In the weeks I’ve been neglecting this blog, putting my life back together, there have been many intriguing entries on my favorites. I’ve posted the odd comment, but now finally have time to ponder a little more deeply, and two of them are linked in my mind: the first is CC’s post about the over-the-top definitions of racism used by the Seattle Public Schools The ChaliceBlog: New definitions of racism , and the second is The Happy Feminist’s surprise that the word “feminist” has negative connotations MORE STRAY THOUGHTS ON THE F-WORD
I think there two phenomena at work here. The first is the natural law that any organization takes on a life of its own, independent of its founders and purposes, and fights for life like a living thing. Conservatives will immediately think of government programs, and they’d be right, but it’s also true for private organizations. For example, the March of Dimes was created for the sole purpose of eliminating Polio; and then one day (much to their surprise) it was in fact cured- so did they disband? No, they just changed their mission statement and moved on. The second phenomenon is that activists must be unreasonable extremists- so that when people meet them halfway, they’ll have gotten what they really wanted.
When these two principals are combined in a political organization, amazing things happen. Organizations created to win women the vote, or title nine programs, etc., actually succeeded, but refused to disband... simultaneously, as society became closer to reasonable on women’s issues, the activists had to go farther and farther out on their extreme limb to maintain their distance. So when a modern young woman avoids the word “feminist” because the word means to her a man-hating communist lesbian, she has some reason to think so- that’s what some modern feminist writing sounds like to young ears. This is also how irrational writing such as the Seattle Public Schools definitions of racism came about; having won so much for race equality and relations, they have to reach farther and farther out into the ozone to try and put white hoods on people who are not in fact racist. This phenomenon is extremely damaging to all of society, but the greatest damage is being done to young African Americans.
For example, defining one form is English as standard is NOT racism. Standard English is not defined by racist white Americans, it is defined by WORLD standards. English is the lingua franca of the entire world; when Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, Imperial Japan and the USSR formed their pact to conquer the world, the conferences were held in English. When a Bolivian airliner requests permission to land in Cambodia, the request is made in English. When a Lithuanian merchant sells his line of products to stores in Argentina, the negotiations were most likely conducted in English. When a German tourist wanted information from a Parisian tour guide, the questions and answers were in English- I was there, I heard. The English that was spoken in every example above was “standard” English- there is no place on Earth outside of the hood where a person speaking only Ebonics can get a decent job, and telling the kids otherwise is only crippling their chances. Telling them that for an English teacher to correct their English is racist only fills their hearts with hatred no reason.
Telling the children that what whites have is a result of white privilege is even more damaging. More so both because it makes them resent the hard work all kids have to do to get past entry level, and therefore hate all whites whom they believe didn’t have to work for it, and because most whites simply stop listening once you start spouting that nonsense. Talking about white privilege might make sense to legacy brats, but for those of us who grew up in poverty it just sounds like bitter whining and an unwillingness to work. 100 million white Americans are working their rear ends off and living one paycheck away from homelessness... if you tell them that white privilege exists, but is invisible to whites, I’m sure they’d agree- at least about the “invisible” part.
You cannot “end” racism, not while human beings remain frail mortals. But you can makes sure the law is colorblind, and this has largely been done. Certainly, we can work harder at enforcement, but the EEOC does exist. We can make racism socially unacceptable- and this has largely been done; nothing will ruin a person in the public eye faster than a charge of racism.
Fact: while racism and sexism have not been, and will never be eliminated, neither one is the determining factor in success any more. Nothing matters more than individual effort and character. It is no longer 1964- for God’s sake, the best rapper in the world is white, the best golfer is black, and the leading candidate for President is a woman Senator. Two of the last three Secretaries of State have been female, and two of them black.