Look what the extreme right is saying about Condoleeza Rice’s acknowledgment that *gasp* America has a racism problem.
I’m much more well-versed in how sexism looks than how racism looks, and so, although I should have seen it coming, I did not expect all this “Stop getting uppity, black people! You should be grateful that your ancestors were brought over here as slaves and that you have had to deal with the consequences of that extremely unequal start and the racism ingrained in this country, because, after all, it was white people that freed the slaves! And look at how bad off Africa is now!”
I know I shouldn’t have to say this, but I can’t help it: white people freed the slaves because white people were the only ones with the power to free the slaves. If black people had been able to free the slaves, it would have happened a whole hell of a lot sooner. And plenty of white people were against freeing the slaves. Should black people thank them for lynching, segregation, and disenfranchisement too? What’s next: Martin Luther King was secretly a white man?
And, of course, white people also had a little something to do with the ethnic wars and poverty in Africa, and we’re keeping up the good work with the global gag rule and the farm bill (which I actually think might be a little better now).
But anyway, I’m going to unsurprisingly bring in feminism to look at what’s going on here. The level of ignorance and…I don’t even know the word for it…in the “thank us, black people” sentiment stands unrivaled, but there is something in common between this and something women get told a lot, and probably every oppressed group, especially in the US. It goes a little something like this: “Don’t push your luck. Just be glad you get this much.”
Don’t get me wrong. I’m glad I live in a place and time where I can go to school, own property, get a job, initiate a divorce, and press charges against anyone who may try to sexually assault me (not that I would likely have any luck in getting them convicted, but I could at least try). I’m thankful to
the white men who benevolently bestowed upon me the right to vote strong women like Alice Paul who went on a hunger strike to get white men to give in to giving me the right to vote. But I’m not going to be content to have 50% or 80% or 99% of the rights I should have. Rights are the minimum, people. They are owed.
And I think this applies to the situation of black people and other minority races too. We have to stop letting people tell us, all or any of us, that we’re asking for too much. I know it’s hard for women because 1) asking for more is not “feminine” and 2) we’re already afraid of being labeled crazy feminists (which really just means “unlikeable, especially by men” which is supposed to be one of the highest insults for a person who is supposed to derive her worth from what others, especially men, think of her). I think it’s hard for minorities because, well obviously they’re vigorously shouted down any time they hint at wanting more, and they have to play along with the powers that be in order to get ahead, too.
So it’s tough, but I think when you explain to a reasonable person (I mean some people are just hopeless, but they’re only a loud minority) that it’s not being greedy to want all the rights people are supposed to get, it works. The only situation I can think of in which I’ve seen problems is when you’re talking about women in the context of Christianity; then the focus on sacrifice can, with some people, complicate matters. But usually, the harder part is to convince people that these groups don’t currently have all the rights that other people get. Because the people who aren’t oppressed usually don’t notice the oppression, and sometimes the people who are oppressed believe the lies that cover it up, and anyone who starts out thinking that way is likely to want to continue thinking that way because changing your mind is uncomfortable, believe me.
Plus there’s the fact that America is the best country in the world. (No I don’t think that, but my 11th grade US history teacher did. On the first day of class he told us that we could argue about whether or not it was true, but if we couldn’t convince him that it wasn’t, we weren’t allowed to argue about it for the rest of the year. Yes, BEFORE we learned the history we could argue; WHILE we learned the history, such blasphemous notions were not allowed.) So there’s another element here of
patriotism nationalism working against complainers. Not only “how dare you challenge my privilege?” and “how dare you challenge my belief system?” but also “how dare you complain about America, the paragon of freedom and democracy?” Except “free” doesn’t mean “includes slavery”, now does it? In fact, I had never really thought about it, but our national anthem was written during slavery. Land of the free? That’s pretty offensive to all the people who were very much the opposite of free at the time. Shows how we tell history from the eyes of white men. (And that, Mom, is why we have Black History Month but no White History Month.)
The United States of America is a country with its fair share of problems, and a lot of responsibility due to its position in world politics (and the way it just went to war on a country without the UN). It may make us feel better to idealize it, but it doesn’t do anyone any good, except those who deep down don’t care about anyone but themselves and benefit from the oppression of others. And I happen to like the US. I’m in the middle of a semester abroad and I really miss home, despite how every time I read news about it I get angry. I’m used to the US, it’s mine in some way. I promise not to move to Canada even if John McCain wins. (But please no.) However. I fail to see any good in “patriotism”. It’s one of those qualities that’s widely held, where I’m from, to be a virtue, and that I’ve secretly never seen much virtue in. (The other one that comes to mind is faith, as in “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.” Why on earth is it good to believe things for no reason? Even at my most Christian, I could understand how it would be virtuous to trust God once you were convinced, but I couldn’t understand why believing based on nothing in the first place would be a good thing.) To me, patriotism is just so much granfalloonery (see Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut). And it leads to crap like “America is so much better than Africa so thank the white people for taking you here!” That just takes racism at home, makes it stronger, and then applies it to the world instead of at least quarantining it here. Think of all the things we could learn from a continent so different from our own if we’d stop thinking we’re better than everyone else (actually, if we wanted to learn from people who we treated horribly and ignore, we could start with the original inhabitants of our own continent). And for all the panic over the label “racist”, the way anyone who says the n-word in any context gets fired, even blatant racism is still allowed, obviously. The panic only serves to help people remember to pretend to not be racist, so that white people can continue to tell themselves it doesn’t really exist. But sometimes they don’t even have to pretend…why is Rev. Wright bigger news than Pat Buchanan?