The unequal society that we live in runs on systems of prejudice against race, and gender; the systems are maintained and perpetuated by the domination and subordination of particular groups of people: males over females, whites over people of color. When this way of life is challenged, conflicts are sure to occur, sometimes in the form of outright disrespect, which some believe has been exemplified in South Carolina Representative Joe Wilson’s affront to President Obama. The “You lie” outrage has led some, like former president Jimmy Carter, and New York Times columnist, Maureen Dowd, to argue that Wilson’s retort was painted all over with racist colors, while others such as David Brooks try to maneuver our focus away from race and claim that the conflict we see now is just an instance of the age-old struggle between the “progressive elite” and “rural white populists.”
Regardless, it is true that many in America still cannot accept the reality of being governed by a black president, and thus view the president very critically. If he’s angry, he plays into racist stereotypes about black men. If he’s too calm and collected, he’s labeled ineffective or a weak leader. Uncannily, this treatment is akin to the oppression many women in the workplace, particularly those in high positions of power, experience as well. Those who are assertive and aggressive are either classified as pushy, manipulative, power-hungry, or even trying to be like men; those who embrace “female attributes” are perceived as “too soft,” and unfit for management positions and high office.
No single human can be charged with the creation of oppressive systems that we live in today, because all these manifestations of oppression (as seen in racism and sexism) are products of socialization, meaning we have internalized all of these habits and thoughts that enforce the system of oppression since birth. What we can do is build a “liberatory consciousness” which is actively alert and critical of prejudiced thinking and behavior. As Maureen Dowd’s article quotes:
“A lot of these outbursts have to do with delegitimizing him as a president,” said Congressman Jim Clyburn, a senior member of the South Carolina delegation. Clyburn, the man who called out Bill Clinton on his racially tinged attacks on Obama in the primary, pushed Pelosi to pursue a formal resolution chastising Wilson. “In South Carolina politics, I learned that the olive branch works very seldom,” he said. “You have to come at these things from a position of strength. My father used to say, ‘Son, always remember that silence gives consent.’”
“Silence gives consent.” We shall not be silent against oppressive acts of prejudice, whether they spring from bigotry based on race, sex, age, sexual orientation, ability, or anything else.