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April 1, 2008

Gay.com Conversations on Race: Part One
FILED UNDER: "Gay Men's Health & Culture"
TAGS: Gay.cominequalityMartin Luther King Jr.racism
By Trevor

A funny thing happened to a friend of mine (I'll call him Anthony for the purposes of this series) while he was chatting on gay.com the other evening. Well, not so funny actually. Anthony, a gay black graduate student here at UM, sent a private message to a white guy online, who promptly responded "No niggers tonight." As you would expect, he was appalled. He promptly informed the main chat room of this transgression, only to be met with mostly silence.

But he did get into a heated private conversation with another gay.com'er about race and racism in America that I found fascinating. He sent me a copy of their three hour back-and-forth. There were several points of contention, but they began with a primary point of disagreement in US race politics: is racism still alive anymore, or are historically disenfranchised groups just inclined to whine? You've heard this in many different iterations, whether it be about black folks, women, or gays and lesbians.

What I like about the conversation -- which I've excepted part of below -- is that, to me, the man that Anthony was chatting with represents to me the "Average Joe" kind of (white?) American perspective. For this reason, I found the dialogue incredibly useful for thinking about how Americans think about race. Over the next few days, I'll be posting different pieces of this conversation. I hope you find them as interesting as I did!

We'll begin with, well, the beginning. I've changed both of their screennames to simply "Anthony" and "Joe." I've only edited for length, such that two or more successive IM's from the same user were condensed into one IM. Read on!

"Joe": nowadays, yes - i agree there were definitely times in the past when things were horrible for blacks, but if ur still feeling all entitled cause your great-great-great grandfather was a slave, you've got a problem. people call me names too for all sorts of reasons. it's their problem, not mine - if they're that ignorant, why let it bother me

"Anthony": there is still a social stigma that attaches to black people in this country

"Joe": i don't buy it

"Anthony": really?

"Joe": i think there are stigmas against just about any group. i can show u discrimination against white males RAMPANT in media today. everyone gets picked on. it's like... life

"Anthony": hmmm, there are traditions of historical and entrenched discrimination. so, if there *is* discrimination today against white males, it is not as bad as discrimination against women or black people

"Joe": you'd say it isn't is bad now? or it's not as bad because it hasn't gone on as long?

"Anthony": not because it hasnt gone on as long, but rather because it hasn't previously been enshrined in law, and because it doesn't sit as a default preference (be that conscious or unconscious) for the majority of people in society

"Joe": so the fact that is USED to be in law, means it must still be happening today?

"Anthony": no

"Joe": then why even bring up that point?

"Anthony": law gave a special authority to the discrimination

"Joe": GAVE, not GIVES. yes, it used to be an issue, we are talking today

"Anthony": and the law developed social attitudes that persist today, even after the laws have been repealed

"Joe": prove it. that fact that blacks used to be slaves in NO WAY affects how i look at blacks today

"Anthony": not talking about *you*

"Joe": i would apply the same to people in general, aside from some on the fringe

"Anthony": An example of residual stigma: No one blinks at a news report stating that a 23 year old black man was arrested for murder. But a broadcast that began "A 55 year old Jew, David Goldstein, was arrested for stock fraud today" would be condemned as gratuitously stirring up anti-Semitism.

"Joe": i've heard it said a 23 year old white man was arrested for whatever and felt no offense whatsoever

"Anthony": indeed

"Joe": so i think it's a problem of oversensitivity in many cases

"Anthony": really?

"Joe": yup

"Anthony": take another case from a friend of mine. Consider this story. One late night in 2007 I was driving in Detroit when my oil light came on. I pulled into the nearest gas station to investigate the problem when a young black man approached me to offer help. "Don't worry, I'm not here to rob you," he said, holding up his hands, palms flat at face level, gesturing his innocence. "Do you need some help with your car?" I thanked him for his offer and told him I wasn't sure how much oil I needed. He read the dipstick, told me my car needed two quarts, and kindly offered to do the job without asking for money. From the look on his face when I paid him anyway, it was clear that he needed the cash. This encounter illustrates the public standing of racial stereotypes as default images that influence the interactions of black and white strangers in unstructured settings, even when both parties are prepared to disavow them. A little ritual must be performed to confirm that both parties do disavow the application of the stigma to one of the parties, so that cooperative interactions may proceed. interactions may proceed.

"Joe": look, when i see 2 black guys offended when a white calls says nigger, but they call themselves nigger all the time, then i see the black guys accentuating the difference of race more than the white

"Anthony": perhaps they are

"Joe": the same as the mayor's advisors worried that there won't be enough blacks on his jury

"Anthony": i don't accept to be called a nigger by anyone

"Joe": and the black community complaining that is it a chinese sculptor and not a black man designing the large MLK statue

"Anthony": you don't recall the injustices wrought by all-white juries in the Deep South?

"Joe": again, ur talking in the past. give me a recent example and not just a fringe case

"Anthony": You don't think that we should take opportunities to promote black artists (who are generally undervalued)

"Joe": i think MLK's legacy was that people should not be judged by the color of their skin so by saying only a black person can design the sculpture of MLK, it goes directly against all he fought for. just like u shouldn't discriminate against someone who is black, i think it is just as much an injustice to choose someone just because he's black. because it further separates into colors. you can't say you want to be treated the same despite your color and then say you want special privileges because of your color

Tune in next week for more! Well, okay, not next week. But like, maybe tomorrow?

PERMALINK | Posted at 3:04 AM | Post a Comment (0)


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