103 Obscuring the Importance of Race: The Implications of Making Comparisons between Racism and Sexism (or Other Isms)
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103 Obscuring the Importance of Race: The Implications of Making Comparisons between Racism and Sexism (or Other Isms) TRINA GRILLO AND STEPHANIE M. WILDMAN While this chapter was being written, Trina Grillo, who is of AfroCuban and Italian descent, was diagnosed as having Hodgkin's disease [a form of cancer]. In talking about this experience she said that" cancer has become the first filter through which I see the world. It used to be race, but now it is cancer. My neighbor just became pregnant, and all I could think was 'How could she get pregnant? What if she gets cancer?' " Stephanie Wildman, who is Jewish and white, heard this remark and thought, "I understand how she feels; I worry about getting cancer too. I probably worry about it more than most people, because I am such a worrier." But Stephanie's worry is not the same as Trina's. Someone with cancer can think of nothing else. She cannot watch the World Series without wondering which players have had cancer or who in the players' families might have cancer. Having this worldview with cancer as a filter is different from just thinking or even worrying often about cancer. The worrier has the privilege of forgetting the worry sometimes, even much of the time. The worry can be turned off. The cancer patient does not have the privilege of truly forgetting about her cancer; even when it is not in the forefront of her thoughts, it remains in the background, coloring her world. This dialogue about cancer illustrates a principal problem with comparing one's situation to another's. The "analogizer" often believes that her situation is the same as another 's. Nothing in the comparison process challenges this belief, and the analogizer may think she understands the other's situation in its fullness. The analogy makes the analogizer forget the difference and allows her to stay focused on her own situation without grappling with the other person's reality. Yet analogies are necessary tools to teach and explain , so that 'we can better understand each other's experiences and realities. We have no other way to understand each other's lives, except by making analogies to events in our own experience. Thus, the use of analogies provides both the key to greater comprehension and the danger of false understanding. From PRIVILEGE REVEALED: How INVISIBLE PREFERENCE UNDERMINES AMERICA by Stephanie M. Wildman et al. Copyright © 1996. Reprinted by permission of New York University Press. Copyrighted Material 620 Trina Grillo and Stephanie M. Wildman Racism/White Supremacy as Social III Like cancer, racism/white supremacy is a societal illness. To people of color, who are the victims of racism/white supremacy, race is a filter through which they see the world. Whites do not look at the world through this filter of racial awareness, even though they also constitute a race. This privilege to ignore their race gives whites a societal advantage distinct from any received from the existence of discriminatory racism. We use the term "racism/white supremacy" to emphasize the link between discriminatory racism and the privilege held by whites to ignore their own race. Author bell hooks describes her realization of this connection: "The word racism ceased to be the term which best expressed for me exploitation of black people and other people of color in this society and ... I began to understand that the most useful term was white supremacy."l hooks writes that liberal whites do not see themselves as prejudiced or interested in domination through coercion, and do not acknowledge the ways they contribute to and benefit from the system of white privilege. For these reasons, "white supremacy " is an important term, descriptive of American social reality. We link the term "racism" to "white supremacy" as a reminder that the perpetuation of white supremacy is racist. This chapter originated when the authors noticed that several identifiable phenomena occurred without fail in any predominantly white racially mixed group whenever sex discrimination was analogized (implicitly or explicitly) to race discrimination. Repeatedly , at the annual meeting of the Association of American Law Schools (AALS), at meetings of feminist legal scholars, in classes on sex discrimination and the law, and in law school women's caucus meetings, the pattern was the same. In each setting, although the analogy was made for the purpose of illumination, to explain sexism and sex discrimination , another unintended result ensued-the perpetuation of racism/white supremacy . When a speaker compared sexism and racism, the...