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Jun 05 2012

From the Should Be Obvious But For Some Reason People Don’t Get It Dept.

Racism extends considerably beyond prejudiced beliefs. The essential feature of racism is not hostility or misperception, but rather the defense of a system from which advantage is derived on the basis of race. The manner in which the defense is articulated – either with hostility or subtlety – is not nearly as important as the fact that it insures the continuation of a privileged relationship. Thus it is necessary to broaden the definition of racism beyond prejudice to include sentiments that in their consequence, if not in their intent, support the racial status quo.

________________
From a comment submitted on June 3 by Pheeno, attributed thusly:

Wellman, David T. Portraits of White Racism. Second Edition. Cited in: “Definitions of Racism”. Center for the Study of White American Culture, Inc. 2001. 23 Dec 2004.

Thanks, Pheeno.

120 comments

  1. pheeno

    People are taught as children ” racism is hating someone because of skin color” and then never explore or expand that childish definition. It would mean they, too, were guilty. As long as they don’t go around kicking POC in the teeth while shouting WHITE POWER!!, then they’re not racist. And, even more importantly, they can accuse POC of being racists too.

    Racism and prejudice are not synonyms. Everyone under the sun can experience prejudice. Only oppressed by race people’s can be victims of racism.

  2. Nadiah

    That is really good. That really makes clear something I’ve had difficulty articulating before. Recently I saw an exchange about affirmative action that got very confused, maybe that quote (and the comment above) would have helped.

  3. Fede

    Much appreciated! I’ll get on to telling the denser members of my family about this grown-up definition, and also – not least – my students.

  4. Comradde PhysioProffe

    This blogger explains the concept and its numerous facets excellently:

    http://wearerespectablenegroes.blogspot.com/

  5. AwhirlinLondon

    Maybe – not least – myself.

  6. NullityPersonified

    While it’s true that most people don’t recognize racism as a system, it’s equally true that no one has devised a feasible system capable of creating non-racist societies. Equality for all people is a noble goal. However, laying the groundwork for such a system is a mammoth undertaking. There are emotional, cultural, and theoretical obstacles to overcome. And, in a world dominated by the marketing of flashy baubles, new theories are a tough sell — especially when they entail relinquishing long-held advantages for the benefit of others.

    I, for one, am tired of being accused of wielding privilege over others, without being told what I can do — as an individual — to change this. Only my views and behaviors are within my control; my ideas for affecting change will probably be rejected, due to my lack of racial minority status. Still, I eagerly await the day when POC propose a new system in which I can participate. Until then, I will have to bear the burden of my privilege, and the corresponding resentment it engenders, with as much dignity as I can muster.

  7. TwissB

    I would be sorry to see this profound principle applied only to race as a form of discrimination.

    Feminists, for example, have been criticized as “essentialist” for articulating the truth that sexism, from its most casual to its most brutal manifestations, is a system that applies across all classes of women because it privileges all men. I have quoted John Adams before on this blog telling Abigail Adams in response to her request for a code of laws that would “put it out of the power of men to use us with cruelty and indignity with impunity” : “Depend upon it. We know better than to repeal our Masculine Systems.” And predictably, prominent male historian David McCollough trivialized this as “kidding.”

  8. Twisty

    “Until then, I will have to bear the burden of my privilege, and the corresponding resentment it engenders, with as much dignity as I can muster.”

    Poor you.

  9. Nadiah

    NullityPersonified: It is an intimidatingly massive problem, but sometimes (usually?) systems change not from the top-down but from individual agents doing their thing. Like how the trail laid down by an ant on her way back from a food source is reinforced by the next worker, and so on. Once the positive feedback kicks in these small actions become huge self-organising structures.

    Re. sharing your ideas:- Recently I was in the marketing role for this community org, and I discovered that the overwhelmingly most common way that people found out about our fundraising event was through word-of-mouth. Every time I collect this data – and I’ve done it a few times now for different orgs – I find the same thing. It’s surprising how well individual interactions can spread information, it’s hidden but very powerful. Often the newcomers are very well targeted they’re excited and happy to have found us too, It’s as though the system “knows” what it’s doing and will bring the pieces together; all we need to do is work on our parts and aim in the general direction we hope for, and if we can grab the flow the rest will come.

  10. pheeno

    “I, for one, am tired of being accused of wielding privilege over others, without being told what I can do — as an individual — to change this.”

    Sure! No problem! Right after you explain to me why it’s my job to tell you how to fix your own issues.

  11. pheeno

    I need a horse. I need a horse and land to roam on with said horse.

    No wonder you stay gone so long. At least I don’t have this crap emailed to me on an hourly basis.

  12. Fede

    That’s right, NullityPersonified, your views and your behaviour are within your control. And the view that you shouldn’t have to listen to people pointing out the grievous injustice of institutionalised racism because that’s just such a downer for you since you’d much rather live in blissful ignorance of the plight of the people at whose expense you have your unearned privileges – well, that’s just not a very admirable view, is it, now?

    You know, even if it’s true that it’s frustrating to think about these issues and be able to do so little – the least you can bloody do is shut up about how hard it is for you to hear that you have privilege. Do you honestly think that particular hardship is worth mentioning in the company of people who lack the privilege you have? The motherfucking nerve.

    Oh, and your behaviour, actually giving voice to such an entitled view, likewise leaves a lot to be desired.

    Despite the apparent denial in your avatar, you do in fact seem to be showing your arse rather vigorously.

  13. Jessie

    What the? The fact that some groups have privilege others lack is a burden for those who lack it, not those who have it.

  14. qvaken

    And the palm hits the face.

  15. Comradde PhysioProffe

    I, for one, am tired of being accused of wielding privilege over others, without being told what I can do — as an individual — to change this. Only my views and behaviors are within my control; my ideas for affecting change will probably be rejected, due to my lack of racial minority status. Still, I eagerly await the day when POC propose a new system in which I can participate. Until then, I will have to bear the burden of my privilege, and the corresponding resentment it engenders, with as much dignity as I can muster.

    This has to be satire, right?

  16. speedbudget

    You know what you can do to change the world? Admit that you have privilege and quit wielding the fuck out of it. Or maybe use your privilege to help those without get ahead.

    Jesus Jones. Some people.

  17. procrastinatrix

    NP–let me call the waaaahhhmbulance.

    Jerk.

  18. Lovepug

    OMG, my white priviledge is, like, sooooooo annoying.

  19. Lovepug

    I spelled privilege wrong.

    I is an English major.

  20. AwhirlinLondon

    For heaven’s sake people, same guy, different IP address. Didn’t the last round become tedious enough?

  21. Twisty

    “This has to be satire, right?”

    How should I know? It is a well-known Fact that internet feminists cannot grasp hilarious satire, particularly when it is infused with the degree of sophistication displayed by Mr. Whataboutthehonky-Pants up there.

  22. qvaken

    Only satire? Pah. I’m a regular feminist, so I can’t detect humour at all.

    Just imagine how the poor hi-larious men around me must feel.

  23. quixote

    This feels relevant. BBC: Has skin whitening in India gone too far?. (If it happens at all, isn’t that “too far”?)

    “After an application of said fairness cream, rose petals appear on the screen, and just like the ending of a good old Bollywood film, the couple are seen happily embracing.”

    “despite repeated concerns, the lightening industry is booming, and diversifying. One market research firm even reported that more skin lightening creams are sold in India than Coca Cola.”

    Kind of points up the difference between prejudice and institutionalized -isms, too. It’s not prejudice when you’ve absorbed the idea that you have to bleach your genitals to be attractive. That’s something else.

  24. pheeno

    Honky Pants. Are those like golf pants?

  25. Jen

    Dockers.

  26. pheeno

    *snorts*

  27. KittyWrangler

    That is a great quote.

    It’s extremely difficult to explain the concept of institutional -isms to people who don’t have much experience with Feminism or academic social justice. I usually see people stumble over this in terms of rape culture, affirmative action and choice-y choices. The idea that someone would make a series of 100 individual choices and every single one of them just so happens to support the kyriarchy, is one we could probably do a lot more to clarify (for those of us who are invested in explaining things to people, anyway). Saying, “institutional” doesn’t do a lot to clarify things for people who think of an institution as a single school, church, or wing of government over which they have no control or influence.

  28. Hippolyta

    It is helpful to begin from the standpoint that we are all complicit in a racist system to greater or lesser degrees. Part of the reluctance to accept a new paradigm of racism is the fear of being individually called out as a racist for words or actions that one was unaware were racist. This could happen to any of us. Of course this does not exempt one from the obligation to learn about one’s privelege and how it is wielded to the detriment of others.

  29. Comradde PhysioProffe

    I just find it hard to believe that someone’s white-privilege dicke could be so massively huge that they could accidentally trip on it over and over again with every single fucken word of a ninety-five word paragraph.

  30. KittyWrangler

    @Comradddee PhysioProfffe
    That wasn’t intended to be an excuse for anyone, particularly not on this thread; I was actually thinking about young people and social justice newbies– people who are open to learning. When someone asks, “what do you mean, institutional?” it’s frustrating not to have a very good answer ready.

  31. Laurie

    Thanks for the quote, Pheeno and Twisty. It makes things so damn clear that it’s odd that NP doesn’t get it. Unless s/he’s kidding. Or maybe s/he’s HA under a new handle. Either way, it’s bullshit.

    Locally we’re struggling with the same racist/sexist insanity against the Winnemem Wintu people, who aren’t even federally recognized: They were “coincidentally” dumped off the federal enrolled tribes list right about the same time as we dammed up their river (the Sacramento), flooding all their sacred sites and stealing their water rights to keep all those SoCal golf courses and megalawns green.

    In 2006, the tribe’s attempt to hold their brief female coming-of-age ceremony at the river drew a flock of nasty white yahoos in speedboats, flashing their breasts and catcalling about the “cavalry” and “circling the wagons.”

    Regardless of that debacle, this year the U.S. Forest Service says it’s “not a priority” to close off the tiny part of the river the Wintu are requesting for a brief ceremony this month to welcome their upcoming female chief to adulthood.

    If the Forest Service officials’ daughters attending their First Communions had to put up with racist and sexist catcalls, you can bet they’d be all outraged about it. But because Native women are the bottom of the barrel in the P, it’s just business as usual.

    If anyone feels like making a phone call or otherwise showing some support, check out http://www.winnememwintu.us/journey-to-justice/puberty-ceremony/

    We’re going to blockade the river anyway, but IBTP, as always.

  32. Comradde PhysioProffe

    KittyWrangler: The reference wasn’t to your paragraph, but the “bear the burden of my privilege” one by NullityPersonified. I actually agree 100% with yours, and is why I prefer the term “systemic” to “institutional” in this context. Sorry for not being clear.

  33. iiii

    Dude, you’re not wielding privilege. You are accorded privilege. Other people are not accorded the same privilege.

    If you mis-frame the problem like that, you will not find solutions. Frame it properly, and ta-da! there’s a million places to chip away at the system, and many are immediately available to *you*!

    But you seem to want a homework assignment, so: go read the microaggressions tumblr. All the stuff that people have written in about? Don’t do any of that shit, ever. If you catch people doing any of that shit, say unto them, out loud and in public, “Dude, not cool.” There. By removing your passive social support from the everyday transmitters of oppression, you have made the world a micro-better place.

    Didn’t solve the world’s problems with a single grand gesture, or anything cool like that, but it’s better than sitting around getting crushed by the White Man’s Burden. Isn’t it?

  34. tinfoil hattie

    aside to comrade: I now have a teenager who uses “fucke tonne” constantly, and when saying it aloud, enunciates carefully to be sure I know whom he is quoting. (who he is quoting? Sigh.)

  35. ohnohumanbein

    My lesson in racism was moving from Missouri to California and not understanding the reactions I got from Mexicans, who I thought of as most people think of Italians or Swiss or Scottish, just people from a place, one that I had pleasant associations with, like vacations I could never afford and music I liked. I was shocked to find that I possessed privileges I didn’t know I had, as we all are if we look closely enough at them. I couldn’t understand then, as I do now, that American was an identity that put me above them, whether I felt it to be true or not.

    Now I have gotten to the point where I don’t even believe in whiteness as a racial category, but the privilege still applies, and the burdensomeness of it is limited to a mild annoyance that I have to live in such a world. I don’t understand how anyone can find such a ridiculously small burden oppressive, except for if one is so incredibly free from actual oppression that the slightest infringement of self-worth sends you into transports of bitter complaint.

  36. Comradde PhysioProffe

    HAHAHAHAH!! That is fucken outstanding!

  37. stacey

    As iiii says, the “Dude, not cool” rebuke for any -ism is something that flailing privilege-wielders can use to great effect. Of course, it takes courage to do so, and risk being mocked by one’s boorish companions.

    I also like “how quaint,” “bad form, dude” and a flat “oh, wow.”

  38. speedbudget

    @tinfoil hattie:

    If you can replace “whom” with “her/him” in the sentence, that is the correct usage. You did it right! (I know he is quoting her/him.)

    /grammar dork

  39. Bushfire

    I know that was Pheeno’s quote before I even got to the bottom. Despite the trolls as of late, I still come around here for the brilliance put forth by tenacious blamers.

    Way to go and carry on!

  40. Lady K

    Not sure if including a link will get this post swallowed up in the moderation queue, but I transcribed the following chart from my old Women’s Studies textbook. It’s not perfect (I might switch out some of the “isms,” for example I hear “heteronormativity” more than “heterosexism” and i think it speaks more clearly to what the problem is), but it helped with my feminist “click” moment in recognizing that even though this sort of oppression is something that goes undiscussed and unacknowledged by le mainstreamme, it does actually exist. It also helps to have a visual when explaining the concept of privilege to others.

    http://24.media.tumblr.com/tumblr_m1ms3kgBke1qimo8yo1_1280.jpg

  41. pheeno

    Kity- Just wait until you have to explain colonization. Then the real fun starts.

  42. Nadiah

    Oh, that was a known troll. How annoying.

    @Kittywrangler, re. the word “institutional”, can I use the word “systemic” for what you are describing? I don’t know if the academics use that one for a different purpose, though it seems to have the connotations of being widespread, being made of many individual acts in the same direction — actions that we can all play a part in. Is that what it means?

  43. KittyWrangler

    @Nadiah and@Comradde PhysioProffe
    Thanks, “systemic” is a much clearer word. Yeah Nadiah, as far as I know that’s what it means. “Made of many individual acts in the same direction.” That’s a nice way of putting it, I’ll have to remember that.

    @pheeno
    For some reason your comment conjured a mental image of you attempting to lecture a set of See/Hear/Speak No Evil monkeys. Sounds like a fucke tonne of fun.

  44. tinfoil hattie

    Thank you, speedy! My education took place a long, LONG time ago, and I thought “whom” was right, but had moments of self-doubt.

    As a child, I wondered why “white” skin was considered superior, but so was tanned skin. WTF?

  45. Laura

    “I, for one, am tired of being accused of wielding privilege over others, without being told what I can do — as an individual — to change this.”

    Sorry if I am feeding a troll here, but:

    I am a white person who reads a lot of stuff about racism and so forth, and I don’t feel that I am accused of wielding privilege enough to be anywhere close to tired of it.

    I would be if I took it all personal. If every time I read “white people shouldn’t” I immediately got on the defensive whether it’s something I’m guilty of or not, I’d probably be pretty burned out. As it is, I know that I put forth a good-faith effort to be a positive thing in other people’s lives, or at the very least a neutral thing, so I welcome opportunities to check myself and find my blind spots.

    Not everything is about you.

  46. Laura

    Tinfoil Hattie, as you probably know, whatever signals wealth is the preferred presentation.

    My mother grew up on a farm in Mississippi. Her family was poor and all the kids had to work in the fields. She has told me that they covered up from head to toe for their work, in the Mississippi heat, because if they got tanned it would be obvious that they were poor and had to work outside. For groups where working for a living is done indoors, getting a tan means a person can afford the leisure to be out in the sun, or at least to go to a tanning bed, so tanning is a signal of wealth. In almost all cases, being white has signaled more wealth than being non-white.

  47. Lady K

    Re: the topic of tanned vs. white skin – tanning one’s skin (in addition to signalling wealth like Laura said) allows one to eroticize “exotic” looking flesh without losing their white privilege. It’s the best of both worlds, topped off with a savory dollop of appropriation!

  48. Someone Else

    Yanno, it took me awhile, but one way I learned to avoid being accused of “wielding white/class privilege” was to keep my damn mouth shut for once.

    It’s quite effective. I recommend this method for anyone and everyone suffering under the burden of too much privilege and comfort.

  49. speedbudget

    The same is true for body size as it is for tanning when it comes to women. It used to be that being larger was a marker of wealth, since it meant that your husband made enough money to feed you well and allow you lots of leisure time. Now the trend is to be super thin, partly because getting that way is very expensive, requiring all kinds of diet help and exercise help.

    @hattie: Any time. I am available for grammar counseling whenever you need :P

  50. copykatparis

    I confess I haven’t read this through carefully, but here’s something about white privilege for all the special snowflakes out there:
    http://ted.coe.wayne.edu/ele3600/mcintosh.html

    (damn, this could have already been linked here somewheres.)

  51. Antoinette Niebieszczanski

    Thanks for distilling a three-day class at work down to one comprehensible paragraph. Brevity, and all that.

  52. Laura

    When I was growing up you still sometimes heard a big belly (on a man) referred to as a “prosperous pot”.

  53. Sarah

    To Stacey: I also like, “Dude, party foul.” It works well for the Very Young, who are only just getting used to calling each other out only for social gaffes like spilling the bong water or passing out with one’s shoes on.

  54. rootlesscosmo

    David Wellman’s father Saul was a member of the Lincoln Brigade in the Spanish Civil War; Dave (whom I’ve met once or twice) was involved in antiracist direct action in Oakland (CA) in the mid-1960′s–it was the attempt to shut that down on the UC Berkeley campus that precipitated the Free Speech Movement which was never about “speech” in the abstract but about organizing support for Freedom Summer in the South and civil disobedience against the Oakland Tribune, a right-wing daily whose publisher, William F. Knowland, had been a US Senator and was still a powerful member of the UC Board of Regents. (Not that the FSM was beyond feminist criticism as Bettina Aptheker and plenty of others have made clear.)

    One way and another, and despite the loathsome David Horowitz, we Red Diaper babies haven’t acquitted ourselves so badly.

  55. Nadiah

    @copykatparis: Thanks for posting that link, I found it really useful. The part about the “myth of meritocracy” really resonated for me too.

  56. veganrampage

    When Nutty writes “no one” he means no white mechanized society founded on racism and slavery. He references those societies because those are the ones that count (to him) and he doesn’t know jack shit about matriarchies and is way to lazy, privileged and plain stupid to ever try to think for himself.
    I use “he” not for the pro forma, but for the obvious ass-wipiness behind the entire remark.
    I wish that was satire, but it ain’t.

  57. veganrampage

    .

    FUCK- “TOO LAZY”. I ain’t as ignorant I woulda went and seemed.

  58. Friend of Snakes

    I thought of our Null Troll while finishing up How to be Black by Baratunde Thurston today. While talking about “outsourcing” the struggle against racism he quotes damali ayo (she’s written How to Rent a Negro and Obamistan! Land Without Racism)

    I’ve done workshops where I have literally taken all the people of color out and left the white people and said, “Your job is to end racism, and I’ll be back in twenty minutes. You set it up. Take it down.”

  59. Twisty

    “Your job is to end racism, and I’ll be back in twenty minutes. You set it up. Take it down.”

    Ha!

  60. Fede

    Has anyone heard of a new feminist zine called LIES? This description,

    LIES features feminist writing on race, gender, and capital, strongly inflected by a hatred of society.

    sounds just about right to me.

    http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/761292355/lies-a-new-feminist-journal?ref=users

    Wanted to make sure you all knew about it, because I want to see it happen. Hope that’s ok.

  61. pheeno

    ““Your job is to end racism, and I’ll be back in twenty minutes. You set it up. Take it down.”

    Oh, to be a fly on *that* wall!

  62. TwissB

    @speedbudget

    The “Can’t be too rich or too thin” directive for women was noted some years ago by Tom Wolfe who coined the descriptive phrase for conformist NY socialites: Social X-rays.

  63. Friend of Snakes

    Fede said:
    “Has anyone heard of a new feminist zine called LIES? This description, ‘LIES features feminist writing on race, gender, and capital, strongly inflected by a hatred of society.’
    sounds just about right to me.”

    Okay, so the second sentence of “About this Project” says:

    LIES is a communist journal against communists.

    and at the bottom of the page is a drawing of a handgun. Reminds me of all those U.S. splinter groups having cell meetings of 10 people (if they were lucky) denouncing the other splinter groups. Good times!

    Maybe not right for me. As always, I understand YMMV.

  64. speedbudget

    @TwissB Also it takes a lot of time to maintain that skinny look: Hours at the gym, hours on the tennis court, etc. Living proof that you don’t have to work AND you can afford all that help to get the right look.

  65. Fede

    @Friend of Snakes: hah. You are probably right; I appear to have jumped the gun (hur-di-dur) a little here. I guess I’m prone to overlook problematic elements when I spot anything that sounds like it’s there to promote feminism. That’s a starved feminist for you.

  66. yttik

    I work for some really well off white women. They’re kind, they’re grateful, they pay well compared to many. There’s probably not a bigoted bone in their bodies., but it’s racist as all hell. All of us who work for them are WOC. We’re struggling to pay our electric bills every month, they’re planning their third or fourth vacation of the year. It’s sexist, it’s classist, it’s racist, but it’s the system we all have to work with.

    Racism can exist without bigotry at all and bigotry is not necessarily racism. Somebody with no power shooting their mouth off on the back porch is not really racism, it’s just prejudice and bigotry. These women we work for are racist as all get out, and yet they really don’t have any prejudice or bigotry happening. It’s the system itself that’s racist, the system they continue to live under, quite comfortably I might add.

  67. stacey

    That’s a really key observation, yttik. Thanks.

  68. pheeno

    “I work for some really well off white women.”

    Hahahahahaa, I had glanced at this too quickly and read it as you worked with some off-white women.

  69. lizor

    yttik, what, in your opinion, would the best action for the women you work for be in this situation?

  70. lizor

    and I do agree with stacy that this is a great observation, yttik.

  71. TwissB

    Systems of oppression (e.g. sexism, racism) can remain comfortably ensconced , purring along and looking like normality to the beneficiaries until the oppressed start moving for even a little change. Egyptian women demonstrating in Tahrir Square against the re-imposition of restrictive treatment they thought had been ended by the general uprising were surprised when hordes of men surrounded and viciously attacked them and the men who were trying to protect them from retaliatory violence. Yttik’s employers would be unllikely to respond respectfully to, say, a concerted demand by their employees for decent pay.

  72. yttik

    People usually don’t want to give something up, to let go of some of their privilege, to share. They’ll pay a decent wage, they’ll hire POC, but to actually let go of some power and control, especially economic, is a huge hurdle. That’s why women in the US appear to have a fair amount of freedom, but we hold less than 16% of the seats in congress, earn less money, own less companies. Everything is fine as long as we don’t hold the decision making power or the purse strings.

  73. SpunkyBug

    I’d love to see a list of actions that could/should be taken by those in power, for example:

    - No more white men run for Congress or president for a set period, like 100, 200 years.

    - Businesses owned by whites will no longer buy out/merge with other companies

    - Rich people start paying taxes/Social Security on their entire income

    Stuff like that!

  74. TwissB

    Yes. It’s not that women earn less.than men. Men just pay women less than they pay themselves. Systematic lower pay for women establishes that women are worth less than men. In general, pay discrimination establishes a standard for judging any class of people.

  75. Friend of Snakes

    yttik said:

    I work for some really well off white women. They’re kind, they’re grateful, they pay well compared to many. There’s probably not a bigoted bone in their bodies., but it’s racist as all hell.

    and

    They’ll pay a decent wage, they’ll hire POC, but to actually let go of some power and control, especially economic, is a huge hurdle.

    Who are these kind, grateful women? Can you hook me up? No, I’m not being facetious. A decent wage? I’d be happy for a gig like that.

    I, too, am curious how you’d reply to Lizor’s question

    …what, in your opinion, would the best action for the women you work for be in this situation?

    I’m spending my golden years cleaning people’s homes when I’m lucky enough to find work, just so’s you know.

  76. yttik

    “..what, in your opinion, would the best action for the women you work for be in this situation?”

    I don’t believe there really is anything they can do. We’re all trapped in this system and changing it is going to be complicated and take a lot of time.

    One thing that bothers me is how now days we focus so much on bigotry, it almost becomes a diversion from the real issues of racism. Today it’s as if people are so invested in not being perceived as bigots, in pretending they can alleviate racism with simple personal choices, that the whole problem gets buried in the background somewhere. I feel as if much of the work around racism today is more about relieving people’s guilt then it is about actually addressing people’s oppression.

  77. AdviceSeeker

    This discussion has “pricked” me in the sense that I’m wondering how to manage my own privilege in a situation I’m in. It’s not race-related, but class-related.

    I’m in a situation where I’m much better off economically than the woman who watches my child two days a week. I’ve given her notice that at the end of the summer, we’re going to move him full-time to his school where he is currently part-time. For her, this will mean a severe financial hardship, and I knew this beforehand. She has told me that she just can’t find other parents who need child care during the hours she’s available, though she’s tried.

    On one hand, I do not feel like I should feel any guilt or responsibility for her situation. We have a business relationship, and quite frankly, I feel that each ounce of guilt that I allow myself to feel comes with an ounce of judgment that I allow myself to feel. (i.e. my opinions about her financial decisions, or lack thereof). I said I would give good recommendations to people, even though in truth I feel her care was on average “adequate”. [In some ways it was exceptional (she'd take him even when sick, really cares personally for him). Other things concerned me greatly (she yells a lot at her own kids, though insists she'd never yell at him, plus has some really sexist attitudes about things)]. Paying her plus paying the pre-school part time costs a LOT more than paying just the pre-school full time. And she lives much further from our house than the pre-school, adding 30 minutes of driving each day for Nigel and me. (Nigel, BTW, is ready to put him in pre-school full time now.)

    She is PISSED at me for not giving her more warning (2 1/2 months isn’t enough?), and was literally crying over the idea that she might lose her car. I don’t want her to lose her car, and the truth is that I don’t want to judge either. I have been in bad financial spots (though not to this extent), and dog knows the last thing I would want is someone judging me in that situation.

    What is the radical feminist perspective on this? Or just a general moral perspective? Am I being overly understanding or not understanding enough? What is the “right” action?

    Ironically, there’s part of me that wishes I’d looked for someone who’s in a more secure financial position when I was first seeking care. How would THAT have helped in the big picture of things?

  78. josquin

    yttik:

    I learn a lot from reading your comments. Thank you.

  79. TwissB

    Yttik – That is an astute observation about the tendency of people to use superficial preoccupation with shades and nuances of “bigotry” to divert attention from real operations of racism and acting to stop it.

    Although I don’t want to do the same thing by making a comparison with a parellel system, I am struck by the way a similar diversive tactic is becomong increasingly evident in public policy around prostitution. Not only has focus been redirected to “trafficking” as a separate phenomenon unrelated to rather than an intrinsic part of prostitution, but focus has been further diverted to a concern for “prostitutes’ health issues” without any acknowledgment that those health issues are an inevitable product of prostitution. (This above-it-all sentimental approach is exemplified by the Gates Foundation program to clean up prostituted women and “empower” them to use condoms. The ignorance of historical knowledge of Victorian-era campaigns to clean up women to protect men from disease, as well as plain ignorance about the realities of prostitution’s denial of agency to women, is breathtaking.

    Your response to the question about what white women can do about racism reminds me of Colette Roberts’s answer to the same question: “FIX WHITE MEN.”

  80. Jane

    this says it better and relays what I’ve been saying for years

    saying NO to Patriarchy

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?NR=1&feature=endscreen&v=HZqw7JmWQyY

    on mass incarceration–the Slow Genocide occurring right here in Amerikkka

    Fighting the new Jim Crow a woman’s account of the Stop and Frisk that will be spreading to all cities

    http://elaine.worldcantwait.net/?p=331

  81. Lindsey

    @Fede

    I just ordered the most recent edition of this feminist zine, there may be some hope yet:

    http://hoaxzine.tumblr.com/

  82. Linda

    More on things that should be obvious, a couple of great posts by trans women:

    http://www.transactivisty.com/2012/05/no-more/#more-607

    http://transfemmergence.wordpress.com/2012/06/11/violent-threats-misogyny-anti-lesbianism-must-stop/

  83. grayhaven

    “Your response to the question about what white women can do about racism reminds me of Colette Roberts’s answer to the same question: “FIX WHITE MEN.””

    I don’t understand, this quote seems to imply that white women have an awful lot of power over white men and I’ve yet to see that be the case.

  84. Jane

    I am wondering if Twisty still has those donkeys. This trainer could help her with them. He is not too far away. (Navasota).

    <a href=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LXzwLkQTcNc= Donkey Driving

  85. Linda

    Transactivisty and Transfemmergence both have a couple of excellent posts up, both written by trans women.

  86. Joy

    Hey yttik & other folks engaging with her,

    I agree with yttik that discussing bigotry and prejudice is not the whole picture, and undue focus on it is a form of guilt alleviation to a certain degree. However, of course bigotry and prejudice do influence the larger systems, interpersonally and in order to create the narratives that help hold them in place. It is important to discuss them, but they must not be discussed in a vacuum–they must be understood alongside the larger systems, within and through them, and through the possibilities for direct action.

    yttik, I do disagree with you on your analysis of these upper-class white women. They are benefiting from this system, and that is something that, at least with their whiteness, don’t know about their class, they were born into. Sure. They may be the sweetest, nicest people, with all racist views somehow eradicated even though they were raised white in a white supremacist society. Even if their lives are magically absent of all outward expressions of prejudice in their interpersonal reactions, the fact that they willingly participate in this system (they are willingly participating in this situation by perpetuating the economic/racial divides you detailed) is classist, racist, and internally misogynistic. It signifies both their prejudices (without actions) and how they actively contribute to this system, not just by being born.

    What can upper-class white women do when faced with such dilemmas? A lot. Even if no one else is paying remotely similar wages, pay your employees something close to what you’d like to be paid, for starters. They can actively work against racism in our society, in particular discrimination against women of color (and not only recognize the difference in experience they have as white women, but actually engage and act to create change around it). And no, it’s not just about “fixing white men” (although many white women would do well to question the societal message that white men are our natural allies). It’s about taking a hard look at ways that we can stop actively benefiting from these systems, first off, and then about ways that we can contribute to the larger movement. Point-blank.

    Oh, and one other thing. A big piece of what holds many women back, no matter their background, is possession and honor. Consider what happens when women, in this case upper-class white women, begin to lay claim to others, in this case by exploitation via voluntary employment in our lovely capitalist system. Consider how feminist that is, and who it effects, both immediately and harshly, and in the long run.

  87. alamo

    “I’ve done workshops where I have literally taken all the people of color out and left the white people and said, “Your job is to end racism, and I’ll be back in twenty minutes. You set it up. Take it down.”

    White women didn’t set up racism. They were owned by white men, not allowed to own property, or vote, not recognized as human beings.

  88. TotallyDorkin

    “White women didn’t set up racism. They were owned by white men, not allowed to own property, or vote, not recognized as human beings.”

    Oh jeez. Someone could stand to read some bell hooks.

  89. alamo

    “Oh jeez. Someone could stand to read some bell hooks.”

    You mean the long-winded, pretentious, sex poz bell hooks, who thinks it’s transgressive and liberatory for male professors to have sex with female undergrads? Thanks, but I think I’ll pass.

  90. Fede

    “the long-winded, pretentious, sex poz bell hooks, who thinks it’s transgressive and liberatory for male professors to have sex with female undergrads”
    A-ba… Wha’? I confess to not having read everything bell hooks has ever written, but that right there is a characterisation that I am going to need some kind of source for, please? Can you point me to where bell hooks has expressed such a view? Because otherwise, all I’m getting from this is the mirror picture of disingenuously painting Andrea Dworkin as a raving man-hater who sees all sex as rape.

  91. Fede

    While in moderation with my immediate reaction to alamo’s characterisation of bell hooks, I hope I can get through just saying: SOURCE??!?

  92. Fede

    Also, what is this “white women didn’t set up racism”? The hell we didn’t. Only if one understands ‘setting up racism’ as some kind of secret meeting of powerful conspirators does it seem reasonable to say that white women had/have no hand in establishing and maintaining white supremacy.

    Institutions and people who benefit from an unjust status quo are going to act in ways that perpetuate that status quo. I perpetuate the status quo every time I reap the benefits of my white skin; every time I take something for granted that a PoC could not. And that may or may not make me a horrible person, but that is what I do, because that’s the way the set-up works – quite naturally, and with no secret meetings.

    We have got to stop thinking about oppressive systems as though they were created and sustained only be the conscious actions of bigots.

  93. Fede

    Thank you for the link, alamo. I have skimmed the text and am not on the face of it seeing what you see. However, I will have to go to bed now (it’s 4.30 in the morning here) and come back to it when less groggy with sleep deprivation.

  94. Barbara P

    bell hooks might be wrong about some things. But if she has relevant things to say about what it means for white women to be racist, that’s still worth engaging, reading, discussing. What’ s with the idea that she is either a saintly wise woman who knows everything or some kind of complete idiot who should be ignored at all costs?

    Here’s a more productive way that conversation could go:

    A: White women didn’t set up racism.
    B: Turns out that bell hooks had some useful things to say about why that’s not true.
    A: OK, I just went to look that up, and this is where I agree/disagree. (Followed by engagement with some actual writing *on this topic* from bell hooks)

    Instead, it seemed more like this (in terms of feeling):

    A: White women didn’t set up racism.
    B: You are uninformed about cool, brilliant people like bell hooks who could explain why you’re wrong.
    C: No, I know that bell hooks is a dangerous fool and YOU are uninformed about that.

    This won’t necessarily turn into a fight, but what are the chances? Why this is a useful kind of conversation? What I’ve noticed is that everyone is influenced by the patriarchy, and we’re all trying to muddle through, no? Including bell hooks.

    Why the tendency to either idolize or demonize someone? Or to talk about who’s more informed about shit? (The latter seems so fucking patriarchal.)

    Let’s talk about the nuances of white women’s perpetuation of racism, where it might be the same or different from white men. We could even talk about the nuances of black men’s perpetuation of sexism. (Could it be true that black men, with lesser power than white men, don’t or couldn’t oppress white women in any way? Seems unlikely.)

    Let’s talk of real-life examples, and even better: how to FIX it!

  95. Lovepug

    It is indeed about the nuance, about the subtlties. I think those are the things that perpetuate racism and sexism and maintain the status quo more than a bunch of Klansman roaming the dark streets in their Bed Bath and Beyond best.

    Sad to say, I don’t really think there will be a fix in my lifetime (then again, I’m an old bat). However, it’s not a bad personal goal to be as aware as one who spent a lifetime being bought off by the system can be, and to not choose the racist or sexist reponse/behavior/belief/word choice when that awareness is engaged.

    Here’s a real life example:
    I work in a good sized company that’s about 20% white and maybe 60 or 70% female (granted, executive level is pretty white and male though our second in command is a woman and our VP of Tech is black). I have a newer coworker who is Persian, and our group works along side another group where I have another colleage who is a Chinese guy. There’s a fair amount of comradarie between our two groups.

    The other day, one of the IT guys who is also Chinese was working on one of our PCs. The Persian woman – who had never met this particular guy – walked up behind him and kneed him in the back of the knees as a joke because she thought he was the other Chinese guy. These two guys don’t look alike at all. I’m wondering if she just thinks that all Chinese people do look alike.

    I also have two black coworkers (who also look NOTHING alike). One morning a while ago, one of the white women in our group (who got fired) walked in and said good morning to one of the black women using the name of the other. And the woman she said that to is totally hilarious and awesome and she just flat out says, “I guess we all look alike to you!”

    I wonder how it works in people’s heads that they will mix up two people of the same ethnicity wherein that ethnicity is really the only common denominator. I mean, in both examples, the two people in question really, really don’t look at all alike. Is it just so ingrained in our upbringing that we must group people into categories all the time? Is it that entrenched?

  96. alamo

    “B: You are uninformed about cool, brilliant people like bell hooks who could explain why you’re wrong.
    C: No, I know that bell hooks is a dangerous fool and YOU are uninformed about that.”

    You are trying to use logic. But you see how statement B is filled with opinions? It is your opinion that b.h. is “cool and brilliant” and that I am wrong. I disagree that b.h. is brilliant. I think her writing is disjointed and too anecdotal. Plus, she uses crappy pomo words like “interrogate” too much.

    And although I admit I could be wrong about the role of white women in setting up racism, I think that in the narrative of white women “setting up” racism it is often forgottten that white women were slaves too, and that black men were granted the right to vote before white women.

  97. shopstewardess

    For 25 years I worked in an organisation which operated in a context of laws proscribing discrimination and training which promoted equality. Both at the beginning and the end of those 25 years there was a majority of white men at the top of the hierarchy and black women at the bottom of it. I got some decent payouts for the most egregious examples of individual discrimination, but failed to change the operation of the system as a whole, There was, unsurprisingly, no interest from those at the top of the organisation (including the occasional woman or person of colour who got there by fighting tooth and nail to be treated as an honorary white man) to open up to scrutiny and change a system which had served them so well.

    The thinking seems to go something like this:

    1. This country has elected politicians.
    2. Because it has elected politicians, it is a democracy,
    3. Because it is a democracy, it is a meritocracy.
    4. Because it is a meritocracy, I deserve to be where I am – on top.
    5. Because I deserve to be where I am, everyone else deserves to be where they are.
    6. Because everyone deserves to be where they are, there is no discrimination.

    I ought to start signing myself “ex-shopstewardess”, because when the cuts came, I took the money and ran. I can of course justify that by thinking that “I’ve gone, which means someone else who needs it more can stay”. But really, it was just another exercise of privilege, and none of the work I did changed the system. Staying probably wouldn’t have changed it either, so I did what I thought was best for me – which makes me just another part of the problem.

  98. stacey

    I felt that statements B and C were balanced rather well, actually. “Cool, brilliant” vs. “dangerous fool.”

  99. Barbara P

    alamo,

    I have no idea what your response has to do with my comment!

    I could have sworn I was highlighting a conversational dynamic I find frustrating, and not opining about bell hooks.

  100. Fede

    Barbara P — I completely agree with you. We should be concentrating on what bell hooks has to say about racism if we want to stay relevant to the topic here, rather than getting derailed into analyses of her stance on student/faculty relationships.

    Since, however, I did get derailed, I would like to just tie up that loose end by saying two things:

    1) Dankprofessor’s weblog is one of the grodiest nests of rape apologia I have ever had the misfortune to set eyes on, and I would not trust his choice of excerpts entirely when it comes to presenting bell hooks’ stance accurately. He may well have cherrypicked.

    2) That said, from what is reproduced of the original article, I want to quote something that suggests to me that her piece is not one long celebration of male-professor-on-female-undergrad erotica:

    “Most professors, even the ones who are guilty, would acknowledge that it is highly problematic and usually unproductive to be romantically involved with students you are directly working with, either in the classroom or on a more individual basis. Yet, prohibitions, rules and regulations, will not keep these relationships from happening. The place of vigilance is not in forbidding such encounters but having a system that effectively prevents harassment and abuse. At every college campus in this country there are individual male professors who repeatedly harass and coerce students to engage in sexual relations. For the most part, even when there have been ongoing complaints, college administrators have not confronted these individuals or used the already institutionalized procedures governing harassment to compel them to stop abusive behavior. Even though everyone seems to be quite capable of recognizing the difference between those professors who abuse their power and those who may have a romantic relationship with a student that is consensual, by imposing rules and regulations that would effect all faculty and students they deny this difference. Some folks want to argue there is no difference that the student is always more vulnerable. It is true that relationships where there are serious power imbalances can be a breeding ground for victimization. They can begin with mutual consent yet this does not ensure that they may not become conflictual in ways that lead the more powerful party to become coercive or abusive. This is true in all relationships in life. Power must be negotiated.”

    And no, I’m not sure I see completely eye to eye with hooks on the issue of teacher-student dynamics, but it doesn’t make her a dangerous fool, and it particularly does not justify discarding her insights on racism out of hand.

  101. TotallyDorkin

    Refusing the read the writing that bell hooks has done on the intersectionality of race and gender in America, particularly her writings about shared experiences of black women in America from slavery until now, and even more particularly about the racist treatment black women faced at the hands of white feminists because of an excerpt on a random blog discussing the harmful taboo placed on discussions of erotic feelings between teacher and student IS ITSELF a manifestation of one of the many ways that white women can marginalize women of color and perpetuate racism.

  102. quixote

    I’ve never heard of bell hooks. (I was envisioning something like the Liberty Bell with hooks on it and having a hard time seeing how that related to racism, or anything, really.)

    I’m just here to say a college prof’s two cents’ on the ethics of sexual relations with students:

    No. Never. Not appropriate. Bad. Just forget it.

    Sure, it’s sometimes genuinely consensual and the two people genuinely care about each other. You know what happens then? They wait until one of them is no longer a student of the other, no longer in the same Department, no longer in an institutional unequal power situation. It’s that simple.

    The reason for a blanket prohibition is because it’s always consensual according to somebody. Without being able to read people’s minds, there’s no way to tell in the gray areas. And given that people of good will can hold off for a while, there’s no need to open that can of worms. (That’s one way it differs from employer – employee involvement.)

    Speaking just for me, the fact that bell hooks doesn’t have a very clear understanding of power relationships in academe doesn’t mean she can’t understand their expression in racism. Everybody has gaps. Admittedly, in some people the gaps seem to run together into one great light-sucking black hole.

  103. grayhaven

    I’m re-reading the original post and you know I do agree with it and yet at the very end in the sentence,

    “Thus it is necessary to broaden the definition of racism beyond prejudice to include sentiments that in their consequence, if not in their intent, support the racial status quo.”

    I read the “…if not in their intent…” and I feel wary. I am white, I volunteer at a local women’s center and we have a lot of homeless women of all races who come in. The majority though are white, I realize that this could be because women of color in similar circumstances don’t even make it to places where they can get some support. Still a lot of these women are loosing their hair and teeth even though they’re only in their 30′s and 40′s. If any of them should say something that’s racist by way of ignorance and not intent I wouldn’t want to be jumping on them for it and yet there are some other volunteers (white), from local private colleges so I assume they come from a certain level of affluence, who will take such remarks as an opportunity to just be either openly rude and punitive to these women or engage in gossip about them.
    I can’t help but see it as affluent white women using the issue to be rotten to poor white women.

    I think intent matters. Treating people who say stupid things unintentionally like they said them with intent misses the opportunity to show them the truth about something. Ignorance is a liability that you should be helping people overcome not using as a chance to shout, “Gotcha!” cause that’s usually just public shaming. Can’t help but wonder what the motives are for that, and hence like I said I get a little wary.

  104. TotallyDorkin

    “Admittedly, in some people the gaps seem to run together into one great light-sucking black hole.”

    Hahahahahaha

  105. Darragh Murphy

    “which makes me just another part of the problem.”

    Well, your list of how the system of oppression perpetuates itself with brainwashed participation by oppressors and oppressed alike is pretty fucken awesome Shopstewardess. So, I think you’re at least also part of the solution. Net positive I’d say.

  106. alamo

    “Refusing the read the writing that bell hooks has done on the intersectionality of race and gender in America, particularly her writings about shared experiences of black women in America from slavery until now, and even more particularly about the racist treatment black women faced at the hands of white feminists because of an excerpt on a random blog discussing the harmful taboo placed on discussions of erotic feelings between teacher and student IS ITSELF a manifestation of one of the many ways that white women can marginalize women of color and perpetuate racism.”

    You don’t get it. I *have* read her. I think her writing, like the writing of most postmodern theorists, is unclear, rambling, pretentious, and draws heavily upon personal anecdotes to make broad generalizations. What’s even worse is that she constantly contradicts herself. She makes one bold statement, then says the opposite. Perhaps that’s why so many people like her. They just pick and choose the things that sound good and pretend she didn’t say the things that are crap. Such as:

    ” Separatist feminist rhetoric suggested that all men share equally in male privilege, that all men reap positive benefits from sexism. Yet the poor or working-class man who has been socialized via sexist ideology to believe that there are privileges and powers he should possess solely because he is male often finds that few, if any, of these benefits are automatically bestowed on him in life. more than any other male group in the united states, he is constantly concerned about the contradiction between the notions of masculinity he was taught and his inability to live up to that notion. he is usually ‘hurt,’ emotionally scarred because he does not have the privilege or power society has taught him ‘real men’ should possess. alienated, frustrated, pissed off, he may attack, abuse, and oppress and individual woman or women, but he is not reaping positive benefits from his support and perpetuation of sexist ideology.”

    So forgive me if I roll my eyes when someone suggests I need to read bell hooks. Yeah, I know she’s popular with white people because she uses that obscurantist academic style that they like. But I think there are women like Angela Davis, Barbara Smith and Ayaan Hirsi Ali who are much better writers on the topic of race and culture.

    ( Btw, I read the whole “Passionate Politics” when it was originally published in Z Magazine. It is not available online, which is why I linked to the site that reprinted portions of it. )

  107. Twisty

    Whao! A radfem bell hooks referendum! Maybe it’s time for book club again.

  108. Fede

    “I think intent matters. Treating people who say stupid things unintentionally like they said them with intent misses the opportunity to show them the truth about something.”

    It is extremely important to recognise that white supremacy, male supremacy, and other systems of oppression are perpetuated largely through unintentional action on the part of people who are unaware of their own privilege. This means that intent matters very little and that our unintentional wrong-doings matter a whole lot.

    The scenario you outline has the added complication of involving some decidedly under-privileged white people who may harbour some unexamined racist sentiments. Of course someone like me has no right to jump down their throats for that; being hugely advantaged relative to a homeless person, if I did that, that would be a gross abuse of my privilege.

    ‘Gotcha’ mentality is counterproductive and obnoxious; I agree with you completely there. But I disagree that the quote in the original post encourages gotcha mentality.

  109. BUshfire

    Hey Twisty, remember when this happened to you? Looks like it’s happening again. As they say, same shit, different day.

  110. Saurs

    I’ve asked this of the interwebs before, but when did accusations of postmodernism, or, for that matter, the use of literary critical techniques, become lazy shorthand for calling your opponent a namby-pamby intellectual or a pseud? Sneering “pomo” at somebody like it’s an actual argument just seems a weirdly ineffective insult, like when a right-winger believe he’s done you some great harm by calling you a lib’rul.

  111. alamo

    Saurs, you want an actual argument against postmodernism? I thought you’d never ask! Take a look at Ophelia Benson’s blog called Butterflies & Wheels. Here’s Benson’s description of her blog:

    “Butterflies and Wheels was established in 2002 and has (not surprisingly) evolved since then. At the beginning it focused mainly on various kinds of pseudoscience and epistemic relativism, aka postmodernism. The latter prompted an increasing focus on moral or cultural relativism and a defense of universalism and human rights. This in turn led to concern with the chief opponent of universalism and human rights, which is religion. This then led to interest in the backlash against overt atheism.”

    Go to her site and search for “postmodern” in the archives. Tons of great stuff there. Here’s one that I like:
    http://www.butterfliesandwheels.org/2008/mohanty-nussbaum-mackinnon/

  112. alamo

    “Sneering “pomo” at somebody like it’s an actual argument just seems a weirdly ineffective insult”

    You’re right. If you want real arguments against postmodernism, check out Ophelia Benson’s blog, Butterflies and Wheels.

  113. Saurs

    Thanks, alamo. I’m aware of and do read Benson, on occasion.

    How does that answer my question, though? I mean, even if I agree with her about what horrors post-modernism did wrought (and, really, I don’t so much), what has that got to do with the price of chicory in New Orleans? Heaps of feminist literary and film theory draws from, is informed by, or exists within the post-modern umbrella. For example, where would we have the concept of a socially constructed binary gender system without it? I find the use of it as a pejorative in this context odd, as it’s normally a conservative dog whistle. I’m mostly familiar with it as a weapon wielded by posh white male historians when they want to (again, ineptly) disparage women’s, sub-altern and post-colonial, and marxist histories. “Why all this fancy language and theory?!” they whinge. They want to talk about how much dosh the East Indian Company brought in at ’58, or some such. They don’t want to hear about culture, unless it excludes PoC. Social history reeks of communism, to them. And so forth.

    I’m well aware that the (English-speaking and interweb-bound) self-professed skeptical community is experiencing at present something of an upheaval, wherein rational dudely dudes are wringing their hands over the concept of cultural relativism (read: feminism, intersectionality, LGBQT rights, and boring shit like that), and are crying bitter tears because that somehow means Feminists are Ruining Science with their Anti-Scientific Lady Brains and trying to make 2 + 2 = 5, but I find that dilemma that they’ve created a false, anti-feminist one. There need not be any conflict between feminism and Science, much less Science and social justice.

    (And, speaking as an atheist, I couldn’t give less of a shit about atheists’ minority status or the so-called “oppression” they’re suffering. Atheism, the skeptical movement, and the scientific method are not synonyms, and I’m heartily sick of skeptics co-opting concepts of social justice in a narcissistic bid to make everything about themselves.)

  114. alamo

    “How does that answer my question, though?”

    Your question was why do some feminists automatically equate postmodernism with crap right? And I pointed you to a blog with tons of articles explaining why postmodernism is crap.

    “I find the use of it as a pejorative in this context odd, as it’s normally a conservative dog whistle.”

    Yes, of course. Just like some critics of porn & prostitution are right-wring Christians, some critics of pomo are right-wingers too. But feminist critics of porn & prostitution are critiquing it from a completely different perspective and have different aims. Similarly, feminist critics of pomo have a critique that comes from a feminist perspective, with feminist aims.

    “Rational dudely dudes are wringing their hands over the concept of cultural relativism”

    Okay, now I’m thinking you haven’t really been reading Ophelia Benson. Because it’s not the dudes who are “wringing their hands” about cultural relativism. Dudes love cultural relativism because it lets them equate FGM with male circumcision. It lets them say that things like forcing little girls to marry is fine, as long as it is part of the culture that the girls are born into. It is Benson herself and other atheist feminists who are calling bullshit on the concept of cultural relativism, which is used to rationalize and justify all kinds of abuse against women. It is Benson and other feminists who believe that all women–regardless of what form of patriarchal culture they happen to be born into, regardless of what their religion says–deserve to treated like human beings.

    It is sad that you were not aware of this critique coming from feminists, but not surprising, since most feminists who speak publicly in this manner are often silenced and shamed, called “racist” and “imperialist” by feminists who are obviously more influenced by Chomsky than Chessler.

    Here’s another great article from Benson’s blog:

    http://www.butterfliesandwheels.org/2012/too-busy-investigating-intersectionality/

    “In the world of urgent action for women who are under siege in a plethora of deadly situations, in the realm of courageous and outspoken responses to the misogyny that festers under the purview of male rulers that deem women akin to cattle—whether the rulers of governments or the rulers of families—Women’s Studies departments in western universities have simply been non-players.

    They are too busy, it would seem, investigating intersectionality, avoiding being seen as patronizing westerners, deconstructing dominant discourses, challenging hegemonic “narratives”, labeling all action for women abroad as Orientalist, and fighting the murky imperialism that lurks everywhere, threatening to colonize and subdue exotic cultures at any moment.

    But out there, in the real world, the most pressing issues facing women are all too often ignored by those studying questions of gender from the confines of Women’s Studies departments. Research agendas seem more determined by deep-rooted biases favouring relativisms and a post-modernist view of the world, than by the empirical evidence that everywhere around us, women are getting mutilated, maimed, raped, beaten, prostituted, set on fire, drenched in acid, and murdered because they are women, and a disproportionate amount of this takes place in Muslim societies.”

  115. Saurs

    Your question was why do some feminists automatically equate postmodernism with crap right?

    No, that wasn’t my question and I didn’t mention feminists at all. It’s a trend I’ve noted all over the place, and one I rarely encounter outside of the internet. Apologies for being flippant and unclear in my original query, which was mostly rhetorical, as I have already formed one possible answer to it. It’s the same reason non-feminist people use the terms “gender” and “egalitarian” or “equality” feminists: the creeping of right-wing and libertarian terminology in everyday discourse.

    Okay, now I’m thinking you haven’t really been reading Ophelia Benson. Because it’s not the dudes who are “wringing their hands” about cultural relativism.

    As I say, alamo, I’m well aware of Ophelia Benson and I read some of her posts with great pleasure. (I also don’t need you to continue quoting her for me, for reasons the same.) But I don’t agree with everything she says, I actively disagree with a lot of it, and I am more than a little suspicious (shall we say, skeptical?) of folk who cherry-pick historiography for their own agenda, which I believe she does. I don’t think the whole of western philosophy has culminated in or is a conspiracy against sad, misunderstood atheists, and I don’t care about a backlash against them, either. That’s her bag, she does it well, but I don’t endorse the theory.

    I agree with you that many men–outside of the skeptical community–do as you say, and defend and actively assist in the oppression of women under the guise of cultural freedom, being “broad-minded,” and so forth. However, the existence and increasing popularity of ev psych-lite (watered down rape fantasies and cave man hero worship, more like) belies the attitude that anti-feminist men are automatically cultural relativists. Alpha dudes oppose the liberation of women for the exact opposite reasons as the burka-fans: namely, that women are “biologically” “different,” and that male supremacy is as nature intended. They also probably believe that IQ scores have definitively proved that the darkies are mentally maladapted and that the wage gap is a myth and statistics prove that women choose their choice, and so forth. Equally vile, motivated by the same dumb misogyny and racism.

    Incidentally, yes: white feminist women more than occasionally inadvertently or consciously say and do racist shit, defend the empire, and buy into liberal political projects that ultimately harm women of color throughout the world. I don’t consider it shaming or silencing racists (even unconscious ones) when you point out the harm they’re doing, the evil shit they’re condoning.

    Anyhow, feminism is a broad church, as you’ve implied. I’m fine discussing ideological differences; I just don’t care for “pomo” being thrown around, mostly because it rarely means what people intend it to and, for what it’s worth, sounds counter-reactionary and silly to me. I’ve yet to hear (this thread included) an actual justification for it. If it simply means “relativism,” why don’t people say that, instead?

  116. Saurs

    (Quoting myself: )

    If it simply means “relativism,” why don’t people say that, instead?

    I mean, they’d be wrong in their unequivocal condemnation of it, anyway, but it’d be a bit less obscure. The almost universal recognition that there is a diversity of human experiences beyond that of the white, western man’s, that his alone does not dictate reality, that there are feelings and thoughts he’s never known and cannot (for reasons of status and privilege) begin to contemplate, that class and race and sex insulate some and oppress others, that colorblindness is a form of oppression, that microaggressions are a kind of abuse: post-modernism gave us the language with which to recognize and deconstruct essentialism, and that kind of “relativism” (if you want to call it that) is invaluable to feminism.

  117. Bushfire

    Is that what pomo means, relativism? Because I’ve also noticed “pomo” being thrown around on the internet as an insult, and I’ve never figured out what that means. I did click on the above-mentioned blog but it was a bit too advanced for me. I could really use a “what is pomo and what’s wrong with it” 101 level course. I at least understand what relativism is.

  118. Ms. Lovegood

    Along the lines of white supremacy (and stupidity), have any of you seen the article titled “Is Pornography Racist?”
    Emphasis on the QUESTION mark at the end.

    http://msmagazine.com/blog/blog/2010/08/16/is-pornography-racist/

  119. Ashley

    One of the things Bell Hooks says is that black women tend to identify their primary oppression as racism, because they feel more oppression from white culture than from black men as a group. For white women the focus is on male oppression because we don’t have that secondary racial status in life.

    Maybe if women of both colors learned to recognize those two truths without placing blame and truly wanted to come together and put women as women first (which would mean white women aligning with black women as sisters, over white men as lovers, and prioritizing ending racial inequality as a priority for them because it’s a priority for black women, and black women giving white women a chance to move past mistakes that past generations made and that yes, at times weren’t optional for white women because of our gender oppression) things would go more smoothly. however you look at it, and for whatever reason, both white and black women are primarily velcroed to their respective corresponding-race dudes and whether for bitterness or racism, it’s hard to tear ourselves away. I know that open-hearted sister shit prolly won’t ever happen, but it would be a great option.

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