Friday, April 06, 2007

Evolution of prejudice

You know what's often bothered me about feminism? A lot of feminists talk as if stuff is done intentionally... like there's some grand conspiracy of men trying to devalue womanhood. And some of the things that feminism talks about sound flat out crazy as conspiracies. "Why would anyone do that?" you'd ask, and quite rightly.

I brought that up on another blog recently; someone mentioned that power structures are built to favor the powerful, and I said I always felt uncomfortable talking about these things as if they had any intent. And then someone pointed out to me that no one says that there was specific intent... when people talk about how these things came about, they're thinking about it like evolution.

We can say that "evolution built the human eye in such a way as to grant a decent balance of color vision with low-light vision", for example. That doesn't mean that some entity decided to give us vision of that nature. Our eyes can be seen as having developed through a process, where certain types of vision lead to an advantage in survival and/or reproduction.

Yes, it's also possible that there was a creator who designed the human eye. Frankly, if there was a creator, I don't think the human eye was designed; I think it was allowed to evolve a certain way. Nevertheless, the point is, we can posit the existence of an eye being a certain way due to a process, not due to design.

And as scary as it is to think about it, a lot of racism, sexism, heterosexism, etc., can happen the same way... and yes, it will be shaped in a way that benefits those in power. After all, it's the powerful who can reward obedience and punish disobedience.

That makes it sound a lot bigger and more planned than it is, but I'd like you to take a gander at this post, on Pandagon. It shows one of those places where the double negative (black and female) comes together.

No one decided that a black woman's hair in its natural state would lead to a danger of her being called a nappy-headed (w)ho(re), or a ghetto slut who doesn't respect the House of Representatives by daring to show up with her hair not looking sufficiently like a white woman's. No one decided that black wasn't beautiful; no one chose to make the world one where people would hate their natural hair or skin.

But that's how it happened, because if you don't do up your hair to some ridiculous, artificial standard, or if your skin is too dark for someone else's tastes, you can get hurt... not hired for a job, passed over for a promotion, or even just mocked as a ghetto slut.

So people try to conform, and a hurtful standard is set, and calcifies, and reinforces oppression without anyone recognizing it.

Why should a black woman suffer hot combs or chemical relaxers? Yet many do, and recommend others do, because it's just a given that if you can't put your hair into a select set of styles, you won't be considered attractive, or professional-looking.

Still, let's keep one thing straight: this did not arise in a vaccuum. This didn't just happen. This happened because people decided that black women looked awful because they didn't look like white women. The more they looked like white women, the more accepted they were.

No one planned this out; no one made it happen. But it's a direct result of that kind of racism, and it's clearly not gone. It's still there, and it's still deep, deep enough that two men who wouldn't want to appear racist (it could hurt ratings, after all) could throw off commments like that without even thinking about the implications.

John, you asked on the Pandagon blog how you put a stop to toxic ideas once they're widespread.

I would generally respond that you put a stop to them in ways that your society permits as a public citizen. For your consideration, a note that I wrote to the blog authors on this very subject and the ramifications of not following through:


For Amanda (and Pam as well should she wish to review it)

- Do you remember an email you received requesting that you, as a well-known and respected progressive feminist blogger, file a comment/request with the FCC -- which any citizen, irrespective of their stance on "censorship" can do -- to reprimand Rush Limbaugh for his eerily similar epithets hurled at the female accuser in the Duke rape case?

I have to say that, in view of your response then (to paraphrase, "I won't do it because I don't believe in censorship"), I'm quite fascinated by the fact that Pandagon has elected to bring this incident to the attention of its readership now.

As a woman of color who has long been interested in how the "majority" feminist movement orders its priorities and decides what issues are "important" to pursue, based on this as a manifestation of the extrapolation I expected if this weren't nipped in the bud back then, all I have left to say is,

"I told you so."

Oh, and to paraphrase ... "I did nothing when they came for X; I did nothing when they came for Y; and when they came for me, there was no one left to do anything for me."
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