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Happy International Blog Against Racism Week!

So, I’m starting this with a caveat: the below is not meant to suggest that I don’t think it’s a good idea to talk about race, try to educate, confront racism, etc. On the contrary—I’m incredibly glad people do, because it’s made a major change in my life. My first year of graduate school, one of my professors showed us some very unsettling films and had us read several assumption-questioning papers ("Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack," etc.) It made me start to really question a lot of my beliefs about race, and it sent me to the internet, where I joined [livejournal.com profile] ap_racism and read and wrote a lot of essays (yay [livejournal.com profile] rachelmanija, [livejournal.com profile] oyceter, [livejournal.com profile] coffeeandink, and [livejournal.com profile] yhlee), and generally spent about two years thinking. The result of which is that I’m much clearer about my views, much more comfortable addressing and working with race in my fiction and my practice (very good thing when you work with clients of color), feel much less guilty and more empowered, and am enthusiastically working for equality.

All of which is why I was a little taken aback by what happened when, at a dinner party yesterday, the question of race came up. I mentioned the idea of differentiating between “prejudice” and “racism,” where racism = prejudice + power. What interested me was that while many people had interesting things to say, one of the reactions was not to react to the idea itself, but, “That sounds a lot like the kind of internet-wankery that people get into on livejournal.” I replied that yeah, I and a lot of my friends on livejournal do talk about race a lot, and someone else said that this was all well and good, but that often, it seemed to fall into the “gotcha-game”—where discussions of racism became, not discussions of racism, but people trying to catch each other doing something wrong.

Which is frustrating. Because yeah, many white people do feel very guilty and defensive about our privilege, our attitudes about race, etc, so there is a fair amount of defensiveness\. But on the other hand, it’s totally true. Some discussions about race really do feel like the discussants are just trying to “win” by proving the other person stupid.

The problem with this, and the way to prevent it, seems to be one of clarifying goals before starting the conversation. I can see five different reasons why people discuss race online, and I think they’re all worthwhile… but when they get conflated, things go downhill fast. )
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