Dirty Linen

“Dirty Linen” (click on “Essays and Reviews” on the panel at the top of this page) is something I wrote several years back and then updated for publication in Ecelectica (where all the essays on this blog, so far, were originally published). It’s the longest and most ambitious essay I’ve written. Sadly, it still seems relevant, and that’s why I’m including it here halfway through Black History month.

The idea for the piece was originally generated out of the O.J. Simpson trial, but that was just the launching point for my thoughts and feelings on the subject. I think it’s difficult to gain a perspective, any real objectivity, on a phenomenon as deeply embedded in our social fabric as is “race” (you’ll understand why I insist on the quotation marks if you read the essay). It’s like trying to examine the back of your own head.  I made an attempt to do so in this piece not because I am any more free of this social pathogen than anyone else but because the subject has preoccupied me for as long as I can remember. Writing is largely a matter of exorcising old demons and realizing what frequently lies below the level of consciousness. If you’re lucky, you find readers who share your possessions and enjoy or at least are willing to suffer through the birthing of those realizations. Hopefully, that will be you.

About Thomas J. Hubschman

Thomas J. Hubschman is the author of Look at Me Now, My Bess, Song of the Mockingbird, Billy Boy, Father Walther’s Temptation, The Jew’s Wife & Other Stories and three science fiction novels. His work has appeared in New York Press, The Antigonish Review, Eclectica, The Blue Moon Review and many other publications. Two of his short stories were broadcast on the BBC World Service.

Posted on February 15, 2012, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

  1. The one time I’ve ever been interviewed for a national poll, they asked me what I thought was the greatest problem facing the country, and I answered, “Racism.” The guy was so surprised he told me that couldn’t be my answer. He no place to put it on his form.

  2. A great metaphor, that form.

  3. I think one has to live awhile before one understands the wisdom in the advice that we should careful what we hate, because that is so often what we become.

    I too am horrified at our ability to rewrite history – both national and personal – to suit our preconceived notions. It has just been brought o my attention how many people believe that the West won the Crusades. I’m pretty sure George Bush does.

    • The last I heard about the Crusades is that they were Byzantium’s idea and the West was invited to join in with the possibility that the Eastern and Western churches could merge afterward. I guess it didn’t work out.

  4. Thank you, Tom, for yet another excellent essay ! I don’t know what it is about your essays that keep me returning to Foucault. Foucault first raised the subject of bio-political state racism in his lectures “Society Must be Defended” in which he stated that the “introduction and activation of racism are central to the emergence of biopower”. I’ve been meaning to read Ladelle McWhorter — her work on the genealogy of race is insightful and follows a Foucaultian approach : http://www.c-scp.org/en/2012/01/29/ladelle-mcwhorter-racism-and-sexual-oppression-in-anglo-america.html Thank you, again – I thoroughly enjoy your writing and am ever so grateful that you share them with us ! : )

  5. I might add that in Hong Kong where I am originally from, and it was certainly the case some 30 years ago when I was growing up there that even within the Chinese ‘race’, young women with a fairer skin tone were referred to as “white” and were very much adored as beautiful and good. The ones who were born with a slightly darker skin tone (but obviously no less Chinese) were often perceived as something “less than” the “whites” and considered ugly, less pure, or even dirty.

    • Thanks very much, Karen.

      There was a dialogue, published, a number of years back between Margaret Mead and James Baldwin. As I remember it, there was a healthy back and forth until Mead told Baldwin that when fair-skinned, blonde Europeans appeared in the south they were assumed to be angels. For some reason, at least as I recall, that seemed to throw Baldwin. That’s the reason why I remember the dialogue, and it’s the only thing I remember from it. She seemed to me to have — as the saying was at the time — “eaten up his mind.” I thought to myself, if someone as militant as James Baldwin could be taken in by the idea that whiteness in itself suggests something ethereal and superior, we were in more trouble than I thought.

      Personally, I find it hard to believe that white superiority in that sense was ever based on anything other than raw power, whether in the West or in Asia (would that comport with your own impressions?). To offset Mr. Baldwin’s reaction, I offer the reaction of Africans who had never seen white-skinned people before: they assumed them to be corpses.

  6. Indeed, and in fact in the Cantonese dialect that I speak, Westerners are ,still, to this day all collectively referred to as “ghosts” ( not that far from corpses, eh ?) . Then again, people of African descent are being referred to by the Cantonese as “black ghosts”. Culturally & historically, the Chinese are an extremely ethnocentric and racist group of people. Using the concept of “race” as an instrument of power is, unfortunately, common to all sovereign states, both East and West. Racism is a device used by all modern states to manage, control or normalize the population, amongst other things.

    And yes, the whole concept of “whiteness” is really quite bizarre, isn’t it. I guess it comes down to this simple formula: once you set up being White as “the normal”, then any deviation from whiteness is also a deviation from what is normal. Racism has redefined the concept of “enemy” (the enemy as internal to society, as biological danger), as F. had suggested…

    Thank you for the interesting little anecdote about James Baldwin and Margaret Mead; I thoroughly enjoyed reading your account of it : )

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