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September 05, 2003

The Tibbs Threshold

I have been called to clarify, and so I repost something from the archives: (June 1996)

...yes of course that's true, but in the absence of a wise and patient moderator, you get flamewars of immense dimensions. as we speak, one of the single most popular newsgroups in usenet is having its civility destroyed. it's one of the reasons i'm here more often despite the relatively low throughput of webchat. (props for motet though, it's my favorite).

however as regards the presence of non blacks in open discussions relating to black culture, experience always tells us that the fact that there are non-blacks present with the best intentions and qualities is not a sufficient condition for confidence. there are always mauraders and jokers who are capable of disrupting or destroying the environment necessary for intercultural communication. i don't know exactly why it happens, but when this occurs, there isn't often much that can be done to salvage the space. rather than risk that, many black folks look for 'members only' groups.

the interesting thing is that advocacy of free speech is a weak arguement which always tends to favor the marauders. in unmoderated fora in which an indeterminate number of participants have access to and competence with bozo tools, determined marauders can make mincemeat out of a cybersociety. with racial topics, it's easily accomplished. free speech arguments tend to privilege 'controversial' cyber 'actions' but not vengeful ones.

for example. let's say that jimrutt got on my last nerve. (personally, i find jim a good adversary most of the time and would never bozo him out) and that his opinion on a subject tangential to black culture, i found not only wrong but downright insulting. to my sophisticated sensibility as a black man, i might find that he has crossed a line at which i am justified in smacking him. that line for me might make no sense whatsoever to many non-blacks. i call it the 'tibbs threshold' after the fictional character played by sidney poitier. in their own environment, the idea that a black man might be so offended that he would strike a white man is something reserved for a short list of offenses. use of the n-word, perhaps. however for mr. tibbs, of elevated bearing and stern stuff, potential offenders have much less breathing room and rightfully so. however if i were to not only bozo him but mailbomb him or advocate his censure, i would be considered out of line. that divide between my supporters and my detractors is almost always racially polarized.

this kind of transaction manifests itself daily in cyberspace. white folks in black oriented fora, sometimes find themselves saying things which they may themselves think controversial but not offensive and wind up virtually smacked by a crowd of tibbs of whom they were not aware. they feel victimized by a racial conspiracy of 'groupthink' and 'self-segregation' unable to grasp the gravity of error. others go overboard, believing from day one that they are surrounded by a crowd of tibbs, and tiptoe quietly around any controversy to the point at which they lurk. white lurkers in black fora always give black folks the creeps.

does the principle of free speech invite marauders yet proscribe the black virtual smack? does the presumption of invalidity of 'ad hominum' attacks fly in the face of a culture imbued with the ritual of the dozens? in my experience, the answer to both of these questions is yes..

Posted by mbowen at September 5, 2003 12:35 AM

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This still confuses me. It just looks like a blank check for anytime any person of dark hue arbitrarily decides to declare that they have been disrespected. This doesn't give any hint of standards that might reasonably be used by a well-meaning cracker such as myself to know what opinions we're allowed to hold or how we're allowed to express them without being accused of disrespect.

I usually figure that trying to be honest and show good will to my fellow man should largely exempt me from condemnation such as this.

I want black folk coming to my haunts. Indeed, I'm happy to encourage it. I want your feedback. Note that I've actively sought yours personally, leading you back to this posting.

So why does a white man make you uncomfortable. Do you just automatically find it "disrespectful" to be disagreed with?

What exactly ARE the rules? Can you dumb 'em down for a white boy? Thanks.

Posted by: Al Barger at September 5, 2003 03:53 AM

you've come to the right place, but i won't dumb down the rules, especially for a whiteboy. but adrian piper has something useful to say.

i will point you down a yellow brick road at the end of which is a solution. in the south i used to live in, we called this a 'coming to jesus'. and that basically means you can't do it in a half-assed manner. but the quick and dirty way to explain it is this:

there are no negroes in america. they all changed who they were. ex-negroes are now 'black' or 'african american'. that is because they looked at the racial identity they got and the things associated with it and rejected it. they looked at what america meant by negro, they examined carefully the 'negro problem'. and they said 'i am not that'. they started from scratch with a new identity. they started with 'black is beautiful' and started calling each other 'brother' and 'sister'. they made a lot of mistakes, but after a couple of decades, the negroes were gone. they became a new people, free of the shackles of that racial identity. and they weren't finished, so they went on to 'african american'.

whitefolks stood still.

i say that there is no difference between the white in white supremacy and the white in whitefolks. speaking of it simply, there's an obvious difference in degree between in the racial views of a white supremacist and an ordinary whiteguy. but i'd imagine that whitefolks get very uncomfortable with the association if it was brought to their attention on a regular basis. they might even do something about it. they might fix the 'white problem'.

a lot of whitefolks have done that. the one who has most impressed me is tim wise. tim wise is very serious and cannot be taken lightly. his approach to fighting racism is different as someone who used to be vested in a white identity, but when it comes to matters of race he is absolutely on target. the racial identity he lives with has no longer become an impediment to clear thinking.

i can hardly expect any individual to jump directly into a flow as strong as wise's. for that reason i have written, over the course of a few years, the race man's home companion. i believe that by deeds and by changing one's thinking on racial matters, on can transform from being a passive target based on an identity you inherit, to being an active advocate of anti-racist ethics. and it is only by being an active advocate of anti-racist ethics that one can succeed. there is only one proper ethos for combating racism in this country - call it 'the struggle' and the rules are the same for everyone. that's why i say that it's like 'coming to jesus'.

there are existential hurdles that people of all backgrounds need to get over in order to walk this way. i can only guess what yours might be. nevertheless i've found some soft spots that whitefolks generally respond to and so i have a section of the companion that deals with that.

check out the companion. i think you'll find it worth the effort. in the end, if you can find yourself credible as an anti-racist, you'll make a different set of enemies, but you won't be blindsided by being accused of being at cross purposes with blacks, or anyone else in 'the struggle'.

all this is tangential to matters of discourse and disrespect. it goes more centrally to the gut of what really separates macdiva and yourself which is the matter of neo-confederacy. there are hundreds of ways for blacks & whites to get along on issues which are not related to race, but it is only when both parties are clear on what is racial and what is important on that (best from the perspective of an anti-racist) that such disagreements don't bite deeply.

Posted by: Cobb at September 5, 2003 07:57 AM