It Takes A Village – VNV Tuesday: When Much Ado About Nothing, Isn’t 6/6/17

Good ol’ Will; he gave us so many useful sayings!

What follows is a personal reflection, addressed as much to myself as to the Village. Make of it what you will…

Bill Maher said something grotesque last week, and social media blew up. In what has become a predictable pattern on Twitter (and DK and just about any other platform), people of color and allies said, “No. White folk can’t use that word.” White folk whined, “Hypocrites! If black folk can say it, why can’t we?” Persons of color responded, “Look it up…lots of explanations out there already”, while white people yelled, “No, YOU explain it to me!” And then there were the subtweets and discussions about whether using racist language makes one a racist, with never-ending cross-talk as individuals claimed conflicting definitions of racism. And so it went.

I chose to mostly ignore the arguments for several reasons. First, I don’t particularly like Bill Maher, don’t watch him, and don’t generally listen to him. Secondly, if I’ve learned one thing over the years, it’s that when issues of race and racism come up, listening to persons of color is important and necessary, so I didn’t feel I had anything to add to the “discussion.” Finally, I generally considered it just another moment of a loudmouth white guy saying something stupid, and really, is that anything new?

And then I read this tweet:

and had this reaction:

That could have been the end of it for me, but then I received this comment from Aji, and suddenly, the discussion left the realm of the theoretical and became personal:

To which I replied:

And that’s when it hit me. Viewing the Maher remarks as just another kerfuffle, rather than as yet another assault on persons of color and in support of white supremacy, is a problem. It is not much ado about nothing, and people like me, white and privileged, must do better. This is not to say that I think every white person should engage in Twitter battles, but if we don’t, we at least have the responsibility to listen, learn, and act in our day-to-day life. To put it more succinctly:

I’ve been reading Michael Eric Dyson’s Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America, and he addresses this (and many other) issues. He says, after explaining whiteness as a social construct, a social inheritance “where European ethnicities got pulverized into whiteness” that,

I’m not asking you to let go of your humanity, but, in the best way possible, to find your way back to it. You can let go of whiteness when you see it as a moral choice, an ideology, a politic, a terribly fearful reaction to the thing it hates the most but can least afford to do without: the black people it helped will into existence. (p. 49)

When we stay silent in the presence of offensive or ignorant comments; when we refuse to question why our social groups, our churches, our Resistance are so segregated; when we attempt to exonerate ourselves by saying, “Well, yeah, some people, but not me, so it’s not my problem…”, we are, in fact, making the moral choice to embrace whiteness and all of the privilege that comes with it. We are complicit in white supremacy.

It is your obligation, beloved, to school yourselves, and other white folk, too, about the seductive, mythical, neutrality of whiteness, the belief that you are somehow American without a racial identity, without racial baggage. …Beloved, racism and bigotry are ugly, uncomfortable issues to grapple with. But if you don’t address them, you reinforce the privilege of not having to face up to the truth. (p. 204)

What if in the face of racially-insensitive comments, we choose, not silence, but dissent? What if our ready response is, “I don’t believe in making people the Other; I believe our common humanity is what matters.” What if we ask out loud why our spaces are segregated? What if we ask our churches to join in coalition with churches that are more diverse than our own? What if, within our own Indivisible groups, we ask why there is so much whiteness and so little blackness, and ask what we can to do to improve this imbalance? What if we learn to recognize that “it’s not my problem” is the language of supremacy, and instead learn to listen without defensiveness? Can we learn that participation is part of being an ally, but taking over and asserting control is not? Can we do better? I think we can. I think we must.

And now for your Twitter break…
A must read:

I have to see this movie…

Action item:

My heart…


And now time to get some coffee…

About DoReMI 165 Articles
Now a Michigander, by way of Ohio, Illinois, Scotland, Rhode Island, and Pennsylvania. Gardener. Sewer. Democrat. Resister.


  1. Thanks, DoReMI! I always enjoy reading your posts; they are very inspiring and thought provoking and challenge us to do better. This one in particular, resonates a lot because I happened to be on Twitter around the time all of it was going on and saw the range of reactions that you describe.

    I’ve also been pondering a link my sister just shared on Facebook, about casual (but somewhat subtle) racism in Singapore. There were definitely more than a few times I felt embarrassed or upset because of my ethnicity while I was living there and I can immediately relate to the examples shared.

    • I’m not an anthropologist, but I do think it’s pretty obvious that humans require community. We define ourselves through kinship; through affinity groups; through religion; and unfortunately, through tribal constructs of race and ethnicity. I think that’s all pretty universal, whether we like it or not. And as part of the last, creating hierarchies of belonging and othering also seems to be an essential element of the universal, tribal impulse. I don’t believe it will ever truly go away, but we can diminish the negative impact by recognizing it and calling it out.

      Unfortunately, in the United States, the construct of whiteness was built in large part through genocide and human bondage. White folk just can’t shy away from that anymore if we expect to make progress (one of the reasons I included the link to the article about Lee is precisely because it’s so unflinching). And that means speaking up when those in our “tribe” practice both conscious and unconscious racism. It’s hard…but choosing silence is just too destructive.

  2. Thanks DoReMI…that tweet was sure an eye opener for sure…I’m shocked but not surprised…is that possible?…I know racism and sexism exist on the left (I struggle with them myself) but I’m always shock when I actually see it…or should I say the refusal to examine one’s ingrained cultural biases I see in so many people on the left…
    Oh I love the defiant girl pic….

    • I struggle too. For every moment when I want to applaud myself for being enlightened, there are likely ten moments where I don’t even recognize the extent of my privilege. Ultimately, it’s probably the willingness to keep struggling and growing that will make a difference.

  3. Thanks so much for the very thought provoking diary today DoReMi. I’m off to catch the last of the cool this morning to get some work done in the yard so I will have interesting thoughts while pulling weeds.

  4. Good morning, meese at the Pond. Thanks for pulling double duty, DoReMi. I have to admit to a little excitement about both of the senate intelligence meetings this week. Wednesday we have NSA Director Rogers and DNI Coates testifying. It’s believed that Rogers has a story to tell that has previously been reported on by David Corn. How’s that for a tease, right? Then, of course, the main feature on Thursday with FBI director Comey. I’m hoping that 💩 hits the fan, bigly.

    89 expected for a high today. Off to top off my coffee.

    • I can’t watch when I’m at work (actually, I can watch, but our work computers have no speakers, so no sound), so I hope people will tweet or post what’s being revealed at the hearings. I’ve seen the whispers that Rogers’ testimony might be a blockbuster; now I just have to go search to see what Corn has reported that might be relevant.

      Our high is going to be 65 today, and it’s overcast yet again. I can’t even imagine a high of 89, although rest assured, when we do start getting those temps, I’ll be bitchin’ and moanin’ like crazy (no central air at our house, though we do have a bedroom AC unit).

      • If you find out what D.C. wrote, let me know. I agree that 89 is getting warm. Thank goddess for central air. I’d be dying (or out shopping) without it.

  5. Hi DoReMI. :-)

    Another diary which allows me into your heart and that shows who you are without excuse – thank you for it.

    There is no such thing as, “it’s just a word.”

    My wife’s perspective: “It’s not just a word if you have had it screamed in your face.”

    She had it screamed in her face when she was 12 or 13. She was one of a handful of black kids who integrated her predominately white junior high school. The screaming was done by three or four white boys her own age. They confronted her and blocked her, and she was alone. They did it because she was there. No other reason.

    Neither Bill Maher nor any other white person has any cachet to use that or any other racial slur for any reason, not commentary, not “humor”, not sarcasm. Because it doesn’t, never will and never could have the ability to harm him or any other white person they way it can and has been used to harm my wife. To harm generations of men, women and children.

    Words are never just words. Words have power. That power can be used for good or for evil, it can be wasted and spent uselessly. But words are never just words.

    If you have ever been hit by rocks thrown at you, would you enjoy someone jokingly tossing a rock? How about if they explained that they were never going to hit anyone?

    If you have ever been hit by rocks thrown at you, you might feel empowered if you reached down and picked up a rock. Examined it. You might hand it to someone else who had been hit by rocks, so they could feel the weight of it, and experience a kind of power over it.

    That would be between you and them. Then some yabo wanders by and wants to participate, and decides to pick up a rock and start tossing it playfully. Not at you, of course. Just a near miss. For fun.

    Perspective is good. Here’s some. Love you guys.

    • I’m not disregarding the powerful insights you shared, but…YOU SAID “MY WIFE”!!!! (Sorry, not sorry, that still puts a huge grin on my face.)

      • {{{{{DoReMI}}}}}

        It puts a huge grin on my face also.

        However it also makes a point. I often feel I only see and hear what I do because I have a hostage to fortune.

        I have learned that I have to be aware and I have to be careful.

  6. {{{DoReMI}}} – Very good “reflection” diary – and definitely points out the issues we’re dealing with as white people trying to be good allies. Our “norm” isn’t really normal. It’s a construct by our “race” to other everybody else. In my opinion the whole situation was designed as part of ‘divide and conquer” power plays – working classes vastly outnumber the “renting” classes so the only way they can gain and keep power is if they have us fighting each other and the easiest way to do that is to find a divider that is systemic, generic, and easy – like color and other obvious physical characteristics, gender, language, and religion if the religion in question is visibly obvious (clothing, haircuts etc).

    But understanding the power-play underlying the situation doesn’t make it better. We women want our male allies to listen to us and work with us – not assume they know the problem, how to fix it, and do it for us. It behooves us when trying to be allies to people of color or other faiths to listen to them, work with them, ask them what they want us to do. Victims can’t make the problem stop – but they sure as heck know what the problem is and what needs to be done to make it stop.

    I started this comment over an hour ago and keep getting interrupted so I’d best post it and get back to what I’m supposed to be doing. {{{Moose Villagers}}}

  7. Hi meese…
    Thanks Sher…Another in a long line of inspiring diaries you’ve written…I try to confront racism on a daily basis if I find it near me….Should try a little harder to confront it when it isn’t near me…

    • That’s obviously the harder challenge, and there are no easy, obvious answers. I guess, if anything, I wrote today’s post as a reminder to myself and anyone so motivated to look for ways to create those opportunities.

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