Hilzoy was responding to the image you see here, which is currently on the front page of US News and World Report’s “Washington Whispers.” She wrote:
But let’s take this a bit further. Here are some other polls I do not expect to see on the Washington Whispers page:
If you needed some yard work done, would you hire Mel Martinez, Henry Cisneros, Xavier Becerra, or Bill Richardson?
If you needed a rap DJ for a party, would you hire Barack Obama, Charlie Rangel, John Lewis, or Michael Steele?
If you needed an interior decorator, would you choose Jim McGreevey, Barney Frank, Larry Craig, or the disinterred corpse of Harvey Milk?
It’s not just that the people who make up polls for the Washington Whispers page would not expect John McCain to run a daycare center. It’s that they would probably recognize any of these other appeals to stereotypes as offensive. And yet, oddly enough, asking which one of four prominent women we’d like to have running our children’s day care center is A-OK.
Oddly enough, I had exactly the same idea for a response to this “poll,” and described it to a couple of friends. I think making this sort of comparison (what I think of as the “replace _____ with the word black school of criticism”) is the first thought of a lot of white people. I don’t know if making that sort of comparison occurred to Renee (who is a woman of color), but if it did, she didn’t make it the subject of her critique. I don’t think that’s a coincidence. (Renee’s critique, which is focused on analyzing the sexism in the “poll,” is excellent.)
It’s true, as Hilzoy said, that the US News editors would not likely allow her alternative poll ideas to be posted. And if they did, there might be a sizable outcry, like the outcry over Sean Delonas’ infamous dead monkey cartoon.
But the problem with Hilzoy’s post is that many of her readers (who are, I’d bet, mostly white and straight) might come away thinking that this “poll” demonstrates that racism and homophobia aren’t acceptable in the media anymore, but sexism is.
I assume (hope) that isn’t what Hilzoy intended to say. But even if that wasn’t her intent, as writers, we have to be aware not just of what we mean to say, but of how our posts are likely to be received by our audience. And the reading I described is frequent among white feminists; we saw a lot of this during the past election.
I don’t think many black, latin@, and/or queer activists would agree that bigotry against them isn’t as bad in the mainstream media. It’s bad in different ways, and rating them better or worse would be a terrible waste of time. It’s true, as Hilzoy says, that US News probably wouldn’t ask “If you needed some yard work done, would you hire Mel Martinez, Henry Cisneros, Xavier Becerra, or Bill Richardson?”; but an anti-immigrant bashfest by Lou Dobbs in their “serious” op-ed section would be completely unremarkable.
That may be all Hilzoy was attempting to say — but it’s not what she wrote. And I suspect it’s not the message that her readers (who are — like my readers — probably mostly white and straight) took away. This is an area where it’s better not to make the comparison at all — but if bloggers do make it, then we should at least forclose some of the more regressive interpretations such comparisons encourage.
(Tomorrow, I’ll post more about the general practice of “replace _____ with the word black” critiques, and why I think they’re a bad idea.)