Wednesday, March 12, 2008


(Image by Sol Steinberg)

Here's the short version: Judgment errors on the part of Democratic candidates, which are inevitable and frequent no matter how much you worship your boy/girl, do not give other Democrats permission to attack their character and smear entire groups of people in retaliation.

Geraldine Ferraro's remarks are racist. From the trail that's being unearthed, she has a history of making such comments and believing in them. More on that below. If she's a member of a campaign effort, then when her comment becomes public, she needs to be asked to apologize and step down from her association, and the head of that campaign needs to state in unequivocal terms what was wrong about the statements and that their campaign will not tolerate such belief. This is the decent thing to do.

Do campaigns follow this ethic? Never if they are Republicans. Not nearly enough if they are Democrats. Hillary Clinton's failure to step up is a major blow to her credibility, and it's good that this is being discussed. What's more crucial is an examination of the flawed thinking behind the comment, and I appreciate bloggers who are taking the time to do this. I really don't appreciate those with CDS who are jumping on it as chance to call her everything but the Jane Fonda word -- in the guise of "analysis".

Those political bloggers stupid enough to have revealed their biases this early on in a Presidential race have lost my interest and patience. You really did not have to come out for a candidate in order to do your job. Daily Kos has become a joke of let's-find-out-something-else-wrong-with-Hillary posting. With that level of favoritism, I don't believe they'll report as honestly and accurately when Barack fucks up bigtime, as he most assuredly will -- he's not that good, folks. He's earned our respect and definitely our vote, but he's not a shining path to manna and honey.

And, referring to the ethic above: He said nothing about Samantha Powers labelling Hillary a monster, and has not distanced his campaign from those remarks, either. Where's your outcry about that?

One good thing about the tensions of this unique Presidential season is that it affords the opportunity, for those intelligent enough to make use of it, to discuss in detail how racism and sexism function in our culture, distinctly from one another, not in comparison but as two different facets of oppression which serve to keep woman-hating and white supremacy the American norm. Those who follow only one line of the discussion are contributing to the game which keeps us all at one another's throats. I won't read you any more until you clean your shit up.

Now, some racism 101: Let's start with what she actually said on the John Gibson show on February 26:

"Ferraro: When I see John Lewis ... a civil rights leader, why in God's name did he change his vote from Hillary to Barack Obama. I'll tell you why, because he faces -- he's not going to lose a Democratic primary in his district in two years, but he sure as hell will face one if he sticks it to Barack Obama when he has a greater majority of blacks in his district ... I'm so disappointed in him I could die.

"I look at Rosa DeLauro up in Connecticut. She represents New Haven. Tell me -- I don't care what she says -- tell me why she's endorsing Barack Obama ... and then came to his defense on an issue like choice where he voted six times maybe, when he voted present -- I'm like a lunatic about this stuff ...

"If Barack Obama were a white man, would we be talking about this as a potential real problem for Hillary? If he were a woman of any color, would he be in this position?"

What I read from this are several messages:
(1) Black people stick together behind black candidates, and if you cross them, you'll lose their vote.
(2) Why would a woman endorse a candidate who's not voted reliably on a key women's health issue, especially when a woman candidate who has voted reliably is available? It must be racial ganging together.
(3) The people who are supporting Obama are doing so more because he is black than because of the issues, but that "plus" would be eliminated if he were a woman because sexism trumps racism.

So, what I could do with this is call Ferraro names, impugn her generation/feminism/ethnicity/class, or use another several male-conditioning-accepted tricks to conceal the fact that I have feelings about discovering someone who's been a pioneer and has power being this flawed. At least in the above excerpt, Ferraro admitted her feelings, twice. But in the blogging world, thinking of a dozen ways to talk trash about others is never identified as unexpressed and inappropriate anger/hurt/fear. Because guys, you know, don't have feelings in the way of their ability to see and think. It's that Penis Protection Factor(™).

(See, I just did what the bloggers are doing. Doesn't make you especially want to hear more, does it? Not when it's focused on somebody other than the socially-acceptable target of women. Or fat people. Hostility is something you are going to have to GIVE UP for the revolution, or else g*d will leave you behind in the desert. You want Obama to lead you into paradise, but paradise doesn't want your passive-aggressive ass.)

Instead, I'll address the fallacies, one by one.

(1) 'Black folks/people of cullah are in secret collusion against the white masters in the big house.' This paranoia is as old as slavery. The truth is, if oppressed groups WERE able to act in unity and with shared intent, slavery would have ended the first time blacks outnumbered whites in any given county, and there would be 25 female Senators, a list of 22 past female Presidents, etc. This is not just paranoia, it's projection. Reality shows that it is WHITE people who act in racial collusion, who make choices more on the basis of gender and race than on issues or character, and who enforce the status quo by reprisal.

To give you a different analogy, the Christian Right floated the balloon of a "homosexual agenda", some sort of concerted plan to take over public schools, city councils, state legislatures, etc. Clearly none of them had ever attended any kind of queer meeting, to believe we could agree on even the name of such a movement. The folks who DID have an "agenda", a "seekwet pwan" (to quote C.J. Craig) to take over, were of course the folks making the accusation.

Here's a nearly infallible rule of thumb when dealing with those who are letting their emotions (particularly fear) run their brain: (a) They will lie, because they are rehearsing the lies imprinted on them too early to resist the conditioning, and (b) they will be convinced you are doing or about to do whatever it is they are, in fact, doing.

(2) Following up on #1, SOME people actually can sort through issues instead of being entirely swayed by identity politics. This is not to say identity politics are bad, or should be ignored -- that's as dismissive as saying we are past racism, can't we just all be friends? But there does exist the ability to hold several somewhat conflicting ideas in one's head at the same time, not try to figure out which is "the point" and instead create a synthesized view which takes into account the failings of another even as you support them. Women are raised to know how to do this. We are told from the moment we can walk and talk that we are supposed to grow up and create marriages/families with someone from a group whose conditioned ability to process emotion, nurture, maintain intimate connection regardless of sexual gratification, and maintain a household is far inferior to ours. We have to make allowances and value others for what they can bring to the table or else we'll be alone (or happily lesbian).

You know who else gets that kind of upbringing? People of color. They know who we are, as white people. They're around us all the fucking time, we're not fooling anybody. But if they don't learn how to get past our bullshit and deal with us, most of time, at face value, they wind up getting locked away. It's how groups who are target for oppression cope, and teach their children to cope. If you're in the non-target group, you will not have the same ability.

(And, I'm sorry to tell you, fans of alt rock, computer games and Battlestar Galactica do not actually constitute victimized subcultures. You think you know what it's like to be outside the box of normal, but unless you are colored, female, crippled and/or raised poor in this country, you do not.)

Lastly -- Barack Obama has been a real prick on the subject of lesbian/gay/bi/trans issues. Nevertheless, he is ardently supported by members of that community. Likewise, DOMA was a kick in the ovaries to us, but we're also behind Hillary Clinton in massive numbers. What does that make us, martyrs? Or just able to see a bigger picture?

(3) This point is more complicated, because Ferraro comes closest to naming something that I think does exist: Tokenism and belief in the Magical Negro. She comes close, but that is not what she really means -- we can tell because (a) other of her comments reveal she's not exercising rational thinking on the topic of race and (b) the fact that some white people (especially white middle-to-upper class men) engage in tokenism does not apply to the example of Barack Obama's success.

Tokens are advanced because they will not question the status quo and because they are sure to be incompetent. Think Alberto Gonzales or Clarence Thomas. They are popular in non-target groups because those groups fail to comprehend the complicated reality of racism (or whatever oppression is being questioned) and believe having a connection to someone in the target group somehow negates the possibility that they are racist.

But, overwhelmingly, tokens are not elected to office. They are appointed or otherwise put into position by those who hold the real power. Certainly they do not have Obama's record. This one is a no-brainer to prove.

Part of the efficacy of oppression is to separate (in an institutional fashion) those in target groups who would otherwise create alliance and outnumber the non-target group in power. This is done through systematic conditioning, and clearly Ferraro is suffering from its unhealed effects. There is simply no logical way to compare racism with sexism, or sexism with disabled oppression, or disabled oppression with the ownership of children, or the ownership of children with classism. There is no "primary oppression", there is no keystone whose removal will bring down the edifice to everyone's benefit: We have to address all of the lies simultaneously, as a unified force. As Paul Wellstone so eloquently put it, "Everyone does better when EVERYONE does better."

When confronted with the lies, the non-target system will at first deny they are lies. They will then say the lies only apply to the "bad" members of the target group. They will then try to get the various target groups fighting with each other about which one has it worse. We're at the third stage right now. However you engage in their distraction tactic -- either by comparing oppressions, or by venting your self-righteous vitriole on some fucking woman who dares to compare herself to you -- is a waste. Name the lie, ask for an ethical response, notice what does or does not occur, and move on.

One of the commenters at my post on Harriet Tubman states she read that the narcoleptic condition Harriet suffered from as a result of a beating as a child made her fall asleep, at times, when she was leading a group of fleeing slaves toward freedom. When that occurred, her little band would gather around her protectively and stand guard until she woke up. She obviously had a terrible disability, but that didn't keep her from being the route to another territory.

Think about that as things unfold.


shadocat said...

I was so disapointed when I first read of Geraldine's words---I guess I held her to a higher standard, as I have a habit of assuming that intelligent people are just too smart to say or believe racist things. You'd think by now, I'd know better.

(you did make me snort with that Jane Fonda reference, though).

Maggie Jochild said...

I think part of the reason why we continue to believe that smart people aren't going to be racist is because of the denial we're all living in -- denial of the reality that racism is fed to us with our formula as babies, and the American value system depends on racism to function. To overcome this conditioning takes sustained, painful effort, and it's not a plateau you reach and can set up camp on.

I think it's great that people are insisting her words are racist. I wish they'd do it without the shaming and attack mode of everybody in the vicinity. I wish we'd name EVERY racist comment and practice in our culture as racist, again matter-of-factly, without flaming, and repeatedly, insistently ask for a change. I think that's the only way we're going to reach a real difference, instead of creating further polarization and denial.

Ditto for sexism, of course.