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Hockenberry's Codes of Silence

Hockenberry's Moving Violations. Story of his life as a quadraplegic from the age of 19, following a car accident. His is the example I chose to use in the old course on Oppression and Revolution about the discrimination, institutional as well as personal, against those with disabilities. He is a journalist and tells a good story.

Specifically, he speaks of how those who belong to any identifiable group (of color or of disability or of gender or of age) share an understanding of how the outside world treats them. They have developed codes that embody the "rules" or "expectations" they have of how others will treat them. But they regard outsiders as hostile, and so they do not share these codes with them. Instead, they watch and wait until the outsider meets these "expectations," and then confirm that that proves he/she is an outsider.

We all do this. Consider the hooker who believes all men are "tricks." Ultimately the male will do something on the "code of expectations" and the hooker will confirm, "See, all men are tricks." Women do this with men. "He's a man. What can you expect?" Men do this with women. "She's a woman. What can you expect?" All groups have such codes.

Hockenberry deplores the non-sharing of codes, suggesting that this contributes to stereotyping and discrimination. Only by sharing our perceptions can we remove the adversarial affect of members vs. non-members.

Codes of Silence: NOT Connected Knowing

The resort to codes of silence wihtin outsider groups is a form of separate knowing. The knower consults his/her own inner sense of what is right, of what is, and connects that knowing only with other members of the outsider group who share those codes. This is a kind of "locking out" of outsider knowledge, a refusal to hear it in good faith, in part, because outsiders have refused to grant a forum to the knowledge of the group. Thus, this is not connected knowing, with a capitalized NOT.

Privileging: The Silence Imposed by Status
(WWK, MacKinnon, Minow)

Status bestows power on those who have it. That power often results in authority, and in power over others. Privileging is the term we use to acknowledge that the person in authority has the power to view situations from his/her perspective. More than the power to do so, it is considered natural and right that he/she so do. Because status represents success to a certain extent, we tend to reason that the person who has gained status must be doing things in the right way, or at least an acceptable way, which produces success. So no one ever questions their perspective of the situation.

Women's Ways of Knowing recognizes the privileging of male authority as silencing women, since their voices are given neither a forum nor respect. They illustrate this primarily through the extent to which young women of college age are "silenced," i.e., just accept what they are told to do with little realization that they could play a more active role in making decisions. Every woman can recount the tale in which she made a suggestion in a group, the group seemed not to hear her, and five minutes later a man made the same suggestion, for which he received accolades.

MacKinnon is so horrified by the silencing of women that she insists that the empirical data gathering of men has blocked women's voices. She maintains that what a woman says should be taken as valid in and of itself, without an attempt to gain objective corroboration. For example, in rape law, if the woman says she was raped, MacKinnon wants us to accept that position as valid. She is appalled that one result of Brownmuller's violence interpretation is that the crucial question in court is what the man intended or perceived. Woman's perception is devalued.

Minow cautions us that one of the wicked little unstated assumptions on which we tend to operate is thatdifference is inherent in the person viewed as different, not in our perception of them. Another of these assumptions is that the way we do things is right, natural, and uncoerced. Because we believe these things, we see no reason to listen in good faith to the person we have labelled as different. This all adds up to silencing.

These are brief notes to give you a sense of the silence of which we speak. Turn to the sources themselves for a more complete understanding. jeanne

Voice as Power: The Right to Be Heard (Covaleskie, Freire, Kennedy)

Covaleskie points out the difference between sovereign power, wielded by a person granted that authority, and coercive. Such power is easy to resist when it is unjust, for it is openly wielded power. Silencing can be achieved through such power. For example, "Shut up." with the power to enforce the command. But silencing is usually much more subtle. Covaleskie speaks of disciplinary power. The authority isn't telling you what to do. Everyone is treated the same. The authority is just disciplinging you when you break the rules that apply to everyone. This bears considerable rsemblance ot hte concept of institutional discrimination. No perpetrator, like a sovereign, necessary. Disciplinary is much more subtle than sovereign power, harder to see, harder to defy, harder to resist. As we deal with issues of silencing based on race, gender, and the criminal justice system, we need to keep these different kinds of power in mind.

Freire spoke of the "culture of silence." By this I think he meant a social context in which one has never been granted good faith hearing, and in which there are no indicators that one ever will. Freire saw this as creating a kind of climate of intimidation in which people simply do what they're told and cease resistance. His work was in the area of teaching Brazilian peasants that they could take some control over their lives, that they could resist and overcome disciplinary power as well as sovereign power. Freire reminded those who worked with him that as soon as they decided that they knew better than the peasant what was good for the peasant (the replacement of the peasant's voice with their own) they had ceased to become revolutionaries. To silence in relationships is always to dehumanize.

Kennedy reaches this problem through his concern for liberal students at Harvard Law. He says they try to maintain their liberal convictions by appeal to "rights discourse," that is to the theory that the role of government is to see that the rights of all its citizens are protected. Kennedy suggests that the very assumption that the government will protect and preserve rights brings into play the concept of the public/private sector, in which the public sector is charged with power over the private sector. Such a perspective of the world as public/private is socially constructed, meaning that it is that way because we who live in this context agree to perceive it that way. That makes it difficult to imagine a world in which all citizens are granted a legitimate voice in the interdependent construction of the social and political reality in which we exist. In other words, we don't want to depend on some official to protect our rights. We, as individuals in the private sector, are the most legitimate and vigilant guardians of our own right to be heard in good faith.


Covaleskie on the Nature of Academic Power
MacKinnon (Nag me to put it up.)
Kennedy on Rights Discourse
Freire on Culture of Silence