Wednesday, December 10, 2008

What Does WOC Mean?

Can you believe it? I, a black woman am asking this question?  WOC is a huge umbrella term that has come to be understood as comprising all non white female bodies.  It is a convenient little acronym that is utilized as a descriptor, but behind it is a hierarchy of bodies that we seldom consider.

Often times when we say WOC what we really mean is black or African American woman, even though the term implies a much larger understanding.  Oppressed female bodies often have difficulty having their voices heard or their concerns legitimized either socially or online.  This often leads to a competition between the oppressed for access to the few available platforms where we can legitimately be heard.

It is a very difficult thing to avoid the Oppression Olympics because the issues are so very personal.  When I have been called a nigger, my personhood has been reduced.  This is no different than an Indigenous woman being referred to as a dirty sqaw, and yet the personal nature of the racism causes us to privilege individual instances as somehow more damaging as though there can be a good, or a less punishing form of oppression.

When we speak about race often times it comes down to a black/white binary.  Racial discord is understood to be about blacks and whites; and therefore the experiences of Latin@ women, Indigenous women, Pacific Islanders and Asian women are often not factored in.  These aforementioned women must negotiate  racism. When a Latin@ woman is called a hot tamale it is both a reflection of her gender and her race. When Asian women are portrayed as docile little china dolls, just waiting to worship the first available white phallus, it is as much an indictment of their gender, as it is their race.

All non white women are equally constructed, yet when we use the umbrella term WOC, more often than not the speaker is referring specifically to black/African American women.  As a black woman when I discuss race it is often from the point of view of black women.  It is what I identify as and it is therefore the easiest for me to base any critique I have in reference to racism, both in the larger world and within feminism from this specific standpoint.

The black/white binary is pervasive.  When we look at the conversations that occurred during the recent election it was deemed that they were ground breaking because race was being discussed in new and eye opening ways.  In actuality it was not race in the larger sense that was under the social microscope, but relations between blacks and whites. Whiteness as a race was never considered, as it was still relegated to the normative, non ethnic position.

If we are going to talk about race we need to move beyond the black/white binary.  The purposeful erasure of other bodies of colour fosters the false idea that if we can solve the black/white binary that somehow racism will come to an end.  There seems to be the cultural notion that because racism does not effect us all in the same way, that it is somehow less damaging when non black people of colour are targeted.

When I think about the ways in which Lain@ are routinely attacked and savagely beaten, I certainly am aware of how pressing their issues are, and yet we barely bother to acknowledge the racist bent to the social stigmatizations that they face.  It is wrapped up in the immigration debate and protecting American jobs.  What we don't want to admit is that "American" is code for white. We further don't want to admit how much race is a factor because once again we socially believe that racism occurs only when blacks and whites interact.

I work very hard to try and be aware of the many different issues facing POC.  It is extremely difficult to find relevant information because non-black POC are largely invisible in our social discourse.  Take a moment to pause and think about the number of Asian actors that you can view on a typical night of television programming.  It is as though if we don't admit that they are real then we don't have to deal with their issues.

I call for a real conversation on race, class, and gender.  No more creating people as invisible and trivializing  their experiences in order to rank the  white/black dialogue as a definitive attack on systemic racism.  If we are truly committed to making a more equal world, no race should escape scrutiny, no matter how uncomfortable it may make us with our various degrees of privilege. It's time to have the conversation we are not having.


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