Recently one of my Facebook friends brought up an interesting question. Essentially, she asked of her conservative friends, why is everyone so mad at President Obama? What has he done that offends so very badly? I responded, it’s How Dare You-ism.
How Dare You-ism is similar to racism and other forms of discrimination where one group, usually the more powerful one, is threatened and falls back on negative stereotyping in an attempt to maintain the status quo and secure the established power structure.
I haven’t performed any sort of analysis, and I haven’t seen any studies that indicate President Obama has been subject to greater scrutiny or disrespect than former President Bush or any other leader in that position. But I believe he has been. I’ve observed it more than once but kept silent because that’s my perception. I have no concrete evidence, and perception is the name of this particular game.
President Obama is perceived as a threat because he does not fit the stereotype the world has for black men. How dare this black man be educated, opinionated, leader of one of the most powerful countries in the entire world? How dare he have an accomplished wife who also doesn’t fit traditional stereotypes, have two lovely, and by all accounts, well-behaved daughters, get along with the common man and be seen as a representative of all people, not just his people, and be cool on top of it? That’s too much. At least, it’s too much in a prejudiced mind that is more comfortable with familiar images for black men that revolve around street corners and babies’ mamas, basketball playing, rapping or drug dealing.
I thought it was How Dare You-ism in neon recently when Mitt Romney demanded an apology from the president for bringing up that Bain mess. Really? You want an apology for pointing out some suspicious, potentially corrupt behavior during a campaign fight? Yeah. Whatever.
But perception can be a tricky thing. Nothing in matters of diversity, particularly organizational diversity, is ever really cut and dried. There are so many perspectives, so many stakeholders, so many factors that play into solutions or problems or challenges. For instance, if questioned, some would insist that their repeated criticism of the president stems from his inexperience or his failure to turn the economy around or to create a certain number of new jobs. But the point here is to bring critiques those forward without allowing hidden bias to color one’s communication. This likely is not possible all of the time — we all have biases — but I don’t think it’s been done enough, and I don’t think it’s been done respectfully.
Further, it’s often not done in the workplace. Women face a derivative of How Dare You-ism within sexism or gender bias. How dare you not be at home cooking or cleaning or some other quintessentially feminine activity? How dare you think you can lead this company or state your opinions boldly or dress like a woman knowing men are going to look at you and maybe get turned on? How dare you think you can do what has traditionally been a man’s job, and perhaps do it better than a man?
How Dare You-ism is rooted in antiquated thinking. In today’s uber-competitive business environment — or political arena — the smart man’s best alternative would be to ask, how dare you not?