gender trumps race
Why does this statement bother me so?
Because it is ridiculous to lay claim to the idea that all women are oppressed on equal terms, simply because they are women. Obviously, oppression is more complicated than that and I personally think that gender does not trump anything. Instead, there are interlocking systems of oppression that women face based on gender, race, class, sexuality, religious background, nationality, citizenship status and so forth. It is very naive and very, very 2nd wave-ish to say, “well, gender trumps race.” I can’t even understand how one can come to such a conclusion.
In the case of the current Duke scandal, some folks feel that we must pay attention to the issue of gender before race since, she is a WOMAN and was allegedly attacked by MEN. However, I don’t see how we can only pay attention to her as a woman, or as just a black woman, or even as a economically disenfrachised black woman, for that matter–all of her identities must be taken into account. Her race is already determining who believes her and who doesn’t, how bad of a parent she is (the myth of the bad black mother), and it’s determining how she is
misrepresented in the media. Additionally, we must not forget that we exist in a media saturated world that continuously reproduces negative images that deem black womens bodies as disposable sex objects. It is all too impossible to deny that those images do not play a strong part in concluding how she was/is/will be treated by men of all races. Furthermore, if one believes that gender trumps race in this specific situtation, then they deny the harm of the racial slurs that were hurled at the dancers, which I personally see as a form of violence towards these women–no matter what.
I also can’t possibly see how gender would trump race, since gender roles are constructed alongside race and class lines. I grew up learning not only how to be a female, but how to be a black female–and I think for other women of color in this country, it is impossible not to formulate a race conscisouness of being “less than whites,” alongside a gender consciousness of being “less than men.” Therefore, our racial identity and racism play a major role in our negotiations of how we experience gender. On the other hand, white women grow up to learn how to be white and female–which basically boils down to a white race consciousness that is formulated on the basis of having power within a system of white supremacy. So then, of course to some white feminists, gender would trump race, since they are not impacted by racial oppression.
Moreover, the argument that “gender trumps race,” also ignores the fact that women of color see men of color as necessary allies in the struggle against “the patriarchy.” Men of color do have a complicit relationship with fostering the oppression of women based on gender differences, but, we cannot ignore the fact that these same men face similar oppressions due to the color of their skin aside from their gender. In the case of the Duke scandal, if it were men of color who allegedly attacked a woman of color, issues of race would still be in play and I still wouldn’t see how gender would situate itself in a hierarchical position above race, or vice-versa. Rather, we would have to take into account how race functions within the specific racial group to understand fully the scope of the attack, what should and can be done about it, ways to prevent future attacks on women, etc.
Finally, if gender trumped race, there would be no need for black feminism, for third world feminism, for chicana feminism or for women of color feminism. Generalizations about “the patriarchy” and the oppression of women in a heirarchy based on gender, only ignores the multiplicity of the number of oppressions all women face that are not soley based on gender. However, to some white feminists who face gender oppression in exchange for racial privilege, gender does trump race.
This is also posted on my blog.