Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Feminists Need to Actively Fight Racism

E.J. Dionne Jr. has a thoughtful editorial today in the WaPo concerning the Democrats failure to commit themselves to redistributing wealth in such a way to lift up the very poorest Americans. While this criticism is nothing new, what is bold and likely to raise some eyebrows is that Dionne emphasizes the dire condition that young men of color face in this country. He writes:

While policymakers have spent much energy on the problems facing single mothers, they have done little about the disadvantages facing young men.

Why do I call this a bold move on Dionne’s part? Well, he could invite invective from feminists. (Rest assured, I am not going to be one of those feminists hurling such invective). A cursory reading of this piece might appear to echo the sentiments of many anti-feminist Conservatives (e.g. Christina Hoff Sommers) who worry over how poorly our young men are faring in classrooms designed to teach little girls, but inattentive to the boisterous, rangy nature of little boys.

But, clearly this is not his aim. I don’t take him to be heaping more crap on feminists in the style that many Democrats have in vain attempts to win back the middle. Rather, he is reminding us of at the pervasive and crippling poverty that exists here in America and that we could not turn away from in the aftermath of Katrina. He is also reminding us how profoundly racism still impacts the life chances of a young man of color in the United States.

The decline of manufacturing employment means the economy is producing fewer well-paying jobs for the less-skilled. These disconnected young men tend to go to the poorest schools, grow up amid concentrated poverty and in families that often lack fathers, and face persistent employment discrimination. Face it: The one expensive social program we have for this group is incarceration.

I was grateful to see this piece if for no other reason than to remind feminists like me that sexism does not operate independently from racism. Feminists cannot afford to neglect the situations in which men of color find themselves; we (if we are white) cannot afford to ignore how we directly benefit from the racism working against these men lifting themselves out of poverty. The trick is actively taking on these issues without allowing anti-feminists to point to us and say: “see, you feminists always think that you are the victims. Men suffer too, and perhaps more profoundly.”

Cross-Posted at Majikthise