Saturday, February 09, 2008

"If someone said that about a Black person..."

I've been thinking - yet again - about the use of race as an analogy in discussions about the primaries. In Robin Morgan's "Goodbye #2," Morgan repeatedly makes mention of race. However, she does not mention race in order to talk about moments of racism that Barack Obama, or, indeed, any Black American has faced. She mentions it as a measuring stick. Her sole purpose in mentioning race is to suggest that, while there is no tolerance of racism (a big "HA!" must be inserted here, or I shall go crazy), there is tolerance of sexism. And so, she repeatedly suggests that if [insert racist image/comment/stereotype] were employed against Obama, we as a nation would not tolerate it.

I'm not going to refute this here, as I've already done so the other day. But what I do want to note is just how often I hear this phrase: "If it were about Blacks, it wouldn't be ok."

I've heard it so frequently lately, and not just in relation to Hillary Clinton, but about l/g/b/t rights issues, that the phrase is literally begining to ring in my head. I will admit, I have said it myself in the past. I have seen it as a valid thing to say. After all, the point is that we, as a nation, have come to recognize that some comments/stereotypes/behaviors are just not cool. The public response has shifted. Black people are now, some of us White people have thought, seen as fully human by the larger (White) American public, where once they were not.

Here's the problem (again, leaving aside the issues of whether racism still exists (Duh!)): in referencing race and racism in this way, we are USING other people's oppression for our own advancement. And on top of that, we are MINIMIZING other people's suffering.

When, for example, Robin Morgan mentions "this nation's deepest scar - slavery" and then goes on to completely ignore the legacy of slavery, the suffering of an enslaved people, the devastation that this wreaks - that is using Black suffering to make a point. She wants us to hear that women are sexual slaves. Why not just say that? Why, in order to drive home the point that something must not be tolerated, must we refer so dismissively to someone else's suffering?

And further, why must oppression against one group of people be measured by whether or not it would be tolerated against another group of people? And how must it feel, as a Black lesbian, for example, to hear White queer people confronting homophobia by arguing, in essence, that since we can't use racial slurs, we shouldn't be allowed to use homophobic slurs? (No, no one really argues that, but that is part and parcel of using Blackness as a stepping-stone for the advancement of another political agenda.)

It's time, White people, to stop referring to what gains Blacks have won as a way to make a point about what struggles still need to be fought. We should be able to call a crime a crime without running it past the Black-o-meter. We should be able to simply say, "that's hateful and oppressive." And - oh, yeah - we should be able to fight on more than one front. Racism is still with us, and I don't believe it will ever go away. With that in mind, it is far more appropriate to focus on how racism and homophobia are connected, how racism and sexism are intertwined, than to suggest that the Black battle has been won and that the rest of us are simply playing catch-up.


Anonymous said...

A big "yes!" to everything you've written recently on this topic. Nothing cogent to add, just a thank you for having said it well.

Plain(s)feminist said...

Thanks. It's astounding to me how frequently I hear this.

Green said...

I am not sure I am understanding you. Is your post explaining (I'm a little slow)why I get annoyed when someone says something like, "I got a tsunami of wedding gifts and now I'll be home every night writing thank you cards."? Yes, yes I think it is. Okay. Thank you for umm... letting me workshop my thoughts within your comments section.

Plain(s)feminist said...

Green - I'm not sure, but if it works for you, go for it!

PG said...

A large part of the reason people use the strategy of comparing one form of oppression to that suffered by African Americans is because we have a fairly strong political consensus that racism, slavery, segregation and so on were wrong. Opponents of same-sex marriage, for example, get indignant when someone builds a legal argument comparing the denial of same-sex marriage to the ban on miscegenation that was removed by Loving v. Virginia. They will actually say that such a comparison is bad because it implies that they are racists, when they are no such thing.

In particular, I think those of us who do think in a legalistic way are inclined to look for prior examples that have found a safe harbor in the law, and use those to bring in new groups. It is basic legal reasoning to say X is more like Y precedent than like Z precedent, and therefore X should be treated like Y rather than like Z. The law does very poorly with a claim to rights that starts from a simple assertion that one deserves such rights.