Vaginas and Racial Reality
November 12, 2005
[revised Nov. 13, 2005]

My first impulse in reaction to an odd controversy on the University of Michigan campus involving an upcoming production of "The Vagina Monologues" with a cast consisting entirely of women of color was to be smug. Hey, they're all pink on the inside, right?

But the whole "V Day" (performance of "The Vagina Monologues" on Valentine's day) thing is about "violence against women," which is a serious issue. Violence against women of color is a serious issue. Violence against anyone is a serious issue. Organized violence by our government is a serious issue. We might even say that those who can live without worrying about violence are certainly lucky and maybe even privileged.

So I will be serious. If you meet me at a bar, I might be naughty or crude or witty or flirtatious or clueless or whatever and I'll make all the usual jokes about a play that focuses on women's private parts, but, for now, I will be serious.

I happen to know two very attractive young women attending the University of Michigan. What follows are points I might make if we were having a serious discussion about the play and about issues related to the current controversy about the upcoming production of it.

*

Men are more likely to commit acts of violence against women than women are against men. In cases of domestic violence, women are more likely to be initiators of violence than is commonly believed, but they are still less likely to start fights than men. Many factors contribute to these differences: Differences in average physical strength, in aggressive tendencies, cultural differences, different characteristics of reproductive organs. But the differences in violence are real and well known and not controversial.

Now, as to "women of color," we need to be more specific. The phrase is misleading. Are Japanese women living in Japan more likely to be victims of violence than American white women in the U.S.A.? Probably not -- Japan is well known for its low crime rate. Even if we take, for example, Arabic, Hispanic and black women living in the U.S.A., their victimization rates are probably not the same and there are, I would presume, some significant differences in the cultural or social factors contributing to those different rates.

So let's just talk about black and white -- those are the differences we are most concerned with. The fact that black women are more likely to be victims of violence is rooted, I believe, in the fact that black men are much more likely than white men to commit acts of violence -- against each other, against black women and against white people. This is the horrible, unmentionable, politically incorrect fact underlying the different rates of victimization that "women of color" are trying to call attention to.

Indeed, the whole constellation of diversity training, intergroup dialog, social research, ethnic studies courses, women's studies courses -- the whole thing -- is, to a very significant degree, devoted to the denial of this basic fact: that black men are -- statistically, on the average, etc. -- much more inclined to violence than white men.

It is fear of that violence that drives much of the "segregation" that the leaders of your university are always complaining about. People with enough money can afford houses in affluent, ritzy neighborhoods in mostly white communities where they don't have to worry about being victimized by black or Hispanic thugs. (Or poor white thugs, for that matter, although poor white people are less inclined towards thuggery than are poor black people.)

Now, I know that you ("you" being one of my imaginary conversation partners) came from a really beautiful, really spiffy neighborhood. It's the kind of place I might drive through just to look at all the nice houses, but I always leave soon so as not to arouse suspicion. A certain amount of vigilance is necessary to maintain a beautiful lifestyle, and I respect that. My own dwelling, by the way, is pleasant enough. On a nice little street, and so on. I, too, have little fear of crime, since I live in a mostly white community. The one black person I know who also lives in this community is a very likable, very popular, law-abiding fellow citizen.

Many social issues are about numbers and averages. What percentage of this or that group has this or that characteristic or this or that experience. The general rule is: An all black or mostly black community will tend to include many more violently inclined individuals than a mostly white community. Even though the majority of black people are decent, a significant minority of black people are not decent and their behavior is a true plague on everyone else. For practical purposes, "integration" simply means introducing significant numbers of the violent, criminal types into white neighborhoods. Those who can afford to move out do so. Those who remain are often victimized. The Metro Detroit area is broadly "segregated" because white people have been driven out of formerly all white neighborhoods.

*

That's racial reality. If you want, I could chase down a few references for you. You might start with an article, The Color of Crime, by Nicholas Stix which discusses and summarizes information from a book having that title. But I suspect that you already know that what I'm saying is generally true.

You also know, as a student at the University of Michigan, that there is profound tendency among "right thinking people" to either deny or explain away that reality. They will mention things like poverty, bad schools, racism and so on. Of course, all these issues are interrelated. There is the obvious point: What would we be like if we grew up in crumbling, crime-infested neighborhoods and attended bad schools? Hard to say precisely, but it's easy to imagine we would be less than the fine people that we are. But all that aside, I'd like you to consider the possibility that some of the key factors in observable aggregate racial differences in behavior and situation are fundamentally genetic and simply can't be affected by any changes in social policies or in the attitudes of white people.

*

One of the political realities in effect on your campus is the fact that honest discussions about fundamental aggregate racial differences are forbidden. The fact that white people tend to do better than black people in American society is always interpreted as a sign of "white privilege." I've read three items in the Michigan Daily so far mentioning this "privilege." This, from an LSA Junior:

I completely respect and understand the complexity lying within intersections of race and gender. I could never associate my experience as a woman to that of a woman of color, as I have an amount of undeniable privilege that comes with being white in this society. (Erin Cosens, Letter to the Editor, The Michigan Daily, Nov. 4, 2005)
This, from a white woman who supports "the vision of this year's V-Day organizers":
Recognizing and taking responsibility for the invisibility and privilege of our whiteness is hard, and I know as well as any other white person that it can be painful. However, as white women, it's crucial that we struggle through our initial reactions and honestly examine the entitlement we've had in "The Vagina Monologues." Asking white women to explore women's issues through an all-women-of-color cast will force us to listen to the monologues and engage with feminism in ways we haven't done before. (Emily Squires, Viewpoint: The unbearable whiteness of V-Day, The Michigan Daily, Nov. 10, 2005)
Finally, from an LSA Senior:
If one who opposes affirmative action simply does not care, then it's obvious that the person is a racist. He would rather continue to live in a society where a member of the majority receives a head start simply for being a member of the majority. (Nathan Broyles, Letter to the Editor, The Michigan Daily, November 1, 2005)
The main promoter of the "white privilege" concept is a guy named Tim Wise. I wrote an essay about Tim back in the spring: Deconstructing Tim the Wise Guy. I get into the whole "privilege" thing in some detail, but, briefly, I don't think that you, my favorite waitress before you went to Ann Arbor for school, are "privileged" even though you live in a really spiffy neighborhood. You are fortunate, which is a different thing. Your folks, through intelligence and hard work and their own measure of good fortune, whatever it might have been, have done well enough to have a fine house, send you to a private high school and so on -- that's not "privilege," that's the American Dream. As far as the laws of the land are concerned, we all have the "privilege" of aspiring to such a thing, if that's what we want.

Not everyone makes it. Some people aren't smart or talented enough. Some people don't work hard. Some people have different dreams. Some people don't pick up all the clues they need. It's the complicated mixture of heredity, environment, upbringing, schooling, community, intelligence, personality, luck, karma, kismet, destiny, personal will power and maybe the Will of God. In other words, life in a free society.

There isn't any government committee sitting around whimsically passing out favors to some of us and not the rest of us. Well, actually there are such committees, but we are not the ones getting the favors. They claim to be fighting discrimination, compensating for racism, leveling the playing field, seeking diversity and so on. They claim to be bringing a measure of fairness and justice into our society. In order for those claims to be at all believable, the powers that be around here constantly promote the concept of "white privilege." And you can see that the concept has taken hold in the minds of the "Stepford white people" quoted above.

By the way, I truly respect people who are trying to address some of the social conditions that depress the life prospects of many black citizens. But I don't respect those who resort to the cheap trick of pretending to compensate for those conditions by attacking the straw target of "white privilege."

*

This "Vagina Monologues" controversy primarily involves the issue of double standards, which is part of the overall reality of racial politics in the U.S.A. White people are supposed to be "inclusive," to "embrace diversity" and to eschew ethnocentrism. Minorities are allowed to be ethnocentricly exclusive when it suits their needs of the moment. At least, that is the way it is "supposed" to work.

The funny thing about this vagina uproar is that a lot of good liberals -- bless their hearts -- are saying, "Hey, this isn't what we've been taught!" Either they will internalize the doublethink that embraces operationally diverse definitions of diversity itself, or they will realize that much of what they hear about "diversity" from the university administration is mere verbal trickery and not heart-felt committment to principle.

 
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