Two semesters ago I took a sociology class called Race & Ethnicity where the professor asked one of those questions that just leaves you stuck. There was no real right or wrong answer to the question, yet every answer seemed incomplete--Not wrong just incomplete. The question was simple, basic, yet complicated. Simple enough that you understood it yet complicated enough that you didn’t know how to answer it. In mid-October of 2018, my professor asked the class this question: When we go out into public what do we think society sees first? Does society see race before sex or sex before race? In other words, if a black woman were to walk into a public setting right now, what would society first notice? The fact that she's a woman or the fact that she's black? Though the entire class never agreed to one specific answer, we did agree that it depended on the setting. If a black woman walked into a neighborhood known heavily for racism, chances are the first thing people in that community would see is skin color. However, if that same black woman walked in a diverse room full of men then chances are the first thing they would notice is her sex. Easy answer, right? Yes, when we tweak certain factors. For example, saying that the neighborhood is known heavily for racism almost implies that color is the first thing residents of that neighborhood would see. Or if I say the room full of men was racially diverse then that leads to more emphasis being placed on the “sex” aspect of the question. However, if you look at this question without bias factors, then the answer to this question is far from easy. And to emphasize this question’s complication the professor asked the question in a different format without biases. She asked “What if a black woman walked into a room full of white men; what would they first see; her sex or her race? The answer to this is question in my opinion is often based on who the person primarily sees themselves as. That's where the article “Age, Race, Class, and Sex: Women Redefining ‘Difference” by Audre Lorde comes into play. It is important that we are able to see ourselves through every lens, even those that benefit us while disadvantaging others.
This article by Lorde shines light on this question. The article discusses women’s inferiority due to their age, race, class and sex and calls for women to form a cohesive movement, which enabled them to unite and grow. Lorde explains the oppression women face, especially those of color and points out the two ways this oppression comes: because they are women (sex) and because they are black (race). From the beginning of the article Lorde looks at Western history and explains how it conditioned us to accept superiority and inferiority based on color, sex, class and age. Lorde described herself as a 49-year-old black lesbian feminist, with two children, who felt the need to speak on this topic due to her own feelings of inferiority. She argues that this idea our oppressors have of the oppressed must change and it is our job as the oppressed to change it. A lot of this stems from a lack of unity and human’s need to please their ego at the expense of others. In other words, humans, especially egotistical beings are conditioned to compare and contrast one another. We look for differences between each other to make us feel superior. It may be as simple as me driving a car and feeling like I am above those waiting at the bus stop. Within this article Lorde gives much more serious examples such as "white women who focus upon their oppression as women and ignore differences of race, sexual preference, class, and age."
This ultimately causes more separation and inferiority between women alone. Now the category isn’t just man or woman but instead has a bunch of subcategories to go along with it. It’s not just a simple two category discussion anymore but instead a two-category discussion with a ton of subcategories. It’s a man or woman comparison but not just “a woman.” Is it a white woman, black woman, rich woman, old woman…? It creates this atmosphere of “yes, I might be a woman but at least I am white and rich and because of that I am a better woman than you are.” In this sense white women are seeing color and class before they even see sex. What happens from this is what Lorde describes as a “mythical norm.” This is something each individual within any inferior group knows within their heart “is not them.” In America the most prominent mythical norm is a white, thin male, young heterosexual who follows a Christian religion. And the further you are from fitting that description the more powerless you feel. Lorde says that because of these norms the trappings of power reside within this society.” What’s even more compelling is that those standing outside of this norm can never actually get in. Think of class. A black heterosexual, Christian man might be rich and wealthy however he can never be white and therefore may still face the hardships poor black men encounter such as police brutality, racial targeting and bias judgement. On the other hand, a white man might be poor but never face half the hardships poor black men do. Sadly, we see one’s extreme fear of being at the bottom of the food chain so much that even within our black community we separate and classify ourselves. Black men aren’t standing strong enough with black women. Some black men even speak out against black women, calling them too aggressive or too demanding. However, aggression and demand when set towards the right direction is exactly what black women need.
We as black men must help in the guidance of this demand and aggression, making sure that the world respects our black queens. We can’t expect to see these traits as negative in a world where being too tolerant and accepting, leaves you in a subcategory so far outside of the mythical norm, you begin to question your value and ability to succeed. For years blacks have fought to have a voice, black women especially and it would be a shame for us/them to be miming again. The aim should be to eliminate categories not create more. White women should see black women's issues as theirs. For women empowerment to grow, women must come together, they must fight against their oppressors (men of all colors) who up to this day still see them as inferior. This shouldn’t be an every-group-for-themselves type of fight because it simply weakens every member of that group all together. Black men must see themselves in the same group as black women if we intend to strengthen our black community in general. It is no longer the oppressed’s job to remind the oppressors of their mistakes. They are more than aware of them. Now is the time to unite and fight against oppression. Oppressor “look-alikes” should not only accept history for what it was and find ways to bring about change but also make sure that history never repeats itself again. We haven’t succeeded until they are no mythical norms. We haven’t reached our goal until we can clearly answer the question: what do we see first, race or sex? with the only one correct answer: “Neither, we see human beings.”
-- works cited --
Lorde, Audre. “Age, Race, Class and Sex: Women Redefining Difference.” In Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches, 114–23. Berkeley, Calif: Crossing Press, c2007, 1984.