Monday, April 22, 2013

A little late to the party, but this is oh so good.

Stephen Colbert Spoofs 'Accidental Racist'

If you haven't heard the original 'Accidental Racist' I think that really, it's not necessary: Colbert covers the salient points. I also think David Graham at The Atlantic does a bang up job of laying down how offensive, and in many ways, damaging, this song is.

It really hits home here:

It's pretty insane to compare an inoffensive piece of headgear to a flag that represents a treasonous secession movement devoting to maintaining the practice of slavery. It's even more insane to compare jewelry to, you know, slave shackles.

The deeply offensive gold chains and iron chains thing aside, we're also talking about a flag that represents a movement devoted to maintaining the practice of slavery and comparing it to a 'do-rag' -- a piece of clothing that has been given connotations of offense by, well, racists. The flag, however, remains what it is. I get that these guys probably had good intentions, but good intentions aren't enough when it comes to learning how not to be entitled. This song does not much more than bolster white privilege and white entitlement around racism.

In the wake of the Boston Marathon bombing and inevitable fallout for the Muslim community (and the poor Czechs!) I've been thinking a lot about "accidental racism" and white privilege. I read two great pieces on this recently.

For anyone who struggles with the idea of white privilege, this:

The Saudi Marathon Man

Why the search, the interrogation, the dogs, the bomb squad, and the injured [Saudi Arabian] man’s name tweeted out, attached to the word “suspect”? After the bombs went off, people were running in every direction—so was the young man. Many, like him, were wounded; many of them were saved by the unflinching kindness of strangers, who carried them or stopped the bleeding with their own hands and improvised tourniquets...In the midst of that, according to a CBS News report, a bystander saw the young man running, badly hurt, rushed to him, and then “tackled him,” bringing him down. People thought he looked suspicious.
What made them suspect him? He was running—so was everyone. The police reportedly thought he smelled like explosives; his wounds might have suggested why. He said something about thinking there would be a second bomb—as there was, and often is, to target responders. If that was the reason he gave for running, it was a sensible one. He asked if anyone was dead—a question people were screaming. And he was from Saudi Arabia, which is around where the logic stops. Was it just the way he looked, or did he, in the chaos, maybe call for God with a name that someone found strange?
And this one, which while written from the perspective of a Swede, had so many hallmarks of my own tiny town American childhood that I could recall my Japanese mother's pride, shame, and anger at the hands of "accidental racists" like it was yesterday:

Sweden's Closet Racists

Being 6 years old and walking toward passport control with Dad, who has sweaty hands, who clears his throat, who fixes his hair and shines up his shoes on the backs of his knees. All the pink-colored people are let by. But our dad is stopped. And we think, maybe it was by chance, until we see the same scene repeated year after year.

Being 7 and starting school and being told about society by a dad who was terrified even then that his outsiderness would be inherited by his children. He says, “When you look like we do, you must always be a thousand times better than everyone else if you don’t want to be refused.”

I remember my mother's bewilderment -- then fear when security arrived, then shaking rage when she realized what was happening -- when a department store in my hometown wouldn't take her check; the check with her strange and difficult-to-pronounce name printed in script below my white father's, the check accompanied by a military ID ("it's from the US government, it's better than a driver's license," my non-driving mother repeated over and over, in vain). They demanded that my father be there, in person, for them to honor the check. I remember her shame and defeat, and moreover I remember my embarrassment at yet another thing that set me apart from my white peers -- an embarrassment only rivaled by my shame now in looking back on my childhood lack of perspective and support for my mother.
When someone wears a Confederate Flag in spite of the fact that it is first and foremost a symbol of whites owning human beings, and then has the nerve to tell me that foundational symbolism isn't intended -- it's only "accidentally racist" and purely on me -- privilege is the first thing that goes through my mind.

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