Tag Archives: class

Has Class Trumped Race? Part 4 – The Question

by Latoya Peterson

This is a continuation of a series. See parts 1, 2, 3, and 3.5 for more details.

So it took me a while to write this part of the series, partially because I am still looking for a concrete answer to the following question:

Why do so many people want to focus more on class than on race?

Now, this is not to say that class isn’t an important issue. It is. And it is an issue that needs to be brought before the public for discussion more often.

However, I must say I find it a bit disingenuous when I am having a conversation about race, and someone chooses to chime in “No, you’re wrong – the real issue is class, not race. We need to be discussing that.”

Hence the reason why I titled the series “Has Class Trumped Race?”

I would argue no.

Class and race and two different things which encompass a wide range of experiences and scenarios. They build upon each other. Just like there is no one universal race experience, there is no one universal class experience on any side of the divide. Being upper-class and black is still different from being upper class and white. Being lower-class and white is a different experience from being black and working poor.

And most of this “class” analysis still falls into a few distinct binaries.

There is the separation binary, which indicates that all lower class people in a certain group and all upper class people in a certain group must act in set ways. I hear this most in class discussions in the black community, where someone will mention that certain problems only pertain to lower-class blacks and so we should not include them in the larger racial discussion.

There is also the black-white binary, which much of our racial discourse is based around, and leaves lower class and upper class Asian-Americans, Latino-Americans, and the various generations of people born to immigrants out of the dialogue completely.

There is another binary which dictates that all discussions of race are really discussions of class because all the blacks/asians/latinos they know don’t have race problems, so it must only be a class issue. I generally hear these sentiments when I am dealing with white people who don’t want to talk about race.

The discussion today is not about whether or not class is worth discussing. I think I have made it clear that it is an enormous issue and one that must take a place of importance in our national dialogue, especially considering our current political and economic climate in the United States.

But what I want to know is why so many people want to insert a discussion of class over a discussion of race?

The “Or” versus the “And” – Women of Color and Mainstream Feminism

by Latoya Peterson

Over at Feministing, there was a nice discussion about a click moment – the moment when you realize that you began to identify as a feminist.

It occurs to me that I have only discussed half of my own personal click moment. I mentioned that it was the Spice Girls that made me identify as a feminist, but it wasn’t their personalities or their music that pushed me toward feminism.

The catalyst for my click moment was actually a knock-off tee shirt. Riding the girl power wave of the late-nineties, a lot of the cheap teen clothing stores were filled with branded tee-shirts. I had one that read in big silver lettering “Girl Power.” I remember wearing the shirt out one day, and having a guy friend walk up to me and pause to read the shirt.

“Girl power?” he said with a smirk, “What the fuck is that supposed to mean?” He walked away laughing. After that day, I never wore that shirt again, but I stayed thinking about that moment for years afterward.

Why would the concept of girl power be so ridiculous that it was laughable?

That was the moment that started the shift in thinking. Why did so many men mock the idea of women having power, or get upset when women stood up for themselves? A few years later, I found feminism and thought I found my long lost community.

Little did I know that finding feminism was also the beginning of the anti-click moments, dozens of little conversations and actions that served as a constant reminder that I was different. Reading anthology after anthology on contemporary feminist work and only hearing one or two tokenized voices from women of color. Attending feminist gatherings and realizing that a lot of the situations and scenarios discussed were things I had never experienced. Trying to articulate my experiences, and being told that we need to focus on the “real” feminist issues. Things that impact “all” (read: white) women.

I possess both a gender identity and a racial identity and feminists weren’t having that, not one little bit.

At first, I thought if I could just find the right area, things would be different. Maybe it was just the feminist girls at my high school that were fucked up and racist – when I got to college, it would be different. I got to college and the triple-whammy of elitism, racism, and classism kept me out of organized feminism. Then, I decided to do my own thing and just read but a lot of the books on feminism where from one limited perspective. There was no me in this feminism.

However, there was a me in anti-racist work. So I worked on that, discussed gender outside the contexts of feminist theory, found more books on the experiences of women of color, fell in love with Joan Morgan’s When Chickenheads Come Home to Roost, challenged my male friends on their ideas about the place of women and did what I did best – live. Continue reading

A Must See Film: Banished

by Guest Contributor Tami, originally published at What Tami Said

(In the video above, “Banished” filmmaker Marco Williams talks about the documentary.)

A hundred years ago, in communities across the U.S., white residents forced thousands of black families to flee their homes. Even a century later, these towns remain almost entirely white. BANISHED tells the story of three of these communities and their black descendants, who return to learn their shocking histories.

In Forsyth County, Georgia, where a thousand black residents were expelled, the film explores the question of land fraudulently taken, and follows some descendants in their quest to uncover the real story of their family’s land. In Pierce City, Missouri, a man has designed his own creative form of reparation—he wishes to disinter the remains of his great-grandfather, who was buried there before the banishment. And in Harrison, Arkansas, home to the headquarters of the Ku Klux Klan, a white community struggles with their town’s legacy of hate.

By investigating this little-known chapter in American history, BANISHED also takes a contemporary look at the legacy of racial cleansing. Through conversations with current residents and the descendants of those who were driven out, the film contemplates questions of privilege, responsibility, denial, healing, reparations and identity.

What can be done to redress past injustices? What is the ongoing impact of the expulsions on families and communities today? In the stories of black families whose land and livelihood were stolen, the film illustrates the limits of the American legal system and the need for creative forms of repair. By introducing these families and the white communities who forced them out, BANISHED raises the question of responsibility for past wrongs and what is involved in righting them. (SOURCE: PBS Independent Lens Web Site)

Thank God for DVR. I missed “Banished” when it ran on PBS’ Independent Lens during Black History Month this year, but I recorded it and finally watched this weekend.

EVERYONE should see this documentary that investigates a little-known period of ethnic cleansing in the United States: Roughly 1860 to 1920, when several counties and cities across the United States, including Forsyth County, Georgia, Pierce City, Missouri, and Washington County, Indiana, purged their black residents through violence and intimidation (See a “banishment” map here.).

This is not just a film about racism. Continue reading

It’s Baaack: Sweet Valley High Redux

by Guest Contributor Nadra Kareem, originally published at The Whirliest Girl

Years ago my mother was an avid reader of the Harlequin Romance series, while I read what some would view as the young adult version of those books—Sweet Valley High. From about fourth through sixth grade, I was obsessed with the central characters of the series, a pair of blond, blue-eyed Southern California twins named Jessica and Elizabeth Wakefield. Now, I’ve learned that the books, first published about 25 years ago, are back. The series has been updated to include references to contemporary technology, such as email, the Internet and cell phones. But the most controversial change is that the Wakefield sisters will now be a Size 4 instead of a Size 6. The downsizing of the girls’ much touted tan frames has sparked debates on Feministing.com, as well as at the Dairi Burger site, a blog named after fictitious Sweet Valley’s favorite teen hotspot.

I’ve been unsettled to read comments from visitors to these sites who say that the Sweet Valley series is to blame for their development of eating disorders. The readers say that the books ingrained in them the notion that Size 6 was the ideal. This isn’t surprising because, in each book in the series, the twins’ size and height (5 feet 6) are emphasized. What I’ve forgotten in adulthood, however, is that the books actually contain character after character with dietary habits that fall under the umbrella of bulimia or anorexia. One mother’s use of diet pills during pregnancy is responsible for her daughter being born deaf. And characters constantly criticize each other for doing things like eating full plates of food or looking fat in their jeans. Those who aren’t thin are almost always viewed as being impaired, if not downright sub-human.

Wrote one visitor to the Dairi Burger Web site:

“Here I was, thinking I was the only one who developed an eating disorder after reading SVH. This is fucking hilarious!”

From reading the site’s revisionist retellings of the books, not only does the Sweet Valley High series promote dysfunctional eating, they are also filled with episodes of attempted rape and sexual abuse that are completely forgotten about later. As if that weren’t enough, the books are filled with classist/racist/heterosexist rhetoric.

“I don’t know how she can date him,” a character says about a classmate who is dating a Latino student. “He’s so ethnic and working class.” Continue reading

Debunking myths about statutory rape, race and class: Part 3 of 3

by Racialicious special correspondent Latoya Peterson

Continued from Parts 1 and 2

“The only people trying to sleep with teenagers are lower class/ghetto/have that kind of culture.”

Now, back to the race and class part of this one. One or two comments I read were in this vein – that this kind of behavior was not okay, but understandable because these people were either low class, ghetto, or their culture permits it. I am projecting that these labels fit different groups of people – “low class” stands in for poor white; “ghetto” stands in for poor black; and discussions of culture normally stands in for Latino men.

Here are a few more stories and some back up information for the first ones I have you.

While I was in high school, I had two asian friends I was fairly close with. We would often end up hanging out after school at the mall with all the other teenagers our age. Occasionally, we would take the bus to the really nice mall in the upper class neighborhood, so we could be broke in style. It was there – in the affluent neighborhood – that my asian friends dealt with the worst of their harassment. I can remember that each friend, on different occassions, was approached by older white men in their thirities and forties and quizzed about their ethnic backgrounds, ages, and dating status. These men always seemed to slip cards into their hands, asking them to call them later. My friends smiled demurely, always waiting until the man had gone before throwing their number away.

The friend I mentioned who had the child at age eleven? She was white. The friend who met the twenty five year old at the park? She was black. A boyfriend I had around age fifteen was Dominican. We would often supervise his sisters (aged 10 and 11) at the playground and I recall two occasions where we had to chase older Latino men or older black men away from them.

Some of these men had money and the accompanying markers of class. Some of these men did not. While I did not have any real experiences with Asian men or Arabic men I am sure that some of my friends had those kind of situations go down as well. However, people try to use the “low class” defense to wash their hands of the situation, as if there is nothing they can do. It is as if they are saying “these people are savages – its to be expected.”

Which, obviously, is not the case. Men of all races on all ends of the economic spectrum have the potential to harass and sleep with teenagers. And a small number of men do. Continue reading

Debunking myths about statutory rape, race and class: Part 2 of 3

by Racialicious special correspondent Latoya Peterson

Continued from Part 1

“But girls lie about their age to date older guys, right?”

I am aware that some girls do lie about their age to date older guys.

When I was twelve, my best friend at the time had met a guy and lied to him about her age. She told him she was sixteen and she did have the body to back it up. The guy sleeping with her accidentally would make complete sense – except for the fact that guy was twenty-five. He eventually slept with her, taking her virginity, even after he figured out how old we were. After all, it’s kind of a dead giveaway if you’re picking your girlfriend up at a middle school.

They stayed together for a few months. She eventually tried to set me up with his twenty year old brother.

Now, in the comments on the feminist sites, I noticed that a few people argued that teenagers should not be in adult places. They mention fake IDs and older ways of dressing that allowed them to gain access into clubs and go home with college guys.

The first friend I referenced, dating the twenty five year old? She met him at a local park. You know, a park with swings and a seesaw and a merry-go-round? Yeah, that one. That park also had a basketball court where guys our age and older would go to play basketball.

I had another friend. We met in eighth grade, she was thirteen and I was twelve. My friend shocked me one day after a guy (man really) walked past us and she broke down into a sobbing heap where we stood. She confided in me that when she was eleven she had a child, but her mother had forced her to put the child up for adoption. The baby’s father was the guy who had non-chalantly passed her by on the street.

Later, I found out that she was at school when she met her future abuser/baby daddy. He was aware she was about eleven – what other age group is enrolled in Middle School? At the time, this guy was about nineteen. He strung her along in this grand relationship fantasy, helping her to cut school as they drove around and had sex in the back of his car. When she got pregnant with his child, he dropped her. However, living in the same area means she would run into him about once a month, normally leading to an outburst of tears or screaming fits on her end and cool indifference (with the occassional “you were just a slut anyway”) from him.

Some of the comments at Feministe and Feministing assume that stautory rape is a one time “oh, I met this girl at the club and slept with her – I didn’t know she was fourteen!” These were ongoing relationships. Continue reading

Debunking myths about statutory rape, race and class: Part 1 of 3

by Racialicious special correspondent Latoya Peterson

The image above has been making the rounds of the feminist blogs, most notably Feministe and Feministing.

The ad was intended to target perpetrators of statutory rape in Milwaukee. Comissioned by the United Way of Milwaukee, the PSA style posters attempted to address a growing issue in that region: an increase in teen pregnancy where the mothers were young to mid teen and the fathers were grown men.

While the images were apparently tested with a focus group, the ads were killed before they made it to the streets. Personally, I hate the images in the ad as they are so comically disorted the messages is lost. The young girls who these men are impregnating do not have seven year old faces on twenty year old bodies. Most of them do look close to their actual ages. And most of the men who would sleep with a developed fifteen year old would probably be repulsed by the idea of having sex with a seven year old.

The ad does garner attention, but by using a photoshopped image of a girl, as opposed to an actual teenager it fails to reinforce the actual message.

However, the ad itself isn’t what prompted me to write this post. The responses to the ad on mainstream feminist blogs did. As I scrolled through the comments in each thread, I was shocked to see how many women were willing to dismiss statutory rape as an issue of mistaken identity. While there were definately some commenters who spoke up as to why the ads were needed, I was astounded to see how many feminists defended the poor men in this situation, who were tricked by these age-bending teens into having sex. The prevailing assumption was that these girls were somewhere they had no business being, doing grown adult things and most of this statutory rape stuff was just an innocent mistake. Some women even threw in their own accounts of looking tragically underage and having to deal with being endlessly carded or having men leave them alone because they looked so young. Tough life.

But not as tough as a fifteen year old trying to cope with a grown man’s affections.

So, I write this post in hopes that some of those women – and a few men – who were so quick to dismiss my day to day reality (and that of my friends) as a simple case of teenage sluts gone wild will read this and reconsider what they know about statutory rape, how it plays out in communties, and how it isn’t easily dismissed as a race or class issue – though both race and class do complicate things quite a bit.

Some notes before we begin:

1. In the vein of feminist blogs, I am slapping this post with a trigger warning. I am not going to describe things graphically, but some of what happens will probably be hard for some people to take. For that, I apologize, but it has to be said.

2. Please do not judge any of the actions taken by my peers or myself. All these things happened from the ages of 12 – 15. One of the events I will describe starts at age eleven. We were not in the mindset to make adult decisions, or even good decisions.

[FYI, age of consent in Maryland is 16, with an exception for actors with less than a four year age difference. This means that a 16 year old can have sex with someone aged 16 - 20 and it would not necessarily be statutory rape.]

3. Settle in, this is the first of a 3-part post.

Ready? Here we go…

“People who have sex with children know what they are doing is wrong.”

Feministing Commenter stinsonnick said:

Ad #1.
I think for the most part men who have sex with children know that it’s wrong, or at least understand that society views it as wrong. This isn’t going to help anything. Continue reading

Has Class Trumped Race? Part 3.5 – An Aside

by Racialicious Special Correspondent Latoya Peterson

The blog SavvySugar recently posted about a college grad who did an experiment to prove the American Dream – he voluntarily went into “poverty” to see how quickly he could climb out.

Adam Shepard’s experience has – naturally – netted him a book deal. ABC summarizes:

But Shepard’s descent into poverty in the summer of 2006 was no accident. Shortly after graduating from Merrimack College in North Andover, Mass., he intentionally left his parents’ home to test the vivacity of the American Dream. His goal: to have a furnished apartment, a car, and $2,500 in savings within a year.

To make his quest even more challenging, he decided not to use any of his previous contacts or mention his education.

During his first 70 days in Charleston, Shepard lived in a shelter and received food stamps. He also made new friends, finding work as a day laborer, which led to a steady job with a moving company.

Ten months into the experiment, he decided to quit after learning of an illness in his family. But by then he had moved into an apartment, bought a pickup truck, and had saved close to $5,000.

The effort, he says, was inspired after reading “Nickel and Dimed,” in which author Barbara Ehrenreich takes on a series of low-paying jobs. Unlike Ms. Ehrenreich, who chronicled the difficulty of advancing beyond the ranks of the working poor, Shepard found he was able to successfully climb out of his self-imposed poverty.

He tells his story in “Scratch Beginnings: Me, $25, and the Search for the American Dream.” The book, he says, is a testament to what ordinary Americans can achieve.

Fascinating. I mean, everyone loves an American Dream story, don’t they? The interviewer from ABC News was excellent, asking really targeted questions about the validity of the experiment and how Shepard came to the conclusions he outlines in the book. By directly asking about privilege and his upbringing, the interviewer tries to shed some light into the thought process of this young man.

Continue reading