In its article “Being White in Philly,” Philadelphia Magazine recently reminded us that we are not a post-racial society. Reviewers of the recent book “Lean In” by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg vigorously remind us that we are not post-gender either. I have to admit to a childish moment of resentment when I hear the reaction to the article or read these book reviews. I rebel against the perception (which may be in my mind alone) that I’m the bad guy. Am I seen as a secret racist, a card-carrying member of the He-Man Woman Hater’s Club? Am I the villain, or worse, am I Alfalfa?
I liked the Philadelphia Magazine article until I started reading it, before I realized how racist the article is. The reaction to “Being White in Philly” exposed racial tensions which, in my mind, have always been obvious. The article purports to be an even-handed report from “our” perspective–white city residents who don’t dare speak of race, and who make concessions to keep the peace. ”Making concessions” in the article means tolerating being mugged and being offered drugs on the street. If memory serves, the only African American people in the story are drug dealers and muggers, but I seem to remember black doctors and lawyers when I lived there. Black mayors, even. (One mayor famously said, “The brothers run the city now.”) The article does suggest some African Americans have greatly contributed to society, but it hardly overstates that argument. The article’s thesis statement was that we will never be “post-racial” until we can all speak about race, but the article’s focus militates against its message.
I don’t have “Lean In” on my reading list. Not because I’m unsympathetic to inequities in the workplace or that I’m threatened by powerful women. It’s just the book doesn’t have zombies. I read genre fiction. (I think it doesn’t have zombies, but I didn’t think that Lincoln bio had zombies either.) The reviews of the book seem to have a touch of misandry (and why does no one know what that word means while everyone knows “misogyny?”). Women are still paid less than men–that seems to be changing, but it remains true. But how often have I heard that women excel over men in college grades and the acquisition of advanced degrees while being paid less and running fewer companies? Does it have to be us vs them? I live harmoniously with a woman who has more professional credentials than I’ve had friends, but I don’t feel threatened at home, because I know there will always be heavy things to carry. Mongo just pawn…
After that initial moment of resentment, it occurs to me how absurd it is that I should feel that way to begin with. No one has ever followed me around a store suspiciously. Otis Day and the Knights never stopped their music cold when I walked in. I’ve never been paid less because of my gender, and I’ve never had to tell anyone my eyes are up here. I make a lower salary than many people, many women, but I make my low salary the old fashioned way; by being incompetent.