I thought this would be a good thing to post either way, but might also jump-start our own FAQ project. So please, read, and comment with any suggestions on what you think works/doesn't work about this (aside from the obviously specific parenting orientation), and suggest other questions that should be in our FAQ. Thanks!
Why didn't someone just answer my question instead of sending me here?
Because you're not alone in having these questions. These questions are important, but it has proven disruptive to the hipMama community to constantly have to put aside other conversations in order to answer basic questions about racism. It is exhausting for the community to keep responding to repetitive questions, especially given the nature of the Internet, where it is impossible to distinguish between visitors, potential community members, and troublemaking trolls. Because you're not the first person to ask these questions and certainly won't be the last, we decided to put some of the most frequently asked questions into a single, easily accessible document.
Shouldn't hipMama be more interested in educating and reaching out to people instead of labeling everyone racist and making them feel unwelcome?
This community is anti-racist, which means, in part, that it does not exist solely for white people. Our commitment to anti-racism means that individual education is less of a priority for us than the anti-racist integrity of our community, which includes making sure that people of color (POC) feel welcome.
Isn't that awfully politically correct?
Conservatives have corrupted the phrase "politically correct" as a dismissive response to suggestions that the existing culture of white power and privilege needs critical examination. Because this community is actively engaged in thinking critically about the dominant culture, accusations of "too much" political correctness have very little meaning for us here. In case you hadn't noticed, the entire site is "politically correct!"
I’ve read here at hipMama that if I'm a feminist, I should be an anti-racist ally as well. I don't understand what one has to do with the other.
Those of us who are white and consider ourselves "feminist" need to commit ourselves to fighting racism with the same energy we put into fighting sexism, or else we are hypocrites betraying our sisters of color in their need. We can't demand that men no longer bake the cake of female oppression while cheerfully eating the cake of our sisters' oppression. That is, we can't expect men to recognize their status as oppressors of women and then expect to deny our own status as white oppressors of POC.
I don't want my child to be racist, of course. But if I just don't teach her to be racist, isn't that enough? I mean, I don't really want to teach about all this bad stuff right now - she seems so young and I don't want to introduce this topic until she brings it up to me. After all, this is a parenting community, not a political community.
We believe that the parental is political. In fact, it's a form of white privilege to want to protect white children from the ugly realities of racism when children of color don't have that luxury. The ability to claim a position of "ignorance" when it comes to the struggles of POC against racism is part of the power inherent in racism. As mamas, we have a responsibility to care about everyone's children, not just our own. As Caribbean educator, storyteller and poet Opal Palmer Adisa writes, "I want Anglo mothers to teach their children not to be racist so I don't have to constantly do emergency surgery on my child."
Aren't the so-called allies rather uppity and full of themselves, thinking they're the perfect anti-racist white people?
No one assumes that every white person coming to hipMama for the first time is going to be an expert at unlearning racism. The basics are included here because these concepts have been radical and eye-opening at some point for every white person. Because of the daily reality of white privilege, all people without color (PWOC) stand to benefit from reviewing these basics. Living anti-racist principles is an ongoing process for all PWOC.
But I'm not racist! What do you mean, I'm a racist?
We're used to thinking of the word "racist" in connection with active hatred. That allows us to assume that so long as we're not deliberately hurting anybody, we're not racist ourselves. But racism isn't just about obvious bigotry - it's also about unconscious assumptions, social preferences, norms and privileges. Some people call this "institutionalized racism" because it shows up in everything from laws to birth experiences to shopping malls. Racism, like other -isms, is about a lens through which you focus. In this case, racism means you focus solely through the lens afforded you by your race and privilege as a member of the group in power, from a platform of perspective shaped by the dominant white culture.
Environmental issues make a good parallel. Few North Americans personally clear-cut trees or pollute entire lakes and rivers with chemicals, but we also realize that just living the "normal" North American lifestyle depletes the environment. In the same way, racism and white privilege leave "footprints" on the rights and lives of POC and we need to actively work to prevent that.
Just like admitting one's impact on the environment is the first step towards living a more eco-conscious life, admitting one's racism is the first step in unlearning it. It does not mean that PWOC are terrible people; it means that PWOC have work to do.
I didn't MEAN to be racist. Why is everybody calling me that?
Remember, racism and white privilege are so entrenched that every single white person is implicated, whether or not she is actively and overtly racist. The pain of recognizing the inescapability of racism is part of the cost of racism to white people. Other personal costs include ignorance, guilt, fear, and/or discomfort around people of color who could otherwise be colleagues, lovers, or friends. Also, to the detriment of society in general, there are huge societal costs, such as the diminishment of the world's "brain trust" by devaluing or even preventing the contributions of people of color. As well, systemic inequalites caused by racism has led to a trend of the dominant culture to criminalize POC instead of adressing the social ills that plague our society in its entirety. Usually we think of racism as a problem for POC, but as the unwilling beneficiaries of racism, PWOC too are affected by it: being forced to admit this can be unpleasant and unsettling. But without recognizing that it affects everybody, whites will continue to see racism as "someone else's problem."
You might not realize that the argument you're making in a post is racist - but if other community members see racism, stop and ask yourself why. Take that opportunity to unlearn a little bit of your unconscious racism instead of getting defensive & arguing that you're NOT racist. Defensiveness is not useful because it makes the problem all about you, rather than all about racism.
How can I be racist if I have friends who are and/or have dated POC?
If you deny that you are racist on the basis of these relationships, it is a strong indicator that you have more work to do. The act of befriending or dating a POC does not exclude you from experiencing white privilege and thus benefiting from racism.
I don't have a racist bone in my body. In fact, I abhor racism. You don't know me, so how do you know what I am thinking?
One of the things liberal whites are taught is to deny racism by being "colorblind." Denying something or pretending that it doesn't exist - e.g. pretending that it doesn't matter what color people are - doesn't make it go away, however. The fact is, we do live in a racist society, and color does matter to people of color. That said, it is impossible to grow up in a racist world and not have learned racism. Having learned it doesn't automatically make you a bad person; whether you are "good" or "bad" is irrelevant. What counts is what you do about it. Also, see "What do you mean, I'm a racist?" above.
I've finally realized that I'm racist, and I sent a private message to a mother of color (MOC) to ask her to help me understand. She didn't respond/did respond and chewed me out for expecting her to educate me. What did I do wrong? How am I supposed to educate myself if the MOC won't teach me?
POC have to deal with racism every day of their lives. Asking them to educate you is asking them to deal with even more of it than they already do, and is disrespectful. This community is actively anti-racist, therefore within our community, the MOC are not solely responsible for your education. You can educate yourself by talking to other whites, reading books and magazines, and by talking to the POC you know in real life. You can also learn a lot by just listening.
So if I make a mistake, what am I supposed to do about it?
First, try to see it as a learning opportunity. Second, if you apologize, do so without defending yourself or trying to explain what you "really meant." You cannot demand forgiveness; all you can do is try to learn from the experience and do better in the future. Third, if you have decided to apologize, please think long and hard about whether you truly need to start a whole new thread for your apology. Do you really have something meaningful to say? Or are you just focusing on your own feelings rather than the goal of eradicating racism?
See "Okay, so what am I supposed to do about it?" below.
Why can't I post a racist slur if it's in quotes referring to something someone else said? (e.g. my friend said the _____ word the other day and I was so upset I just let her have it...). Why can't I use the word to illustrate the actual conversation?
No matter what the context, slurs are offensive, and hurtful to hear or read. Part of creating an anti-racist community is refusing to perpetuate words that hold negative power in real life. Remember, this community is committed to the active exclusion of racism and there are community members who may well have been called these slurs in real life. What seems like an intellectual discussion to you may be extremely painful to someone else.
Why is it okay to use the term "POC?"
Because it's a term that people of color have chosen to identify themselves. Basically, it boils down to calling people what they want to be called.
"Reverse Racism" does not exist
I experienced reverse racism as a white person at work/when I lived abroad/in a community of color, etc. Where do I go for support?
"Reverse racism" is a term created and used by white people to deny the fact that they experience white privilege. Those in denial use the term reverse racism to refer to hostile behavior by POC toward whites, and to criticize affirmative action policies which allegedly give "preferential treatment" to POC over whites. Resistance to or an attempt to correct racism is not racism; it is a reaction to oppressive conditions. Under global white supremacy, there is no such thing as "reverse racism."
What do you MEAN, reverse racism doesn't exist?
Racism = power + prejudice. Since "reverse racism" would require the victims of racism to have more power than the people who are being racist, it is a nonsensical phrase.
White people are raised to assume that anything in the world is theirs by birthright, and that other people are treated the same way as we are. The truth is that white people are given many things that POC are not - from jobs to smiling welcomes to the benefit of the doubt. When PWOC lose these things, the loss is often mistaken for racism or discrimination. Usually what is really lost is a piece of unearned race-based privilege, which white people are not used to functioning without.
About the Mamas of Color Forum
I'm poor/I'm a woman/I'm marginalized. Aren't I just as much a victim of discrimination as anyone else? Why do the women of color get special treatment? Aren't we all in the same boat?
You can be oppressed in one way and still have privilege in other areas. White women are oppressed by the patriarchy, but the world still gives them the privilege of being white. hipMama works to provide a safe space for marginalized people, but women of color will still be marginalized even here unless we actively work to prevent that.
Why do the MOC get to have their own space and the MWOC don't? That's not fair!
This is essentially a "reverse racism" argument. The fact is that because white women are in the majority here, the whole space is effectively "white." The MOC have their own space because some MWOC have repeatedly shown that they cannot respect the MOC by repeatedly trampling over and dominating conversations, so a safe space has been reserved where the MOC can have autonomy without being challenged.
I'm white. Can I post in the Mamas of Color forum?
No. The Mamas of Color forum is for self-identified mothers of color only.
hipMama exists to provide a safe space for marginalized groups. After various attempts at providing a safe space for MOC, we as a community have concluded that this is the best solution.
But, isn't that racist?
No. Racism = power + prejudice. The fact that the MOC have a space where they do not have to negotiate the institutionalized racism of the dominant culture is not racist. It is, in fact, anti-racist. Fair does not mean that everyone gets treated the same. Fair means everyone gets what they need.
What if I am mixed race? Can I post in the Mamas of Color Forum?
You may post in the MOC forum if you define yourself as a POC. If you think of yourself as a white person with mixed ancestry, then the MOC forum is not for you.
I am white but my children are of color, can I post on the MOC forum?
No. You can post in the Multi-Racial Parenting forum, which is designed for mixed-race families. The MOC forum is specifically reserved for women of color.
Does this mean I can't read those posts either?
There's no official rule against reading the threads in the MOC forum. Some people think it's more respectful of the space not to eavesdrop. Others don't think of it as eavesdropping but as listening respectfully to what the MOC have to say. If you do choose to read in that forum, please remember that you are very much a guest in someone else's space. Do not start threads in the main area asking women of color to account for or explain things you've read in the forum.
What does it mean to be an Anti-Racist Ally?
Okay, so what am I supposed to do about racism?
· Believe what POC say about their experiences of racism.
· Acknowledge to yourself the mistakes you have made rather than asking POC to forgive you for them.
· Set aside your defensiveness and desire not to be considered a racist.
· Realize that the feelings and experiences POC have about racism are more important than your own. Taking the focus away from how POC feel about racism makes the issue of racism all about the feelings of white people - which is just another instance of white privilege.
· Become an anti-racist ally.
What's an anti-racist ally?
A white anti-racist ally is someone who accepts her own role as a member of the racist social structure and, in the face of that knowledge, works to challenge the assumptions that come along with her white privilege. She recognizes that white people must learn to identify and confront racism when they encounter it, and then open up dialogue with other whites in order for progress to be made against racism.
It is important to remember that white allies are accountable to POC. This means that they accept the leadership of POC and recognize that, when it comes to racism, the experiences of the oppressed are more reliable and more important than the feelings of the oppressors. It is ultimately counterproductive to become an anti-racist ally in order to try to absolve yourself of guilt because ultimately the point of anti-racism is to strive for justice, not to make yourself feel better. Also, guilt can impair judgment, and paying more attention to your own guilt than to the experiences of POC means that ultimately you think anti-racism is all about you, which it isn't.
White anger at racism is an important tool in the fight against white privilege, but the existence of that privilege means that when it comes to racism, white anger is never more important than the anger of POC. Focusing on white anger at the expense of POC anger is just another example of white privilege in action.
To be an active ally of the MOC of this community, say something when you see a racist remark. Don't wait for someone else to take care of it. Don't apologize for the person who makes the racist remarks. Racism is offensive whether or not it was consciously intended, so saying that someone "didn't mean it" suggests that sometimes, racist language is okay. In this community, it's not. Keep in mind that at this site, the feelings of the racist are never more important than the person whose feelings are hurt by the racism.
In the process of becoming an effective anti-racist ally, everyone falls somewhere on this spectrum:
Spectrum of Awareness (reprinted with permission of Progroup, Inc.)
Naive - This person acts with no knowledge or awareness of biases and prejudices and their impact on others. Once someone has pointed out your actions, you can no longer be considered naive.
Perpetuator - This person is aware of biases and prejudices but continues these behaviors and reinforces and rewards bigotry.
Avoider - This person is aware of biases and prejudices but tolerates disrespectful behavior by "playing it safe".
Change Agent - This person takes an active role in creating an environment that helps all people excel. (This is where we all should strive to be)
Fighter - This person attacks all actions and confronts all behaviors and is always on the look out for injustice. This person is combative and burns out often.
But what about respect? Do you have to be rude about confronting racism?
The issue of respect, as it applies to people who make racist comments here and the POC on the receiving end, is that they have not given POC the respect that they deserve. Racism is not respectful, whether you put it "politely" or not. It is hypocritical in the extreme to ask the oppressed to be polite and grant respect to their oppressors. Resistance is necessary; it is not rude.
As aspiring change agents, white anti-racists should ideally strive to educate as best they can, but the experiences of the oppressed have priority over the experiences of their oppressors. Educating is not the same as apologizing for racism, and change agents do not expect POC to sugarcoat their righteous anger. One of the privileges that come with being white is that it isn't "socially acceptable" to point out privilege or bias; PWOC usually have the luxury of choosing whether they will address the issue, regardless of how much their willful ignorance hurts those they oppress.
Racism is a disease that white people carry. It is not an illness that POC need to overcome.
About the FAQ
The Anti-racism FAQ was a collaborative effort of the hipmama.com hipTalk discussion boards, with questions and answers written by community members or taken from actual conversations with newcomers to our community.
The Anti-racism FAQ was edited by Monica Finn, Lisa George, Nadine Mondestin, Tedra Osell, Daria Penta, Michelle Scheidel, and Gzifa Williams. The complementary glossary and recommended reading list was edited by Monica Finn and can be found at http://www.piercer.com/glossary.html and http://www.piercer.com/morereading.html respectively. [N.B. this site is down--sparkle_shortz]
Thanks to Progroup, Inc. for permission to reprint the Spectrum of Awareness.
@ anti-copyright 2002 Mamaground Railroad Anti-Racist Collective.
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