Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, sex and race... Vaginas vs. Melanin...

Obama won 9 out of every 10 African-American votes in Mississippi. As an Obama supporter, I know there are many good reasons to vote for the guy. At the same time, I'm not delusional. You don't snag 90% of any signficantly-sized demographic unless identity politics are at play.

This is one of those things Obama backers usually won't say, but Barack is locking down the black vote, in large measure, because he's a black guy. Period.

Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton's greatest base of support seems to be among white women, particularly those who are fairly well-removed from college age. Personally, I think Hillary Clinton is emblematic of just about everything bad about politics, but I do recognize that people have legitimate reasons to supporter her. Nonetheless, the only real explanation for her victory margins within white women, when you look at how the rest of the electorate is behaving, is identity politics.

Clinton fans are quick to bemoan Obama's massive support among blacks, but they don't like to be honest about what's going on with white women. Identity politics again.

It's vaginas vs. melanin right now. I recognize that there are diverse opinions within demographics and I don't really want to hear "I'm a white woman who backs Obama, so you're wrong" or "I'm a black man wearing a Hillary pin, you're wrong". There are exceptions. I'm speaking in broader terms. I recognize exceptions. I'd like to think that I'm one.

Check this out. I'm a white guy. I've long understood and accepted that white guys are usually at the root of major social problems. We've screwed a lot of people over and we've done some bad stuff. If there's something massively goofed up in the USA, it can usually be traced back to the self-interested decisions of white guys.

I tried to break the mold, cognizant of my privilege and "my group's" record of evil. I raged against the machine. I've read more feminist literature than your average senior in a good women's studies program. I'm receptive to the legitimate complaints of minority groups. I've bent over backwards to avoid toxic forms of sexism and racism. I tried to be one of the "good" white guys.

Now, to my surprise, I am a disaster unfold that has little or anything to directly do with white guys. The Democratic primaries are descending into vaginas vs. melanin and white guys like me seem to be the ones who aren't the source of the problem for a change.

Sure, you can blame us for the society that created the situation which has led to this moment. I'll accept responsibility on behalf of all white guys, evil and good, for some of that. You have a point. However, at this point women and African Americans have a choice to make. They can vote with their heads or they can vote with their genitals/skin color (depending on the individual).

As a white guy, I sort of feel bad for both demographics. I also understand the identification thing.

Geraldine Ferraro behaved stupidly with her "Barack is lucky to be a black man" jibber-jabber. Ferraro isn't a Klan member or anything. She's just frustrated. She's a woman who's undoubtedly seen more than her fair share of sexim and is certainly piShe's frustrated because a woman had a legitimate shot at the White House and someone stepped in and blew it for her. It just so happens that guy is black. She's pissed.

I can understand why. As one of the good white guys, I get it. Women haven't had it easy. They've been oppressed. I don't feel like a long dissertation on phallocentric biases and patriarchal domination are necessary here. I'd hope that we all know sexism has deprived women and the world of a lot of greatness over the centuries. Things are a bit better today than in the past, but sexism remains a very real societal force.

Women have been working and fighting for improvement for longer than any of us have been alive. They've sacrificed, they've fought. They've won some battles and have lost others. They've been fighters. Middle aged white women in America have been on the front lines of a battle for equality and the idea of a woman in the White House has tremendous real and symbolic significance to them. That makes sense. A woman President would be meaningful. Very meaningful. If I were a woman, I'm willing to guess I'd want a woman President.

I get it with the African-Americans, too. Again, I don't think we really need to spend a great deal of time talking about the very racist history of this country, the struggles for equality and the assorted evils of our society's long-held bias. As with women, things are better today, but racism is still a very present problem.

The idea of a black President has meaning to African-Americans. If you can't understand that, you're hopeless. Think about what a dark-skinned President might symbolize to those who fought and continue to fight for legitimate equality and civil rights? If I was a black guy, I'd wager I'd love the idea of a black President.

I think there are probably some resentments between the two groups, too. I don't know how strong "fear of the black man" is among white women. I don't know if black men hold a real grudge against white women, either. I do know there are tensions sometimes.

Vaginas vs. Melanin, though. It's a problem. Hillary supporters can't simply concede that they're backing a candidate because she has genitals that match their own. We all KNOW how shallow and silly that sounds. Those of us who identify as Democrats also know that we've been pissy about Republican identity politics for so long that we can't really advertise our own dissent into "voting for our own".

Thus, you get Geraldine Ferraro. Thus, you get the posters at Taylor Marsh's website, who find reverse racism in every utterance of the Obama campaign, sexism in all media coverage of Hillary, and a complete unwillingness to recognize that their support of Hillary is no different from the support of Barack within the black community. It's pathetic deflection and an absolute unwillingness to admit what's really happening.

You also get 90% voting blocs within the African-American community and a sort of hyper-sensitivity about race matters from within the ranks of Obama supporters (both black ones and white ones who just love the consistent lockdown of the black vote). People are engaging in a game of mental Twister to avoid admitting what we all really know. Obama gets 90% of black votes because he is black. Period. It's the melanin, stupid.

It wasn't supposed to come down this way, you know? We were supposed to have a string of white dudes as Commander in Chief until EITHER a black or a woman became a serious contender. We weren't supposed to end up getting them both at the same time.

What happens when two historically disadvantaged groups both have a horse in the race? It gets ugly. Women and blacks are left to duke it out in favor of their choice to the detriment of the other. There is an alternative, but it requires a lot of people to take a big step away from the issues, causes, and beliefs that have, in large measure, defined their politics and their lives. That's asking a lot. Maybe too much, although I personally believe there is a permutation available to reconcile the situation, it's unlikely that the white women and the black guys will figure out the right common ground any time soon.

Meanwhile, you have the "good" white guys trying to make a smart decision and the "bad" white guys defaulting to whichever wrong-headed bias is stronger for them.

Sometimes I wish Barack Obama had a vagina. Hell, I might settle for a black Hillary Clinton.

What do I know, though? I have a penis and I sunburn easily.


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1 comment:

  1. True enough, John.

    It's kind of sad. It's definitely a perversion of the visions of folks like Martin Luther King and Mary Wolstonecraft, I think. That's why I turn to folks like that. Because they hold a standard higher than most people, I think.

    You're right. This isn't how things were supposed to be. And it does kind of suck that our abundance of opportunity means an ugly identity-politics slugfest rather than a celebration of how far we've come.

    It sucks too, John, because I imagine when you and I were in college and read all that feminist writing/theory and all that stuff about race and gender and equity, I'm sure we weren't thinking this is how things would look like when they got better. I guess it just reflects how getting better isn't quite the same thing as everyone taking their own independent judgment seriously, better, which really would be a better world and was the one that both King and Wolstonecraft stood for, which is why I turn to them.

    What's sad to me, John, is that I can't imagine a life where I wouldn't take my own independent judgment/conscience seriously. And the idea that people didn't either experience college or use college to develop their own thinking so that their judgments weren't based on things like genitals or skin color is just kind of sad to me. I feel sorry for folks that they didn't take their own lives and thoughts more seriously. And, then, for many of them, wonder why others don't take their thoughts seriously either. But, at the very least, the one person who should take our thoughts seriously is ourselves. It's just kind of sad, I think.

    It's a nice reflection, John. We have a long way to go, still. But we really have come so far, too. And Barack's campaign, at least, I think, is a more genuine move forward in terms of someone wanting to be judged on their merits rather than on the color of their skin. That's what I find so attractive about his campaign.

    It makes me realize just how valuable all that thinking in college was. If just to avoid the foolishness of the identity politics at play, here. And how valuable it is to read the thoughts of other people who take their own independent judgment seriously.

    Nice reflection, dude.