Monday, February 4, 2008

Progressives' dirty little secret

Progressives can be just as race biased as conservatives. There, I said it. Oh, I know, the common narrative says that conservatives are the racists. And that ideological group may well harbour more members with overt hatred toward people of color. But liberals have biases, too. And as long as those biases go ignored and unexamined, progressives have no right to exude more-egalitarian-than-you smugness. Given the last several months of the presidential race, I fear a racial rift within the Democratic party is imminent if members don't open their eyes to their own prejudice.

It is disappointing to see Dick Morris' predictions about the aftermath of Barack Obama's win in South Carolina come true:

If Hillary loses South Carolina and the defeat serves to demonstrate Obama's ability to attract a bloc vote among black Democrats, the message will go out loud and clear to white voters that this is a racial fight. It's one thing for polls to show, as they now do, that Obama beats Hillary among African-Americans by better than 4-to-1 and Hillary carries whites by almost 2-to-1. But most people don't read the fine print on the polls. But if blacks deliver South Carolina to Obama, everybody will know that they are bloc-voting. That will trigger a massive white backlash against Obama and will drive white voters to Hillary Clinton. SOURCE

Listening to the radio and visiting blogs, I find that many white Democrats have forgotten that mere months ago Hillary Clinton held more black voter support than Barack Obama. Just months ago, Obama was the "not black enough" candidate. Today, Obama seems to be the black candidate who is blamed for playing the race card, even though Clinton supporters were the ones to inject race into the campaign. It was Bill Clinton who slyly compared Obama's South Carolina win to Jesse Jackson's. It was Clinton supporter Andrew Cuomo who used the term "shucking and jiving" in reference to Obama.

Leftist talk radio host Alex Bennett has made irrational Obama bashing a full-time project, even accusing the candidate of using MLK Day for his personal gain because he made a speech during the holiday. A recent caller to Bennett's show wondered aloud "If we can drug test presidential candidates." No word on whether this caller ever wished to drug test Bill Clinton just to confirm that not inhaling thing. Bennett, like too many Democratic radio and blog commenters are perfecting subtle race-based attacks--all smirking and code words--that would make the battiest rightwinger proud.

Mainstream feminists were perhaps the first to reveal their inherent prejudices and ignorance of racial issues. A New York Times op-ed by feminist grande dame Gloria Steinem proclaimed that any good, radical, self-affirming woman would automatically vote for Hillary Clinton, because "gender is probably the most restricting force in American life." Women need to support their own, Steinem said. She even tossed in this ahistorical nugget: "Black men were given the vote a half-century before women of any race were allowed to mark a ballot, and generally have ascended to positions of power, from the military to the boardroom, before any women (with the possible exception of obedient family members in the latter)." Gloria Steinem meet Jim Crow; it seems the two of you are unacquainted. Talk about failing to realize your own privilege.

Shouldn't feminists of color have a larger voice in determining whether sexism or racism are more oppressive? As a black woman, if I am going to vote for symbolism (as ridiculous as I think that is), should I not have the option of voting for the first black president? After all, my "own" includes Barack Obama, as well as Hillary Clinton.

Where were these "all women must vote for the woman" folks when Carol Moseley Braun was running for president? I know why I didn't support her--because other candidates more closely aligned with my take on the issues. But where were the feminists who say issues don't matter? Where were the women who say a vote for a woman is the only radical thing to do? Where was Gloria Steinem's New York Times op-ed for Braun? Could it be that when some feminists talk about support for "women" they mean white women?

Speaking of Braun, if black voters mindlessly support black candidates, where was the overwhelming support for Braun, Al Sharpton or Jesse Jackson?

Oprah Winfrey, once the darling of upper middle class white women, is now being branded a racist by some former fans. Her crime? Announcing her support of Barack Obama. Inviting George Bush on her show and embracing him during his run for office was okay, but her support of Obama is beyond the pale. Apparently it couldn't be that Oprah has been moved by Obama's message in the same way that Caroline Kennedy, Maria Shriver or Scarlett Johansen have. Nope. Oprah, because she is a black woman, clearly has given her support just because Obama is a black man--and that reason is offensive, though some of the same folks who find race-based voting offensive believe gender-based voting is a-okay.

I've even heard some people bitching about the "blaccent" Oprah "put on" to speak to primarily black audiences in South Carolina. I heard Martha Stewart's daughter Alexis complain on her Sirius radio show that Oprah, "who is obviously an intelligent woman," would dumb down her speech. Because black accent = dumb, apparently. Never mind that code switching is something many people of color do to make their way in a society in which their culture is different from that of the majority. Never mind that white people with noticeable regional accents often do the same thing. Oprah was purposefully pandering and marginalizing white folks by daring to let her accent slip.

Proclaiming yourself a progressive or leftist or Democrat does not automatically make you one of the good guys. The dirty little secret about human nature is that we are all more drawn to people who look like us and share our backgrounds and experiences. It is easier to embrace a candidate who looks and talks and behaves like your family and friends, easier to understand her, easier to believe she is good and honest, easier to make excuses for her failings. And it is easier to demonize "the other." I fear many liberals have forgotten this.

Some of my fellow Democrats have spent so long blaming racism on the other side that very real prejudices on the left go unchecked. The unequaled scrutiny of black voters, and the presidential candidate who identifies as black, is unseemly. It makes a black woman wonder whether the differences between the left and the supposedly racist right are that vast after all.


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