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Race and Gender: Two Lovers Who Dare to Kiss

by L.A. Bailey

What would happen to America if race and gender decided to unleash their passion and proclaim their undying love, respect, desire and need for one another?

What would happen if the two achieved their collective vision and birthed a dream of a world that deconstructs and eliminates barriers that block the progress of women and people of color?

What would happen if today’s African American leadership followed the convictions of the Civil Rights Movement and didn't settle for the mere replication of hegemonic practices in the black community?

Or, what if women created systems of change using a female-driven paradigm instead of believing that the interests of women are best served by replicating the behavior of men?

In the age of President Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, some have suggested that the struggle for Civil Rights and Women’s Rights is over. The struggle is never over, it only evolves. Crime continues to grip inner city neighborhoods, African American unemployment continues to soar, and black boys continue to enter the correctional system, as well as drop out of high school, in record numbers.

And although we have seen women make great strides during the last decade, human trafficking of girls as young as five years old continues to flourish worldwide (with the United States supplying the demand according to MSNBC). The threat of domestic violence and sexual assault against women of all ages continues to heighten. Women in the workplace continue to make less money than their male contemporaries. And the denigration of the female image and body has now expanded to the Internet.

By no means is the struggle over. In fact, one could make the argument that it has just begun. Remember, “Power Concedes Nothing Without A Demand” (Frederick Douglass). There is a definite power shifting in the United States, so those who identify themselves as progressives need to be ready for the demand and the struggle.

There’s an “analogy-like” scene in the remake of the movie Assault on Precinct 13, starring Laurence Fishburne and Ethan Hawke. Both men are suspicious of each other, but they have to work together if they want to make it out of their current dilemma. Here’s the (paraphrased) quote: “I know you don’t trust me and I don’t like you, but we’re going to have to put our shit on pause right now if we want to make it out alive.”

Women and people of color are facing some major obstacles. If we want to continue the age of Obama, Clinton, and Sotomayor, along with major improvements in the life chances of the groups these three represent, we’re going to have to put our shit on pause and work together.

My charge to women and people of color is this: let’s come together as authentic, critical thinkers to address essential social justice themes: (1) Better Schools; (2) Affordable Housing; (3) Safety; (4) Economic Prosperity (For All Those Who Want It); (5) Affordable and Effective Health Care; (6) Elimination (Wishful Thinking) or Reduction (More Realistic) of
Structural Racism and Sexism.

So -- when I'm asked, "Do you experience more discrimination as an African American or a woman?" -- I can respond, "It doesn't matter because I'm fighting to eliminate both "isms" simultaneously.” We should all agree and understand that the progress of women and people of color is entangled and yoked together. If one group goes up or down, the other will soon follow.

It’s time for a paradigm shift that promotes critical thinking, action, practicality and compassion. Here are five ideas about how to move beyond race and gender.

One-Expand Your Territory

Hang out with people who don't look or think like you - dare to be a challenge and to be challenged intellectually.

Two-Participate In Critical Thinking

We must encourage ourselves to think critically about everything we hear and see. Can we trust the message and the messenger? Is this a message that helps or hinders? Does it benefit me at the cost of others? Does it support my values? Promote personal potential? Does this message promote greed? Does it enhance and expand democracy and public discourse? Would I repeat this message to the women and children in my family?

Three-Speak Truth To Power

Never be afraid to speak the truth to powerful people and/or institutions. At the end of the day, all we have is the truth. And we will be judged on how well we told the truth.

Four-Challenge Mindsets That Promote Racial and Gender Oppression

Challenge people who make racist or sexist remarks -- particularly, challenge those who look like you do. It is easy to challenge “The Man,” but, what about exchanging ideas with your cousin, sister, mother, father, uncle or brother? Let's start breaking down the racial and sexual barriers we erect at home first.

Five-Go To The Movies

Document how women and people of color are portrayed in cinema. Share your experience with your friends and ask them to do the same type of documentation. Compare notes and send letters about your experience to movie producers and directors.

Carrying On Together

Race and gender ... may you one day meet and dare to love so passionately that the world is commanded to change to reflect your union.

I am a product of that union. I know and share the passion and pain of advocating for racial and gender freedom and justice. I am "no ways tired" and I will continue the dance of social justice no matter how many times my feet get stepped on.

December 15, 2009

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L.A. Bailey is the former president of the Chicago Council on Urban Affairs, a public policy civic group, and the co-founder of the Women of the Millennium Project (an initiative build partnerships and collaborations among racially diverse groups of women). She is also a recipient of the Metropolitan Chicago and Lake County, IL YWCA's Racial Justice Award.

Also see "Taking on Postracialism" by Rinku Sen in this edition of On The Issues Magazine.

See The Art Perspective: "How the People Became Color Blind and We Came to America, "Art and Text by Faith Ringgold, curated by Linda Stein in this edition of On The Issues Magazine.


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