Owning up to Racism and Sexism

I obviously really enjoy reading Bitch, PhD. There's a posting up from yesterday that asks the readers to seriously recognize their own racism and sexism. What's so wonderful about the way the author (who is not always the same on the site) addresses it is that she points out how subtle and tacit our own racism can be -- even when we think we're quite thoughtful and conscientious. The naivete of escaping forms of these prejudices fully gets addressed without being antagonistic, and I think this is something that needs to be better integrated into American conversations. In lieu of self-flagellation, this more reflective approach might actually change things quite radically.

I do think, however, that she ought to have included class as part of the triad of prejudices. She comments that she is surprised when she interviews a black woman in her 30s who doesn't have children, but she doesn't feel surprise at a white woman of the same age. (This made me think that my reactions to such a circumstance would be highly mediated by my knowledge of the woman's educational level -- so if I were to meet a black female professor, I wouldn't find it odd that she didn't have children, and I might actually find it stranger if she did -- depending on age, of course.) I have a friend with whom I've lost touch who has worked extensively on race in the States, and I know that because she and her family are immigrants, she identifies with a working class culture. Yet, her mother was a professor in their home country -- and this friend attended the same prestigious college and is now pursuing her PhD in one of the most rarified academic tracks in this country. It's hard for me to feel sympathy for her when I think that in spite of our economic differences as children we share a lot of the same class beliefs and experiences. Though we may seem to have different class backgrounds (my father was a successful white collar worker and his parents had money, though their parents were immigrants, and her parents were struggling to make a good life for their kids when they immigrated in the late 80s), I do think education equalizes quite a lot, even if I don't want to dismiss the difference of knowing that my parent could afford to support my education, and my friend's parents couldn't. They clearly valued higher learning and both their daughters have advanced degrees.

We need to integrate class more explicitly in American debates (and that is one thing I have found deeply disturbing in Clinton's bragging about her "owning" the blue collar workers -- the lady is as pedigreed as Obama, neither can fully claim shared experiences with such people). I remember looking at houses in Baltimore, and I felt far more uncomfortable in the white working class neighborhoods of Baltimore than in the poorer black neighborhoods. It was a shock to recognize that I was actually far more classist (and in a way racist -- that I was understanding of poverty among blacks but far less sympathetic to poverty among whites) than I had ever acknowledged. I guess part of why I found the freak-out about a half-black male presidential candidate and a white woman candidate so strange was that it seemed irrelevant to me that we could have a (self-identified?) black man in office or a white woman in office. I mean, I understand why this caused a hub-bub, but I don't understand these as important distinctions -- they are different people with very different cultural experiences. But I certainly feel confident that they're both adequately educated and capable of becoming president, and it would be far stranger if we were to have a working-class white man running for office.

I'm not explaining this as well as I'd like (this is becoming a running theme in my posts, incoherence), but ultimately, I think we can't just reduce debates to race-gender. Americans need to stop pretending that anyone can advance in society regardless of where they come from; the Horatio Alger myth is kind of dated, don't you think?

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