UPDATE: The Washington Post happens to have an interesting article today on this very subject. It’s actually more intelligent than you might expect, though be forewarned that some of the quotes are really obnoxious and precisely what I rail against here.
I can’t say that Geraldine Ferraro should have quit while she was ahead, because I’m rather unconvinced that at any point she was ahead. But it certainly wouldn’t hurt for her to stop making things worse on herself (and despite the fact that she is no longer a part of the campaign, Hillary Clinton, too). In addition to complaining that the simple acknowledgment of her remarks about Obama being racist is in fact racist against white people, she is now apparently very offended that her name came up in Obama’s speech about race.
The former New York congresswoman and Democratic vice presidential nominee got the race debate going a few weeks ago with her comments in a California newspaper that Obama had gotten to where he was — on the verge of knocking off Ferraro’s favored candidate, Hillary Clinton — because he is a black man.
Today, she surfaced again in the same paper, the Daily Breeze in Torrance, to say that she objected vehemently to Obama’s linkage in his speech between her comments and the inflammatory excerpts of sermons by Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Obama’s longtime pastor.
“To equate what I said with what this racist bigot has said from the pulpit is unbelievable,” Ferraro told the paper. “He gave a very good speech on race relations, but he did not address the fact that this man is up there spewing hatred.”
Overall, Ferraro said, she thought the speech was “excellent,” but she lamented that Obama did not go further in condemning Wright. She surmised that Obama was limited in that regard because he did not want to offend black voters, which she called the base of Obama’s support.
“I think they got as far as they could go politically,” she said. “They’re looking at their base. Their base is African Americans. They’re looking at that and they’re trying to walk a very thin line. They don’t want to offend the African Americans, and this is the way he did it.”
Yeah, here’s the thing: he was defending you, asshole.
Do I think it’s a mistake that Ferraro’s name came up? Of course not, it was a deliberate move to point out that if anyone in this campaign can be accused of racism, it’s not the Obama campaign. However, the fact remains that he defended her and in fact criticized the “dismissal” of her comments by referring to them as “racist.”
If there’s one thing that this whole explosion about race has shown us, it’s that Americans clearly do not understand the concept of racism at all. Firstly, I’m extremely annoyed that the term “racism” keeps getting thrown around to describe white people having their feelings hurt because their own racism is pointed out to them. Secondly, maybe I’ve missed something — it’s certainly possible — but even in a world where black people making disparaging comments about white people could be considered racist regardless of the fact that these remarks almost never have the ability to enforce power over the white population, I don’t see how Reverend Wright’s comments could actually be construed as “racist.” Was the comment about the United States of K.K.K. over the top? Yes, but I’d hardly call it racist. Everything else I’ve seen attributed to Wright, I’ve either actually agreed with or did not even remotely offend me. He never said that “America was to blame for 9/11.” He said that if a country wants to indiscriminately kill people in other nations, it can’t complain when the same thing happens to them with any sort of integrity. I’d call that good advice. I agreed with his “God Damn America” speech, despite that phrase being an incredibly politically incorrect thing to say in a country that prides itself on compulsive patriotism. In fact, the parts that being construed as racist against white people seem to be along the lines of “we live in a country run by white people, and the white community and white establishment are racist.” If you don’t like it, folks, quit blindly supporting it.
Ferraro clearly isn’t going to heed that message, though. What is this shit?
Ferraro told the Daily Breeze she had “no idea” why Obama had chosen to link her with Wright. She also criticized Obama for invoking, in his discussion of Wright, insensitive racial remarks made by his own white grandmother in Hawaii. “I could not believe that,” Ferraro said. “That’s my mother’s generation.”
I don’t even know what that means. Is Ferraro simply insulted that Obama would say that someone from the generation of her mother might have made “insensitive racial remarks”? Or that since Obama’s grandmother is so old, her remarks don’t “count”? I’m not sure, but I am rather certain that whatever she meant, it’s nonsensical and ugly.
On a related and somewhat ironic note, CBS apparently released a poll late last week about issues of gender and race in the presidential election and called it “Gender Matters More Than Race”. Oh really?
In fact, the poll says nothing of the sort. Simply, voters were slightly more likely to say that a female candidate faces more obstacles than a black candidate. Strangely enough, more people said that they had recently heard or had ever heard racist remarks than said that they had heard sexist remarks. More people noted racism as a “serious problem” in America. On the flip side, people would apparently like to vote for a male candidate more than they would like to vote for a white candidate, and believe that their friends agree.
Essentially, the poll (pdf) displays the complex, contradictory and delusional nature of American race and gender politics. As I don’t believe for a second that so few people have heard sexist remarks, clearly people are less attuned to sexist remarks than they are to racist ones. Similarly, I don’t believe that racist remarks are made more often around black people than around white people only, which means that what white people see as a racist remark is clearly skewed. I’d also say that CBS’ decision to jump on the idea that race is not a big deal, even though the results are nearly split down the middle with regards to which problem is more pervasive, shows a desire to dismiss any and all accusations of racism. Why they are more willing to dismiss racism than sexism, I’m not so sure, and it almost seems out of character. But there it is.
My point here, of course, is not that race is actually a bigger problem than gender. My point is that this argument we keep having is a losing one. Race is not a bigger problem than gender. Gender is not a bigger problem than race. Race is an apple and gender is an orange. They operate differently, they’re acknowledged to incongruent extents, and if only personally subjected to one of these prejudices, it is the one we’re most likely to notice. For the ten millionth time, we have nothing to win in this argument, and even if we did, alienating allies in this way is hardly worth it.
Ferraro’s assertion that Clinton has gotten a worse time because of her gender than Obama has gotten for his race is not only highly debatable and I believe untrue, but also totally irrelevant. The suggestion that Clinton has gotten a free ride because no one wants to be seen as bullying a woman is equally preposterous. And really, until we’re willing to discuss this in an adult, rational and objective manner — something that seems to be light years into the future — I wish that everyone would shut the fuck up, stop embarrassing themselves and refrain from making this mess worse.
This is the absolute last thing I intend to write about Ferraro’s remarks, ridiculous responses to the Obama speech and/or the insane Racism vs. Sexism Wars. But before I’m done, this has to be said:
How the hell is it that in this unprecedented opportunity to discuss both gender and racial prejudice openly and at length, large groups of people have decided that we should argue about which is worse instead of how to dismantle both? Prejudice is a powerful thing, I guess, as is the compulsion to see your own issues as most important while ignoring even the slightest complexity (like the fact that, um, a person can be both black and female). But you can be rest assured that the white men at the top are laughing their asses off at their extreme luck and socialization prowess. They’ve been pulling this “let’s convince people with common interests that they are actually a threat to one another, therefore weakening their power against us” shit for a long time, folks, and the inability or refusal to catch on is hardly something to advertise.