Because, feminism. And because I’m not going to eat you no matter what happens.
I have something in common with black men, which might impel some to yell, “I have NOTHING in common with YOU!”
But here it is: We’re both members of privileged and non-privileged groups.
A black man has male privilege; I’ve got white privilege.
I won’t debate which is more powerful; it differs under the circumstances. White privilege protects me from cops but did nothing for 70% of Bill Cosby’s rape victims.
Oh yeah, speaking of rape, let’s talk about the Mutually Assured Destruction black men and I hold over each other: They have the power to rape and kill me, by virtue of being male, and with my superpower I can have them arrested for existing, maybe even killed with a single 911 call.
It puts me in a unique position to say to another disadvantaged group of nevertheless privilege-blinded humans, “Sometimes you see ‘microaggressions’ where there aren’t any.” OMG I live in such a patriarchy-drenched world!
Reason #1 why I don’t always believe stories of racial microaggressions: Imaginary feminist microaggressions. Women over-interpret sometimes too.
The North American world I live in, as a woman, is one still emerging from the shackles of true patriarchal structure, one set up by men, for men, to serve men. White ones.
The last fifty years have been a whirlwind of feminist change.
In the America I was born into, whatever problems women face now were way worse back then. You could legally rape your wife. Hell, it was still sort-of okay to rape a stranger. A woman needed a husband to get a credit card or a father to co-sign a lease for an apartment, assuming he allowed her to get one, assuming she could find a landlord who’d rent to a single woman who might have SEX EVERYWHERE!!!
Yet some feminists today live in a way more patriarchal world than I do. Wealth/education privilege offers them the opportunity to learn just how oppressed they never knew they were.
‘Patriarchy’ in road signs.
Minor advances made upon them (NOT full-out sexual aggression).
Some women come from real patriarchal lives, be it an ethnic, religious or social culture. Others got ‘woke’, or something.
Maybe I’m still asleep. Or maybe others hallucinate more than I.
Just search Medium on ‘patriarchy’ to find some of the most ridiculous complaints ever. I won’t mention any article or author. I don’t like the idea of picking fights or ‘calling people out’ unless they say something egregiously stupid. And recent.
These are the ones for whom I roll my eyes when they go on about ‘sexist microaggressions’. There are genuine ones, and then there are the manufactured ‘microaggressions’ that live between impressionable ears. Many of these ‘microaggressions’ are hardly gender-specific, since everyone has to deal with them.
There’s patriarchy, and then there’s the Patriarchy Monster.
Writing while white
If you believe the current news channel/social media discourse, everything white people do is a microaggression, connected to ‘White Supremacy’, The Patriarchy’s roommate.
Don’t share memes, white people. Don’t speak out against George Floyd. March in the streets until you drop from heat exhaustion or you’re not a real ally.
Don’t ask black people how they’re doing. Don’t support us, that’s virtual signalling. Don’t not support us, that’s racism.
The George Floyd straw-that-broke-the-camel’s-back, the Black Lives Matter protests, and the explosion of anger in the bone-dry tinderbox of American patience living resentfully in lockdown behind face masks has made everyone a lot more sensitive to racial injustice, fueled by in-your-face-on-the-news violence against black people.
But also, hypersensitivity to slight rather than real injury is through the roof too.
Buddhist psychology teaches us about ‘wrong perceptions’, based on the stories we tell ourselves about how the world works filtered through our own unique, biased perspectives. It leads us to misjudge others and ‘mindread’, thinking we know what they think, what they value, who they are as people.
Most of all, what they might think about me, the most important person in the universe for everyone.
Here’s an example of what a black guy might have suspected was a racial ‘microaggression’ when I was, in fact, in a hurry.
A few months ago I was in a pre-pandemic grocery store where I don’t often shop. As usual, I was preoccupied, not paying attention.
I grew annoyed when I couldn’t find something. I looked around to ask the nearest shelf stocker, turning to find someone in the black-shirt-and-pants uniform of this store’s employees. “Excuse me, can you tell me where I might find thus-and-such?” As he turned I realized his shirt didn’t have a name tag. He was black.
“I don’t work here,” he said, stalking away.
Oh shit, I thought, he thinks I assumed he worked there because he’s black. Fact was, I didn’t see skin, I saw clothes. I hadn’t taken the time to check for a name tag before I opened my mouth. I’ve made this oopsie before, mistaking red-shirted white people for Target salescritters.
It wasn’t a microaggression, just not paying attention. I don’t know if he took it as such but I wouldn’t be surprised if he did.
I know racial microaggressions are real, just as sexist ones are, but we’re not always right about it. Sometimes we layer our interpretations on others without knowing (or being able to know, since we can’t mindread) the facts.
‘Microaggressions’ I’ve committed I don’t think are microaggressions:
Asking someone where they’re from (I don’t do this anymore now that it’s a cardinal sin). I’m an American-now-dual-citizen living in immigrant-packed Toronto. It used to be a great conversation starter, bonding over our shared experiences of leaving the mother country and starting a new life elsewhere. We still do that, but you have to dance around it more so no one is a ‘racist’.
Pointing out we all share 99% of our DNA with each other. The fuss we make about racial differences is skin-deep. Identity politics are as stupid and superficial as racism, the left’s way of dividing the world into groups to increase the number of ‘thems’ while decreasing the number of those one considers ‘us’. Pretty soon, it won’t be Us vs Them, it’ll be You vs Everyone. Then I expect society will break down and we’ll all start eating each other because, as every one of us will know, everyone besides me is a total animal, therefore my inferior.
So yes, at some point we have to acknowledge All Lives Matter. Many of the abuses and issues Black Lives Matter confronts affect far more than just black people, and pretending only Black Lives Matter rejects a huge amount of potential allies, including those on the right who haven’t yet ‘woke’ to the reality they’re voting for those abuses not just for ‘others’ but for themselves. But that’s a subject of a future article. For now, rock on with the BLM protests, a great start to ending police brutality for all of us. We can talk about economic inequality and how multicolored the 99% is another day.
Calling out black racism. I can point out to deniers it exists even as I acknowledge white racism is the far bigger crisis. I’ve called white racism a festering cancerous tumor, noting you have to kill all the post-surgery residual cancer cells or it comes roaring back. Just because POC racism isn’t anywhere close as bad as white racism doesn’t mean it’s any less toxic. The cancer patient feels a lot better after surgery, too, but she’s not out of the woods until all the cancer is destroyed.
‘S/he said hi to the white guy but not me.’ ‘She tucked her purse under her arm because she thinks I’m going to steal it.’ ‘She walked ahead of me getting on the bus even though I was there first.’ See: Not paying attention because we’re all wrapped up in our own self-obsessed lives. It’s not always about you, you, you.
Racial, feminist, and other ‘microaggressions’ look an awful lot like ‘not paying attention’ and ‘common rudeness.’
Calling it a ‘microaggression’ without real justification is just layering your interpretation on it.
I understand there are real aggressions and microaggressions black people are subjected to, but maybe not relentlessly. I’m not sure every day contains a subtle-or-not slur against one’s personhood or citizenship. I receive male aggressions and microaggressions too, but not daily. Maybe it’s because of where I live. Or because I’m older, except I didn’t get it much when I was a young belly dancer, either. Maybe I’m not paying attention because I’m as wrapped up in my life as you are. Maybe I notice age discrimination now more than gender discrimination.
We all get it wrong sometimes. None of us are ‘psychicpaths’.
When you’re followed in a store, when you’re pulled over for no good reason, when people make assumptions about you based on your skin color (like, assuming you’re racist because you’re white, ar ar), when people deny racism even exists, or white privilege, or male privilege, asking why you have to be so loud and opinionated (women can relate!), not being able to hail a cab…yes, those are microaggressions, maybe even macroaggressions.
Then there are the ones you make up when you’re having a bad day, or realize you live in a country hell-bent on losing. A country almost suicidal in its collective approach to a pandemic.
I analyze the false narratives we tell ourselves as we interact with others, as I challenge my own Miss Cleo psychic interpretations of what others think about me. The truth? They mostly don’t think about me at all, since I’m not me.
I don’t deny the heightened danger for blacks and other POC in the Ignited States of AmeriKKKa. I keep in mind that I left fifteen years ago. I’m horrified at the way the country has degenerated, thanks to the right and the about-as-divisive left. It’s why I’m closer to the Murky Middle.
Who’s really holding this country back? A demented old racist in the Whites-Only House or a disunited collective effort? Photo by Barbara Rosner on Flickr
Sometimes we hold ourselves back
As a woman in a sexist society, I know first-hand the obstacles of systemic sexism. But still. I also see women, especially educated ones, hold themselves back. They don’t stand up for themselves enough. They’re afraid to challenge themselves. They blame others rather than push back. They make excuses.
As I encourage them to stop viewing themselves through the victimhood lens, which encourages weakness, I have to challenge my own exaggerated sense of victimhood as I forge a new way to support myself in an upside-down high unemployment new world.
I see privileged POC doing the exact same things overprivileged white women are doing. It serves real white supremacists and patriarchs quite well, thankyoverymuch.
The white female experience isn’t the same as blacks’, or even the black female experience, but we do share historical disadvantage in a century now with far more opportunities for all, regardless of what the naysayers and doomsayers claim.
It doesn’t mean we’ll all succeed, and North America isn’t meritocratic. But it’s a helluva lot better than it was. If you can describe your Black Experience or struggles with The Patriarchy in academic race and gender theory jargonbabble, you’re in a much better position to help yourself than your grandparents were. We hold ourselves back by refusing to challenge the narratives in our heads, or asking, ‘Is what I believe really true?’
So you might see an eye-roll when it sounds like you’re bitching about another invented ‘microaggression’.
Hey, victim feminists find me annoying too.
This originally appeared on Medium in July 2020.