Racism and Sexism Now En Vogue

August 26, 2006

Maybe I have lived in Berkeley too long, but I am shell shocked at the blatant racism and sexism in the news lately. First there was the widely circulated video clip of Virginia Sen. George Allen calling an Indian-American recording his campaign event “macaca,” or monkey.

Then there was the equally distributed Forbes story urging men not to marry career women. Thanks ladies for spreading the word!

Amy mentioned Pat Buchanan’s new book, calling for the closing of our borders to protect the white race. Since we are on the theme of illegal immigration — ahem, xenophobia — Business Week did a serious two-page piece on another group “protecting” our borders: the Minute Men that even George Bush has decried.

While I support the notion that American businesses should hire only legal residents, I think the Minute Men’s tactics are heavy-handed and shortsighted. I would not appreciate being accosted in the street by a complete stranger simply because I “look” Hispanic. Also, the problem isn’t with the immigrants looking for work. It’s the poor economies in their countries and, most importantly, Americans’ appetite for cheap labor and goods. It must be hard for a business to maintain the incentive to pay its employees well when, as Jon Stewart once joked, Americans buy $3 refrigerators from WalMart.

Okay, but I pinched myself and eventually moved on, deeming these isolated incidents. Then I read that one of my favorite reality shows — now scrapped off my TiVo list — Survivor, plans to build teams along race lines. For a split second I wondered how strong the Latino team is.

No, really. I read it aloud to my husband because I didn’t believe it. Was this satire? Why am I not reading a story about the massive protests to this offensive and divisive tactic? I did a quick google search and the only news stories scrutinizing CBS’s decision to air the despicable episodes were foreign publications. There was one petition — also international in focus — but no American news outlet spreading the word. Pathetic.

Have we sunk to a new low where discrimination is now acceptable? Maybe even entertaining?

I am not naïve as to think racism and sexism were completely eradicated by the Civil Rights Movement. But somehow it feels socially acceptable. Just think of the socially acceptable homophobic and chauvinistic military men Survivor likes to trot out season after season. We have received the green light from the media.

My son is thankfully too young to read and hear these stories. Up to now, he appears blind to race. He will play with children of any race here in Berkeley and never question it.

The only thing he has started wondering about are gender roles. He is proud of the fact that he can differentiate between men, women, little girls and boys. “Mami es una mujer. Papi es un hombre,” he has often said. Seeing that he is surrounded largely by female caretakers — and now a female preschool teacher — I worry that he will begin to assign qualities to those sexes.

What do you make of all this, fellow MotherTalkers? How do you talk about racism and sexism with your children? I would especially like to hear from mothers of older children who have witnessed recent events unfold.