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.