Sunday, November 19, 2017

Handed Over

The current sexual abuse/harassment scandal that is floating around the American entertainment, political and business establishments kind of reminds me of discussions that I used to have with people about race when I was younger. Both of them seem to be driven by an understanding of Power that allows Power to be unmoored from human choices.

I don't know when it first occurred to me, but one day I had the realization that the the Black community in the United States had abdicated a lot of control over its own destiny to other people - people who had their own lives and priorities to worry about. "We" (not that it was a unanimous decision) had done this because we had learned to be afraid of the power that the White community wielded. I feel that I sound like a broken record in this, but we learned to fear what White people thought of us, and never sought to have them be concerned with what we thought of them. Sometimes, the relationship between the genders seems the same way. Women fear the power that men wield, and this manifests itself in women fearing what men think of them, but men don't generally have that same concern.

You can see this, I think, in understandings that: "White people need to have conversations with White people about racism," or "Men need to have conversations with men about sexism and sexual harassment." But I've always been dubious about the idea that the best way for a group to advance itself is for other people to talk about them. Racism and sexism have always struck me as being, to some degree about incentives. And so racism will go away when it starts to cost more than it's worth, and the same with sexism. For me, as a Black person, we, as the Black community in the United States have to make racism cost more than its worth, because we're the ones who want that and will be major beneficiaries of it. We're the ones who are going to have to create the conditions that mean that not being a racist is more valuable than being a racist. The issue that I've always had with the idea that "White people need to have conversations with White people about racism," is that it presupposes that Black people don't have anything of value to bring to the conversation. It's that perceived lack of value, I think, that sustains racism.

I am of the opinion that our overall concern with the Power that White people wield, and our unwillingness and/or inability to see our own role in giving them that Power puts us into the role of supplicants. And supplicants, like suckers, never get an even break.

Sexism, I think, operates on a similar dynamic. And while gender issues may be having a moment in the light at the time, I'm unsure that it will last. And if it doesn't, we may see the same pattern play itself out again. Which would be a shame.

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