Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Here an "-ism," there an "-ism," everywhere an "-ism" "-ism"

Racism and sexism are two words that have made a big resurgence into mainstream vocabulary in the course of the current presidential election season. In some ways that's a great thing. At least people are talking about it. However, it seems to me that people are doing a lot of talking about things they don't know much about. These two -isms have been thrown around and misinterpreted--even co-opted--to the point of meaninglessness.

I am a feminist who, like most other feminists I know, is conscious of many other forms of oppression and seeks their elimination. This includes oppression based on race, class, sexual orientation, as well as animal and environmental subjugation. I do not see any of these as good or acceptable. I have an awareness of the interconnectedness of multiple oppressions. The number of people in the media, in politics, and in our country who have no idea what these things are (and the number of people who deny they exist!) really kind of terrifies me. And the number of people who see only one of these oppressions, disregarding all others, saddens me.

The 'big two' -isms--sexism and racism--while not identical, can be understood similarly. Both have to do with discrimination--one on the basis of sex, the other on the basis of race. Both involve false beliefs about the inherent superiority and inferiority of different genders/races. Sexism involves discrimination toward women on the basis of their sex, while racism involves discrimination toward people of color on the basis of their race or skin color. Many people mistakenly believe that there are women who are sexist towards men and black people who are racist against white people. While women may have prejudices against men and blacks may have prejudices against whites, it's not the same as sexism or racism. This is because these -isms require two things--power and privilege. Don't believe this is the case? Bill O'Reilly recently told John McCain, "Liberals...want to break down the white, Christian, male power structure of which you are a part and so am I." They admit it! While no racial or gender-based discrimination is ever good, it's not a level playing field. Not all discrimination has the same consequence or systemic effect.

In my view, racism has been (until the last few months) far more acceptable to discuss than sexism. We, as a culture, admit that racism is a problem and love to pay it lip-service. Please don't think I'm saying it's not a very real problem. I'm saying we've gotten really good at talking the talk without necessarily walking the walk. I believe that racism is alive and well in the hearts of many white people in this country. When a white person says of Barack Obama, "I just don't trust him. I think he's a Muslim," this is pretty clearly a more subtle way of saying, "I don't trust him--he's a black man." How do people not see this? Because it's much more subtle, this type of racism is far more difficult to confront.

Sexism, on the other hand, has been far more overt. Until the the last few months, we have poo-pooed at any mention of sexism. Now we're allowed to talk about it, but only if we don't really know what it means. When my brother-in-law who is a comedian would bring up Hillary Clinton at a show, there would almost always be a chorus of voices in the crowd calling her a "cunt." How about the people who would show up at her rallies and yell things like, "Iron my shirt!" Or the fact that many of the men running in the Democratic primary felt that her choice of pantsuit was a valid topic of discussion. There's also the fact that when Sen. Clinton shed a tear while discussing a topic close to her heart she was nearly crucified, yet John Edwards has always run campaigns that were highly emotional and has been praised for it. While sexism is more overt, it is more acceptable, so also difficult to challenge.

People called Hillary Clinton racist for challenging Barack Obama's views. That's not racism, any more than challenging Sarah Palin's policies is sexist. With all of the confusion and rhetoric, how are we supposed to really know what's racist, what's sexist, what's reasonable and what's not? How about this: ask yourself if you could apply the comment to a white man. This works on both accounts of supposed sexism and racism. Watch...

Statement 1. "I don't agree with Barack Obama's position on abortion." Would you say the same thing if he were a white man? Yes? Not a racist comment.

Statement 2. "I just don't trust Barack Obama. I think he's a Muslim." Would you say the same thing if he were a white man. Hell no. Racist.

Statement 3. "Sarah Palin is completely incompetent--she doesn't even know what the Bush Doctrine is!" Would you say the same thing if she were a man? You bet your ass. Not sexist.

Statement 4. "How can Sarah Palin be Vice President when she has 5 kids, and a new baby with special needs?" Would you say the same thing if she were a man? No way in hell. Totally sexist.

We could play this game all night long, but I think you get the point. I know this is incredibly simplified. It's a blog, not a master's thesis. My hope is that anyone who's been confused by all of the -isms flying around and doesn't know what to make of it will be a little bit clearer and be able to see the facts and the issues for what they are. Nobody should be afraid to examine Barack Obama's or Sarah Palin's records or stance on any issues for fear of being labeled a racist or sexist. People should, however, examine their criticisms of the candidates and ask themselves, "would I feel this way if he was white/if she was a man?" Let's root the -isms out of our hearts, call them when we see them, and call politicians out for crying-wolf when we hear it.

They really said it! Watch...


ghost said...


mewithoutyou47 said...

What if you got pregnant and wanted to keep the baby but the fater didn't. That's the same exact situation as the father wanting it and you not. The only difference is that you're carrying it.

mewithoutyou47 said...

that was supposed to be for the "who's your daddy" post.