Monday, October 6, 2008

Racism in the Elevator (a satire or a "sad but true")

The first time I saw this video clip -- I found it hilarious. Not hilarious in the "it infused my Soul with bliss" kind of way -- but hilarious in a "this situation is so regretfully real, black men are generally powerless to stop it, and the rage born of that sense of powerlessness to effectively combat and defeat white supremacy is soothed by scaring the shit out of this ignorant white women" -- even if it only happens in a fictional space.

The sexism used to offer up this racial critique *did* give me pause.

I laughed, I enjoyed the clip -- I enjoyed seeing the racist white women being ridiculed -- but I kept thinking: "Shouldn't the sexism here bother me?"

Since, this is a forum where I hope all people will be blatantly honest with their views with the goal of contributing, at least, to my intellectual growth and manifesting the (perhaps naive) hope that readers may gain a new perspective on an issue that encourages them to think and act resistively -- think and act in a way that reduces their complicity in the oppression of others -- to that end, I will continue to be honest about my views, my feelings.

And the way I think and feel about this film is complex.

Because, in general, I support anti-racist practices.

And I do not support sexist practices.

But the sexism against a racist white women here does not bother me. Specifically, a man of color's sexist speech in response to a racist white women, who is herself representative of how many white women in the U.S. respond to black & Latino men in semi-public spaces like the elevator.

The sexist rhetoric here does not bother me because the sexism is a situation specific response to a brand of racism that is so unthinkingly routine in many white women's lives. I don't think the sexism here is necessarily or actually *oppressive* to white women -- because I don't believe black men have the institutional power to oppress white women.

Most black men live in predominantly black communities. Black men that live in predominantly white communities or communities that are truly multi-racial do not wield the kind of power that would permit them to oppress white women en mass (i.e., the power of government, the power of law, etc.,). In other words, black men *do not* wield the power and privilege to oppress black men on an institutional level.

In majority black communities, black men can and do oppress black women and other women of color in the communities in which they live as well as the rare white woman in the communities in which black men live. Again, it is not possible for black men -- as a group -- to use sexism to oppress white women -- as a group -- that is, black men (as a population) do not have the institutional power to oppress white women (as a population).

Although, it is possible for individual black men to use gender/sexism/masculinity to oppress individual white women. But is that what is happening in this elevator scene when this black men refers to the white woman here as a "a stupid white bitch" for "clutching her purse" when he enters the elevator?

At best, for me -- the answer is "yes" and "no."

The sexism here is used to reclaim the humanity and manhood that is potentially/ideologically stripped from this individual black men -- and black men, in general -- when this individual white woman -- and white women, in general -- project the racist fantasy onto black men that objectifies them as primitive/savage black beast rapists. This racist "rape" fantasy at once hypersexualizes and hypermasculinizes black men while also reducing them to a mass of animal impulses.

So, the sexist speech becomes a cathartic expression for viewers -- of many races -- who are tuned into/conscious of this pervasive brand of racism -- a racism that is frequently expressed in the behaviors of white women -- but also in the behaviors of women of color both black and non-black, particularly middle and upper class women of color.

(Re: black middle & upper class women's fear of black men -- and black women, girls and boys -- Unfortunately, I know this fear intimately, because, in the past, I have responded in similar ways to black folks minding their own business -- in my case, it was the impulse to lock my car doors -- and then I reminded myself that, I too, am black and the fear I felt was both classist and internalized racism. This classist and racialized anxiety also preceded my gendernonconformist/butch days -- when I cut off my long, straightened hair(or fried and colonized hair depending on your perspective), white people began to read me as a black man and so I entered another complicated world structured, in part, by my gender identity, sexual identity, race -- white folks' responses to my social identities -- and white heterosexist supremacy).

My struggle to reduce my complicity in classism (or the involuntary and voluntary economic oppression of people who are homeless and/or living in no and low-income communities) and completely liberate myself of my own internalized racism is one reason why I expect other people who have internalized racism -- especially white people whose racism benefits them -- to willingly and truthfully admit, routinely interrogate, and work on purging themselves of their own personal racism. Because, in order to end institutional racism -- existing, self-conscious white allies -- folks who don't only think about and discuss racism when it is convenient for or beneficial to them -- but white folks who think about, discuss, and act against racism when it is most inconvenient for them to do so -- these white allies would need the help of other white people willing to commit themselves to the hard work of combatting institutional racism en masse -- I would love to see that day come. Because with the will and daily recognition of one's collusion (or participation) in racism and other forms of oppression -- a person can change. They can become an ally in the struggle against oppression.

When a person changes -- we get closer to changing the context also.


Anonymous said...

A few days ago you posted a blog in which you discussed the “power of language and the privileges of the able-bodied – and that word [“lame”] – that word used to denigrate people with disabilities is not one that I use anymore.”

You aptly titled the blog “Ableism is never funny” and went on to detail why using the word is problematic: “The import of ableist/oppressive language resides in it's connection to -- the masking affect it has with regard to abelism -- that is, the historical, systematic and institutional oppression of people with disabilities.”

As such, I wonder why it’s funny to refer to women, (yes, even white women), as bitches. Is “bitch” not as charged as “lame”? Does it not have immense power? The power to desensitize? The power to deter? The power to deny?

If words can be oppressive in and of themselves (as seems to be your argument in the “Ableism is never funny” post), then I wonder why “The sexist rhetoric here does not bother me because the sexism is a situation specific response to a brand of racism that is so unthinkingly routine in many white women's lives.” (Why didn’t you say “so unthinkingly routine in many white bitches lives”?)

Is it possible that the video clip could have been as productive or valuable if his lines had been “and some stupid white woman” and “dumbass” instead of using the word “bitch”?

I hope you don’t think I’m playing some kind of ridiculous devil’s advocate game. A friend introduced me to your blog, and I’ve been reading it ever since. I guess my main concern with this clip is that I don’t think it’s useful to battle oppression using methods which tap into oppression, regardless of how small the infraction might be. Just my opinion.

Joy said...

Yeah... so... I don't know how I feel about his misogynist speech or the fact that he wants to beat the woman with her purse. But I've felt the rage.

But it's so true... what is depicted. I see it on the bus all the time.

Don't know how much you know about Chapel Hill/Carrboro -- where I live/go to school -- or maybe I've told you before. It's a very affluent WHITER than WHITE place. Small townish but not extremely suburby -- kind of like Northampton, Mass, actually. There are a couple "lower" income apartment communities where Latino and Asian immigrants and other people of color live -- including mine -- but surprisingly [or not so surprisingly] enough, these communities are generally on "do not rent" lists that individual departments distribute to incoming students. Well anyways, the bus I take the school leaves my complex and goes through a couple more expensive townhouse/condo communities and then the historically black community known as Northside before hitting downtown CH and campus. So pretty much the bus starts out with me, some other students, and a few Burmese and Latino UNC maintainance/cleaning staff then picks up a bunch of white undergrads and UNC staff/faculty then some black folks who are usually taking other buses to Durham for work. And by this time the bus is pretty full. It's very subtle but the facial expressions and protective clinging to backpacks when a person of color [clinging for black men and facial expressions for full-figured black women] make me want to throw shit.

Oh yeah and Jen was telling me the other day about something that happened on her bus route to school. Jen takes the bus from CH to Durham everyday, first stopping at Duke then going through downtown [where a lot of poor folks of color get on] and over to NC Central [Durham's historically black college]. She was telling me that some white girl got on at Duke and was sitting by the window with the aisle free and then right before they got to downtown Durham, approached Jen [one of the few white people on the bus] and asked to sit next to her because "she knew the bus would be filling up soon and didn't want to have to sit next to the window" aka she knew the bus would be filling up with people of color soon and didn't want to have to sit next to one of them. Jen told her no and that probably if she asked one of the people getting on the bus at downtown to sit by the window that she would be just fine. Which I would've loved to have witness.

butchrebel said...

Hi "sciencegeek"! Thank you very much for your comment (and thank you for reading my blog -- it's useful to know that I'm just talkin' to mySelf here -- if I am, that's okay too:)

You don't come across as playing devil's advocate -- you come across as someone who is taking my point of view seriously.

Before you read my response to your question, though, I would encourage you to consider why sexism against a racist white women doesn't bother me *IN THIS PARTICULAR INSTANCE* -- me -- a black, gender queer woman...

[Perhaps, you are a black gender queer woman too:) But I would still ask you to consider why some black gender queer women and people of color, in general, may not be bothered by the sexist speech used to critique a racist white woman. Consider reasons beyond the fact that people of color do participate in sexism...]

I tried my best to answer the questions you ask here -- the first one you ask is this: "As such, I wonder why it’s funny to refer to women, (yes, even white women), as bitches. Is “bitch” not as charged as “lame”? Does it not have immense power? The power to desensitize? The power to deter? The power to deny?"

First -- and I am not being flip here -- I pose this question seriously and I will take your answer seriously: What exactly is the racist white woman in this video (or any racist white woman) being denied and detered from when the man of color who they've committed a racist act against uses sexist speech against them?

Second, when you quoted me, you omitted the part of my statement where I give a *specific* explanation as to why the sexist speech the man of color uses to ridicule the racist white women does not bother me here (-- at least, the black man's sexist speech doesn't bother me *AS MUCH* as the white woman's racism bothers me -- I'll put it that way).

As I stated, I believe that white women -- particularly, middle & upper class white women -- have the power to oppress black men (and all men of color) on an institutional level. That's part of the reason (just part of the reason!) the white woman's racism offends me.

On the other hand, I don't believe that black men wield institutional power over white women -- which is to say that I believe that black men (as a group) almost *NEVER* draw (and never have drawn) countless benefits from the historical sexist oppression of white women. I believe that white men -- particularly, middle and upper class white men -- are the primary beneficiaries of sexism against white women (and women of color), and thus, are largely and ultimately responsible for the sexist oppression of white women (and women of color) on an institutional level. White men's sexism, in fact, is a means for white men to institutionally oppress black men.

For example, in the post-Civil War South, white men's efforts to control white women's sexuality was locked to the lynching murders of 10,000 plus black men & boys(black women and girls were also lynched but most lynching violence targeted black men & boys.) White men did not want black men & boys to have sexual access white women's bodies -- white men did not want white women to have sex with and/or romantically love black men & boys. Any black man & boy "caught" having sex with a white woman was lynched for rape (in part, because most of their white female sex/romantic partners accused them of rape to escape the fate of social death for having morally & sexually transgressed the boundaris separating the races). Now, a black man or boy did not *actually* have to engage in a romantic or sexual liason/relationship with a white woman in order to be accused of rape. White men used rape accusations to justify lynchings of any black man or boy they deemed impudent, too successful -- white men lynched black men & boys to compel the entire black community into submission. White men's attempt to control white women's sexuality by lynching black men & boys they believed to be having sex/romantic relationships with white women is just *one* example of how white men's sexist subordination of white women was inextricably locked to the racist (or racist-sexist) oppression of black men. The fact of white women's participation in lynching violence -- both indirectly as the accusers of black men & boys *AND* directly as lynchers/members of lynch mobs -- makes them direct agents in the institutional oppression of black men.

So, since I believe that black men *do not* oppress white women on an institutional level -- and white women *do* oppress black men on an institutional level -- the sexist speech here exhibited in the video clip above is largely harmful on an individual level. For example, if the white woman in the elevator is offended by the man's sexist speech *and* if white women who view this clip are offended by the man's sexist speech -- the harm done to white women in such an instance is individual, not institutional.

In the specific case portrayed in the video clip -- the man of color's experience of racism is a greater priority to me -- is a more salient act of ill will than the white women's experience of sexism.

Moreover, as a person of color who has experienced the kind of racism featured in the video (due to my gender-nonconformity/gender expression as well as sexism and heterosexism)the individual harm done to a white woman's feelings --in this *SPECIFIC* instance does not bother me.

I can't explain my reaction to you any better than that. I did not write this blog to justify my reaction to the video -- which is to say that I am *NOT* saying that what I feel is *RIGHT*. I am only sharing what I feel with anyone who grants me the privilege of "listening" and sharing their viewpoints.

I suppose internalized oppression (or sexism, racism, heterosexism that I have absorbed on a psychological, emotional and spiritual level) has helped to create an unenlightened, unempathetic part of me -- a part of me that is not touched by non-judgment, and compassion, and a sense of social justice for the people I believe contribute to my oppression on a daily basis (in this case, middle & upper-class white women -- I read the woman in the video clip as middle/upper class). The part of me that has internalized the sickness of oppression, the part of me that has not healed -- the part of me that hurts and hurts and hurts every single time someone says or does something that I experience as racist, sexist and heterosexist -- that part of me, I suppose, is vengeful and therefore, derives some pleasure out of seeing this racist white woman get called names and scared out of her wits.

I take responsibility for these feelings -- I own them and I acknowledge them. I am even open to the possibility that I need to invest effort in changing my "mind" (if not my heart) on this. Time will tell:)

Part of the reason I enjoy the clip is because on the spectrum of horrible/hurtful responses to this woman's racism -- calling a racist white woman a "white bitch" is just not one that aches me.

I would not encourage any one of any race to speak this way about a white woman. But the clip is still one I enjoy.

Now! It's my turn to ask you another question: Do you, "sciencegeek," always hurt for your oppressor?

If you wouldn't mind, I would like to know why or why not -- when you do hurt for/empathize with the oppressor and when you don't -- and anything else you would have to say about that issue...

butchrebel said...

"sciencegeek" -- here is the entire passage from which you drew that specific quote (I forgot to post it in my first/longer reply to your comment). Again, I think the context for my statement is very very important here.

Thanks for your comments!!!

Anonymous said...

So if I read your response to sciencegeek correctly, you want to stamp out any oppressive/derogatory remarks from those wielding institutional power, but you don't mind remarks that are merely individually hurtful but do not have institutional power behind them.


Whether or not that woman wields institutional power, her remarks are individually hurtful to the black man, just as his remarks are hurtful to her. They are people, not institutions, and though you might view them as representative of an institution or not, I highly doubt that they would view themselves that way.

Racism and sexism are both institutional problems, that is true--but they are brutally harmful and even debilitating on an individual level. So while I understand your desire to take on the institutional oppression you see in this film, I do not understand your logic in excusing racist/sexist/classist behavior on the individual level. That woman acts as an individual--there is no one else in that elevator to stand with her in institutional solidarity.

Individual interactions often confirm institutional beliefs and behavior. I think that we all, as individuals, have a responsibility to ourselves and to each other to "treat others as we would be treated," to follow the golden rule, and to show some human decency. I don't know about sympathizing/empathizing with one's oppressor, but I do know about turning the other cheek and being the bigger person. I understand where the anger and rage comes from, but I don't understand how that makes anything better. I prefer to lead by example...

butchrebel said...

Thank you, "anonymous".

First, I did not say that I *excused* the behavior -- or rather, the sexist speech.

I merely explained why the sexist speech did not bother me *as much* OR **more* than the white woman's racist behavior.

Second -- you wrote:

"Whether or not that woman wields institutional power, her remarks are individually hurtful to the black man, just as his remarks are hurtful to her. They are people, not institutions, and though you might view them as representative of an institution or not, I highly doubt that they would view themselves that way."

I agree with you -- I did not *intend* to imply or directly state that individual experiences of oppression are *entirely* invalid or unimportant. I *am* saying that I *believe* the *INSTITUTIONAL* context for oppression (that provides infinite opportunities for various *INDIVIDUAL* experiences of oppression) is the greater issue here -- the more salient issue here. More specifically -- the racist white woman's life is *NOT* going to be radically or drastically altered because a black man calls her a "white bitch." The life of the black man who calls this white woman a "white bitch," however, is radically and dramatically altered by her *individual* racist belief and *individual* racist act. Because this racist white woman assumes this black man is a criminal who will steal her purse (or rape her or both) -- the unjust, racist/white supremacist racial profiling of black men that leads to the radically disproportionate incarceration of black men -- and leads to longer sentences, and higher rates of recidivism, which traps virtually *all* black male who have been to prison in a *generational* cycle of poverty -- because the vast majority of jobs inaccessible to black males who have been imprisoned (it is a statistical fact that white male ex-cons have a much greater chance of being hired for jobs than men & women of color who have been imprisoned) -- because, in most states, one's incarceration legally strips that person -- in this case black men -- of the right to vote -- and the list goes on and on...

That's why -- that's why. I feel what I feel about the "racism in the elevator" clip -- that's why I believe what I do about *racially privileged people's* individual experiences of sexist oppression vs. people of color's experiences of racist oppression.

These are my beliefs -- a reflection of my personal truth -- *NOT* some law I declare *must* be followed in order for someone to consider themselves and conduct themselves as a committed anti-racist.

Finally, with regard to the golden rule -- it is interesting that you would critique my perspective using the "golden rule." Yes, the golden rule is useful -- it's a good thing. That said, people who are targeted for oppression are often reprimanded/critiqued/told -- by the very people who oppress them -- to "turn the other cheek" -- a suggestion (or demand) that is far more convenient for the oppressor than it is for the oppressed.

It is far too easy to tell someone who experiences oppression -- for some people, many forms of oppression -- to "rise above," "take the higher ground," and "turn the other cheek *when* that person doesn't necessarily (and typically) *DOES NOT* share the particular experience of the person that they are critiquing/reprimanding/urging to take the "high road."

One end result of such an exchange is that the person targeted for oppression -- on a daily basis on both an individual and institutional level -- is silenced -- their feelings of rage and pain are invalidated.

You say you understand my response -- which again, I did *not* justify -- I only explained in an effort to expose people to a virtually invisible/unheard perspective -- you say you understand me but your statement *does not* demonstrate any real empathy for my daily experience of emotional, psychological, and spiritual violence in a context of white heterosexist, genderist supremacy. Nor does your comment show any real empathy for the constant threat of physical and sexual violence that I live with because I am who I am and I live where I live with people who -- more often than not -- fail to empathize with me and validate my experience of oppression.

You spent most of your comment telling me why I was wrong -- not explaining how and why you understood my point of view.

It's interesting... I have several posts on this site -- none of them address my own struggle to purge myself of prejudice... The *one* blog that I post where I discuss an honest response to a racist incident that I have *PERSONALLY* experienced over and over again -- that's the blog that I get responses to... interesting.

Although I share a different perspective than you with regard to the issue I appreciate you taking the time to read and respond to this blog entry.

Peace, Love: Revolution

LifeGlutton said...

Maybe it's because I'm a white woman that I don't mind saying this:

Fuck that racist bitch.

butchrebel said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
butchrebel said...

"Erin:" Thanks for reading!

All I have to say is: "Wow."

A militant white ally, eh?:)

Actually, I do have one question, or rather, a request. Would you mind explaining your comment? As a white woman, why do you feel okay calling the white woman/character in the video a "racist bitch?"


Anonymous said...


i do not empathize with my oppressor. that woman was being racist. period. if i implied that i didn't think so, i apologize and repent -- because that was never my stance. it's interesting that you came away from my comments with that as the final point in your response. (i'm not being flip either.)

my point was that using the term "bitch" includes all women (including genderqueer women of color), and using that particular term is another example of the way that language is used to create an environment which is friendly to institutionalized oppressions, in this case: sexism, which is similar to your point about the word lame, also a term which helps to create an environment where folks can be insensitive to the plight of differently-abled folk.


i do not now and never will consider my race or my gender as less important than the other. as you know, (and we could pick women of any racial identity) in addition to the hierarchy of oppressions, black women experience sexism from black men too.

i live in NYC, so i am really familiar with the ways in which men of all races treat black women. using the word bitch is one of them.

for sure -- this conversation has been dumbed down for the purposes of brevity. to restate:

-that white woman was being racist. no doubt about that. and no i do not empathize with her.

-the word bitch creates an environment which is hostile to women of all races

-(this is probably my most important point, and i don't know why i haven't stated it yet)

even though the person being called a bitch in that elevator was white, i watched it too. and i noticed it. and i'm allowed to stand in solidarity with both black men and with white women because i am neither.

and finally -- the video of the guy calling the cops on the girl in the car was brilliant, and i'm GOING to use that one. against police if i can figure out a way to do that.

butchrebel said...

sciencegeek: Fantastic points!

I hope you will revisit and leave comments on my blog posts in the future as I am learning a lot from you (!) and you are challenging me to consider/re-consider my views -- which is always a VERY good thing.

Your views didn't seem "dumbed down" at all -- concision is the very best way (I think) to make one's point (a particular gift/ability I lack:) because one's views are more accessible/attractive to a wider audience that way.

Again, I really do support/agree with your points.

But, for me, that still does not change the feeling of satisfaction that comes with watching the black man in the film deride this white woman for committing an unspoken act of racist violence against him.

Did you state in your comments that you are a woman of color?

I ask that because I believe that your racial identity is crucial here (because I don't believe that a useful tactic in the struggle to end racism is a white person "telling" a person of color what to do, feel or think with regard to racism -- as I'ave stated many times before, people of color -- NOT white people are the experts on racism because it is people of color that are most directly impacted by racism. A white persons accruement of rivileges through whiteness means its best to listen and self-interrogate rather than criticize, judge, point fingers at and/or tell people of color what they can do to change their lot. It is white folks need to combat racism in order to dismantle white supremacy).

I agree with you (and made the same point in my blog post -- though maybe not as well or as clearly) -- sexist speech creates/maintains a climate that protects/defends/pervades institutional sexism, which impacts ALL women -- including women of color, lgbtq women of color, gender queer women of color, women of color with disabilities etc etc.,.

I believe that is possible to use words in a way that identifies/foregrounds the race of one's oppressor in a way that points out to them that they DO, in fact, have a race -- and in a way that ridicules/attacks their racism (for example, calling white folks "cracker" -- which interestingly, in my experience MANY white folks laugh off. I also know PLENTY of white folks that refer to themselves and other white folks as "crackers" in order to acknowledge their racism/white privilege/complicity in white supremacy etc.,. These white folks would never use a pejorative racist slur to describe/attack ANY person of color -- again, their aim is to foreground whiteness for white folks who DO NOT "see" their race in the same way that most people of color DO -- for white folks who DO NOT recognize their racism/privilege/complicity in white supremacy.)

I believe the aforementioned white folks can be very effective allies and educators of other white folks.

(***I also believe that white allies' effectiveness in using the kind of speech I'm talking about means that they aim their words at middle and upper class white folks -- people who are inclined to identify poor and working-class white folks as "white trash," "rednecks," and "crackers" in a way that suggests a myriad of things -- including that they DO NOT "do whiteness" the right way -- or that they degrade "whiteness" -- and that they are racist in a way that middle/upper class white folks are not.


***I also understand that white people who consider themselves allies in the struggle against racism can use terms like "cracker/whitey" in a way that permits them to distance themselves from the immutable fact of their involuntary/subconscious complicity in racism/the racist oppression of people of color -- no matter how conscious they are about racism, no matter how hard they work to dismantle white supremcy)

Re: using terms like "cracker," "whitey" etc.," to critique, and even educate, white folks -- some people of color and white people I know disagree with me.

I understand and validate their perspective/s -- and have seriously questioned my stance on this issue but have yet to change it.

My point with regard to the "Racism in the elevator" film clip is that I believe a person -- in this case, a black man -- can use sexist speech to identify, resist/challenge and vent his frustration about white women's racism in a way that is complex mixture of resistance (to particular expressions of racism) and complicity in (sexism).

I do not mean to suggest that racism and sexism can ever be separated (as institutions or individual experiences).

I am suggesting the possibility that sexism can be used in a way that is resistive and oppressive.

Am I conveying my thoughts clearly?