Is This Racism?

I am reading Waiting To Exhale by the bestselling Terry McMillan.

And I’m a bit thrown.

The word white seems most often to be used as a derogatory description, and that’s on those occasions when it isn’t followed by the words “bitch” or “cunt.” I’m on page 304 out of 400 pages, and so far the only white people in the book have been the “white bitch” who stole one of the four main characters’ husbands, and the “white girl” who was caught giving head to one of their teenage sons. "Her eyes had to be lying to her…that sleazy little white heffa…was on her knees, doing what Gloria didn’t want to think she was doing with her face buried between his legs."

On another occasion, one of the characters laments the fact that she gave in and let her daughter have a white Barbie doll.

The cheating husband who hides all of his money from his wife, neglects his marriage, and becomes obsessed with his career is "doing nothing but imitating the white folks he’d seen on TV."

I could go on, but you get the gist.

How is this any more acceptable than any other kind of racism? If I were to write a book about white people, struggling to get their lives together, would it be okay if I referred to black people this way? “That sleazy black heffa” and “black bitch” and “black cunt,” etc., etc.? What does that have to do with the story? I know if I picked up another book and found black people–or any race of people!–referred to this way, I’d be extremely offended. I’d like to think we’re moving beyond the point where it’s acceptable to use anyone’s race, by itself, as a reason to dislike them, or to distrust them. Particularly so blatantly.

And I guess I’m just wondering if I’m the only one who thought the matter-of-fact way these words are used is a bit surprising. Is the author just being honest? Is it okay as long as it’s real? You know, as long as certain black people feel this way (and I’d hate to think so!), it’s acceptable to use this kind of language? Am I just not the audience this book is written for?

I’m sorry, but I don’t think using someone’s color/race/heritage as an insult is ever acceptable. If I were to write a rant about a girl who pissed me off, would it be cool if I said, “Yeah, and that sleazy little Latin bitch had the nerve to cut me off!” or “She was just acting like all the black bitches she sees on TV,” etc., etc.?

I’d be rightly ostracized as a blatant racist, wouldn’t I?

Is there a difference? Am I being too sensitive?

Racism is racism, no matter the source or destination. But in the case of a work of fiction, you have to separate the characters from the author; perhaps the characters are racist but the author isn’t. I haven’t read this book so I can’t say one way or the other.

Blame the Liberals. In a society that they want colorblind, we have to give preference to people based on skin color. My sister was raped by a black man, but not a hate crime.

Don’t forget when the hairdresser lady was dreading having to smell one of her customer’s “nasty White Shoulders.”

Hmmm, well, as far as I’m concerned, the characters in this book are racist, if they’re going off like that. As sturmhauke said, racism is racism.

As far as whether Terry McMillan herself is racist? I’ve spent about 10 minutes searching for interviews, and the question never comes up. The one reference to race is brought up by McMillan herself here. Under the question **Charlotte feels as if Dr. Greene, as a black woman, can really understand her dilemma in a way that Dr. Simpson never can . . . **, she states:

Which is certainly anti-racist. Yet, something doesn’t ring quite right when I compare that to the quotes Audrey Levin provided. If these are the heroines/protagonists of the book saying this, and we are supposed to sympathize with them (and we are; McMillan and the reviews make that quite clear), then why does McMillan put these words into their mouths, if she so opposed to those sentiments.

The problem is that none of the interviews I’ve found so far have asked her directly about this. (Though I haven’t gotten a chance to read them all. There are quite a few.) They mostly talk about the aspect of sexuality and relationships with men.

I would be interested in hearing McMillan’s response if an interviewer called her out by asking “How well do you sympathize with your characters’ attitudes towards white people?”

I would call that a fair question.

Aren’t all crimes hate crimes?

The characters in the book are racist.

Based on the quote from the interview with her, I would guess the author is not. Perhaps she was basing those things on what she heard people say or what she thought some people would think in that situation. Just because she writes about it doesn’t mean she agrees with it. Ask anyone who writes about murder, rape or other crimes in novels.

Why would it be a hate crime? Did he rape her just because she was white? Or because he was a sick fuck who liked raping women?

I don’t think so. Possession of marijuana is a crime. Who is the hatred directed toward?

I didn’t read the book, but was it possible that she was referring to the perfume White Shoulders? Pardon me if this is a whoosh.

I doubt anyone would call stolen hubcaps a hate crime, unless they were stolen from a Yugo.

I dunno. It’s easy enough to pay lip service to this kind of thing with one or two nice-sounding quotes, especially if the interviewer is throwing you softballs.

Also, the people who write about rape and murder don’t quite frame either in such a casual light, do they? If the heroines are saying this sort of thing and no one’s calling them on it, and the ubiquitous “third eye” of the novel doesn’t do anything to suggest that the people saying it are bad, or at least wrong in what they say, then this isn’t quite the same situation.

Once again, I need to qualify my statements with the fact that I haven’t come across an interview question that would provide an answer either way, but the whole thing still doesn’t ring right with me.

According to a friend of mine, the racism portroyed in the book is a “shoe is on the other foot” kinda thing. The fact that you recognize the racism as racism is the object.

Also, the problems that black women perceive with the number of white women dating/marrying/cohabitating with black men can be seen as the origin of some of the racism. My favorite quote from this woman is “Ya know, some black men are almost too stupid to be allowed to live. If you took Godzilla and gave it a blonde wig and blue eyes, some black guy would convince himself that she was beautiful, because he got himself a White Girl with Blonde Hair.”

I have to remind her that it’s not just black guys. White guys and Hispanic guys do it, too. Her rejoinder is that the educated black woman, the successful black woman can’t find a black man to date or marry, because the successful black man is dating/married to a white woman.

She’s a 35 year old college professor, PhD in literature. She hasn’t had a date with a black man that has anything near her educational or financial standing for 8 years. A lot of her colleagues are in the same boat.

Color shouldn’t matter. She knows that. We know that. But not everybody does. If learning from a book or movie that there is an opposite side to the coin enlightens some people, good. There has to be a place to start.

I was thinking the same sort of thing when I watched the movie “My Big, Fat, Greek Wedding.” As most of you probably know, the movie was ostensibly set in Chicago, but Nia Vardolos is Canadian, and the movie was basically about her family’s life in Canada. Throughout the whole movie, the Greek family was dead set against their kids being raised in Canada acting like/hanging out with/ and (God forbid) marrying Canadians.

This isn’t a new attitude; I’ve met plenty-o-immigrants that have similar attitudes; Canada is good enough to immigrate to, but you don’t want to actually become Canadian or have your kids raised as Canadians.

Now, if I, as a Canadian, were to say how much I dislike Greeks and don’t want my kid to marry one, wouldn’t that be racist? Why is it okay for immigrants to Canada to be so racist against Canadians?

But I thought the movie did a good job of changing everyone’s attitudes at the end. You see both families having a great time at the wedding, drinking and dancing. The movie took a family’s prejudice against Canadians, exposed it as the silly little thing it was, and dispensed with it before the last scene.

If Waiting to Exhale does the same thing, then I don’t have a problem with McMillan.

DD, I couldn’t quite figure out from the context whether “this person” referred to your friend or one of McMillan’s characters, so if I get this wrong, please correct me and I’ll apologize.

Your friend is being foolish. Plenty of nice, well-educated black people, and latino people marry within their own race. To say that they all lust after white women takes stereotyping to a whole new level.

If this is her attitude towards black men, I’m not very surprised that she hasn’t dated them for a while. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if she hasn’t dated at all in a while. A defensive attitude is not a turn-on.

I meant to say, or course, "If this is her attitude towards educated black men . . . "

Sorry about that.

I’m trying to think of a way to phrase this that doesn’t sound awful, but it’s not happening. So, I’ll just say it and ask your pardon if it doesn’t quite come out the way I mean it to.

I think the hostility here isn’t towards White people, per say, but the anger of the Black women at the Black men who are either trying to be White or be with White people. It’s the whole “race traitor” thing. I had a Black friend who was often accosted by Black women for having a Hispanic girlfriend. They would come up to him and start shouting at him or look threateningly towards her for stealing one of “theirs.” Actually, this happened to more than one Black friend. Another one who dated across the board would end up getting into shouting matches because a Black woman (or women) would become so hostile at the fact that he was with someone White, they would accost them.

The quotes you provided were about Black women in a Black world feeling threatened by White people. I’m not excusing it or saying it was good, or even all that understandable. I’m just trying to explain it. And hoping I didn’t botch it up too much.

No, I’d say it’s obvious you’re not excusing it or condoning it in this post. I do have one or two additional comments about what you wrote.

Be that as it may, the characters are still directing hostility towards white people. If they were only putting down black men and leaving white women out of it, I’d agree with you, but calling someone a “sleazy white heffa” or saying that someone is “imitating the white folks he’d seen on TV” by being obsessed with his career and hiding money doesn’t leave much room for interpretation.

Also, even if they were to leave the white woman alone and call the black woman out for dating outside her race, that would still be inappropriate. Although arguably not racist, it would at least be discriminatory.

Stop for a second and think about the book that originally put “race traitor” into quasi-popular usage, and you’ll see how sinister a connotation the concept brings up.

The thing is, though, they are not in a “black world” any more than I’m in a “white world.” There is one crazy, mixed-up world, and we all have to figure out a way to get along with each other within it.

If that way involves trying to preserve one’s race like protecting a feudal village behind the ramparts while coercing others to do the same, then I would say that’s unrealistic at best. I have no words to describe what it would be at worst.

Once again, Heloise, I know you weren’t defending this attitude. I just felt the need to comment on the concepts in general.

I felt this way when I lived in the Bay Area and a lot of my Asian friends weren’t allowed to date white boys. I never understood it. To me, it was blatent raciscm, but they didn’t see it that way because they were the minority. I had a hard time seeing their point of view as I was watching my brother “sneaking around” with his Vietnamese girlfriend because her parents would freak out if they found out she was dating a white boy. I always saw it as trying to have the best of both worlds: move to another country, enjoy all of the things that country has to offer but don’t you dare actually try to date anyone from that country." I still don’t understand it. :confused: