Sexism, Chivalry, and POC communities
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So one of the things that’s been working my nerves this election cycle has been the rush to paint every single bit of language uttered by Obama that could be gendered as proof of his being sexist. The furor over the word periodically was wacky enough (as was the hype over him saying the claws are coming out) but I think Sweetie-gate has officially taken the cake. Was it the brightest thing to say? No. But, that doesn’t necessarily mean it was sexist. Like a lot of MOC Obama has been raised to be very polite to women. Almost ridiculously so. Can you guess why? It’s very simple. He’s a MOC and women (especially white women) are being raised to perceive him as a threat. I can’t tell you the number of time black male friends of mine have shifted their body language so as to be perceived as non-threatening even though they weren’t being threatening in the first damned place. Or the the number of times black men I didn’t know have felt the need to tell me they weren’t a threat if I glanced at them as I was walking alone at night. Hell, the number of comments I’ve gotten about my husband “letting” me walk alone at night from other MOC who have clearly been raised the same way he was to think that protecting women is part and parcel of being a man is a story in and of itself.
My husband and his brothers have all been taught a specific way to interact with women. Now that lesson comes from a few places. Some of it is just what’s referred to as good home training, namely that you’re supposed to be polite to women at all times, you’re not supposed to intimidate them with the difference in size or make them think they’re unsafe in your presence. If someone else is making a woman feel unsafe then you’re supposed to step up and put a stop to that behavior. You open her door, you pay for dinner, and you generally follow the script that says that even though you know she’s strong and can take care of herself, you’re showing her respect by being willing to take care of her. Our communities tend to run off a paradigm where the only men that are likely to show us respect and engage in chivalry are MOC. We’re not objecting to it in the same way that white women might because we get enough of being ignored, treated like one of the guys, or disrespected by men outside of our communities, and by the knuckleheads inside our communities. It’s nice to know that I don’t have to deal with that crap at home and it’s exceptionally nice to be treated like a princess when the rest of the world wants to treat me like a pack mule. Do we always agree about his attitude? No. But, I know he doesn’t think I’m less than he is or incapable of taking care of myself so much as he is trying to show me love and respect in the way that he knows best and I love him for that effort.
Some of that aforementioned training is an acknowledgment that MOC (particularly black men) have gone to jail or been lynched behind looking at a white woman the wrong way. My sons are being raised to engage in the same behaviors because I want to protect them from being a statistic. Look up the Ryan Harris case if you’re wondering what can happen to young MOC that the police decide are predators despite all evidence to the contrary. There’s this perception of black men in particular (though it extends to other MOC) that they’re sexual predators at all times. Look at the reaction to hip-hop as though it was the first genre of music with songs bearing misogynistic lyrics to hit the airwaves. Apparently people have forgotten rock and roll, heavy metal, and country music’s contributions to the sexism that is part and parcel of our society. Not to mention the reality that hip hop ≠ sexist any more than every country song is sexist. Somehow sexism is a major problem when MOC are engaging in it even though quite often according to internal cultural standards they aren’t being sexist or their “crime” isn’t particularly egregious. It’s not really a surprise of course. After all it’s par for the course for imperialistic cultures to refuse to consider the validity of other cultural norms or to recognize that their standards are not necessarily the best option. I’ve got no problem with Obama being called out for engaging in overtly sexist behavior (which has yet to happen) but this rush to condemn him for engaging in behavior that is already pretty subjective (periodically as sexism? really?) while ignoring the reality of life as a MOC in America is ridiculous.
Karnythia is a writer, a historian, and occasionally a loud mouth. In between raising hell and raising kids she usually manages to find time to contemplate the meaning of life as a black woman in America. Her posts on any topic can be found at her Livejournal.