The Oppression Olympics Continue

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.

0 thoughts on “The Oppression Olympics Continue

  1. Pizza Diavola

    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.

    Indeed. And sometimes they mix to form a freak hybrid oraple or applnge.

    Reply
  2. Pizza Diavola

    Good point about not calling things freak hybrids. Sorry about that!

    I’m not sure that a fruit basket gets at the interconnected-ness of interlocking oppressions, though, since you can still separate the apples from the oranges from the kiwis. It’s more like those Swiss chard-carrots – carrots on the bottom, but the leafy tops growing out of the carrots are Swiss chard rather than carrot greens. Recognizably two different things that come together to make a new, inseparable veg.

    And just so I’m not completely pointless –

    large groups of people have decided that we should argue about which is worse instead of how to dismantle both

    I blame it on the mainstream media. Honestly. Undeniably, some people are incapable of seeing that acknowledging racism doesn’t have to mean denying sexism, and vice versa, but I do think that the way the media has been portraying the election as a contest between Woman (white) and Black (man) has poisoned the discourse. They could have set an example, particularly opinion columnists, by either framing the race differently or by thoughtfully examining systems of prejudice rather than taking sides and so presenting useful, thought-provoking analysis to their readers. Instead, they’ve signally failed to do so.

    Reply
  3. Cara Post author

    I’m not sure that a fruit basket gets at the interconnected-ness of interlocking oppressions, though, since you can still separate the apples from the oranges from the kiwis. It’s more like those Swiss chard-carrots – carrots on the bottom, but the leafy tops growing out of the carrots are Swiss chard rather than carrot greens. Recognizably two different things that come together to make a new, inseparable veg.

    Eh, that’s the thing about metaphors, isn’t it? They only go so far.

    Reply
  4. Pizza Diavola

    I also think the general failure of mainstream media to present critical, provocative (in a thoughtful rather than titillating sense) reporting is tied to corporate ownership of newspapers. And most of those corporations are owned and managed by extremely wealthy, white men – precisely those who have the most to gain from watching everyone else tear each other apart.

    Reply
  5. Paul

    Black Americans have plenty of legitimate grievances, though not nearly as many as people like Jesse Jackson make out. But the fact is that the majority of white American voters reject Black grievance politics and won’t vote for a candidate who is seen to represent it, because they see it as anti-American – as indeed it is in the hands of someone like Wright. That’s the main reason why, if the Dems nominate Obama, McCain will win. There are other reasons: Obama’s ultra-liberal voting record, his total lack of national experience (compare to JFK), and McCain’s high positives as a candidate. But the ball-and-chain of Black grievance politics will be the main one.

    My preferred candidate all along was Al Gore – his refusal to run is turning out to be a terrible tragedy for the Dems and the US. I agree that Clinton has plenty of negatives and that she and Bill C were far too complacent and have not conducted their campaign very well. I agree that it will now be very difficult for her to persuade the superdelegates to ignore Obama’s lead in the primaries and nominate her.

    My point is, that if the Dem party had stayed united and nominated her (or Gore, or even Edwards), it would have maximised its chances of winning in November. Instead, the combination of the Black block vote and the liberal elite vote have carried the day in the caucuses (though not in most of the big-state primaries) and given Obama a commanding position for the nomination.

    But if Clinton has a big win in PA and holds Obama to within 5% in NC, the supers will be in a very difficult position, because Obama’s implosion will then be too evident to ignore. They have a duty to respect the popular will, but they also have a duty to the party as a whole – the whole point of supers was to prevent another McGovern debacle, which is exactly what an Obama nomination will produce.

    Obama is imploding, as he fully deserves to for being a half-filled balloon of hot air with murky Chicago friends, but at the same time he is making it impossible for Clinton to win the nomination without wrecking the Democratic Party. Consequence: McCain will win and the next four years are going to be pretty bleak.

    Reply
  6. Cara Post author

    Paul, I’m not sure that a single one of your points — which, by the way, are only tangentially related to the post — can be substantially backed up. You’ve also made these views on how Obama cannot possibly win, what with his being totally black, very clear before. So we get it; you desperately want him to lose.

    And are you living in a world where Jesse Jackson can still legitimately be called a.) progressive and b.) representative of the black community? I’d say that a man who seems to think that it’s his professional job to hand out forgiveness at the drop of a hat to racist celebrities, so long as he gets to be on television, isn’t exactly the best current example of the Unreasonable Angry Black Man. Then again, you also seem to think that McCain has “high positives as a candidate.”

    Reply
  7. Paul

    Australian feminist Anne Summers said much the same thing (http://annesummers.com.au/documents/TAFEspeech.pdf):

    Already the polarisation between the two candidates and their respective camps has become deep and destructive. Each camp is arguing that it has the numerical and the moral advantage and deserves the nomination; the danger lies in the unsuccessful candidate’s supporters feeling betrayed and spurned. The enmity between the two camps is already far greater than any animosity towards the Republicans.
    It is threatening the Party’s chances of winning in November as Obama supporters say they would never support Clinton as the candidate – and many Clinton supporters say the same thing about Obama.

    Reply

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