Sexism Does not Justify Racism

TW: Rape.  

West Indies cricketer, Chris Gayle, who is Black, was sexist during an interview with an Australian woman journalist, Mel McLaughlin, who is white. Gayle issued a non-apology, saying he was joking. Sexist jokes are not “jokes;” it is sexism. Gayle’s behaviour is unprofessional and profoundly damaging given his prominent position. Women everywhere deserve to go to work without men objectifying them, regardless of their job or stature. It’s the second time Gayle has behaved this way to a woman journalist; in his homeland, feminist groups have called out his behaviour. Gayle has been fined $10,000 for his comments.

The Sydney Morning Herald published a racist response from a white man, sports writer Malcolm Knox. It is written as a white man emulating his white view of how Black West Indies people sound like:

“Unlike dem Australians wit their BS about PC, me know where you comin’ from, brethren. Me know you got a good lovin’ heart like all we Jamaican brethren.”

“Satire” does not give license for racism. The fact that this was published in a national paper is yet another daily reminder that racism is both reproduced and celebrated by the media. Other white men are defending this racist diatribe. Luke Pearson, founder of Indigenous X, points out the false equivalence of racism and sexism:

Racist commentary in the Australian media are similar to European responses to recent reports that men in Cologne, Germany, sexually harassed women over New Year celebrations.

Paternalistic Sexism & Racism in Cologne

The reports are focusing on the men’s appearance (“Arab/Middle Eastern”) and explicitly on their citizenship status (“migrants” and “refugees”). Politicians are now threatening that sexual harassment will lead to deportations. Women should not be subject to harassment, full stop. But the fact that the media and politicians are running with a racist discourse, tells us that the safety of “women” is not really what’s of concern. Instead, protection of white women are a proxy for protecting white people against The Other.

Is there the same moral panic given 17% of women are sexually assaulted by local-born men in Australia and elsewhere? No.

These two examples are part of a long history of using men of colour as a threat to white women in order to justify racism. White women are treated as a paternalistic resource to be protected, but only from Black men and racial ‘others.’ Women of colour’s experiences of sexism and violence are largely ignored. See the numerous Indigenous women who have died in custody, such as Ms Dhu who died in grave pain as police refused her medical aide. These events do not face the same moral outrage.

Racist Hierarchies

Despite the fact that Gayle and those involved with the Cologne attacks should not get away with sexist behaviour, the media’s response is fuelled by racism. Black, migrant and refugee men of colour are seen as a threat, and public responses to these cases are used to justify racist practices.

Rape apologists are having a field day feigning support of “women” over the Gayle’s sexist remarks and the sexist events in Cologne. White men who usually do nothing to support gender equity get to be publicly self-righteous in their racism. Thus the racial order is maintained, with white men up top; white women much further below; men of colour near the bottom; and Indigenous women and other women of colour pushed to the lowest position.

That is how racism works: by setting up categories where some groups are superior to others. These two examples show us how institutions (in this case, the media) maintain racial hierarchies, and how people, in everyday conversation, reproduce these hierarchies.