Ending the Oppression Olympics

Rebecca Traister really gets at what I’ve been trying to articulate, about why it is that the open acceptance of sexist language over racist language is by no means an indication that sexism is a greater problem, and in fact might show why sexism might be an easier problem to overcome:
I think also that, in the United States, race (especially when combined with class) remains a more formidable barrier to professional, political and economic success than gender. Hillary Clinton may have a harder time getting elected than Obama because, frankly, Obama can be comfortably looked at as an exceptional black man, not as a harbinger of what’s to come, whereas Hillary will stand in for all those pushy broads coming to take your jobs, college admissions letters, and your seats in Congress. If Hillary’s success is less exceptional, does she deserve my vote as much as Barack?
That gets to the heart of it. Sexism is perversely the only real tool to enforce sexism, but racism has classism as the back-up plan. Strangely, the figure of the exceptional black person can be used to excuse racist oppression of everyone else. It provides a way for the racist to say, “Look, it’s not society that oppresses black people, since Figure X is permitted access. All those black people living in poverty have every opportunity are just inferior/only have themselves to blame.” Obama has already been used in service of this kind of argument, when William Saletan used his success to argue that other black people who don’t share it are just born stupid.

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