Wednesday, July 25, 2007

I Can't Hear You

The smart thing to do would be to take my own advice and simply go "hmmm..." and nod and keep my mouth shut.

But this (via written world) made me think of my aborted letter to Newsweek. The one where I wrote asking why, when TPTB decided to ask some actual black folk who worked at Newsweek what they thought of Imus's remarks, they didn't also ask women what they thought of Imus's remarks. Or, better yet, make a point of asking black women what they thought of Imus's insults. (Although the answer to that last may sadly be "there was no one to ask.")

Cheryl is right, as usual, and I'm not writing this to say that she's not. I'm writing this to make it clearer to non-colored feministsn why they may feel she's not, so they - we - will stop turning a blind eye to racism.

I suspect that people often feel more compelled to put on a veneer of pretending not to be racist than they feel compelled to not voice their sexism - in public. It appears easier to get away with saying that women are genetically not capable of....whatever...than it is to say the same about race. (Unless you modify the "race" to mean "culture" - then anyone is fair game.)

People, of course, still say both. People get away with saying both. But mainstream university presidents seem more likely to feel safe saying sexist things in public (couched in evo-psych). Fortunately, they don't always get away with that either.

But what people say is not always the same as what people do.

Women still only make $.75 for every dollar a man makes. Except, that's not right. The correct stat is that white women make $.77 for every dollar a white man makes. Black men make only $.74 for every dollar a white man makes. Black women make $.68 for every dollar a white man makes. And all four of these groups have Latinos beat by more than a dime.

If economic power really is tied to political and social power, then I think it's clear that Cheryl is quite right. And that's even before we start discussing the messy business of how much power the women who marry the white men have. Or how the recent Supreme Court decision will impact such stats in the future.

Because of our past - recent and distant - we can, as a nation, be very hyper-sensitive when it comes race relations between blacks and whites. But that doesn't mean we actually bother to do a whole lot about racism. In fact, the bulk of what we do is blame the victim.

Just as importantly, there's a lot going on that we (white feminists) don't hear - or don't bother to listen to.

It's not as if universities across the nation are overflowing with black people. In fact, it's very possible that we actually hear more about the sexist remarks made by the Larry Summers of the world not because they are considered to be ok, but because they aren't. Sexist remarks tend to piss off a huge section of the student body and a significant number of the faculty. They same cannot be as confidently said about casual racist remarks. There is strength in numbers, and I suspect women feel more comfortable calling out sexism in college than people of color feel comfortable calling out racism. And that the same is true in a lot of other places as well.

We have to remember that our perception of what people feel is ok to say in public is colored by the fact that we (white feminists) hear the the sexist things people say in private, but we don't necessarily hear the racist things people say in private - or even in public places that we don't happen to be in at the time. My suspicion could very easily be wrong; it's hardly a foolproof enough theory to go around making stupid remarks about black women having advantages over white women.


bellatrys said...

One interesting thing w/r/t Summers was watching how many "liberal" Nice Guys™ on the big political blogs were willing to defend him and tell us women to shut up, Summers was a Smart Guy and what did we know? Didn't we realize that Men And Women Were Just Different? What He Said Wasn't That Bad - often with added "And go get me a sandwich, you humorless feminazis, haha!" until the full text of his remarks, including his claims of innate *ethnic* ability/disability, got out. (& other surreally-bigoted statements from the past, too.)

Then they admitted that he might be a bit of an asshole & didn't want to be associated with him so much any more. Not so much because they really weren't racially biased (often they were as evidenced by other comments) but because they felt a greater stigma at being associated with undeniable bigotry, even if they still didn't really think he'd said/done anything sexist at all.

Mickle said...

I think that's where my impression that a particular class of sexist remarks is slightly more acceptable than racists remarks comes from.

For some reason it's still easier to defend slightly sexist remarks as "truth" and then otoh, a lot of racist stuff gets ignored by more people and not as many people hear about it. I never knew Summers made racist remarks and not just sexist remarks. And yet, it makes sense.

I wonder why it is that racism is seen as "undeniable" bigotry, but sexism isn't? I wonder if it has to do with the opinions of the group in question. (I know a lot more women that would have defended Summers than non-whites who would have defended his racist remarks).

And I rather suspect that racism being seen as undeniably bigoted doesn't mean that people don't say and think racist things, they just don't say them in public places as often. And they tend to couch them in terms that blur the line between race and culture.

bellatrys said...

And they tend to couch them in terms that blur the line between race and culture.

The mainstream/manstream response to the Imus scandal (tagline - "We're outraged by your outrage!") lends support to that observation. (My personal favorite on the blogs was white commenters going disingenuously "but I thought nappy hair was supposed to be *good* now? Aren't you being hypocritical when you say he was being insulting by using it?")

Mickle said...


That's like the conversation I had with some teens at the library several months back.

(teen 1 and teen 2 are discussing the fact that teen 1 got in trouble at school earlier that day for using a homophobic slur)

teen 1 to teen 2: "....besides, fag just means cigarette in England..."

me, butting in: "We're not in England."

teen 1 to teen 2: " it really isn't a bad word...."

me, butting in: "...besides, you obviously meant it as an insult. So stop being mean."

....both teens finally shut up.