Despite the fact that there is no such thing as a good form of oppression some people cannot stop themselves from engaging in oppression Olympics. The desire to rank one social stigmatization as worse than another is a denial of privilege. It was with much disgust that I came across, "Lesson of the 2008 Election Is That Sexism Is Still More Pervasive Than Racism", by Bonnie Erbe in U.S. News & World Report.
It is easy for a white woman who has never been subject to racism to announce that sexism is socially more pervasive. She does not know what it is like to be told, you don't sound black simply because you know words that have more than two syllables. She has never been directed to cheaper items in a store because it is assumed that blacks are too poor to afford luxury items. I wonder if she has even been asked to leave a room so that someone could tell a black joke?
Blackness exists with a monolithic identity and therefore being asked to speak as a representative of my race is a common occurrence and yet I have never been asked to speak on behalf of all women. This has happened in the most liberal of environments because despite the tolerance mantra, for some people not only do we all look alike, we think alike.
A white woman is capable of asserting that sexism is more acceptable simply because she has never been subjected to racism. To exist as a body of colour in a world that is predicated on maintaining white hegemony is to daily be marginalized, and 'othered'.
Erbe takes great care to point out that Obama has been the subject of racism but her desire to compare this with the sexism faced by both Palin and Clinton is yet another example of white privilege. It is telling that her examples of sexist attacks are limited to white women, thus effectively erasing the experiences of women of colour. When Michelle Obama was called a "baby's momma", by Fox news that was a specifically genderized attack based in race and yet it did not qualify as a legitimately misogynistic to be referenced. Where is her outrage that an educated, intelligent woman like Michelle Obama is routinely reduced to a bitter, enraged ABW (angry black woman) by the likes of Limbaugh and O'Reilly?
For women like Erbe sexism can only trump race because they ignore the experiences of women of colour. Womanhood is routinely represented by white women and therefore the idea that they consist of a class of people that are uniquely marginalized is not only an exercise in white privilege, it is patently racist and othering.
While stating that, "white men still feel more comfortable sharing power with men of color than they do with white women or women of color", she ignores the role that white women have played in concert with men in the overvaluation of whiteness. Simply pointing out one clearly racist statement by Stanton does not erase the racism employed by white women in their bid to elect Hillary Clinton, nor does it eliminate the degree to which white women still profit from racism. The largest benefactors of affirmative action have been white women and this is not at all accidental. WOC despite occupying two areas of social marginalization have yet to make the same strides towards having our humanity actualized and valued and yet we are still female. Daily our cry is still ain't I a woman and it has been generations since Sojourner Truth made that famous speech.
One does not validate oppression by forcefully participating and encouraging the oppression of others. To truly seek a society based on mutuality and equality all forms of othering need to be eradicated. Had Erbe wanted to make a true analysis of race and gender she would have listened to the voices of WOC because who are better prepared to speak to this issue than those whose bodies are literally an intersection of both?
No matter how accomplished Barack Obama is, it is a racist supposition to normalize his experience as typical of all people of colour. If he is elected on Tuesday the racism that POC face will not diminish. The idea that his election can be used as a litmus test by white people to prove their anti-racist credentials is only proof of the ways in which color is still very much an issue in our society.
Articles like this are going to continue to be written as long as white people refuse to recognize the racism that their bodies operate with. Continually speaking as though their experience is the norm while ignoring the lived experience of WOC, is not only a direct act in maintenance of privilege, it is offensive to those of whose voices are silenced.
Sexism and racism are terrible scourges upon society; however they cannot be compared to each other in isolation of the ways in which they work in concert to effect the lives of WOC. Erbe cannot speak to this experience because she has never lived it, but her refusal to even acknowledge that one small fact informs me as a reader, that those of us who understand intersectionality must labour on to ensure that no one is created is invisible.