Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Musing in My Corner while thinking about Race and Gender

So I'm out walking this evening and listening to the bi-weekly Womanist Musings podcast and the hostesses Renee, Monica, and Allison McCarthy were mainly talking about race and feministing (there's a long story behind their interactions with Jessica Valenti of feministing that makes this cast much worth the download) but the main thing that caught my attention was something that came later in the show.

Not sure who brought it up but the topic came to the question of how does one go about calling things out when the ones being called out generally refuse to listen?

Specifically the hostesses of the show were talking about how, as women of color, they speak to the white women who dominate sites like feminsting and get called "angry" and other silencing language white women use on women of color for their trouble. Usually these silencing tactics are a result of not wanting to listen to said women of color (WoC from here) while at the same time wanting to benefit from their precence. By this I mean they want WoC to embrace feminism under the banner of sisterhood while putting WoC's issues on the back burner with a promise to address them later. By this I mean they want to flaunt the street cred of being "allies" (and anyone that has read stuff here before knows I don't like the current frivolous use of that word) yet only do so with the bear minimum of mention in the form of quicklinking, a form of lip service that involves simply linking to someone with only a few if any words of mention (almost like you didn't actually read the post you're liking to). By this I mean they are all for WoC being around as long they make sure they don't get "angry", "out of hand", "hostile", or whatever.

(Everything after this is a tangent of my own sparked by their podcast. They talked about a whole lot more than what I'm mentioning here so you really, really, really should go listen to it. It's 90 minutes well spent.)

This struck a bit of a chord with me and got me to thinking about the problems I have to deal with in human rights discourse from my own perspective. Now most of what Renee and Monica were speaking about was from the perspective of women of color (African decent to be exact) so as a man of color (African decent to be exact) my problems are not quite the same.

Currently two of the largest human rights issues on nearly everyone's lips are race and gender.(disclaimer: I am by NO MEANS saying that sexual orientation, religion, economic class, weight, ability, etc... issues don't matter just saying race and gender come up most often.) Generally the way it goes is to pretty much assume men are the haves and women are the have nots in terms of gender and whites are the haves and people of color are the have nots in terms of race. So according to common perceptions that puts me in the position of being both a have (male...) and a have not (...of color) with the other side of the coin being white women. So I get quite the mixed bag.

Being black in some ways gives me quite the bit of latitude some of which is deserved some of which is not. On one hand when I point out racism to white people there is a chance that they may apologize, announce their ally status, then wait for me to reciprocate. On the other hand they may get hostile as Renee and Monica have experienced. There have been quite a few times I've been called "angry black man", asked "Don't I have a liquor store to rob?", (let's not get into the abandoning children remarks) and other silencing remarks. As a side note its almost as if people think that I am not capable of committing racism. Well I can but some people to try to throw in "institutional power" and say that I would not be racist in said situation if I was targetting a white person. Yeah it seems that whether or not something I do is racist depends on the race of those I target but that is a-whole-nother can of worms for another day.

Apparently some people (i.e. some female feminists) like to think that as a man I have this stack of privileges over them by virtue of being a man. Many of the items they try to bootstrap to me don't apply but that doesn't stop them from making the claim and here lies the problem. (And never mind the notion that with "institutional power" in the mix if a woman does something to me because I'm male its not sexism.) These assumptions make gender discourse a bit difficult. When speaking in gender discourse they like to think that as a male I always have privilege on my side therefore anything I say besides apologizing and pledging to be an ally is assumed to be suspect at best and a display of privilege at worst.

It is quite the disheartening and frankly aggravating experience to be called names simply because I have the audacity to not agree with something said by a feminist. I don't agree with the outlandish notion that "men don't have to worry about...."? Then that must mean that I'm blinded by my privilege. I don't agree with the claim that "women are the real victims of..." despite having mountains of male victims (that they push to the side and ignore)? Then I must be a troll. I dare to point out that lumping all men together with the elite few at the top that are causing the problem is an incorrect and gross generalization? That has to be because I'm crying "It's not me!" Point out the hypocrisy of claiming to care about all people while at the same time ignoring the issues of any who do not fit in a narrow concentrated group? Then it has to be an attempt to derail.

What I'm getting at is how can you expect to talk to much less work with a group of people who have already decided that because you are of a certain class of people you are some demon that cannot be trusted and should be cast out at the slightest hint of dissent?

Now I'm not saying that I should be taken at face value but at the same time if my trustworthiness, credibility, likability, etc... are being determined solely by one part of who I am how can I contribute to making the world a better place? Well that is part of the reason why I created this place so that I can speak just how I want without worrying about a few feminists crying foul because I'm not acting quite how they want me to. This works for now but it causes more separation which is the exact opposite of the unity that needs to happen.

Going to have to come up with a better way...