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Archive for the ‘race’ Category

“Womanist is to feminist as purple is to lavender” -Alice Walker

Womanism is a feminist term coined by Alice Walker. It is a reaction to the realization that “feminism” does not encompass the perspectives Black women. It is a feminism that is “stronger in color”, nearly identical to “Black Feminism”. However, Womanism does not need to be prefaced by the word “Black”, the word automatically concerns black women. A Womanist is a woman who loves women and appreciates women’s culture and power as something that is incorporated into the world as a whole. Womanism addresses the racist and classist aspects of white feminism and actively opposes separatist ideologies. It includes the word “man”, recognizing that Black men are an integral part of Black women’s lives as their children, lovers, and family members. Womanism accounts for the ways in which black women support and empower black men, and serves as a tool for understanding the Black woman’s relationship to men as different from the white woman’s. It seeks to acnowledge and praise the sexual power of Black women while recognizing a history of sexual violence. This perspective is often used as a means for analyzing Black Women’s literature, as it marks the place where race, class, gender, and sexuality intersect. Womanism is unique because it does not necessarily imply any political position or value system other than the honoring of Black women’s strength and experiences. Because it recognizes that women are survivors in a world that is oppressive on multiple platforms, it seeks to celebrate the ways in which women negotiate these oppressions in their individual lives.

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Hierarchy

A ranking system that organizes itself based on arbitrary values. Hierarchies posit one kind of thing at the “top” of the system and have a set list of gradations that end at a “bottom” point. What is at the “top” is generally what has the most power and that which is at the “bottom” has the least power, and is a poor subsititute for the highest ranking thing. Hierarchies allow people to view other human beings as if they exist on a “scale”, making it easy to identify the value (or worth) of someone based on how far away or close they are to the highest point. Race and gender hierarchies are often justified with concepts such as evolution and mental or physical difference. Hierarchies exist within all social spheres and vary according to the culture and values of each group.They can be dependent on multiple determinants; for example, a straight white male (the authority) might be at the top of someone’s hierarchical scale and a black lesbian woman (the subordinate) might be at their bottom. A gay white male could be posited as higher than a gay black male because “white” and “male” are factors that make up the person at the top of the scale. Hierarchies contribute to a narrow world view and both form and are formed by oppressive ideologies, making them ultimately untrustworthy.

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Default  (de·fault – [di-fawlt]) n.
A term used to denote normality and neutrality and identify adherents to it. Similar to what one might find as the ‘defaults’ on her computer (Times New Roman type font, the same homepage for internet access, the vertical letter format for printing documents in a printer), the Default is the constant and unhistorical standard of society by which everyone/thing else is described. It simply is.  With regards to feminism, Simone de Beauvoir writes that while “the fact of being a man is no peculiarity” simultaneously it is acknowledged that “the body of woman [is] a hindrance, a prison, weighed down by everything peculiar to it” (FTR 33). In this way, the male body and man as social being is ‘neutral’ and ‘unaltered’ and therefore good. It is the woman who is distinguished in her deviance from the Default. Hers is a body crafted in the perfect image of man, but taken tragic and disgusting wrong turns in the journey to finality. In this mindset, Aristotle aptly remarks: “The female is a female by virtue of a certain lack of qualities, we should regard the female nature as afflicted with a natural defectiveness” (FTR 33).

We can take this concept of Default further, however, than the realms of gender binary and apply it to (American) social consciousness in general. How then do we define the default? It is everything that does not need a signifier preceding it.

  • A human is a person, but a person is a man. If not, her sex is indicated with the signifier ‘woman’ or ‘she’.
  • A human is a person, but a person is a white man. If not, s/he is distinguished by a suitable racial and skin color signifier. One is black; one is Latino, one is Asian. But the One (the Subject to which everyone else is Other) is white.
  • A human is a person, but a person is a white, straight man. If not, s/he is ‘gay’, ‘lesbian’, ‘bi’, ‘trans’, queer, etc. Homosexuality and all other deviations from Default, that is, heterosexuality, must be identified lest we confuse the idealized Default with contrarily identified others.
  • A human is a person, but a person is a white, straight, middle class man. One cannot but be of middle class without being identified as such as well.
  • A human is a person, but a person is etc. etc. etc…

Undecided portion of definition—is this true?: It is crucial to distinguish this idea of Default from the notion of ‘assumption.’

Assumption indicates agency–that is, one is choosing to apply a totalizing model of being to all individuals.  But is the Default a set of assumptions or something deeper, more insidious?  It’s not just the way we talk (though, actually, it is: the way we talk betrays the way we consider our social and material surroundings).  It’s the way we interpret reality…through an understanding like the Default?

Is this an issue of power–is our manufacturing of the Default an unacknowledged, unaware strategy towards understanding social gradations of power?  Does the Default assist us in comprehending difference?  Or is it a straw man, absent from reality, towards which everything is oriented in opposition?

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