Friday, September 5, 2008

It's Just like Rosa Parks, ISMS and Relativity

Shakesville is one of my favourite blogs.  My addiction to it closely rivals my obsessive green tea drinking.  Yesterday they had a post about one of my favourite actresses, Hillary Swank (huge girl crush) gaining 40lbs to star in a new movie.  Obviously this raises the question of why they didn't simply hire an actress whose body already conformed to the ideal that they were seeking. 

There is no doubt that we live in a fat phobic society.  Fat people are presented as unhealthy, slovenly, mentally slow and just generally undesirable.  Fat hate is one of the most socially accepted forms of discrimination in our society.  This has given rise to a grass roots movement to press for fat acceptance and to bring an end to the bigotry.  As a woman that has literally thousands of dollars of groceries invested into what I call my family inheritance (read: my fat ass) fat acceptance is a subject that is very personal to me.

I opened the thread to respond when the following comment caught my attention and raised my ire.

By that logic, no one should complain about a man playing a woman or a white person acting in blackface, as long as they're arguably "more talented" than actual women or black people. And of course, the perception of their talent would have absolutely nothing to do with privilege.

To their credit when I called them out on their racism the person responsible for this comment apologizedI am not a person that holds grudges and I believe that the apology was sincerely meant, however  I still feel it is necessary to speak about it in the larger sense of oppression and isms.  Even though this was one comment by one individual, this is not the first time that this sort of sentiment has been expressed.

There have been many times when I have heard gay rights activists stress that their struggle is no different than the civil rights struggle initiated by Rosa Parks.  The black referential is a tactic used to justify that oppression is real and ongoing.  I find it offensive, and it can be found in social justice movements across the progressive left.

What this kind of argument says is that the oppressed group is really oppressed because they are on the same level as blacks.  This is racist and you cannot fight an ism by invoking justification employing another ism.  It is a form of oppression Olympics and does nothing to bolster the complainants issue, rather it seeks to remind blacks of exactly where they stand in the social hierarchy.  It is the same as saying that we are so bad off we might as well be black. 

This kind of reasoning further isolates members from the complaining group that might be black. Let's consider for a moment the life of a fat black lesbian. If both gay rights groups, and fat acceptance groups claim that they are almost as bad off as blacks is that not the same thing as informing this woman that her blackness is the worst thing about her.  How is it right for another to rank the stigmatizations that are considered definitive subjectivities of the body of another.  While decrying oppression in actuality such thought patterns are an expression of privilege. 

No matter what oppression you are negotiating, it is not just like Rosa Parks.  Black people are not your referential oppression group and it is racist to use us in this way.  When I hear this kind of racist justification I immediately loose sympathy for the speaker. If your issue is of merit you should be able to make your point without resorting to racism.  There is no such thing as a good oppression so reach beyond this ranking system and speak boldly against 'othering' without using an ism to bolster your case.


jenteel said...

excellent points!

Scott said...

I was just reading a study that was published in the NT Times. It has a link to the actual study, but the times piece breaks it down to laymen's terms. Basically it states

"Increasingly, medical research is showing that it isn’t. Despite concerns about an obesity epidemic, there is growing evidence that our obsession about weight as a primary measure of health may be misguided."

Ebony Intuition said...

"What this kind of argument says is that the oppressed group is really oppressed because they are on the same level as blacks. This is racist and you cannot fight an ism by invoking justification employing another ism. "

You know for years I've always been saying that when people compare gays to blacks I find it very offensive and the way you worded it is correct. But as usually no one ever thinks it is offensive glad to finally see that someone else has noticed it as well.

Danny said...

Well its good to know that I'm not the only one that has noticed how various people try ti compare they own struggle to that of black people.

Renee said...

I see it all the time and makes me so angry. I finally just decided to post about so that people who didn't realize how racist this is could be informed of the privilege that they were invoking.

Tina said...

Thank you for this. I know it's not your job to teach me, but I am so grateful that you publish your thoughts, experiences and feelings. I have learned so much, most importantly, that I still have *so much* to learn!

And thank you for hanging out at Shakesville too.

Michael Bishop said...

I'm sorry. I don't understand how it is racist to compare the quantity and types of oppression various groups suffer. For example, straight white men are sometimes discriminated against, but much less often than gay black men. This seems to me to be a perfectly reasonable statement, if not a particularly profound or particularly specific one.