Beer

What Complicity Looks Like (Why I Support #YesAllWomen)

Jose Vilson Jose 4 Comments

Beer

Let’s say, for argument’s sake, that my boys and I wanted to have fun at an Irish pub, jamming to every rhyme and curse Shawn Carter could muster for three verses. It’s already 11pm and we got a few drinks flowing in our system, flirting with a few women of different skin tones, cracking jokes with the a bunch of random guys from the local university. The service was a little slow to get us our drinks, and messed up our drinks more than once, and

All of a sudden, we’ve got DMX’s “Ruff Ryders Anthem” blaring out of the speakers. My boys and I do our usual bop, slurring the chorus when we turn around and see the rest of the bar singing along, too. The first verse drops and I’m just staring at everyone about to say “Niggas wanna try, niggas wanna lie! Then niggas wonder why, niggas wanna die!” A few of them relent after seeing my stare, but a few others keep jamming because one of my boys is riling them up.

I look at him like, “What are you doing?! This is MAD racist!” He’s like, “Well, it’s in the song, so there is that.”

Does it make it OK?

So fine. The DJ moves on to House of Pain’s “Jump Around.” One of my boys gets to flirting with a group of women near the bar’s exit. They’re talking it up. Laughs exchange. Everyone’s jumping. My friend gets bumped by a group of muscle-headed frat boys who were jumping and staring directly at him talking to his new acquaintance. My friend takes exception, but my friends and I notice that the situation might escalate, so we pull him away. We all leave together, so we didn’t think there’d be problems.

“EVERYONE, COME OUT HERE!” I feel a bump from behind. It’s one of the frat boys from inside, wanting to start something. He’s like, “You don’t think I’ll beat your brains out? I’ll Rodney King this whole shit right here!” His boys crack up as the rest of the bar had come out to see the sparks fly. “You got your niggas and I got my niggas, too!” A few shoves get exchanged but before we started swinging, the cops came through. The frat boys stayed. Our group left.

After reading this incident, your initial instinct might be to sympathize with me because, whether you know me or not, calling a Black person, unprovoked, the n-word is problematic at best, racist at worst. After a few times reading this, though, the pushback usually comes in the form of questions, private messages, and other perspectives that blunt an initial reaction:

  • What if the provoker saw me and my friends yelling along with DMX with the n-word, so he thought it was OK? Why even use it, Jose?
  • You know the “Jump Around” song gets people riled up. The boys were just being boys and maybe it was a misunderstanding.
  • You probably aren’t a regular to that bar whereas those guys were. Why go to a bar where the owners and bartenders don’t know you like that?

This all sounds forgiving of the folks who otherwise provoked the situation.

I’m not sharing this simply because a combination of these things have happened in my life. I’m also sharing this because, as much as we are all complicit in some form to racial dynamics, it doesn’t deny either use of the n-word, especially the second time when the other guy didn’t even have to say the n-word to try and treat us like one. The truth could be hiding in plain sight, but we need everything to fit into a neat box, the way Donald Sterling’s does, or the University of California Santa Barbara shooter Elliot Rodger.

For what, I’m not sure.

My experiences have made me see my own privilege in terms of dealing with sexism in educational institutions, and why we need to consciously work against trying to excuse it. It’s really easy to tell a woman that she needs to take personal responsibility, because personal responsibility only belongs to those least advantaged by a given relationship. It’s easy to disagree with a woman, then yell / type sexist nonsense at her because you feel there will be no repercussions.

It’s much harder to set rules about how the marginalized in a situation should behave instead of the (intentionally or otherwise) marginalizer should. That’s why, let’s say the same guy who tried to beat my brains in apologized the next morning or not, it’s not as simple as forgiving him. It’s about understanding the power dynamic that, should things have escalated, the odds were against me.

The dynamics of race and gender only get complicated when you’re on the marginalized end of both, as so many of my friends can tell you. When I’ve been called to task on issues of gender, I readily admit I make mistakes, try to learn from them, and apologize when appropriate. It’s a much better response than saying, “My heart’s in the right place! I’m popular so you have to believe me!” or “You’re wrong! I don’t have a sexist bone in my body!” Whereas, just understanding that, as a man, I consciously or unconsciously contribute to patriarchy (and associated oppression) and I have to be aware of my biases thus.

Also, note bene, even without having called the frat boy “white” or “racist,” people would double down on defending him against the latter label. As if I put the race card in the deck.

Jose

p.s. – Racism and sexism aren’t exactly the same in the way it plays out in our country, but there’s a lot of similarities, intertwined far too often …

About Jose Vilson

José Luis Vilson is a math educator, blogger, speaker, and activist. For more of my writing, buy my book This Is Not A Test: A New Narrative on Race, Class, and Education, on sale now.

Comments 4

  1. Laura

    Thank you for this! I’ve been troubled to see female bloggers I respect engaging in subtle victim blaming in some unexpected ways. Of course all citizens who find themselves affected by, well, any crime, naturally consider what they could have done to prevent it (why didn’t I check the door lock? I knew should have left sooner…) And I do not think it remiss to train all young people in how to respond in potentially dangerous situations (frat-boy related or no). At the same time, we would never prosecute the victim who left the purse in the car or got rear-ended in busy traffic. The person who committed the offense is the one who owes a debt. If there is a personal relationship affected by the offense, it would be nice to have discussions about how (if?) to heal the relationship affected for all parties, but as long as the onus is so regularly shifted to the party with less power, the toxic cultural imbalances persist.

  2. Bill Ivey

    As I think about the notion of “dealing with sexism in educational institutions,” I remember being shocked to gradually discover when I got here that my school, a 145-year-old school for girls, was essentially run by an old boys network. We’ve made massive progress over the 29 years I’ve been here – for starters, we now have alumnae as Head of School and chair of the Board of Trustees – but that’s not to say we don’t still have progress to be made. And we are a school with a mission rooted in feminism and where being feminist is considered cool. Patriarchy is like that. It subtly and insidiously insinuates itself even where it is least wanted.

    Systemic racism, too, is like that.

    So part of our work is always keeping a third eye on ourselves, striving to do our best, striving never to judge or blame others (as distinct from confronting specific words and acts as needed), especially for our own shortcomings. No matter how much we wish we didn’t have them.

    But part of our work, too, is working to undermine, dismantle, and generally do away with the systems that set up unnatural and artificial standards and/or hierarchies. And that’s where, I’m suddenly realizing, that inexplicable need so many people have to fit everything into a neat box comes into play. I wonder if it can be redefined, gradually over time, as a need to feel settled. That would be compatible with accepting each human being as a distinctly unique and special person equally worthy of dignity and respect.

  3. Pingback: “Not all white people” | Overthinking my teaching

  4. leospittles

    Girls in schools and Universites should be treated fairly, educated, and paid the same wages, and salaries as men!
    Building self esteem, and their confident to have the ability to be successful in their personal and professional working
    lives.

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