Friday, July 20, 2012

Divide and Conquer: Part 2

I have discussed the nefarious impacts of an ever-proliferating web of non-profits and government agencies, which diffuses the focus and energies of well-intentioned people in a multitude of different directions, preventing the emergence of a unified radical movement.

Then there is the more obvious divide and conquer strategy, of which there tends to be greater awareness. Historians and anthropologists have noted that the origin of the concept of “race” coincided with an attempt (successful) to create a wall of separation between poor whites and black slaves, and thus prevent them from uniting to overthrow the system that oppressed them both. Throughout American history, working-class whites have been told that they are competing with blacks (and immigrants) for jobs, all the while opportunist politicians cultivate an insidious racism which may be used to garner their support for the ruling elite. In the words of Bob Dylan (excerpts from Only A Pawn in Their Game):

A South politician preaches to the poor white man
"You got more than blacks, don't complain
You're better than them, you been born with white skin" they explain

The deputy sheriffs, the soldiers, the governors get paid
And the marshals and cops get the same
But the poor white man's used in the hands of them all like a tool
He's taught in his school
From the start by the rule
That the laws are with him
To protect his white skin
To keep up his hate
So he never thinks straight

The strategic cultivation of poor, white racism is more well-known. But I often wonder if the same tactic is used to create divisions along lines of gender, sexual orientation, and class (the latter within the same race).

For example, there has been some attention given to the fact that macho-ism/sexism is more exaggerated within white, blue-collar and African American communities (this works internationally as well, but I will stick to the American context for now). There are many scholarly and popular examples. Just recently, for example, the CNN news anchor Don Lemon, upon publicizing his sexual orientation, discussed the extreme difficulties (greater than in American society at large) of being gay in the African American community. And there has been no end to the public discussion about sexism in hop-hop music and culture. Likewise, the image of white, blue-collar life is a paragon of gender stereotypes: blue-collar men fix cars, go hunting, ride trucks and motor cycles, get wasted at the bar and get in fights. Music associated with working-class culture (most notably country and hard rock) is rife with sexism. Lyrics this time from Brad Paisley (country singer):

When you see a deer, you see Bambi
And I see antlers up on the wall
When you see a lake you think picnics
And I see a large mouth up under that log

When you see a priceless friend's painting
I see a drunk naked girl
When you think that riding a wild bull sounds crazy
And I'd like to give it a whirl

These days there's dudes gettin' facials
Manicured, waxed and botoxed
With deep spray-on tans and creamy lotiony hands
You can't grip a tackle box

Yeah, with all of these men linin' up to get neutered
It's hip now to be feminized
But I don't highlight my hair, I've still got a pair
Yeah honey, I'm still a guy

Oh, my eyebrows ain't plucked, there's a gun in my truck
Oh thank God, I'm still a guy

Effeminate men (in the above song, the "dudes getting facials"), in contrast, are associated with elitism and upper-class lifestyles.

Moreover, many people have noted, with great concern, that successful blacks tend to disassociate themselves from poor black communities. They move out into the suburbs and adopt “white” cultural preferences. Black students who do “too well” in school may be criticized for “acting white.”

All of these public images, stories, and stereotypes serve to reinforce boundaries among various groups of people who would be better served by creating a unified front to combat an unjust system. I cannot help but wonder, based on the divide and conquer strategies that have been used to put a wedge been poor white and black, if the public images of these divisions (sexist/homophobic lower-class white and blacks, middle-class versus poor blacks, etc.) spring purely from the social realities.... or if the social realties themselves were partially constructed (and are partially reconstructed) by means of the proliferation of these images and stories in the public sphere.

Is there some iniquitous force lurking in the background, purposefully trying to create and exacerbate all numbers of divisions among the large population of oppressed human beings?

I can speculate, though I have yet to come across any real research. (If anyone knows of any, please comment!) It is a bit curious that, since the time of slavery, white men publicly called into question the masculinity of black males (for instance, calling them “boy”), seemingly trying to provoke them in some way, while scientists simultaneously disseminated their conclusions that black men are inherently hyper-masculine and aggressive. Then, there is the widely-circulated idea that one must be a bread-winner in order to be a “real man,” thus inciting men who are not able to adequately provide for their families to assert their manhood in other ways. Moreover, one must consider who really gets to decide what types of hip hop/hard rock/country music is available in music stores (real or electronic), heard on the radio, featured in movies, and thus ultimately, what artists and songs become representative of these genres? Finally, one must also observe that African Americans for the most part are not allowed to be successful unless they disassociate themselves to a certain degree from black culture and the life of the ghetto. Many students find that they have to “act white” in order to avoid being stigmatized by their teachers, if they want to do well in school. Thus, I can see some evidence that these divisions may be fostered by dominant groups.

 If this is the case, then it follows logically that it would be a divide and conquer strategy.

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