Sunday, October 05, 2008

Tim Wise: Might wanna adjust your hairshirt, your sexism is showing (by Skylanda)

Apparently I'm the last liberal on the block to get forwarded a copy of Tim Wise's latest missive on racism in America. I hadn't heard of Tim Wise before, but maybe you have. He is, self-proclaimedly, "among the most prominent anti-racist writers and activists in the US." Judging by a strangely come-hither picture attached to the bio on his site (as well as a lot of titles that indicate that his racial background up front), he is a white dude. Aside from the usual questions that brings up (like, say, why is a white dude sucking down so much media time - what with his bragging bio noting that he's been "a featured guest on hundreds of radio and television programs worldwide" - when an actual person of color could be getting some air time), there is some credit to be given where credit is due: he makes a lot of good points.

Chief among those good points are things like the comparison of what reaction you typically get when a young white man (versus a young Hispanic man or young black man) pontificates publicly on their enthusiasm for guns, gun ownership, and gun rights. Racism: hard to argue there.

So might might not seem necessary, even though he seems to think it is, to spend more than half the essay bagging on Sarah Palin. Sarah Palin's daughter. Sarah Palin's extended family. And, oh yes, Sarah Palin's vagina. Uh huh, you didn't read that wrong:
"White privilege is when you can take nearly twenty-four hours to get to a hospital after beginning to leak amniotic fluid, and still be viewed as a great mom whose commitment to her children is unquestionable, and whose 'next door neighbor' qualities make her ready to be VP, while if you're a black candidate for president and you let your children be interviewed for a few seconds on TV, you're irresponsibly exploiting them."
I'm sorry, but who the hell is this guy and what the hell is his business judging the personal obstetrical practices of a woman he's never met? And fer chrissakes, but where did this tidbit about Sarah Palin's amniotic fluid come from, how was it confirmed, and why on god's green earth was this made fodder for any kind of public debate?

Unlike some of his finer points, this one does not even provide a one-to-one match between the white privilege he is criticizing and the moments of oppression of people of color he is highlighting (come again, what does amniotic fluid leaks have anything at all to do with children on television?). In fact, these have nothing to do with each other. And in fact, I've never heard of a woman of color being criticized for taking too long to get to the hospital while leaking amniotic fluid - and I've worked labor & delivery in two major metropolitan areas and a handful of small rural towns to boot; women of color certainly get criticized for all kinds random criteria that wealthy white women get a free pass on (don't for a second believe that poor white women don't face down similar drive-by critiques of their mommying skills), but to make up extra points of contention just so you can get a few extra digs in at Sarah Palin? There was no anti-racism content in this paragraph at all; this was pure put-her-in-the-stocks-and-throw-tomatoes-at-her crap from a white dude toward a white woman.

And so once again, the take-down of racism against men of color (as Obama is the main target of his defense, just as Palin is the main target of his attack) will be performed on the backs of the nearest woman. The entire column consists of roughly 22 paragraphs of similarly pithy comparisons, of which no less than thirteen are dedicated to bagging on Palin, her educational record, her family, what have you. Number of paragraphs dedicated to George Bush? One and a half. Number of paragraphs dedicated to McCain - ya know, the guy that's running this campaign? Six, sorta maybe seven. In case you thought he would generously spare McCain's family, nah - Cindy McCain even gets a nod for her prescription drug addiction...again, terribly lovely fodder for debate.

This kind of rhetoric, it doesn't sit well for so many reasons.

It forces me into the untenable position of feeling obligated to defend the likes of Sarah Palin, which is something I am loathe to do.

It forces women of color to engage once again in that counter-productive, ridiculous, second wave-crushing question of whether race or gender is their primary source of oppression, and conversely, whether race or gender is their primary loyalty. This only has to be an either-or question when someone who pretends to be on the side of either women or people of color drives a wedge this deep and forces loyalties to split - otherwise, it's a question that does not ever need to be asked or addressed. You can be faced with multiple sources of strife; you can have split loyalties; reasonable people can maintain all this in the same brain and not implode. It does no one any good to pit race against gender; this is a loser situation all around.

It forces the undermining of his very real and important points - which should be able to stand on their own without the blunt force repetition of just how much we should hate Sarah Palin and what goes on her family and her vagina.

But most of all, it forces me to realize - once again - that whatever the perspective (pro-racism, anti-racism, whatever, you name it), women will always be little more than grist for the mill when a white dude wants to make a point. A good point, a bad point, a self-righteous point, an important point, an inane point, whatever kind of point he wants to make: a stranger's vagina is his bizness to make it with.

P.S. In case you don't believe me, here's another paragraph:
"White privilege is being able to convince white women who don't even agree with you on any substantive issue to vote for you and your running mate anyway, because all of a sudden your presence on the ticket has inspired confidence in these same white women, and made them give your party a 'second look'."
Good going, Tim. Way to believe that liberal white women actually flocked to Sarah Palin - thanks for the confidence in our ability to think for ourselves and withstand the undeniable temptation of voting for a pro-life, anti-environment conservative just 'cause she's got a vajayjay just like us (would it be too hard to convince him that hey, most of the women who flocked to Sarah Palin really have little to no substantative disagreement with her philosophy? nah, that would cause him to have to address real racism, instead of just bagging on women for the sake of bagging on women). And way to totally dismiss the desire that some of us women have to actually see a woman in the White House before the end of our lives; it is this kind of bull that made the clash between Clinton and Obama so profound - thanks for reminding us all over again that racism is justifiable if it's in offense against sexism, and sexism is justifiable if it's in the offense against racism. Really, we could have lived without banging our heads against that wall over and over again.