Friday, September 3, 2010

The N-word vs. the B-word.

At the height of the 2008 presidential elections, a recurring debate I came across on many of my bookmarked, tongue-in-cheek, Huffington Post-esque political blogs was the pressing question of whether or not this country was more racist, aka if you were anti-Obama, or more sexist, aka if you were anti-Clinton. I began contemplating this ad nauseum. That contemplation bled into my everyday observations and resulted in me being hyper-aware of how I reacted to comments that may have been tinged with covert (or overt) racism or sexism.

I noticed when I had blood-curdling moments of anger if a racist slur was used in casual conversation, if white privilege was apparent when people spoke to me, or if someone was just blatantly ignorant about my culture, without any desire or genuine curiosity to learn or care. Then I made note of every instance where male chauvinistic behavior was displayed amongst my male friends – whether it was completely in good fun or meant remotely seriously, if obviously misogynistic males were making inappropriate comments about my skirt, my shoes, or my makeup. With our law school’s OCI program in full swing, the best example I can conjure up to succinctly articulate all of this was this: if an objectively attractive male friend of mine was hired over a Plain-Jane looking girlfriend of mine, I would not be as offended. If that same male friend was an Anglo-Saxon white guy and the girl was of Middle Eastern descent . . . it would garner a much more passionate reaction from me.

The general consensus that seems to be out there is that racism is more offensive than sexism. But if so, the pressing question is: why?

Both race and gender are stemmed with their respectively oppressive history. Both aspects are pressing issues in this day and age still, because they are rooted in serious issues of inequality and disproportionate justice in the way different people are treated because of their anatomical structure or because of their ethnic makeup. If you call someone Black the N-word or an Asian person “Oriental,” you are essentially dehumanizing them, marking them as inferior to the rest of humanity, and namely you. There is no doubt about the fact that racism is wrong. Because at the very core of it, the injustice lies in the fact that they are being viewed as an unequal based on an inherent quality of theirs.

But, the same is definitely said about sexism. When you call a female the B-word, you’re essentially chalking them up to the same level as a dog. In other words, the word is, by definition, dehumanizing as well. When males instinctively assume they have a one-up over a female when it comes to applying for jobs, schmoozing at the bar with a female bartender, or in offering to help move a heavy box for a girl in a way that suggests that you instantly assume they don’t want to, on top of being incapable of such, and not just because of their biological makeup that lends to a more fragile bone structure and/or physical build. The latter is often not even really considered so much as the whole “damsel-in-distress” image conjured up from the get-go when it comes to certain males.

In all of the situations described above, and if you brought them up with me hypothetically, I would obviously adamantly agree that they are all offensive to me, as a female of color. But I know that realistically, if they were to play out, the racist scenarios would speak to me much more personally. Why is this? Does societal influence or the fact that sexism is a much more universally accepted prejudice have anything to do with it? Are the radical feminists working on what is a dulled-out injustice that is tapering off or just falling by the wayside? Or is it something else altogether than I’m missing?


gtg263r said...

I think the qualitative difference in the b-word v. the n-word (sexism v. racism) is one of degree. Yes, both the n-word and the b-word seek to dehumanize, but I think racism and its historical consequences lead to much more extreme circumstances.

This is not to downplay sexism or get into a futile match of who has it worse - women or ethnic minorities. However, I cannot think of any particular example where women have been completely and systematically subjugated by an entire society (e.g., African-Americans and slaves) or have been the objective of systematic termination (e.g., jews and the holocaust).

Regarding the subjugation point, one may point to female genital mutilation - which is a valid point. The line is fuzzy, but for me anyway, the difference lies in the degree of extremity that the racism or sexism manifests.

2elle said...

I think sometimes too sexism can be a lot more subtle than racism. Sometimes it's under the guise of being "protective" or "helpful" like in your box example. Other times, someone will claim that their sexist comment was a joke when they see how angry a woman gets... especially in public to save face. Like the previous comment stated, I think the historical consequences make it so that it's much harder to pretend and convince people that a racist comment was a joke.

Dusty said...

To further this discussion, the debate around language reclamation happens with the B word, as it has often happened with the N word, and as well with queer people reclaiming "queer" and other minorities. In queer culture, many femme gender identified folks are reclaiming the B word when they choose to use it as a self-identity. Similar to language reclamation for other minority groups, there has been heated divisions in the community about the use of the B word as an empowered self identity.