I've Been Institutionalized...How About You? (Blog) / by Shanelle Gabriel

I spent 1:00am to 2:00am this morning on the phone with a male friend of mine. While some would call these the more 'seductive' or dare I say 'booty call' hours, we were discussing the gender roles in society. He argued that women are "simply more emotional than men are" and that a man that acts 'as a woman' would have trouble being a leader in society. "The first step to success is mastering emotions." Some might call my friend a little chauvinistic in regards to his views. I argued that as children we are born with the same capacity to love, share our feelings, hug our mommies and daddies, as well as cry in front of others...that is until we become pegs in the gender holes that society gives us. Girls play with dolls, hug them, nurture them. Boys have toy guns, army action figures, and wipe off motherly kisses when they are with their boys. I explained that what the world calls THE MALE EGO is just another way to say MALE EMOTION. If a guy reacts emotionally it's because you were messing with his EGO. If a woman reacts emotionally, it can't be her pride being hurt. She's on her cycle, she's hormonal. We debated back and forth about this until I said we should agree to disagree. Under my breath I muttered, "He can't understand my point. He just can't see institutionalized sexism."

The gender lockdown I've been on isn't new to me. I felt it growing up as a tomboy, battling the idea that I HAD to be this dainty creature. However, it's only recently that I knew a name for my jailer and saw how it molded me into thinking I had to be this fragile, dramatic, domestic, sex kitten to fit in with the world. It's even been fostered by church folk who believe due to Eve's [part in] bringing sin into the world, women can only be deaconesses, not elders or ministers. Try as much as you can, it's very hard to explain to a man the true plight of being a woman. An owner of the business of a prison (someone benefiting from the situation of others) can rarely see the prison from the prisoner's point of view.

To add to the discussion in my mind, I awake to a tweet from Marc Lamont Hill (@marclamonthill) with a clip to his discussion with Bill O'Reilly on Racism and the NAACP (Posted below). Apparently, the President of the NAACP discussed racism at the NAACP National Convention in Kansas City this week. O'Reilly argued that if the NAACP is going to speak on Whites being racist, then they should address the racism of other Blacks towards Whites. Poor Professor Hill...old conservative Billy wouldn't let him get a sentence out. Another situation where a White person believes that all racism is equal in America. I don't condone racism, but we cannot pretend that the state of Blacks in America is not affected by the history of the way Blacks were treated by Whites in America. The idea that ill-feelings towards Whites is completely unwarranted is closed-minded and is ignorant of human nature. If historically a people are hurt and oppressed by another group of people, naturally there will be some backlash generations to come. To say, "Get over it and let's all love one another" is dismissive of the pain (both present and past) that's been caused.

I can't expect Bill O'Reilly to understand those that speak against the malice in this nation that has been caused by the class in power (which happens to be White, upper class), those that refer to the oppression that was used to build this country, those that illuminate the self-hate fostered by years of being told 'lighter is better' and who endured nose pinching as a child for fear that 'it would spread.' He wouldn't understand because he happens to be White, upper class who benefits from the US caste system which is vastly based on skin color, and growing up, his nose was free to do what it wanted to. I believe while some are prone to sympathizing with others, many wouldn't even see or allow themselves to see themselves as racist anyways because racism = bad, and they're a 'good' person. "Good people aren't racist. It's just survival of the fittest. They're being over dramatic. Look, they got Obama." It's like looking at an old-school 3D picture: unless you're in it, you can't see it.

I don't blame my friend for not understanding how oppressive it is as a female or even Bill O'Reilly for being...well, maybe I do despise his ignorance and expectations for African Americans regarding discrimination. The NAACP is not responsible for speaking or censoring the speech of ALL Blacks in America. They can only promote the downfall of the institution as it relates to the people a part of the organization. Being close-minded to the idea that the world may JUST be biased to someone other than yourself is another way to say IGNORANT, and blacks and women have been trapped inside of this biased box for centuries now by people who didn't even consider that they were holding the key. To all wardens out there, believe the prisoners when they speak of the hard time they've been doing. It's not make-believe, especially when the disparities have been trace and documented for all this time. Believe the ugly truth that there is prejudice embedded in society that isn't easy to target much less begin to chip away at. The first step to solving a problem is admitting there is one.

To all my fellow prisoners, it's time to take back your freedom by overcoming one warden at a time.