Saturday, March 15, 2008

Racism and sexism in the 2008 presidential campaign

You must read this very insightful and well-written post on Zuky, a blog I will definitely be bookmarking (Hat tip to Racialicious). Some things you should know:

- Kai, who wrote the post, is neither a Clinton or Obama supporter, but believes he will vote for Cynthia McKinney.

- Heart, and all of my new friends from Women's Space, I have learned the error of making blanket assumptions about white women not supporting black female presidential candidates. I am too young to remember the Chisholm campaign and I encourage anyone with facts that disprove Zuky's statement to comment here, or better, on her post.
...All forms of oppression do share certain characteristics, but each one operates along a different axis of life. Sexism often operates in the most intimate settings, as sexist men often live with, marry, and rely upon women; but racism tends to flourish on a more coldly institutional level, as racist white folks seek to structure their lives precisely so that there is no intimate contact with other races. Neither of these situations is more or less desirable than the other; they function across different dimensions and cannot be lined up for analytically-honest comparison or correspondence; as is true of all forms of oppression. Yet the Clinton campaign has generated a depressingly vocal line-up of white feminists who draw wrong comparisons and conclude that sexism is a more virulent force than racism in today's society. Some white feminists insultingly assert that women of color are betraying their gender by voting according to race, denying the possibility that there are other factors in this election. If the argument is that feminists should always vote for feminists, then I'm curious how many white women cried "betrayal!" in 1972 if women did not vote for Shirley Chisholm's presidential run (which garnered 152 electoral delegates, while the Mondale-Ferraro ticket in 1984 won a sorry 13 electoral college votes). Indeed, I wonder how many white women supported the truly historic presidential "dream ticket" of Victoria Woodhull and Frederick Douglass, who joined forces to run for the White House in 1872 and whose radical platform included women's rights and abolition of slavery and racism. The most prominent white feminists of that era distanced themselves from the Woodhull-Douglass ticket, not only because they decided that anti-racism was a secondary issue but because Victoria Woodhull controversially advocated women's sexual freedom.

The bottom line is that race is indeed at play in this election as it is in all facets of US society, but this fact is neither here nor there. Let's get real: being either a woman or a man of color is a historically-proven obstacle to the presidency; but these factors aren't insurmountable in this day and age. I don't believe that either race or gender is the single determining attribute in this campaign. I believe that those who reduce the Obama campaign to the notion that "Black man prez is cool right now" are masking racist sentiments which remain largely unexamined. Such people are sinking in the tides of history; the times have passed them by. A new tide is washing across this
country, carrying a strange glimmering hope for progressive, redemptive, constructive change. I'm inclined to ride it and see where it goes. Read more...


Sylvia/M said...

Just a quick aside -- Kai is male. :)

Tami said...


Ooops! Done in by assumptions again. Thanks. I have corrected the post.

womensspace said...

Hi, Tami, I am playing catchup here, trying to read posts I've missed. So far as Shirley Chisholm's candidacy, many, if not most, of the white feminists I know actively supported her! Satsuma on my blog has written a lot about having campaigned for Chisholm as a teenager. I do recall her candidacy; Chisholm is iconic to us older feminists in many ways. I don't know whether cries of betrayal went up against those who did not campaign/vote for Chisholm, but in part I think those cries are a function of how likely it is that someone is actually going to get the nomination. Chisholm didn't really have a chance, along the lines of Carol Moseley-Braun, and so the idea was that to be dedicated to their campaigns was to take the risk that a Republican might win. In this election, things are very different. The races are very close between Clinton and Obama. I think that feminists who feel betrayed because someone doesn't support Clinton would not likewise feel betrayed because someone isn't supporting me, for example, I'm not in the running the way Obama and Clinton are.

As to Frederick Douglass/Victoria Woodhull, Douglass was a long-time friend and ally of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and even after they had their historic meltdown over Douglass's decision to support black male suffrage over universal suffrage, Stanton still, for example, published an announcement of his marriage to a white woman prominently in her publication, with a photo and kind words of encouragement, over the objections of many of her colleagues (including Susan B. Anthony) and of course over the extreme outrage of racists everywhere. She supported Douglass in other ways as well, even after, again, their historic blow up, or meltdown, or whatever. Hers and other suffragists feelings were that Douglass and other abolitionists, in their decision to support black male suffrage over universal suffrage, had distanced themselves from the suffrage movement and betrayed suffragists who had also been historically abolitionists, and they were outraged.

My bet would be that Stanton supported Victoria Woodhull's campaign, unless there was some sort of political intrigue that had come between them (that might have had nothing to do with Woodhull's campaign). There was tremendous strife amongst the suffragists, many divisions and conflicts, not only over the issue of black male/universal suffrage but over what suffragist issues would, in fact, be. Stanton believed the suffrage movement should include far reaching reforms along the lines of women's right to divorce, to be awarded property in a divorce, to have custody of children, their rights not to be battered and raped in marriage. Little known is Stanton's work against domestic violence. In one instance she took in the wife of a senator (white) who had relentlessly battered his wife. But Stanton's comparative radicalism, her rejection of Christianity and the Bible, her unorthodox (viewed as "liberal") views on raising children, set her at odds with the other suffragists, including Anthony, with whom she had several notable fallings-out over some of these issues. Also, there were regularly fallings-out over who allied with whom. Anthony, in particular, was always upset with Stanton for her alliances and was super angry over Stanton posting the wedding photos of Douglass and his wife. Many times alliances were avoided among these women not because they wouldn't have made them on their own, but because they knew the alliances would cause a big problem. It's no different today. Many women who would be allies with one another if it were up to them, don't want to upset or antagonize others of their allies who are important to them (and who perhaps they trust more to have their backs or need more for some reason).

Anthony was single-mindedly about the vote for women and didn't want to be diverted from that one focus. The difficulties the suffragists had and their desperation to see women get the vote caused them to make, in some instances, really bad decisions. After Douglass decided for black male suffrage, Stanton and Anthony partnered with a man willing to fund their work who turned out to be a really horrible person and a racist as well. Many allegations against Stanton and Anthony, if you read about this chapter in history, can be traced to their unfortunate partnership with this really despicable guy and I can't recall his name at the moment, but he was really bad, and they didn't realize how bad he was until he had significantly funded their campaign and they were beholden to him, but by then they were in trouble by association with him.

Well, those are some thoughts. Historically, feminists, radical feminists in particular, have supported women because central to radical feminism (again, in particular) is the state of women in the world. This would hold true for Shirley Chisholm, certainly, and my bet is it held true so far as Woodhull as well, unless there was, again, some other political intrigue or difficulty or alliance which stood in the way. Both Stanton and Anthony could be stubborn and when they were betrayed, or if they felt they were, they washed their hands of the person. This is especially true of Stanton. I've sort of focused on those two because I have read extensively about them and because they are an example of the complexities of these various alliances.


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