• Posted: Sep 24, 2011 13:54:24
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Several things in the news this week have brought to mind this image. I do not know either person. She is a recent immigrant, he a young black. I say I do not know either of them, but I do. I do because I have seen that look, that posture before. I grew up near it. I've worked with women and men of similar attitude: hopeful, but carrying a burden of doubt and uncertainty in their eyes, in their souls. I even married such a person. It is an attitude I have great respect for and great sympathy. But it also pains me to see it. It pains me because the doubt and uncertainty part is born of intellectual and spiritual oppression, oppression based on stereotypic role expectations, expectations that demand compliance, but that dismiss, ignore, and devalue potential for everything else.
A current friend of mine wrote recently of her pleasure in, as she put it, "putting on the flirt". "I enjoy being a woman," she explained. I couldn't help but smile, because I too have enjoyed her being a woman. But the case has never been between us that I have demanded she be anything she isn't, nor not be anything she desires to be. She lives within a larger social environment that almost without question respects and supports her whims, desires, and aspirations. The two in the image above plainly do not. And they are not alone.
And here let me explain, I am not talking about being unemployed or uneducated or in this country illegally. These two are employed. They are riding a bus during rush hour, traveling to or from work. But still, there is that look. In fact, if many more of our nation's citizens rode public transportation to and from work each day, instead of isolating themselves from their fellows in automobiles, we'd probably all be enjoying a better state of affairs. I'm quite sure we'd all be more involved with each other, more aware, and more understanding of what is actually needed to move this country forward.
The problem of social isolation and limitation by social stereotype is currently far more ubiquitous than most of us realize. A surprising case in point was noted this week within a new book by Ron Suskind. Within, he recounts a struggle female members faced during the first couple years of the Obama administration. Their struggle was not due to attitudes or policies Obama put forth. It was due to a system of practices and understandings, ritualized behaviors if you will, that male members of the administration brought with them to the White House. Most hardly understood the consequences of those behaviors for their women peers, and many probably still don't, things like customary polite deferment to one or two men's opinions while no one even bothered to elicit or give hearing to what females in the room thought. It wasn't that female ideas were pooh-poohed. They weren't even given a chance to be heard. They were, as a matter of course, skipped over in the unspoken assumption that all relevant facts and ideas had already been voiced. Male authoritative tone of voice and carriage demanded such confidence, confidence that, in fact, was unwarranted and often invalid. Just such myopic male arrogance within the previous administration led us to war in Iraq. And, per Suskind, similar male arrogance within this administration has helped distract Obama from the very real need to press Wall Street into a much tighter accountability for the financial crisis we continue to face. Those issues are still being worked out. But, per Suskind, and with Obama confidante Valerie Jarrett's help, other voices, some of which are female, are now at least occasionally being heard by Obama. Will that change in culture propagate throughout the bureaucracy of Washington? Doubtful, but maybe.
Role expectations for females, foreigners, and blacks are deeply engrained in most societies. Perhaps within the U.S., since the 1960's, things have opened up a bit for women and blacks. But new waves of immigrants from societies whose customs commonly oppress women, foreigners, and blacks, and continuing celebration of "traditional values", especially within sermons given by pastors of the Christian Right, continue to reinforce the devaluation and restriction of women's, blacks', and foreigners' potential within today's society. I listened to one right-wing pastor argue this week on American Family Radio that the unemployed are now experiencing unemployment because they have not "submitted to subservience" under "God's plan". Similar assertions are regularly voiced on that network regarding "God's design" for women within society. Rigorously restrictive ideas put forth by the Taliban are not dissimilar.
I do not know what the man and woman in the picture above desire for themselves, but I whole-heartedly support and encourage their efforts to realize those aspiration, just as long as they do not undermine the viability of all the rest of us. Sadly and unfortunately, a desire for vengeance, and not social justice and responsibility, is far too often the highest imperative oppression breeds, if one is not first overtaken by despair and depression. May she, he, and others like them currently within our ranks prove to be the courageous ones who move beyond temptations for vengeance and despair. And may the rest of us learn far sooner than later to respect and accept the myriad of possible societal assets women, foreigners, and blacks offer beyond our oppressive preconceptions for them.
Tuesday, October 20th, 2009
53.2 mm 252 mm