A Breathtaking Exercise in Journalistic Dishonesty
Just to get this out of the way, I know that bloggers are not necessarily journalists but David Mona-Smith, writing at Indian Country Today back in July of 2012, advertises himself as a journalist-in-training and so I’m holding him to a higher standard. Mr Mona-Smith not only deliberately misinterprets what a geneticist is saying but does so in an egregiously dishonest fashion all in the service of preserving his creation myth. To set the stage:
Back in July, a geneticist at Harvard, David Reich, published a paper in Nature stating that Native Americans arrived in the Western Hemisphere in three successive waves of migration instead of in one big one as had previously been the thinking on the matter. The article was picked up by Global Post which, one can only presume, is where Mr. Mona-Smith comes into this sorry little tale. Smith, quite pleased with himself, spoke to Reich and asked what seemed like perfectly reasonable questions. Here is Mona-Smith’s account as published on his blog.
Reich, the lead author of the research, said he was quick to buzz me back specifically because I was the first person from an American Indian publication to contact him about the study.
“Well,” I said. “This interview’s going to be a little different. I’ve got questions that a white journalist wouldn’t ask you.”
“OK,” he said with an obvious medley of confidence and concern.
“We all know the Bering Strait theory as just that—a theory,” I said. “When did people … when did scientists elevate it to fact? Is it a fact?”
“No,” he said. “I don’t think it is considered fact. I think that it’s a hypothesis about history, but no, it’s not fact.”
Later, in the same piece, Mona-Smith writes:
“There’s a chance that Indians are not from Asia,” Reich continued. “So far [the Bering Strait theory] is consistent with the data, but it’s possible that it’s wrong. … Further research may prove that it’s wrong.” (All emphasis is mine)
This is Duane Gish, misquoting Steven Jay Gould territory here! Mona-Smith goes on to conclude that because Dr. Reich said that the theory could possibly be wrong it is wrong. Mr. Mona-Smith, by his own admission, was so excited that he exclaimed loud enough to startle a colleague. Why? Because he thought, quite incorrectly, that Reich’s statement meant this:
Right now I’m still high from Reich’s public declaration, one that bloodies the Bering Strait theory like a schlocky shill found fleecing folks in a crowd at a seedy carnival. It’s all smoke and mirrors, bub. And I have yet to encounter a single First Nation conscientious objector who buys into what Bering Strait advocates are doling out in classrooms and university lecture halls across this land … our land.
Now, does ‘it could be wrong’ sound like the Bering Strait theory has been bloodied? One would have to be using a very loose definition of the word to get there or one would have to already decided that one didn’t like the theory and that any old raft in a storm will do to keep a cherished belief afloat.
Later in the piece, Mona-Smith puts his cards fully on the table. Namely, that the Bering Straits theory conflicts with his favored Native American creation myth and so the possibility that it could be wrong means that his creation story is true.
At this point in this screed I think it’s imperative for me to state that I’m not religious, but I am heavily spiritual. And I’ll continue to have faith in the creation story that was told to me as a curious kid by my elders: We Lakota have been on this land since time immemorial, which is oodles longer than 15,000 years. We emerged from the earth, a wind cave deep in the Black Hills. That’s our creation story, slick, and until theories are made facts, I’ll stick to it … or not. I’m a stubborn creature who gorges on fry bread and brazenly questions Harvard Medical academics just for kicks. (Emphasis mine)
So instead of buying into the idea that Native Americans, like every other member of Homo sapiens, originated in Africa and radiated out from the ancestral, evolutionary homeland onto the rest of the globe he wants it to be true, if he wishes really, really, really hard that Native Americans (or perhaps just the Lakota) emerged, fully formed, from the Earth at some point in the past.
If one wants to believe hokum because it makes one feel a bit better about being an ethnic minority in a majority-white nation, I suppose that is one’s own lookout. It is another thing entirely to hijack the words of a scientist in order to bolster one’s faith in a comforting fairy tale but one that has no more chance of being true than the kind of creationist nonsense promoted by the aforementioned Gish or any of his creationist fellow-travelers.
Because people said that the above was insensitive and I don’t want to let the point I was making get lost in folk’s belief (mistaken and condescending as I think it is) that somehow non-whites living in majority-white nations need to have things said to us in such a way as to not rub salt in the wounds, I am rephrasing the last paragraph. To that end:
If someone wants to maintain that a non-evidentiary belief is true because it is emotionally satisfying, all the science on the subject be damned, then that is their own lookout. It is another thing entirely to hijack the words of a scientist in order to put a patina of intellectual respectability on a position that, at the end of the day, is no more rational and backed up by no more evidence than anything that Gish or any of his creationist fellow travelers espouses. We wouldn’t say it was okay if the speaker were, say, a white Southern Baptist insisting that creationism be taught in public schools or simply that creationism was scientifically accurate. I see no reason to let it slide if the person making such a statement is either non-white or non-Christian.
“Right now I’m still high” is the only believable thing Mona-Smith says.
I’m oddly pleased to see someone bullshitting for a non-Abrahamic religion. I’m sure some Christians read that and thought, “emerged from clay in a wind cave, HOW ABSURD!!”
Now you know how we feel about the talking snake and the dude with the boat full of critters.
I had a very similar thought. The thing that I felt was deeply ironic is that I’m willing to bet that if some Christian creationist were to run a similar rap this guy would be up in arms.
Adrienne J Davis,
You’re probably right. Creationists usually only like it when its their own religion’s creation myth being promoted.
Actually, since one of the biblical creation stories has Adam and Eve (or Lilith) created simultaneously out of clay, apologists would probably conclude that another religion having a similar creation myth is further proof of the bible. Of course the Native Americans have got a few details wrong ’cause they didn’t have them written down in the bible, but still…
Definition of IMMEMORIAL
: extending or existing since beyond the reach of memory, record, or tradition
so – beyond the memory of his grandparents.
Christians rest on better evidence, not that that is anything to brag about.
Seems to me that his grades in highschool science were questionable.
Weeelll, effective oral traditions do mean that memes can be transmitted and knowledge maintained over several more generations. As the generation count increases, the reliability and precision drops, but it’s not nearly so bad as to be useless beyond the grandparent generation. ;-)
But, yeah, this guy probably was not a prodigy in science class.
Adrienne J Davis
So Mona-Smith a native American Creationist?
Possibly, although I wonder what Moya-Smith’s definition of “time immemorial” is. My guess would be something like “since the dawn of time” or maybe shortly thereafter, but I admittedly don’t know enough about the Lakota religion to know for sure.
“I’m a stubborn creature who gorges on fry bread and brazenly questions Harvard Medical academics just for kicks.”
You know… an asshole.
Quite frankly, this post is very upsetting, because it reeks of white privilege. Yes, this author has misrepresented this scientist. Yes, there’s pretty good evidence for the Bering straight theory. Yes, there is overwhelming evidence that all of humanity has its origin in western Africa. More importantly, the author has misconstrued the fundamental tenet of science that is the freedom to doubt.
Yet. You are lecturing a Lakota man on truth telling. Please consider:
*** TRIGGER WARNING: Genocide ***
The Lakota and other Northern-plains nations were systemically lied to stolen from, and killed. They made multiple attempts at peace talks; signed multiple treaties, every one of which the United States government reneged on. They were pushed out of the homeland onto tiny reservations they could not live on. They were promised thousands of dollars, food, and resources that were pocketed by white overseers of the Indian Bureau. When a group of young men raided several farms to get food for their starving families, the US army lashed back. In the fighting, ~100 white Americans died; thousands of native peoples were massacred, but no one knows how many because they didn’t bother counting.
At this point, the army gathered up literally every fit man or older boy, and tried to execute them ALL. Lincoln signed the death warrants for 50. This was the largest mass execution in US history.
Then, these battered peoples were forced to walk through the descending winter for miles and miles, to be paraded and attacked as less than human at every white village. Newborn babies were ripped out of mothers’ arms and dashed on the rocks, to cheers. The end of this death march was a concentration camp at the foot of an American fort, *built on the site of their most sacred lake, considered a place of their creation*. Most of them died there, of disease and exposure in the winter, and were left to freeze in the open.
Now consider that fort still stands, and is a museum where white children can go and learn about their brave colonial ancestors; play dress-up as pilgrims and soldiers. Consider that every attempt the Lakota have made to have this truth told have been met with disdain, apathetic sympathy, and silence.
So when you tell this man that “that is not how science works”, what he will likely here is “I am white. You are not. You have no history. You have no past. Shut up.”
Science and imperialism are twin siblings. They were born together in the Enlightenment, and for hundreds of years the ideas of science have been founded on biased “Rationalism”. Science has been a weapon of institutional racism for much longer than it has fought against those things. Consider that for this man, *disagreeing with science is an act of activism*, because Science is synonymous with a tool to diminish their humanity, their knowledge, and their history.
This should be recognized here at Skepchick, of all places. This weaponized science has been used against women as well.
What I have to say to you, and to this man, is that Science is SUPPOSED to be about truth telling, *especially* when it is hardest. Science has immense power for good. It should be a tool for activism, and for truth telling, and skeptics should be the vanguard of this. We should be standing WITH the Lakota, in getting their truth told. This man is misusing science because for centuries his people’s history, humanity, heritage, have been denied and diminished.
What I have to say to Mr. Mona-Smith is this: This scientist is not dismantling the Bering Straight theory. It is true we do not know the origins of humans on Turtle Island; but this does not mean we know nothing. Practically speaking, we do know that humanity, all of us, come from western Africa. That said, I do not want to erase your past, your history, your people or your culture.
It isn’t a perfect parallel, but my people also have an origin story. I do not believe it to be literal truth, but I do think it is beautiful. For me, knowing these stories, I can connect to my heritage, spooling back thousands of years to see my ancestors telling passing on their knowledge. For me, knowing that is not the end of the story enriches my story, and theirs; I can trace my past back across continents and time, beyond humanity, to the stars themselves. The universe is a beautiful place, and we are all a part of it.
I realized I presumed Ms. Adriene Davis was white, which isn’t appropriate. I apologize for the assumption.
You are lecturing a Lakota man on truth telling.
Well, that was a classic fucking example of mansplaining.
That was not my intention at all. I absolutely do not want to silence anyone, at all. I often write my opinions as declarative, mostly as a writing style but with the intent that people assume everything I say is coming from my own head. I don’t think I’m dictating absolute truth. This post was very emotional for me, and I wrote it in one go. If I would rewrite it, I would try to make sure any sentiments of my own were clearly expressed as my feelings and impressions. I am sorry that came across that way. Please, please, I do not want to silence anyone. If you have any advice for ways to better achieve that, I will listen. I appreciate your comment. That said, I don’t want my points to be dismissed because I can’t write well enough =(
I do feel like the OP is writing down Mona-Smith. I do think he is completely wrong about this situation, and that his comments are anti-science.
But anti-science is a HUGE issue for a lot of native peoples, because science has been used against them for so long. This is why it’s so upsetting for me. I really want to skepticism to be a tool for social justice. I really want people who have been victimized by all kinds of bigotry to see science as their tool, and that it can arm them against with facts and knowledge, and ground activism in a very broad reality. As an honest question, do you think that’s off base?
I wrote that post because I can see many friends of mine from different indigenous nations reading this article and being offended; that they will see it as yet another rejection of their history. I have had these conversations with them before.
I love skepchick. It’s very, very important to me, because I hate hate hate the privilege on display in the skeptic community, and it’s so shitty and weakens any good it could do.
I apologize for my tone, for my opinions, and for any mistakes. I do not mean to offend. I think a lot of what I said is fact, such as the history of the Lakota and many native peoples’ relationship with science and skepticism. My only desire is to contribute to the justice and honesty of this community. Intentions aren’t everything, but it would mean a lot to me if you would try to keep that in mind, and if you would help me to do better in the future.
Look, let’s clear a few matters up. I’m *very* aware of how science has been misused against people of color. As a black woman, over the age of forty with deep roots in the South, I’m quite cognizant of how non-whites were demeaned and how racism was given a pseudo-scientific makeover to make it look respectable. That doesn’t change the core of my argument what-so-ever.
Mr. Mona-Smith *deliberately* misrepresented what Dr. Reich said in pursuit of an emotionally satisfying goal but all the fuzzy feelings in the world don’t make it right. In fact, that kind of nonsense causes more harm than good.
I’m here to tell you that as a black woman who was a major in a physical science that non-trivial numbers of white people think that non-Asian people of color can barely *spell* the word science much less actually show any ability in any field of science. It would do me no good to turn around and spoon a big helping of anti-science on the plate and then duck behind my melanin to protect me from someone saying “you’re wrong, Adrienne” by claiming that merely contradicting me is racist. No. Good. At. All.
If Mr. Mona-Smith thinks that the Bering Strait theory is wrong, he can do the hard work of demonstrating that it is wrong. But taking the statement that it *could* be wrong as an indication that it *is* wrong is dishonest and does no one any good. It is not racist to say so, it is treating Mr. Mona-Smith like a grown up which, given that he’s at university now, I presume that he is.
Actually… while my comments on mansplaining and silencing stand, (if you have the time to explain how I could do better, I will listen), after spending my whole morning pouring over this again and again, trying to take deep breaths and not cry, I am going to double down on my original point.
I am sorry, but this post, as written, is racist.
“If one wants to believe hokum because it makes one feel a bit better about being an ethnic minority in a majority-white nation, I suppose that is one’s own lookout.”
How is that not HORRIBLY diminishing??? Why can this not say “I recognize that you are a victim of genocide and a pogrom of systemic cultural destruction. I recognize that the American government has used science in an attempt to destroy your people and erase your existence and your history. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Science is still growing, but we’re finally, finally learning to fight back against our own biases. Science is trying to be about truth-telling; it can be your weapon to get your truth told. Misconstruing science and the statements of scientists isn’t in the way to fight for your dignity and the right of your culture to exist.”
Why can this not say that??
There’s one other thing I wanted to say because it’s the bit that was like a splinter that was bothering me that I couldn’t quite put my finger on and it is this: your condescending attitude toward people of color. Yes, condescension. I’ll explain why I call it that.
Let’s say that I were to insist that Barack Obama was *not* the 44th President of the United States but was the 30th. I would hope, sincerely, that *someone* would have the intellectual honesty and intestinal fortitude to say “umm, Adrienne, that would be 44th. Coolidge was the 30th.” I don’t like being wrong but I’d rather it be pointed out to me honestly than to have someone make excuses. Now, say that I really *want* that the first black American POTUS was elected in the first quarter of the 20th century instead of the first decade of the 21st. Would it be reasonable for someone to defend my insistence that Obama and not Coolidge was number 30 on the basis that, as a black woman, I and my people have been through such rough treatment at the hands of America that allowances had to be made and if I really felt the need to insist upon it then well, as a matter of cultural respect people should just let me get away with making wildly inaccurate statements. What would *you* call that behavior? I would call it condescension.
It reminds me of an incident when I was in grade school when a teacher told me that I needn’t worry to much about my struggles with mathematics because ‘blacks aren’t very good at math’. She thought she was making me feel better and trying to be understanding. When I told my parents about that they flipped their lids! The next day my father took me to school before he set off for his own campus (my folks were college professors) and explained to my teacher that if he ever caught wind of her making that kind of statement again, he would make it his new mission to ensure that she could never say it to another student by making sure she never taught again. Your statement strikes me as a similar species to the well-meaning but deeply condescending statements of my long-ago teacher.
I’m sure you didn’t mean it this way–I’m certain of it, in fact–but what it came across as was this: “That poor Native American man, we can’t expect him to care about journalistic integrity or, for that matter, scientific accuracy given all the things that have happened to his people.” It’s demeaning and just because you are holding this position because of a misguided sense of being on the side of the oppressed doesn’t change the fact that it is lowering the bar *because* Mr Mona-Smith is a Native American.
Do you realize that what you’re doing right now is, essentially, insisting that it’s not okay to point out when a person of color is wrong simply because that person is not white? *That* is racist. Assuming that people of color have to be coddled and told that everything they do and say is good and right because they are people of color is racist. Mr. Mona-Smith publicly engaged in seriously unethical, dishonest journalism for the sake of making himself feel better about his creation myth of choice. That’s wrong, regardless of his racial background. It’s unethical regardless of the color of his skin. And insisting that he should get a free pass because he’s Lakota is incredibly racist.
What Secretagentmaam said. ^ For real.
Because, of course, no *black* woman could possibly be knowledgeable about biology or, for that matter, any scientific subject, eh? You’re going to lecture me about racism when you assume that because I am defending a science and a scientist who was deliberately misquoted I *must* be white? Really?
I am sorry. I already apologized for this; it is obviously a shitty assumption, which I wish I had caught. But… no, that assumption had absolutely nothing to do with knowledge of science or biology. I don’t feel like my post is even ABOUT science or biology, at all? If there was a reason I assumed you were white, it was because this sort of thing usually comes out of the mouth of white people.
I also feel like you are misrepresenting the content of everything I wrote in good faith, and honestly, derailing. I feel this is racist because you are mocking and diminishing someone who is trying to recapture some dignity and culture that was systematically destroyed by white people, not because you are “defending a scientist”. I am upset because you ignore the context and history in which he’s writing, and because I feel like your comments are damaging, diminishing, and silencing.
How is pretending that a statement that is entirely wrong and a grotesque misrepresentation of what someone said silencing? Why is pretending that nonsense is nonsense diminishing?
I didn’t ignore the context and history in which he’s writing. Either Dr. Reich said, as Mr. Mona-Smith claims he did, that ‘the Bering Strait theory is wrong’ or he didn’t. If he didn’t (and he didn’t) then does it *actually* matter what the history is? If so, can I use my personal and ethnic history as a cudgel with which to beat you about the head and shoulders with?
I don’t want to be a part of that thread, but I am also made uneasy by this article.
“the Bering Straits theory conflicts with his favored Native American creation myth” and “If one wants to believe hokum because it makes one feel a bit better about being an ethnic minority in a majority-white nation”
If I have to tell a person who has been oppressed and silenced by whiteness that they are wrong about something, I feel like it is necessary to be both sensitive and firm. The quotes above are firm, yes, but derisive instead of sensitive.
So as a black woman do I get to say things in my own way or should I check in with the good, putatively anti-racist white ‘allies’ so that they can approve my words before hand? I mean you do realize that you are saying this to a black woman and thus, by your own lights, you should be approaching me with sensitivity. I don’t feel like you are being particularly sensitive to my concerns as a black woman who has spent her entire adult life working in fields where I was one of a few or THE black woman.
Do you really want to go down this road because I can box you in using your own framing. I mean, by criticizing my writing you are trying to silence an authentic black American voice. See how this works? See what a dangerous game this is? So, are you trying to silence black voices in general or just black women voices or are you not trying to silence black women voices if they take the time to check in with you first so you can tell us what is acceptable to say and how we can say it? Are you going to say that as a black woman I haven’t been oppressed?
(For the record this kind of thing makes my skin crawl but since folks are chiming in on this explicitly from a framework that I was insufficiently sensitive to the words of a man of color, I feel compelled to turn it around and show what kind of argument is being made. I do not, for a minute, think I should be treated with kid gloves in the name of racial ‘sensitivity’.)
Now we’re assuming everyone is white, whether they’re arguing for the insensitive statement or against it. :) I think I’m falling on your side Adrienne, although I personally think the statement in question was rude. I can’t really criticize you for criticizing someone else if my reason for doing so is that there is a history of white suppression toward his ethnicity. It is likely to be construed as more rude depending on the source (from someone with “privilege” vs. from another “ethnic minority in a majority white nation”).
I’m curious though – do you personally feel the statement would be out of bounds for a white person? Say, “It’s fine for black people to believe in voodoo – if one wants to believe hokum because it makes one feel a bit better about being an ethnic minority in a majority-white nation, I suppose that is one’s own lookout.”
I also agree that treating minorities with kid-gloves is patronizing and insulting, but isn’t avoiding deliberately salting their wounds a consideration to be made?
“I’m curious though – do you personally feel the statement would be out of bounds for a white person? Say, “It’s fine for black people to believe in voodoo – if one wants to believe hokum because it makes one feel a bit better about being an ethnic minority in a majority-white nation, I suppose that is one’s own lookout.”
If I were white I wouldn’t make that statement for one simple reason: no matter what kind of ‘ally’ I think I might be and no matter how much I want to show that I’m anti-racist, I have no idea what it is *psychically* like to be non-white in a majority white nation. When I talk about the various and sundry tactics and tools that I have deployed over the course of almost five decades living in America, I am speaking about a subject I know because I have had to do that.
One has to do *something* to protect one’s psyche living in this country and the older one is, the more likely it is that one had to tie oneself up in some fairly serious knots to do so. When I speak of the things one does to make one feel a bit better about being an ethnic minority in a majority white nation I am speaking about a subject I know both intellectually and psychologically with more intimacy than I wish were the case.
I get the seductions of Afrocentrism. I really, really do. I cannot explain what it is like to know that the *only* reason I am here in this country is that at some point in the distant pass, some people carrying what would become my genes was on the losing side of some intertribal war at some point. Those ancestors were then sold off and brought to these shores as property. My people *lost* history. We were conquered and enslaved. That might seem noble but it doesn’t feel really great to be on the losing side of history and by no stretch of the imagination can you say that blacks who were brought here as slaves were on the winning side of much at all. So the seductions of a glorious past, wherein not only were we the first human beings but we had empires of such glory and splendor that nothing humans have done sense has measured up are well known to me. The problem is that it isn’t true. Aristotle didn’t steal lots of ‘African thought’ from the library of Alexandria and yes, it matters if someone insists that it did happen. There were no flying machines some several thousand years before the Egyptians booted up their civilization. The Egyptians were *not* the people who were taken as slaves and I doubt that they would argue that they are sub-Saharan black Africans. Anyone who says that these things are true is selling bullshit and hokum.
One of the most courageous books I’ve ever read, hands down, was “Not Out of Africa” by Mary Lefkowitz. It was courageous because the author was a white woman who was an Egyptologist. She just went there and said that the Afrocentrists were wrong and that whatever their motivations might be, it didn’t make history conform to their desires. I would love to meet her and if I had the chance I would give her a big old hug because she took black academics seriously enough to presume that they cared about accuracy and that it mattered that they be taken seriously which meant that if they were wrong, she would tell them. She was, of course, excoriated as a racist and as an apologist for racism and for insensitivity simply because she said “No, this didn’t happen. Here’s how we know it didn’t happen.”
So, if I were white I wouldn’t phrase it quite the way you did above because I wouldn’t be in a position to understand the seductions of pretending that one’s people have this glorious past instead of having been conquered and or enslaved. I would hope, however, that if I were to say something so manifestly lacking in evidence *someone* would have the courage to say “no, that just ain’t so.”
My concern–and my pushback–is born of a sense, which I think is fairly justified, that the problem is that I said that something a non-white man said was hokum. Had it been a white man’s creationist fantasies I was talking about, I’m willing to bet that I could have called it hokum and more besides but because I was talking about something a person of color said, I needed to understand that because of history, we should hold him to a different and lower standard. I have yet to read anything on this thread that suggests that this isn’t the case.
I tried to follow both your framing and mine: that it is okay to tell someone when I think they’ve done something wrong, but to try to be sensitive in doing so if there are privileges at play (even when they aren’t one’s specific privileges).
You’re right that you can turn that framework back on me, but look back at what I wrote: I didn’t try to escalate your words, saying that you said that the Lakota people haven’t been oppressed or that you were trying to silence them, as you do in that second-to-last paragraph with me. I didn’t ask you to change anything or check with me or other white people before writing anything. I said – *all* I said – was that I think you were being insensitive, and I quoted two of your lines in an attempt to be as specific as possible in my criticism. By your own framework, I should be able to do that.
And for the record, I don’t think that sensitivity should be equated with kid gloves or condescension. I think there is a middle ground. I called it “being sensitive” and Wilson calls it “avoiding deliberately salting their wounds”, but I think we mean the same thing.
How am I deliberately salting the wounds? The author of the piece I excoriate above *says*, well, this:
“And I’ll continue to have faith in the creation story that was told to me as a curious kid by my elders: We Lakota have been on this land since time immemorial, which is oodles longer than 15,000 years. We emerged from the earth, a wind cave deep in the Black Hills. That’s our creation story, slick, and until theories are made facts, I’ll stick to it … or not.”
Does that sound like he is doing anything *other* than adopting a position because it is emotionally satisfying and a source of racial pride? Because it certainly sounds like that to me.
Is there *anyone* here who would argue that it was insensitive if I had said that, for instance, Sarah Palin or Pat Robertson’s insistence that the Earth was made in 7 literal days, some several thousand years ago was hokum? Anyone? It’s possible but I wouldn’t put any money on it. Would anyone think it insensitive if I said that they did so because it was emotionally satisfying or that it was a means of coping with this or that bit of psychic stress? Again, I doubt it. Now, if it is insensitive to say that Mr. Mona-Smith’s insistence, all evidence be damned, that his racial creation story is true is hokum then to insist that Sarah Palin’s insistence on the her creation story must also be insensitive. Unless, of course, you are going to argue that somehow, non-whites should be treated by one standard–in general–and whites by another standard. If you are going to say that then I would argue that the bar you use to justify that had best be set very high. Because almost *every* argument I can conceive of someone making would have to rest on “you have to understand that they have been through so much as a people and so we can’t really expect…”
The older I get the more difficult it becomes to justify certain inconsistencies in ethics that pass as anti-racism.
I might be wrong. If for no other reason than that I don’t want the point I was making to be lost in my choice of words, which admittedly could have been otherwise, I will go ahead and edit the piece and will state why I have done so. So I will behave as if I am wrong even though, quite honestly, I don’t believe that I am.
I’m presuming that Mr. Mona-Smith is a grown up and can safely be held to a grown up standard.
Here’s the problem, once you start down the road you did, it doesn’t take long to get into the arena of inanity. Do I *really* think you are trying to silene me *because* I’m a black woman? No, but if I were of a mind to do so I could and I could make an argument that would reflexively back you into a corner because you would be so busy falling over yourself to prove your anti-racist credentials that you wouldn’t take the time to deal with me as an actual adult who was spinning bullshit. Trust me when I say that the temptation to *not* show my cards and actually post as if I thought you were trying to tell me, as a black woman, what I should say and how I should say was present. But a long time ago, I decided that even if some non-trivial number of white Americans were going to treat me as nothing so much as a 5’8″ child with a legal right to drive and buy booze I was not going to treat myself that way and so I wouldn’t allow myself to give into the temptation. What I said was bullshit and you should be perfectly comfortable with saying “this is bullshit” but if you’re going to refrain from doing so, don’t you think you should come up with a better reason for that restraint than “she’s black, she’s been oppressed, she couldn’t take the truth and we shouldn’t expect her to be capable of doing so.”
Quite honestly, I would prefer the straight up racism someone who says “you’re really intelligent for a black woman” than the person who treats me with kid gloves because they are trying to compensate for past oppressions. At least with the former we *both* know where we stand. With this kinder, gentler, “don’t say anything that might upset the brown folks” stuff I never know where I stand.
You will, at least, concede that it is *not* equally likely that the Lakota, unlike all other human beings who have walked the Earth, were always on the North American continent and emerged, at some time in the very distant past, from a cave fully formed and, conveniently, just so happen to share genes with the rest of humanity. You are willing, at minimum, to admit that however much someone might *want* this to be true that it isn’t, in point of fact, supported by anything that any sane and honest person could reasonably call evidence?
And you know, it’s completely okay to respect the myths of your culture, and to respect your culture’s past. But at a certain point, you need to acknowledge reality. It’s 2012. It is time to stop claiming that clear MYTHS are somehow truths, and it is time to stop acting like scientific theories are somehow not factual. It’s just maddeningly WRONG.
To all who are tone trolling Adrienne: What are your feelings on Richard Dawkins and his style of atheism?
This is a rhetorical question, really, ‘cuz I don’t particularly CARE, but among you, there must be at least one person who respects him. Yet you’re wagging your finger at Adrienne.
There, the post has been changed and just so people don’t think we were all crazy, I left the bit that had you and others all up in arms in but struck out.
“That was not my intention at all. I absolutely do not want to silence anyone, at all.
Why do privliged people think that word has some sort of magical power?
Intent doesn’t really mean much.
What the hell does writing style have to do anything?
Clearly you don’t really understand why I said what I said. Oh, I see. It’s your *writing style*.
What the hell does this even MEAN? I am and as quite aware that your words were your feelings and impressions. YOU WERE STILL FUCKING MANSPLAINING.
Now that’s some fucking irony, right there. You’re trying to make it seem like you’re totally aware of privlige while completely ignoring your own. WOW.
“I’m sorry I was mansplaining, but let me continue mansplaining!”
Oh, you mean your non-apology? Perhaps if you had at least considered that your assumptions have colored your opinion of both this piece and of Adrienne’s own intentions, I would find your apology sincere. But you haven’t.
Just a lot of, “I’m sorry, BUT!” or “I’m sorry, AND!” or “Stop pointing out my privlige, I already said I was SORRY! Isn’t that enough?!”
No. “I’m sorry” is NOT enough if you clearly continue to dig your heels in and push your point.
There is this really interesting point where someone bending over backward to show how aware of and opposed privilege they are actually winds up meeting privilege coming the other way. I would certainly say that hinhavi reached that point quite early on.
An excellent point, Ms. Davis, that kit gloves babying is often amore insidious form of condescension than outright challenge. I vividly remember a high school conversation, in the back seat of a ’77 Caprice or Impala, with my best friend in high school, black, poor, not at all fond of whites, with a group of tough white Italian and Irish kids from various Boston shitholes.
We were all on a weekend escape from an elite liberal prep school, at which we were working class “projects” of social uplift. If that sounds bad, it wasn’t, it was idyllic, but we were mighty intimidated by the breezy sense of privilege that most of our classmates swaggered around with, and we tended to ghettoize ourselves around the caftereia tables of those who got $20 per month in allowance versus those who got $500 per.
We’d been through several sixpacks and doobers. One of the white punks asked Ray, what do you think of white people. Ray replied: I think you’re dirty, dishonest, lazy, you smell funny, and you’re a bunch of angry violent motherfuckers.
After a moment of dead silence, an Italian kid upfront laughed, and said, “well then you’re fucked up, because you’re drinking with the laziest dirtiest most dishonest angry violent funky=smelling motherfuckers at XXX Academy!”
Ray smiled: “yeah….you’re right….but you guys smelllike sweat and liquor, and I know those smells….I was talking about the Old Spice and patchouli and incense and jacking off too often smell of the rich kids. Y’all don’t like me much, and I can see it in your eyes, and I hear you catching yourself at “nig” and slowing down to add the “ro” after it, and you ain’t too sure if you wanna take that joint after it’s touched MY lips….but here we are drinking and tellin’ it straight…you ain’tthe rich Jewish kids from upper Manhattan trying to “experience” me, you ain’t the Mayflower WASPS trying to elevate me, so delighted at me having heard of fucking Shakespeare, and you ain’t the do-gooder faculty trying to trot me out in front of donors as their GREAT SUCCESS. You’re just some racist-assed micks and dagos drinking with a nigger, and dealing with it. I’m more comfortable with you cats — you’re not proving anything by letting me intrude on your world.”
Sorry for the long winded memoir, but this 16-year-old’s philosophy is — right or wrong — certainly a compelling insight. To be coddled is to be objectified. Anhd kit gloves are not so very far removed from a Howard Hughes/Michael Jackson surgeon’s mask: heaven forfend I encounter the “other” as an equal agent of a common humanity!
Be long winded if you need to! This is a conversation, we all use all the words we need.
Thank you so much for telling that story. I have two things to say about the ideas; the first is that having grown up primarily in Northern California but having spent all but one of my summers in the South and having experienced race relations played out in two very different cultures, there is something refreshingly honest about Southern racism. If someone half my age calls me girl and I give them ‘The Look’ we both know where we stand. He knows I didn’t like that at all, and I know that he doesn’t give a damn that I don’t like it because he seems me as an inferior. We then finish conducting our business and then can go about our lives in the hopes that we need never cross paths again. In Northern California, after about the mid-eighties, it became more and more weird. It leaves you guessing because on the one hand you know the person is trying to be ‘nice’, they aren’t *trying* to be racist, and they don’t take any pride in it. It isn’t part of their identity, so to speak. Yet, they hold prejudiced ideas and they are putting them in your face. What do you do? What do you do when it’s a co-worker and you’re black working in a field where there are precious few blacks or women and you know that you are likely the first black woman a lot of your co-workers have ever known? Anyone who thinks there’s an easy question to that has never had a coworker ask them if they were raised by a white family because of how one speaks and one’s general cred as an OG (Original Geek).
The second thing I want to say is that I’m glad I was raised by much older parents. My folks were born a month apart in 1922. I was born in 1967. To my parents, who had lived through Jim Crow in Alabama and Louisiana, who had served in a segregated Army, who had gone to and taught at segregated schools until they moved to California, the insult–on top of the injustice–to black people was not that our authentic African culture wasn’t recognized. Rather, it was that our humanness wasn’t acknowledged. My parents would take us to every Shakespeare play put on at either of the campuses they taught at because they would be damned if someone was going to convince us that because we were black Shakespeare could say nothing to us. Yes, we read (and watched) Roots and the Autobiography of Malcolm X. But we also read Twain and, later on, Salinger. We listened to Miles, ‘Trane, Billie and Ray but we also listened to Beethoven and Mahler. My parents taught us to never forget, feel bad, or (this above all else) sorry for ourselves because we were black. Yet we were also taught not to allow ourselves to be put in some category of Other–whether the person was doing it out of outright disdain, pity or guilt. The whole wide world may not be welcoming to us, but it was still ours to take hold of those parts we found interesting and had aptitude for.
Because of that my view of social justice is somewhat skewed. FIRST you must treat me as human and then, in the course of that you might want to take into account that I’m black and may have a rather different view of American history or the American present than someone who is white. Treating me as human assumes that I have all the mental facilities and capacity for self-control that any other person you would treat as an equal. That means that if I’m wrong, I can handle being told I’m wrong. If I’m spouting bullshit, I can handle being told that I’m doing so. I may not *like* that it is happening and I may or may not think that it is justified but I can handle it. If you can get that far then I think you can get to holding me to the same ethical standard and that, ultimately, is what has broken down in our discourse about race and what it means to be anti-racist.
If you cannot hold me to the same ethical standard which you set for yourself, you will not respect me. You can’t respect me. You may like me, you may sympathize with me, you may see me as a comrade-in-arms but you will not respect me because at the end of the day there will be *some* odious behavior you will allow for me but not for yourself. My lovely, lovely wife taught me this a few years ago. She is of Irish and Scottish extraction. One day I used the word ‘cracker’ to refer to whites and she called me on it. I felt ashamed because she asked me the most piercing question, which was how would I feel if she had used the n-word. My immediate human reaction was to try to say that it was different because of what my people had been through. But then I thought about standing before my parents and trying to justify it to them in a manner that they would accept as internally coherent and well-justified with them. I thought about trying to justify it to my grandmother in a manner that she would say could be morally justified. I came up with nothing. Not a damn thing that didn’t rely on immediate special pleading.
At that moment I really started to question a lot of what passes as received wisdom about being anti-racist and if I’m intellectually honest with myself, I think that much of that received wisdom is dead wrong. It encourages whites to treat non-whites as curiosities and with condescension. Gloved condescension, warm and sweet like melted caramel, but condescension for all that.
Wow, what a thoughtful response. Thanks! I live and work in Mexico, where most of the people are just like everyone else in the world, concerned with getting paid enough to live a life worth living. They’re as contemptuous of Guatemalans as FoxNews is of Mexicans, they have only recently embraced their indigenous, and only insofar as it applies to cute displays at festivals, half the doors in town have stickers saying “We’re Catholic — No other religions may solicit our donations”, and they are of course the most splendid culture of our hemisphere. But they wear it all on their sleeve, which is refreshing. My landlord and I host a fiesta every other Friday, and some regular Cubans always ask for Atlantic/Stax/Volt selections from my iPod. The Mexican guests frequently ask: “you like black music?” “Yes.” “You like black PEOPLE?” “Yes.” “Hmmm. We’re not so sure. But we like Obama!” I mean, no artifice, no flimsy veils over the atavism and tribalism, but at the same time, no contrived emotional caramel, as you call it.
And, when it all comes down to it, Jack Kerouac’s comment about Nature’s most perplexing phenomenon being how many more horses’ asses there were than horses, well, that’s just it…the horse may whinny and bray inappropriately, but the horse’s ass is all about the shit waiting inside.
So, after two days to cool down and get some perspective, I’m going to try to write one more post. I don’t think I’m gonna manage to keep it super short, but I will try to make it my last in the thread.
I totally fucked up. I flipped out when I wrote that first comment. I would (and am, I guess) say I found it triggering, that I was shaking and crying and struggling to breath throughout my comments… but who cares at this point. I totally fucked up, put my foot in my mouth, then proceeded to hammer it in there up to the knee.
I was trying to make a point I think is valid, and surrounded it in assumptions and raving. The first responses I got, from Marilove and Adrienne, addressed the bullshit but not the point; you saw my second response as me bending over backwards to show that I wasn’t one of “those” people… and it was, but, the impulse behind that wasn’t “no, *I’m* not a bigot!”, it was “no no no no no, don’t ignore my point because I am too fucking stupid to get it across!”
I was sincere. I was trying to bare my (metaphorical) soul. Now, did I fuck that up too? Clearly. Did I hit privilege from the other side? Looks like. Well fuck. I wrote that because I was trying to own up to my privilege and get back to the point, and failed spectacularly. I don’t expect you to say “oh, I see, ok then! You’re a good one”; I don’t expect you to care about what I’m writing here, but maybe you will ~shrug~ Either way I’ll try to remember and do better.
In response to the overall issue, kid gloves, condescension: I have a few different thoughts here. The best definition I’ve found for bigotry, which not everyone will agree with, is “prejudice backed up with power”, which I try to use as a rough rule for “what counts”. I wouldn’t have called you calling a white person a cracker racist, in most situations, because it doesn’t have the same historical context; on the other hand, when my dad was the only white kid in the projects and got beaten up every day of his childhood, that was racist. Now I’m not so sure. Your point is really good, and I do strive to treat everyone as a human, first and foremost. I’ll have to think about it.
I think I think your call for internal consistency is a little absolute. The metaphor that jumps to mind is that even though relativity and quantum physics don’t match up they aren’t then wrong. My instinct is that there is a line between ‘people who need to shut the fuck up’ and ‘people who need to be treated with respect’. Now… I don’t think I can name that line, which is where your point really hits me. The thought did cross my mind that ‘you have to treat everyone with respect! Well, unless they’re a bully. Or hostile first. Well but who says this isn’t an attack on science, and therefore hostile?”
I do know that line isn’t white people|black people. I absolutely think you need to this guy on his bullshit. In your Obama as 30th president example, you need to call them on it. The distinction I see is that in both those scenarios, these people have a legitimate reason to be pissed off, which they then take on the bullshit train. You need to say that Obama’s the 44th president, but you don’t need to say “I hope your lies make you feel better about being a minority”, because at that point I think you’re getting into the legit part, and at the very least, you are going to turn someone who could be on your side more against you.
My counter example, as to how I think this is internally consistent: I was talking to a white, “libertarian” doctor, who thought welfare and foodstamps were wrong because it, literally, “I want my yacht”. This guy is spouting bullshit built on top of bullshit; he’s already rich as fuck, privileged as fuck, and he’s shitting on other people from there. He needs to shut the fuck up.
Conversely, I was talking to someone who believed in homeopathy, definitely needs calling on bullshit, but they had got there because of a series of pretty horrible experiences in the medical establishment that had turned into a general hatred for modern medicine. I would absolutely call him on his bullshit homeopathy, but I would acknowledge his actual shitty horrible experiences, because those aren’t bullshit.
This may be a stupid-ass thing to get back into, but finally, with respect to your original post – I am not sure about this kind of hard line skepticism. This guy has pretty good reasons for hating the institution of Science. I feel like you go past “this is bullshit” into “you suck and your ideas suck too!” This guy and others like him could probably be on “our side” if they saw science as a way of getting their truth out, but I think this is just going to be alienating, and keep propagating science as the absolute enemy.
Also for the record, my stance is that Dawkins carpet bombs everyone (with maybe some extra for those backwards Muslims), then comes down from his tower to sow salt on the ruins. His legacy is going to be a mile wide gulf between “us” an “them”, and that the vast majority who might otherwise be sympathetic are going to be thems.
Sorry I turned this into a shit show =/
If you want to respond to this, I’ll be happy to see it, but I am not going to post again unless you give me explicit permission. Sorry again.
P.S. That libertarian example came up yesterday, an hour before I read your post on Libertarian shittiness. I liked it a lot.
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