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Friday, February 15, 2008

sexism and racism - 2008

Here's a good discussion of sexism and racism in our current presidential election contest between Clinton and Obama. The idea that Rush Limbaugh feels comfortable putting a parody on his show called "Barack, the magic negro" speaks volumes as does the fact that some web site can parody Sen. Clinton with toilet brushes sporting "First Cleaning Lady" label. Both of these examples are part of the new "sport" of politics and go with the territory. But what has really given me pause is the op-ed piece by Gloria Steinem making the case that sexism is worse than racism. Now, women of a certain age are supposedly supporting Hillary because we believe in the feminist cause, grew up in the fray, and support our sister. I guess I missed the meeeting, because I support Obama. Here is the link to her article and a link to the CNN discussion.

Here's the key quote from Steinem's article that I think bears reading fully:
"I’m not advocating a competition for who has it toughest. The caste systems of sex and race are interdependent and can only be uprooted together. That’s why Senators Clinton and Obama have to be careful not to let a healthy debate turn into the kind of hostility that the news media love. Both will need a coalition of outsiders to win a general election. The abolition and suffrage movements progressed when united and were damaged by division; we should remember that."

Unfortunately, the point of her message is in fact to compare racism to sexism and that Hillary is not getting fair treatment.


As a white woman (who fully embraces the liberation movement, mantra, and mantle) who lives in an African-American neighborhood, I feel I have a perspective on sexism vs. racism that Ms. Steinem may not have. This gives me great pause because I fully embraced the "Ms." designation when it made its debut and continue to use it to this day. The idea that I have a different perspective from GS is important for me to acknowledge. But do it I must.

Racism always trumps sexism. In my very first post on this blog I noted that I, as a white woman and my roommate, as a black man, could each only disguise our gender, but not our race. Hillary can do many things to demystify, ignore, and downplay her gender. Gender is an ascribed characteristic. What if Hillary is a lesbian? Does that change the sexism discussion or not? But you cannot change, cover, or erase the issue of race. Hillary will always, always, always have a head start on Barack Obama by virtue of being white. Hillary has white privilege to draw on, use, and gain favor. Obama will never be able to gain those points no matter how he plays the race card or tries to invoke JFK (issues raised by GS). I take issue with the very issue that GS raises - that somehow Obama gets a pass on race while Hillary has to defend her gender. A pass??? Every day Obama starts from a negative position simply because of his skin color. Surely my feminist heroine cannot be so blinded by her zeal to advocate gender that she does not see the privilege she enjoys every day.

So, while I can throw volleys at the national pundits on this topic, do I see any reflections of the issue in my own neck 'o the woods? I feel the anxiety of sexism all the time - men reacting to me in ways that are dictated by our gender differences (and darn it, not in a way that creates valentines :). When white men engage in sexism, it seems unbeatable - white men trump white women. But when men of color engage in sexism, it seems less difficult - white trumps black and that can overcome the barrier of men trumping women. Sad isn't it? I can be comforted by my white privilege even if a man is giving me grief for being a woman.

The answer to this conundrum, of course, is to recognize and reject my position of privilege. I do this on a regular basis. It is not easy to do, but essential if we are to ever get over the sexism vs. racism debate.

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