The assumption of guilt
Warning: May grow into
By Debra J. Dickerson
My unapologetic, "bite me" feminism was formed as I grew up in the fundamentalist Christian black working class, where I was supposed to be seen working and not heard questioning. I'm still pissed off about it. However much racism a black man encountered in the outside world, he always had his women folk to come home to and lord over, however benignly he might choose to do so.
When I was 16 and he was 12, my brother and I had the same curfew. My father actually punished him the few times he helped us girls, so we didn't have the heart to keep making him help. When we feminists go on about institutionalized sexism, this is what we mean; thanks, Dad, for making me complicit in my own subjugation. There's nothing lower than a black woman who keeps a dirty house or neglects her kids (except a lesbian), but a happily unemployed black man shuffling between his mama's, his big mama's and his latest girlfriend's house?
So what to do with this son of mine? How to love him? How to raise him? How to mold him into a manly man but not a bruiser? And most of all, how not to interpret his every troubling move (e.g., refusing to wait to be called on, hitting a classmate who was uninterested in being his girlfriend, torturing his little sister) as a harbinger of a male chauvinist pig in the making?
So why no patience with, or confidence in, my son?
I see now that it's my anger, however justified, and not my feminism, that clouds this particular issue. There's no inherent difference between either my daughter or my son's interrupting class, hitting classmates, abusing the weak. The problem is my having read gender in, making it worse for a boy, my boy, any boy, to do those things. If I stay focused in the now and in transcendent principles -- pacifism except in self-defense or in protection of others, good citizenship, empathy, tolerance, fairness, responsibility -- I can stay focused on my kids' actual needs and not their amorphous future potential to be either victim or victimizer. My goal is to raise two feminists too smart and too honest to either accept or perpetuate gender-based unfairness. Now I have a story to tell them about how easy it is to fall into those traps.
Here's a test: pretend for a second that this was a black man writing about if his daughter would turn into a boy crazy whore at 16 and get pregnant. Would ANYONE have published it?
Ok, here's the point I want to make. Dickerson has a right to be angry at her shitty, repressive childhood. She has a right to rail against the black male patriarchy. Because it's bullshit.
Despite what some people believe, I have no problem calling out black men, or any men, for their negative behavior.
But she is placing that on her son. And that's a problem.
While she is giving her daughter a pass on potential future negative behavior, like turning materialistic and boy crazy, she is openly stating that she fears her son will embrace negative images of women.
What people will read is that she doesn't trust her son. That may not be her intention, but that is the end result. She doesn't seem to realize what that means, but I will try to explain it as best I can.
In general, men are distrusted in the society, even by other men. When you are black, this is multiplied hundreds of times. No matter what her son chooses to do with his life, from hair dresser to Army officer, he will be asked to prove his character every day, from catching a cab to interacting with police. They will question his intelligence, ethics and morals as a matter of course. Make assumptions about his character that they do not make about other people.
When you are a black or latino male, you are suspect. No matter what job you hold, there is always the fear that you will bring crime and violence with you by your presence. And this starts in childhood. She's worried about how he'll treat women, she should worry how people will treat him. Why? Because the distrust starts early. By junior high, if he was friendly with white girls, some parents will want to end those friendships, "because". The because is that they don't want their daughter impregnated by a black boy at 14.
When he goes into stores, the clerks and security will look to see if he is stealing anything.
The police may stop him on the street randomly.
Any of these encounters may end with arrest, jail and in some cases, death.
It isn't that the noxious sexism which pervades our community isn't a problem. It is. And parents need to stop it early on, and to teach boys to value girls and their intelligence long
before they become teenagers. And to teach girls to not define themselves by boys.
But for Dickerson's son, his mother's lack of trust in his character is an unfair burden when faced with what society has in store for him.
Recently, people have wondered why Sean Bell and his friends were gunned down by police for no apparent reason. Well, there was one. They were assumed to be dangerous. Why? No one knows for sure, but their color had a lot to do with it. Why? Because that is who the police arrest, black and latino criminals, and they transfer that on to most of the men they deal with.
And that, far more than being a sexist pig, will affect her son's life. Her admission that she questions his character will just add to that burden.
posted by Steve @ 5:11:00 AM