The difference between sexism and racism
One is acceptable; the other isn’t.
Imagine if the host of a popular TV show on dog training had made the following remarks:
“Black people are the only species that is wired different from the rest. They always apply affection before discipline. White people apply discipline then affection, so we’re more psychological than emotional. All animals follow dominant leaders; they don’t follow lovable leaders.”
He would probably be fired, don’t you think? But professional dog-trainer/fucktard Cesar Millan made precisely these remarks about women — substitute “woman” for “black people” in the paragraph above, re-conjugate the verbs as necessary, and voilá: the Cesar Millan Theory of Gender. Somehow I don’t think he’s going to lose his job. He’s just a crazy colorful Latino, right?
Before I type anything further can I list a few things that "[sexism] is acceptable; [racism] isn't" does not equal? Because I think it's going to come in handy later. "Sexism is acceptable; racism isn't" does not equal:
I do think Dr. Socks' point could have been made better in two ways, because I am presumptuous like that:
First, by not boiling it down to "this is the difference." That's a little too essentialist even for me.
Second, that word "acceptable:" Acceptable to whom? To how many? In which contexts? What constitutes "acceptance?" Is it possible or likely that white people might judge whether an event is "accepted" or "tolerated" differently than people of color, based on differing experiences and backgrounds?
I may be misreading the whole post, but it seems to me this is a question of thresholds of acceptability, and if that expression seems unnecessarily word-wonky I apologize. But the problems with putting the Dog Whisperer's quote into an acceptable/not acceptable binary are many, not least of which is that those whom racism targets are naturally going to object to any white person implying that racism is more unacceptable--and no wonder, because the further implication of that is, the racism people of color experience and see tolerated, excused, defended, or minimized by whites isn't, in fact, tolerated or hell, maybe even in existence at all.
People don't like it when you imply that their experiences either didn't happen, or didn't generate the response they saw generated, and whether you meant to imply that at all doesn't matter, because "racism is less acceptable than sexism" IS a valid inference to take from "sexism is acceptable; racism isn't." Or, what Tia said yesterday:
So especially on occasions when you get a basically uniform chorus saying they experience some aspect of society as harmful, and your response is that it is not important, you're wrong, and you're being a dick. If you think it might be a little important, but not quite as important as we say it is, you’re still wrong.
I do not mean to imply that Dr. Socks is saying racism isn't important (I covered that above, right? See, I knew that would come in handy), but rather that if several bloggers of color object to your phrasing, it might be that the problem is your phrasing.
I said "thresholds of acceptability," but maybe that phrase is no good, either. Here, though, is what I mean by it: I think sexism has a higher acceptability threshold only in that public figures can afford to be more overt when making sexist remarks than they can when making racist remarks. The level of subterfuge and verbal camouflage needed to mask their intentions, correspondingly, is lower. Thus, a host of a popular television program can say women are a different species and not lose his job. Meanwhile, Trent Lott couldn't even get Republicans to sanction his remarks at Strom Thurmond's birthday:
One of the great patriotic emotions of our time, it seems to me, is to be eager that everyone in our country come to feel as secure and respected as everyone else. Part of that--just a small part but a meaningful one--means no speaking in racial code words by political, cultural or religious leaders. Period. Or anyone else if that's possible.
I believe that Trent Lott spoke at the Thurmond birthday party in racial code words. And a man who does that should not, half a century into the modern movements for civil rights, be allowed to continue as the face of a major political party in politics.
What follows from that, however, is that not only does racism having a lower acceptability threshold not diminish the problem of racism, it in fact positions racism as the more insidious problem, one tougher to fight precisely because it is no longer as overt. Barring "an end to racism" as a choice, I do not know what people of color would prefer: An outright, slur-using racist, or a racist who covers her racism in so-called politically correct language. I do know, again barring "an end to it" as an option, that I personally prefer my sexists up front and in my face. I'd rather be called a bitch than be told I "seem unusually angry;" I'd rather be told my sex can't think logically than be told I'm "being irrational;" I'd rather be labeled a feminazi than be told I'm "making too much of the issue;" etc.
If I have to deal with sexism, and apparently I do, I would rather dispense with the fucking code words. If I have to unearth and examine and explain the ideas that underlie and form the basis of someone's sexism, that wastes my time (here you should recall that I am very lazy). If someone tells me women are a different species, though, I can just go, "Right whatever, but maybe you should check your taxonomy, asshole." See how much more efficient that was?
Feminists can strive to make sexism less acceptable in the mainstream, but I don't know that doing so will make its eradication any easier to achieve. If anything I think that's when it's going to get worse, not better. If there's going to be any comparison and contrast between racism and sexism--and I kind of wish there weren't, because--oh hey look, it's Tia again:
Do not draw up a bunch of hierarchies about which form of oppression is worse than which other. When you do this, you’re not responding to a claim that what we experience is the worst thing ever; you just show up and start talking about why what the women say they experience is not as big of a deal as X, Y, or Z.
--but if the discussion must be had anyway, it ought to be HAD, not cut off at the root with "check your privilege." What Violet's trying to say might be coming from privilege and it might not. Maybe it could have been worded better and maybe it was worded exactly as she intended. But even if she's saying it is easier to be overtly sexist in our society, that's not really good news for anybody, least of all women of color, because if the fight against racism has been any example, it's only going to get tougher to eliminate once it goes underground. So for every Trent-Lott-resignation equivalent, there are going to be, depend upon it, hundreds of thousands of was-it-or-wasn't-it incidences of veiled sexism that have to be unpacked before they can even be confronted. And if anyone can somehow get "she's minimizing the problem of racism!" from that, well then I give up.