Saturday, August 1, 2009

Regarding "reverse racism" and the establishment of demographically distinct membership organizations

I wrote this in response to an interesting iReport on CNN that had prompted quite a few posters to raise that common complaint of racism/prejudice against membership organizations whose name indicates the demographic bulk of membership (e.g., NAACP, NOW etc.). In my post, I mention "white men" as a group simply because it is a pragmatic necessity of explaining the situation, and not because of anything intrinsic to white men. In another time and place, any group might play the role that in our recent history happens to have been played by men who were white.

I don't share many posters' views of "reverse racism," as it regards membership- and advocacy-groups like the NAACP. Although I understand from these posters' perspective what they are getting at, and I actually believe most such people are not trying to be disingenuous, I disagree. A lot.

The thing is, by default, most groups just are the "white guys' group." I mean, white guys had, what, 145-years in America to give women the vote, for example, but they didn't do it. Forget why for the moment; they just never did it. It required a bunch of women to get together, and self-organize as women, rather than people, to claim their rights.

Similarly, the people who comprised the Boards of every, single pre-gender/race-desegregation American university, at any moment could have decided to stop behaving so shamefully and admit blacks, women, Asians etc. But they just didn't. And as it happened, they were white guys. It required groups with "women" or "black" in their names to make higher education a legal option for their members.

With few exceptions, this is the way it works in our country. People lacking rights must agitate for their rights. By and large, they will not get them by waiting for people in power to correct wrongs out of a sense of righteousness or civic or moral obligation. It simply has been fact that the folks in a position of power to change things have been white men, and that in almost every case, they have not bothered to do the right thing until the disenfranchised/lacking-rights groups (be it black, women, Asian, gay, handicapped, whatever) have organized themselves into self-identifying advocacy groups to agitate for change.

Given our history, and the fact that only when these groups were formed did real change happen, it is naive to expect the demographics that formed the groups to now disband the groups. I mean, today's white woman makes 78-cents on the dollar for the same work, performed by a similarly-qualified white man, and for black women, it's even grimmer. This has been going on forever. It's just not right. But almost all major corporations continue to be owned and run by people who for better or worse are white men, and these same people, regardless of motivation, are not interested in proactively ensuring equality. So, unfortunately, we continue to need women's groups, black groups, Hispanic groups, gay groups etc. etc.

What if all these groups called "Black such-and-such" just took the "Black" out of their name, but did not change the composition of their membership? I doubt that would make it a ton better for the people who are opposed to such groups. Yet for tens of millions of Americans, this is what we see when we look at the Senate, the Congress, the Supreme Court, the CEOs of all the car companies, the CEOs of all the big banks, the White House etc. etc. We see groups that appear to be not only restricted membership groups, but restricted membership groups of the greatest power, and the membership in these groups is generally white and male.

Are the women all supposed to be just bowled over that we now have zero women presidents ever (!!!) of our country, and one black president? Are black Americans supposed to feel awesome about having 0 or 1 black senator? Are Hispanics supposed to be brimming with a feeling of equality because 1 Hispanic ever is going to the Supreme Court after basically being harangued for being proud of her heritage (and by the same old white guys that apologized in tears to the white, male Supreme Court nominee who was "unjustly" questioned for having been an activist against admitting intellectually qualified women to Princeton while he was himself enjoyed the privilege of studying there!)?

In reality, it is people who happened to be white and male who have taught everyone (including, frankly, the millions of progressive white males who agree with what I am saying) the lesson that if you want to be treated equally, you need to band together with others in your demographic, and make an enormous stink about it or you will be swept under the carpet.

If a time comes when people proactively intervene on one another's behalf, across the board, regardless of gender, race, class, etc., and when nobody needs to ask for equal treatment in order to receive equal treatment, then these "women's goups" and "black groups" and all the rest will likely fade away. But to expect women and minorities to lead the way by dissolving their groups first, and then enjoying the ensuing white, male love is a bit rich.

No comments:

Post a Comment