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.


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