Wednesday, March 12, 2008

An open letter to Maggie Williams

Dear Maggie,

May I call you Maggie? Because I want to talk to you sister to sister.

First, congratulations on the gig as campaign manager for Hillary Clinton's presidential bid. Being at the helm of a presidential campaign is a stellar achievement in a career of firsts--first female African American chief of staff for the First Lady of the United States, highest ranking black woman in an American top 50 public relations firm. (SOURCE) I know what it must have taken to get where you are. You should be proud. Reading your bio, I am proud.

I'm not so proud of the way you are doing your job, though. Now, before you think I'm hating on you for being a black woman and supporting Hillary Clinton, let me tell you: I'm not. I hate racial litmus tests. I've failed quite a few in my time. In fact, when this race began, I supported John Edwards. You better believe I heard about it from some folks. Even though Edwards and Obama have always been my top presidential picks, until recently I respected Sen. Clinton. I always knew that a lot of the crazy hatred for her had to do with sexism. I thought Clinton was a smart, strong woman, and I would have gladly voted for her in November if she won the Democratic nomination. But now, I will NEVER cast a vote for Hillary Clinton. It's the race stuff, Maggie. You're a black woman, and you know, like I know, and most other black people know, how America's race divisions are being manipulated and how a black candidate is being maligned. And you are complicit in it.

Girl, how do you do it?

Growing up, my father, who was born and raised in the Jim Crow South, always told me that I could be anything that I wanted to be, but that as a black person, I would have to work twice as hard and be twice as good as anyone else to be successful. I know a lot of other black kids heard that as well. I'll bet as a little black girl growing up in Missouri, you heard it, too. That advice has driven many of us to excel. But I'll bet, like many of us, once you entered the "real world," you learned that sometimes being good, or even the best, is not enough. You learned that even if you work hard and do all the right things, someone is going to accuse you of getting an undeserved free ride. You learned that sometimes, when you get the rules down and meet the established criteria for what you want, someone moves the bar higher. So, how do you go along with painting a black man who has been a Harvard graduate, an attorney, a community organizer, and an 11-year veteran of legislative government as an unqualified affirmative action hire? How do you back attempts to switch the rules midstream?Caucuses don't count. Certain states don't count. Eliminated delegates get seated. It's not about delegates, but who wins the right states. Pledged delegates aren't so much pledged as open to poaching.

Girl, how do you do it?

You're a public relations professional. Me too. I don't know about Fenton Communications, the firm where you were president, but if it is anything like the major companies I've worked for, there isn't much diversity. I have been the highest ranking black woman in nearly every PR job I've ever had, and usually, the only black person on staff. It is important to fit in corporate situations. I can usually do that easily--you know, fit in with different races of people. But when you're the "only" all the time there is a sense of always having to stifle aspects of who you are. It is tiring, wearing a mask to make sure people don't notice your blackness too much, but it is career crushing to be branded as an "other" and marginalized as "the black executive." You know that, Maggie. So, how can you go along with sly allusions that remind white voters to see Barack Obama as black first and foremost?

Girl, how do you do it?

Maggie, you know the day-to-day tensions of being among the oppressed in America. You know we have made great strides in stamping out prejudice, so much so that a lot of folks think the job is done. Because racism and sexism and most other "isms" are less overt, they are assumed to be things of the past. But women, people of color, gays and lesbians, we know damn well that everything isn't equal yet. We keep fighting, but other folks get tired of hearing us point out the wrongs. They say we are "too sensitive," "too PC," that we are actually the advantaged ones. Piggish men whine: "Oh, you can't even compliment a girl in the office these days without being charged with sexual harassment! A man can't even be a MAN these days without being called a rapist!" (TM Lolo at Too Sense via Jack and Jill Politics) And closet racists opine the playing of the "race card": "Any time anybody does anything that in any way pulls this campaign down and says let's address reality and the problems we're facing in this world, you're accused of being racist, so you have to shut up. Racism works in two different directions. I really think they're attacking me because I'm white. How's that?" (TM Geraldine Ferraro) Ah, the reverse racism charge. No doubt you, like me, have heard it before. So, how do you issue statements shaming the Obama campaign for pointing out racism among Hillary Clinton's surrogates? How can you be a party to complaining about the "race card?"

Girl, how do you do it?

Maggie, are you a lifelong Democrat? I am. I am a true-blue liberal. I once naively thought that the Republican Party had a lock on bigots or at least the folks who don't care about leveraging a little racial fear and tension if it means winning an election. The Democratic Party is the big tent, right? Come one, come all? Boy have I been disappointed. For the first time in my voting experience, I'm seeing a Democratic candidate sowing seeds of hate and division. And I'm watching my party crumble. Maybe you, like another Clinton surrogate (I don't remember who.), think that if your candidate is handed the election through race-baiting and sleight of hand, black folks will lick our wounds and get over it in time for election day in November. I mean, it has happened before--lots. But Maggie, I don't think we're coming back this time. For the first time in my life, I am considering not voting for a Democrat for president. If Hillary Clinton gets the nomination, I cannot swallow enough pride to cast a vote for her. I can't abet that kind of ugliness against my people. And I think a lot of voters feel as I do. How can you be a part of the destruction of your party?

Girl, how do you do it?

Okay Maggie, I know the presidential campaign manager gig must is a good one--all that prestige and excitement. I'll bet you're making enough scratch to pay my annual non-profit salary several times over. And I can't imagine what kind of career leg up you get from a high-profile job like this. All those benefits must make it easy to turn a blind eye to a lot of things. But at what cost?

Many moons ago, when I was not long out of college and desperate to ditch a job on the night copy desk of a middling newspaper, I had an opportunity to take a job that came with great hours and a fat salary bump, but a whole lot of other stuff I felt uncomfortable about. A journalist friend gave me a piece of advice that I have taken seriously throughout my career and have passed along quite a bit. She said: "Don't be a whore." I would have been offended if I hadn't understood exactly what she meant: That nothing good comes from selling yourself for a paycheck.

I'm not trying to get all up in your business. I don't know you like that. Maybe your values tell you that the way you and your candidate are conducting this campaign is perfectly within reason. But Maggie, I am heartsick. What started as an exciting primary season that featured the best of the Democratic Party and brought out the best in Americans, has deteriorated into a bloody dogfight that illuminates the very worst of everyone who comes near.

Maybe you are not as depressed as I. If so, I just don't know how you do it.



Women's History Month blog carnival

On being a heterosexual feminist
...As I started tentatively stepping into feminist circles and speaking out and asking questions, it became apparent on some levels that my sexuality would become an issue. Not being a lesbian seemed to be proof I wasn’t a true feminist and that to love a man as a sexual partner meant I wasn’t truly in step with feminist ideals. In talking with lesbian friends I know locally as well as new friends met at festivals, it became apparent that there was distrust between hetero and lesbian feminists. On one level I understand the issue as I found out many lesbians felt that when things got tough and someone needed to stand up, hetero womyn simply wouldn’t back them up.

Read more of this essay by Donna Mitchell at Women's Space.


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