Thursday, August 6, 2009

insight from bell hooks: patriarchal family values

Yesterday I came across a man in his 30's with brunette hair and tanned skin who on hearing me greet him while we shook hands asked "Where I got my accent from?" Strange little comment. I replied in a whimsical and joking manner - "From outer space." What kind of a question is that really. Is there a place that people can go 'specially for the purpose of picking up accents. Does he think that I forced myself into speaking this way through careful deliberation instead of it just having progressed naturally throughout my life. Now, I find it hard to classify my accent because although I've lived in South Africa for most of my life, I've dwelled in other places too so it is very eclectic. It's not really one thing at all. It's an amalgamation of so many different elements. So, I like to think of myself as a citizen of the world. An Earthling. I am eloquent because I read obsessively. Perhaps this is the surprising factor - the fact that I am well-spoken. Which indicates to me that a person of my ethnic background is not expecting to have a wholesome command of the English language in this country and I suppose in another Westenrized countries. How patronining. I find it prejudiced. It's certainly not the first time I've noticed a surprised expression on a person's face on hearing the first sentence come out of my mouth or even an explicit compliment based on my high level of eloquence and how well I articulate.
Why such low expectations. It's so ridiculous how paternalistic some people can be. Of course, it doesn't bother me but observations must be made for the sake of a better understanding of the world around me. It's not about narcissism - it's about dispelling ignorance in my own mind by understanding and perhaps even trying to find a common ground.
bell hooks made this point in her thesis, Feminism: A Transformational Politic

To understand domination, we must understand that our capacity as women and men to be either dominated or dominating is a point of connection, of commonality.

In this commonality, she argues, we can begin to reach a common understanding - experience empathy - which may help to terminate our divisions and prejudices for one another. Within a family unit, there are aspects of domination and submission, superiority and inferiority. The traditional nuclear family most certainly serves as a microcosm for society which is based on patriarchal belief systems and heirarchical structures.

Reading the following was a cathartic moment. Empathy! Something I've always pondered in secret and never been able to vocalise until now. In most traditional family units, it is impressed upon children that they are the lesser beings, that they must take orders in an almost militaristic fashion. Now, I certaily understand discipline and teaching right from wrong but in families - black ones especially - guidance is delivered in such a way that dehmuanizes and degrades, silences and discredits the voice of the child as if to say that it is worthless. Is it no wonder that when the child involves finally leaves the nest, they experience trouble standing up against authority even when they know very well that their rights are being violated by it. Such upbringing beats one into submission and does not foster the opportunity for raising a person up into a fully-autonomous and self-expressive human being who will not under any circumstance tolerate injustice against their own person.

Growing up in a black, working-class, father dominated household, I
experienced coercive adult male authority as more immediately threatening,
as more likely to cause immediate pain than racist oppression or class
exploitation. It was equally clear that experiencing exploitation and
oppression in the home made one feel all the more powerless when
encountering dominating forces outside the home. This is true for many
people. If we are unable to resist and end domination in relations where
there is care, it seems totally unimaginable that we can resist and end it
in other institutionalized relations of power. If we cannot convince the
mothers and/or fathers who care not to humiliate and degrade us, how can we
imagine convincing or resisting an employer, a lover, a stranger who
systematically humiliates and degrades?

There is a lucid correlation between a person's ability to take control within their nuclear family unit and their corresponding ability to do so outside of this unit. The moment a person's voice is free and most importantly, respected, within the family, they are given the unconscious knowledge that the same will occur at the workplace, amongst friends, toward a lover etc etc

In a broader sense, considering this correlation, the violation of the traditional nuclear family has its implications on why there remains such open right-wing opposition to families headed by same-sex parents. The notion of two fathers or two mothers is not traditional and is most essentially a violation of the patriarchal notion of the man being the head of the houshold. Could this be why same-sex marriage is still so controversial? Is it more an upset of patrirachal values that hold society "together" and keep male hegemony intact than it is a violation of morals and the like?

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