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Author, Teacher, Screenwriter


Monday, January 21, 2008

Race and Gender and Class

All right, I proposed a five dollar bet with Steve Perry on the only aspect of the Race versus Gender question I'm willing to bring to definitive focus. If people want to ask black women "which has caused more pain and difficulty in your life: your race or your gender" go ahead. Want to rank each on a scale of 1 to ten, it gets more precise. Now, here's the only part of this I am willing to really stake a position on: that regardless of income or class or education, the answers will be similar, say within 5 or 10 percentage points, however you want to stack that up. I'll trust whatever answers people say they got. Just don't post the poll at sites or within organizations that are specifically gender or race political. The more people who ask, the more accurate our answers will get.

I guess I think that it IS possible to find answers which, while not "truth" are very useful to understand the world we live in. It's worth five bucks to be wrong. Assuming Perry takes the bet, anyone out there want to help him take my money?

10 comments:

Argonautica said...

Just thinking aloud here:

Say the polling is completed. What do the results mean? Do the results, no matter which is picked, mean that the respondents have faced more discrimination based on race/gender? Or do the results mean that the respondents perceive race/gender as the basis for the discrimination, pain and difficulty they have experienced in their lives?

I think the results would be in answer to the second question, and although I wouldn't consider that answer unimportant or unilluminating, you are really looking for the answer to the first question.

Unfortunately, I don't know how you get answers to the first without some double blind studies that include black and white men and women.

Steven Barnes said...

All we're ever talking about is perception, make no mistake. Either perception that something happened, or perception that what happened is important. Every survey ever taken is nothing more than this. We can certainly TRY to remove subjectivity from it, but then, again, you still are just dealing with the perception or opinion that fact A or B is important. The more one goes into statistical variables and double-blinds and so forth, obviously the more "accurate" the whole thing becomes. But if human perceptions are valuable at all, I stick with my point that black women have the smallest percentage in lying, slanting, obfuscating, or anything else, and are the only ones with direct experience with both racism and sexism. A white man can only say what he's observed. A black man might reasonably be expected to be more likely to say "race is more important" and thereby gain points. A white woman could be expected to be just as self-centered. If a black woman says: "in a variety of circumstances, I and other black people were snubbed by white males and females" or "in a variety of circumstances, all the women in my circle were abused by black and white males" (or something of the like) I would listen closely. Not that they wouldn't have problems in perception as well, just that every other group has a self-interested axe to grind. A black woman's self interest will be in decreasing the overall pain in her life. Which does she think has caused more? Men, or White people? I think the answer would be as close to the truth as you're likely to get. Otherwise, don't we pretty much have to discount anything anyone has ever said about damned near anything, on the basis that either the supposed events were just their perception, or the criteria selected were chosen because someone perceived them as important? Upon what basis did anyone ever believe that women, or blacks, or anyone else were ever disadvantaged, other than individual experiences, or agreed-upon criteria? I see no reason that black women would be less reliable than white women, or than black men, and therefore having personal experience of both worlds, have something important to say.

Of course, we can simply discount all of it, and say that no one has ever been disadvantaged in any way about anything. Unless you can show me how advantages or disadvantages have ever been established on the basis of other than:
1) human experiences, collected and tabulated
2) data gathered and tabulated and considered "important" by human beings with human failings and prejudices...

I'll stand on this one. To be completely honest, I think there are folks out there who aren't comfortable with what the answer might be, and want to stay with their preconceived notions.

Steven Barnes said...

Oh, and by the way--remember that the bet isn't about the answer. The bet is about whether the answer changes much based upon income or education. THAT kinda interests me.

Argonautica said...

You're right, I was not discussing the bet itself, so my previous comment may not address your main point.

On the other hand, I'm not sure I really got my point across. My point was just because someone has perceived discrimination, that doesn't tell you the underlying motivation for that discrimination. If a black woman is, say, turned down for an apartment rental, there might be a number of reasons: because she is black, because she is a woman, maybe because she has kids, or maybe a poor credit report. She may perceive that it is based on gender when it is based on race or vice versa. It might be clear from the context, but then again it might not be and the victim has to make an assumption.

Again my point is not that her perceptions tells us nothing, but that the only (best? most objective? most scientifically valid?) way to try and separate the motivation behind the discrimination is to subject all 4 groups to the same situation.

I remember NPR ran a bit where they had someone call apartment ads using a "white-sounding" and a "black-sounding" voice. Not surprising that the white voice received substantially more responses. You do something like that with all 4 groups, and I'm sure someone somewhere has, and you can begin separating out the basis for the discrimination.

Steven Barnes said...

Sure. But when I asked people, and then asked them to explain, I had no problem believing that they had reason to take the positions they did.
1) a woman who chose gender over race: her husband expects her to be responsible for child care, in addition to working her job.
2) a woman who was mocked and abused by the white boys and girls in her elementary school chose race over gender.
3) Another who watched white women of lesser experience climbing the job ladder more quickly chose race over gender.

etc. Now, of course there might be other reasons for each of these (a husband who is handling three jobs, a black girl with a truely nasty personality, an incompetent woman who didn't deserve a raise) but those exact same possibilities, or similar ones, exist in every situation or context imaginable. Either we can never come to any absolute answers when it comes to human interactions (my vote) or, by the same process that we come to agree that, in general, women or blacks are disadvantaged I submit it would be possible to determine which is a more painful burden--and that those with both issues would be, by far, the best judges of what the truth is, and by what standards that truth should be judged. In a "four quadrant" field, they are the only ones without a vested interest in one answer or another. The natural human tendency is to place the blame for what is wrong in the world on someone else. For that reason I see two basic possibilities:
1) No one knows anything, really.
2) Black women come closer to knowing the truth of race versus gender than anyone else.

Frank said...

As if on queue, here's a CNN story

- Within minutes of posting a story on CNN's homepage called "Gender or race: Black women voters face tough choices in South Carolina," readers reacted quickly and angrily.

Many took umbrage at the story's suggestion that black women voters face "a unique, and most unexpected dilemma" about voting their race or their gender.

CNN received dozens of e-mails shortly after posting the story, which focuses largely on conversations about Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama that a CNN reporter observed at a hair salon in South Carolina whose customers are predominantly African-American.

The story states: "For these women, a unique, and most unexpected dilemma, presents itself: Should they vote their race, or should they vote their gender?"


Read the whole thing and click on the link to the original story

Dan Gambiera said...

Let's give Whoopi Goldberg the last word on this.

LaVeda H. Mason said...

I've been reading in my feedreader, and I came across this blog post on Black Girls Rule, which seems to answer your question:

http://blackgirlshaven.blogspot.com/2008/01/blameless-white-womanhood.html

Nancy Lebovitz said...

Here's the link for the article at blackgirlshaven about black and white women being judged by very different standards.

LadyJ said...

*sigh*

I'll raise my hand and out myself as one of those Black women who is forever asked the eternal question, "Which one is worse for you, race or gender?"

(I'll also add in that I'm a lesbian so I win the oppression trifecta!)

In all seriousness, I wish people would stop asking women like myself about which one makes the day harder and instead start looking at the intersectionality of them both.
There are some days when I know for a fact that I'm catching hell because I'm a woman however, I know it's overlaid with the fact that I am a Black woman living in the US with all the history that it entails.

I cannot and will not unhook one from the other, no matter what some folks would like me to do. To do so would be dishonest and would ask me to live as less than the person I was born to be.

And anyone who can fix their mouths to talk about how people perceive oppression is made of fail. That leads into accusations about folks making things up - "Oh, it wasn't that bad, was it?" or "Really, they didn't mean it, what happened to you wasn't about your race/gender. They're just being a jerk."

Mmm hmm, and them being a jerk still leaves me with a bad taste in my mouth and an itch to deal a slap.