The Quality of Isms

In looking at racism and sexism we can outline several things in which to think about. First, what does it mean to be a racist or a sexist? Second, what are the reasons or background for being racist or sexist? Third what are possible similarities, differences, and issues between sexism and racism? Further we can look at the current issues of sexism and racism as we deal with them today. Such as minority groups and feminist groups and their practices of exclusion or correction programs like affirmative action. Finally we can ask the questions of why it is so important to rid ourselves of racism and sexism and what possible ways we can do so.

Racism is the view that ones race, particularly your own, makes one superior than another while sexism is the view that ones gender, particularly your own, makes one superior to the other. For example men are seen to be more independent, capable, and powerful than woman. Whites are also seen this way against those of color. The further removed one is from what is considered the normal the more inferior you are.

Jean-Paul Sartre in his description of the anti-Semite asserted that "[if] the Jew did not exist, the anti-Semite would invent him." Further explaining that the anti-Semite chooses to hate because this passion fills him when otherwise we would be empty (338-339). Others such as Marilyn Frye might describe racism less insidiously as she does sexism, "cultural and economic structures which create and enforce elaborate and rigid patterns..." (413). Perhaps it depends on different people and circumstances, it can be one or the other or even a little of both.

In The Erasure of Black Woman Elizabeth V. Spelman argues against the ideas that sexism is more fundamental than racism, that if you get rid of sexism all racism would be gone, and that sexism is much harder to eradicate. My argument would be that sexism is the most pervasive, while perhaps sexism is not the most fundamental, sexism accounts for at least half the population, racism can account for far less. Sexism occurs to those even who would be oppressors, such as the white woman. Spelman argues that you can't equate a black woman's experience of sexism with a white woman's experience, and that the black woman experiences oppression uniquely different from of the black man.

In describing her participation with feminist groups Bell Hooks "found that white woman adopted a condescending attitude towards me and other non-white participants" (363). Shelby Steele argues that minority groups and feminist groups have forgotten the objectives that called for their existence in the first place. In direct opposition of the integration sought in the mid-sixties they sought sovereignty and collective entitlements. Steele describes collective entitlements as "always undemocratic" and inherently exclusive (365 - 369). Both Michael Lind and Shelby Steele had problems with racial preference policies or programs such as affirmative action. Michael Lind described it as a "tokenism embodied in racial preference and multiculturalism" (374). Shelby Steele explained that affirmative action "has very little real impact on the employment and advancement of blacks" (366).

Shelby Steele described the reasons for getting rid of racism and I would assert sexism when she wrote, "[i]ntegration had little to do with merely rubbing shoulders with white people... [i]t was about the right to go absolutely anywhere white people could go... [t]o be anywhere they could be and do anything they could do [is] the point" (367). How can we get rid of sexism or racism? We can't do it by policing people's minds, locking them up for merely thinking sexist or racist thoughts. It is not the role of government to change public opinion. I would even assert that people have a right to think anyway they want. We can however begin to rid sexism and racism through education. Even now the next generation has a harder time understanding their parents racisms. It may not be as quick as many would want it but it can be done slowly by ensuring as Shelby Steele described it as "the inclusion of all citizens into the same sphere of rights, the same range of opportunities and possibilities" (369).

posted by dharh 11:45 AM Aug 3rd, 2007

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