FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Fear of Flailing

by BETTY SHAMIEH

During the Democratic Presidential nomination process, it was clear that the majority of black feminists aligned themselves with Barack Obama rather than Hillary Clinton.  Is this partly because of a perceived or real persistence of racism within the mainstream American feminist movement?

When I graduated from the Yale School of Drama in 2000, a good friend gave me a copy of “Fear of Flying” by Erica Jong, which was written before either of us was born.  It wasn’t shocking to me that a book with a chapter entitled “Arabs and Other Animals” had been published almost three decades before September 11, or even that it had become an American bestseller.  It was shocking that a sensitive and dear friend who loved the book and loved me, an Arab-American, would not even remember to warn me about the flagrant-to-the-point-of-comedic racism of that chapter title.

The experiences and modes of oppression are distinct for every marginalized ethnic group and therefore usually difficult to compare, so I can’t say whether a similar book with a chapter called  “Africans and Other Animals” would have achieved the same popular success in 1973 or have had a Columbia University conference dedicated to celebrating it as a “feminist classic” in 2008.  But, I know the reaction to that chapter title would be a major aspect of its critical reception.  It would haunt the book, especially in this supposedly political correct era, in a way that  “Arabs and Other Animals” simply does not.

Though “Fear of Flying” is dated, it cannot be denied that Jong was able to write a book that struck a deep chord in the American psyche.  The books that we herald, that thrill and scandalize us, are a reflection of our collective fantasies about ourselves and our nightmares about others.  The people who write those works have a special sensitivity to the society in which they live.

Jong’s published reaction to being publicly confronted and castigated at the recent Columbia conference for her “ugly prejudice” by her sister, who incidentally had married an “animal” and had half-Arab children, also seemed indicative of the ways in which antipathy towards Arabs has and has not evolved in the past three decades.  Though Jong ceded that she wouldn’t use “Arabs and Other Animals” as a chapter title today, she told The New Yorker that, “When Moqtada al-Sadr comes to power, and I am facing the firing squad, it will be for that.”

Although it is egregious that she somehow casts herself as a heroine and victim after she is called out for being a bigot, it is even more significant that her words reinforce again the idea that all Arabs are dangerous and out to get Americans for our freedoms to write racy books rather than our policies in the Middle East.  Where is al-Sadr likely to come to power?  In war-torn Iraq, which has become so sectarian it seems unlikely that any one group can stabilize its leadership?  No, it seems to be America itself where al-Sadr is going to be rolling in, taking charge and assembling his firing squad reserved for novelists.

Why does this distortion of Arab power, or rather lack thereof, matter?  Because the tendency for too many Americans to grossly and irrationally overestimate the threat of these “animals” – also known as men and women living in Third World countries that realistically have little chance of countering the First World’s economic and military might – helped to fuel the second Bush administration’s success in quickly getting the authorization necessary to launch the second Gulf war, and the first Bush administration’s ability to wage the first one.

Meanwhile, as the debate over whether it is harder to be a black man or a white woman running for president continues to be a divisive one, we in America seem to be acting and voting in rather sectarian ways ourselves.  We are all the sum of many parts: race, class, gender, education level, and family stability.  The feminist movement has not been able to capture the imagination of many young women activists today partly because we aren’t willing to fight, sweat, and focus solely on the struggle to secure equal rights for women without diligently ensuring that those rights aren’t used to denigrate other marginalized groups.  In short, we’re both feminists and “humanists” who crave a movement that has no tolerance for intolerance towards people who are a different race, religion, sexual preference, class, or nationality.

BETTY SHAMIEH’s plays “Roar” and “The Black Eyed” premiered off-Broadway.  A graduate of Harvard University and the Yale School of Drama, Shamieh was a 2005-2006 Playwriting Fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Studies and recently received a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. She is currently working on her first novel.

 

 

 

 

 

 

More articles by:
July 25, 2016
Sharmini Peries - Michael Hudson
As the Election Turns: Trump the Anti-Neocon, Hillary the New Darling of the Neocons
William K. Black
Doubling Down on Wall Street: Hillary and Tim Kaine
Quincy Saul
Resurgent Mexico
Ted Rall
Hillary’s Strategy: Snub Liberal Democrats, Move Right to Nab Anti-Trump Republicans
Patrick Cockburn
Erdogan is Strengthened by the Failed Coup, But Turkey is the Loser
Robert Fisk
The Hypocrisies of Terror Talk
Lee Hall
Purloined Platitudes and Bipartisan Bunk: An Adjunct’s View
Binoy Kampmark
The Futility of Collective Punishment: Russia, Doping and WADA
Nozomi Hayase
Cryptography as Democratic Weapon Against Demagoguery
Cesar Chelala
The Real Donald Trump
Julian Vigo
The UK’s Propaganda Machinery and State Surveillance of Muslim Children
Denis Conroy
Australia: Election Time Blues for Clones
Marjorie Cohn
Killing With Robots Increases Militarization of Police
David Swanson
RNC War Party, DNC War Makers
Eugene Schulman
The US Role in the Israeli-Palestine Conflict
Nauman Sadiq
Imran Khan’s Faustian Bargain
Peter Breschard
Kaine the Weepy Executioner
Weekend Edition
July 22, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
Good as Goldman: Hillary and Wall Street
Joseph E. Lowndes
From Silent Majority to White-Hot Rage: Observations from Cleveland
Paul Street
Political Correctness: Handle with Care
Richard Moser
Actions Express Priorities: 40 Years of Failed Lesser Evil Voting
Eric Draitser
Hillary and Tim Kaine: a Match Made on Wall Street
Conn Hallinan
The Big Boom: Nukes And NATO
Ron Jacobs
Exacerbate the Split in the Ruling Class
Jill Stein
After US Airstrikes Kill 73 in Syria, It’s Time to End Military Assaults that Breed Terrorism
Jack Rasmus
Trump, Trade and Working Class Discontent
John Feffer
Could a Military Coup Happen Here?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Late Night, Wine-Soaked Thoughts on Trump’s Jeremiad
Andrew Levine
Vice Presidents: What Are They Good For?
Michael Lukas
Law, Order, and the Disciplining of Black Bodies at the Republican National Convention
David Swanson
Top 10 Reasons Why It’s Just Fine for U.S. to Blow Up Children
Victor Grossman
Horror News, This Time From Munich
Margaret Kimberley
Gavin Long’s Last Words
Mark Weisbrot
Confidence and the Degradation of Brazil
Brian Cloughley
Boris Johnson: Britain’s Lying Buffoon
Lawrence Reichard
A Global Crossroad
Kevin Schwartz
Beyond 28 Pages: Saudi Arabia and the West
Charles Pierson
The Courage of Kalyn Chapman James
Michael Brenner
Terrorism Redux
Bruce Lerro
Being Inconvenienced While Minding My Own Business: Liberals and the Social Contract Theory of Violence
Mark Dunbar
The Politics of Jeremy Corbyn
Binoy Kampmark
Laura Ingraham and Trumpism
Uri Avnery
The Great Rift
Nicholas Buccola
What’s the Matter with What Ted Said?
Aidan O'Brien
Thank Allah for Western Democracy, Despondency and Defeat
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail