Why does the conversation have to stop when the white person cries?

Recently, it has come out that in his rant against Barack Obama while he thought his mic was off, Jesse Jackson used the “N” word. This was talked about on all the media outlets. It showed Jackson’s hypocricy because he had been one of the most vocal proponents of eliminating the “N” word from the American vernacular in light of the racist tirade by Michael Richards during a comedy routine. Yesterday, on “the View”, there was a heated argument about whether the “N” word should be eliminated or if it’s fine for black people to still use that word.

Most media coverage of this conversation on “the View’ was sympathetic to Elizabeth Hasselbeck’s view that the “N” word shouldn’t be used by anyone including black people. She also got sympathy because she was crying.

So I just wanted to address a few issues. I am on the side of Whoopi Goldberg and Sheri Sheppard on this issue. I think oppressed people can take an oppressive word and find empowerment and agency in turning that word into something positive, which takes away the power from the oppressor. I think I get annoyed when white people think this word should be eliminated because they can’t say it. If white people can’t say it, then nobody else can say it. That’s the rule many times. If white people can’t say it or do it, then no one should be able to do it. When I say a joke or a comment about my own culture, white people will commonly say, “if I said what you’re saying about Asian Americans, I would get beat up.” So thus, the white person will tell me, since he or she cannot say it, then I shouldn’t be able to say it. But context is key. It does matter who is saying it and what is the purpose. This is not to say that I can say whatever I want and it’s ok. There is much discernment that needs to be taken. I shouldn’t just say things loosely and not be respectful of other people. But I don’t think it’s the place of white people to tell people of color what they can or can’t say. When I give into their demands, there is definitely a sense of disempowerment. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t listen to their side and respect their opinions. But I think sometimes we get stuck in this rut where the validity of words and actions are determined primarily by white people. By the way, I am not necessarily taking a side in whether the N-word should be allowed to be used by African Americans or not. I am not an African American and that’s a conversation that needs to happen in the African American community. I’m more dealing with the larger issue of whether white people have the right to tell people of color what they can say or do.

The other issue I want to focus is on is that somehow in a dialogue on race, the conversation stops when the white person cries or when the white person gets hurt. Then the focus and the attention goes to them and the conversation disappears. In the media coverage of the conversation “the View” had, Elizabeth Hasselbeck was made to be a courageous woman speaking truth, while Whoopi Goldberg and Sheri Sheppard were characterized as the angry black women. It just reminded me of the numerous conversations I’ve had in the past, where once the white person would express being hurt, then the conversation would stop and people would try to console that person. Then the focus would be about the pain of the white person and that would be end of the dialogue. Then the default reaction for the people of color is to validate the white person’s feelings. I know as an Asian American, there’s this automatic reaction to apologize and to accommodate to whatever the white person is feeling. Usually, it is followed by the use of unversal language, like, “we’re all the same,” and “we’re all God’s children,” followed by cliches about colorblindness. I am always assuming that we are all God’s children and that yes we are equal in God’s eyes. Duh! So that is true. But that cannot end the conversation. I appreciated that Whoopi Goldberg kept her ground even when Elizabeth Hasselbeck was crying. It’s apparent that Whoopi Goldberg cares about Elizabeth Hasselbeck, but was still courageous enough to stand her ground and not just capitulate her point when the white person expressed how hurt he or she was. I think individual feelings do matter. But sometimes, a dialogue that is constructive and real will go beyond just individual feelings and yes it will hurt people, including white people.

I know the issue is much more complex than what I state. It’s hard to fully articulate everything in one blog post and I know I still have so much to learn. But that’s the question I have – Why does the conversation have to stop when the white person cries.

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8 comments

  1. wow. that will get me thinking a lot. i get into automatic pilot apology mode when a white person cries, and then oh no i made him/her cry i shouldn’t have, i’m sorry.

    why though? accepting defeat? accepting a cliche and moving on? i don’t know.

  2. Christian-

    The topic and observation you brought up is forcing outward laughter in me right now. I think your thoughts are both funny, and true.

    One thought though. When people back-track after seeing someone cry, or be hurt by a statement is pretty universal (ie: we are all gods children example). I think it is a human characteristic, that most people conduct in. It is gracious, but not productive.

  3. Yes, but crying on camera is what sells. People love to see cheap pathos, no matter what the context. Hasselbeck is a media person, a professional celebrity. She is famous for being famous. Crying on camera is part of her job.

    Obama will get elected, while Jesse Jackson has become nearly irrelevant. And he probably knows he’s irrelevant, which is why he lashed out at Obama. Jackson’s remarks, first about severing gonads, then about n-words, are really a cry for help. When he went on CNN to apologise, he should have remembered his celebrity skills 101 and cried on camera.

  4. well, imagine if elizabeth had made whoopi or sherri cry! the reaction would be one of either of bewilderment (why is this black woman weeping and carrying on?) or she would try and reclaim the sympathy vote by crying louder and harder than anyone else.
    that Elizabeth woman is as transparent as a sheet of glass.
    sh is horrendous she cried rosie o’ donell out of her job and now she made two black women halt because she cried.
    anyone else see a pattern here!!

  5. Was in China and I missed this post, but I agree with you 100%, especially in regards to your thoughts around issues of things like the “n word” which involve empowerment, self-definition, and the culture of language. And not to be too literal, but this quote from your post kicks ass:

    “But sometimes, a dialogue that is constructive and real will go beyond just individual feelings and yes it will hurt people, including white people.”

    The irony is that you’d think in America, a culture that sometimes RELISHES confrontation, people could handle hurt feelings. But in dialogues about race, racism, and culture… I guess not.

  6. just saw the post, and also agree with you…i think a huge part of the problem is people refusing to stay in the conversation. white folks don’t want to stay in the conversation, and have the option of retreating to the safe zone of white privilege, and so oftentimes do. real conversation is tough, real change requires vulnerability, and authentic listening.

    honestly, i think folks, white folks in particular, need to be called on not staying in the conversation. this from the white girl who is often frustrated at others inability to see the need to remain in the discussion, and who has to call herself to account for staying in the conversation when it gets tough. the thing is, people need to recognize that there’s a NEED for them to stay in the dialogue. until whites recognize discussions of race and racism affect them, they won’t see a reason compelling enough to remain in tough discussions.

    as for white folks having the right to tell other groups what they can and can’t say? there’s too much to say to fit here, but there’s no denying it smacks of yet more arrogance and oppression.

  7. I think that in the case of Elizabeth Hasselbeck, the ladies of the View are interested in having spirited discussion and are not interested ina repeat of the Rosie/Elizabeth debacle. Whoopi Golberg is really smart and she believes in discourse, but I think she is keenly aware that, no matter how much she would like to, she cannot reach across that table and grab Elizabeth by the throat and say “Shut up and LISTEN. You are too young and white to know what you are talking about and you need to LISTEN instead of talk.” I’m not sure that ABC would stand behind her if hse did. So she decides that it is easier to let Hasselbeck cry and change the subject and to hope that intelligent people like you will see the validity of the statements she is trying to get across. Frankly I am sick of the sound of Elizabeth’s voice.
    In a perfect world there would be no disagreement on the use or non-use of certain words, and we are getting closer to that world. But we ain’t there yet and in the place that we find ourselves now, certain words, that were once not used in mixed (race) company, are being used where white peole can and do hear them. And they CANNOT use them. It drives them nuts to think that there is anything that others can do that they cannot. It’s painful for them, but they will just have to learn to deal with it. And that includes Mrs. Hasselbeck. Cry all you want. If you were not on TV Ms. Goldberg would not let the conversation stop until you understood that you are not the most learned person in the room

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