Saturday, January 19, 2008

Race and Gender Issues

A few days ago I dropped by Rachel’s Tavern, and while I was there I read an article titled Let’s Get Back to the Real Issues, a short discourse on race and gender issues. When I finished reading I posted the following comment in the “comments” section:

“I don’t mean to play down the issues you listed, but until we solve the bigger problems of population numbers, global warming, energy alternatives, and a sustainable economy, tackling relatively minor problems is unlikely to make a whit of difference to the quality of anyone’s life.”

A reader who uses the handle Lyonside posted this response to my comment:

“OK Phil…

“So, how do we get that sustainable economy, alternative energy technology, etc. when a greate than expected part of the minority population is affected by drug abuse, high crime rates, poverty, poor education, lack of job opportunities, etc. in part caused and abetted by a racist society, which leads not only to high incarceration rates, but to a drain of intellectual and economic potential. How many people who with the right education and support could SOLVE those big problems are affected by crime and drugs and poverty, get discouraged by a school system that is underfunded and understaffed, and never get to explore their own potential?

“The personal is the local is the national is the global.”

While I was preparing a measured response to Lyonside’s questions, Lyonside followed up with this comment:

“BTW: I’m pretty sure Phil Hanson’s post qualifies as one of the “Ways to Derail A Racism Discussion” list that gets bandied about: ‘Why do you care about X issue when there are so many OTHER issues in the world?’

“Like we can’t expect both?”

This was my response to Lyonside’s first comment:


“Legalizing cannabis hemp would be a good place to start, as hemp has the potential to solve many of society’s most pressing problems.

“Hemp is a voracious user of carbon dioxide throughout its growth cycle, making it the ideal plant for carbon sequestration. Due to its high cellulose content, hemp would also make an excellent feedstock for cellulosic ethanol production (thus far enabling the plant to fight global warming in two ways).

“Biofuels made from hemp will also play a role in achieving energy independence by reducing our need for foreign oil. It will also minimize our use of coal, a notorious greenhouse gas emitter.

“A sustainable economy can be based on legalized hemp. At the time hemp was banned, in 1937, an estimated 25,000 different products could be manufactured from various parts of the plant. In addition to these, how many more products could be made using modern technologies and processes? A hemp-based economy presents new opportunities for financial gain and promises to create millions of high-tech, mid-tech, and low-tech jobs that currently don’t exist.

“When hemp is legalized and society doesn’t fall apart, people will be more likely to support drug legalization across the board, thereby causing the collapse of illicit drug trade and removing the establishment’s primary excuse for incarcerating black men.

“New opportunities for financial advancement bring about solutions to many of the problems Rachel cited. As I hinted at in my previous post, when you take care of the big problems, the little problems simply go away.”

Lyonside then responds:

“Um, no, society is not overprosecuting/overincarcerating black men because of MARAJUANA [sic] or any other substance.

“Our society overprosecutes black men because of systemic racism. Statistically more whites use and deal drugs than blacks or other ethnic minorities, and if dealing are usually situated at a higher level in the chain. But black and brown people are disproportionately investigated, arrested, prosecuted, and incarcerated. In some instances the sentencing, bail limits, and availability of substance abuse treatments, also shows racial bias.

“Other systemic problems that feul [sic] the drug trade are poverty and lack of education. Those problems stay even if drugs were legalized. And there’s no guarantee that legalization would make anyone less racist.

“Little” problems, hunh? You must not be black or brown.”

In the first place, it was not my intention to derail any discussion of racism, only to derail the notion that small problems outweigh big problems in terms of importance and priority. In completely missing the points I made in both of my comments, Lyonside prompts me to ask: Are people of color impervious to global climate change?

Lyonside makes the classic mistake of focusing so intently on small problems that the larger problems go unnoticed—as if all things aren’t connected. It’s exactly the same mindset that allows a few trees to block one’s view of the forest.

What good does it do to address an issue that’s harmful to some people while ignoring an issue that does even more harm to everyone?

Granted, racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, and a lot of other isms and phobias are reprehensible and disgusting behaviors, but I fail to see how taking people out of the frying pan that such behavior has placed them in and casting them into the fires of global environmental collapse and global economic meltdown in any way betters their situation.


barbara said...

“I don’t mean to play down the issues you listed, but until we solve the bigger problems of population numbers, global warming, energy alternatives, and a sustainable economy, tackling relatively minor problems is unlikely to make a whit of difference to the quality of anyone’s life.”

so you feel that "raced and gendered" people are "relatively minor" issues. . . people support what affects them, and race/gender oppression is very real on a daily basis for those that work to end it.
I suspect you support those "major" issues because being male, and presumably white, you've never been affected by either racism or sexism.

Phil said...

Yes, Barbara, I'm male and white--not by choice but by accident of birth. To say that I've never been affected by either racism or sexism ignores the fact that I am affected by reason of being deeply offended by both.

I support those "major" issues, global climate change in particular, because they do not and will not discriminate against anyone. Regardless of race, age, sex, religion or social standing, everyone will be affected to some degree. Unfortunately, the poor of any group will feel the side-effects of global climate change more intensely than the well-to-do of these same groups.