The blogosphere (as well as television and print media) has been bursting with race/gender arguments about the ’08 democratic candidates for months – and this shows no sign of abating. Just yesterday, the LA Times published a point/counterpoint discussion between Amanda Marcotte and Katha Pollitt.
As myriad feminist bloggers have documented so well, media coverage of Hillary is sexist in the extreme. The point of this analysis has nothing to do with whether or not you support Hillary, but that those of use who are feminists (which includes being actively anti-racist in my book), should abhor sexism wherever it occurs, be it in a beer commercial or a political campaign. Or as Ann from feministing so succinctly puts it, the obligation is not to vote for her, but “to support her right to compete on an equal playing field.”
Sadly, but not surprisingly given our fanatically unequal world, the playing field ain’t only not level, it’s filled with potholes, minefields, and cluster bombs of misogyny and racism. (For two videos that prove the playing field is built on the all too stable ground of sexism that makes woman-hating as common as high fructose corn syrup, see “Sexism Sells, But We’re Not Buying it Anymore” from the Women’s Media Center or “Another Video on Campaign Sexism” at Echidne of the Snakes.) While the directives to murder, rape, and obliterate Hillary multiply without much notice in the ‘mainstream world’ in our just another day on the sexist planet atmosphere, so to do the racist attacks against Obama.
While the “what if Hillary was black” question that the title of this post refers to was posed to much chagrin by Gloria Steinem in her NY Times op-ed piece in January, and while Robin Morgan in her “Goodbye to all that #2” asks the readers to consider a female Obama, there are many other questions that are not being asked.
For example, while Steinem gave gender the gold medal of oppression by claiming “Gender is probably the most restricting force in American life,” she did not flip her misguided “what if Hillary was black” scenario into “what if Obama was gay” in order to take on any other of the multiple intersections of identity that translate into oppression and/or privilege. (As an aside, if he was gay, regardless of his color, you know damn well he wouldn’t be candidate material in our homophobic dystopia.)
In her piece, Steinem goes on to argue that black men have more power than women. While I disagree with this statement on the whole, I find it particularly problematic that Steinem forgets to emphasize that woman do not come in only one variety, nor do black men. Does a homeless black veteran have more power than a middle-class white female lawyer? Does a young black man have more power behind the wheel of a racy car than a minivan-driving SUV mom–or will “driving while black” automatically criminalize him? Or, as the question in the title suggests, would a gay white male presidential candidate have more chance of winning than a black female candidate? Would an out gay or queer candidate have a hope in our modern day hell? Uh, no. A transgender candidate? You must be dreaming.
While these questions can prompt consideration of what types of candidates the American public will even consider based on socially constructed categories of gender, race, sexuality, etc, they are hardly valid ways to frame who should or should not be presidential material. In an ideal world, the skin color, body parts, class status, sexuality, and so on, should not color (no pun intended) who you vote for. What should matter is whether or not the given candidate wants to take the world in a direction the individual voter agrees with. But, we do not live in this idealized world. Rather, we are in an era of rigged electronic voting and stolen elections, media spin of tornado strength, and big money campaigns funded by evil corporations up the wazoo. Neither Hillary or Obama, no matter how black, white, female, or hetero they are, will be able to conduct a campaign not shaped by these facts (nor will they be able to carry on running without making a pledge of allegiance to AIPAC).
What I am trying to question is this: does all this talk of race and gender ultimately support sexism, racism, and the status quo of white supremacist heteronormative capitalist patriarchy and the military, prison, bio-pharm industrial complexes? As Jennifer Fang at Racialicious reminds us, this “race vs. gender frenzy… redirects our attention away from efforts to break the White male patriarchy that excludes all the Others” and leads to “in-fighting where we all compete to see both who’s more oppressed, and who will make it out of that ‘Oppression Box’ first.
As Fang suggests above (and feminist theory concurs), we need to bust open all sides of the “Oppression Box” at once. Heck, let’s take a few lessons from history and remember that social justice movements are stronger together than apart. And, as Fang’s analysis proposes, “White male patriarchy” is the box we need to bust open. Yet, as coverage of Bush 3 (re: McCain) reveals, no such busting is being done in the media. Further, do the non-male Hillary and the non-white Obama really plan to bust open the hegemony of WMP (white male patriarchs) and all the things it currently promotes like war, corporatization, genocide, global poverty, etc, etc. Well, not so much. The two candidates are, sadly, not nearly different enough from the current WMPs in power. Thus, the focus on the race/gender argument diverts us away from considering how the policies of Hillary and Obama do not differ near enough from the current administration. As Katha Pollitt reminds us, “Clinton and Obama have different personalities and different campaign styles, but on policy (oh, that!), except about Iraq, they are pretty close.”
I am not trying to suggest that we should ignore the racism and misogyny of campaign coverage, but that we also need to remember we are a country perpetually at war and that, as Tom Hayden at huffpo reminds us “It’s about war and peace, not simply race and gender.” Further, we need to remember that war and peace are intimately ABOUT race and gender– yet, neither the white woman or the bi-racial black man are running against war – and this, dear readers, needs to concern us just as much as all the sexism and racism on the campaign trail.
We might also ask ourselves, might the propaganda machine of the media want us get all caught up in the race/gender debate so as to divert our focus from the war, the economy, the environment, the attack on reproductive rights, etc? While many of the wonderful feminist bloggers out there refuse to be spun by the media and can multi-task (multi-blog?) on sexism, racism, AND policy/social issues, the mediasphere seems intent on playing race and gender as cards to distract the populace — look, look over here! – the gender card, ignore corporate funded campaigns! — look, look over here! – the race card, don’t notice that you no longer have a free media and that all our coverage goes through a mega-spin cycle!…