EDIT [7/8/14]: An updated version of this post that contains HONY’s response can be found here: https://medium.com/race-class/from-outrage-to-disgust-how-hony-exposes-our-continuing-racism-420201d6e0b7 ]
I experienced something incredibly unpleasant today.
The blog Humans of New York, which I have loved ever since I moved to New York City, blocked me from commenting on a post and deleted my comments.
I told the truth. I feel like Huey Freeman.
I was not hateful, or ignorant, or abusive.
I simply commented on a post about a (white) man, a teacher in the neighborhood of Harlem, that spoke about how difficult it is for the students to extract themselves from poverty because there is not a “culture of expectation” at home.
Nearly all of the comments were patting him on the back as a hero and great guy, but I thought differently. I commented, “A ‘culture of expectation’ is hard when you are in a ‘culture of I work 16 hours a day.’” I also stated that though his heart was in the right place, his ideology is implicitly racist, and would fall under the umbrella of cultural racism.
Someone then responded to me that I was unnecessarily “playing the race card” because there are also poor white children and because this man did not openly express anti-black or anti-people-of-color sentiments. The commenter then told me that she did not mean “to dismiss racism in any way.”
Super comforting, lady.
I let her know that someone who is not dismissive of racism would not use the term “playing the race card,” as it implies that in most cases, racism should be dismissed. I let her know that I was very aware that there are poor people who are white, but I also let her know that to be white and poor and to be black and poor, in this country, are two very different things. I let her know that the latter is actually much worse; black people live in a level of poverty that only one percent of white people are even exposed to. I told her I had links to the statistics and studies if she wanted them.
I let her know the truth of the matter, and I was silenced for it. I cannot begin to express my outrage at this.
Commenters were having trouble understanding my argument. They wanted to know how I got a racial argument from what he said, and said I was “ridiculous” for thinking that this was in any way racialized.
Harlem is well-known as a neighborhood containing project housing as well as mostly people of color (many of whom are black). You’d think that these “Humans of New York” would recognize demographics in long-standing neighborhoods of New York.
But there’s more to it than that.
People were finding it difficult to understand coded language, that is, that one doesn’t have to say “I don’t like black people” in order for their philosophies to be racist. This lack of understanding speaks greatly to the ongoing, and insightful discussion The Atlantic’s Ta-Nehisi Coates has been having over the past few weeks with author Jonathan Chait.
This man is probably not a racist, but his philosophy, that the parents are to blame for the children’s lack of success, is shortsighted. It ignores that many of these parents work grueling hours and sometimes multiple jobs, not leaving very much time or energy to invest in their children’s education. It ignores the systematic and structural racism that leaves many of the families in these circumstances black or people of color, who are by and large economically disadvantaged. It assumes that the parents just don’t care about their children’s education, that they don’t value it.
This philosophy, if you ascribe to it, ignores the real problems at hand, mainly, that racism in this day and age is often subconscious and implicit; you may have to think critically about it, rather than just seeing a black body hanging from a tree and understanding that it’s wrong.
There is a larger structural problem hanging over the heads of African Americans like a stormy cloud, and yet, even though society keeps that cloud over our heads, they still blame us for our wet clothes.
I often read anti-racist activist Tim Wise, and he speaks often about how, psychologically speaking, white people are more likely to change their minds about this and other forms of racism if it is decoded and then given to them by a white person. It is for this reason I applaud and appreciate white activists like Tim Wise, because I don’t care who is changing the minds and preaching the truth, as long as it’s happening.
After the Suey Park Twitter Fiasco, I am aware that social media is not the best arena for a discussion of important topics. But make no mistake, it is a problem that we only take things at face value. It is a problem we would rather praise the white savior mentality, and ignore that this teacher blames the kids’ parents for their lack of “cultural expectations” due to their poverty, which is no fault of their own.
By silencing a naysayer, Humans of New York establishes their position by perpetuating that these parents really are just culturally lazy and do not care about their children’s education, an idea and philosophy that I find much more hateful and damaging than myself pointing out the facts of why those parents may not be able to be as involved in their kids’ schoolwork, which exposes a larger, systematic problem with our society.
I find it morally repugnant and deplorable that my voice, an educated and reasonable one, was silenced for telling the truth. I find it disgusting that if I had not challenged the status quo, if I had not challenged a white man on a blog run by another white man, if I had simply praised him for the good without criticizing the problematic, my comments would most certainly still remain.
I am sad to say that I will no longer follow Humans of New York.
I can only hope that in the future, they do not silence educated, non-hateful voices in lieu of uneducated and hateful conjecture, or worse, blind acceptance of a situation without thinking critically about it.
Edit [April 24]: I encourage conversation, but I ask that you please only comment if you actually read this piece. Most of the comments below involve people who clearly did not read it at all, which is fine (obviously you don’t have to read it), but why comment and accuse me of things I have not done and accuse me of not addressing something I have absolutely addressed? Why not come to the discussion fully understanding my position, rather than guessing, assuming, and making me repeat things you could have understood had you read the post in the first place? I am a graduate student, so I am nothing if not thorough and knowledgable on these issues.
I will leave you with a wonderful quote from this blog in which the author sums up white people’s relationship to racism and it’s recognition:
Privilege not only causes white people to miss instances of racism but it causes them to think they get to set the terms or parameters for what constitutes racism as well. For example; situations that can universally be understood as racist like a blatant hate crime, are “in bounds.” But anything that’s not as obvious is dismissed and those who attempt to shed light on less obvious forms of racism get accused of race baiting or, my personal favorite, playing the race card. Which essentially means that if it’s not obviously racist to a white person then it’s not racist.
Follow this blog @chocopompcirc on the Twitter!