Saturday, January 12, 2008

An Identity Conundrum

marjorie says...

This article in the New York Times is pretty good at detailing the little things that stack up to show the gender bias in the Presidential campaign. As I read through it I recognized every one of the examples, from my own life. And it does make me angry. The one that really bugs is how Hillary is viewed vis a vis Bill regarding his adultery. I have time and again heard reactions that support what this article describes. Hillary is judged for staying in the relationship, while Bill has made amends. And in her case, she is also "calculating." One thing I really can't stand is the self-righteous belief so prevalent in this country that any one of us can possibly know the truth that exists in any given relationship. We can't, nor is it our business. And in this case, its pretty clear to me that if it were flipped, the man would hardly be questioned or derided the way she is. And if you think that this issue is minor, and wonder why I highlight it...perhaps you ought to check your gender.

I like to think that I won't vote based on either race or gender (and let's face it: class is never an issue in a presidential race). But the truth is that my impulse it to vote for Obama simply because he's black. I'm spending a lot of time thinking about this reaction I have. And its happening in the context of being angry at the gender bias I see in the race. A friend made the point to me the other day that women have been just as oppressed as black folks historically. When you look at the broad sweep of history, this is probably true. When you look at factors like domestic violence, and which gender truly bears the burden of work the world over, yeah...I think you can see this. Then there's social reproduction...almost exclusively the burden of women. Yes, I mean child-rearing and taking care of the home. When I look at my own life I see rampant sexism, the most serious of which is internalized. I struggle with it all the time. When I look at my sisters and other women's lives back home, I see working class, struggling mothers who can't make half of what working class men can make, including African American men. And when I look at a broad spectrum of statistics, from top to bottom, I see huge gender disparities across the board.

At the same time, I live in the social and historical context of the United States. And this is the presidential contest for the United States. Its impossible (for me) to not have strong feelings about racism. I'm from the south (almost), and grew up in an environment imbued with racist thoughts and practices...all of which were directed straight at African Americans. The historical weight of racism born by African Americans is very clear to me. It permeates the contemporary environment that I'm part and parcel of; we have an incredibly long way to go in rectifying our past in this country. I believe this should be a burden felt equally by white people, and it makes me want to vote for Obama. It's a gut impulse. But I can see that if Obama is elected, for many people it may serve to obscure the struggles of working class black folks, a group that he doesn't belong to.

Has Obama been subject to racism in this primary, the way Hillary has been subject to sexism? Is it that both exist, but expressing sexist statements and attitudes is simply much more acceptable in our society? Or is this perception I have regarding this race just an anomaly?

I really haven't made up my mind who to support at this point. And I'm quite clear that voting for either of these two based on race or gender would be symbolic. Neither is a radical, and I really don't think that either is all that liberal. Both have serious problems with who they will be beholden to when in office (check out their bank accounts). When this contest started I was delighted simply by the make-up of the field (Bill Richardson really put it over the top), and didn't really predict that I would have this issue. By the nature of the Democratic primary for U.S. president--are there really other differences as valid to use as a decision point? Well, perhaps. But I admit it, maybe not for me. I really never expected to have to make a choice between an African American (man) and a (white) Woman when I finally got to vote for one or the other in a presidential race. Not to discount Edwards (and maybe we simply can't in the end), but I always figured it would be a white man vis a vis the other. This is what makes this race remarkable for me, and its my conundrum (one I suspect is shared by many). My gut impulse is probably going to lead the way, but I would rather it be otherwise. In any event, between now and early February maybe some of you can help me get a handle on it.

ps. I obviously haven't touched on the nexus of gender and race here. Clearly, the race of the woman, and the gender of the African American has much to do with who is running.