This is a very interesting conversation about agency and the ways in which all of us decide to move around the world. I can honestly say, I have given very little thought to the manner in which I literally walk through the world — as in approaching a cross walk- though clearly, being black and female, I too have considered all the ways I cannot move around the world in a less literal way. I know full well that certain white men go places, I can never go, as do black men and white women. I found myself bumping up against the limitations in the workplace, but also found ways to navigate beyond those limitations. It is like playing chess, you strategize.
Still, when most white men figure out what you’re up to they get very, very, very angry. Black men, (or really any man) too. Here is something that we all must face about masculinity — it is deeply predicted, and I mean, DEEPLY, on any man’s ability to control and oppress women; and when a woman — any woman shows a man that he is insufficient in his ability to do that to her, the man feels emasculated. This is the reason most men find lesbians EXTREMELY THREATENING. Many lesbians, having more masculine traits, are not easily controlled or oppressed by men, thus they are a threat to a basic premise of masculinity.
Do you know what a black male colleague told me one time? That I was extremely confident. I was extremely confident and that it could be mistaken for arrogance if I wasn’t so friendly.
What did I do to cause this statement? I simply walked into his office and took a seat. I did this because he was talking to me about something, and it was the kind of conversation that should have been held inside of an office instead of at the office door, where I had been initially standing. Now, I didn’t wait for an invitation into his office, I did simply enter, because I thought it was the most efficient and professional way to have the conversation that he wanted to have. I wasn’t trying to be aggressive, or even assertive, but professional and efficient; and yet his male mind was trying to determine if he was being confronted or challenged. He decided he wasn’t, because I was “friendly.”
At the time, (this was many years ago) I found this conversation baffling! Confident? Because I entered an office and took a seat? Even worse, arrogant? This could be mistaken for arrogance?!?!? At the time, I found this commentary quite odd. And now being older, having a better understanding of how the male mind is basically structured (having raised three sons) I get it. I totally get why this male colleague said this to me, and he was not trying to be offensive really, he was telling me the truth. I moved confidently- and some people, especially men, would find this threatening. He didn’t, because he was savvy enough to recognize that my underlying intentions were not to threaten. He saw that the underlying goal was professionalism and efficiency.
And so, I say all of that to say this: denormalizing white male supremacy, has been attempted, at least for centuries, and when you address male supremacy (regardless of race) you are talking millennia. You are talking about confronting behaviors that are deeply ingrained and have existed for millennia. This is no easy task, and it’s the reason we are seeing all sorts of intense backlash to these ideas right now.
Most people fear change, and when you talk about changes in gender relationships and roles, the fear runs DEEP, on both sides; because the relationships and roles are very, very old.
Most people are most comfortable with the known, even if it’s unpleasant, unevolved and counterproductive — and honestly, I would say that this is largely the state of things today with regard to gender relations.
But, back to agency, I have never much considered the way I move through the world physically (except in New York City, because space and pace most definitely ARE at issue in that locale.)
When I physically move about the world, I am largely inside of my own head, and I have been told that I don’t move for people. If this is true, (and I believe it is, having had this pointed out to me) I am largely unconscious of it.
But, I’ve never had any confrontations about this in any public space. People, and I don’t pay attention to who they are, have evidently made room for me, even though I am black and female.
What is the difference? I think, intent. When I am out in the world walking, I am not looking at it as if it were a competition. I am looking at it as if I am someone who wants to get from point a to b as efficiently as possible, and the best way to do this, is not to be distracted by my surroundings. I am largely inwardly focused, and if I happen to bump into someone, I will apologize and it will be sincere; and they will sense this.
Internally, I don’t even entertain the idea (except in New York) that there isn’t enough space for everyone in the world. That thought rarely enters my head. And so I believe, that because I have never consciously thought about this, this is a nonissue for me. (But also, I don’t live in New York, and admittedly New York is a place where this is probably going to be an issue, for everyone. Because it is crowded and space is limited, as is time, everyone in New York moves incredibly fast.)
But when I was moving through New York, I still never once thought about race or gender. I thought of the huge quantities of people moving in the public spaces and how they all seemed to be as deeply inwardly focused as I typically am. In that city, everyone seems to March to the beat of their own fast-paced drum; and no, no one wants to move out of the way for anyone else. With everyone walking around with that sort of intention, there is bound to be confrontation; and do race and gender play into the conflict? I am sure! I have just never thought about any of these things in quite this way.
Now it’s going to be impossible for me not to think about this. Next time I am out in the world, walking, I will be thinking of these things.