Monday, April 30, 2007

Reflections On Race & Gender

I was sitting around, half sleepy, thinking about the popularity of Halle Berry and Beyonce among men of all races and backgrounds and how the clip I linked to a few days ago raised some important points. First, I have to say--the guy who said that his observation or experience with black women is that we are if we're not supposed to be?! We're not justified in being bitter? I always hate when people call someone bitter about something bad that has happened to them, as if that's so wrong to be that way. I don't think anyone has more of a right to walk the earth angry than black women.

Second--about this Halle/Beyonce business. Can men produce a more predictable list when it comes to attractive black women? Nikki and I were sitting around talking, and we want to know--what about Sanaa Lathan, Kerry Washington, Gabrielle Union, Angela Bassett, and other black female celebrities who do not have white features? I don't think most men, particularly white men, realize what all they are really saying when they list off women such as Halle and Beyonce as attractive black women. Furthermore--and I'm sure a lot of black women agree with me--I am tired of hearing about Halle and Beyonce. The media has really made me dislike them, and you would never find either of them on my list of "it" women. In addition to all the attention they receive, I have a problem with the way Beyonce speaks and sounds, and with Halle's indications of mental instability. Besides, I think I might possibly be moving into a new phase in terms of women I like. I find myself looking at dark-skinned black women more.

The Imus situation got a lot of people talking about the depiction of black women in the media. It also got some people talking about how black women have been treated throughout history and how they continue to be treated in their daily lives by men, including me. Now, I want to point out two things that I found interesting. First, Rachel of Rachel's Tavern, about a week ago, added me to her list of blogs--many thanks, Rachel, such an honor to be added to one of my favorite blogs--and she considered adding me as a multiracial feminist. I commented on her blog that I am not a feminist. And I thought about it, because I know that a lot of women deny being feminists and want to disassociate themselves with feminism because of the stigma many people place on feminism. Second, after the Imus situation, blogger Ann wrote a lot of good, long blog posts about black the point where I would click onto her blog, see another post about how black women have been treated over time and I just laughed. And I remember telling Nikki about her blog and laughing when I told her.

It's not that it's problematic or that I don't agree with most of the things Ann wrote, or that I don't want to be associated with feminism. You see, I laughed and I denied being a feminist because I rarely care about my being a woman. So it was funny to me to see a woman writing so much, so passionately about what black women experience. When I write, I do write about women sometimes, and I definitely write about black women. But the emphasis when I write is on black, then queer, identity. I add sex in when I see intersections or when I think about something that I really haven't started thinking about until this last year, which is my gender identity. So, I realized just this school year that I don't really care about being a woman, for the most part. There could be many reasons for this--the two that come to my mind are 1) because I feel that my sex is the least disadvantaged of my major disadvantaged identities, and 2) because I don't really feel as if I am a woman.

In general, I am not interested in feminism. I remember mentioning in another post that white women can probably point out all kinds of problems that women still face in society that I never think about or do but am not terribly concerned with, and I bet that's absolutely true because I am much more concerned with being black than anything else. I tend not to feel as if being a woman is all that harmful to me--even when I did "male" things, such as music production, I felt more respected, particularly by males--and I am much more likely to attribute obstacles I experience in life to race than to being a woman or even an identity intersection. For example, I think the legal field is unfair to anyone who is not a white man, and yet I feel, I'd say, over 90% of the obstacles and unfair treatment I currently experience and will experience in the future in that career are due to being black. Perhaps if I wanted to start a family, it'd be different. But as it stands, I hardly ever think about the role my sex might be playing in law school or law. I think much more about race whereas I know several white women in law school who think a lot about gender and the obstacles that they feel come with being women.

Honestly, when white women wonder why we don't all care about sex the same, why sex doesn't transcend other identities and bring us together, it pisses me off. Like interactions I've described with other identity groups, such as white gays, Asians and Latinos, it makes me angry when people think that because we share some identity we are supposed to understand each other and come together. Being a woman doesn't make me the same as a white woman--far from it. To me, white women are second in command in this nation; black women are in second place for last in command in this nation...and some would argue that we are last in command in this nation. And being queer probably isn't all that much of a reason as to why I tend not to be concerned about gender issues, because I know heterosexual black women who agree with me on this. I hate to say it, but many of us think that gender issues are trivial in comparison to what we go through just for being black. And I want to assure you that no fight for equality is trivial, but it just feels like it sometimes when you are being asked to fight inequality in multitude. As a person with even just one disadvantaged identity, fighting is tiresome. I know many black women don't want to fight for two identities, and I certainly don't want to fight for three, much to the chagrin of gay people. Unfortunately, that results in picking and choosing sometimes.

I remember at one point over the school year, this one white female asked me, essentially, why gender identity doesn't transcend race, because she wanted to know why the organization in our law school that is for women basically has all-white membership. This same female later revealed to me that she gets uncomfortable around other races, although I think she meant in particular scenarios such as if there is a group of us. She said that if she saw a group of blacks and a group of whites, she would head for the group of whites. She also said that she has wanted to attend some of the events held by our black law students organization but didn't know if she was welcome.

To me, she answered her own question. See, I think white women and white gays ask those kinds of questions, yet answer them themselves several times over the course of a week. For one thing, gender doesn't transcend race, and sexual orientation doesn't transcend race, because people don't want them to and won't allow them to. Race affects more decisions we make than any other identity--who to hang out with, who to date, what neighborhood to live in, what school to attend, where to sit in class, etc. You have no idea how many times this past year or two white kids have come into the classroom and have tried to not sit by me, or how many times I've taken a packed train to Chicago and had white people pass an extra seat by beside me looking for another one. In the classroom scenario, I was pretty sure that was race-related after a while. For example, in one class, these two white guys technically sat by me. But they only would ever sit directly by me if there happened to be no other seats available so that they could put distance between me and them, or if they were sitting in class first and I came in and was left no other seats to put distance between me and them (which, I usually was in class before them).

As far as what I said about black women being next to last in command--I believe that, although black men are accepted more than we are in social situations, black women are more accepted in every other way. I think a lot of black women wallow in this lingering misconception that we are the very bottom, possibly because that's the message black men try to send us, but we have now passed black men in most ways...which I think is exactly why black men treat us so badly, both in the media and in our personal interactions. Even though I get angry at black men for how they treat black women, I also know that I have very little interaction with black men and no reason personally to be angry with them. The fact that I have very little interaction with black men in the first place, as a law student and someone who grew up upper-middle class in a family full of women and a white male, is an example of how black women have passed black men.

Furthermore, my findings regarding how white people view black people actually fall in line with my idea that black women have passed black men in most ways. Yes, Imus degraded black women, and yes, black men degrade us. I didn't feel degraded by Imus, and I don't feel degraded by rappers--the latter exactly because of where I am in society vs where they and other black men are in society (and, yes, I did basically just say I don't get bothered by what black men, including rappers, say because I think I'm better than them...but, honestly, I tend to think I'm better than most people ;)), and the former maybe more so because I don't identify with the kind of women he targeted or even because I generally don't feel I identify with most women. For whatever reason, I just never quite feel like people who degrade women are talking about me. Yes, white people will date and be friends with black men before they will date and be friends with us, and whenever they need a token black in a movie or on a TV show they grab a black male instead of one of us. But black males have made themselves less intimidating to whites than they used to be, not that they aren't still intimidating--though I think that often has more to do with what kind of black male he is and the way he carries himself.

However, black women remain intimidating to whites, and I think the irony of that is our intimidating demeanors/stereotype--along with the strides we've made in society despite being who we are--garner us a lot of respect from white people. I mentioned in my Imus discussions, and I'll mention again, that I think other races of women--particularly white women--look much worse in the media than black women do, just that no one ever points that out. And I think white men are largely responsible for such degradation, while black men are probably more responsible--once again, because they are angry at black women for passing them in society--for our degradation, at least directly anyway. I would still argue white execs are right there pulling the strings, but they degrade all women. Black men, on the other hand, are gunning straight for black women, trying to "remind us of our true place," and, obviously, a lot of black women are internalizing their messages.

Basically, what I'm trying to say is that several white people have indicated to me that they regard black women highly--though not necessarily as highly as they regard other people--several times flat-out admitting that they regard us more highly than black men. Because of the course of conversation with these individuals, the information was neither offensive nor meant to be offensive. These are people with whom I speak candidly about race on a regular basis, and I found their descriptions of how they view black women extremely helpful. I have found that some white women, in particular, really think highly of black women. One of my white friends said that she thinks black women are stronger than white women and have been doing a lot of things that white feminists have fought for even before white feminists started fighting for those things. She believes white women know black women are stronger than they are and that this intimidates them. Another friend told me that she always pegs the black women in her classes as smart and on top of their business whereas she does not view the black men in her classes in this way.

With both of these friends, we have discussed our viewpoint that--generally speaking, of course--white women are shallow. This is another thing about white women that makes me angry when I think about it. I mean, here, we have Halle and Beyonce as the only black women held up as meeting white standards of beauty in America. Yet, I turn on shows such as "Oprah" and "Dr. Phil" and see blonde white woman after blonde white woman crying and acting plum crazy about her looks. I remember this one really pretty white model on "Oprah" crying, talking about how she thinks she's "hideous" and saying that she breaks mirrors because she can't stand to look at herself. I remember another cute, thin blonde on "Dr. Phil," crying and talking about how she needs to lose weight for her boyfriend.

I watch white woman after white woman act as if her life is completely in ruins because she is "fat" or "ugly" or admitting to an eating disorder...and, yet, I almost never hear these things from black women--in fact, I am the only black woman I know who does not think she is good-looking. They obsess over carbs, fad diets, fashion, white female celebrities, etc, while the majority of black women seem overweight and happy with a I-know-I-look-good mentality (which, hey--I'm not knocking it...besides, actually liking to eat is a requirement that must be met in any woman I consider). I see more white women underestimate how they look and more black women overestimate how they look than I know how to even comprehend! But us black women are the least desirable. Only Halle and Beyonce measure up. Some black women act as if they don't even notice. They still whip out these insane lists of requirements that must be met before they will consider a man. (laughs) But that's okay--I still say white women are the ones who need therapy.

Another thing that has happened over the past year is I've thought seriously about whether or not I might be transgendered, which I don't think I truly am. But I have wondered more and more if I weren't supposed to be born a boy. Not only do I not feel like a woman a lot of the time, I hate even thinking about who or what I'm supposed to be as a woman. I hate stepping outside and looking at the way other women are dressed, knowing they are wondering why I don't look as indistinguishable as they do--because, let's face it, with all of you ladies trying to look fashionable, you just end up all looking kind of the same. It's even worse with black women, because, as I mentioned in another post, some black women seem to go the extra mile to make sure they look good and expect the same from other black women. I wish this was something I didn't have to deal with. But as much as I wish I didn't have to deal with that, I just think of what it would be like for me to be a queer black which point, I realize that, whether I feel like I'm supposed to be a man or not, I would never want or choose to be a queer black male...because that's just too many ass-whuppins...

So, I think there's some luck in my being who I am in a lot of ways. ;)