to tell or not to tell

Its hardly a new problem. Racism seems inextricably bound up with our economic structure, and with ideology, what Veblen termed “invidious comparison” that clarified the complexities between dominated and subjugator such that it is almost inconceivable to think of  market based capitalism existing in the absence of the pecking order, of a hierarchy, with oozing white puss coagulating at the top of the pyramid. Racism is largely based on the idea that honor attaches to those who have more material wealth  than others. Going back, not that long ago, this meant slaves and women. Hence, invidious comparison became a significant feature of ownership. The psychological and ethnocentric value of an item is calculated in no small measure by the fact that many are not able to access it. A game of status and distinction that we all buy into at some level, and may even be more pronounced among oppressed people.

Vanessa Beecroft. Read More:

Shakespeare’s Othello revealed how old and complex the relationship was between black men and white women. And much of modern racism is centered on these themes which bring to the fore genetics, purity, alchemy etc. In any event, the dynamic inevitably, it appears, ends up being turned against fellow individuals, which then acts as the basis for  new invidious comparisons.  It is through this mechanism that  status hierarchy acquires the characteristics of a dominance hierarchy, playing on the malleable individual sense of personal worth. So, much of our racism is attributable to the  concept of property,which, expanding beyond mere personal possession, became modeled on the relationship of domination toward women. Ownership begins with the domination of women  and is subsequently extended to encompass physical objects. It is therefore, in essence, a system of rank, the acknowledgement permits an understanding of desire as a form of pathology of the idealized, the blending of needs and wants, and a situation of chronic insatisfaction.  As Veblen stated, “Ownership began and grew into a human institution on grounds unrelated to the subsistence minimum. The dominant incentive was from the outset the invidious distinction attaching to wealth.” …

When someone says something racist, have “what they said” conversation, not the “what they are” conversation. That is, stay focused on specific words and actions that could be construed as racist. Whatever you do, don’t make the leap to accusing the person of being racist. This isn’t about coddling racists. It’s strictly pragmatic rhetorical advice. You can’t win an argument about whether someone is racist because it comes down to unproveable suppositions about their motives. Your best strategy is to keep the focus on what they said, and why that might be construed as racist. In his TEDx Talk, Smooth takes the discussion one step further. Some viewers tell him that even “what they said” conversations don’t work. The TEDx talk attempts to explain why not, and what we can do about it.

Read More: ---The Card Trick, 1880–89 John George Brown (1831–1913) Joslyn Art Museum, Omaha, Nebraska (Click to greatly enlarge) I don't know about the racial implications, but Mr. Brown's painting might have been inspired by Horatio Alger's serialized 1867 story Ragged Dick; or, Street Life in New York with the Boot Blacks, which told of the rise of a virtuous 14-year-old street kid to become a respectable citizen. Maybe this painting suggests that the dishonest swindling skills these children needed to survive on the street, such as pickpocketing, could be channeled into more socially acceptable skills, such as sleight-of-hand magic. (And that black and white children could teach the adults how to get along.) ---

Smooth argues that many people hear a “what they are conversation” even when it’s framed as a “what they said” conversation. Why might that be? We’re all imperfect. None of us likes to admit we made a mistake, but in general, we’re capable of entertaining constructive criticism about other aspects of our behavior. Why is it so hard to accept that one might have said something, even one thing, that sounded racist? …

Image: Ryan Jones.---For example, it is Veblen who, at the close of the 19th century, observed that “The exigencies of the modern industrial system frequently place individuals and households in juxtaposition between whom there is little contact in any other sense than that of juxtaposition. One's neighbors, mechanically speaking, often are socially not one's neighbors, or even acquaintances; and still their transient good opinion has a high degree of utility... It is evident, therefore, that the present trend of the development is in the direction of heightening the utility of conspicuous consumption as compared with leisure”( Heath )

…It’s hard to take constructive criticism about race because we make the mistake of construing racism as an all-or-nothing phenomenon, Smooth says. We assume that even one racist-sounding remark is tantamount to being racist. So, ironically, people who are committed to not being racist are going to fight you the hardest if you point out that something they said sounded racist. If they think they’re not racist, and they believe that non-racist people have to be absolutely perfect on race, then whatever they said must have been okay after all.

That’s an unreasonable standard. We know that even nice people sometimes say mean things. Sometimes nice people mean to be mean. Sometimes they sound mean without intending to be. Either way, one mean remark doesn’t negate a lifetime of decent behavior. What matters, Smooth says, is grappling with our imperfections and trying to rise to the occasion every time….

Image: ---Henry Ossawa Tanner (1859 - 1937 ) "The Banjo Lesson" Oil on canvas 1893 Tanner moved to France to escape racism. He spoke on "The American Negro in Art" at World's Columbian exposition in Chicago, and "claimed that actual achievement proved Negroes possess ability and talent for successful competition with white artists" . This speech influenced his art, and he started a series of genre paintings to

at stereotypes. This is one image from that series. From: Britton, Crystal A.. African American Art - The Long Struggle. Todtri Productions Limited: New York, New York. 1996,---

Smooth makes the important point that our culture’s ideas about race are so illogical and emotionally laden that nobody is ever going to bat 1000 on race.

“When we’re grappling with race issues, we’re grappling with something that was designed for centuries to make us circumvent our best instincts,” he says, “It’s a dance partner that’s designed to trip us up.”

Smooth closes with a brilliant pair of metaphors: the “tonsils model” and the “dental hygiene model” of racial discourse. Either you have your tonsils, or you don’t. People who think they’re not racist, and could therefore never say a racist thing, are using the tonsils model.

Read More: ---Malcolm’s early message, influenced by Elijah Muhammad, held that whites were "devils" and the arch-enemies of black people. Later after his trip to Mecca, he recanted this position and stated that only a John Brown, a white who died freeing slaves, could join his organization. In short, Malcolm found all whites problematic. How could a black revolutionary ever be sure that white radicals would not return to the fold of white racism or back towards, worst, white indifference, if the Black Revolution failed? If the American Communist Movement of the 1930’s was any indication of how whites functioned in a domestic revolutionary environment, then blacks had/have no cause to trust white radicals or the white working class. Hadn’t the leadership of the radical, white working class sold out their darker brethren by forming segregated unions? And, hadn’t their children, in the North and South, been the source of most of the reactionary action against black progress. ---

The dental hygiene model says that bad habits and wrong beliefs accumulate in the course of daily living. If someone tells you you’ve got something stuck between your teeth, you don’t assert that it’s impossible because you’re a clean person. Being a clean person doesn’t mean being 100% dirt-repellant at all times, it means cleaning as you go. Being a clean person means accepting that you can get dirty. Read More:


Dan Hunter: The invidious comparison we can make to the size of those yachts over yonder, or even better to those poor people who don’t own a yacht, is similar to something I see a lot in World of Warcraft. It’s the PvPers who insist on having some kind of glowing enchant on their sword. I’ve pretty much lost track of the number of times I’ve seen something like: “WTB lowest priced fiery red sword enchant” in the trade channel. It’s not about the utility of the fiery red enchant, it’s about the way it looks as against my pitifully non-glowing sword. It’s kinda like the way that rare hair dies operated in Ultima Online: no ostensible value, except by way of a signifier that “I have it, and you don’t”.

Tim Burke: I’ve long thought that this is the single most interesting thing about MMOG economies: the (often substantial) value of purely aesthetic or symbolic goods.Read More:


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…The murdered Negro boy was Emmett Till. Two days after discovery the tragedy of young Emmett Till, Cleaver had a “nervous breakdown” and “began to look at America through new eyes.” His attitude toward white women changed radically, he suggested. “Somehow I arrived at the conclusion, that as a matter of principle, it was of paramount importance for me to have an antagonistic, ruthless attitude toward white woman.”

At this point in Cleaver’s life, things seemed to have become very mixed up. He turned his purported hatred of white women into a kind of “guerrilla” war. For when he was released from prison in 1957, Cleaver decided, he claimed, consciously to “become a rapist.” He considered the sexual dominance of white women through rape a “political” act.

Rape was an insurrectional act. It delighted me that I was defying and trampling upon the white man’s law, upon his system of values, and that I was defiling his women . . . I felt that I was getting revenge.

Troubling, Cleaver did not however immediately seek his revenge on the white man by raping his woman. When released from prison, Cleaver did not proceed directly to execute his “insurrectionary act” against the white man and his property. He detoured:

I started out practicing on black girls in the ghetto where dark and vicious deeds appear not as aberrations or deviations from the norm, but as part of the sufficiency of the Evil of a day. When I considered myself smooth enough, I crossed the tracks and sought out white prey. I did this consciously, deliberately, willfully, methodically. Read More:

Christopher Caudwell:Therefore, in throwing off all social restraint, the bourgeois seemed to himself justified in retaining this one restraint of private property, for it did not seem to him a restraint at all, but an inalienable right of man, the fundamental natural right. Unfortunately for this theory, there are no natural rights, only situations found in nature, and private property protected for one man by others is not one of them. Bourgeois private property could only be protected by coercion – the have-nots had to be coerced by the haves after all, just as in feudal society. Thus a dominating relation as violent as in slave-owning civilisations came into being, expressed in the police, the laws, the standing army, and the legal apparatus of the bourgeois State. The whole bourgeois State revolves round the coercive protection of private property, alienable and acquirable by trading for private profit, and regarded as a natural right, but a right which, strangely enough, can only be protected by coercion, because it involves of its essence a right to dispose of and extract profit from the labour-power of others, and so administer their lives.

Thus, after all, the bourgeois dream of liberty cannot be realised. Social restraints must come into being to protect this one thing that makes him a bourgeois. This ‘freedom’ to own private property seems to him inexplicably to involve more and more social restraints, laws, tariffs, and factory acts; and this ‘society’ in which only relations to a thing are permitted becomes more and more a society in which relations between men are elaborate and cruel. The more he aims for bourgeois freedom, the more he gets bourgeois restraint, for bourgeois freedom is an illusion.

Thus, just as much as in slave-owning society, bourgeois society turns out to be a society built on violent coercion of men by men, the more violent in that while the master must feed and protect his slave, whether he works or not, the bourgeois employer owns no obligation to the free labourer, not even to find him work. The whole bourgeois dream explodes in practice, and the bourgeois state becomes a theatre of the violent and coercive subjection of man to man for the purposes of economic production. Read More:

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