Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Roker gets it right

Al Roker is calling for Don Imus to be fired over his "nappy-headed hos" comment. I'm no huge Al Roker fan (I don't dislike him, but I don't normally find him all that entertaining), but he's right on about Imus. As usual, I'm disappointed in the public reaction, as evidenced in many of the comments following Roker's commentary.

One comment that stands out was actually authored with good intentions (I think). The (white, female) author says Imus' comment was sexist, not racist, and that she's outraged that no one is focusing on the sexist part. While I agree that there is a huge, equally offensive misogynist element to his comment, one simply cannot dismiss the "nappy-headed" part as anything other than racist. And here's the nifty* thing: the comment, like most oppressive acts, doesn't have to be (and, in fact, isn't) only one or the other. The lines of power at play here are inextricably linked such that we can only really understand one thread by considering all of them together. These comments aren't racist or sexist. They're racist and sexist.

People experience multiple forms of oppression (unless, of course, they have the privilege of having been born white and male and monied), and the overall effect is not simply additive. Women of color don't just tack on the sexism they experience to the racism they experience. Lesbians don't compartmentalize the sexism they experience as women from the homophobia they experience on account of their queerness. Why? Because the effects of each brand of oppression are multiplicative, and the addition of multiple minority identities changes the equation exponentially. The experience of inhabiting a female body with brown skin is qualitatively different from the experience of inhabiting a male body with brown skin, and when you add being disabled (for example) to the mix, the overall experience doesn't simply absorb a stand-alone quantity of oppression resulting from disability. When interacting with this person, people don't see a disabled person. They see a brown, female, disabled person, and she is seen differently from a brown, queer, able-bodied male. Both experience racism, but their other identities intersect with and change that experience in important and multiple ways.

All of this is to say that you don't have to discount one form of oppression to legitimate another. In fact, if we are to have any understanding of the experiences of any form of oppression, we must consider the myriad ways that intersecting power lines complicate these issues. We can't free people from only one line of oppression, as the tangle of the others will pull them (us) down just as fast. We must understand all of the lines and how they work together and then liberate all people from all of them.

I don't know if this is exactly what Al Roker was going for, but kudos to him for starting the conversation.

*denotes sarcasm


jluw said...

I have to say that I was astounded by the number of ways that Imus was wrong in what he said. There were/are so many levels at which he over-stepped all boundaries that I was completely taken aback and, for once, speechless - at least for a little while. His "I am really a good guy" defense has holes, I would think.....

Amy said...

"*denotes sarcasm"

I just spit out my coffee.

Otherwise...I think your are nifty. And Imus is decidedly un-nifty.

Gender Blank said...

I think you're pretty damned nifty, too! How's Denver treating you? It's fucking snowing here. Again.