Thursday, October 19, 2006

Flipping the Script by Christopher Bowers

We often don't want to ask what social dysfunction might say about the perpatrators . Yet, if we do not, we may not understand how oppressive and hierarchial belief systems begin. For example, last year we heard many ask"What does hurricane Katrina mean for black people?", an important question to be sure. However, as anti-racist activist Tim Wise points out, another important question is what does hurricane Katrina mean for for white people? For black people it may have meant the devistation of their communities and for most white people in the area it meant their continued insulation and entitlement to safety and wealth, despite mother nature. Granted some white people were also devistated by the hurricane, most of them found it easier to relocate, get trailers, and to get their lives back on track. Why don't we ask more about why that is?

In the process of understanding social identity we must understand that aspects of race and gender are formed not in a vacuum but in contrast to it's so-called opposite. Therfore, white is defined, and has been historically, as everything that black isn't. Men also are defined against women. However, it is often the privileged group who is doing the defining. In fact, it is a part of privilege to define the world around you and to have that definition be considered reality. So with the privilege of definition, dominant groups can create a reality in which they are not culpable, a reality in which the problems of society, are the problems of certain sectors of society. For example, let's look at sexual violence and rape. It is most often defined as a problem for women. But, what if we flip the script and ask not how many women are raped, but how many men have raped? If the stats are correct, at least 1 in 3 women have been raped and about 95% of the rapes are committed by men. Therefore, taking into consideration that some men violate multiple women, approximately 1 in every 5-10 men are rapists. How many men do you know? How many men do you work with, go to school with, party with? Likewise, homophobia is seen as a problem for gay people. This, despite the facts that the most deadliest hate crimes against the queer community were committed by self-identified straight men. So whose problem is this? Furthermore, by this scape-goating logic, racism is a problem for black people and white people then, as always, are off the hook. This despite the fact that it is white people who harbor most of the wealth and power, and white people who are most often discriminitory and abusive to people of color.

This understanding of power and privilege is not intended to shame or demonize men, heterosexual people, or white people. Instead, this understanding gives us an opportunity to take responsibility if we find ourselves in a dominant social group. It is an opportunity to realize that reality may be different than we had been braught up to think, that we have a part in the ills of society and that in fact, we truly have the power to stop oppression in it's tracks. To be an ally isn't just to say "how can I help you with your problems". To be an ally, to be a human, is to say "This is my problem too".