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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 7/15/10

Racism in the Elevator. Misogyny in the Video Production Room.

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This video clearly wants to make a social statement. Does it succeed?
This video clearly wants to make a social statement. Does it succeed?
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I just came across a video that I'm pretty sure was intended as a statement of anti-racism. I'm also pretty sure it fails in that intention. More than that, I think it's one huge step backwards.

I hate writing anything that is critical of any attempt at anti-racism. It's hard to put yourself on the line. By any measure, it's much easier and safer to remain silent. But the silence is deadly. It allows our racist systems to continue to operate unchallenged. It validates interpersonal prejudice and bias. We need to have more people who can recognize the bias and help others recognize it as well. And if they fail in their anti-racism attempt, well who among us hasn't? If you ride a wild bronco, you're bound to fall off eventually. No shame in that. It's just part of the process, and usually I want to celebrate the effort. Usually!

The video below is an exception, a painful one for me to even watch, much less celebrate, and given its popularity (almost 3 million views on youtube alone), I see it as a failure of epic proportions. I'll elaborate, but let's pause to watch. It's called "Racism in the Elevator".

It's important to me to acknowledge that the video is not without redeeming qualities. As my Twitter friend Jo Nubian (@beautynubian) tweeted last night: "The purse grab is an aspect of the Black criminal/savage meme that is so engrained socially, its almost unnoticeable." To wit, anything that makes three million people take notice is worthy of some positive regard, particularly when stereotypes of Black criminality are so widely held, particularly when the criminal justice system is racially biased beyond repair.

What I'm saying is that I have no beef with the video's problem definition. None. The purse-grab may seem like a subtle act, but it's horrifically destructive in its (often unconscious) assumption of violence and criminality -- in Black women, as well as Black men, in other people of color too. I'm glad someone is calling our attention to it. I just wish it were done in a way that had a chance at being effective and didn't denigrate women in the process.

The word "b*tch" is denigrating, demeaning, dehumanizing. And all that aside, its use in this context reinforces the very negative stereotypes it tries to dispel. My twitter friend, Shulamit Berlevtov (@shuliji), who is usually perceived as white, tweeted "The misogyny I perceive in this video frightens me more than his blackness. I feel nauseous and teary." I agree. I feel the same way. The video's misogynistic tone overrides any empathy, righteous justice, and camaraderie I would normally feel. I'll admit it. After watching this video, I don't want to hang out with this guy.

I get that he's angry. I do. And I agree that his anger is justified (see paragraph under the video above), and if this was a real encounter captured on film, I might be willing to attribute his outburst to frustration and loss of control. But this (obviously) was not a real incident captured on film but a scripted and staged encounter. As such, the man in the video did not utter "b*tch" out of frustration. He uttered it because, as the script writer, he thought the important/best thing to do in such a situation is to assert his own power and put the woman in her place. And yes, I see it as a misogynistic act, all the more so when I view it in the context of the alternate version (below).

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Mikhail Lyubansky, Ph.D., is a teaching associate professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, where he teaches Psychology of Race and Ethnicity, Theories of Psychotherapy, and a graduate-level courses on restorative justice. An autobiographical essay of Mikhail's interests in race relations and basketball is available here.

Since 2009, Mikhail has been studying and working with conflict, particularly via Restorative Circles (a restorative practice developed in Brazil by Dominic Barter and associates) and other restorative responses to conflict. Together with Elaine Shpungin, he now supports schools, organizations, and workplaces in developing restorative strategies for engaging conflict, building conflict facilitation skills and evaluating the (more...)

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