Thinking about racism (and getting a headache)

A funny thing happened at SlutWalk NYC last weekend–a white woman was photographed carrying this sign:

Yes ouch can you believe it I know oh my god.  Wow.  It hurts my brain.  It makes me feel terrible.  It makes me want to hit this fellow PWW* for making me look like an asshole by association.

Racialicious posted a discussion about it, featuring comment from the woman herself, but if you’re in a hurry all you need to read is this summation by the site’s editor Latoya Peterson:

Slutwalk is one of the many long, long conversations about relationships between feminism, racism, class, nation-states, colonization, and power… some people don’t want to understand why women of color would be angry at that phrase, and they don’t care why John Lennon isn’t the best representative on race issues.  

Ironically, I’m working on a piece today that’s NOT about SlutWalk (or at least it wasn’t a minute ago), but about a very heartfelt and thought-provoking discussion on racism that occurred in my neighborhood last week.  It was sponsored by Building Bridges, a new south Minneapolis organization that “seeks to understand how race and racism impact our communities and to build the future of our neighborhoods together.”  The group brought local-girl-made-good Michele Norris to town to discuss her memoir The Grace of Silence, selected as the first book in the city-wide One Minneapolis One Read.  Turtle Bread on 48th & Chicago was packed to the rafters with people of all colors who wanted to talk honestly about the history of racism in our community.  It was exactly the kind of nuanced discussion that, in my humble PWW opinion, has the power to make the transformative change that we claim we wish to see in the world.

And this photo turns up on Facebook.  Ugh.

In her book, Norris writes:

All the talk of postracial America betrays an all too glib eagerness to put in remission a 400 year old cancerous social disease.  We can’t put it to rest until we attend to its symptoms in ourselves and others.

I agree….but I need to take a handful of Advil first.


*privileged white woman

5 thoughts on “Thinking about racism (and getting a headache)

  1. Cassaundra

    have you seen the letter from academic womyn of colour explaining why the name Slutwalk is also not an acceptable use of language?
    as a womyn of less economic means, child rape survivor, and former sex trade worker, I also object VERY strenuously to this name. Slut is no more acceptable than the N-word from anyone, but especially NOT from rich white women who have used it as a weapon against poor womyn and womyn of colour for so long

    1. Shannon Post author

      Cassaundra, thank you for posting. I did read the letter from the Black Women’s Blueprint, and I thought it was a wonderfully heartfelt and thoughtful place to start talking & listening–especially after a lot of the name-calling back and forth that’s gone on lately. In her book, Michele Norris writes: “what’s been more corrosive to the dialogue on race, things said or unsaid?” I think you and I would probably have the same response.

      And then this sign shows up, which is like a match tossed into a keg of jet fuel. It turns off dialogue. It hurts. It hardens people. And suddenly we’re not listening to each other anymore….

  2. Maehemsez

    You know, I’m always reticent to discuss racism. I don’t feel qualified to say anything more than, “Shut up and listen,” but then I feel like I’m not learning, because I’m not making mistakes by offering my perspective. Some of the comments at Racialicious reminded me why I think people should listen more. I understand the inclination to get defensive when a mistake has been made (even as egregious a mistake as this one was – clearly they *really* didn’t get it) but…apologize, be quiet, and learn. And goodness gracious…I’m not sure why ANYONE would think John Lennon did anything but step in a big ol’ steaming pile of it when he wrote a song that attempted to co-opt a HUGELY oppressive word.

    Anyone who thinks the United States is post racial is delusional.

  3. Zoe Nicholson

    I remember when this song came out. Many Beatles fans already hated Yoko for just as many reasons. Conversations then were about women being mistreated around the world in ways many westerners did not know. Mary Daly was writing about Suttee, female circumcision and traffiking. Today it is hard to imagine the world without video news at the speed of light. But then how women were treated within cultural acceptance was shocking. It leads me to ask what is the value of shock. Matthew Shepard’s murder was a shock, the numbers of molestations is a shock and as we move past our shock, is the result glibness or action?

    Recently I have been deeply considering what is the function of activism and one conclusion I am putting forth is that 50% of the work is expanding awareness of oppression radiating outside of the oppressed group and the other 50% is the work done within the oppressed. The work done within is not only self-esteem but healing and demonstrating that we ourselves are simultaneously working within and without. It appears to me that what we are demanding of the oppressor must begin within. The good news in this process is that it is not linear but simultaneous.

    I would propose it is time to expand our appreciation and reach of SlutWalk – it is so shocking that it is generating change within and without – worldwide. I think Lennon and Ono intended that at the time of their lyrics – now we have progressed and it is appropriate to place it in history and see it is not usable. Celebrate this and then get back to work in the language and awareness of 2011.

  4. Pingback: Where have we been? « Proper Noun Blog

Leave a Reply