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Duneier’s "Sidewalk" Essay

1145 words - 5 pages

Duneier’s Sidewalk takes place on the streets of Manhattan where on any given day a homeless black man sits on a curb and asks passers by for spare change. He calls out to white women walking by saying, “Hey baby, come over here!” hoping for an interaction. The women briskly walk by with their eyes darted straight ahead and regardless of the lack of verbal reciprocation; he continues to call out after them. In Duneier’s book he points out the problems with the interaction but has a hard time explaining the motive behind the derogatory behavior. Using Patricia Hill Collins’s matrix of domination we can realize that the men’s actions are a result of the difference between their gender, which leads to a desire to over power and oppress women in so called “entanglement” situations.
The matrix of domination sheds light on the invisible hierarchy that entwines both the homeless black man and the upper middle class white women in these situations. Collins’ matrix includes an individuals separate levels of social superiority in race, gender and social status and measures their level of oppression by all these factors, not by each characteristic individually. In this societies system, white is seen as superior to black, male superior to female, and wealthy superior to poor. The individuals exhibiting the least superior qualities thus are the most oppressed, and the individuals with the most superior qualities are the least oppressed. (Collins 228)
In the situation of entanglement with Mudrick, a Black homeless man, and his white middle aged female counterparts, both parties involved are susceptible to at least one form of oppression. This gender difference leaves a window for even the most affluent white women to be oppressed by any male. Collins explains: “In this system, white women are penalized by their gender but privileged by their race.” (Collins 228) So, regardless of her “superiority” in both race and class, the woman’s gender leaves her vulnerable to oppression by any male, independent of his own race or status.
Not every interaction between black men and white women is oppressive and uncomfortable. What differentiates Mudrick’s interactions with others is that he sets a gender focused context to the conversation right from the beginning. When Mudrick calls over the women, he comments on their physical appearance and asks about their marital status. This sets a tone for the conversation that makes women uncomfortable. Collins states “Depending on the context, an individual may be an oppressor, a member of an oppressed group, or simultaneously oppressor and oppressed.“ (Collins 230) Because the focus of the conversation solely relies on the observation that the targeted individual is a woman, Mudrick is able to position himself as the dominant individual for the conversation. When a conversation is started with derogatory gender-central comments it leaves a woman feeling uncomfortable and violated before she even has a chance to speak.
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