Observations about the intersection of race and gender in the Clinton/Obama battle

Just talking to people, listening to the radio, and going on the blogs, you can see how positions are hardening between the Clinton and Obama supporters as this protracted nomination goes along. The eventual nominee is going to spend an enormous amount of time healing the rifts that are forming now. It’s been widely reported that there’s a sizeable group of Obama supporters who say they wouldn’t vote fo Clinton if she were to become the nominee. Now there are signs that show that there’s a sizeable group of Clinton supporters who may not vote for Obama if he were to become the nominee. Talking to other Clinton supporters and going in the world of the blogosphere, there is definitely a feeling among Clinton supporters that she has gotten a raw deal especially by the media. I was listening to Air America (a left wing radio network) and Clinton supporters were calling in saying they were hesitant in whether they would vote for Obama. Most of these were women feeling like they’ve gotten shafted by the mainstream media and others. As women, they feel angry that Hillary Clinton as a woman is getting blasted by the media and the political world. I have read the same thing on blogs. The sentiment seems like that they feel like sexism is more subtle and is more permissible than racism. Today, Ed Rendell, the governor was blasted as being racist for suggesting that some white voters wouldn’t vote for Barack Obama because he’s black. Many Clinton supporters I talk to are angry that whenever there is criticism of Barack Obama, they are considered racist. However, when people criticize Hillary Clinton, than that’s fair game. When people suggest that Obama did not have enough substance, some Obama supporters and people in the media saw that as racist. I understand where that sentiment comes from especially with the horrific racial history our nation has had where African Americans have been continually marginalized. What is the line of between being racist/sexist and bringing up legitimate criticism of a candidate?

Some women feel angry because they feel sexism is considered acceptable in today’s discourse. It is their perception that bashing a woman, in this case Hillary Clinton, has been deemed acceptable and this has been the pattern of patriarchal oppression and approval of gender discrimination. I listened to Ed Schultz, a liberal talk show host on Air America who is an Obama supporter, defend the remarks of David Schuster who said the Clinton campaign “pimped” out Chelsea Clinton and also defend the remarks of Chris Matthews, host of MSNBC’s “Hardball,” who said Hillary Clinton career is based on Monica Lewinsky and no merit. It shocked me that a so called liberal was fine with defending sexist comments. It just showed that even white liberal men can be sexist too. I hear men talking openly about not supporting a woman as president. It is sort of acceptable for a person to say that, especially if you say your beliefs stem from biblical principles or from growing up in a culture with traditional or patriarchal values. I have yet to hear anyone publicly say he or she wouldn’t vote for an African American for president and I have a feeling that person would be rightuflly lambasted if they did so. It has just made me think about this intersection of race and gender in our society and how it plays out.

However, what hasn’t been covered by the media much is how historic many women see Hillary Clinton’s candidacy. Much has been made of how African Americans are so proud of Obama’s ascendacy and rightly so. With the racist history of this nation and the suffering faced by African Americans, this is something that should be celebrated. However, the media has not talked about the pride many women feel about the candidacy of Hillary Clinton. This nation also has a very shameful record of discrimination against women. For many women, they didn’t think this day would come and feel a strong sense of connection with Hillary Clinton as African Americans do with Barack Obama. Just talking to some female Clinton supporters and listening to them on the radio and reading the blogs, there is a feeling that they are having their opportunity to have a female president taken away from them. This is what many African Americans felt in South Carolina with comments made my Bill Clinton. Even though I am an Asian American, I think I always felt like race trumped gender. However, that was easy for me to say a man. There’s definitely a history of internal oppression inside movements for racial gender equality. Many women of color have felt left out of the gains of feminist movement and feel as if white women in the movement don’t really care about their needs. The leadership of the movement has been mostly white college educated affluent women. In movements for racial equality, there are ways that women have been oppressed and relegated to a subservient role. The leaders of many of these civil rights organizations tend to be men and may minimize the needs of women in these movements. So there’s ways that oppressed peoples, both people of color and women internalize their power to oppress people within their communities. Over a hundred years ago, Frederick Douglas and Elizabeth Cady Stanton were debating the preeminence of racial or gender equality.

I think it would be sad to see two oppressed groups, African Americans and women feel like they are in competition with each other and that there would be some bitterness that lingers even after the nominee is selected. In a time that people should be ecstatic of the historical moment this is with an African American and a woman running for the White House, we are mired in bitterness, conflict, and infighting. I hope in the end, that we don’t have a debate about whether race trumps gender or if gender trumps race. I hope that we can celebrate the historic nature of each of these respective candidacies.

It’s been a blessing to be able to listen to perspectives of so many women as I meet other supporters of Hillary Clinton. It was interesting at my caucus to be joined together with mostly women at our small, but loyal band of Clinton supporters in a room dominated by Obama supporters. As a man, I may be oblivious and dismissive to the issues of patriarchal oppression and in the ways I as a man can be complicit in that. I’ve always realized that sexism and discrimination against women is an inherent problem in our nation. However, it’s one thing to know it and it’s another to listen to women (the oppressed themselves) talk about it. Seeing women feel pride in seeing another woman aspire to be president is pretty awesome. Someday, I would love to see an Asian American ascend to such heights. But even as I wait for that, I can celebrate and revel, as should all Americans regardless of race and gender, in the empowerment and pride that African Americans and women are feeling right now with the historic candidacies of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.


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