We need to understand the way our cultural practices may nonchalantly inflict harm on ourselves and others.
[This post is a part II, click here to see Part I.]
In part I of this development I discussed Kendi’s understanding that racism comes from self interest. Below are the relevant quotes from an article/interview with him that I shared in the previous post, just to refresh your memory.
““We have been taught that ignorance and hate lead to racist ideas, lead to racist policies,” Kendi said. “If the fundamental problem is ignorance and hate, then your solutions are going to be focused on education, and love and persuasion. But of course [Stamped from the Beginning, Kendi’s book] shows that the actual foundation of racism is not ignorance and hate, but self-interest, particularly economic and political and cultural.””
“Kendi boils racist ideas down to an irreducible core: Any idea that suggests one racial group is superior or inferior to another group in any way is a racist idea, he says, and there are two types. Segregationist ideas contend racial groups are created unequal. Assimilationist ideas, as Kendi defines them, argue that both discrimination and problematic black people are to blame for inequalities.
Americans who don’t carry tiki torches react viscerally to segregationist ideas like those on display at the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, that left one young counter-protester dead. Assimilationist ideas are more subtle, seductive and coded.
“You can be someone who has no intention to be racist,” who believes in and fights for equality, “but because you’re conditioned in a world that is racist and a country that is structured in anti-black racism, you yourself can perpetuate those ideas,” says Kendi.” (Bolding by me)
(If you didn’t already read the whole of the article I linked about Kendi that goes a bit more into this idea and his new book that explains it, I really suggest you do so as I won’t repeat all that he said, but will expand upon it.)
While I totally agree with Kendi’s analysis, I do think that his insight can be applied to other areas of oppression in society, so for today’s post I want to expand these ideas to misogyny. After all, isn’t male supremacy and the systemic oppression of women based on a similar culture of privilege and self interest? It may not be exactly the same, but I think Kendi’s insight applies here. Like my struggles with understanding racism, I have wondered for a long time how so many men who I would not consider to outwardly hate women could be so content with, and even proud of, their misogynist habits.
The modern culture of male dominance and misogyny is profound. I won’t dredge it all up, but will just focus my extension here to one sub-section of it: pornography. First of all, I know that some people will find it controversial that I casually state that porn is inherently misogynistic. Well, it is, it is, it really is, it is, and maybe it isn’t, just kidding it is. But one is forgiven for not understanding the damaging nature of porn on women, men, and consequently society as a whole. Just like there are the assimilationists in Kendi’s understanding of racism, there are many people in society who are analogue “assimilationists” for misogyny.
As a 20-something male living a modern European-American life I am immersed in porn culture. I see the objectification and hyper sexualization of women in TV shows, TV advertisements, street advertisements, music videos, and nearly everything else where someone wants to get my attention. Further to this, I seem to be surrounded by people who like to casually, and at times proudly, discuss and joke about their porn habits and preferences. However, nothing in what these men say, or in what this media tells me is overtly about explicitly wanting to harm or promote hate for women, even if that is exactly what it does.
Men have a tremendous self interest in maintaining the male dominated status quo and porn habits reinforce this male dominated power structure. While the images in porn commonly depict men being dominate over, degrading, and even violent towards women, the very act of consuming porn gives men subconscious encouragement to support this paradigm and a sense of entitlement that their throwaway pleasure is all that is needed to justify this injustice. Secondly, maintaining women at the status of ‘object’ gives men the carefree opportunity to ridicule, attack, trade, or penetrate and then casually disregard women because they crave the power it gives them (even unconsciously) or simply because they find the process fun.
It is so common for men to reject these rather simple observational truths about their behavior. After all, there is more for them to lose than I have already stated. Porn consumption and male dominance form an integral part of many men’s masculinity and identity as men, just as white supremacy is inseparable from modern white culture. If you were to confront a man with these facts and remove porn from his consumption patterns it would leave a noticeable void (I know first hand). This void is extremely uncomfortable on a deep psychological level. Just like I had to confront my own racism in the first part of this post, I can personally speak about the difficulties of giving up this harm-causing self interested habit and mentality.
Just like white people who do not outwardly hate people of color supporting racist power structures in society, many men who do not outwardly hate women eagerly support anti-women power structures, and for the same reasons. Both groups’ cultures are built upon the domination of the other, and both groups will face so much to discomfort and loss of ‘normalcy’ in the event of justice. But again, it is so important that we endeavor to learn about our privileges and strive to understand the way our seemingly harmless cultural practices may override our internal sense of right and wrong and allow us to nonchalantly inflict undue harm to ourselves and others.
Thank you Ibram Kendi for these transformation inspiring illuminations.
Thanks for reading.