Politics & Society

What's the REAL Issue?

"Are you black, first, or a journalist, first?"

"What plays a bigger role in your life, being black or being female?"

"Why did you wait so long to have kids? You must have been pretty busy with your career, huh?"

"Wow! You can cook? You seem like such a career gal."

"You're taking time off for Thanksgiving? Isn't that what bakeries are for?"

Now, how are you reacting to these questions? They are actual remarks that have been made to me, some of them very recently. It's a little sampler of insensitivity for you.

Are these worst things I've ever heard? Of course, not.

Any permanent scarring? By all means no, and frankly I'm at the age where it really rolls off my back, and I have so many standard comebacks, I don't even think about it. (What exactly SHOULD I have been doing before I met my husband? Bakeries, yes. But they're for people who can't bake).

But my real issue is that only some of us have to answer these questions and, if you are a white man, I can almost guarantee they have never been said to you.

... Which leads me to the whole Obama-Clinton thing. Elections are ABOUT choice, and I appreciate having a choice. I know some people are annoyed by the size of the field on both the Democratic and Republican sides. They long for the days until the race gets narrower. But I don't. I like hearing what many of our best and brightest have to say about the state of our nation and world — at least those with the means and ambition to see a job that way. And, I like the fact that we get to enjoy elections without, for the most part, fear of violence and retaliation. This is a luxury much of the world would dearly love to have.

But what about the whole race and gender thing? How does that play out?

One of our most prominent social critics engaged this question recently, and we thought you might like to hear more of what she had to say. Also, read her recent Op-ed in the New York Times, and one of her earlier ones.

We also thought you'd enjoy hearing from a panel of distinguished commentators who have also faced some of the questions I described earlier — Gwen Ifill, host of PBS' "Washington Week," New York Times Managing Editor Jill Abramson, and Linda Chavez, a commentator for FOX News. Come to think of it, we might need to have this conversation again.

Who else would you like to hear from on this?

Addendum: Today, I was washing my dishes in the kitchen (it's my afternoon ritual ... we get in so early in the morning I usually have my cereal at my desk, and we are so busy that I usually heat-up some soup or leftovers from home for lunch) when a man I've never seen before actually stopped to ask me (jokingly, I assume, he thought) if he could bring his dishes so I could wash them. I asked him if his arm was broken.

Now, I ask YOU. Would he have said that to Robert Siegel?



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Prior to listening to today's show featuring Gloria Stinem, Gwen Ifill, Linda Chavez, and Jill Abramson, I was having trouble conceptualizing exactly what troubles me about gender and race dynamics related to this campaign. After listening, it became very clear to me. In fact, it was so clear that I needed to write about it.

Let me first say that the discussion amongst the panel of the three journalists was really insightful. I would love to hear this panel of women discuss a range of issues. I hope you will bring them back.

On the other hand, I am not sure that would care to hear from Gloria Stinem again. After listening to the show, I read her op-ed piece. I'm not sure what infuriated me more, her comments on TMM or those in the article.

As a resident of Illinois, I must start with the comments in the article. In it, Stinem describes a woman with a personal history & credentials similar to those of Barack Obama. Stinem suggests that no one would vote for such a woman making a bid for the US Senate, much less for the presidency. Well, the people of the state of NY (perhaps Stinem herself if she is a New Yorker) did indeed elect to the US Senate a woman with even less experience dealing with their specific issues. Let's not forget how Hillary Clinton basically carpetbagged her way into the Senate. She established dubious residency in the state, and then relied on her elite status and inside access to the Democratic Party to win a seat in the US Senate. Whatever 'experience' she had for that seat, it was no more relevant than Obama's demonstrated accomplishments in Illinois, on the behalf of Illinois residents.

Now after nearly two terms and an unremarkable record, Clinton wants to paint herself as experienced, and Stinem wants to claim that she is a victim of sexism. I won't deny that Clinton has been impacted by sexism. No doubt she has. But it seems to me that Clinton and Stinem want to have it both ways here. Clinton seems to feel OK playing good old boy power games, like using elite status and position to win her seat in the Senate, but then wants to claim to be marginalized and oppressed when it is to her advantage. Then in spite of her own non-traditional path to power and experience with marginalization, she belittles and pooh-poohs the viability of the next person ascending a non-traditional path and from the ranks of the under-represented.

Last week after losing Iowa, Clinton said she was confident that she would prevail because Democratic voters would select someone who was electible, who could go the distance, who could beat the Republicans. This week she's been marginalized and is singing "I am woman, hear me roar". Of course Gloria Stinem is ready with an amen chorus. I wonder if Stinem wrote any articles during that first campaign to seriously interrogate the practicality of Clinton's experience to work on the behalf of the people of New York? Has she written any articles lately exploring Clinton's accomplishments on the behalf of women and children since she has been in the Senate? I'll be sure to look for those articles.

I think this selective marginalization and conditional advocacy for the marginalized might explain at least part of the reason that some African American women have trouble with feminism and Hillary Clinton for that matter. Many African American women can not choose when to identify as marginalized; unfortunately that often happens on it's own for us.

Sent by Lee A | 9:51 PM | 1-10-2008

And one more thing about that Gloria Stinem article....the people of Illinois did elect to the Senate a Black woman with a simliar profile to the one described in the article. Her name was Carole Moseley Braun, and ironically enough, she did later mount a campaign for the presidency.

Sent by Lee A | 12:42 AM | 1-11-2008

Of course he wouldn't have said that to Robert Siegel. It wouldn't have crossed his mind to make such a 'joke' to Robert. Yet he made assumptions about you and felt he could 'joke' with you. Some might say that you are being too sensitive, and can't take a joke; however the questions you heard show how annoying these types of comments are after being repeatedly heard.

It would be nice to hear from Donna Brazile on this. It's always interesting to hear from experienced folks on topics that differ from their usual expertise.

Sent by KALW News | 1:32 AM | 1-11-2008

Greetings, and thank you for continuing to offer wonderful programs.

I was pleased to see that you were interviewing Steinem about her op-ed piece. I have to say, however, that I wish you had taken her to task to a greater extent about her comments. I found her recent piece disingenuous (especially in light of her earlier statements about not pitting race and gender against each other) and I found her on-air "explanation" rang even more false.

Definitely continue to have this conversation! Perhaps a follow-up visit with several popular bloggers who have recently weighed in on her piece would be helpful.

Sent by Yvette | 9:50 AM | 1-11-2008

I'm loving this election season because for the first time in my twelve years of voting life, I truly have a choice. A candidate is not going to automatically get my vote because she's of the same gender and another doesn't have my vote locked because he shares my heritage as in Obama who's black with an African father.

But with choices come great responsibility. I've watched more debates and read in-depth interviews than I've ever done and sometimes I'm left more confused. A candidate I might have written off, gives me an opportunity to take a second look. Then I start thinking on issues in spite of gender or race but does that mean I'm betraying those two classes?

Everything I do and how I think should not be relegated to two boxes - race and gender. In fact, I despise when people try to confine me in any box. So I've got less than three weeks to make a decision in my state's primary election. If the end result of my vote goes for gender or race - the way I see it, I'm not wrong either way.

** P.S. I loved your female panel yesterday but I'd like to hear from Maureen Dowd of the New York Times; she seems to pull no punches.

Sent by Moji | 11:45 AM | 1-11-2008

I'm currently listening to your show online for the first time and you can consider me a new fan!!!

The questions that you asked at the top of your blog are some that I can very much relate to. I'm a Christian first and all else flows out of that. I'm glad to see such a diverse presidential race this year. It's about time!

Keep up the good work!!!


Sent by SolShine7 | 2:03 PM | 1-11-2008

Hello all,

I wholeheartedly agree that there is no sense trying to rank either racism or sexism as being worse than the other, but a few things came to mind about how sexism differs from racism. The biggest was that I think there is a large difference within the groups. The barbershop guys discussed the idea of intraracial prejudices, and were generally dismissive of it. It has always been to me rather striking that the feminist movement has a history of vocal female opponents. There are American women today who hold the view that women don't need to vote, because husbands will just vote "for the family" (let's not get into the heterocentrism there). There have been women expressing the opinion that women are too emotional to hold office. A female McCain supporter casually referred to Mrs. Clinton as "the bitch" (I somehow suspect there's no male candidate with the nickname of "the bastard").

The word "feminist" itself is treated as something ugly by people whose statements show they don't know what it means; I've heard other women say that they "believe in equality, but wouldn't call themselves feminist". Sometimes I despair of women being able to achieve true equality, when our own group members actively or passively fight against it. Anyway, just wanted to toss that thought out there.

Love the show!

Sent by Kelly Stiver | 5:20 PM | 1-11-2008