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Saturday
Aug132011

This Is Not Really About Cake

I'm not going to put anyone personally on blast and I'm sparingly linking in this post because the larger context  is more important than pointing fingers and forcing one person or a community to answer for what I'm feeling passionate about right now. However, I am using some of the wording I've seen written about things and, when I do, they will be in quotes.

In the world of blogging and, dare I say it, mommyblogging, there is a racial divide that I have called out on several occasions. Most of the time that calling out is aimed at marketers and community websites that are all white. Some things have led me to believe that it's high time for a conversation about that. It seems that it's all come to a head this week especially and it's nearly impossible to stop ruminating about how seemingly separate these matters are but how much they fall under the same umbrella.

First. some background on one of the issues. Last weekend I attended a party where the well-known theme is unicorns. There was this cake:


There is some silly notion about the unicorn cake at the Sparklecorn party being racist as they are black and white cakes. Perhaps it looks like they're dueling and honestly I didn't give it a second thought. Then I heard rumblings about these unicorns. These mythical creatures on a cake. This is the part I can't emphasize enough: a cake.

It's simplistic to use symbolic racism and attribute it to a cake just because they are black and white. Mostly because, and I'll say this again, it's a cake. A cake that is eventually eaten and gone. It reminds me of the oft-misquoted "Eat your cake and have it, too" proverb. It's fitting to this discussion because we can pretend to be concerned about racism but not "have" to deal with it since we're talking about a cake. Look, it's not my metaphor, but entertaining that coupled with an ancient aphorism about eating cake is where the car was headed and not by me. I'm fine having this mutual exchange of perception of a cake if that's what we're doing. So let's go ahead and grab a bite of it.

Get your fork.

Some people mix up that proverb and say it backwards, but the origin of it in its true form is to eat it first and then still want to have it. Hence, the paradox. Once it's eaten you no longer have possession of it. Owning this thing, whether it's cake or pointing out racism, presents a snarled conundrum. People continuing to perpetuate intentions with a "racist cake" are still attempting to benefit from it for personal use. It's as if to say, Look how concerned I am about racism! I'm calling out a mythical unicorn cake!

Here is where I feel the need to start numbering these issues:

1. There is an interesting phenomenon that I am party to and that is when people want to ask questions in private they email or DM or send me Facebook messages about issues of race. It's entirely understandable as these are hard conversations to have and I truly believe the intent with this is pure. I gladly respond to all of them but I think that something I will start doing is, after the conversation on that topic ends, start posting them publicly because the contexts overlap so often that I may as well bring it out in my writing. Fair warning, then: if you email me privately with questions then go ahead and choose a pseudonym because I'm going to bring it up and my design isn't to call you out or embarrass you.

2. I am sick to the back teeth of hearing about how great "The Help" by Kathryn Stockett is and I was so grateful to see a plethora of articles and posts and reviews this week that put into words what I believe but don't feel I've been able to explore. But the one thing that stings is when I start a discussion about it and then am asked if I actually read the book. The implication is that I shouldn't talk about something unless I'm intimately familiar. The irony is so thick and obvious that all I can muster about that is WOW. I don't expect everyone to have read my thoughts on that or my blog thoroughly enough to know that I wrote about that and that it took me several months to finish reading it or that I hated every minute of it. The latest trailer on television for the movie has this upbeat, smiling-towards-the-sun, giddily running and jumping  self-congratulatory feel to it. Way to take one of the most painful times in the history of African Americans and add a plucky soundtrack, Dreamworks Studios.

On one such site there was a fantastic recommended list by Black authors and, since I'm still emailing back and forth with people about that I think it's best to just list them here:
Suggested Reading:

Fiction:

Like one of the Family: Conversations from A Domestic’s Life by Alice Childress

The Book of the Night Women by Marlon James

Blanche on the Lam by Barbara Neeley

The Street by Ann Petry

A Million Nightingales by Susan Straight

Non-Fiction:

Out of the House of Bondage: The Transformation of the Plantation Household by Thavolia Glymph

To Joy My Freedom: Southern Black Women’s Lives and Labors by Tera Hunter

Labor of Love Labor of Sorrow: Black Women, Work, and the Family, from Slavery to the Present by

Jacqueline Jones

Living In, Living Out: African American Domestics and the Great Migration by Elizabeth Clark-Lewis

*Coming of Age in Mississippi by Anne Moody

I said I wouldn't link, but I don't want to plagiarize someone and the effort they put into creating the list, so here is the source for that. *I listed this as a recommendation in a previous post.*

Telling me (or others) that I don't understand what it was like to grow up in the South in the 60s leads me to the conclusion that I shouldn't judge a white author for writing about her own experiences. In fairness, neither does Stockett understand what it's like to grow up black. Anywhere. At any time in history.

3. Thinking about this racist cake discussion reminded me of a book club I know about that wanted to read it last year and how all the women were white. I wasn't a part of this one but I am a part of a few others and some of my white girlfriends were telling me about the great discussions they were having with each other. Talking about complicated race issues in a safe vacuum where everyone else looks like you doesn't really work for me. Straddling the fence as I've always been privileged to do means that I hear this in black circles and white circles but never together. Let's shoot for more of a Venn diagram overlap there, book clubs. Because I think that would be fantastic and way more authentic.

4. One of those private messages came to me yesterday from a woman whose husband has a very Conservative, very Republican male friend who has taken to calling Obama "your boy" when he talks to them about the President. She pointed this out as it offended her for very real historical reasons due to the connotation of that term.  This friend defends emphatically that it's not racist and that she's being too sensitive so she asked for my take on it. Is that a racist sentiment on his part? Absolutely. So is asking the President of the United States for his papers birth certificate. That was an easy one.

5. It was and continues to be interesting and a slap in the face for writers to claim how diverse they are on their websites and how quickly they defend the fact that they've embraced diversity. In the past I have asked people, friends even, about diversity on their community sites and I think there must be a different definition for it because a cursory glance at the photos of writers tells a conflicting story. Babble is one such site that has turned me off in the past as being overtly white on parenting issues and with the pictures they use. So, when they came calling to ask me to regularly contribute to their site I was pleasantly surprised. After all, I'm a parent even if I don't fit the socially accepted norm of a mommyblogger.

6. In fact, last year I was named on Babble as one of the top 50 Twitter people. As expected, there was indignation at the contents of the overwhemingly white list. More importantly, lists and voting contests serve to exclude a great number of people so it naturally creates some controversy. It's been over a year, but this week I read a comment that someone wrote about me that, in all honesty, wouldn't have bothered me as much had it not come from a black woman. There was a compliment or two thrown in the comment but there was also this:

"While I think Kelly and Kimberly are great, neither tweets much at all" (Just now looking at my tweets I realize I'm over 20,000 and last year at this time was less, obviously, but that seemed like plenty enough for me. It rubbed me the wrong way.)

and she also said this:

"... not sure if I'd choose them on a list for Top 50 Twitter Moms"

Well. There you have it. I'm unable to make even moms of color happy. And that's okay because I'm unwilling to even attempt such a thing.

7. This next one makes me all prickly to think about in a community of women writers and I have kept silent on this for a few months. In that time, I noticed how a really popular blogger went to India and got called on the carpet for it. You know what my first reaction was? It's about time there are people of color on that blog! How wonderful to see them and to read about what she's learned and experienced from it! But it was the aftermath and reading nothing for an entire week from friends' posts that vehemently defended her. That's not the prickly part. What was hard for me to swallow was something I asked myself that I desperately wanted to ask them. Where were you when Satoshi Kanazawa wrote and published an article making the claim that  black women were physically less attractive? Where was the passionate condemnation for me and my black sisters/writers? [That is written in all seriousness and query so if you have written about it and devoted an entire post to it, please leave me a comment about where it is because I cannot find any from my close mommyblogging/non-mommyblogging friends.]

8. Using your blog and social media to get some action is something that companies and PR people fear if it's done badly and I've witnessed many people benefit from it when they get formal apologies, services, or products because of a bad experience. Remember back when I posted that horrible picture of myself from the Ulta experience? That was on July 14 and I was contacted rather quickly from Amy Sattler who does their PR. We exchanged a few someone will be contacting you emails and that never occurred. On July 21 I sent her this email:
Hi Amy,

I wanted to update you on the poor quality of an experience I had at Ulta last week.

First, I hoped that once you contacted me that the store manager would be in touch with me quite soon. That was not to be. When I first called about the appointment for the free hair events I asked about doing both the curly and sleek events and was told that it was perfectly fine to choose both services. As you may recall, my salon experience turned out to be entirely horrid and, by definition, entirely racist in how I was treated. Perhaps you might suggest otherwise, but asking a new client/customer her genetic makeup is unprofessional.

Since you last emailed me I have yet to be contacted by the store except for the fact that my next appointment for the sleek styling is tonight at 7:30 and yesterday, when I was too busy to accept the call, a message was left for me as a reminder for tonight's appointment. But no one has called about what I posted last week. I was disappointed when I listened to it because no one at that store seems to know that they helped provide a service for a potential customer that left a bitter taste in my mouth.

As the PR coordinator who works and was educated in the diverse Chicagoland area, I fully expect you to understand from where I'm coming. Am I to assume that this is no longer an issue and to just take this experience for what it is? Shall I have low expectations for your company? Am I to chalk this up to "just another post-racial encounter"?

I just wanted to know where I stood.

Sincerely,

Kelly

I heard nothing back from her and I still have never heard from the manager at the store. What conclusion would you come to if this were you? Do I ask myself  how Ulta feels about their employees treating customers with racial insensitivity? I guess I don't have to question it at all. Their answer, in the not answering, is that they don't care about whether or not some woman of color had a bad experience in their store. Maybe it's because I don't have that influential of a following on Twitter or that I don't tweet "much at all". Maybe they don't care about any of their customers regardless of color. I'm just left to wonder about that.

9. By way of another illustration I have a story about my career. Once, I had a job where there were four people in my office. Two black, two white. Two were male and two were female. The white female was our superior and anytime I tried to broach the subject of the subtle racism within the office, I was dismissed. Naturally, the black male and I became close because of it and due to the disenfranchisement we felt, but it was clear that the whites in our office held all the knowledge and power and shared those things without effectively training us for the same position. Much of it was on the technical side of the job which, in turn, helped to meet strict deadlines. If someone isn't properly trained then the implication is that they aren't fit for the job or that affirmative action is to blame for the unqualified black people in higher positions. That type of racism? That faint, muted sly kind of refusing to share wasn't a topic to be brought up without having the finger pointed back at me (sometimes, us) for "playing the race card". What I learned from that is a truth I am loathe to admit and that is that being black means I have to work twice as hard to prove my worth and educational training lest I be labeled as lazy or not knowing how to do my job.

You know why everyone is up in arms about a unicorn cake? Because it's safe and it doesn't mean anything. Because you can feign indignation about something as trivial as sugar and fondant. Because you get to create a distraction with a big old mess of a cake that has some "racially problematic imagery" and that right there is where your concern for and discussion of race end.

Keep talking about cake in the vacuum of mostly white communities. You've proven the old proverb wrong. Eat your cake, people. Down it to the last crumb. Tomorrow, you can have it again. Trust me. It will still be there. The racism, that is.

We can talk about race in a real way or we can talk about cake. I'm choosing the former.
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Reader Comments (117)

Kelly, this is so well-written, well-argued and well-parsed. The fear of discussing racism for fear of looking, uh, racist and/or stupid is a serious problem that even I—who loves to open my big, fat mouth—struggle with, and it keeps the conversation from moving forward, getting honest, being about the real complications of how race informs our friendships, policies, judgments. Keep schooling me Mocha; I'm listening. xx

August 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterStacy @bklynstacy

Yes to all of it, but emphatically to this:

You know why everyone is up in arms about a unicorn cake? Because it’s safe and it doesn’t mean anything. Because you can feign indignation about something as trivial as sugar and fondant.

This needed to be written.

August 13, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterslouchy

Damn! I read the words 'cake' and I started drooling. nom nom nom! STFU ppl. It's a CAKE! Really, the only time a cake isn't a cake is when there is a stripper popping out of it. I'm just sayin.

August 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCaroline Pollock

This is one of those weeks of privileged defensiveness and absurdity that makes me want to walk away from it all. There is so much here I want to talk to you about. One thing really stood out for me--"Well. There you have it. I’m unable to make even moms of color happy." I think what the general blogosphere forgets in the vacuum is how many marginalized bloggers just stay away from the general stream and in their own communities because it is crazymaking to watch broad level oppressive defensiveness paired with ridiculous crap go down. It's crazymaking--do you check it, speak against it, educate, question, listen, ignore? So I stand with you for being willing to be in the blogosphere's version of that Venn overlap, as hard and lonesome as it often is. It takes a whole lot of strength and grace, and you sustain it brilliantly.

August 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDeb Rox

So wonderfully written, so wonderful.

Kelly, damn woman. Just damn.

Also - Coming of Age in Mississippi was my assigned reading in Sr AP English and that tattered copy is on my bookshelf to this day, that book is damn powerful and wonderful and now I want to read more of those books that you've listed.

You are just amazing.

The Honey Badger must work at Ulta.

Ulta don't care, Ulta don't give a shiiiiiiit.

August 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBeth

Wow. That was awesome.
I am not so much of a blogger as I am a reader of some blogs and an occassional writer of one. But I frequent yours for the real honest conversations you bring to the internet.
"The implication is that I shouldn’t talk about something unless I’m intimately familiar."-that line especially.
I will continue to read the stuff you write for this reason. Thanks.

August 13, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterlisa

Ah, The Help. I read the book. I saw the movie yesterday - I didn't want anyone to sit there and discount my opinion with "but did you see/read it?".

I'm still trying to formulate a review. I didn't hate the movie. The same way I didn't hate The Blind Side or Avatar or a host of other films that have the whole white savior complex about them. All I know is that it's really kind of breaking my heart the way people are digging their feet in and REFUSING to acknowledge the racial issues with this book/film, as if by admitting that there are problems that they are admitting to somehow being racist themselves. People are so goddamn defensive when it comes to race. And Oprah and your black friend and blah blah blah - they are not authorities on blackness. Just because the odd one out doesn't see the problem, that doesn't mean there isn't one. The overwhelming consensus on The Help is that it has some serious problems, dealing with race - and it's not a mob mentality, it's the truth.

I saw on Erin (Queen of Spain)'s FB status asking about it yesterday someone say that people can find racism in anything if they're looking for it and I wrote a long reply before deleting it because it was super angry and not very coherent besides "how dare you!?!?!". People that are lucky enough to be oblivious to everything wrong with The Help should not demean those of us that *aren't* so lucky. All I want, all I wish, iss that people were willing to step back and look at this from our - meaning black people's - perspective. As open minded as I'm attempting to be by giving it all a chance and admitting to the various merits of the book/film whenever I can in the midst of highlighting the issues - I want that in return when it comes to real talk about race. And if one more white person says "we'll never get past racism if you keep bringing it up all the time", I might actually go insane. Really.

As far as the cake, I mean...seriously... whatever.
I'm sorry this is so long.

August 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMaria Young

I read about that and saw a video on Karen's blog. I suppose the fact that she's a woman of color kind of proves your point.

I'll echo what Stacy said - it can be damn uncomfortable to step into the Venn overlap as a person of the privileged class, but I appreciate how much you have embraced me in that space over and over again.

Not for nothing, I was JUST discussing The Help with my friend Robin (@Bellaventa) and struggled to understand the idea that it was racist. BUT, seeing this list of books ALREADY WRITTEN from the perspective of women of color. A list of books I'd never heard of. And THEN it clicked. To me, it's not even the words inside the book that are as bad as the existence of and success of THIS book, as if the previous weren't sufficient. Thank you for that list.

August 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMiss Britt

I recently attempted to explain white privilege to my daughters. I told them that I'm almost 40 and still trying to fully grasp the concept and its implications. Open and honest discussions like the ones that you foster, Kelly, help me do that. So, thank you.

August 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJulie Marsh

Number 9. Zing - right between my eyes. Time for introspection and review on how my own behavior affects everyone.

You constantly amaze me. Please keep speaking the truth as you see it.

August 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMatt Penning

I just love everything about this post.

I totally agree about the ridiculousness of the cake outrage, and really have to question why these people never write about race issues until it benefits them (i.e. in some attetntion-seeking effort after a large conference).

I'm also having this visual of people emailing or dm'ing you in some kind of covert "ask a safe black person" manner and I can't decide if it's funny or sad. A little of both.

I had a couple talks with other bloggers at BlogHer about why so many mainstream bloggers shy away from talking about issues of race. I feel really strongly that we should ALL be speaking up. I get that people are fearful of being political or controversial or perceived as racist, but seriously. We need to get this dialogue going!

http://www.rageagainsttheminivan.com/2011/05/psychology-today-to-black-women-were.html

August 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKristen

Bravo, Kelly.

August 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDanielle

Thanks for breaking me out of my vacuum so brilliantly. I'll echo Britt and Stacey - it is hard to join the discussion and not feel sheepish and dumb, but I'll do it because I want to understand as much as I can.

August 13, 2011 | Unregistered Commenteranymommy

This is such a great post. It's so easy to redirect to something inconsequential and frivolous like a cake, and avoid the real issue behind it. To be honest, many of the points you made in this piece are issues I had not spent much, if any, time pondering. I needed this education. thank you.

August 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJudy Schwartz Haley

Thank you for writing this and taking the time to help me see things from another perspective. As a white woman, I will never fully grasp the complexities of racism but as a fellow human being, it is my responsibility to try.

And I'm jotting down all those books for future reading now…

August 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDebra

As one of those who privately messaged you, I am completely on board with that particular topic point (and consider myself warned :-). After I sent that message, I realized how chickenshit of the entire topic I am and your thoughtful response has had the hamsters in my brain working harder than normal.

Writing and talking about these topics is tough and takes nerves of steel. I've tried to talk about these things in the past with a mixed race friend and ultimately, was completely slammed. This happened earlier this year and I am still stung by it.

Anyway, thank you for that prodding, Kelly. I am working on that post and will let you know when I post it. I might need one of my grandma's nerve pills to finish it, though.

August 13, 2011 | Unregistered Commentercagey

I watched a woman on Twitter & FB today unwittingly prove all points about white privilege, entitlement, and a refusal to honestly discuss race.

She's furious over the criticism of a book/movie she loved, but rather than debate the merits of the book or movie, she automatically launched into long defense of how her family treated its minority maids. How they were "like" part of the family and how her parents bettered the lives of their minority employees by helping pay for their kids' college.

Maddeningly, she lashed out at someone who pointed to her entitled status by saying that she guessed anybody who "had a car wash" or a nurse's aid or someone who "served them a hamburger" is entitled, too.

It's not that she doesn't understand -- it's that she doesn't want to. For that reason, racial discussions absolutely must go on, must continue past the point where "people are tired of hearing about it," and the voices that carry the message must continue to be fearless and unapologetic.

As for the cake, everyone knows that Unicorns don't fight.

August 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJane

Thank you for this brilliant post. For your forthrightness and candor. I am a white person who thinks about race a lot but has not yet had the courage to talk about it on my blog because I am certain I will say "the wrong thing" and offend someone of color. But you have made me see that my silence itself is also offensive, as well as cowardly.

I agree with all that Stacy and Deb and other commernters above me are saying, and hope your post helps to give us the kick in the butt to start talking. Thanks again.

August 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterVarda (SquashedMom)

Reason (insert some comically large random number) why I love you, Kelly.

Not least of which is number 1 of your numbered issues. Thank you for your willingness to bring the private "safe black person" questions out in public. We need to have these conversations collectively, not just one-on-one. Educating and leading discussions can be exhausting when at some point you want people to take responsibility and do some of their own work. (Long rant redacted because I'm nonsensically babbling - perhaps another day).

In the meantime, I'll simply say again, thank you, for this post and for being you.

August 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMaria Niles

Thank you for this post. I grew up in South Texas (and live there now) in a very small school. There were more Latinos that White students (but, amazingly, more Latino teachers and a Latino Principal at two of the three schools), and most of us grew up with each other from Kindergarten through graduation. I was friends with both groups pretty equally (I think this was partly because I was in the same socio-economic group as most of the Latinos). I then went to a university in Northwest Florida and I remember thinking at orientation, "Holy crap there are a lot of White people here." It was also the first time I was around Black students or Asian students. I was amazed at the number of times I had a White student assume I had a problem with our fellow students who were of color. I had one of the most impactful conversations of my life during my Senior internship. Our receptionist was a Navy wife whose husband was a Chaplain. They were both Black from the Northeast and hated living in the town. Sharon was always easy to talk with, and she would laugh at my naivete when it came to race issues. I finally admitted to her that I was worried that I was/could become racist. She laughed and said, "Sherry, if you are worried that you are racist, and you are questioning your reactions to situations and people, then there is almost no danger that you are, or will be, racist." I hope that she's right. I also hope that I never stop questioning myself or my reactions. Thanks for making me question.

August 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSherry Carr-Smith

I stopped by because I saw Schmutzie's tweet about this post. So glad I did.

I feel ashamed. I read The Help. But you've totally opened my eyes here. I'm off to seek out a couple of the books on your suggested reading list.

Thank you. I RT'd your post and shared it on my FB page, too. I think everyone needs to wake up. I know I just did.

You're phenomenal.

August 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterErin Margolin

Great post, Kelly -- and you bring up so many issues that I love are finally being discussed.

For me, personally, I'd also love to know about people who wrote about Satoshi Kanazawa and the Psychology Today article when it was published -- if those who wrote about it could share their posts, that would be incredibly heartening (I did read Kristen's post above at the time it was published, and was very encouraged and inspired by it -- thanks so much, Kristen).

As my readers know, I have made it my life's mission to ensure that people who feel different -- because of race, or any other characteristic -- viscerally understand that it is that difference that makes them beautiful; and it must be said that I have always received a helluva lot of very kind and emphatic support from the blogosphere as a result. So when that article came out, specifically attacking me and those who look like me, I have to admit I was somewhat shocked by the radio silence from people who had to that point been vocal supporters of my work.

It is not, of course, that I needed any reassurance from anyone that that particular article was offensive or off-base -- I'm pretty confident about who I am. But I do believe that those of us who have a presence online have a lot of power, and given that "the media" is something that many of us rail against for the messages they feed us and our children, it would be nice to see those of us with an online voice use it to help spread more positive messages in response to the negative ones (and of course, this is the reason why I immediately put together the video that I did in response to the Psych Today article - http://www.chookooloonks.com/blog/2011/5/19/a-response-to-satoshi-kanazawa-psychology-today-and-the-hors.html). I would therefore challenge those of us who are online to, rather than shy away from the difficult topics, actually work to create community (both in their readership, and with their fellow bloggers) by taking a stand against ugliness, racism and/or exclusion, using whatever medium feels comfortable to us to do so. For me, it's photography. For others, it could be their words.

We often talk about how blogging gives us a voice. It would be lovely if we used those voices for good, for community, and for standing up for what's right a bit more often.

(Again, beautiful post, Kelly.)

August 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKaren from Chookooloonks

I'll repeat what I said during out Twitter conversation, because I'm finally in front of my computer.

1. I wasn't at Blogher, but when I saw the pictures of the cake I couldn't figure out what was supposed to be so racist. The mere presence of black? (I know that the whole idiotic comment is about long-standing animosity and nothing more, but the fact that they'll use something as serious as racism to feed a silly internet feud, well, THAT's the upsetting part.)

2. Then, when actual black people were like, "Uh, that's not racist. AT ALL. It's a cake in the shape of a unicorn..." then they're dismissed. Irony?

I think that's the problem, really. We're not heard, even when people are (supposedly) standing up for us. Remember the Summer's Eve campaign? I think it was Karen that contacted them and they told her that the campaign wasn't racist because their research told them it wasn't.

Think about that: An actual consumer of color told them that the campaign was offensive to them, and her opinion was dismissed.

There's the problem.

August 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRoxanna (miguelina)

Also:

Given my previous comment, I would be remiss if I didn't point out that Marianne Elliott, of marianne-elliott.com, did actually post a comment about the Psych Today article:

http://marianne-elliott.com/2011/05/is-a-retweet-taking-action/

She's not a mom-blogger, however, but I do remember loving her words, so I thought I'd share them here as well.

K.

August 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKaren from Chookooloonks

Thank you for this post. I read the book, saw the movie, even had a long conversation about it with the woman that helped raise my Mother & Uncles. And it really, and I mean really, hit me as I read this, that I can try to understand that era and I can feel like I'm close but at the end of the day? I'm white. I can never really know what it was like for the woman that was our caregiver. All I know is that she was my Grandmother's best friend. But could I, would I, should I ever presume to tell or know her story? No. I'm thankful you shared this list of books to read.

August 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDresden

In one of Don Miguel Ruiz's books, he says we have an emotional body that is as real as our physical body. The emotional body gets wounded, and many times we don't deal with the wounds correctly, so instead of healing, they get infected and painful. Then someone bumps into our emotional wound with a word or a look or an assumption, and we react in what seems to be an outsized way to what the bumper sees as an accidental touch. But they bumped our sorest spot, and it makes us scream.

This is how I see our issues of race and privilege. So many wounds, so much covering up, so little examination or attempts at real healing - just a desire to move on without cleaning up. Those of us who have privilege go around bumping into those wounds, often cluelessly, sometimes thoughtlessly, sometimes from a geniune lack of care, and then when the yelling starts, we say "What? I didn't do anything! You're reacting all out of proportion."

So our other solution is to avoid avoid avoid. Don't bump, but don't make any meaningful contact at all. Because no one wants to get yelled at, no one wants to take blame.

I said on twitter I have my own prejudices and you complimented me, Kelly. But here's what happened the other day - I heard on the radio that a school in my old neighborhood had won some kind of award for student achievement, and I thought "That's because it is such a white area." NOT "That's because it is such a rich area" or "That's because the schools are so well-funded there" or "That's because there is so much parent involvement." A white area. That was my thought, and I hate to admit I had it. But that's the kind of crap that still lurks in my brain and that I have to take a hard look at. It isn't pretty and I can't defend it. I can only say I'm willing to admit it and try to change it.

I love cake, but sometimes I have to eat my own dog food, too.

August 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSuebob

Thank you for writing this.

As a White woman who was born and raised in a lily-White state (Iowa), but now lives, works, and socializes with many, many people of color, I recognized early in my professional career how my own biases and prejudices impacted me . Those epiphanies sucked. They were painful and forced me to honestly confront the entire lens though which I view the world. This recognizing of my own privileged, and how institutional and covert racism is alive and well and thriving, created barriers between me and family and friends who could not, would not, acknowledge those same truths. This is not to say that I'm not still confronting my biases all the time. Our views on race are deep-seated and are hard to completely change. But I am willing to have those conversations with others and myself.

It is frustrating when other White people aren't willing to do the same. I find that many, many people can't give any validity to the idea of institutional, cultural, and/or covert racism. To acknowledge them would somehow, to them, invalidate their own accomplishments or achievements or ideas. I try to bridge that gap by eliminating the desire to frame the argument as either/or. It's not either institutional racism exists OR you own experiences with discrimination as a White person (whether that be class-based or gender based or whatever) are invalid. We can all have valid experiences and lives, but we'll never come to understandings about the deep divide that still--still!--exists in this country surrounding race if White people aren't willing to concede that their paradigm is the not the only framework from which people operate. I think that open and honest dialogue, that which only comes when people assume the best of each other but are willing to have hard conversations, is the only way to get there. And those conversations are not going to be about fucking cake.

August 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKBO

I read the entire post, but I'm not sure what I retained after point no. 3 because it really grasped me. I would love to have honest, open conversations about race, but honestly I'm scared to broach this topic in a public arena. I have chronic "foot in mouth" syndrome and I know that I would say something that would offend someone that I would totally not intend and I don't want to hurt anyone. Therefore like some of your friends do with you I have a close friend that I will message with questions or concerns about particular situations to get her feel or opinion. I never realized that was a bad thing.

I'm like the commenter that mentioned people not wanting the subject brought up. I think it should be talked about and brought into the light of day. I think the only way it will ever get any better is to acknowledge the problem and actively work to fix it. I just don't know how to do that.

August 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJennifer

I am a white woman and a teacher--and I talk about race and ethnicity with my students and other teachers a lot. I do occasionally blog about these issues. Yes, it is uncomfortable, but pretending race/ethnicity is not a factor in every facet of our lives changes nothing.

I will be using your list to expand my readings--wondering what you think about "Why Are All The Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafteria?" by Beverly Daniel Tatum

August 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJenn @ Juggling Life

Well, Kelly, you've blown my socks off again. Great points, all. And you've clarified and brought into focus why the whole racist-cake fiasco bothered me so much. Because it meant nothing. 

I don't know if you recall a convo we had a few years back about the lack of well-known writers on the internet who were women of color? The sticking point for me was near the end when I asked you what someone like me, a middle-class white woman raised with a distinct lack of people of color and not a lot of experience PERIOD with racism in general, raised as I was in rural Utah, could do about this problem. You said to me, You can't. We need to do it. That's the whole point. 

I get that. I really, really do. (Here comes the but..) But, that makes me feel helpless and on the outside. I want to be a part of helping things move forward and upward and through and out. I don't want to be "the white lady that saves" anyone or anything. I just want to help. 

Tell me how so I don't come across as what I fear I will be judged as: a white woman of privilege telling a story that's not mine AND/OR trying to "save" women of color. 

August 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLeahpeah

I guess what I've learned here is that the idea of having white represent good and black represent evil is totally okay, provided it's in cake form.

I've also learned that if I feel that having white represent good and black represent evil might be problematic, I'd better keep my mouth shut, or hundreds of people will twist my words into "RACIST CAKE!" and write posts about how wrong and silly I am, because it's a cake. I'm not allowed to feel any other way unless I want to be mocked for days all over the internet.

And you wonder why nobody talks about race? I'm not even allowed to talk about cake without people telling me my feelings are invalid. Lesson learned: keep your mouth shut.

I'd also like to see where somebody called it a racist cake. I saw somebody say it was "not wholly devoid of racially problematic imagery," and I saw other people point out that some diversity among the party planners might have prevented that. But the only people I saw shouting "Racist!" were the people who threw the party.

I'm just happy you're still willing to discuss the hard conversations here on your blog. It can't be easy to be the "go-to-woman" every time a race-related quandary crosses the blogosphere... but, in all honestly, that role couldn't be in more capable hands. Dragging these conversations out of the private chats and personal emails is crucial to keeping us moving forward as the HUMAN race.

And now I want cake. Thanks a lot, Kelly.
:-)

August 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDave2

I read this a bit ago and can't stop thinking about it. So I'm back to comment. I really appreciated this post.I'm headed to the library tomorrow to check out some of the books you listed.Thank you.

August 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterWendy

Nobody puts their foot (hoof?) in their mouth quite as well as I do, at least, that's what I've trained myself to think. And, uh, I guess the evidence of such can be discovered via your daughter's having been exposed to my heinous potty-mouth a few years ago, si?

So why shouldn't I have a go at this kind of massively incendiary topic? EXACTLY. I SHOULD.

I sat in a women's and minorities' studies class (American Family History, to be specific) last fall and acknowledged to myself that there was virtually no one of color present, making the often timid conversation about race and racism somewhat easier to breathe through -- for me, that is. I assume it was like that for most of the other people in the room. There was a youngish African-American man who sat in front who helped propel us through the more confusing/alarming territory in the discussion, but I think the knowing that we were mostly white, with only a sprinkling of Asian-Americans, Native Americans and Mexican-Americans, made the conversation slightly less terrifying.

Because I won't lie: it scares me to teeny pieces to have to try to speak to racial divides, and of the results of those divides, in our country. No matter how well we were being educated with regards to the (simultaneously horrifying and inspiring) history of the African American family, it still stymied (stymies) me to try to discourse in a way that allowed (and allows) for my own privilege, and my awareness of such. I suffer from a disease known as Embarrassment for the General Overreach of Whitey, or EGOW. Having EGOW means I freak the EFF (ha! See? I *CAN* keep from saying it) out when engaging in human interactions about the weather, and various other highly scintillating subjects as well, like knitting. And irony. And shoes.

Conversations about race scare me because I don't want to be seen as stupid, insensitive, unaware, ignorant, or like a malignant tumor on the face of racism. I want people to like me and to know I like them and that I was raised in Portland, Oregon, land of the polite and home of the oh-my-god!?-was-that-a-person-of-color?, which means I've never really had much experience around people of color. So I feel like an ass most of the time. Which is rad. And even sometimes because I am probably being an insensitive ass. Or: more often than not. But I try real, real hard to think before I speak about subjects which have the potential to hurt people, no matter who they may be.

Anyway, I don't know how this comment helps move the topic along at all progressively, but I appreciate your post so much, Kelly, and I wanted to take a stand and say so, and to also admit I'm a huge, cowardly lion, so my comment is entirely lacking in substance. Which means the last year I spent at college trying to enhance my writing has been for naught. SWEET.

But I want us to talk about this, because talking about it allows for cracks in the divide to widen and, thus, for us as a big group of humans to begin to see each other as individuals, and gives us a chance to educate one another (for instance, via your book list of authors/titles, at which I plan to pick in order to see you and your world better, and thank you for your willingness to share, and to invite me and us in). This allows us to truly move beyond the superficial and into the intimate spaces of knowing and caring, no matter how hard and scary and stupefying that experience can (and will) be.

Thank you, Kelly, for having the stones to say it. (Ovaries can *too* be stones.)

And I am done. And I am sorry for being a blabbermouth. It is my thing. And now I have no idea what I just said, and I'm sorry if it was insensitive in any way. Also, I'm sorry if it mainly kind of ran on and didn't go anywhere specific or reasonable or made anyone stabby and don't worry, I already ate food that I made someone spit in just for those of you who think I deserve that for having written so much and said nothing.

The End.

August 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDebbie

Debbie's paragraph: Conversations about race scare me because I don’t want to be seen as stupid, insensitive, unaware, ignorant, or like a malignant tumor on the face of racism. I want people to like me and to know I like them and that I was raised in Portland, Oregon, land of the polite and home of the oh-my-god!?-was-that-a-person-of-color?, which means I’ve never really had much experience around people of color. So I feel like an ass most of the time. Which is rad. And even sometimes because I am probably being an insensitive ass. Or: more often than not. But I try real, real hard to think before I speak about subjects which have the potential to hurt people, no matter who they may be.

Pretty much sums it up for me too. Except not Portland. But like that.

August 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSuebob

First, I am as white as you can get. Scottish and Canadian.
I grew up completely sheltered from the concept of racism even when it was there in my face.

Second...I thought the racist comment about the cake was just a stupid joke and never meant to be anything else...just something dumb and funnyish to say and not for people to freak out about. I also understand that using the word racist in humour is not the safest thing to do.

Especially at conference parties of much loved people.

Third...I wasn't at this BlogHer. I have been to others and it is interesting the undercurrents of class, colour, looks and orientation that run through it. It is a strange atmosphere.

Fourth....Haven't read the book, no urge to see the movie. Never one for dark times turned into treacly goodness by movies studios.

However I did read a lot of what was called Colonial literature in Uni as well as books written by First Nations, and it is true, everyone from the white privileged world of conquerors should.

I think Debbie above says it perfectly about how awkward it can be for people who just want to see everyone as individuals and then can be perceived for being insensitive for not showing our concern for history or the disenfranchised or whatever it may be.

We can't walk in other peoples shoes...but we can certainly be open to understanding that their shoes might fit a little different and we should be able to ask what walking in those shoes feels like too as learning is what makes the world better.

Will ramble on a bit more. I live in a totally multicultural country and neighbourhood. The kids my kids play with are from all over the world and speak many languages and are many shades.

I like to pride myself in helping my kids learn and appreciate as much as they can about about their friends. But still my kids can say things that flabbergast me in their what could be perceived racism.

Again......we are all trying

August 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKerry

I would add to your list, "At the Dark End of the Street: Black Women, Rape, and Resistance--A New History of the Civil Rights Movement from Rosa Parks to the Rise of Black Power", it's really good!

August 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLiz

I'm a white woman and I admit, I hesitate to write about race for fear of going about it all wrong and offending someone. I recently wrote about an elementary school classmate and the horrible lessons the school taught us because of their treatment of him. That particular post makes me nervous. It's more his story than mine. I wonder if it's my place to tell it.

But my bigger worry is that somewhere, even today, there may still be a teacher putting a black kid's desk in the hallway. Also, I worry because where I live people talk as if racism isn't a problem anymore and hasn't been for decades.

August 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterStacey

This paragraph: "You know why everyone is up in arms about a unicorn cake? Because it’s safe and it doesn’t mean anything. Because you can feign indignation about something as trivial as sugar and fondant. Because you get to create a distraction with a big old mess of a cake that has some “racially problematic imagery” and that right there is where your concern for and discussion of race end." Just think it's brilliant.

Also, my friend recommended 'The Help' and said it was an "amazing book," which it might very well be; I wouldn't know. A quarter of the way into it, I put it down. I'd read enough, it was disturbing and upsetting. I have no interest in seeing the movie, although the soundtrack does sound kicky.

August 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBuenoBaby

So my daughters' school is committed to racial reconciliation. It's an amazing thing.

One of the meetings we had was about the book Gracism. And while I don't agree with everything in the book, it was a great way to enter people from all races into a great ongoing discussion. But the best and most important part of that time together was at the end, when we committed to each other that "white people wouldn't discuss black people and black people wouldn't discuss white people" so that this "vacuum" wouldn't happen in any circle.

It's so important.

August 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKatie

First, I want to say Bravo! I had hints about the brouhaha surrounding the SparkleCorn cake and couldn't every figure out how a cake could be racist that was Unicorns--unless maybe one was wearing a white sheet.

I also want to second Liz's suggestion about the book--At the Dark End of the Street--amazing book that has changed my view of history.

As a white mom of two black kids--I struggle with the words to talk about racism every day. We pretend it doesn't matter and that color doesn't exist--but it does and like KBO said, until we confront our biases (and all white people have them--they are socialized into us from the beginning) we can't change anything. We can't change what we can't talk about.

We have to think it is important all the time. We have to make the decisions to become an ally to those who are marginalized by systemic racism and for those who don't think it exists--just look at our urban schools and our urban centers. Thank you for pushing the truth to the surface--we have to be uncomfortable before we can change.

August 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterThe Dalai Mama (Dawn)

Well.

I think the fact that at least one (white) person DID attempt to address it at the Bad Moms Club and addressed it as awkwardly as possible, and with well-meaning ignorance speaks to how complicated this issue is.

First, I, too, thought the "racially problematic imagery" comment was a throwaway meant to be offhanded and not as incendiary as it blew up. I read it, looked at the cake, and moved on. It didn't register to me as anything to be up in arms about either way (although one can argue that the black/white, light/dark, good/evil imagery IS borne out of longstanding racism and attempts from those in power to subjugate those who are marginalized, but that goes SO FAR BEYOND this stupid cake and bleeds into things like, you know, chess boards. Kind of like how the Christian government pushed "righteousness" -- i.e., masculinity , over anything "left"-ish, to subjugate the feminine. BUT THIS IS ALL SO INGRAINED at this point, it's not even worth really addressing.)

AHEM. What I find to be true is that white people have a hard time talking about race and being honest with themselves about their own stereotypes and prejudices, because they are so afraid of BEING those things. So instead of tackling them honestly, the end up being what that Bad Moms Club post turned out to be, which is little more than someone yelling, "*I* know racism exists, but *I* am not a racist!" When, really, acknowledging one's own prejudices and working to overcome them does not a racist make.

I'm sorry the conversation got started over a cake, but I'm glad it's happening. Also, I'm finding a LOT of irony in the fact that a LOT of white people are making a REALLY BIG STINK about how The Help is about a white savior, etc. etc., all the while casting themselves in the role of white savior in this exact instance.

For what it's worth, I thought The Help was racist as hell, but what I found most disturbing, and where I seem to be alone, is that it was terribly condescending and disrespectful for the exact reasons you outline, Kelly: it packages a very real, very complex issue into an oversimplified piece of women's fiction with a pretty yellow cover and pink lettering. As though the only way this topic is acceptable is to turn it into a comfortable, compelling yarn filled with adorable women and a plucky heroine everyone can identify with. It just ... ew, how dumb do we have to treat each other? We are smarter than that.

And finally, I can't get over, and will not get over, the fact that in all of this, there was a woman who, in the heat of an argument about whether or not people should be screeching about cake (my opinion: no), snarkily accused a woman from the south of being racist simply because she was from Alabama (and apparently thought the cake drama was stupid). If we want to have an open conversation about this, then we ALL need to be open, and be willing to hear each other out. And playing the, "Yeah? Well you're a RACIST!" card is just going to drive people further and further apart.

We ALL have prejudices. Every last one of us. Approaching them kindly and honestly is the only way we'll get through it.

August 13, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterjonniker

1] Honestly, I would never view this cake as racist. The thought would never occur to me.

2] Should we then also assume that the white unicorn is gay because there's a rainbow on its butt? If so, then isn't this cake also homophobic because the two unicorns are battling each other? #stereotypessuck

3] People will always read their own subconscious prejudices into what they see.

4] It's cake, people. Just eat it.

August 14, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMichelle

Thank you for writing this. I think that I, like many other commentors, suffer from white guilt over history that is not our fault, but at the same time, we are content to live our lives insulated and not actively solving the problems.

I too, read the Help, and thought, what a nice book. Not really realizing that it could be offensive. And that is just my own ignorance. I am going to start reading though some of the books you have on your list, because I think I need to see things from another perspective.

So I guess my question to you is, what is it we need to be doing to create change? How can we be a real help and not just condescending? Because, like those who are afraid to ask the questions and look dumb (myself included), I really believe that if given the tools, there are many of us who are willing to do what it takes to break through the divide that still exists.

August 14, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterinthefastlane

I read every word of this post and am so thankful you wrote it. Actually, it was because of one of your tweets a month or two back that caused me to put down the Help and not pick it up again to finish it, nor do I plan to see the movie. (how's that for influential?) And it has opened my eyes to much more since then. I would love for those inquiries you get to make it in your writing, too.

Steph

August 14, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAdventures In Babywearing

I read and enjoyed The Help, but definitely feel naive that I didn't pick up on how racially complex and wrong the book is. As a teacher, I'm usually more cognizant of things like this, but I believe I made the mistake of reading the book purely on an entertainment level. I appreciate you sharing the list of better books to read and definitely plan on making my way through it.

August 14, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterErin

These are some of the greatest and most honest comments I have seen in a long time. Bravo! Look at all the people who are now critically reading and thinking about race because you've pointed it out. I think that's how most people feel. They want to be challenged because they are uncomfortable. 99% of the comments really want to have this conversation and the person who is still talking about cake is still talking about cake. It says something about the community of readers you have because they have ignored him/her. Everyone else wants to have real talk. Bravo, again, Kelly!

August 14, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDelaney

I keep coming back to this post to read the comments because I am so impressed by both the ability these words had to inspire AND the openness that my fellow readers have shown.

A question keeps coming up "what can us nice white ladies do without being offensive?"

At the risk of playing the white savior :) I'd like to suggest this: don't be afraid to actively build diversity into your life. I think we often shy away from that because we fear that is racist and inorganic, but going out and seeking multiple perspectives in our lives isn't bad.

If you live in a place where there are only white people, read books written by people of color. Seek out blogs written by people of color. Go eat at restaurants and attend churches and shop and be and meet people in neighborhoods that arendt diverse than your own. Yes, it sounds a bit like you're going to the zoo, but it is, I think, a start. Go. Listen. Read. Listen.

I think that's a start.

August 14, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMiss Britt

I love what Britt said above. It's not so much about actively doing something as it is about listening and learning and expanding our perspectives.

I do wonder about how best to educate my kids on issues of race. The chapter in Nurtureshock on kids' perceptions really opened my eyes to the need to talk frankly about race (and we talk frankly on just about every topic out there). Yet I still strive to check myself before making broad-brush statements about what other races think or how they feel.

It's a tough line for a well-meaning white woman to walk. I know I make missteps. I try to make as few as possible.

August 14, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJulie Marsh

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