Tag Archives: intersectionality

White, Male Violence

[U]ntil very recently the fact that mass murder is an essentially all-male phenomenon got almost no attention.  Ironically, we are so accustomed to the idea that violence is gendered male that we don’t even notice that it is — unless we force ourselves to focus on something that seems so natural that it’s normally invisible to us.

As feminists have pointed out, if we define “human nature” as “what men do” we will treat male violence as merely violence, as opposed to a very gender-specific behavior.  If, when considering violence in our society, we were to turn being a man into a marked category, we would not ask questions like “why is America so violent?” but rather questions like “why are men so violent?”

From Paul Campos’ “Why is the shooter always male?

[W]hen poor folks or people of color engage in criminal activity — including, in general, a disproportionate share of lethal street violence — everyone has a theory; and not just a theory but an analysis that in one way or the other implicates something cultural. For the right, it’s the culture of poverty, or perhaps some specific aspect of “black culture” — about which they know nothing but about which they also feel utterly qualified to speak — while for the left it’s the culture of systemic inequality, of economic marginality, or the cumulative weight of institutional injustice.

But when white people, and especially those from stable and even well-off economic backgrounds lash out in a manner often more bizarre, indiscriminate, and apocalyptic than even the most determined street thug, it is then that the value of broader cultural critique vanishes faster than ethical judgment on Wall Street, to be replaced by a far more individualistic analysis. It’s the guns in that kids home, or the video games he played, or the Asperger’s, or the bullying, or he was a loner, or watched violent movies, or whatever. Because we cannot bring ourselves to ask the questions, let alone countenance the possible answers that we would ask and at which we might arrive were the vast majority of these mass killers black, or Latino, or God forbid Arab Muslims. In any of those cases — and everyone with even a shred of honesty would admit it — we would be talking not about the individual killer as an aberration, as a disturbed and disordered soul who had lost his way. We would be talking about the group or groups from which they hailed. About their cultures, their religion, their pathological communities.

But Adam Lanza was not Muslim. Not black. Not brown. Not poor. He was a white man, just like about 70 percent of all mass and spree killers in American history. And no one seems to think this is very interesting or worthy of comment.

From Tim Wise’s “Race, Class, Violence and Denial: Mass Murder and the Pathologies of Privilege

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On Masculinity and Capitalism

“John Henry of American folk song legend refused to bow to the superiority of a machine. He raced the steam-driven drill and won, though the effort killed him. Because of his strength and pride, John Henry is usually celebrated as a working-class hero. But he is really a capitalist’s dream […]

Like John Henry, a working-class man’s desire to appear strong and tough will often lead him to lift more weight, keep working despite pain, and forgo safety measures that slow him down and suggest fear or vulnerability. To appear competitive, he may strive to outdo his fellow workers, bringing a smile to the boss’s face.

Middle-class and upper-middle-class men do the equivalent. To display toughness, they work long hours and exalt efficiency over conscience and compassion. They compete for promotions, putting work first in their lives, lest they be seen as wimpy or wussy—sexist code words for “feminine” or “womanly.”

This kind of manhood striving is driven by a contradiction: To be a real man in U.S. society, one must have or display power—the capacity to exert control over one’s self and the surrounding world—but the fact is that most men in a capitalist society have little or no power. For most men, striving for manhood status is an attempt to evade this contradiction, to escape the psychic pain it causes.

From Michael Schwalbe’s essay, “The Hazards of Manhood

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What About the Men? Why Our Gender System Sucks for Men, Too

The problem of gendered, sexist expectations of men is enormous, and deeply ingrained into the culture. How are we to even begin dismantling such profoundly entrenched and damaging ideas? By using the same skills and tools that have worked before…

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Stumbling Blocks for Social Movements

In 1968, during the occupation of Columbia University by the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), female protesters were given the lofty task of serving the other protesters tea. During the civil rights movement, the leader of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), Stokely Carmichael, once reputedly said that “The only position for women in SNCC is prone.” During the anti-vietnam war movement, women at rallies were greeted with calls like, “take her off the stage and fuck her.”

Surely we are beyond the days of such odious sexism within our own organizations, affinity groups, and movements, right?

If history is any guide, no matter how well-intentioned or focused previous social movements have been, diverse issues of privilege and oppression have often served to undermine, weaken, and disrupt organizing work.  What these past failures demonstrate is the need to continuously examine and address issues of racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, etc., within social movements. This should not be surprising. We are all socialized within a specific cultural context and the messages, meanings, and values we have internalized do not simply disappear when we join with others in common struggle. Indeed, unless we intentionally address such issues directly and continuously, we are bound to recreate within our own groups the very oppressive structures we seek to oppose.

Past experiences within Occupy NOLA confirm the necessity of addressing internal dynamics of privilege and oppression. At the encampment, it seemed to be disproportionately men who disrupted assemblies and meetings. To name just a few examples, one female facilitator was nearly brought to tears by a male participant who would not stop interrupting her, another active member took thirty seconds of silence during a General Assembly to acknowledge the fact the she was one of the few, if not the only, women in attendance, and another long-standing working group member, a woman, left after being verbally assaulted by a man at the encampment.

While some of these examples may seem like the fault of a few individuals, a truly robust and just organization would have structures in place to prevent, minimize, and respond to such dynamics and incidents. Sadly, such structures were absent or not fully developed.

But why were such structures absent or underdeveloped?*** To begin with, there was not insignificant resistance within Occupy NOLA to addressing issues of racism, sexism, and other forms of oppression in addition to issues of economic justice. Put another way, there was  a lack of appreciation for intersectionality–or the complex and subtle ways in which forms of oppression interact.

For example, in the context of OWS, the issue of race and racism is virtually unavoidable when discussing economic justice. After all, communities of color were disproportionately targeted for sub-prime mortgages during the housing bubble, they lost a greater percentage of their wealth when the bubble burst, and the unemployment rate is (and has been) much higher for communities of color than other communities (not to mention the racial wealth gap (pdf) is fucking 20:1).

However, some claimed that discussing issues of racism or sexism was divisive and diversionary. This is completely backwards. As the examples above show, it has been by ignoring the intersectionality and the internal dynamics of oppression that movements for social justice are disrupted and weakened.

In addition, it seems likely that resistance to addressing oppressive dynamics is partially due to a lack of appreciation for how privilege and oppression play out on an individual and organizational level. For example, in a male-centered (read: patriarchal) society, men are used to being the center of attention (e.g. gender bias in the classroom). This internalized sense of of superiority can lead men to dominate discussions and thereby drive away those who feel their voice is drowned out.  Unfortunately, we cannot just check privilege and oppression at the social movement door. Therefore, unless we take pains to address how our socialization plays out in our everyday lives, our collective actions to build a better world will be frustrated.

Unless we men or male-identified folks examine our own internalized superiority and privilege, deconstruct common conceptions of masculinity, take responsibility for our own intentions and actions, and assist in developing organizational structures to address internal dynamics of privilege and oppression, we will never build the vibrant, capable, and durable movements that we desire.

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***This statement is in no way meant to minimize the amazing work of those in Occupy NOLA’s anti-racist working group and other individuals.

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