Talking Cultural Diversity

a discussion board for cultural and diversity issues by Thomas Kochman and Jean Mavrelis

Mocking Sarah Palin

By Jean Mavrelis - 07.09.2009

Mocking Sarah Palin isn’t a new sport. Tina Fey made a comedic art of it during the campaign.

This week Maureen Dowd mocked Palin in her column “Sarah’s Secret Diary”. I’ve noted that the act of mocking raises a cultural issue for some white women. I’ll explain what I mean. As I poured through the responses to Dowd’s article one caught my eye, because it speaks directly to the cultural concern I’m talking about.

It read, “Please move on or you will start having people feeling sorry for her. Too many already are.”

Based on my experience I would guess the respondent is a white woman. I say that because I have seen this attitude all too many times in my seminars.  If you want to get a type of white women I call “people pleasers” to side with you, you need to be a victim.  And if you want them to hate you, you just have to pick on someone, or “be mean.” 

For example, in one of my seminars years ago a white woman raised her hand and complained about a Black woman who hurt her feelings.  I explained the cultural differences that tend to play out between white women and black women and the way they handle conflict. Black women, like white women, do gossip, but when they do they start with, “And I’ll say this to her face.”  For African American women, backstabbing is a sign of weakness.  White women, on the other hand, are almost forced into backstabbing.  If you tell another white woman  that you are upset with her, she’ll thank you for coming to her, and then tell everyone else (behind your back) that you attacked her. I discuss these differences in depth in our book Corporate Tribalism.

Returning to what happened at the seminar …the white woman whom I explained the cultural difference to felt, because I didn’t side with her or understand her, that I had attacked her. The next thing I knew a white woman came to me at the break and said the aforementioned white woman was in the bathroom crying.  I made a big mistake from the point of view of the white women people pleasers. Although I asked the emissary if her friend was ok, I didn’t run into the bathroom to apologize and make nice.  The “victim” woman didn’t return, and many of the white women turned against me with a wall of silence.  “Evolved women,” and the “white male identified women” –both of whom I also discuss in Corporate Tribalism–  stayed, while the “people pleasers” withdrew. 

There’s an important lesson here for Palin’s campaign manager: play up the victim role and some white women will flock to her because she’s being picked on.  For Democratic campaign managers the lesson is: do what Obama does and avoid saying anything mean.

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