Race or Gender?

A couple of weeks ago author Steven Barnes posted this on his blog:

I had a conversation with a friend on racial and gender issues. The question came up of whether Hillary or Barack had the best electability. It was her contention that white men would rather vote for a black man than a white woman. I kind of agreed… But the question presents itself: which causes more social and life problems, race, or gender? I don’t know (although I have opinions) but I have a suggestion for anyone who wants to know. By the way, I haven’t performed this experiment, so this isn’t a trick. Here we go: choose an arbitrary number large enough to provide some kind of statistical reality, say a minimum of 10 or 20. The next 10 or 20 black women you have any kind of real interaction with, ask THEM which has been more of a hinderance in life: race or gender. Which has caused more discomfort, and in which have they experienced more prejudice?

At least 10 women of color read this blog, so I’m sure we could gather some interesting data here.

For my part, I have to say that I have experienced more direct/obvious prejudice or people attempting to hinder me due to my gender than due to my race. This is, of course, based on my own awareness. There may have been more times when my race was a factor for others and I just didn’t know.

All of the times I’ve perceived myself to be in physical danger, it was due to my gender. No one has ever threatened to rape me because I am black. Any time I’ve encountered a person who thought I wasn’t very smart, I was pretty sure they assumed that because I am a girl. Men often try to pull their patriarchal control games on me because they feel they can intimidate me/push me around because I’m a woman. No one has ever said, “It must be that time of the month” to me because I’m black.

Ever since I started this blog I’ve had more strangers getting up in my face because of race than I ever have in my life. But I we’re talking random interactions in the real world, I have definitely felt my gender more than I’ve felt my race.

There are several reasons why this could be. One of them being that white people perceive me as a ‘safe’ black person because I have light skin, speak ‘properly’, and have interest in things that white people can relate to (science fiction being one). But, again, may be missing a lot concerning people’s true motivations and thoughts about me.

What do others think?

16 Responses

  1. It’s hard to separate, quite frankly. When someone patronizes you, is it because you’re black? Because you’re female? Because you’re a nice person, and they expect a black woman to be “meaner” in accordance with stereotype? Because you’re young, writing in a field full of old people? Oy vey.

    But I have to say that all the most painful interactions I’ve had in the world — the put-downs, the assumptions of stupidity, the absolute shock that I *wasn’t* stupid, the cold shoulders, the being-followed-around-in-a-store moments, have come because I was black. There’s a simple way to parse those situations; would they have happened if I were a white woman? The answer is usually no, so that makes race the primary culprit.

  2. Honestly most times I cannot tell. I end up thinking it is both.

    In work situations -especially my last job at BellSouth-it was race. I knew because I looked at how white women were treated with less education and experience than the women of color. It was night and day-promotions, inclusion vs. exclusion, luncheons-the works. Needless to say I left and they are in a multi-million dollar discrimination suit as we speak.

    Most of the time I think it is both though-when I am second guessed or spoken down too

    I thought I was passable to white people too-I mean I am light skinned too, I have a masters degree, I speak 3 languages–but I am still spoken down too or reprimanded like a child or ignored all together, most of the time I would partner with a white person so that my ideas would get implemented.

    I work for myself now–I finally said to hell with them.
    :)

  3. gender and race is a double punch for black woman. i once had a white man tell me that as a black woman, i had to achieve and strive to do that. needless to say i was 14 or 15 and i was barely cognizant of what he was talking about. looking back on that, it proves to me that race can be interchangeable with gender to present us with a new tray full of problems.

  4. I have to say that I have never felt any hindrance or discomfort at all in my life because of my gender, but I have felt a ton of hindrances and discomfort because of my race, not in Barbados where I was born or in Paris where I lived for a few years or in London where I now live, but definitely through out the years I spent in the USA.

    It seems to me that most white Americans are incapable of seeing and treating people of African ancestry as fully human. I certainly felt while there that my complexity and worth was reduced by other peoples’ negative ideas about my ethnicity. My initial experience there was so devastating that I became clinically depressed and had to be hospitalised. After that I became violently angry and confrontational. Being black in America distorts you. It’s very unhealthy and I am only now beginning to recover having left just over a year ago.

    The strange thing about race in America I find, is that many Americans can not see … no … refuse to see (no matter how many mirrors are placed in front of them) quite how pathological they are. It’s very odd to live in a place and not be able to smell that much stink.

    Before I sign off I want to be clear, I am not saying that racism and sexism does not exist in all four of the places I have mentioned. What I am saying is that sexism has not had enough of an impact on my life for me even to have noticed and any incidents of racism outside of the USA have been isolated enough in my experience for them not to have represented barriers to my well being and continual growth.

    I say all of this recognising that these experiences are not true for others.

  5. well, it’s different for asians, and asian multiracials, than i imagine it is for blacks. if you’re asian and middle class on up, you won’t usually be directly hindered by people thinking you’re stupid and criminal (bets off for working class asians and recent immigrants.) instead, you’ll be directly hindered by other people’s resentment of you for being smarter than they, even if you’re not.

    you’ll be ostracized, have your race mentioned outright constantly (especially if you’re multiracial), be the first target of anyone’s frustration, and possibly–even if you’re a girl–experience physical bullying/violence on the playground. as an adult, the chinky-eyes and the punching mostly stops, but the rest of the behavior doesn’t.

    it’s really hard for me to seperate the *constant* questioning, assumptions, and racial harrassment from genuine hindrance. because i don’t get outright harrassed very often for being just a woman. i get harrassed, constantly, for being different, or for being a woman of color. the tests “would this happen to a white woman?” and ‘would this happen to an asian or multiracial man?’ both yield the answer, “no.” so it’s probably both.

    on the other hand, the REAL hindrances, for example being directed away from a field of study i was really interested in but was dominated by men, came in the context of both racial and gender bias. i won’t waste space by describing what happened, but i was singled out in the class racially, along with the other asian (also a woman). on the other hand, the white women in the class were treated just as contemptuously, but in a different way: they were completely ignored.

    there were no men of color in the class to help complete the experiment, but my intuition is that race just added flavor to the gender bias in this case. it was mostly because i was a woman. but i’m not sure. so i’m saying both, with a possible emphasis on gender when it comes to big things, like career and study.

  6. Hmmmmmm… I can’t help but think that we might be asking the wrong question here. In asking which presents more obstacles in life, race or gender, it seems that we are buying into the notion that the two can be seperated from each other. As other posters have noted above, it is hard to distinguish why folks are on the receiving end of racism and discrimination (was it caused by race or by gender?).

    I think we all agree that the experiences of women of color are very different from those of white women. The specific prejudices that are held against women of color, and in particular Black women, have a whole history behind why they have happend and persist to happen. I think that asking the question of ‘which is worse- race or gender- in experiencing prejudice negates from the history which surrounds the identities and experiences of women of color.

    The thought of seperating our identities out based on race or gender (or class, etc) makes me cringe, since I see all parts of our own identities interacting on all levels. What do others think about this?

    PS I was off-line at a conference the past few days, so had some catching up to do on my reading on this blog. ABW’s guest blogger- thanks for your part in trying to make this blog a safe place for the rest of us to blog.

  7. As a black female medical student I would have to say that the most discrimination varies depending on the situation.

    As far as career decisions, I feel that my gender is a hinderence. Several male and female attending physicians in surgery (one of my interests) have constantly reminded me that this is a field in which women and their “specific needs” are not going to be well tolerated. Several people have suggested considering other specialties that are more “appropriate for women.”

    As far a getting funding for certain events that are specifice to black students, there have been several set-backs. It is hard to get the administration to understand why we need money for a health fair that is specific to underserved communities (i.e. people of color) or that as black students in a majority institution/field that we may need support from other black physicians.

    Ultimately, I agree that in every situation, either being a woman or being black can pose difficulty. Inevitabley, I will always be a Black Female Doctor once I am in practice.

  8. I think it leans towards race. I’m white, and have no direct personal experience with being on the receiving end of racial discrimination, so take my opinion for what it’s worth. ;) The times where I have been physically concerned for my safety (including being concerned about being sexually assaulted) are few; I can probably count them on one hand. Last summer I blogged about the objectification of multiracial youth. In some of my research, I found that the sexual assault statistics for black women are much higher than that of white women, and those statistics for multiracial women and men are much, much higher; I think they may have been higher than the statistics for any other race. I also learned that a man who rapes a black woman is less likely to be prosecuted, much less convicted, than if he were to rape a white woman. And I can’t recall specific enough details, but I also read something to the effect that black women are less likely to even report being raped than white women because they receive substandard service from rape crisis centers.

    I have worked in an industry that is heavily saturated by men, in a technical operations division that is dominated by white men, since my mid twenties. I’m approaching my mid thirties, and do not have a college degree. Since I’ve had people express disbelief that I have three children, much less that the oldest is almost 11, I guess I look younger than I am (although I certainly don’t feel it most of the time). Even so, I can probably count on my other hand the number of times where I’ve felt like I was being treated as any less intelligent than I am. One of my black friends has been on the receiving end of comments such as, “You are so articulate!” and “You’re not like the rest of them.” She is a couple years older than I am, and has one of those personalities that exudes confidence and competence. She works in education, a field that has a much higher repesentation of women. My friend has a master’s degree in technology, so she’s better educated than I am. In my opinion, she is also better spoken, and she definitely presents herself in a way that she should at least appear better spoken to a stranger or slight aquaintance than most people (black or white). Now, I haven’t walked around polling every other black woman I know to see if they’ve experience the same kind of thing, but I doubt her experience is a fluke unrelated to anything than the color of her skin (which, btw, is not light in tone).

  9. I’m mixed race (half black African, half white.) A lot of the discrimination that I’ve found most apparent has been to do with my class. Maybe this is just a British thing, but I’d say, particularly at university and in my jobs, it’s always been my class that I’ve thought to be the issue.

    However… A friend (part Asian, part white) once told me that a female colleague was trying to push me out of my job because of my colour. I’ll never know if this was true but I do know that if I came from a wealthy family and spoke the Queen’s English, she’d probably have been fine with me. The trouble with discrimination is it’s very hard to pinpoint what causes people to act the way they do. It’s often a combination of things.

  10. Y’know… the more I think about this question, the more it kind of annoys me. It implies a false dichotomy — as if race and gender *can* be treated as separate and discrete elements. But that simply isn’t true. My race impacts how my gender is viewed, and vice versa. Stereotypes that apply to white women don’t apply to me — though we black women have our own stereotypes to deal with. For example, black women aren’t viewed as weak or delicate — we’re shoved to the opposite extreme, the hulking thugs. (As Imus’ comments exemplified — in addition to calling the Rutgers girls nappy-headed hos, he called them “rough”.) We end up taking a lot of shit from black men that they don’t give to white women — ah, but I could do a whole post on *that* sometime.

    The issues that I deal with as a woman overlap with those I deal with as a black person. The former sometimes amplifies the latter, and vice versa. Occasionally one trumps the other — and as I said in my first comment, usually for me it’s race trumping gender. But most of the time it’s a double whammy.

  11. As a guy, with guy friends of all color…

    I GUARANTEE you that sexism is MUCH more prevelant than racism.

    A guy can totally degrade a female in a group of guys and nobody says anything.

  12. I think it’s both for me–i can’t really seperate the two of them–for example, when my partner told people at his job that he was dating me, because of my name, they figured out I was latina, at which point my partner got all the “ooooh, what’s it like F**king a hot spicy mama?” crap. They didn’t even know me, had never seen me, didn’t have any idea what I looked like–but they knew I was a woman and a latina. and they started in.

    and I agree with Mike S–with one exception tho–lots of times, this degrading happens in poc communities with the men degrading and saying nothing–but then they use *race* as a way to silence protest–like if a sista gets mad and tells them to f**k off, or if she reports an assault or whatever, there is often times *extreme* pressure put on her by the community *because* she is X race–they wouldn’t dream of pressuring a white woman to shut up like that–to shut up and take it. It’s because the woman is black or latina or arab or whatever that she is pressured to stay silent–does that make sense?

  13. I think it depends on the context. Generally, I’m of the mind that those issues can’t be separated entirely, but which one is salient (or what mix) really does vary with the other people around.

    In a group of women where I’m the only WOC, it’s definitely racism. There’s a lot of colorblind racism (and even some out and out racism) that comes out when they think nobody’s watching.

    In a group of mostly white people, it depends on the gender balance (are there enough women to call the men on their sexism? does either gender outnumber the other enough for people to start talking ‘as if they were alone?’)

    In a group of POC, well, it depends on who’s there and what the issue is. I’d say that in mixed groups and in primarily POC groups, the intersectionality is the biggest point. Like I (a black/Japanese woman with obviously “black” features and an afro, despite my almondey eyes) work in an Asian company, directly under a man who leads the company as only a stereotypical Asian patriarch can do. (No, I’m serious… his leadership style reads like a bad movie sometimes. Not, I think, because the stereotype is accurate, but because he can get away with it.) And because of my position, gender, and age, I have to play the submissive obedient “daughter” role at all times.

    Overall, in my life though…. I think I’ve been much more directly insulted/anoyed/frustrated by my race. Not so much inconvenienced or discriminated against (one can thank highly protective parents, extreme educational privilege and moderate class privilege for that), but definitely insulted. A lot of colorblind racism and “oh, you’re just overreacting” or “look, there goes the black girl talking about race again….” sort of stuff.

    But I think that I’ve been more disdvantaged by my gender. I know I’ve worked at places where I wasn’t paid nearly as much as males doing the same job. I’ve been shunted to secretarial tasks for as long as I can remember (which, granted, I like them and am good at them, but I’m also usually vastly overqualified). My career choices are constrained. My reproductive freedoms are under attack.

    So… for me, that’s it. Race makes me angry. It makes my quality of life difficult. But gender currently poses a bigger threat to the things I want to do. I don’t think it’s that simple, and I don’t think they separate nearly as neatly as all that… but right now, that’s where I’m at.

  14. It’s funny, but, even before I decided to visit this morning, the topic of race and gender has been on my mind, especially in light of a recent post I put up on my own blog re: a situation involving a student and a teacher at my school. As much as I may want to separate the two – race and gender – both are integral aspects of who I am, and so therefore others look at me on that basis. For example, my White male students certainly respond differently to me as a Black female than they do to White females, males of color and White males.

  15. Wouldn’t the ultimate answer to this question have to come from the bigots? It seems to me we’re asking which prejudice they’re more devoted to promoting, and we can only speculate.

  16. some days it’s gender
    some days it’s race
    either way it’s fun to come up with new ways to confound people.

    Yes, I do believe that sexism trumps racism when it comes to a white woman over a black man in the presidential race.

    But not in Corporate America.

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