What are we doing?
I’m not the only feminist who has wondered why women can be so hard on one another. When even women in developed countries don’t get paid as much as their male counterparts, you’d think we could refrain from all the mean comments and gossip. Earlier this week, on NPR, I heard a story about the film #Blackmendream, by Shikeith Cathey (the NPR story is here). A piece of the story really stuck out to me:
The inspiration for #Blackmendream actually came two years ago, Shikeith says: “I posted a status on Facebook that said, ‘What do black men run from?’ ”
He was expecting answers that revolved around misconceptions of black manhood. But instead, he got a lot of negative stereotypes — mostly from African-American men and women.
When I think of my own experience as a white woman, it’s easy to observe and analyze the habits of at least some women. How couldn’t I? Women aren’t just looking at their mothers, sisters, and aunts. Though we’re notorious for it, we’re also not just looking at other women in magazines and movies. We’re also together a lot just because we’re female, whether we’re clustered together in an OB/GYN waiting room, or blow drying our hair in the ladies locker room at the gym.
But I don’t know that much about black men. As an adult, I haven’t been around very many black men, and I have had only a few black male friends. We’ve had some interesting, though admittedly somewhat uncomfortable conversations about race; and one thing I’ve heard from them is not only frustration with stereotypes, but frustration with those who they believe perpetuate stereotypes. I have heard one of my black friends describe another black man as a “n—er,” frustrated that the latter acted in a way that reflected badly upon all black men.
I have experienced the same feeling: frustration with other women who play the “weak female” card, or who purposely use their sexuality to gain favor with their bosses. Seeing these things is difficult. You almost feel you can’t blame men for believing negative stereotypes about women when you actually know women who embody those stereotypes. I wouldn’t go so far as to assume that black people are tempted to perceive the negative stereotypes imposed on them by whites in the same way, but I also wouldn’t be surprised to find that to be the case, judging from conversations I’ve had.
Where’s the solidarity?
But back to the NPR story. Mr. Cathey got a lot of negative stereotypes from other black men and women. Why? Of course I don’t know, but it’s an interesting trend, if you can call it that. Women marginalized by society not banding together to support each other… Black people marginalized by society not banding together to support each other… Latino immigrants marginalized by society not banding together to support each other (something I have personally observed, but won’t detail right now)…
Growing up, I heard of, I suppose it’s just another stereotype, called “the self-hating Jew.” Of all the Jewish people I have known, I can’t say I have known any that hated being Jewish, though I can say I knew several who didn’t really consider themselves anymore Jewish than I consider myself Portuguese—heritage is one thing, but an actual way of life is another. But when I think of other minority groups and women, I wonder if there isn’t some truth to the idea of “the self-hating Jew.” Just like some cold-hearted women might tell another one, “Your husband wouldn’t cheat if you kept yourself up better,” are there Jews who say to each other, “Maybe we would face less discrimination if we assimilated more?”
When I was in Navy boot camp, I was having a helluva time finish my swim qualification. One day, the Senior Chief of my division had all the people who were in remedial swim go await him in the laundry room for a private conversation. I’m not sure he even knew there was a white person in the group when he gave that order, but anyway, there I was, in the laundry room, receiving a speech. The speech was basically about Martin Luther King, Jr., and how it would be a shame if “you all,”—meaning my black counterparts, not really me—fulfilled a stereotype, failed to learn to swim, and were then unable to serve in the Navy. Looking back at it, I appreciate that that Senior Chief probably really wanted to help motivate these young people to “accelerate their lives,” to modify the Navy’s slogan of the time. But I wonder if he sympathized with the fact that a disproportionate number of black kids grow up in poverty, and their parents can’t just take them to the YMCA for swim lessons?
Anyway, I am trying to make the simple point that too often, groups of people facing common challenges, fail to stand in solidarity, instead blaming each other for the discrimination that’s really not their fault.
Solidarity is part of Catholic social teaching, and an idea that, honestly, should be part of all Christian social teaching. The idea is that Christians must stand together with those who suffer: the sick, the unborn, the elderly, the poor, the wrongfully accused, the imprisoned (even those who are guilty of crimes), the lonely, the terrorized, the hungry, the homeless. That means that with our words, actions, time, resources (yep, that includes money), and votes, Christians must fight for equality—even—perhaps especially, when it means giving up our own positions of privilege. Male Christians? Work for gender equality. White Christians? Work for racial equality. Rich Christians? Work for economic justice. Christians with crappy, expensive health insurance? Work for at least some health insurance for all. Christians who can swim? Teach someone else. Christians who know that torture is wrong? Speak up, like Matthew Vines did on Facebook yesterday. Christians who believe in the dignity of life? Treat everyone you meet with dignity, and pray and reflect on what that truly entails.
Solidarity as one great human race is one thing, and that’s the goal. But on the way, we much learn to stand united with members of our own families, and with members of every little group or demographic we happen to be part of. As a woman, I must help other women; and even when I think some of them are wrong, it is still my place to serve, not to judge. As a Christian, it is the same. As a Catholic, it is the same. As a student, it is the same. As a veteran, it is the same. Isn’t it the same for black men and for Mexican immigrants and for the LGBT community (a gay friend of mine has written about the same attitude of judgment and disunity among gay men) and for any other group? Every individual doesn’t have to agree on every little tenet of morality. Every family doesn’t have to live the same lifestyle. And we certainly shouldn’t retreat into segregation…
But we must all stop being so hard on people who are fighting the same battles we are.
Later, I hope to extend this idea to Christians in particular, as I have been troubled over the years by some Christians of one denomination having the idea that some other Christians of another denomination aren’t “really” Christians.