Saturday, February 05, 2011

Carry a sign, pat yourself on the back

Ta-Nehisi Coates featured a bit of Matt Yglesias' observations on Ayaan Hirsi Ali's editorial warning about Islam being a form of fascism, and rightly pointed out that it went a little far.  I noted this paragraph in particular:

But surely she must see, I counter, that the majority of British Muslims are moderates? Sitting in her publisher's office in an elegant grey-flannel trouser suit and pearl earrings, she fixes me with her lucid brown eyes. "If the majority are moderates, why did the Muslim community never take to the streets to abhor the 7/7 bombers? Why is it that the only time we see Muslims protesting en masse is when Islam is allegedly insulted, like with the Danish cartoons, or the Pope's comments?" 

TNC goes on to say that this isn't a very good test, and I agree with him, but I think it's a challenge white North Idahoans should take up.  We're embarrassed and horrified of our white supremacists, but that's not necessarily clear to everyone.  If we're so anti-racist, why aren't we making a big stink about the racists?  There's a significant stink in the area's press, but that hasn't made much of a difference on the ground.

There is, still, the problem that "taki[ng] the streets to abhor" isn't really a thing, especially when what's abhorred is pretty much officially abhorred.  Racist views aren't illegal, though.  The discussion at TNC's applied this thinking to Take Back the Night-type rallies, which don't make a lot of sense if they just exist to say, "Stupid rapists, please stop raping me," since rape is already illegal.  However, I'd argue that Take Back the Night is more about calling attention to the pervasiveness of violence against women (It's pretty bad if just going outside when it's dark is scary.) than scaring or shaming rapists themselves.  The problem that someone pointed out is that the Take Back the Night name implies that the main issue is strange men attacking random women when they're going about their own business.

Applying Take Back the Night logic to GTFO White Supremacists demonstrations requires the recognition that, like with violence against women relying on widespread misogyny, there's something in our particular local culture that allows these outposts of bigotry to remain, when most of the country has avoided it.  I feel pretty confident saying that there's little virulent racism in the area*, but subtler problems are really really widespread.  I had to give up on a local blog's comment section when someone joking-but-not-jokingly proposed banning the word "racist" instead of "fuck" in the discussions.  White people often need a lot of hand-holding when it comes to talking about race, but that's completely ridiculous.

I was awfully disappointed when my clumsy attempt to start a discussion about what more needs to be done was completely and defensively ignored.  Admittedly, it was a little of-topic where I attempted.  An elevator pitch of, "You're racist, do something about it," isn't a big winner.  I started talking about things I've learned in my own struggles with ignorance about race issues, and my personal racism.  No one liked that, especially since I'm a bitchy, arrogant confrontational writer even when being diplomatic.    I tried some hand-holding in passing on lessons I've learned the hard way.*  There's no real legislative solution to the problem, so work needs to be done on a more subtle, social level.    A GTFO campaign is more like it, but easily co-opted and pretty toothless.  Idaho has been "too great for hate" for probably two decades, but the slogan has done little beyond making people feel less racist-by-association.   Apparently some of our best friends are black, but no one wants to look much deeper than that if they're at risk of being called racist in the process.

Racism isn't exactly our fault, but it's a legacy we're obligated to fix, even when it means being embarrassed and feeling guilty.

*The average amount of virulent racism is much higher here than in the rest of the country, but it doesn't take a lot to bring up an average in such a small population.  The corollary should be that it doesn't take much to bring it down either.

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