Big Tent Democrat over at TalkLeft had a post up on Thursday on how sexism and racism have been viewed, discussed, or not in this primary season. He uses a post by John Cole over on Balloon Juice as the hook.
…I think it is not an unreasonable claim to state that many people who found themselves to be die-hard Clinton supporters identified personally with Clinton. For many of the feminists and older women who made up Hillary's unwavering core of support, a rejection of Hillary was a rejection of themselves—they saw Hillary being subjected to the kind of abuse that they themselves have suffered, they identified with the concept of the glass ceiling and identified with much of the real and perceived sexism… [T]hey saw things that I simply would not see, because of who they are and what they personally have experienced. In short, when Hillary lost, or they listened to some jackass on CNN debate whether it was appropriate to call Hillary a bitch, it was a personal loss or as if they had personally been called a bitch.The key point is that the reactions of women (and allies) are seen as personal, the reactions of POC (and allies) are seen as communal. BTD goes on and does a nice job on sexism (with a nice link to 'Liss), but it seems that this excerpt also demonstrates how we think and don't think about sex and race in our society. It's clear that John is talking about the community formed around Obama's campaign, and not only POC, but he demonstrates the way in which criticisms (or not) of Obama's campaign were perceived, especially when associated with race.
For Obama, many of the supporters identify with a movement, a need for something different, a need for change, and a sense of community. The Obama campaign recognized this difference, and masterfully used social networking to build a vibrant community. When Clinton made her fateful "white people" or "RFK assassination" remarks, it was an outright breach of community and societal norms…which would help to explain why Obama supporters recoiled in horror at the remarks. When Republicans tried the hackneyed old "appeaser" nonsense, it was like the folks in the community who opposed the war in 2003 and beyond were being called traitors or in league with the terrorists again. When Hillary seized upon the "bitter" remarks for political advantage, it was as if the entire community was under assault for being "elitist."
Gender = personal. Race = communal.
The apothegm, "the personal is political" had a huge impact in the feminism's second wave because women could start to see that the incessant insults, assaults, limits, and numberless experiences of misogyny on were not a matter of bad luck or individual failing. They were things common to many women. That commonality gave rise to a sense of political mission and agency. But it hasn't always been maintained and the personal being political could (and has) devolved to individualism.
For African Americans the situation has been different. Even as our parents told us to be the best we could, to achieve as much as we could, there was always an understanding that society would be biased against us as black people, not as individuals. (This has changed since I grew up, but not as much as some would think.) In fact, part of the encouragement to achieve, to shine, to excel was predicated on that understanding.
This history shapes the public discourse. Sexist criticisms of Clinton were justified as being aimed at an individual. Racist criticisms of Obama were rightly attacked, and were seen as aimed at a group of people. Whether these factors were fundamental in affecting the primary election results, who can tell? I suspect they were, but the issue at hand is how it plays out now.
This is a historic moment.
This is a critical moment.
It's critical because people seem to see Obama as representative of what this country can do, rather than an actual man and politician. Part of the love of his candidacy seems born of this feeling that if he can be elected, then the long nightmare of black and white relations in this country is officially over.
And this is a stupid, dangerous idea.
It's stupid because race in America has never been just about blacks and whites, though that has been the dominant narrative. So even if that brutal relationship could be "fixed" what about the complex lives of all of the other "others" here? What about the unending mistreatment of Native Americans? What about anti-Latin@ bias? What about anti-Asian, Middle Eastern, South-East Asian, "you're not from here" prejudice? What about multiracial people, what they face?
This idea is dangerous because leads straight to complacency. Once we've "elected the black guy" as Chris Bowers wrote a few weeks ago, what's left to do? Once a black man is the Commander in Chief, once it's clear that a black man can achieve the highest office in the country, then you black people got nothing more to whine about. The barriers and struggles of the last four centuries will have been wiped away and we'll be in the New Jerusalem. (/sarcasm)
A further unintended consequence of seeing Obama as "the black guy", as an "other" rather than the charismatic junior senator from Illinois is how it simultaneously fuels illegitimate and stifles legitimate criticism of his positions and policies. The illegitimate stuff has run from trying to paint him as a Muslim (because his names! Barack! Hussein! Obama!!!! He was at a madrassa!!!) to trying to paint him as a radical (because black liberation theology is radical!!! his ex-pastor!!!!). The stifling of legitimate criticism, well how do you see stifling? I guess you look for it in absences. What I haven't seen in the primary season is a close critical look at Obama's policies, though there are handwaves towards his (inadequate, imo) health care plan and (fairly mainstream) energy proposals. More troublesome are his advisors such as Austan Goolsbee (his senior economics advisor) who "said that one of the things that distinguished Obama from Clinton was his skepticism about standard Keynesian prescriptions, such as relying on tax policy to stimulate investment and saving" and wrote "Obama rejects heavy-handed regulation and insists above all on disclosure, so that consumers will know exactly what they are getting." (nice article in the NYRB) This suggests a more laissez-faire relationship to both business and the economy than we need right now. I don't know what good disclosure does when consumers have little choice and no legal remedies for abuses. We need better.
We need to think seriously about what our country needs to recover from the last eight years, years that have seen the abandonment of the poorest and most vulnerable in this country, a war that we were lied into; a war that's devastated a country, ruined our military, sucked away millions of dollars, and fucked our foreign policy for decades. Eight years that has seen Homeland Security, the FISA debacles, a looming recession, NCLB…well, you know.
So Obama will need to be called on his proposals to deal with all of this and as progressives, it's our job to do that critique. But as progressives, we also need to beat back the (just starting) tide of illegitimate criticism that is not criticism; that is scarcely veiled racism. He is a black man, not The Black Man.
Oh, and expect that misogyny to get trotted out for Michelle Obama, not because she's a black woman, though. It's just because she's [fill in the blank].