Monday, February 04, 2008

If Hillary Clinton were a White man.

Lately, it seems, feminists who should know better - including feminist academics - are saying some really cringe-worthy things in the course of defending Hillary as a candidate. For instance, I'm really sick of hearing - and I have now heard this from several sources - that overt racism is no longer acceptable while overt sexism is, and that therefore, Hillary is getting the worst of the abuse. Yet, some of these same (White) people will turn around and confide that they are worried that if Obama were elected, someone would assassinate him. I have not yet heard from anyone the concern that Hillary would be a target for an assassination. She might be told to iron someone's shirts, and she might have her appearance repeatedly analyzed, and she might have to pander to the American public's need for her to be both strong and warm, feminine and powerful, but she is probably not in great danger of assassination for being a woman.

It may not be acceptable to say "the n-word" on broadcast television, but it is apparently acceptable to let hundreds of Black people drown rather than rescue them from a flood that everyone knew was coming and that we had resources to rescue them from. The number of Black men in the prison system is epidemic, and they are there while White men who commit the same crimes receive lesser sentences - or no sentences. Black women are far more likely to die from preventable and treatable diseases than are White women because they do not have access to healthcare and because the healthcare system doesn't give a damn about them when they try to get help (witness the woman who just died in her home in the Twin Cities because her doctor didn't believe anything was wrong with here when she went to see him, and sent her home). Is someone really going to tell me that this is not overt, public racism?

I've also heard more than one person refer to this as being another case in which Americans must decide who goes first: Black men or White women. If that's true, and if people are really thinking this way, then it is also likely to be another case in which White feminists will sell out American Blacks without a second thought. Again.

I've heard a lot of talk about how, if Obama were a woman, no one would look twice at him, at that Obama woman with "no experience." (No one ever mentions that being Black might have anything to do with that - nope, it's all about gender.) I've heard that if Hillary weren't a woman, she wouldn't have had to deal with all the scrutiny and nasty comments (probably true) and would therefore be way ahead in the race (like John Edwards, the White guy?).

But so far, I haven't seen anyone really examine what it might mean for the race if Hillary were a White man. So let's consider it, and let's think particularly about what kind of support she'd be getting among feminists and among women more generally.

If Hillary Clinton were a White man, then all the White feminists who are furiously fanning themselves at the thought of having to choose between betraying womankind and looking like a racist would immediately back Obama. They would point out that we've had enough White men in the White House, and that this is a historic moment for change. National feminist organizations would be falling all over themselves to be first to endorse him. Meanwhile, they would be pointing to Hillary's war record as signs of disregard for the poor people and people of color who have had to give their lives for the war.

If Hillary Clinton were a White man, her comment about Martin Luther King, Jr.'s work only coming to fruition because of the work of a benevolent president would have drawn criticism from White feminists.

If Hillary Clinton were a White man, there would be more, not fewer, remarks about how she would continue Bill's legacy (were she his son).

If Hillary Clinton were a White man, we'd be looking now at a race between Edwards and Obama.

If Hillary Clinton were a White man, no one would accuse female Obama supporters of voting with their crotches. (Interesting that no one said this about Edwards supporters. And, what, are there no lesbians supporting Obama? Hmm.) Instead, they'd be accusing female Clinton supporters of voting with their crotches.

If Hillary Clinton were a White man, at least I wouldn't have to listen to what is passing for feminism but is really thinly disguised racism.

37 comments:

Renegade Evolution said...

applause! Well said.

Plain(s)feminist said...

Thank you. It's been a hell of a long day.

Lana Wood said...

Well, certainly, it is worth noting all Lyndon Johnson did for civil rights. The accomplishments of his presidency are so greatly eclipsed by so many things, his own personal demons, his own behavior towards, women, animals, and anybody else he felt like treating like crap at any given moment, the long shadow thrown by an administration plagued by incompetence, but forever immortalized as ideal due to a huge and unexpected tragedy, not to mention that whole Vietnam War thing he inherited from it. I would argue, convincingly, and well, that Lyndon Johnson was only able to do what he did because of Martin Luther King.

Lana Wood said...

I'm sorry, pet peeve button of mine got pushed. I really like what you wrote here, and I think you have a great point of view on it. Racisim is so insideously pervasive in our country, Katrina really bought it to the fore in many ways. And I am with you about Edwards, if it were up to my crotch, he's be all set.

I hope when we all go to vote in November, we make a choice based on what we think will be best for America, and the world, not based on furthering a perceived agenda based on genitalia or melanin.

Plain(s)feminist said...

Here's a good piece on related issues.

Todd Epp at S.D. Watch said...

Wow! Well put. Probably one of the best posts I've read on any topic, let alone the feminism/black divide. Bravo!

Todd Epp
SD Watch http://www.southdakotawatch.net

Anonymous said...

Hey thanks, blogging while being a white feminist for calling me a racist. So true!! I guess even though I grew up as a non-white feminist in Detroit and had to deal with a whole lot of racist shit, I just don't know what it's like, like you do, my friend.

I guess Martin Luther King III is also a racist because he supported John Edwards (the white man).

I also would like to point out that Don Imus, who called the Rutgers basketball team "hos" (racist plus sexist) is back on the air. With the media elite, too!

Vote for who you want but don't cast aspersions on the motivations of others. Make the positive case for your candidate. I was for John Edwards because he cared about poverty. Now I'm backing Clinton because of her health plan.

MG

Plain(s)feminist said...

Hey Todd,
Good to see you! Thanks for the nice words!

Anonymous,
I'm pretty sure I didn't make any grand claims about everyone who is supporting Clinton. I'm talking about a specific group of people and I'm reacting to a specific set of assumptions and arguments about her candidacy. If you don't feel that this describes you, then maybe you're not who I'm talking about.

Plain(s)feminist said...

Also, Anonymous, I certainly never said, nor do I believe, that anyone not voting for Obama is racist. That's exactly the kind of mentality I'm arguing AGAINST.

Anonymous said...

"If Hillary Clinton were a White man, at least I wouldn't have to listen to what is passing for feminism but is really thinly disguised racism."

Just to pick on item but all seems to be like this. Yes, I'm a feminist and I support Clinton. So where is my "thinly disguised racism?".

MG

Plain(s)feminist said...

Ah, MG, now I know who you are. As I said, I'm responding to a specific discussion or set of discussions, and they are discussions that, to my knowledge, you haven't been a part of. It is not the one that you and I had yesterday. This isn't about you. I'm not calling you a racist. Can we please stop now?

Anonymous said...

If Hillary Clinton were a white man, maybe we'd all be devoting less energy to discussing who her supporters are and what their agendas are, and more time discussing whether she's the best candidate.

Some women are voting for Hillary because she's a woman?? Newsflash: In every election, there are people who vote for a candidate because of who they are and not just what they say and do. What percentage of Mormons do you think are going to vote for Romney? When this election comes down to either a black man or a white woman against a white man, you can bet there are going to be plenty of people who vote for the white man because he's neither black nor female.

All this analysis and what does it boil down to - that there are people out there who call themselves feminist who are actually racist, and/or are engaging in their own brand of sexism? Let's concede that that's true. All of it. Where do we go from here. Who's the best candidate? What are the actual reasons to vote for Clinton? or for Obama?

Or we can just keep arguing about race vs. gender until it's time to plan President McCain's inauguration.

Plain(s)feminist said...

Anonymous #2 - You don't have to think that my concerns are important, and you are welcome to write a post about who is or is not the best candidate on your own blog. But, this is my blog, and I will write about what I want to write about. If you want to have a conversation about what I've said, fine. If you don't think it's worth talking about these issues, then feel free to go somewhere else and have a conversation you're more interested in having.

Anonymous said...

Well, I think I am responding to your post. Just responding differently than you expected. I don't like when feminists say "we should all support Hillary because sexism is a bigger problem than racism in America". Your response here is that racism is the bigger problem. Maybe so. My response is that rather than arguing about which is better, we should be trying to eradicate both.

It's not easy to offer a substantive response to this post. You've written that "some people" say this and "some people" say that. It's not like I can rebut that and say "no they didn't". It's not like we can discuss what they may have meant, since I don't know these people and didn't hear what they said. The post is an argument with a bunch of straw-women.

Plain(s)feminist said...

I don't like when feminists say "we should all support Hillary because sexism is a bigger problem than racism in America". Your response here is that racism is the bigger problem. Maybe so.

Nope, I'm not saying racism is a bigger problem. It is a serious problem, however, and Gloria Steinem and Robin Morgan, to name two, don't seem to believe that it is equally as important or dangerous as is sexism.

My response is that rather than arguing about which is better, we should be trying to eradicate both.

Fabulous! We agree on something. However, that is not the topic of this particular post.

You've written that "some people" say this and "some people" say that. It's not like I can rebut that and say "no they didn't". It's not like we can discuss what they may have meant, since I don't know these people and didn't hear what they said. The post is an argument with a bunch of straw-women.

Why would you want to rebut that? What do you have invested in telling me that I haven't heard what I've heard or that I haven't read what I've read? Why do you feel it's important to defend these people you don't know, haven't heard, and haven't read?
If I reference points of conversation that you are unfamiliar with, I'm constructing a strawman argument?

girldetective said...

"For instance, I'm really sick of hearing - and I have now heard this from several sources - that overt racism is no longer acceptable while overt sexism is, and that therefore, Hillary is getting the worst of the abuse. Yet, some of these same (White) people will turn around and confide that they are worried that if Obama were elected, someone would assassinate him."

For the record, I'm terrified that either of them will be assassinated if they become president. I think Clinton's in plenty of danger.

I might be completely, totally wrong on this, but I wonder if people are confusing "overt" with "uncoded" (as I did for a long time). They recognize statements like "women are the weaker sex" as unequivocally sexist, but don't realize that telling Obama not to "shuck and jive" is unequivocally racist.

Like I said, though, I could be way off, and I don't doubt that there are plenty of uncoded racist statements that I haven't seen.

Anonymous said...

I think you _are_ arguing that racism is the bigger problem (assasination vs. being told to iron shirts - that's not an image that says that both things are equally big problems).

And I do think we agree on wanting to fight against both racism and sexism, which is why I'm surprised to see you buying into the idea that this election is some kind of contest between the two.

Re real people and positions vs. the straw man: I don't want to rebut your positions just for the sake of rebuttal. It's just that if you actually want discussion on a topic, then people have to have some access to the experience that you're discussing. It's hard to discuss a book with someone who hasn't read it, kwim? You can tell them about it, and they can nod and say "uh huh" and that's it. So I suppose I could just respond to this and say "yup, people that say racism is no big deal anymore and then in the next breath say that Obama might be assassinated are clueless". No argument there.

Just to shift the focus a little (you don't have to answer if you don't want to) -
Do you think the worst racism that Obama is encountering in his campaign is coming from feminists?

Do you think there's any feminist argument at all to be made for supporting Hillary? Do you think we should choose our candidate by trying to adopt a race/gender - blind approach (look at the platforms and records as if all four were white men, or black women, or whatever - all the same - and then choose the best match)?

Do you think there are blacks who feel like they should support Obama in part because he is black, and if there are, do you think they are sexist? That seems to me to be the flip side of this argument (that women who advocate supporting Hillary because she's a woman are racist)?

Plain(s)feminist said...

Anonymous,
I apologize in advance if you are, in fact, someone I don't know. Feel free to post or email and set me straight if that is the case. However, I've been watching where the hits are coming from, and when, and when the anonymous comments are posted, so I'm pretty sure you're not unknown to me.

For my readers: Yesterday, I was having a heated discussion about politics on a private board. I left that discussion, and I did so intentionally, because I did not want to continue it any further (nor will I). It appears now that one or possibly two people from that board have decided to come here and continue the discussion, posting as anonymous.

This is extremely bad internet form. You don't bring conversations from elsewhere and try to force someone to continue them all over the internet. You don't pretend to be "anonymous" in order to do this.

And, Anonymous, since you don't seem to have noticed, this is not a discussion board. This is a blog. My blog, to be exact, and I have absolutely no interest in having the discussion that you want to have, which is why I left the other board in the first place. I've told you so twice now, and I've done it fairly nicely.

Plain(s)feminist said...

I wonder if people are confusing "overt" with "uncoded" (as I did for a long time). They recognize statements like "women are the weaker sex" as unequivocally sexist, but don't realize that telling Obama not to "shuck and jive" is unequivocally racist.

Oh, I think that's definitely true. That's part of the point I was making by referencing Katrina and the other things - that overt racism isn't just about making comments, it's also about actions. Not exactly what you were saying, but you know what I mean, I hope.

Octogalore said...

If Hillary Clinton were a white man, she might've been president already. She might not have had to face accusations about piggybacking. She might not have had to be a subject of national scrutiny for anything other than her politics. She might not have had to fight public opinion as to her political capabilities to get where she is. She might've gotten here much sooner.

Writing Hillary out of the position she's in now (a la "it'd be Obama vs Edwards") based on gender? Completely misses the point of all the obstacles she's had to overcome to get to this position, BASED on gender.

Plain(s)feminist said...

If Hillary Clinton were a white man, she might've been president already.

Quite possibly. But not in this particular election.

Writing Hillary out of the position she's in now (a la "it'd be Obama vs Edwards") based on gender? Completely misses the point of all the obstacles she's had to overcome to get to this position, BASED on gender.

No, I think that's exactly the point. I think the focus has been entirely on gender *oppression* and not on race and class *privilege*. How come no one is asking what would happen if Hillary were Black? Or if Obama were White?

But honestly, Octo, I do think that if she were a White man, she would not be a strong candidate because she is not inspiring, she is very centrist, and she does not seem to think that the political system needs an overhaul. She's getting a lot of votes BECAUSE she's a woman, and that doesn't dismiss the struggles she's had to overcome to get there, but it's still true, IMO.

Octogalore said...

"How come no one is asking what would happen if Hillary were Black? Or if Obama were White?"

Steinem, while I don't agree with all the points she made in her OpEd, asked exactly that.

"I do think that if she were a White man, she would not be a strong candidate because she is not inspiring, she is very centrist, and she does not seem to think that the political system needs an overhaul."

I respect your views on this, but I guess we disagree. For me, and I think others as well, inspiration doesn't come packaged in poetic soundbites but in knowledge of the realities and ability to act courageously in the face of them. I think Clinton has this knowledge. Politics in our flawed system requires compromise and finesse to actually accomplish results. No amount of rhetoric about "change" is going to alter that reality. The endpoints that Clinton and Obama ideally wish for are not dissimilar. The methods each espouse reflect more about understanding of the system than principles, IMO.

Plenty of white male presidents were more centrist, less inspiring, and less change-oriented than Clinton... and got elected just fine. I don't think we have enough information as to weighing the effects of removing gender hype vs removing obstacles to know the result of what would've happened if her chromosomes were different, and frankly it feels wrong to me to speculate about that.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, I followed you from the other board. You have an interesting blog. With comments.

But apparantly, it's more like a journal with a moderated letters section. I respect that.

I won't post comments anymore.

MG

Plain(s)feminist said...

Plenty of white male presidents were more centrist, less inspiring, and less change-oriented than Clinton... and got elected just fine.

Yes, but I think that this particular election is different for progressives. I don't think a centrist White man could have won the Democratic nomination this time.

I don't think we have enough information as to weighing the effects of removing gender hype vs removing obstacles to know the result of what would've happened if her chromosomes were different, and frankly it feels wrong to me to speculate about that.

Point taken. But the speculation on that is mostly in response to similar and certainly equally offensive speculation coming from Hillary supporters.

Plain(s)feminist said...

apparantly, it's more like a journal with a moderated letters section. I respect that.

M -
It's more like, I left the other discussion because I wanted to stop having it. That doesn't mean you can't comment on other posts, but I really don't want to argue with you anymore about this particular topic.

Anonymous said...

Just signing off but wanting to defend myself a little bit:

1. This is one of two blogs on which I have ever posted a comment, so I'm sure I engaged in bad internet form. I don't get the rules. Mea culpa.

2. There does seem to be some discussion here - you respond to the comments and the commenters respond back to you.

3. I don't believe that I referenced the other conversation or tried to bring it here. Sorry if it came across that way. There were questions unanswered there that were not part of your post here and I did not bring those up. And lest anyone think I'm stalking or something I'll just mention that you've posted links to the blog from that board before - it's not like we're not supposed to be reading it.

4. Anonymous was a practical choice because I'm inexperienced at the whole blog thing. I don't have a Blogger/Google identity and didn't feel like creating one just for this. I was not trying to hide behind the name or pretend to be someone I'm not.

5. This conversation is obviously more emotionally loaded for you than for me. I am sorry for being so oblivious to that. I still do not really understand where you're coming from on this topic, but I guess that's just the way it is.

Danielle said...

Why can't we all just get a bong?

Plain(s)feminist said...

M-
I appreciate your explanation - thanks. Just to be perfectly clear, you are absolutely welcome to come here and to comment. This is the *one* post that I'm saying "I don't want to talk to you about this" about, and it's solely because of the conversation at the other place, in which I felt my boundaries were not respected. (I don't want to debate whether or not they were respected, I just want to stop talking about it and move on to other things.)

Anxious Black Woman said...

Excellent post, plain(s)feminist! May I have permission to link to it on my blog?

Anonymous said...

I didn't write that. I end my posts with "MG".

MG

Plain(s)feminist said...

ABW - sure! BTW, I have meant to add you to my blogroll. Everyone, check out ABW's place, and I'll get the link up soon.

M and Anonymous - I apologize for mixing you up!

CrackerLilo said...

Fan-freakin-tastic! Thank you very much for posting this. It is so necessary.

I remarked on it before at another blog, but Obama's had Secret Service protection since May 2007, which is highly unusual for a mere candidate at an early stage in his campaign. Guess why?

Stuff Daddy said...

I think it can easily be said that the tensions between allies can be as strained as those between enemies.

I have always thought of oppression as a grid in which each individual intersects in a different place, defined by gender, ethnicity, class, sexual preference, religion, education, and so on. So many people feel so "in touch" with the ways in which they are oppressed, but they rarely see themselves as part of the oppressive system.

I remember a party in Jamaica Plains where I had a long discussion with a gay, white man about homophobia in black culture. It took me a long time to explain to him that he was not necessarily the "oppressed" party in this situation, but instead there was a weird exchange between these two social groups. Both played a role in the oppression of the other.

As a gay man, he felt oppressed by the hatred, persecution and threats of violence by socially conservative community values that are shared in great numbers by Blacks, Whites, Latinos and many others and he felt especially threatened by negative gay stereotypes in black culture and music.

As a part of the gentrification of Jamaica Plains, he was part of the wealthy, predominantly white populace that bought up tenement houses, displacing predominantly, poor, black families.

In keeping with that, I think the subject that Plain Feminist is so cogently describing is something very real and very under the radar. The sad thing is, that while most people you talk to say they are voting for the best person gender and race aside, the numbers show such a huge race and gender divide, that it just can't be true.

I admit I would love for a woman or a person of color to be president. I think that a president can be a policy wonk and/or a great orator.

I do feel that the "False Hope", "Fairy Tale," and "Jesse Jackson did well too," arguments along with the frankly disgusting audacity to rate sexism against racism and pick a winner, is the most divisive BS I have ever heard. It saddens me to see the compromise of people who I had once deeply respected.

bfp said...

thank you for writing this, pf--I especially appreciated the part about watching black people drown on national t.v.--thank you.

Plain(s)feminist said...

Thanks, bfp.

I have been thinking a lot about where I place myself in feminism as this Hillary debate has raged on, and part of that has meant thinking about what it means that so many white people seem to see "overt racism" as using racial slurs. I think, as with so many other things, really *seeing* overt racism means looking at the whole picture differently, and Katrina is a prime example of that. I guess someone could argue that this is covert, not overt, but in that case, I would think there'd have had to have been at least an effort to save those people.

ccuomo said...

"I've also heard more than one person refer to this as being another case in which Americans must decide who goes first: Black men or White women. If that's true, and if people are really thinking this way, then it is also likely to be another case in which White feminists will sell out American Blacks without a second thought. Again."

This is an unfortunate over-generalization. Haven't you seen how much support Obama has from white feminists? And how hard many white feminists have worked against racism in this country? A lot harder and more effectively than white men!

The fact that racism and sexism are inextricably related to each other (especially in the U.S.) makes this whole tit-for-tat regarding who is the more politically correct candidate outrageous. Personally I think we should be criticizing the sexism and racism in all of the campaigns, looking at the complex relationships between the issues, and focusing on the question of who will do the best job in office, who has the better network behind them, and who is most likely to help keep the republicrats out of the white house for a good long while.

Plain(s)feminist said...

Hi Chris,
Welcome!

Thanks for your comment. You made some good points, and I should clarify. Some feminist scholars have argued that the American feminist/women's movement, as a whole, had had two chances to integrate the concerns of women of color centrally, and had, on both occasions, blown it. The first was the fight over the vote and whether to push for Black men or for White women to be enfranchised. The second was more recently, during the second wave, as women of color challenged White feminism but as White feminism nevertheless rolled on over them.

You correctly point out, through your example of White feminists working for Obama, that feminism is not a monolith. You further remind us that many White feminists have struggled to fight racism, and that this struggle is in fact central to feminism. As we continual to struggle within the movement with issues around race and racism, it's easy to forget that White feminists have consistently worked to address race in their theorizing and activism, and that they were, as you say, much more effective than their White male counterparts.

However, I do see what is happening now as a third moment in which White feminism, as a whole, is rolling on over the concerns of feminists of color (and of many White feminists). I am seeing, in every feminist organization I belong to, what is largely but not entirely a feminist generation divide, in which the second wave feminists are not only supporting Hillary, but are reacting to younger women's support of Obama as a betrayal of feminism, or at best, a complete ignorance of feminism. I don't think this is quite so simple as I just stated it, but and of course there are older feminists supporting Obama and younger feminists supporting Clinton, as well. (These organizations are also academic ones, though I suspect that in general, there is far less of a generation divide in academe.)

The fact that racism and sexism are inextricably related to each other (especially in the U.S.) makes this whole tit-for-tat regarding who is the more politically correct candidate outrageous. Personally I think we should be criticizing the sexism and racism in all of the campaigns, looking at the complex relationships between the issues, and focusing on the question of who will do the best job in office, who has the better network behind them, and who is most likely to help keep the republicrats out of the white house for a good long while.

Absolutely. My intent was not so much to endorse the tit-for-tat thinking, but to respond to it - in particular, to the notion (which I've heard now from several prominent women who are perceived as leaders by mainstream feminists) that we could even look at this as a "who goes first?" situation in the first place. And I also wanted to respond to the ridiculous notion that somehow Black men have been liberated (as per Gloria Steinem) while White women have been languishing on the sidelines and Black women apparently do not exist...