Thursday, August 14, 2008
Reality-check, part 1: We Live In A White Male Supremacist Society
I keep returning to this question:
How is it that so many men in the U.S., especially those with class, race, and education privilege, can be so completely ignorant of ubiquitous social phenomena like misogyny, anti-Black racism, genocidal anti-Indigenism, and heterosexism? (To name but four expressions of the dominant ideology-in-practice.)
Part of the answer is that the privilege itself is a distancing mechanism from experiencing what most people (women) in the world experience. But even when we know what's going down, though study and empathic connection to women in our lives, we are generally reluctant to adequately or accurately name (out loud) the harm we do to women. Part of the answer is also that we never radically and sustainably challenge the systems of harm we live in and benefit from substantively because we benefit so much.
Given the choices we have created, living as a white man is a significantly less degrading and difficult human experience than living the life of a woman, of any color. Men suffer, including white men, including rich white men: we get depressed, we get cancer, we suffer great losses of loved ones. But we don't know how or to what degree people who are not us suffer and endure and assume it is more or less like what we experience. It isn't. We also don't wish to recognize that those we oppress are generally less dehumanized than we are. The dehumanization is a prerequisite and a part of being a white man, socially speaking. (I here use the terms "white" and "man" only as social-political categories of humans, not as biological or "natural" terms.)
Our silence and apathy, in a world that rewards us while others generate our rewards, is a powerful and central cause and consequence of white male supremacy. It might be less problematic for us to claim we "see no evil, speak no evil, and hear no evil." It might be convenient to claim we are "the Good Germans" who didn't know what was happening to Jews and other ethnic, cultural, and political groups cattle-carred into showering rooms and ovens, gassed then burned to ash or buried. The dishonesty of such claims is that we know what we do; we simply refuse to tell others about it, especially ourselves. We speak evil, we hear evil, we see evil, assuming we have those senses. We do the evil, but call it "natural", "inevitable", "inconsequential", or "not my fault".
The U.S. is cluster of social systems of hierarchically arranged gendered, raced, classed, and sexed power has many regional differences and permutations, shifting over time. Within the last two hundred years, or more, there is and has been an overarching ideology from its inception crafted by the "Founding Fathers". As soon as was possible, institutions were established to protect the gross entitlements and unjust privileges of those who created the institutions: wealthy white men. The values and principles infused in these institutions were appropriated and esteemed inside a social context where only white men were deemed fully human: "heterosexuality" as such, was not a lifestyle choice that was fully formed, while the racism and misogyny of homophobia and heterosexism were part of the bloody concrete slab this country was built on.
For "evidence", there's plenty of unapologetic, rampant rape by white men, of white women and women of color, plenty of genocidal atrocity, to this day, and plenty of slavery, in many forms, particularly of Black people who were forcibly brought here from Africa. As business interests go global, slavery expands to include most nations comprising the Third World. One form of slavery that is endemic is sexual slavery. The atrocious practices that accomplish sexual slavery are all white male supremacist, with corporate capitalist assistance. The perpetrators are those who materially most benefit from sexual trafficking. But around them are "the rest of us" who do little to stop those practices, in part because we want in on them, even if we never "go there".
Currently, boys, girls, and women of color around the world, along with the same groups from Eastern Europe, are the greatest populations of exploited chattel. Another targeted population is transwomen, and other people not easily categorized by gender and sexual orientation inside a white heteromale supremacist understanding of "what people are".
I refer to this ideology as white male supremacy: not "white supremacy" or "male supremacy". In this country, in my experience and the experience of the women of color I know, neither of those terms is inadequate to explain what we are living in, enduring, benefitting from, and practicing, to varying degrees, depending on our social location or station. This doesn't make "white male supremacy" the profeminist "politically correct" term. This makes the fusion of racism and sexism apparent from the start, as was the case here when european colonizers came and took root, like a foreign weed forever ecocidally and radically disrupting the civilizations that were here first. This "disruption" might be best termed ecodical genocide.
In the U.S. white male supremacy is also currently bound to an grotesquely inhumane and wildly savage form of corporate capitalism. Class divisions here, though, have always been infused with white male supremacist markers: to have money is to make one more white and more a man. To be rich is to participate, with greater agency and freedom, in the atrocities which are required for the system to "work". That it doesn't really "work" in any ethical, sustainable way is not supposed to be discussed in polite elitist social circles. Even the Academy is bound up in this mess, becoming increasingly corporatized with increasing control over what is considered to be " useful learnable knowledge".
Our corporate white male supremacist society (which is to say, people, engaged in social activity) destructively promotes,always with force and the threat of violence--a range of violent practices that accomplish the task of maintaining the elite's "interests" by any means necessary. The maintainance of the system requires people too oblivious, to callous, or too oppressed, to maintain it. It is never controlled by the oppressed, however, a point which white liberals fail to grasp, along with many other basics about the political reality of the U.S.
Many of the ideals and institutions of Western liberal societies are modified in the U.S. by specific forms of white social conservatism rooted in white Christian fundamentalist values and practices. Among the matters we must not dispute are the "natural, inherent" goodness of the allegedly nuclear family, the "natural, inherent" goodness of the allegedly heterosexual marriage, women constrained by raising children (however joyful an experiene it sometimes can be), and white male supremacist sex for men-on-demand, especially for white heterosexually active men.
Anti-Black racism, genocidal anti-Indigenism, and other forms of depressing, infuriating oppression of people termed "not white" abound. Women of color endure particular forms of both racism and sexism that white women do not. White women experience specific forms of race-privileged sexism, also harmful, also oppressive, that women of color do not.
To call this society only capitalist, or onlywhite supremacist, or only male supremacist or patriarchal, is to willfully or ignorantly not grasp the depth of who is being harmed and why.
"Profeminist men" typically ignore some significant facet of what oppresses the women who live in the U.S. and Canada, to speak only of two highly white-populated countries. We either pretend "patriarchy" is the enemy, and sometimes grasp that white supremacy and capitalism are problematic as well, if not well integrated into our theories.
What is most often left out of our analysis, in my experience, is the ecocidal/genocidal dimensions of our racist patriarchy. While profeminism in the U.S. remains grossly anglo- and eurocentric in its worldviews and methods of discerning "what reality is", it is especially determined to keep from its center the perspectives and experiences of the Indigenous women of what is now called North America.
Until profeminism centralizes the experiences and concerns of women of color, including Indigenous women, it will fail to be, even in the imagination, let alone in social practice, a profeminist movement. A movement which invisibilizes and marginalizes women of color, or holds whiteness as a standard of human being, is not profeminist, it is white male supremacist, at and to its core.
Radical profeminism, in this view, is organized (effectively, with built-in systems of accountability to feminists and other radical women activists) to dismantle and radically transform those practices, policies, and philosophies which harm women of color, centralizing the hurtful-to-lethal experiences women endure and die from, disproportionately because they are women not men. This profeminism is inclusive of, but not organized around, the experiences and agendas of white women only.
A grand myth about feminism is that women of color were never central to its creation. Feminism in the U.S. was forged in and from the experiences and resistance movements of women of color, with additional input from white women's activism.
Inside an academy that has always been deeply racist and sexist, his-story is white and male, and her-story is white and female, primarily.
Any profeminist who has only engaged responsively and responsibly to white women doesn't know what being a profeminist is. I say this based on experience and observation.
White supremacist profeminists, as I'll term them, are committed to an understanding of the world, to a practice of activism, that is usually not fully accountable to feminist white women, and is rarely-to-never accountable to feminist women of color.
What this means is that white male supremacy is unchallenged at its roots.
What this means is that the majority of women--women of color, are not respected let alone consulted, are not read let alone studied, and are not seen as leaders let alone the founders of feminism.