The Trouble With Talking About Racism

In a blog entry for the Nation, Tulane professor Melissa Harris-Perry analyzes the strategies commonly used to discredit writers who acknowledge continuing racial bias in America.

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President Barack Obama (Getty Images)

Blogging at the Nation, Tulane professor Melissa Harris-Perry responds to angry complaints about an earlier article of hers suggesting that racial bias may be responsible for President Barack Obama's declining support among white Americans.

I logged onto Twitter on Sunday night and discovered that my recent article for The Nation was causing a bit of a stir. Some members of the white liberal political community are appalled and angry that I suggested racial bias maybe responsible for the President's declining support among white Americans. I found some responses to my piece to be fair and important, others to be silly and nonresponsive, and still others to be offensive personal attacks. But those categories are par for the course.

I make it a practice not to defend my public writings. Because I often write about provocative topics like race, gender, sexual orientation and reproductive rights, if I defended every piece I wrote against critics I would find little time to sleep. But the responses to this recent article have been revealing in ways that I find typical of our contemporary epistemology of race. Often, those of us who attempt to talk about historical and continuing racial bias in America encounter a few common discursive strategies that are meant to discredit our perspectives. Some of them are in play here.

1. Prove it!

The first is a common strategy of asking any person of color who identifies a racist practice or pattern to "prove" that racism is indeed the causal factor. This is typically demanded by those who are certain of their own purity of racial motivation. The implication is if one cannot produce irrefutable evidence of clear, blatant and intentional bias, then racism must be banned as a possibility. But this is both silly as an intellectual claim and dangerous as a policy standard.  

Read Melissa Harris-Perry's entire blog entry at the Nation.

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