Saturday, October 4, 2008

Dear liberal elites,

What I'm about to say isn't kind, but I figured this would be easier coming from a fellow progressive. No sense beating around the bush, I'll just get to it:

You are race-biased and gender-biased, just like every single solitary person in this country (regardless of their race or gender). Stop patting yourself on the back for being so much more enlightened than the drooling conservatives you disdain so much. Your offenses are worse then theirs because you have friends of different cultures and religions; you read all the right news and culture magazines; you consume the right PBS and NPR programs; you know powerful, successful women; you may even have a fancy degree from a fancy Ivy League college; you're supposed to "get it;" you have all the opportunities to "get it," but lack the self-awareness to realize when you commit the sins you rail about. Most of your comedy and appropriation doesn't satirize sexism and racism; it's just sexist and racist.

Sandra Bernhard, I'm talking to you. MSNBC reports:
BOSTON - Sandra Bernhard says the decision by a women’s shelter to cut her act from its annual benefit was based on a misleading account of what she said about Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin.

The 53-year-old comedian, in criticizing Palin for opposing abortion rights, challenged whether she would keep the baby if she became pregnant after being violated by a group of black men in New York. Bernhard made the remarks last month during her
one-woman show in Washington, before Palin visited New York to campaign.

Rosie’s Place, a Boston shelter, announced Wednesday that Bernhard would not take part in its Oct. 16 luncheon, “Funny Women ... Serious Business.”

Many women at the shelter have been victims of violence, said public relations director Leemarie Mosca.

“In light of our mission, we don’t think violence against women is a laughing matter,” she said.

The shelter cut the comedian after Bernhard was quoted referring to Palin being “gang-raped by my big black brothers.” Bernard originally defended her routine, saying it was part of a larger piece from her one-woman show about “women, racism, freedom and the extreme views of Gov. Sarah Palin.” Read more...

I'm wondering how a joke that makes light of sexual violence against women, while repeating the stereotype of black men as animalistic, hypersexual, violent rapists, furthers the cause of feminism, civil rights and freedom. Is gang-raping funny if it happens to a woman who doesn't share your views--a wrong woman (TM Black Amazon)? Is it edgy to group the words big + black man + rape?

You know, I remember clearly the embarrassment and hurt and outrage I felt in the freshman year of college when a dorm mate from some small town in Iowa came into the common area one evening and announced, "Will someone come down to the laundry room with me? I'm afraid if I go down alone, some big, black guy will rape me." In all seriousness. And I didn't say anything, because I was 17 and, like always, the only black woman in the room. It was just another dull ache among many.

I don't know Sandra Bernhard, so I can't tell her that, though she probably wouldn't admit it, she and that small-town bigot have some of the same prejudices. And I can't point out how not feminist it is to joke about another woman being gang raped. And I'm not even going to bother ranting in the comments thread over on Feministing about how most posters saw the sexism in Berhard's "joke," but typically ignored the racism. I'm just going to write this open letter and hope that one day those of us on the left lose the blind spot that keeps us from truly making a difference in the areas we claim to care about.

8 comments:

toloosenthemind.com said...

Hi Tami! Needed to read a strong, empower, WOC blog and, naturally, went to yours for some inspiration! Good timing with this post! Been feeling pissed about self-righteous uber progressives who are, unconsciously or totally consciously, thinkin they are above racism and sexism -- therefore jumping off with racist and sexist comments. Urgh! anyways, needed a fella gal who could relate, and then came across your post! Hurrah!

Tabatha Atwood said...

The Sandra Bernhard speech/joke is so racist and sexist and ignorant. This is the first I have read about it. I am disappointed but not surprised.

Anonymess said...

Tami, if you're ever in New Haven, CT, the pizza's on me.

brownstocking said...

Thank you! Feministing is very frustrating at times, with their blinders willfully on when it comes to race. Sometimes I think white people cannot truly be our allies. I am becoming more resigned to this idea as we get closer to the elections.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Tami for telling it so clearly. I believe this is one of your best pieces yet, for so many reasons.

I find most comedy offensive in some way. White men will almost always be vulgar and sexist, Black men will be sexist and woman hating, straight people are clueless, and well...

I've never had high hopes for liberal elites, and I don't find conservatives as awful as everyone else seems to think.

When I was a student in a small Iowa town, I was very aware of racism. I went to an almost all white "elite" high school, and was very aware of the racism directed at the few black students on campus. It was awful to watch, and not really know what to do about it.

I don't think we can expect much from liberal elites, and to hope that they should be more enlightened is something that's too much to ask.

What I look for in life are the little openings of personal connection in odd places. Why should anyone "get" anything? Most people I know are intellectually lazy. I used to ask Obama supporters why they supported him. Few people could give me a clear answer. I used to ask people why they hated Hillary, and few could give a coherent answer that wasn't just plain sexist.

Jokes about raping women? Common place everywhere, just as pornography that is horrifying and racist and sexist is now everywhere.

But the ray of light... now that's what gives me hope. The other day, a friend went to a copy place to make some digital images for her blog. She'd been a lesbian activist for decades, and was putting some arhival material together. To the outside world, she looks like your ordinary 50-something white woman. Behind the counter were two young black men.

They were ignoring the customers, and my friend had this sinking feeling. "Two young guys goofing off and they'll make fun of my low tech skills," is what she reported thinking.

Then one of the guys came over to help, and my friend showed him the photos and asked how they could be imaged. To his surprise, he saw my friend in a photo shaking hands with Desmond Tutu. Suddenly the world opened up, and they both started talking about South Africa and the U.S. elections. He was an Obama supporter, my friend was a Hillary supporter.

In the past, the Obama supporters would let loose with the "b" word and attack Hillary with sexist language. I started to count the number of times some Obama supporter called Hillary a "B----."
When the count went over 100, it revealed just how sexist this all was.

But this time, instead of the derisive sexism my friend had always encountered when saying she supported Hillary, the copy shop guy, actually said some nice things about Hillary. It was a moment of genuine connection between my friend and this young guy. It was a real conversation.

My friend's prejudices (fear of young men making fun of her or making stupid comments and thinking young black men would be meaner to her) evaporated.
He cheerfully made all the digital copies, and the cost was minimal. He even gave my friend a free CD to put the photos on. She didn't know she could have brought her own.

If only we could all have these real conversations, and overcome the liberal/conservative split.

If only entertainment people would stop making money off of being offensive with rape jokes, sexist jokes and racist jokes.

Your comment about how people don't make fun of racism and sexism and instead stoop to racist jokes and sexist jokes SO GETS IT. I'd never heard this put so succinctly, and I now will quote you on this.

I'm not sure white people will ever get anything. Just as I'm not so sure black men will ever cease and desist with sexist comments.
But when we have points of connection: a white older lesbian in a photo shaking hands with a famous black man, and a young black man not saying something mean about Hillary, there is a lot of hope.

We expect way too much of elites. The higher you get, the harder it is to feel genuinely connected to people.

Sarah Bernhardt has always seemed like a rather vulgar ugly person to me. Just as most comics on stage are pretty offensive. Male comics never get it, but I guess feminists like Bernhardt should.

The thing is, feminism has turned crude and vulgar too along with the culture. You'll be as offended by feminists as you will by conservative men these days.

I hate all the attacks on Sarah Palin, since I quite like her. I love it when women succeed and go for the gold, whether they be liberal or conservative. Unlike the elites, I actually find her "down home" voice comforting and familiar to listen to. I can relate to her ambition.

The conservative right wing radio men are now defending Palin with a passion, and conservative women are outraged at the sexism directed at Palin. Perhaps when it's their own candidate, they can now see what the Hillary people used to get so mad at.

The thing is, elites might actually be more shallow than most people in America. They might be more cowardly too.

If the culture worships the vulgar, the degraded and the "F" word, this is what it comes to.

Who gets things? I believe "getting it" is about magic moments. The more we can connect with everyone around us, and be open to sharing and caring, the more we'll find enlightenment in the most unlikely places.

The Urban Scientist said...

point taken

CVT said...

The ironic joke for me is that I spend more time pissed off and frustrated with "open-minded liberals" than I do with conservatives in this life. At least the conservatives are honest about where their loyalties lie. The "liberals" who are too occupied tallying their "acts of open-mindedness" to notice that they are constantly stomping on "others" of all kinds kill my soul.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure if Bernhard was actually being racist or just ironic or whatever she was trying to be but I argee there is sooooo much racism coming from so-called 'liberals' in the media that they make me want to puke!! The biggest culprits are the Bill Mahers and John Stewarts and keith Olbermanns and Phil Donahues that talk a good game but are some of the most RACIST jizzholes on the planet. They are what I call 'alcoholic racists' which is a term I came up with after seeing a lady on "Dateline" who was an staunch alcoholic herself yet said she would judge people she saw in the streets who were winos thinking 'that's not me' or 'I'm glad I'm not THAT guy'. But she was just as bad as those people and used her hypocrisy and arrogance to hide it much like the 'liberal' media does.

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