The Oppression Olympics: Live on NBC…

I was watching Saturday Night Live the other night (yeah…that would be Saturday) and Chris Rock opened the show. I want to comment a little bit about what he said.

First off, it should be obvious that I’m writing from a white-guy, feminist-identified perspective; and I recognize that there is messed up, offensive stuff on SNL all the time so there is this question of why I am going after Chris Rock of all possible targets, but at the same time it was just such a clear example of Oppression Olympics (that is, arguing over who suffers worse under the system), and it was showcased as the opening of the show (the “live from New York” opening) so it really just got me worked up.

Basically, the sketch was him just sitting at a desk with a suit and tie, basically doing a stand-up routine about the Democratic primaries. He talked about how this Obama vs. Hillary thing is really becoming a suffering contest, over who has suffered more: white women or black men. He then proceeds to say that there is really no way we can compare the suffering of white women to black men.

I don’t remember many of the specifics, but he definitely brings up history like lynching and says that white women were never lynched…and talks about how white women couldn’t vote for like a second. And he says that white women are actually the majority so they could have had a woman president like decades ago…then proceeds to say something like along the lines of “bi***es, what are you complaining about.” He also talks about how everyone LOVES white women. He wraps up by saying that for these reasons he believes that Obama will not only be the nominee, but will be the next president, and the first black president…and ends with an ablist “retard” joke about Bush (which, in fairness, is standard for SNL).

Now, I’m not outraged or anything. I’m just sad. As a middle-class white guy, having certainly grown up with something of the perspective of the powerful, I believe that this kind of joking, talking, thinking is what serves the powerful — white guys like me, and the richer ones — best. Divide and conquer, you know. Frankly, I wouldn’t be surprised if white guys are the folks who end up most appreciating Rock’s piece…because, contrary to what Rock says, everyone does NOT love white women, and many white men frankly don’t really miss an opportunity to hate on, dismiss, humiliate white women (and women of color as well, for sure). Rock has served their interests nicely.

What’s also sad is the inaccuracy of it. Officially, black men had the vote before white women AND women of color, especially outside of the South….which really is only to say that basically the system sucked for all of these folks for a long, long time, and still does.  Also, before, during, and well after the times of legal slavery, white women actually suffered “legal death” after marriage…that is, they officially, legally and culturally lost their identities and legal rights, become essentially the property of their husbands. And though white women weren’t historically lynched (and neither were women of color, proportionally…does that mean they had it easier than the men?), they were burned alive as witches (and we’re talking THOUSANDS of women in Europe!) and still are beaten, raped, killed by (mostly white) men on a daily, hourly basis. AS ARE WOMEN OF COLOR. To think that white women are loved and have it easy because they often share the homes and beds of the white male power structure is a mistake. Being closer to the oppressor doesn’t necessarily make one safer around the oppressor (as women of color working in white homes have known for centuries).

So, what’s my point? That white women have it worse? Nope, I fundamentally reject that game. And I regret that Rock or anyone else would play it.

Let’s be simple, in order to be clear: Black men, men of color are oppressed under white supremacy. White women are oppressed under patriarchy. Women of color are doubly oppressed under both systems and in the interactions between them. I believe that to go down the road of denying others’ oppression in order to bolster the case for one’s own oppression will always end up serving the powerful.

I don’t think that’s what Chris Rock meant to do…to serve the powerful…but it’s actually not the first time that he’s inadvertently done that with his comedy. I remember all of my white high school friends repeating his “I love black people, but I hate n****rs” joke with glee after his HBO special came out. Just like in the movie Bamboozled…privileged people eat that stuff up. White America also did the same thing to Chappelle, by the way…but to his credit I think he saw it happening and got out while he could (and thanks to Alisa for pointing me toward that analysis).

And so, the winner of this event in the Oppression Olympics: the system. Like always.

Edit: Here’s a link to the Chris Rock sketch.

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-Dispersing Power by Raul Zibechi

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