Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Sorry white people, racism must be a bummer.

I saw this via Pandagon listed appropriately under "Boggles the mind." Seems John Derbyshire of the National Review is upset at all us Negros for making things uncomfortable for him. All he wants is to get his (expensive) (leather) shoes shined in peace, and it's not his fault white people won't do it for him! Says Derbyshire:
This pedicab seated two, so my daughter and I were prospective customers. The proprietor of the thing was a young black guy. Three or four times he called out to us, in a very friendly way, to take advantage of the service he was offering. He seemed like a cheerful and enterprising young man.…yet when at last I lost sight of him, he still hadn’t got a customer.…

There seemed to be quite a lot of [pedicabs], mostly occupied, mostly with young white guys pedaling. It occurred to me to wonder whether it’s harder for a black pedicabbie (?) to pick up passengers than for a white one. Not because people are scared to be pedaled by a black man — this was midtown Manhattan, for heaven’s sake, on a busy spring evening — but because white Americans just aren’t comfortable in such an obvious service relationship with a black American doing muscle work on their behalf.
Well, I think there are a few reasons why white people don't take black people up on these sorts of offers. Four male friends of mine worked as rickshaw drivers (same as pedicabs, I'm guessing) one summer back in Chicago. They were paid only by tips from their passengers, so their pay was based entirely on how many people accepted the offer for rides and how much those people wanted to pay them. In order from lightest to darkest they were white, Iranian, Mexican, and Black, and that's how their pay ranked. Some nights the white one made more than three times what the Black one had made.

It became a little social experiment. Usually they all worked the same nights at the same time, and split up in pairs on different corners within a block or so of each other. They knew that the most business came from people with money to blow who were too lazy (or too drunk) to walk to the nearest subway stop. On a Thursday night ("the weekend" when you've got money) this meant slightly belligerent drunken white people whose lowered inhibitions allowed them to throw racist remarks at the darker drivers as they passed them up. In the late afternoon this meant women from the suburbs clutching their purses and their children, scowling at the man who just asked if they needed a ride. Yeah, Derbyshire, that must be really hard--to be the woman holding her purse, that is.

He goes on,
Similarly, there are probably a lot of black American women who wouldn’t mind working as maids in prosperous white households, as used to be commonplace. I’m willing to bet, though, that there are large numbers of white people who would much rather not have a black maid. Not, again, because they fear a black maid would harm them, or be lazy or dishonest, but just because they would not feel comfortable in a master-servant relationship with a black person, after all the guilt-trip propaganda of the past 40 years.
I always had a sneaking suspicion that all Huey Newton really wanted was to cause a good guilt-trip. As was pointed out on Pandagon, Derbyshire's language proves to be more insightful than anything he tries to say: aren't most domestic workers given titles like "housekeeper" or "nanny," rather than "servant"? And likewise, I don't think "master" is an appropriate job description, except in some circles. Maybe his problem comes from the fact that he does still see Black people doing favors for him as them "serving" him, and nothing more. Would he ever try to be friends with his Black housekeeper, or only pity her for her status as "servant"?

He tells the story of taking pity on a black shoeshiner who couldn't get any business otherwise; it was up to Derbyshire, the White Guilted Wonder, to swoop in and save this poor man from Black impoverished misery. But ((shocking!)) passersby mistake Derbyshire for playing the white master instead of white savior, and give him dirty looks. He's the fool that's fallen for our ploy about racism still existing. Poor baby.

So. This sort of white guilt isn't useful. It doesn't solve race-related problems. It doesn't even address them! And it pushes people with some amount of sympathy to actually become less active than they might feel inclined to be.

Like this hypothetical: A black woman needs a job, but doesn't have what she feels are marketable skills, and she has no degrees. She advertises herself as a housekeeper (women's work, right?) but has trouble getting work. She can't find any white regular customers, and those she works for temporarily imply that they feel guilty hiring her and playing into a historical "master-servant" role.

This is the situation Derbyshire is laying out so I'm going to work within it too, but his white guilt prevents him from moving beyond how hard it is in this situation for a white dude like him to find hired help. But the Black woman is probably in more dire staights than him.

1) Prospective white clients are going in with the assumption that they will be the "masters" of their housekeepers, rather than what they are--clients. Just like they are the clients of the guy who files their taxes or the baker. They feel guilty being in a role of dominance, because they are setting it up that way. They make chit-chat with the baker; they feel dominance over the housekeeper.
2) Because they feel guilty hiring a Black woman, they take the easy way out and don't hire her. Now she still doesn't have business.
3) Since the clients have taken the easy way out, they also haven't addressed why they feel so guilty. Nothing has been addressed!

Therefore: Progress in this situation (and many others) is impeded by white guilt. Derbyshire thinks of white guilt as propaganda, that Black people just want to make white people feel bad. So he feels bad, and doesn't have to do anything more. Obviously, that's not helpful: social progress comes from years of work by communities of people. White guilt's not getting anyone anywhere. Likewise, when issues of economic justice come up in my community I have two options: let middle-class guilt get the best of me and sit that one out (easy), or understand what sorts of middle-class privilege I've got and get to work (useful). Derbyshire can complain all he wants about how hard it is to feel guilty being white, but he wouldn't feel so guilty if he did something to actually make some changes.


Anonymous said...

Not quite sure what the main point of this blog entry was. I'm thinking Camille's point was to showcase 'racist' ideals and how that influences Whites when choosing service workers. Please correct me if I missed the bigger picture...

If so, I think it's pretty interesting that it was the White pedi-cabbie out of the small sample who made the most money, as usually I feel like/notice that most Americans, White and Black, prefer to rely on immigrant (illegal and legal) labor when it comes to service work. However, perhaps since cab driver jobs, at least in NYC, have become synonymous with heavily accented Middle Easterners, Africans, and Eastern Europeans, the White people in this instance relished the opportunity to give directions to someone who they automatically assumed would understand them b/c he too was White.

Anyways, re: Derbyshire's commentary on maids, hmm, I think in general, to Whites or Blacks or any other race group in America, hiring a Black American maid is somewhat unheard of for several reasons. Like I said previously, service work is viewed in our society as the dominion of recent immigrants and the cultural divide between those born here and those born elsewhere ameliorates the uneasiness that may result from having another person 'wait' on you. This guilt Derbyshire spoke of is one that I think transcends racial lines and is more of a class issue...

Anonymous said...

I, too, did not completely grasp Camille's point. Were you saying it is problematic that this person patronizes this black worker, whom others turn away because of white guilt? I agree that white guilt exists, but I don't think it acts as a deterrent when people make choices about who they will or will not patronize. While a discrepancy certainly exists, I don't think it's because people feel guilty about a potential slave-to-master relationship. If anything, I would suggest it's the opposite.

However, I think your story about the men who worked as cab drivers is startling; and that it points to a reinvented form of racism. It is hard to say it is hard lined discrimination. And is even harder to combat it. But I think it's a perfect example of the civil rights backlash America has been experiencing over the last 40 years and subsequent resurgence of conservatism. It represents a form of color-blind, subconscious racism which has come into force due to the growing demand for political correctness. Racial attitudes are so prevelant and salient that the people who have them often don't notice, and probably don't care.

Lastly, big ups on all the links within the article. It kind of serves as an unofficial bibliography of sorts; but it's even easier because all one needs to do is click the word.

Camille said...

Right. I was really pissed at this Derbyshire dude when I wrote my post, after reading his National Review article, and probably didn't give it quite enough time. I usually read National Review when I need a good angry adrenaline rush, the way my brother reads Ann Coulter books for lack of better horror/sci-fi novels. I'm gonna go back and give Derbyshire a little more of his asshole time to shine; the only edits will be to the end.

Anonymous said...

Guilt? Hah, that's the funniest excuse I've hear in a long time.

No, it's not guilt. As a general rule, people don't like blacks... even black people don't like black people.

Hope this helps.

Anonymous said...

You raised a lot of goos points. I felt uncomfortable when the black guy offered to shine my shoes...but I didn't know why.
I would just look at my shoes and say," They're OK...I don't really need a shine today!"
Same with lawn mowing. Mexicans ...no problem...I just do it myself anyway.
One thing is certain though...if I answer another Equil Opportunity ad in thepaper for work and I see only blacks waiting and in the office...I'm outta there.

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