Sunday, June 18, 2006

What 'White Supremacism' Is Not

I think one of the reasons that I read Alas so much is that it gives me something to get riled up about. Rachel S. has a recent post entitled "You might be a white supremacist if...", which seems to be unreasonably expanding the definition of "white supremacism":
If you believe any of the following statements about interracial marriage, You might be a White Supremacist.
The Old Testament law commanded the Israelites not to engage in interracial marriage (Deuteronomy 7:3-4). The reason for this is that the Israelites would be led astray from God if they intermarried with idol worshippers, pagans, or heathens. [....]1 Again, though, the only Biblical restriction placed on whom a Christian in regards to marriage is whether the other person is a member of the Body of Christ.
(Rachel'’s Note - –This actually ticked off several of the people in the WS forum off because they wanted a stronger pronouncement against interracial marriage - –other than, it's not practical. What I found interesting about the quote is that it is really representative of mainstream views on interracial marriage. Most of the people I interviewed in my research on interracial marriage had relatives who felt as this white supremacist does.)
I've several complaints with this example. First off, the quoted statement makes no reference to any particular race. You can make an argument about implicit "whiteness" i.e. discourses about race mixing are always framed in the context of a white mixee, otherwise they wouldn't merit discussion. However, the quote which Rachel presents builds its case using the Bible which, interestingly enough, is not a white supremacist document. The category of "white" as we understand it didn't even exist when the Bible was written. So the soumaterialeral used to build the argument cannot be said to have an implicit "whiteness" about it. The person doing the arguing may also introduce an implicit "whiteness" into the discourse. The phrase "A Christian man or woman" does sound like a code phrase of sorts, but I can easily envision this sort of verbiage coming out of the mouth of a non-White person as well. Since Rachel S. doesn't provide a reference for the quoted material (hard to judge an argument if you don't cite your sources, Rachel) such an argument cannot be supported at this time. So much for the "white" portion, now how about the "supremacism"? The quoted item states several times that one should not be racist:
A person should be judged by his or her character, not by skin color. All of us should be careful not to show favoritism to some, nor be prejudiced or racial to others (James 2:1-10, see especially verses 1 and 9).
and
Again, though, the only Biblical restriction placed on whom a Christian in regards to marriage is whether the other person is a member of the Body of Christ.
It light of these two quotes its hard to argue that the speaker takes the position that one race should be favored over another. Rachel S.'s main problem seem to lie with the following:
The only reason interracial marriage should be considered carefully is because of the difficulties a mixed-race couple may experience because others will have a hard time accepting them.
How, I ask, is this a racist/supremacist statement? Acknowleging a social reality is not the same thing as advocating that same reality. The statement is race-neutral and, as Rachel S. points out herself, viewed as true by both Blacks and Whites, so its hard to claim that it is racist or inherently privileges one race over another. The fact that such a problem exists reveals persistent racism, but acknowleging its existence is not racist. A final argument can be made that, by suggesting that people take these difficulties into account when selecting a partner, the speaker is perpetuating the problem rather than confronting it, which makes the speech racist. That's an interesting question: "Is the perpetuation of racism implicitly racist?". But its also too big to discuss here, so I'll answer it briefly with "maybe, but its a moot point". If we label all such behavior "white supremacist" then the label looses all meaning, because we all subtly perpetuate racism on a daily basis by our very participation in modern society. So we have a statement that is neither white nor supremacist being labeled as such. Rather, it appears that Rachel S. is labeling it as such because it acknowleges the difficulties faced by mixed race couples and suggests that one might take those difficulties into account when selecting a partner, a pragmatic rather than racist viewpoint. I'm not trying toincendiaryiary, but such accusations on the part of people like Rachel S. are why itsincrediblyibly difficult to discuss race in this country. The line between non-racist speech and racist speech has been blurred by improper application of terminology as in the example above, so people are rightfully afraid of discussing the issue at all for fear of being tarred with the same brush.
1 My edit, for space.

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