That Race Thing

Recently I attended an all day seminar at work regarding race and racism. That’s one of the many beautiful things about living on the left coast. I doubt it would even occur to my former employers in Florida to allow us to have such training, let alone make it an annual event.

I learned much that day. For instance, on a scientific level, race doesn’t even exist. If you look at our DNA, only one out of every thousand nucleotides is different, from human to human. In fact, Penguins and fruit flies have more genetic differences within their own species than we humans do. (I didn’t learn this in the training, but I’ve read somewhere that our DNA is has 40 percent in common with that of a banana! Think about that the next time you eat a banana…)

The trainers showed us a fascinating video in which they did an experiment with a high school class. They sequenced a portion of each student’s DNA. Before the results came back, they were asked who they assumed they had the most genetic similarities to. Naturally, the African Americans assumed they would have more in common with each other, and the Whites gravitated toward the Whites, the Asians with the Asians, the Hispanics with the Hispanics, and so on. But here’s the interesting thing. That turned out not to be true at all. The commonalities and disparities were actually amazingly random.

The skin color thing is a function of the sun. Humans in more overcast climes developed lighter skin over time so that they could absorb every ounce of vitamin D that they could. Otherwise they would not have survived to pass on their genes. It’s just a melanin thing, as simple as that.

Race is something constructed by society to further political and economic goals. Thomas Jefferson, the same guy who wrote that all men are created equal, also wrote, in Notes on the State of Virginia, that “Blacks are inferior to whites in the endowments both of body and mind.” That was, in essence, his way of justifying his ownership of 225 slaves. But there is no scientific evidence of these inferiorities whatsoever. The only reason blacks became slaves in our society was that the white indentured servants who used to do our scut work before slavery could too easily run away and blend in with the general population. Whereas if your skin was a different color, you had nowhere to hide. Slavery was a much more sustainable outrage than indentured servitude.

We often talk about America being a melting pot. I was taught to believe that that meant we are diverse, and we’ve all blended together to become Americans. I used to be so proud of that! But actually, the melting pot concept was more about the desire for all Americans to be able to assimilate and be exactly the same. It was all about only allowing white Christians to sit at the table. I’m repulsed by how twisted I got this. I’d much rather that we be a hardy stew.

One last thought for those of you who still think others are inferior because they have not reached your level of success. It’s easy for us W.A.S.P.s to forget that everyone else has to start 30 yards deep in their own end zone. They don’t have the leg-up that we were born with and never earned. This picture is one of the hand outs from the training. Print it out. Mark off all the privileges you have. Then mark off any additional ones you feel you don’t have that people will assume you have. (For example, I’m not a Christian, but people would think that I was.)

Once you’ve marked off all that privilege, think about who has to be oppressed for you to have each one. It’s a sobering realization. Now, tell me again how all men are created equal?

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“I Don’t Consider Myself a Feminist”

I always cringe when a female says that. A friend of mine said it recently, and it nearly broke my heart. She referred me to Judge Judy, who, according to this article, says, “I never felt I didn’t have equal opportunity as a woman.” But in that same article Judge Judy admits that there were only 6 women in her law school, and the professors didn’t treat them well. She also concedes that she did all the housework and child rearing even though she and her husband both worked. I’m not sure how she characterizes opportunities for women, but this seems kind of contradictory to me. Yes, she may have overcome those hurdles, but the point is, an attitude of “suck it up and deal with it” does nothing to remove those hurdles.

Here’s why I think everyone should be a feminist: It means you believe that women should be treated equally. It means equal pay for equal work. It means not being harassed. It means an equal level of human rights. It doesn’t mean we’re out to get all men or expect special treatment as is often claimed by those who speak out against feminism. If your primary focus are those who occupy the radical fringes of this movement, then at least acknowledge that every movement will have its fringe elements.

When I have this debate with friends, they often state that they are not feminists because that equality of which I speak should be the way it is anyway. As if the unfortunate need to ask for equality or demand it somehow delegitimizes the right to have it. You may not want to be identified as part of this group, but like it or not, by virtue of being a woman you are being treated like it by outside forces.

Should equal rights be a given? Abso-freakin’-lutely. But here’s the thing: It isn’t the case. Judge Judy is the exception, not the rule. It’s awfully easy to not support the minority that you’re a part of when you’re at the top of the heap, but there are a heck of a lot of us below you, your honor.

And Judge Judy couldn’t have reached her successful pinnacle were it not for the work of feminists. For example, according to this article, here are things American women could not do less than 100 years ago:

  • Have their own name printed on a passport.

  • Wear whatever they wanted.

  • Work in “dangerous” jobs, such as in bowling alleys.

  • Maintain US citizenship if married to a non-citizen.

  • Work the night shift.

  • Hold a job while pregnant.

  • Enlist in the military.

  • Serve on a Jury.

In theory, we finally got the right to vote in 1919, but it actually took decades for that to be universally practiced in this country. Some Trump supporters, even in 2018, want to repeal the 19th amendment. Women fought and were tortured and jailed and force fed and died for that privilege, and yet only 63 percent of eligible female voters turned out for the 2016 election, and 42 percent of them voted for a man who admits to grabbing women’s private parts. I’ll never understand that as long as I live. Do we hate ourselves?

And if the Me Too movement isn’t giving you a sense of how shabbily women are treated in the workplace, your head is buried in the sand. I’ve written a couple posts about my personal experiences with harassment, and I’m pretty typical. Eighty-three percent of American women believe they have experienced discrimination in the workplace. That’s a statistic that ought to be hard to ignore.

According to this article:

  • The more education a woman gets, the higher the wage disparity becomes. The average woman will earn 77 cents for every dollar a man makes.

  • Only 30-40 percent of all small businesses are owned by women, and they generate 61% less revenue.

In my workplace alone (the Seattle Department of Transportation), in one of the most liberal enclaves in the United States, of the 99 field positions, only a handful are held by women. And when I suggested that they make more connections with Woman in Trades organizations, to attract more female electricians, mechanics, welders and engineers, it went in one ear and out the other. That’s probably because the administration of SDOT is overwhelmingly white and male. I still work with people who use the term “cat fight” and don’t believe women should be bridgetenders.

Women’s rights are under threat all the time. We have to constantly fight to have birth control covered by insurance. No one has to fight to get Viagra covered. And there’s little or no support for affordable child care in this country. There’s constant political pushback against us making our own decisions about our health. Keep us barefoot and pregnant and out of every man’s way. Yeah. That’s the ticket.

And if we are in such an enlightened country, how is it possible that sex trafficking, child marriage, and domestic slavery still exists here?

So when a woman says, “I don’t consider myself a feminist,” what I hear is that they are comfortable enough in their situations to not have to stick their necks out. They have no desire to address the many outrages that they’re in denial about. They have theirs, and to hell with everybody else.

It would be nice if feminism were not necessary. If only wishing could make it so. But now, more than ever, we need to show a united front. Even if you don’t feel like it. If we don’t step up, why should we expect anyone else to?

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