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Oppression Olympics 2009

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Unsurprisingly, Charles Winecoff’s attempt to independently arrive at a unified theory of intersectionality fails, and fails hard. 

Today, “African-American” is as ubiquitous as “the” (and used to describe all US blacks, no matter where they come from).

Flash forward to 2002: Halle Berry pulls out all the stops, dedicating her Oscar win to “every nameless, faceless woman of color that now has a chance” (as the camera cuts to her white mom sitting in the audience).  The next morning, I’m in the office of a TV honcho when I overhear a curious voice mail on his speakerphone.

The message is from a woman, clearly a black woman, and she’s livid.  For whatever reason, she needs to unload on the “infotainment” kingpin:  “I watched Halle Berry on the Academy Awards last night, going on how she’s doing so much for black women – and I am damn mad!  Because Halle Berry is not black!  Do you hear me?  She is not a black woman!

Winecoff is cracking me up here, because, in a piece where he expresses anger about ever-changing racial terminology, he also whines about inaccuracy.  Dude, Berry said, “women of color” not “black.”  The whole point of using “men/women/people of color” is to more unproblematically include multiracial people and people with varying national/ethnic backgrounds.  And, later, when he complains that “to this day, racism trumps sexism – and homophobia – combined,” well,  another benefit of the “____ of color” formulation is that it allows you to specify gender/orientation/etc. more easily.  

I’m shouting into the wind here, though, since that point is moot once Winecoff hits his full stride.

Meanwhile, anyone who watched the recent, minimalist Academy Awards telecast probably noticed Ms. Berry’s pared-down new nose.  Why the Oscar-winning ”woman of color” – and celebrated Revlon beauty – felt compelled to undergo a rhinoplasty is a question only her psychiatrist can answer.  But Ms. Berry is starting to not look like Ms. Berry anymore.  In fact, she now looks even whiter – excuse me, more Caucasian – than she did before.

So much for ethnic pride.  (And Halle, if you’re reading this, please ponder Michael Jackson’s mug before you do any more damage to your beautiful face.)

Jesus.  In piece claiming that too much is made of racism and the problems facing people of color, Winecoff apparently doesn’t see the irony of complaining about Halle Berry trying to make herself look more “white.”  If that’s even happening.  I don’t know if it is or not because it’s really none of my fucking business what Halle Berry does or does not do with her nose.  If it is happening though, wouldn’t that be evidence of a racist culture that pressures women of color to look more “white,” and as such undermine Winecoff’s whole argument?  For that matter, isn’t the fact that we’re sitting here, talking about what Halle Berry’s freaking nose means in the context of race in America evidence?

Stay with me, though, it gets better:

my Yankee parents were careful to avoid the mistakes of the past and never used even a single remotely derogatory racial term in our house.  Sensitivity to offense ran silent, and very deep.

For instance, we had a black housekeeper who used to putter around our apartment, cleaning, singing about Jesus – and committing petty thievery.  My parents wanted to let her go, but the woman put on such a brazen, kindly church lady act, they just couldn’t bring themselves to shatter the illusion.  Years went by.

Finally, we moved.  My mom figured she could ”fire” the housekeeper by just packing up and disappearing.  No fuss, no muss – no guilt-inducing confrontation.  Perfect.

But no sooner had we relocated to bigger and better digs than who showed up at our front door, grinning from ear to ear and praising the Lord?  She stayed on for another five years (and kept stealing too).

That’s right, my mother was being robbed on a weekly basis – and she felt ashamed.  Ms.magazine had arrived too late.  But it probably wouldn’t have helped anyway, because, just like the ladies who gave birth to Halle Berry and Barack Obama, my mom was Caucasian.

I am not so easily fooled, Charles Winecoff.  I’ve read your other pieces.  Is this super-liberal, ultra-PC, petrified-by-white-guilt mom this same woman?

 Back in Manhattan, my mother was known to order in Chinese food seven nights a week – even for Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner.  For an Anglo-centric WASP worshipper who idolized Jackie O, she was very Mama Rose.

But there was always that awkward moment when she had to give the Chinese restaurant our name over the phone: “Winecoff.  W-I-N-E-C-O-F-F.  And it’s not Jewish.”

Now, I ain’t about to cast aspersions on anyone’s mother (I’ll leave that to Steven Crowder), I’m just pointing out that Winecoff’s family history seems to change to bolster his argument against whatever nefarious liberal plot has the vein in his forehead bulging this week.

I do, however, sincerely believe that anyone tasked with cleaning up after this sanctimonious little shit would be perfectly justified in robbing him fucking blind.  “Church lady” or no “church lady.”  Any God of mine would applaud that shit.

Where, though, is Winecoff taking us with this?  I was expecting a segue into the same, tired, “culture of victimhood, etc etc, we’ve achieved equality already, etc etc, stop whining, etc etc,” but even here Winecoff surprises me with his sheer douchitude.  The reason he’s minimizing the oppression felt by people of color and by women isn’t really because he thinks racism and sexism are dead, it’s because he’s angry that no one cares about his oppression.

It was like God turned on a klieg light.  Finally, I understood that even in the flattened, cautious world of PC victimhood, there exists a hierarchy – a glass ceiling that gays haven’t cracked yet.  We’re still second class, and still expendable.  Why?  Because homosexuals continue to be stereotyped as affluent white males – and in the adolescent, Che fashion accessory, power-to-the-people, make-believe world of “social justice,” we’re still the enemy.

What’s awesome here is that Winecoff is struggling to make an argument that radical feminists have been making for decades (elsewhere in the piece, he gets weirdly snippy about his belief that “dykes” pushed to get the “L” listed first in LBTQ).  Ultimately, though, he’s falling into the Oppression Olympics argument that has dragged down so many discussions of race, gender and class.

There are various types of privilege and oppression.  They intersect in complicated and often non-obvious ways.  They are similarly institutionalized and embedded in our culture in complex ways.  These are the sort of things people write dissertations on to suss out.  But here on the ground, the way forward is so simple I shouldn’t have to be saying it:  minimizing the problems facing other people doesn’t help you.  

And besides, if we start having the “who’s more oppressed” fight, somewhere there’s a poor, elderly, half-black, half-Native American lesbian in a wheelchair who can tell us all to fuck right off.  If you’re out there, please come forward so we can stop having this fight over and over, when, again:  minimizing the problems facing other people doesn’t help you.  

This would probably be a good place to leave Mr. Winecoff, but I don’t want to miss the money quote:

Welcome to the PC plantation, where “white guilt” keeps the slaves in line.

Oh, fuck you.

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Written by dieblucasdie

April 2, 2009 at 2:06 pm

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