Posted by: Steven Barnes
Recently, a question has been bandied about the airwaves and internet. Which causes more pain: Being black or being female?
There is only one group who can answer that question, and I’m not a member.
Only African-American women have personal experience with both femininity and blackness.
I’ve asked this question of five black women, who agreed to be referenced so long as I didn’t use their names. Four of five said that race was more problematic, and the one who chose “gender” warned me that, due to her very light skin, her experiences might not be typical. She mentioned gender as a problem largely because of cultural expectations about child care, and pay discrepancies at work.
On the “race” side, I heard stories of being denied entrance to a private school. Of lacking networking opportunities that benefited white students at university. One lady said race was hurtful from the day her schoolmates and teachers first saw her. Another that race has been more painful by a margin of three to one, and described a childhood attempt to lighten her skin with baby powder.
In truth, my sample was small, and skewed. I don’t take the results seriously. If you’d like an answer, I suggest you perform the experiment for yourself.
The subject of race versus gender has raised its ugly head at parties, and I’ve proposed this same challenge. The most consistent comment I’ve gotten back is: “I don’t know any black women to ask.” I find that interesting, but rather admire the mind that can form an opinion about black people without actually knowing any.
It’s sad so many people need to quantify the pain of others. I suppose that the “winner” of the Pain Game gets to take the moral high-ground. The logic of Victim Politics suggests that if women are the most disadvantaged group, then women, and the men who love them, should naturally gravitate toward Hillary. If Blacks are most disadvantaged, then blacks and non-blacks who believe in social justice should gravitate toward Obama.
Pioneering Science Fiction author Octavia E. Butler once told me that the two tendencies placing us at greatest risk as a species were hierarchicalism and the tendency to place ourselves above others on that hierarchy.
But rather bizarrely, not only do human beings want to believe that they are best, they also want to believe their wounds are deepest, the knives that have worried their flesh the most cruel. In some minds, being the greatest victim is almost as good as being the champion.
This is a momentous election, in which the stakes are stratospheric. Potentially, change is not merely on the agenda or the stump, but in the Oval Office itself. Vote for Hillary, or for Barack, or for McCain, or the candidate of your choice. But if you vote for them primarily BECAUSE they are black, or white, or male, or female…then you are a part of the problem, not the solution. More importantly, you are yesterday’s news, rather than tomorrow’s revelation.
Steven Barnes is a fiction, television and movie writer. His career has spanned over 25 years and produced dozens of books and teleplays as well as nominations for the Hugo and Cable Ace awards. He blogs about his passions: writing, martial arts, writing (again), his family, race, and politics.