Thursday, May 2, 2013

The Confusion of Popular Cliches as Revealed through Oppressive Contexts

Catherine Ramirez raises a point that has me questioning the way a particular word/idea is used in popular culture (or at least as I've heard it used). In her essay, "Afrofuturism/Chicanafuturism: Fictive Kin," she makes the point that people of color, whether they are black, Chicana/o, or Native American, are positioned in opposition to science and rationality. She states, "All too often, we are linked to savagery, carnality, intuition, and passion, and we are fixed in a primitive and racialized past." While she does a fantastic job of defending her claim, and I am inclined to agree with her, I was thrown by the use of the word "intuition," as it has never been a concept that I have considered oppressive.

Most of my experience with the idea of intuition is through popular representations of "women's intuition," the sort of sixth sense that women are supposed to have in countless sit-coms. The set-up for the concept is all too common: a male character asserts something or sets out to do something, a female character (usually a wife or mother) warns the male against it (citing her intuition as her reason for intervening), and things play out just as the female predicted when the male goes through with it anyway. Cue the laugh track. In retrospect, I can see why this concept of intuition is oppressive or negative. While the woman in such comedic situations is usually right, the idea is used to distance women from men, who despite their momentary embarrassment are still depicted as the rational being or head of the household. This separation becomes more pronounced when the intuition in question is not just women's, but that of group of people that has been racially othered.

In this sense, Ramirez's use of intuition as an othering concept makes sense. However, when juxtaposed to the popular idea of women's intuition, her proposition raises another question. She makes little to no distinctions between the groups that she identifies as being separated from science and SF. There is no discussion about how gender dynamics among black, Chicana/o, and Native American populations influence the concepts of intuition or passion or carnality. This seems like an usual omission from her essay, considering the gendered nature of Chicana/o culture -- the gendered endings of the term puts the issue right in front of the reader. How do these perceptions paint representations of men and women of color in SF when taking into account Chicano machismo or tribal gender roles?

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