Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Elections, Hypocrisy, Misogyny, and Racism

Or, themacinator calls herself out on hypocrisy and gets annoyed at essentialism.

I told my coworker that I would forget this conversation that happened on election day, but I didn't, and can't. I like this coworker very much- I would probably call him a friend- he is kind and quietly, wryly funny, and a very hard worker, which I value immensely. We started at the same time and have watched each others backs since then. We were riding to a departmental training, and I asked him if he had voted. (Note: this is probably not an appropriate workplace conversation. I remember having to note this to myself previously, but somehow had forgotten this note. Typical.) He had not voted, and said he only votes in the big election. I made some joking comment to the effect of the only thing that mattered was going in there, voting for Jerry Brown (or anyone but Meg Whitman) and leaving. He responded, not joking, that that would be fine, because he doesn't vote for women in any of the top offices- Governor or President. Women, he believes, just don't get along with each other, which causes too much politics. Men, he said, always get along.

I could have asked for more information, and possibly had a good conversation with my friend, as we do have the ability to have these conversations, but I found myself resorting to the same kind of essentialism that he was resorting to, and I cut myself off. "Stop," said themacinator, "before I say something that I shouldn't." My coworker is Chinese, and along with his family, got citizenship at 18. He went to part of high school here, but still, according to him, very strongly identifies as Chinese. When we have had political discussions in the past, I have found my eyes widening and thinking words like "control of the media," "brainwash," etc. I have widely skirted issues like Tibet and Taiwan, and then sat back and realized that there's no reason "my" opinion is any better than "his," and felt like a Western snob.

So when my coworker said this, rather than engaging in a discussion, I had to stop myself from retorting something completely inappropriate and unfair about where he came from, and how women are expected to behave there. About what culture says women do and don't do when it comes to being in charge. I was pissed that this was the first thing that came to my mind, and equally frustrated that I wasn't able to have a dialogue with him. I think *he could have handled a dialogue, potentially without throwing out anymore hurtful and redactive stereotypes, but I was starting with one that I felt was unspeakable, and didn't want to sink any further from there. In fact, I didn't want to start there. My coworker had realized that this was a potentially poor place to start and said "no offense," but that's about it- he still put it out there. It's his belief, of course, and personal beliefs are what they are, and can be offensive. I suppose it's where we go from there. I don't know where to go from here, but want to acknowledge that my response to an essentialist position about women was to internally respond with an essentialist racist position.

I want to excuse myself that at least I can acknowledge this position, and its bias, but I don't feel like it's enough. I know the history of mis-information between China and the US, and want to know more. I want to acknowledge the racism inherent in attributing one Chinese-American man's beliefs to a whole (huge) group of people. And I want to get rid of my tendency to make sweeping generalizations as a first resort.


Anonymous said...

Since when do we let the Chinese vote in our elections anyway? Hmmm.

thb said...

So, that leads me to another question: is it better to have a philosophy of whom to vote for (and when), even if it is "not the philosophy" you personally use to vote, or to NEVER vote, like several that actually ran for high office? Take a week or two to discuss amongst yourselves...THB