Tuesday, April 5, 2011

What Some Feminists Could Learn From Racism OR "Schrödinger’s Racist"

To start with, I want to post an odd etymological statement about the nature of words.
Racism = the prejudice that members of one race are intrinsically superior to members of other races 
Sexism =  the prejudice that members of one sex are intrinsically superior to members of other sex
Atheism = the prejudice that members of reality are intrinsically superior to imaginary, made up beings
Feminism = the prejudice that members of society who are femenine are intrinsically superior to members who are masculine

Ok, I'm being silly. But ...

Ok, settle down boys and girls. Uncle Easy is going to tell you about a story from his youth.

It was a surprisingly warm September night when Uncle Easy, then a young college sophmore, had a hankering for a Subway sandwich. He and an Egyptian friend headed out of the small southern city they were going to school in (Easy studying English and History and his Egyptian friend studying Religious Studies) to the Subway located on the edge of town. It was located at a gas station. 
I parked my car along the side of the building and we headed around front to go inside. It was around 11:30 p.m.
Three youngish black men who were hanging around the front door leaned up from the walls and yelled something at my friend and I - we were approaching them to enter the building.
My friend said "Huh?" (Neither of us understood them.)
Two of them came towards me, bumping chests with mine. I said nothing, in shock.
The other began to punch and kick my friend, knocking him to the ground. I started to step back, so I could move around them. One produced a very very short pen knife and said "What you gonna do, white boy?"

I'm going to stop talking about the events now, they are bothering me far more than I thought they would, now 9 years later. Besides, that wasn't the story - that was the prologue.

The story here is what happened in the 9 years following. I'll tell it chronologically.

In High School, years before this event took place - you could probably call me race-ish-ist. I was dating a black girl, but I believed, genetically, that black people were more inclined (by n%) to be violent and or conniving. No stats, just anecdotes and observations. Embarrassing, in hindsight.
This event in college sent me reeling into far more dangerous mental territory. My theory, now proven by an act of unprovoked random violence by (of all the races in the world) a group of BLACKS, was cemented.

But what wasn't cemented was my actions. What do I do? What do I say? How do I deal with the "reality" that every thuggish-looking black guy is a potential attacker?

About 3 or 4 nights (it was always the nights that were worst) later, sleeping on my air mattress in my dorm, I, reenacting in my mind what I should've done, gripped the plastic of the mattress so hard that I ripped it, and my fingernails tore the flesh of my palm. I sat on the floor and looked at my bloody hand and cried for the first time since it happened.

This anger/pain lasted for a solid 2 years. Angry night-thoughts (because I wasn't asleep) would occur a few times a month.

For this period of time, I lived in complete fear. I started carrying a loaded shotgun in my car at all times. If I saw young black men at a place I wanted to go at night, I would keep driving. If I saw a black man on the street, I would turn the other way or cross the road. 

Over time, I met more and more black men in my academic experience. I realized that the fact that these good people existed wasn't really consistent with racial views. So I started blaming culture. Young black men that fit that "culture" were my new targets. Thugs. Baggy pants, etc.

That stage lasted for the next year or so. Eventually, I had enough incidental contact with young, thuggish black men that I started to get cocky. I was older now, and had gone over how I'd deal with a confrontation like that time and time again in my head. I was prepared for someone to victimize me again.

I started to test fate. Often armed with a hidden knife, I'd take opportunities to engage these thuggish black men. But take care in what you're about to read.

I realize now that what I REALLY wanted was a "round 2" for that night in 2001. I wanted to be back there, but this time to defend myself. 
I'm not a thug. If I went looking for a fight I'd be no better than they were. 

No, I had to play the "victim" ... I had to wait until they had made the violent action before I could react. I could not provoke or insult. I was going to be the good guy.

So you know what this meant for my little "plan?" Engaging thuggish black men in honest, polite, everyday conversation. I went looking for vengeance and found catharsis.

Any intelligent reader of this blog won't wonder what happened next. After a couple years of talking to young thuggish black man after young thuggish black man - the men I had been cringing at and avoiding for the previous 3 years - I never got a chance to use my defensive tactics. 
Hell, I never even got to the point of THINKING about using those tactics. What I found were mostly uneducated (but not always) poor young men who were living some tough lives. The were decent human beings. Sometimes they were filling up their baby-momma's cars with gas because she lost her job. Sometimes, they were waiting for the bus to drop off a job application. Sometimes they were having a shitty day because they spilled COFFEE ON THEIR SHIRT. No shit man, I can fucking relate.

And eventually I came to the realization: those guys who attacked us almost a decade ago weren't evil thuggish black men. They were people who did a bad thing.

After this realization (and at this point I REALLY thought I'd figured out this whole deal) I realized something wrong that I did that night. 
I looked at the ground and gave them a wide berth as we walked towards the entrance. I didn't make eye contact, I kept away from them (as did my friend.)
Maybe I was the 30th white person to do that to them that night. Maybe I was the 10,000th white person to do that to them in their lifetime. Maybe I was the millionth.

As I look back, if as soon as I had walked around the building, I had smiled at them and said something like "How's it going guys? Having a good night?" that violence might not've happened.

If I'd treated them like human beings, instead of unstable animals, I might've been able to not only stop the violence that happened that night, but stopped some violence to someone else down the road.


Ok, boys and girls, story time is over.  Make sure you brush your teeth and leave the toilet seat the way you found it. Now it's time for the adults to talk.

This is a very old post "Schrödinger’s Rapist: or a guy’s guide to approaching strange women without being maced" that inspired this.

When I read that post, I instantly recognized the perspective of the afraid woman. It was exactly how I felt as I was psychologically recovering from my assault (and in case it isn't clear, what they did was wrong and I wouldn't hesitate to defend myself if it happened again and I DO think they should be arrested and charged, there is no excuse for violence). HOWEVER ...

What Phaedra Starling doesn't realize is that when she behaves in such a way, she is limiting her exposure to the vast, vast, vast majority of strangers who will never raper her and the vast majority of strangers who would never rape her. (notice, please that there is a difference - there is a possibility to come into contact with a rapist who does not rape you.)

This is all fine and dandy, but the real reason I wrote this is because of something I found on another feminist site (critical of Phaedra) that gave this statistic:
1 in 6 women will be the victim of a sexual assault in their lifetime.

Now I've heard that before, but only this post juxtaposed that with this one:
1 in 6 men will be the victim of a random violent assault in their lifetime.

Phaedra's example and I are the same. We're both the same afraid people going through life afraid of the cat in the box that we can't see.

We both thought the cat was alive far, far, far too often. And we ended up hurting people because of it.


  1. great post.

    I read Schrodinger's Rapist and I found it very troubling. You have expressed why very eloquently. Thanks.

    I think it is brave to be a 'victim' and to have the option of 'victim status' (not all victims have that option) and then to reject it for the sake of... well humanity.

  2. Elly, thanks for the comment and welcome.

    I guess I sort of sympathize with the fearfems. But that doesn't make them right.

  3. I think someone made a similar analogy in a critique of the 'Schrodinger's Rapist' post I will see if I can dig it out.

    It was a very clever concept which is what bothered me the most. It got a lot of exposure when really it was just a variation on the theme of 'all men (might be) rapists'...

  4. AACK, I just posted a really long comment that apparently Google didn't want to post. I will try again...

    As I look back, if as soon as I had walked around the building, I had smiled at them and said something like "How's it going guys? Having a good night?" that violence might not've happened.

    If I'd treated them like human beings, instead of unstable animals, I might've been able to not only stop the violence that happened that night, but stopped some violence to someone else down the road.

    I'm uncomfortable with this conclusion, because while I see the ultimate point you're trying to make (don't assume all people who superficially resemble a past attacker are going to attack you), you're putting nearly all of the blame on yourself for the attack. Perhaps they wouldn't have assaulted you and your friend if you'd been nice to them, but at the same time, regardless of the racism they've encountered on behalf of white people for probably their entire lives thus far, they ultimately made that decision to attack you unprovoked. You're sliding really quickly into victim-blaming territory there. And the same applies to rape. If you're using what happened to you as a comparison to rape, or potential rapists, I can't agree with you that it's appropriate to tell a woman that, if she'd just been nicer to her rapist, maybe he wouldn't have raped her.

    I'm with you on the rest of the post, though. It's ridiculous to treat all men (or all black men, in your case) as criminals, when the vast, vast majority aren't.

  5. April, sorry it took me so long to approve.

    It never occurred to me that I might be victim-blaming myself with that section of the post. For some reason, I feel like one can't victim-blame themselves - but now as I beg the question of myself, I realize that an unhealthy mentality regarding victim-blaming can be externalized or internalized.

    Wow, I think I just had a "moment" there.

    Thank you for your insightful and intraspective/introspective comment.

    The reason I mentioned that kind of behind-the scenes mental exercise was because I'm an agape-embracing hippie when it comes to humanitarian causes.

    Something deep in me, that can't be rationalized or measured says, "If we treated everyone with love, they wouldn't have so much hate. If we offered more hugs, they would use fewer fists."

    But quickly that train of thought brings me to "If we offered more sex, they would rape us less." And as a man who has never been violently stranger raped - that's not a mindset I feel I can comment on or a position I can recommend.

    Yikes. What to do?

  6. Here's what I think you might be missing in both cases:

    It's situational. Many of the thugs who would attack you if they had alcohol in them are perfectly cool when not drinking. The thugs who attacked you in broad daylight. Crime of opportunity.

    Similarly , the girl who is sitting alone on a park bench late at night is far more likely to be assaulted than the one on the crowded subway train. The first girl has a legitimate fear, the second one is demanding that we remove all uncomfortable human interactions from her life.

    You'd be a fool not to treat young black males in the inner parts of a major city with a bit more suspicion than a young black male in a prep school. And a hypothetical daughter of yours would be a fool to treat drunken frat boys the same as members of the campus Christian sobriety club.

    Unfortunately this isn't a totally safe world and its understandable to play the odds. The problem most people have is that they tend to overestimate the odds of something bad happening at the expense of many a potentially good human interaction.


  7. You didn't choose to be attacked, EE. They chose to attack you.