Friday, April 03, 2009

It's a Dangerous Percentile

The Iowa decision also gives me an excuse to link to Ta-Nehisi Coates post explaining the linkage between conservative fears of gay marriage, and racism, and anti-Semitism (Amber says this is maybe the first thing to convince her of intersectionality, but I'm not actually sure this is an intersectionality claim).
The most laughable aspect of America's long war against racism, is the justification racist would always trot out--the specter of interracial union. I can remember being a kid and reading about black folks struggling for some small right, that, these days, we take for granted. So you'd have some black dude who'd been born a slave, in some one room shack, but had risen to become a lawyer, arguing for, say, school funding for black kids in rural Alabama. And then you'd see some bigot responding with, essentially, the following, "If we give the nigras school funding, they'll take our women! Do you want a nigra marrying yer daughter?!?!?"

I would read that and think, "What? The dude just wants some textbooks, WTF??" There's this great riff in Wattstax where Richard Pryor talks about Southern whites accusing a black dude of raping some white guy's wife. The guy brings out his wife and says something like, "The nigger raped her!" The assembled black folks look at the guy's wife who, let's just say is not Scarlett O'Hara, and go, "You sure??"

But in the white male paranoid mind, the deepest ambition of all black men lay between the two legs of some white woman--any white woman. And white women, of course lacking any real agency in the narrative, joyfully go along. Or are forcibly carried along. From that perspective, white racism really is a fear of a black planet--and (paradoxically) of white women.

Bigotry, in all forms, requires a shocking arrogance, a belief that other communities deepest desires revolve around your destruction. It is the ultimate narcissism, a way of thinking that can only see others, through a paranoid fear of what one might lose. The fears are almost always irrational. To go back to Chuck D, perhaps he was too cold when he said, "Man, I don't want your sister." But there was deep truth in it, the idea was, "Fool, this ain't about you and your fucked-up sexual hangups." In much the same vein when I read people complaining that gay marriage is a threat to traditional marriage, I think, "Fool, these gay motherfuckers ain't thinking about your marriage. This ain't about you and your hang-ups."

Coates mentions anti-Semitism, but making it more explicit, much of anti-Semitism rests on this idea of Jews as hyperpowerful -- pulling the strings of the entire world; an insidious cancer which if left unchecked will corrupt and destroy modern society.

I'm sorry to say that for the most part, Jewish lives are considerably less dramatic. We want the same things as most other people do, and live the same lives that most other people do. But the conceit is always there: the 1% of the population that was Jewish has always been seen as an existential threat to Christianity; and now is seen as an existential threat to humanity itself. And, again I hate to be this blunt but: Get over yourself.


PG said...

Yeah, I also was confused by Amber's reference to intersectionality, which term I understood to refer to overlapping identities -- sex, gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, etc. -- and how that overlap makes analyses that rely solely on a single axis of identity less useful when applied to real people. Coates, in contrast, seems to be talking about how the oppression faced by all different kinds of people springs from a common source of

Amber said...

As I understand it, the dominant position in the feminist blogosphere at present is that intersectionality suggests that feminists should be anti-racists and devote their energy to combating racism even when traditional feminist concerns are not implicated (e.g. in the case of police shootings of black men). I've always thought of this as a dilutive tendency and not viewed the connections between various identities and forms of oppression as sufficiently persuasive to convince me that good feminists must devote time and energy to these other (worthy!) causes. But Coates made me think twice.

Or maybe I just used the term improperly.

David Schraub said...

I think you're thinking of ally or coalition work.

Intersectionality, as I understand it, is more the claim that the experience of, say, a Black Woman is not simply Black + Woman. It came into the vogue as an analysis of a shortcoming in anti-discrimination law wherein an employer discriminates against a Black woman, but not against Black men or White women. The Black woman would find it difficult to bring the claim, as the employer could trot out defenses against a racial discrimination and a sex discrimination claim by pointing to his non-discriminatory behavior vis-a-vis these other co-workers. (Maybe this gap has been redressed by now -- the literature I'm thinking of I think is from the late 80s -- but that's just an example).

David Schraub said...

To be sure, the IMPLICATION of this often is to encourage coalition work, as intersectional feminists would say that since, e.g., Blackness acts as modifier to a woman's experience as a woman (i.e., is not something severable as "mere" racial oppression), the traditional concerns of the feminist movements, largely geared around the experiences of the White heterosexual Christian middle-class leadership, aren't necessarily going to be sufficient to liberate all women even as women. In this form, it gets used as an attack on the "can't we all just unite as women, and leave the extraneous disputes out of it" maneuver, wherein "unite as women" means only the concerns of the dominant players in the woman's movement count.