Saturday, July 22, 2017

What white women expect

The New York Times published a series of articles called “Was that racist?” For consumers of the mainstream media most of it was a familiar shaming exercise in which white people are encouraged to believe that we are unconsciously being racist all the time. In the middle of that usual nonsense, however, there was one genuinely interesting bit.
There are many times in a day when a person is walking toward me and in my path. In these situations, we both generally make minor adjustments upon our approach. Sometimes, and especially with pedestrians who are black, as I am, there’s eye contact or even a nod. Almost always, we shift our bodyweight or otherwise detour to make the pass easier for the other. Walking courteously doesn’t take much, just soupçons of spatial awareness, foresight and empathy. In seven years of living and walking here, I’ve found that most people walk courteously — but that white women, at least when I’m in their path, do not.
The writer, Greg Howard, goes on to say that everyday day white women force him to move out of their way and that at least twice a week they force him right off the sidewalk.

Let me start by saying that I am sure this is true. I am absolutely certain he is accurately reporting what happens to him. Where it begins to go crazy is when he tries to explain it.
Do they refuse to acknowledge me because they’ve been taught that they should fear black men, and that any acknowledgment of black men can invite danger?
What?  These women successfully dominate a man who is physically stronger than them and he imagines it's fear that drives them?

Here's what I think is happening. Howard, who is a New York Times reporter is being ignored and, therefore, forced to get out of these women's way because he is successful. It's not only not racism, it's an example of how little race enters into these women's interactions and, conversely, of how Greg Howard tends to see everything through a racial lens.

What Howard does not seem to know is that white women, especially young and attractive white women, are normally deferred to by white men. Everyday, white men defer to white women by, among other things, getting out of their way on the sidewalk. The white men and women themselves probably aren't even aware that this goes on. They just do it instinctively. Is this a good thing? That's a long discussion. I don't know. What I do know is this, it is part of the unconscious  assessment women make of the men they meet on the street and it affects there subsequent behaviour.

When a white woman sees Greg Howard coming on the sidewalk (and she always sees him even if she seems preoccupied with friends or her phone) she quickly makes an assessment of him. It's a predictive assessment. That is to say, her brain scans for unusual signs and everything else becomes background. She's not doing anything unusual, we all do the same thing. Walk into your house and you will not notice all the stuff that's there everyday. Your brain has predicted all that stuff will be there and it sends a signal to relax to your body when the prediction is correct. If there is something in the room that your brain didn't predict, like a dog when you don't own a dog, and your brain will quickly put you on high alert. To return to Greg Howard of the New York Times, as a woman walks down a sidewalk in downtown New York, her brain will quickly scan men to see if they fit into familiar types. Greg Howard does, successful, college-educated professional man is the category. No threat, therefore she just keeps walking in a  straight line expecting that he will get out of her way the way all the other successful, college-educated professional men do.

Now the interesting thing from a race angle is that Greg Howard is being subjected to pressure to accept the norms of white people here. I'm sure that he knows this on some level, which is why he rankles at being treated this way.  The white successful, college-educated professional men who share the same sidewalks are used to be treated as invisible by white women. They are no more unhappy about this than I am the New York Times didn't personally contact me to respond to Greg Howard's writings. Howard coud just go along with this but he's elected not to.

The plain fact is that there will be a dominant culture. Currently, white culture dominates. Black people have had a gigantic influence on entertainment culture but the base of the culture remains white. What Howard is signalling here is that he no longer is willing to accept that. And he's not alone. The media are largely on his side of that debate/struggle. Either side might win.

A final question, why the focus on white women? White women are getting a lot of criticism lately. There is no reason why this shouldn't happen. Just about every group will have it's day of unwelcome attention someday. But why Now?

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