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>> Sunday, December 19, 2010

Razack, Sherene H. Looking White People in the Eye: Gender, Race, and Culture in Courtrooms and Classrooms. Toronto: U of Toronto P, 1998. Ebrary. [C]

Well, actually more than 2 - but have not yet written them all up yet ... just finished writing about Sherene Razack's Looking White People in the Eye though, so it feels done while the others don't (yet!).

Writing about the books here is different than the sort of writing I do about them for my notes and annotated bibliography...which is why it is a good exercise, I think... it encourages me to think about them another way - and to think about how I might present them if I were to be teaching them, i.e. to students (or blog visitors) who are not as immersed in the whole Women's Studies thing as I am right now. So anyway ... Looking White People in the Eye...

I think the most important thing that I got from this particular reading is questions to consider as I read other work, watch TV or read the paper, pay attention to the dynamics in my classes (huh! I have no more classes as a student now.... it's all teaching for the time being! Cool, eh?). They include:

  • What stories are told and how are they heard?
  • How does gender interlock with race and disability to produce specific experiences of violence and what language can I use to describe those interlocking realities?
  • How has colonization changed, and continues to change, me? (Razack uses "white people" but since I only speak for myself, I changed the question accordingly)

I really liked that she uses the term "stories" .... sometimes, the work that I am doing now seems so far from removed that the work that I did during my undergraduate work and even in my Masters - but it really is not. It is all about stories, and Razack reminded me of that, and her work encouraged me to think about how the things I worked on and learned before starting my Phd might still be of use.

Anyway....each of the essays in the book explores the way that the eyes of men and women of dominant groups see subordinate women in these complex, interlocking ways. Razack differentiates interlocking from intersectionality by the degree of interdependence; interlocking systems need one another, and by tracing the complex ways in which they help to secure one another, she writes, we learn how women are produced into positions that exist symbiotically but hierarchically (13). Razack argues that power relations deeply shape encounters, and that through attending to them, we can begin to unravel how subjectivity is constituted, how systems of domination are produced, and how better to disrupt and challenge them.

The most useful chapter (aside from the introduction and conclusion, anyway) for me was one in which Razack discusses developmental disability. She advocates for attitudes not of pity but of respect, and highlights ways in which gains fought for and achieved by feminist women may, in courts, work against women with disabilities. It is here, as she notes, that she is clearly in the dominant and privileged position so - for those of us who enjoy white privilege as a matter of course - this is the chapter that most closely models a discussion from our typical position.

I feel that I should clarify enjoying white privilege. This is not, at least from my standpoint - and remember that I have already said that I speak only for myself - a matter of lording my position over anyone else's. It is, rather, an acknowledgement that in our society, I do, by sheer virtue of being a white Canadian, benefit. I am, actually, exceedingly privileged - by not only race, but also in terms of class (I can take time out from working to go to university, and although there are certainly many more class privileged than I, that definitely places me in a privileged position relative to many others). And while I have, at some times in my life, experienced short term disability, here again, I am privileged - and certainly there can be little argument that I have a much easier life than someone who is poor, ill or disabled, and not-white. That does not mean that I am better than this hypothetical person, of course - in many ways, to my way of thinking, it means that my accomplishments mean rather less than theirs do.

So the only real area in which I am regularly in the subordinate position is because I am female - and in Canada, while there continue to be very real disadvantages to being a woman (we are a very long way from any sort of equality yet; patriarchy is alive and well albeit rather more subtle than it has been in the past - but that is a discussion for another day, as I'm trying to write a blog post, not a novel!) - that alone does not render me SO subordinate as to permit me to, as Razack suggests some feminists do, ignore the many ways in which my privilege puts others in the subordinate position.

Of course, in a neoliberal society, we are all equal and none of us are supposed to pay any attention to any of this but hey... there, too, is a rant for another time.

There are so many tangents I am tempted to go off in from here - but the unfortunate reality is that The Goffman Reader is due back at the library by tomorrow and I have not yet begun to read it.... so I shall stop here and get started.


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