Friday, February 29, 2008

Deconstructing Chris Rock (by Suzie)

      While the Goddess is contemplative, I'm obsessed by this primary season. I cannot resist another post on gender and race. Run for cover if you must.
      A friend sent me a Chris Rock clip gone viral in which he asks, “How can you compare the suffering of a white woman to the suffering of a black man? It's not even close! I mean, white women burned their bras; black men were burned alive!” 
       This joke hit hard, because two women (one of whom was pregnant) were set on fire in December in an adjacent county. You didn’t hear about it? That’s not surprising because male violence against women often is seen as an isolated crime or personal problem, not the symptom of a sexist system.
        The two women who died were Hispanic. But violence against women comes in many shades, many ethnicities. I'm heartened that the UN secretary-general is calling on men to address this behavior.
        Back to Chris Rock. First, he repeats the myth of bra-burning, always a good way to laugh off feminism.
        Talk of voting for a white woman or black man is a “suffering contest,” he jokes. Similarly, some feminist blogs trashed Gloria Steinem last month for suggesting that gender is more restrictive in a presidential race. They repeated the feminist dictum that people should not say one oppression is worse than another. (Here's one example.)
        Chris Rock isn't arguing that people shouldn't pit one against the other; he's arguing that black men should win the suffering contest. As one T-shirt maker puts it: “Bro’s before ho’s.”
        When some people hear "white woman," they envision a woman with money. But "white women" encompasses women who are poor, old, sick, disabled, queer, undocumented, non-English-speaking, imprisoned, etc.
         But even middle- and upper-class white women must deal with sexism. Money can't guarantee safety. Nor can it ensure equal opportunity in a society in which men still occupy the highest positions in government, business, religion and the media.