Friday, September 26, 2008

Gender or Race? You Simply Must Choose.

Both Black men and white women constantly tell WOC, that we must choose which part of our identity we are most troubled by.  Both completely refuse to acknowledge that even asking us to make this choice is an expression of privilege. What other group are constantly told that to have one part of their identity validated, they must repudiate the other. At various times I have called out black men for their sexism and white women for their racism. Intersectionality is not something I can afford to pay lip service to  because my body represents the very concept. 

When I enter into a hostile situation, it is not always clear whether or not I am dealing with racism or sexism,  sometimes it is a combination of the two. Black women occupy the bottom of the race and class hierarchy, and therefore we have a unique understanding of the ways in which oppression and privilege work.

To ask a person of colour to discount the relevance of race in their lived experience is beyond hubris, it is to be wilfully obtuse and racist.  On a post I wrote entitled Why Is It Always The White Women, the following comment was left.

Perhaps women of color have too much invested in defending men, rather than overthrowing male supremacy. I've always wondered how this particular blind spot can be so all pervasive, but then the truth that men everywhere -- black or white are truly the people who rule the world.

Who are these men that we are meant to rail against?  Who are these men that we are meant to turn our backs on.  I will tell you who these men are; they are our sons, fathers, brothers, and friends.  A black man may not understand every nuance of my existence due to male privilege, but he will understand what racism means to me.  These men that we are told to abandon are not only our loved ones, they are our compatriots in the struggle.

I am addressing this issue today, because I read about an image of Barack Obama being lynched.  Barack and Michelle are clearly people of class privilege, but an act of utter evil and hatred reduced them to 'othered' beings.  To those feminists that are intent that black women should choose gender I ask, will you weep with us when our black sons become victims of racism?  Is my mothers pain woman enough to justify their deaths  as a feminist issue?   What about Baracks daughters, do you feel the pain of the child that watches helpless as their father is reduced to a caricature, and tuned into fodder for racist ideals?

"Black males have the greatest chance of dying before they reach twenty. Although they are only 6 percent of the U.S.population, black males make up half of male prisoners in local, state and federal jails. An overwhelming majority of the twenty thousand Americans killed in crime-related incidents each year are black males. Over thirty-five percent of all black males in American cities are drug and alcohol abusers. Twenty-five percent of the victims of AIDS are black men. Fifty percent of black men between sixteen and sixty-two are not active in the labor force. Thirty-two percent of black men have incomes below the poverty level." (Gibbs, as quoted in Dyson 96)

Racism effects more than high profile men like Barack, and it is only because white women are in the position to wield privilege, that they do not see it for the evil that it is.  You may accuse black women of collusion with black men against the horrors of sexism, but I accuse you of collusion with white men in the furtherance of racism, and the white supremacist state. Unless you are daily, actively striving to mitigate your privilege, and working against racism, calling black women to the mat for supporting those we love when they are being victimized, is supporting the very system that makes sexism possible.

I will not choose between my blackness and womanhood.  To do so would not only splinter my identity, but it would support the isms that work to construct my body, and those that I love as less than.  The taunting about solidarity is not a call for action, it is a request for denial and betrayal.  You shall not alight the mountain of justice, with POC hauling your weight. 


16 comments:

Ebony Intuition said...

Great post.

I deal with this on a daily basis and I see this on a daily basis. I'm always being told to not seek out a partner from my on racial grouping because they are consider sexist but yet I see non black women seek out partners from my own racial grouping and no one says anything to them , i'm told not to be friends with men from my own raical grouping but i see women/men of other races be friends with black men, i'm told to dis-associate my self from men in my own racial group who are my family members, my friends, my culture and my people but yet everyone else is allowed to have the best of them.

"Unless you are daily, actively striving to mitigate your privilege, and working against racism, calling black women to the mat for supporting those we love when they are being victimized, is supporting the very system that makes sexism possible."

Dido to this becuase the majority of people are not doing this because they do not care or like you mention in the last sentence they are holding up and supporting the very same system that makes sexism possible and I see non black women do this on a daily basis but yet have the NERVE to tell me that I should dis-associate myself from black men.

"I will not choose between my blackness and womanhood. To do so would not only splinter my identity, but it would support the isms that work to construct my body, and those that I love as less than."

Exactly I would NEVER choose between the colour(melanin) that is suppose to be on my skin in order to live on the this earth and my womanhood. Even though daily non black men and women and black women who have fallen for the tricks try to TRICK me into doing so.

Its clearly obvious that society does not want black men or women to unite because it will cause conflict with this white supremacy system that we are focred to live in.

frau sally benz said...

As you know, this is something I've been thinking about too. I think a distinction needs to be made, though, between the average joe schmoe asking you to choose, and the context I talk about in my own post.

In the picture you paint, it's really about them trying to force you to choose by discounting one side or the other. I've experienced this, but I usually just ignore it and tell them they don't understand.

But in the context of a space that has already been defined as one encouraging dialogue and discussing oppressions (which is where I've most often been asked that question), I think it really is more to think about what each of those things mean to you and to the world. I should also point out that in my classes, most people do choose one or the other, for whatever reason. It's always very awkward when you get to the white women, of course, b/c they basically blink a lot and say things like "ummm, well I don't have a culture, so I see myself as a woman." Very bizarre.

Renee said...

@frau..I read your post yesterday and left commentary but I will repeat it here. No one should ever be asked to choose because it causes a splinter in the identity. It is enough to ask people to reflect on different parts of ones person without forcing one to preference one over the other.

Maritzia said...

Great post! Are we supposed to just cut men out of our lives to satisfy someone else's view of what feminism should be? One of the main problems I've had with feminism over the years is the tendency for so many women to define what feminism should be and how we should live out our feminist beliefs. Can't we agree that any subject that fundamentally affects our lives as women is a topic for feminist action?

*shrugs* I have a real problem with people trying to categorize who is more oppressed. To me, any oppression is wrong.

sunflower19020 said...

My opinion is that people should not be tagged with any labels (including gender and skin color). After all, we are all one...

Deaf Brown Trash Punk said...

what a beautifully written essay. I struggle with my gender vs race, too and it just... frustrates me to hell. I often feel like my white female friends just DON'T GET IT.

I am glad to know that I am not alone in feeling this way.

Renee said...

@Maritza and Ebony...the other thing that I noticed is why is there no universal call for white women to abandon white men? Why is it only WOC that must deny those we love? White men constitute the most privileged group ever to walk the planet and yet it is okay for white women to marry, mix, and inter-mingle with them without being accused of betraying feminism.

nia said...

I definitely agree. But what do you do when the men you love and who you are close to display sexist behaviour towards you as an individual?

Renee said...

@Nia I call out the patriarchy just as much as I call out the feminists who demand that I chose. No one should be allowed to other a WOC because they believe it improves their position. I will always support black men but I will not allow them to use my love of them to diminish my personhood.

Anita said...

I don't understand how such a choice could be made, just as I don't understand how I should choose between class and gender, or orientation and environment. Those are intrinsic to my identity, as much as race and sex. And advising other people's choices, especially when you're not involved in those groups, is a fuck-wit thing to do.

Melissa McEwan said...

When I enter into a hostile situation, it is not always clear whether or not I am dealing with racism or sexism, sometimes it is a combination of the two.

So well said, Renee. I think Imus' infamous assault on the Rutgers' women's basketball team is the perfect example of this concept. How can you possibly extricate the racism from the sexism and/or the sexism from the racism of "nappy-headed hos"? It's a slur designed not for men of color, nor white women, but specifically women of color. That incident is, to me, one of the most obvious examples of why acknowledging intersectionality is so important.

Ebony Intuition said...

"why is there no universal call for white women to abandon white men? Why is it only WOC that must deny those we love? White men constitute the most privileged group ever to walk the planet and yet it is okay for white women to marry, mix, and inter-mingle with them without being accused of betraying feminism. "

Renee thank you so much for stating this point that I forgot to bring up. In my daily life I ask others men/women this question, i've asked white women this question but yet no one can ever give me an answer. For centuries white women have stood by their men while white men went around the globe destroying families, culture, life for people in practically every continent (Africa, North/South America/Australia/Asia). White women have also funded and have been behind some of the decisions for white men to go and take from other lands, but no one says anything at all. Everyone is just so caught up and facinated with them that they ignore all the things they do and support. And like you mentioned they never get accused of betraying feminism.

"I will always support black men but I will not allow them to use my love of them to diminish my personhood. "

Exactly, I feel the same , yes I will always support black men but I will not allow them to us my love to take a way my personhood/womanhood etc.

Ebony Intuition said...

@ Nia
"But what do you do when the men you love and who you are close to display sexist behaviour towards you as an individual?
"

Like Renee mentioned call them out on their behaviour, it will work. Pull them aside and just have a conversation with them about how they speak towards black women, etc or how treat black . Ask them how do they benefit from disrespecting their own women, ask them how would they feel if someone disrespected a female family member the same way they are. Or if they would want their daughters treated like that. Trust me it will work.

Danny said...

That incident is, to me, one of the most obvious examples of why acknowledging intersectionality is so important.

Intersectionality is important but the problem that bogs down most people is that they get hellbent on trying to prove that someone else's issues don't matter as much as their own. I can't think of any combination of race or gender (and things get even more interesting if you throw in religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, class...etc.) that doesn't have some sort of issue or issues to deal with (yes even white men have issues). Then add in the fact that the issue at hand will affect people differently. Once you have people have identified what issues they decide to tackle (and that is where I am right now) you will undoubtedly start advocating for that issue's resolution. Now you have different people tackling different issues for different reasons...and they cross each other's paths.

This is when you get the Oppression Olympics.

This is when you have group A trying to render groups B as "other".

This is when you have groups that pressure people who fit into more than one group into choosing sides (which is what Renee is talking about).

If we could all get the point of, "You may not be fighting the fight I am but that doesn't mean my fight is more important that yours." we would all be better off.

Danyell said...

I too, get frustrated when some feminists feel it's ok to make enthocentric, racist statements, so long as it is in their minds, against the patriarchy. Still so many White women assume that the word "woman" refers to only them (I always hear people refer to "women" and "people of color", as if nary the two shall meet). But this is an issue that has existed since first-wave feminism! Why can't some people get it?

On the other hand, there are plenty of White feminists who do get it...or at least get it as best they can and are always trying to better understand and see things from multiple angles. Many feminists speak from a position of White, middle class privilege and thus there are many problems they don't understand because they've never experienced it. But you also can't assume that White feminists are inherently racist either.

Being a Bi-racial person, (White & Hispanic) I also feel divided at times. I have learned to not see things as black & white and I don't just mean ethnic-wise. I mean that because we have mixed identities, we can not look at issues through only one set of eyes. You shouldn't have to choose between parts of yourself, because you would not be yourself otherwise. You could not separate being Black and female anymore than you could separate your own humanity or your mind. Some people make it seem like you can really be one first and then the other. This is not what identity means! We are a mixture of ethnicities, ancestries, sexes, genders, classes, sexualities...that is why some issues are so complicated and why being prejudice makes no sense at all.

Danny said...

...thus there are many problems they don't understand because they've never experienced it.
That's a big one. A lot of people have a tendency to think that some people whose issues don't match their own don't matter. I know I wouldn't be happy if someone told me that my issues don't matter or that they need to be put on the back burner until theirs are taken care of first (that would be more Oppression Olympics).