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Thursday, May 15, 2008

Why Ranking Oppressions Never Works

This election has brought out the ugly in many people. At the heart of this ugliness is a mistake. A mistaken belief that we can rank the oppressions we face in order of severity and make decisions about how and when to address different forms of injustice accordingly. This belief is misguided.

We don't need a woman in the white house before a black man because women are more oppressed than blacks. We don't need a black man in the white house first because blacks are more oppressed than women. These are the kinds of arguments that only make sense in a world where Black women don't exist. Blacks are not men. Women are not white. And none of us is class neutral. Some of us are gay, some of us are immigrants, some of us are disabled. There are no pure categories.

And there is no hierarchy of oppression we can chart which will resolve this. White woman benefit from white skin privilege. Black men benefit from male privilege. Straight people benefit from heterosexual privilege. Able-bodied people benefit from abelist privilege. Middle class people benefit from class privilege. Skinny people benefit from size privilege. There are not pure categories of people and there are very few people who do not simultaneouly benefit from some form of privilege while being oppressed as a result of their membership in some group. (The obvious exception is middle class, heterosexual, able-bodied white men. They are not oppressed and they are very privileged).

So can white women claim to be more oppressed than black men? Can Black men claim to be more oppressed than white women? No, of course not. They are privileged and oppressed in different ways. And their maleness is qualified by their blackness, their femaleness is qualified by their whiteness.

Sexism is raced. Racism is gendered. Oppression is complicated.

So it is absurd to say that it would be worse for Obama if he were a woman or worse for Clinton if she were black unless you are willing to recognize that they would both have to turn into black women for the claim to make sense. Would a black women have a harder time in this election than either a black man or a white woman? Probably she would since currently most people appear to consider the possibility unthinkable. Black women don't exist for most of the commentators. Otherwise they would not consistently overlook the fact that Obama and Clinton differ in both race AND gender.

Their race/gender analogies only work in the absence of Black women. Can a woman who does not exist run for office? Probably not. But if a Black woman ran we would have to take into account her class, her sexuality, her able-bodiedness in addition to her race and gender.

Maybe this country is ready for a black man or a white woman but not both. Maybe the outcome of the election will be a result of whether the electorate is more racist or more sexist but we can never truly know since we don't have a white man running against a white woman or a black man running against a black woman. Race and gender are tangled up in these two candidates and other factors are also playing an important role.

Oppression is complicated. Too complicated to be ranked and addressed in serial order. Addressing racism won't eliminate sexism. Addressing sexism won't end racism. Gay people are not going to stop being bashed to death when a straight white woman or a straight Black man get into office.

One form of oppression is not more important than another. Some forms of oppression are not more egregious than others. Anytime we deny the humanity of an individual on the basis of his or her inclusion (perceived or actual) in a group , we are enacting oppression. Oppression is always unjust and unearned privilege always aids oppression. Until we are both willing to fight oppression and to give up privilege, we will be plagued with social injustice.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

What About Darfur?

What about Darfur?

What happened in Nazi Germany in
The 1940s
Was a terrible terrible thing
A crime against humanity
6 million killed
Waiting and waiting while
The United States did nothing

What happened in Rwanda
In the 1990s
Was a terrible terrible thing
A crime against humanity
800,000 dead in 100 days while
The United States did nothing

Now it is a new century
A new country
400,000 humans dead
People dying daily
In a land called Darfur
It is a crime against humanity
How can we do nothing?

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Election Deciding itself without Mixed Me?

As the race that many say wont end appears to be grinding to a necessary halt.......
it looks like my tallying of Clinton and Obama pros and cons must also come to a long overdue halt.....

Lets see where was I.....?

1. I dislike the fact that Obama renounced his own minister.
2. I dislike the familiar racism of the press in dealing with this issue more
3. I think Clinton should have stuck up for Obama in this (and thus dislike her for not doing so). Call me idealistic but I expected more from the wife of our first black president (ok, just kidding. Why DO people say Bill Clinton was black? Was it just the sax? Does nobody remember the welfare reform he instituted that has resulted in twice as many black children now being in foster care? Does nobody recall how he refused to apologize for slavery? Alas, I digress.....)
4. I like the fact that Obama appears to be forming a multigenerational coalition that it is interracial and includes feminists (Is this true or just really good PR?).
5. I like the fact Clinton is a woman (with at least some proto-feminist leanings). Even though I know biology is not destiny, I would like to think the sexism she has inevitably faced simply by living in this androcentric and sexist society with a vagina her whole life must have influenced her to take women''s issues more seriously than most men would.
6. I like the fact that Obama wants to "change Washington." Somebody needs to!
7. I dislike the fact that Clinton is in so tight with lobbyists and I like the fact that Obama is advocating election reform and has passed legislation in Illinois to limit the influence of lobbyists.
8. I like the fact that Obama is committed to renewable fuel sources
9. I dislike Obama's patriotic rhetoric (sounds far too bush-like to me. UGH. Stop the war already!) but am quite fond of his support of the new GI bill and his commitment to providing better health care (esp mental health care) for veterans.
10. I like the fact that Clinton has the support of many feminist organizations but I dislike the fact that they don't identify key feminist issues that she has un-equivocally supported (and no, claiming that health is a feminist issue and therefore her universal health care plan is a FEMINIST project does not cut it)
BUT in the final analysis,
I think I have to vote for the MIXED MAN, despite his unfortunate possession of a male member. In the end, I found Clinton's campaign racism of the last few days unsettling and divisive.

I wanted to vote for a an anti-racist feminist candidate but alas, neither candidate appears to have proven they are both.

Still, Clinton has made it clear she has some work to do on race and I am still not clear on her feminism. Since Obama has yet to make any explicitly sexist or racist moves I am gonna have to go with him. I'll hedge my bets.

Of course my late decision may be mute if the numbers already indicate Obama has the nomination....but I believe in slow and careful deliberation.

Can I vote for Father Michael Pfleger?

Notes from a disenchanted election observer....

Today my dad sent me a link (click the title to access link) to an amazing video interview of a white priest being interviewed about Reverend Wright. His name is Michael Pfleger.

The man is articulate, knows his facts, and has a passion we so rarely see expressed by public figures in the media. All efforts by the reporter to trip him up failed. He was unflappable: talked about racism, Martin, the right of Americans to dissent, poverty, our shameful foreign policy, and white politician privilege, all without breaking into a sweat. Here is a man with convictions able to stand up for what he believes in. Why didn't Obama respond the way this guy did?

This whole endless debate about Jeremiah Wright is God-awful (pun intended) and needs to end. This man - Micheal Pleger-does a pretty good job of putting the discussion to bed. Unfortunately he does not appear to be running for office.

Why the heck not?