I get the impression that a lot of us from certain backgrounds grow up thinking racism and sexism are largely things of the past. Sure, we’re aware they still exist, but only in backwards places like Alabama. People point to the fact that we have a black president as proof that it’s a post-racial society, and that is indeed a major step forward. On the other hand, haven’t you heard all the people attacking him and claiming he’s some kind of false president simply BECAUSE he’s black? Oh, sure, they won’t say that straight-out, and it’s not like there isn’t a lot of criticism directed at him that isn’t race-related, but some of it you really can’t deny comes from racism. The Republicans hated Clinton, to the point that they impeached him for a minor offense, but I don’t recall them ever trying to claim that he was born in another country or only went to college due to affirmative action. The big thing now is coded racist language, where you can totally tell someone is being racist, but they can claim they weren’t because their language could TECHNICALLY be interpreted another way. You know, like Paul Ryan claiming people “in our inner cities in particular” don’t want to work. But that’s intentional racism disguised to look like it isn’t. In some ways, racism and sexism are so ingrained in our culture that other people make offensive comments without even realizing it. It’s popular on the Internet these days to talk about privilege.
Now, I don’t consider myself privileged in very many respects, but it is true that I’ve never been marginalized for being a white male, and plenty of other people DO receive that kind of discrimination because of race and gender. In cases like this, I think the opinion of someone who’s actually part of the oppressed group counts for a lot more than that of someone from a privileged group. Too many people react to the accusation that they made an offensive statement with anger, rather than evaluating whether the accuser actually has a point. Maybe they don’t, but it’s pretty arrogant to assume you’re totally free of prejudice without even thinking about it.
Related subjects come up quite frequently in the media, as with the recent controversy over a Stephen Colbert segment mocking the Washington Redskins owner’s lame attempts at cultural sensitivity. The punchline was that he was starting the Ching-Chong Ding-Dong Foundation for Sensitivity to Orientals or Whatever.
Now, some people took offense because they only saw the punchline and not the entire segment, but others were familiar with the context and it still bothered them. While I personally don’t find it offensive, especially when you know the context, I guess this again comes down to my not being part of the minority group. That said, the #CancelColbert hashtag on Twitter is rather harsh, not to mention far-fetched. I mean, Comedy Central didn’t fire Daniel Tosh, and his offensive joke didn’t even have a satirical point. Deciding whether to reprimand someone for putting up a bad public image is always more a matter of money than anything else. Remember when A&E wanted to put Duck Dynasty on hiatus after Phil Robertson’s comments, then decided against it because the show was making a lot of money, and it wasn’t all that likely that any gay or black people watched it anyway? I’ve even seen petitions and such to fire Bill O’Reilly after he made offensive comments, because apparently these people don’t realize that making racist, sexist, and homophobic comments is what Fox News anchors are SUPPOSED to do. Fox makes big money with that! I was thinking recently how weird it is that Fox shows the new Cosmos when Fox News is all about promoting religious fundamentalism and denying science. Anyway, I bring this up partially because of another race-related media issue I wanted to mention, involving Bill O’Reilly ranting about a Beyoncé video.
He claims that “teenage girls look up to Beyoncé, particularly girls of color,” and that she shouldn’t have made a racy video because of the devastation caused by unwanted pregnancy and fractured families. Hey, Bill, how could you tell she wasn’t using protection?
There’s definitely some coded racist language in there, and the implication that fractured families are mostly a black problem. Never mind that the actual Beyoncé had a baby with her husband. And what, this is the first music video that features blatant sexual imagery? To be fair, he hasn’t limited his war on raunchiness to black performers, although he told David Letterman that he missed Miley Cyrus being scantily clad on the wrecking ball. One of this favorite things to do is talk about how dangerous a video is to the children while playing it on a loop. Because who better to be the Sexuality Police than the guy who told his employee he wanted to rub falafel on her breasts? He’s also one of several people who seemed to think Hispanic babies outnumbering white ones in the United States was some kind of tragedy. Not only is that racist, but I don’t even get his point. Does he think golf will be outlawed and we’ll all be forced to learn salsa dancing?
Also sort of related to the same topic, and just so weird that I wanted to write more about than my brief note on Twitter, I recently came across a Tumblr thread with people saying they didn’t want men calling themselves feminists, because feminism was a “women’s space.” In this case, even though I’m part of the privileged group, I have to call bullshit. Unless I’m missing some key data, feminism was never intended to be a women-only movement. Trying to change the definition isn’t pro-women so much as it’s Humpty Dumpty: “When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.”
That said, I do have to wonder about the idea of women’s spaces, which is something I’ve come across in the past. I’ve seen several articles saying women’s colleges are still relevant because men don’t prevent women from expressing themselves, which to me seems kind of anti-feminist. Isn’t that implying that ALL men are disruptive jerks, and NO women are? I’m sure a lot of guys would rather not be in class with these arrogant people either. That said, my friend Amy recently made a post where she mentioned that the patriarchy often makes women feel that their opinions aren’t worth anything, and it’s certainly possible that I just haven’t noticed this since I’m not a girl. I seem to recall quite a few classes where girls did most of the talking, but I suppose that’s just anecdotal evidence. Again, it’s not at all unlikely there’s a real problem here that I just wasn’t aware of because I wasn’t part of the oppressed group. I still kind of feel that women-only colleges are a bit outdated, but I know plenty of people who disagree.