Thursday, July 10, 2008

The 2008 Definition of Racism

I was not going to talk about this stuff any more, but Louis Gray’s post on the “racist underbelly” of the web struck a deep chord. He describes how two black bloggers, Wayne Sutton and Corvida, had a live Yahoo video chat to discuss Loren Feldman and the Tech Nigga incident, and the anonymous overtly racist chatter in the video’s text chat room. It was painful to read, but I realized it provided me an opportunity to talk about what I think is a really big important issue.

Unlike in 1964, the year I was born, today few people are comfortable being labeled as racist. The successful tactics of protesting, boycotting, and social and pressure have been incredibly effective in applying shame to the label.

Unfortunately, in demonizing, racism, we have done two things. First we have driven the unrepentant racists underground, and into anonymity. And second, we have sanded down the meaning of the term so substantially that almost no acts committed by those outside the underground anonymous can be categorized as such.

The difficulty in fighting an anonymous invisible enemy is obvious. But what I really want to discuss is the issue of how we have defined racism and how, in the future, we should define it.

Today, racism’s definition is so circumscribed, that for many it is almost impossible to find a valid use case. For many, it would require calling a black man a nigger or saying, I hate black people, or doing something equivalently overt. Of course, for some, even the use of the word nigger does not warrant the racism label, since black people use it amongst themselves. It’s not fair, defenders say, to give a word to black people that white people can’t use.

Interestingly, for many, it’s also not valid to label language as racist if it not in the form of a statement. It’s a bit like Jeopardy. Any potentially racist language is not racist if you change the form to a question, or in Loren Feldman’s case, a joke. Then you can, apparently, say absolutely anything.

And so by these measures, there are many who feel that Loren Feldman’s Tech Nigga was not racist. And while it is true that the majority of people are not supportive, there are many people who are, some aggressively so.

Within this supportive group, first there are, of course, the folks that are openly though anonymously racist. I don’t have statistics but my sense is that, when hiding behind anonymity, this is not a small group. I say this based on purely anecdotal evidence such as exit polling in democratic primaries in Apalachia, support on discussion forums for Michael Richards, and, indeed, response to the Corvida/Wayne Sutton chat.

But the most troubling group to me, as I discussed on Monday, are the ones that just don’t think this kind of material is a big deal. They believe blacks are too “thin skinned” about this stuff. “What’s the big deal, it’s all in fun.” Or to protest is violating Feldman’s right to free speech. This group fascinates me, and as far as I can tell, it a not inconsequential percentage of the tech blogosphere.

Then, there is another part of the tech blogosphere that is either afraid to speak up, or feels the discussion is beneath them. I have several prominent and/or powerful friends who are bloggers who have said this. Or they have said, “I don’t want to get involved.” I have to say hearing this hurts.

And so, given how hurtful and damaging all of this stuff is, at least to us black folks, I thought I would explain why.

For many of you who are in your twenties of early thirties, there is no context for the civil rights movement. For example I have been having a discussion with Tom from TomsTechBlog, and yesterday he actually stated, in defense of the argument that protesting Loren Feldman was immoral, that threatening boycotts was actually illegal. I really don’t mean to pick on Tom because despite the fact that I think he is really ignorant of the facts and the social context of these issues, I truly believe he is a decent person.

But the fact that he holds such views, and many of you do, means there is still more that needs to be said. And so, a little context.

As background, I was born in Harlem, in the midst of the civil rights movement. My father was an active participant in that movement. His best friend was Congressman Adam Clayton Powell, to whom he served as counselor. Adam (as he was affectionately known to everyone in Harlem) is, to this day, the most productive legislator in the history of congress as well as the most powerful black legislator in congressional history. He is revered in Harlem, the community I grew up in, and to which I have returned to live.

As a child I was present as amazing things were happening. I observed as great people planned and fought so that I would have opportunities that they did not. Despite having a master’s degree in education and before getting his law degree, the best job my father could get was as a sorter in the post office. The civil rights movement mattered on so many levels. Not that I fully understood what was going on, but it was happening all around me, and I could not miss its import. They fought the evil ideas, and the evil people. And they won. And in so doing they helped to change the country.

Admittedly and thankfully, this country is far, far better today. And the reason my father was able to go from being a mail sorter to practicing law and later to become a judge, and the reason that I can write this blog, and do the work I do, is because of the many great people, white and black, leaders and followers who protested, boycotted, and resisted. I view peaceful resistance and dissent, as not only a right, but a responsibility for those of us who value decency, and indeed democracy.

To suggest that the right thing to do is to be silent in the face of racist words, or worse, to suggest that not being silent, or that protesting or boycotting or threatening boycotts is wrong, is to wipe away and invalidate what, for me, is the part of American history that has made my life possible, that is, peaceful protest. And what is apparent to me is that there is a current, younger generation that has in many cases never known about things that are recent enough for me to actually remember.

And so the point is, context is important. Damaging words can and do lead people to bad places, and to do bad things and to feel bad thoughts. Adam Powell’s instituting a prohibition on members of congress from using the word nigger on the floor of the house was important because words really do matter. And bad words and ideas cannot just lay unaddressed.

Coming back to Tech Nigga, there are those that say that its all just words, and that words are just, well, words. It’s just jokes, and so how harmful could it be.

To those who would diminish the significance of the hurt caused by such words, I would ask that you trust me when I say that you are mistaken.

Words matter.

Words influence minds. Minds influence mouths. And hearts. And fists. And paychecks. And guns.

Words matter. In fact almost nothing matters more than words, simple though they are.

And so if words matter, and words can hurt and do damage, how do we define that damage. And how do we define when we are participating in that damage. In short, the definition of racism needs a refresh.

What is racism in 2008?

It is more than just calling someone a nigger, or a nigga. It is more than shooting someone 51 times. It is more than just skipping a resume because someone has a “black sounding” name. And it is indeed more than having hate in your heart.

In 2008, racism is appeasing the evildoers. It is making jokes that no one finds funny, or even that a few misguided ones do. It is categorizing large swaths of people with words and language that hurt them, even if you have no idea why. It is questioning the morals of people when they stand up to defend themselves against language that seeks to further diminish an already weak social standing. In 2008, racism does not require a white hood, or a lynch mob. It does not require that you hate. Yes, the lack of such obvious indicia does not mean there is no racism. Indeed,  I know racism when I see it, and I hope you do too.

46 comments:

  1. Wonderfully articulate. Thank you.

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  2. Thank you Hank. That was great.

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  3. I think it's strange that you titled the blog post "the 2008 definition of racism" and then concluded that it's the same as the Supreme Court's definition of porn: "I know it when I see it".

    Seems to me the title should be "what racism is not", because that seems to be where you have something to say.

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  4. Excellent point my brother..

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  5. Hank, I can appreciate your points, but I don't visit your blog (now a daily routine) to read this stuff.

    If I wanted an opinion of the current state of racism on the Internet, there are hundreds of other sources I could find with more profound analysis.

    I'm black (FWIW) and a software developer. I make it a point to stay away from issues of race when having conversations with clients that drift away from whatever project I'm working on, to general social discussion. It's too easy for my work then to be evaluated from the perspective of "that black guy" who's coding, as opposed to just "the developer."

    So you need to decide if you're a Black Blogger, or a Tech Blogger who is also black.

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  6. Racism can come in subtle form. People that defend themselves by claiming they just make fun or claim that words do not matter, might not be aware of the racist ideas they carry. That still makes it racism (But does it makes them racists?).

    What I want to point out is, that you need to have an education to develop the ability to differentiate and detect where racism starts. This is a public responsibility that has been probably neglected in the past 20 years.

    Coming from Germany, investigating racism (coupled to anit-semitism) used to be major reflection point at school and higher education . It is not any more, and what some people describe as 'returning to normality' could be described as well as the racist underbelly returning. Maybe that is indeed normal.

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  7. Wonderful. Moved me deeply. Thanks.

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  8. From one child of the Civil Rights Movement to another, thank you for this excellent, nuanced blog post. I was very upset to read about about what happened to Wayne Sutton and Corvida. Not surprised. But upset.

    I think of the YahooLive incident as being in the same category as other ugly expressions of overt racism that surface from time to time, whether it's in Jena or NYC or anywhere else. The society still is plenty racist; the lack of political will to continue to directly address racism and inequality also fosters permissive atmospheres where overt racists sometimes feel free to rear their ugly heads. It's worth noting that Klansmen often did their dirty work at night, with hoods on, because they were as cowardly as the anonymous jerks spewing filth on YahooLive.

    Do you mind revealing your father's name? It's possible my father, who worked in the NY SCLC office (and in Birmingham), and was deeply involved in NYC civil rights activity (and NYC left politics in general), would have known your father. My dad's passed away, so I can't ask him, but I'm still curious...

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  9. Ben,

    Thanks very much for your comments. My fathers name was the same as my legal name, which is to say Henry.

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  10. Sorry anonymous. I dont feel like I need to "decide" anything. And I am sorry that you only come here to read one category of discussion. I blog every week day, and I cover economics, social behavior on the net, UI, database architecture, and on and on. There is always stuff here for people to find uninteresting depending on where they are coming from. This is *my* soap box and I can do no more and no less than discuss that which is interesting and important to me. That tends to relate to technology and the internet. Loren Feldman and the issue of racism is, as I see it, is one of the most important topics that has been discussed in the tech blogosphere. I am sorry you are not interested but I promise you I will continue to write about things that I am concerned about, because to do less than that would be a disservice both to me and to my audience.

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  11. It's funny how I keep ending back here and reading great content. Well said Hank, keep it up

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  12. I found this article clear, persuasive and powerful. Great article that has gotten me thinking about my own perspective on discrimination and how people treat each other.

    Thank you.

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  13. Hank, yours is the best post I've read all month.

    Thanks for your insights and powerful words.

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  14. sorry, i am in opposition to this entire column, it totally ignores the simple fact that WE ARE ALL HUMAN, and attaches way way too much weight to people who think they are their bodies, or their sexuality, or some part separate from the rest (that is what racism is!!)./.. we are the wholeness, the whole human thing is everyone of us ...

    much of this current issue is about ego, and taking offense ...

    if anyone thinks they are a race, they are always going to run into racial situations, which are needed to maintain the identity one is clutching on to

    if you identity as human first, so much of this stuff melts away, but you cannot believe that if you are wedded to a more limited view of yourself.

    gregory lent

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  15. Gregory Lent - I think you're trying to tell people who FEEL like a victim of racism , to NOT FEEL that way and it will just go away. Perhaps we should just walk around with ear plugs.

    That's like saying - when you get punched, just don't FEEL the pain.

    Ignorance is not bliss when it comes to racism. Racism begets racism. Racists have children who can be ignorantly racist because they don't know anything else.

    Hank is attempting to educate. That's the only offense against racism. As a minority, your eyes are opened up. Try visiting a country where you're the minority and you'll experience a difference (both good and bad).

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  16. @gregory: yes, all true. But humans are clannish creatures, perhaps because our brains are tuned to focus on differences. The more nuanced/educated/worldly among us can recognize the differences without necessarily attributing value judgments to them.

    Asking minorities to transcend the differences ignores the fact that the majority has failed to do so. And the (local) majority always sets the social tone.

    Some members of a minority group will have the energy to accept an extra level of friction (or much worse) into their lives by attempting to fully participate in the majority social world, but most won't. It is the only way to move things forward, but it isn't everyone's chosen cause.

    They shouldn't have to. It's not their job to establish their race/gender/sexual preference/whatever as equally-valid. It's only the failing of the majority that creates the situation. But they do have to, because the majority has no visceral incentive to complicate their worlds by accepting unfamiliarity. (I'm not trying to legitimize this view, but it is what it is, which is real.)

    So, I think the question becomes: does it help or hinder the minority's "cause" to coalesce and find a voice to complain about individual incidents of disrespectful treatment by members of the majority? Well, from a corporate public relations perspective (Verizon), it certainly makes sense to pay attention. But is the larger society getting the point? I don't think so. I think most people feel that the protesters are being a bit oversensitive, which probably hurts the cause in the long run, and certainly focuses the discussion on trivialities.

    The problem isn't that some white guy made a not-funny video about popmedia black culture. The problem is that racial inequality still exists, and maybe always will until/unless the majority finds some other, more dramatic, difference to focus on (species, carbon-basedness, religion?), and racial variation gets swept into the big tent.

    But that's hard to talk about.

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  17. Hank: This is going to be a little rambling, because I'm processing as I'm writing.

    I'm one of the people who said that TechNigga was stupid, unfunny, and lame... but not racist. All I can do is walk you through my thinking.

    First, I'm viewing the work in isolation. Some will argue that it needs to be examined in context with "black people are lame", and I understand that position, but the context actually tells us whether or not Loren Feldman holds racist views... not whether or not a particular instance of his output merits that label.

    Second, contrary to what some well-meaning (and mostly white) folks seem to think, "racism" isn't simply "saying or doing something that disadvantages or offends those of another race". IMO, racism is about racial inferiority, either perceived or enforced.

    When I initially watched TechNigga, I saw racism. Not in the hip-hop slang, the "HoTrackr", or most of the other details that offended so many. The racism, for me, was in the way that stuff was framed... "if black tech bloggers existed, this is how their work would look." Not "if hip-hop tech bloggers...", nor "if gangsta tech bloggers...". He made a point of simplifying it to "black".

    So why did I end up saying I didn't consider it racist? Mainly, it was the result of me trying to give the benefit of the doubt to someone's artistic output. As you've suggested, "racist" has become such a powerful label, and (more significantly) is thrown around so much, that I've become hyper-sensitive to my own use of it. Even when I've made a thoughtful, good-faith analysis and come to the conclusion that something is racist, I need to be pushed to actually say so.

    So... good job on the pushing. :)

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  18. @self:

    addendum to the above:

    Protesting about some dumb white guy probably hurts the cause in the "short-long" run, but benefits it in the "long-long" run.

    In the long-long term, if Verizon and other media companies are more careful about spreading hurtful gunk around that reinforces simplistic beliefs about minorities, then the cause is helped.

    The twittering back and forth about the specifics will cease in the short-long term, but in the mean time, it will reinforce the belief which many smart members of the majority hold: resembling gregory's, that "it should just not be an issue", but missing the reasons why it is.

    Even the smart members of the majority don't want to complicate their worlds with the consideration of unfamiliar worldviews sometimes, particularly those as repugnant as racism, sexism, etc. Is it our job? Maybe. But social improvement isn't everyone's chosen cause, either. Particularly when the (superficial) beneficiaries are "other people".

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  19. Hank, I'll ask my mom if she knows your dad's name. As part of the Liberal Party leadership (and during the couple of years in early 60s with the SCLC), my dad would have interacted with Powell's office and people...

    Another person close to my family, now gone, whom your dad might have known was William Douthard. William was an African American youth leader in Birmingham. He moved to NYC around 64 and was involved in the Liberal Party, CORE, the War Resisters League, etc. For a time he was quite prominent as civil rights personality vocally opposed to the Vietnam War. I think I have a write up of a Liberal Party meeting in Harlem that William led. A lot of his friends called him Meatball...

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  20. Hank, an eloquent and insightful post. It amazes me that overtly racist and bigoted material like Feldman's was hosted and supported by a major media player. It doesn't, however, surprise me that there are still people out there who seem to want to act as apologists or defenders of this sort of thing. What does surprise me is that there are large corporations within the US willing to host this crap. To me this says something about the intelligence (or lack of it) of the people within those corporations making the content decisions. Boycott them for hosting this sort of thing? Absolutely, that is the right of the consumer. Speaking as I do from the other side of the world, I find it astounding that a country that has gone though all the angst and turmoil of the Civil Rights movement still provides major forums for biggotry. Racism will never go away. Biggotry is bred by people thinking that's it's ok to have a laugh at someone else's expense based on the colour of ther skin, their religion, their sexuality or any number of other factors. It's also bred by people failing to speak out and challenge it.

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  21. Sign me up to help ferret out any of the racist weasels online and off. We have no room for racism, racist language, or tolerance of it.

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  22. Ben,

    The name is not ringing any bells, but my father has passed and so I am not in a position to ask. But send me an email offline at whydoeseverythingsuck@gmail.com

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  23. It's funny, how some good things come out of nightmares. In the 60s I marched in the South. The secret was how scared shit I was. But I discovered some great people who remained friends long after the movement died. In you, I see the qualities we were fighting for then and I am happy to see what you have made of yourself because of the doors we kicked open back then. I am moved by your wisdom and your eloquence.

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  24. Shel,

    I am truly moved by your comments. They are truly and greatly appreciated.

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  25. Bravos, Hank. Well said. Others not wanting to get involved or looking the other way is, in my opinion, significantly past its best used by date.

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  26. Hank,
    I just wanted to say I'm sorry the SAI thread had to be shut down. We had an interesting conversation going on there for a while, despite the differing views of those involved. Its unfortunate it had to be invaded by some incredibly racist and ignorant people who had no intention of contributing to the discussion in a meaningful way.
    I look forward to reading more of your columns.

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  27. Of course, Hank, you are correct that the deep power of racism is missed when it's restricted to only the most overt of acts. I always remind people (if the occasion arises) that racism is systemic. Thus, if A and B have the same rights and legal protections in society, and A dislikes/hates B and vice versa for B -- but the institutions of society truly treats them equally and honors the rights entitled to both -- then A and B can only big bigoted toward each other. Now, bigotry kills or can kill; but it's not backed up and underwritten and encouraged by the society. It is easier to isolate and deal with but, again, it can be very dangerous. But here is what I think is an even better example of how racism is systematically woven into our culture and into non-obvious places: Let's use a house as the metaphor. Let's say that John is a home builder who has no concern for energy nor resource conservation. Along comes Hillary and she chooses one of John's houses because he's built almost all the houses in this town. Not only has he built all the houses in this town, but John has built almost all the houses in her entire country. Hillary is a tree-hugger, a champion of energy and resource conversation -- but she's got to live in a John house. She's also got to admit that the John house is more comfortable and will yield a higher return when she sells it. Along the way, because of the John house higher value, she's able to take out greater amounts in home equity loans. The John house put her in a better school district because the schools are funded according to the tax base provided by a particular district. So, despite her fights for the environment, donations to the Sierra club, and belief that she is a conserver rather than profligate, Hillary greatly benefits from living in a John House.

    Over the years, Hillary continues to fight for the Earth. She doesn't see herself as someone who supports John's values; in fact, she rejects his values. But she benefits from them. Maybe she could have moved to a non-John house, but she would have lot money and been in a poorer school district. She could have moved, but the non-John areas get fewer public and private services. Sometimes she thought about this and it troubled her, but most of the time she didn't. And over the years, she was faced with opportunities to She didn't ask John to build this type of house; she didn't want him to build this type of house. Hillary, in the end, supports John's values. Anyway, I think you get my point and much more can be said about this.

    But if you want to read a satirical commentary on Hillary and race, go to www.themeditatingotter.net and look under the "Original" section. For those pre, post, and during the civil rights movement the piece might be a reminder, revelation, or rejoinder to a big part of our history.

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  28. I agree with Verizon's decision purely from a corporate standpoint. He did something they disagreed with or ultimately decided was in poor taste, so they pulled advertising, end of discussion... or should have been.

    I have to be honest... I think this whole Feldman thing is getting out of hand. Had Loren been a member of any other ethnic group, I believe it wouldn't have escalated. Had he produced something that was actually funny, I believe it wouldn't have escalated.

    I'll openly admit to not ever having to have dealt with racism personally, but I find it offensive nevertheless. But my same lack of experience makes me ask why it is OK for one minority to demean their own race, or any other? Or why, if the racist remarks are "funny", it's considered acceptable?

    I'm not intending to carry a debate of racial/social behavior in your comments. I just think the whole issue was blown out of proportion. It was the overreaction by many that caused the real bottom-feeders to come to the surface, as evidenced by the comments in the Yahoo video chat. And anytime people like that are given a forum to express themselves, no one wins.

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  29. Amazing. I wrote an entire piece answering these questions and addressing these issues. If something was unclear that is one thing. And it would be interesting to discuss what was unclear. But it is very strange for me to read a comment which suggests you didn't even read the piece. I know this task is futile, but damn!

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  30. I thought you were pretty clear about your opinion of the nature of words. I admittedly did a poor job of tying your perspective to the examples in my questions. (So much for trying to be brief in a comment box.) I wasn't saying that you hadn't addressed the topic. It just seems that while many people have similar opinions on the meaning and impact of words, the resulting societal norms don't seem to match (e.g. If it's funny, it's OK). It's a phenomenon I find confusing. Again, not specifically targeted at you, just a general observation.

    I also wasn't saying that it is right that, had the circumstances been different, the video would have been OK or shouldn't be viewed as offensive. I do wish people had just written the video off as an idiot with a camera, regardless of his background or ethnicity. I felt you did something similar in your post back in March. It wasn't a vehement rant, but rather a very eloquent way of making your point.

    Unfortunately, few have followed suit. Instead, this "issue" is now a hot topic. Many outraged bloggers also had a platform last August, but remained much more silent than they are now. They have essentially been baited by Arrington and company. Now that many more people are talking about it, is it moving the topic toward a constructive end? In my opinion, it is creating a much more divisive environment in which nothing will be solved and more lines are drawn. This is why I say it's getting out of hand. Maybe I'm wrong and something constructive can be achieved. If so, that's fine by me.

    If I put you on the defensive, I apologize. That was not my intent. There isn't much that I disagree with in this post or your prior posts on the topic. If my point is still not clear, or if you just disagree, let me know.

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  31. Paul,

    Thanks for the clarification. I would agree with you were it not for Verizon and C|Net giving him a platform. To me *that* is when it is time to speak up. When people are spending $100 on phones per month, they will likely be angry when their provider is supporting someone who they feel (whether you agree or not) is aggressively insulting their existence. So I would be happy to have let it go, but I can't keep getting reminded of it. But I must say this is part of the problem with keeping silent. Kara Swisher (wall street journal) and Dan Farber (C|Net) felt it was safe to deal with Feldman because he was "accepted". This led Verizon, mistakenly, to believe the same thing.

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  32. Hank,

    At the end of the day, I feel this article does nothing to push the conversation forward.

    There are two reactions to be had to this -- affirmative or negative, and for obvious reasons one would expect there to be a lot more affirmations than negations.

    This whole racism meme is well overplayed -- it's not that it does not matter, it's just that it doesn't, won't, and shouldn't have that great effect on anyone.

    In this epoch of human history, it is a times painful (and at the low point in the last several hundred years, VERY painful) to be a black. The recent era in the years ensuing the civil rights movement, it is very livable in the United States as a black. The internet is no exception -- you can start a web business, you can earn money, you can profit, you can secure a liquidity event, you can blog, you can comment, you can generate user content, you can connect with friends, you can peruse, you can browse, you can learn.

    The internet is not restrictive to black people, just as it is not restricted to most of the western world.

    What new pain point are you solving for then? You personally have been very irritated by a) the actions of a few and b) the reactions of many who felt that the actions of the few were not a big deal.

    The pain point to me seems to be your emotions and reactions and does precious little to generate noteworthy conversation that will move the buck forward. It is simply a type of discussion where the 'good' people affirm, and the 'bad' people (probably anonymously) negate whatever you have said.

    There is no idea generation, no problem to be solved, just one man of one color with a big axe to grind in light of the personal context of his history.

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  33. "At the end of the day, I feel this article does nothing to push the conversation forward."

    I am not sure either that was my job, or even if it was, what it would mean to do so. No single article is going to change anything, any more than my articles on twitter scalability. That said, if I can change even one person's perspective or make people think about things in a way that they havent, I am happy. And by that measure, based on the feedback of people who have written to me and discussed the piece, and specifically people saying that I *did* change their perspective, this is by far my most successful piece of writing in my entire catalog.


    "This whole racism meme is well overplayed -- it's not that it does not matter, it's just that it doesn't, won't, and shouldn't have that great effect on anyone."

    Hmmm... I fear you are too young, too sheltered, and too "internationalized" given your family background, to have an accurate perspective on what race really means in this country. Like Clarence Thomas, inadvertently or otherwise, you serve here as an apologist for those who wish to make racially (or religiously, or sexually) driven policy or perspectives acceptable, which is truly unfortunate.

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  34. Hank,

    I've been discriminated against by parents of a white girlfriend, friends and family of a Puerto Rican girlfriend, slandered and spited in my travels to the Dominican Republic, and singled out in the Army -- all for the color of my skin.

    I'm young, sure, and I've been to a few countries, black, white, Latino, and others, and have seen a few things in the World, as well in this country.

    I've stayed in Camden, NJ -- the worst city in the US a few years running -- Baltimore, and also towns where the make-up was mostly White -- Boulder and my home town.

    While it's great for you to presume that you understand where I'm coming from given a post you read and a brief meeting, you are far off the mark.

    For a black to tell a black who has lived his whole life in this country that he does not understand 'what race really means' in this country is absolutely absurd. Do you think people look at me and think 'here comes an African -- his parents flew on a plane and didn't come in slave ships.'

    For 99% of the American populous, black=black, and for this reason I am speaking out. I fear many will take your words as the words of 'the black guy' -- the Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton who sits on Fox News or CNN, and is the voice of the black people. I want to make it clear to those on the web that you are not the voice of the black people, but rather the voice of one man, deeply conflicted who has seen much through a certain taint, good or bad.

    I will say that in this flick, you are the angry black man that every movie-goer knows to watch for -- the one who is easily offended, defiant, rebellious, and generally violent.

    Physically, maybe not so, but it is clear that this issue wears deep to your soul.

    The more you talk about 'race' the deeper the hole you are digging. Instead of being defined as American, or as an entrepreneur, or as a blogger, you are caging yourself in, being defined by the color of your skin, something so inherent and hereditary, it takes generations to strike from your line.

    It's not about being a 'black tech blogger' or a 'tech black blogger who happens to be black' it's about the inability to see the forest for the trees.

    When you think about Obama, do you think about him as the democratic nominee for President of the United States, or do you think of him as the BLACK candidate for President of the United States.

    The distinction is very important. Your perception defines your reality, and I believe, unfortunately, that in this case your perception, your paradigm, is severely tilted.

    One of his technology advisors is an advisor for my startup. He is White, probably of Polish descent for his last name. When he became an advisor as a startup for my team (which also features another black guy) it wasn't about charity, it wasn't about his color, and it most certainly was not about my color.

    That is the whole point I'm trying to make, the forest I want to paint for you, that you miss for the trees.

    It's not about being black, and the more you make it so, the worse it is for blacks everywhere. The more people think of Obama as a 'black' President and not just the 'President' (if he were to be elected) is worse for this country.

    As one who has grown up around racists and race-neutral people alike, I can guarantee you the best multi-cultural relationships that foster community, collaboration, and friendship happen from those who are color-blind.

    Oh they may realize you are black, or I may realize they are white, yellow, or red, but it's not the White Elephant in the room, it's simply not an issue. It's about who you are and what you bring to the table as a human being.

    I understand your zeal, I understand that you were raised in a time that may have pre-dated some of the commenters and writers (including myself), and I certainly understand that you come from a different paradigm and worldview than many of us --including me myself.

    This is why I say your conversation is not moving the buck forward -- it is not moving the buck forward for black people, or any other minority or 'oppressed' group that suffers for a pre-determined physical, hereditary, or social characteristic.

    Thanks for the view though.

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  35. I want to make it clear to those on the web that you are not the voice of the black people"

    How foolish to believe that either of us is making anything clear to "those on the web"

    "but rather the voice of one man, deeply conflicted who has seen much through a certain taint, good or bad."

    Where in God's name do you get "conflicted" let alone deeply conflicted. Honestly it doesn't even make any sense in the context of the rest of your argument. In any case your argument is fascinating in its total lack of reference to what I wrote. You don't reference or disagree with any specific point. There is no deconstruction of my argument, just empty context free blather. As far as I can tell, your argument is "yes you are black, but please don't talk about it". And I reject that as being totally and utterly ridiculous.

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  36. http://davidadewumi.com/2008/07/16/to-be-black-dont-miss-the-forest-for-the-trees/

    I'm done here, email me if you want to follow-up on this discussion.

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  37. "It is categorizing large swaths of people with words and language that hurt them, even if you have no idea why."

    I'm very lucky that I very rarely get stereotyped in my life but when it does happen it always hurts me. I can imagine the enormous hurt of being constantly negatively stereotyped.

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  38. black people call me nigger and im white. fucking racists. ;)

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  39. I'm in agreement that the population of anonymous racists is high. Actually, they are only really anonymous when not in the company of like minded people.

    Growing up in Jersey, things were pretty diverse. While being white, I was around so many different cultures that it would have been difficult to be racist. I just didn't see it and thought racism was something in the past.

    When I joined the Army I found out the problem was still around. I lived with people from all over the country and I can say that racism is still alive, especially in the South.

    The problem as I see it is that these people just get their "facts" from family members and media which don't always give an accurate view. I might have become a racist if I grew up in an all white area and my only interaction with blacks was through television.

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  40. I know I'm very late to the party, but I wanted to react to the Anonymous complainer on the 10th.

    Hank, I doubt you need any encouragement, but please continue to write about whatever you care about.

    You take a risk when you write on multiple topics: there are tech bloggers I don't read much anymore because (mostly) their non-tech posts reveal them to be foolish or odious, and some people may feel that way about you.

    But it works the other way, too. It's once I know a little about someone and have experienced that they're worth reading that I'm willing to see what they have to say about something not immediately as interesting or congenial to me.

    If you only wrote on race, I'd likely never have made it to this blog. If you never wrote on race, obviously I'd never be able to read it. But keep the mix going, and minds may be able to meet on several topics.

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  41. Interesting post... and I don't care if it's techinically not tech related, it's the opinion of a techie, so that makes it tech.

    I think it's hard to grow up in most of the USA without having some tinges of racism. With so many years of general acceptance it's a deeply ingrained sickness in our culture. Although thankfully things have improved significantly in the last 40 years or so (and continue to do so), it's unreasonable to expect it to simply heal completely in one or two generations, leaving no trace behind.

    And it's never going to really go away unless people are willing look inside and see how it has affected them. At a concious level I would never choose to be racist, but I realize that at times racism has influenced my way of behaving towards people. Obviously it's something I'm not proud of, but I think if I'm different it's only in that I'm willing to admit it - which is the first step in getting over it.

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  42. I completely understand the modern day dilemma that racism has imposed on the human race. There is one live play I have seen that all mankind needs to watch....Tyler Perry's "Madea goes to jail!" I have watched this 10-15 times and get a different perspective on reality everytime!

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  43. Firstly, I'm White (shock/horror)

    I randomly came across this post & I have to say that it is amazing to see someone defend themselves towards racism without over using the phrase - "White Folks" - which to me gives the image of old fashioned hill billies chasing Black men with pitch forks...

    You were extremely articulate & brought the point across well.

    But, I am here to defend the "White Folks", I run my own, successful blog that deals with Urban Music, a world were it is very hard to make it as a "White boy". People disrespect me & my opinions because the colour of my skin, does that remind you of anything?

    I dislike the fact that I am unable to be "Proud" of being White... There is no way that I can say I am proud of being white without being accused of being racists. I am proud of the fact that I am a modern, forward thinking White man with modern values & understanding of the world we live in.

    I see racism towards Black people everyday but I do not include myself in it, I do not appreciate "Black Jokes", I'm not saying that everyone who laughs at them is a racist, I just think that they inspire racism by allowing people to think that it is OK to poke fun at someone of a different race.

    Segregation between race is promoted by both sides of the track, it needs to be addressed that Black & White people are both racist to each other. I remember Tupac Shakur saying something along the lines of - "I can't be responsible for what every Black man does" - & I feel the same way, I can't be responsible for every racist comment, every "Black Joke"...

    I am the least racist person I know, so why do I feel like I am persecuted for just being white. I don't hate Spike Lee, so why does he hate me..?

    I hope you understand what I am trying to say & thanks again for your well thought out post, it was really enjoyable to read...

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  44. As an English-American woman whose family has lived in America for 12+ generations, I am so sick and tired of all the accusations of racism that African-Americans throw at people who have skin tones a teensy bit lighter than their's. Get over it, for Christ's sake! I will not be held accountable for what my ancestors did so many years ago! Would you?! I would not have behaved as they did so why resent me?!

    Believe me when I say that I have discussed this subject extensively over the years with my fellow English-Americans and European-Americans in an attempt to understand this attitude but it seems that none of our efforts to make up for the past and right the wrongs we have done is ever good enough! OK, then, you win! I give up! Are you happy now? All those accusations of racism ever did was make people more resentful.

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  45. As a Hispanic American, I too am disgusted with those black persons who insist on the absurd idea that only a white man can be racist. This notion that all white people in the U.S. come from an American history of slavery is ridiculous.

    Learn a little bit of American history and you'll find out that thousands of white Americans have their history only as far back as the great migrations of the early and mid 1900s. Not much of a chance to own a slave then. And they were to busy trying to assimilate into the U.S. culture to be racist, not to mention they weren't in a position to be racist anyway.

    Finally, if the word nigger is so offensive, why do far more black people use it to refer to themselves or their friends than do any other race in America? I listen to Katt Williams a black comedian, and I have not heard one sentence from him that does not contain the word nigger. Yet in my daily life I never use the word, in any way, not as a term of endearment, a term of anger, or just another slang word. I say to all black people out there, if the word is so hateful, stop using it. I as a Mexican American do not go around referring to my fellow Hispanics as SPIC, GREASER, BEANER or any other derogatory term.

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