating, and exhausting feeling.

    If you've read good books on this subject like Blink or a million others, you understand that there's a difference between what I usually call hard racism, where like Strom Thurmond you actually believe that one race is better than all others and it should be raised to the top, or soft racism, which can either be stupidity/ignorance like Chris Matthews or institutional and unconscious.

    There's a study that shows that blind auditions can greatly improve the diversity of an orchestra. This is not a proof of hard racism -- it's a proof of soft racism. The problem is that seemingly open-minded people may, inadvertently, through tricks of their own unconscious mind, wind up mis-evaluating different applicants based on their race.

    The point is, we White Americans want to bridge this gap. But sometimes, we're going to screw up the way we screw up at a lot of things we want to do.

    Why am I rambling on this way?

    Well, from our half of the conversation, RVCBard, here's what happens. We show up to a meeting with someone who says that this is a White Supremacist country and is clearly on her guard to smell us out: are we the White man who's playing fair, or are we in the category of racists? And we know that we're open-minded, but we also know that

    So we want to be on our best behavior. We're nervous, and self-conscious. Like in sex, the more nervous we get, the less pleasant the experience is, and the more likely we are to screw up. It is, as you put it, "confusing, uncomfortable, frustrating, and exhausting." Then it becomes a Catch-22 -- we're confused, uncomfortable, frustrated, and you're confused, uncomfortable, and frustrated, and the chances we'll try it again are low.

    Does this mean I agree with Thomas Garvey, then, that it's Black people's fault, and y'all need to move on?

    NO.

    Thomas Garvey thinks the way to solve the difficulty of this conversation is to avoid it. It's irritating, and as all three players have demonstrated it can lead to incredible anger. But we can't avoid the conversation. I'm not so concerned about the frustrated/uncomfortable quality of the conversation as I am by the people who get up after 15 minutes.

    Part of it is we like to pretend that we're not having the conversation. White people meet Black people but they don't want to be talking about race. I don't like talking about it. And nobody wants our only dialogue to be "hey I'm black you're white let's talk about that" / "hey I'm white I don't really know what you're experience is like." And yet it may be necessary.

I don't know if I made the point I was trying to make (I thought I only had a few thoughts but it turned out to take a lot of words). I'm nervous to hit "Publish Post" because, well, it's so much easier for me not to post this and for me not to weigh in on this issue.

At least I'm not the only Jew who feels this way:

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4 comments:

99 said...

Hey, Guy-

Amen and thanks for pushing publish. I'm all about the conversation (and I'll keep the f-bombs to a minimum).

One thing that I find frustrating and leads me to the flagrant dropping of profanity is that, no matter how often I and others try to draw the distinction that you're talking about between internal thought and external action (call it bias vs. discrimination, racism vs. prejudice, whatever you want), other folks jump right to, "You're calling me a racist!" Some folks are, or are coming close. I'm not. But it's hard to have the conversation when one side refuses to acknowledge the power of bias and how it informs their own life. In my opinion, that's what blows up the bridges.

RVCBard said...

Not brushing you off, but I've written about this kind of thing at length, and a single comment or post won't really cut it.

You may find some illumination about some of the things I say over here.

But pay special attention to this . . .

and this . . .

and this . . .

And if you get around to it, probably this and this and this too.

And probably also this.

Just FYI, don't gloss over the comments - that's where the real substance often happens.

Thomas Garvey said...

Just btw, there's no "rage" on my side. I called these people out, they're upset, that's all. They'll calm down eventually. But I've planted a resonant idea (if it weren't so resonant they wouldn't be so unhinged) - that the fight against racism could in fact be thwarted by RVCBard's and 99's brand of neurosis-as-dialogue. It doesn't mean that their neurosis has no genuine objective correlative - racism exists! But so does neurosis around racism.

CultureFuture said...

99 - I hear your frustration. I always return to that Strom Thurmond clip because it's a degree of hatred that I have literally never heard in my life, and it helps me remember that there's a whole constellation going on.

RVCBard - I'll keep reading your stuff, but I hope you don't think that post was going to be my one post on the subject. This isn't exactly my first. Here or here.

On the other hand, it's harder to have a conversation without other people to converse with (since this blog was mostly into a vacuum until about six months ago), so I'm looking forward to continuing this.