Speak Your Mind

The 'Racism Vs. Sexism' Debate Revisited

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Moji Oderinde is back with this week's installment of "Speak Your Mind." Oderinde hails from Oakland Park, Fla., and blogs at AfroAmerica Writer. This week, she writes about the perceived sexism and racism in the Democratic race for the White House. Take a look and share your thoughts.

Moji Oderinde

Moji Oderinde hide caption

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I'm loving this brand of theater called the election season, especially that of the Democratic Party. The two main characters, the hero and heroine of this play, are Senators Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton respectively.

The hero was a new brand of post-racial candidate, who generated the main question last year of whether he was "black enough." But recently his blackness is left unquestioned due to a certain Rev. Wright fiasco. What a difference a year makes!

The heroine has been a highly visible figure in the national and international scene for almost two decades. The fact that she is a woman was just an added bonus, but now she laments she might not get the destined prize based on a bias against her gender.

So the plot thickens, and I wonder which of these characters has the biggest hurdle to overcome: the racism or the sexism block.

Unfortunately, this is not theater. It is real life, and millions of voters are banking on changing the direction of the nation with their votes. It is sad (though inevitable) that the media will reduce this historic election season to just race and gender when key issues like the economy, education, and — the elephant in the room — an over five-year old war with no exit strategy remain unresolved.

Have I experienced racism? Absolutely. What about sexism? Definitely. As a black woman, I identify with both debates. But I will never say one issue is greater than the other like Gloria Steinem's controversial op-ed for the New York Times, defending the cause of sexism over racism. Nor will I be like Geraldine Ferraro, chiming the same sentiments last March and recently on the Today Show. Now Sen. Clinton joined her supporters in Steinem and Ferraro to voice the Media's "moments of gender bias" in a recent Washington Post interview of how her nomination went from a sure thing to a steep mountain.

Here's the deal about me: One of my pet peeves is with folks seeing hidden racism or sexism in everything. I think such moves could be a cop-out for a fundamental reason why a person might not succeed in a venture, in this case, a presidential nomination.

So as I watched some TV pundits highlighting different scenarios of sexism against Sen. Clinton, I wondered if they quickly forgot some scenarios that could be called racism against her opponent. But I digress.

The perceived sexism aside, could it be that the media or some voters are not against supporting a woman for president, but not this particular woman they see in Sen. Clinton? What about how she ran her campaign?

Let me count the ways: First, she announced herself as the most experienced candidate when the nation's pulse for almost two years has been about change. Second, the inconsistency in her message: She started out as the most experienced before the primaries, found her voice in New Hampshire, became "Rocky" in Philadelphia, and now being the most electable among "hard-working white Americans." Finally, she did not have the strategic foresight to campaign in caucus states or plan for any contingency especially in the area of raising money just in case the primaries ran longer than Super Tuesday.

What does sexism have to do with the missteps of this campaign?

— Moji Oderinde

Flashback: Speak Your Mind — Defining Blackness

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"Sexism" is hardly a reason for Senator Clinton's poor showing.

And FYI, if she really was more electable, she would have won the Democratic Primary.

Sent by Nos | 3:10 PM | 6-6-2008

"What does sexism have to do with the missteps of this campaign?" To the untrained eye....nothing. However we can't pretend that her missteps are amplified both in the media and in our minds as observers simply and solely because she is a woman.

A prime example is how the media has amplified the insensitive (I'm being charitable" comments of Rev. Wright while limiting it's coverage of equally caustic somments by men of teh cloth that sen. McCain has surrounded himself with and acyually courted for their support to strengthen his standing among conservatives.

So while anyone can make a mistake, misstep, etc - those transgressions tend to disadvantage women and minorities more than white men because the media and general public suffer to some extent from the theory of outgroup homogeneity. That theory suggests that while there exist a large degree of "ingroup diversity" (i.e. those that are in my racial or gender group have a lot of differences) - those that are outside of my racial or gender group tend to think and act in monolithic ways. Long story short - the innate sexism that pervades our society causes both men and women to grade women more hardshly - in much the same way that the innate racism in our society causes both white and black people to grade black people more harshly.

In our self righteous evaluations - we very often fail to consider the external historical factors and influences that have created the racist and sexist climate. With that blind spot affecting our long term analysis and understanding - and bouyed by a relative few influential examples of 'superachievers' like Oprah, Colin, and Condoleeza among others - who seem to have self-propelled themselves to prevail against the odds with sheer willpower and determination - we tend to hold individuals more responsible for their own lack of 'success' and all it means than they actually deserve. Success is where preparation meets opportunity. As successful as Sen Obama has been and can be, his ultimate success lies not with him and how he runs his campaign - although the bteer he performs - the better his chance of winning - but with the decidedly external and out of reach American electorate. Under these circumstances....it remains to be seen if the 'opportunity' for either a black man or woman to be elected President is truly there.

Do we believe for one moment that men and women are judged objectively and equally without regard to their gender? For that matter - do we believe that minorities and whites are evaluated with no hidden biases (good or bad) from people outside of their reference groups? Many of us have hidden biases that sees Mexicans as both hardworking and (fill in the negative), blacks as both athletic and (fill in the negative), Asians as smarter than average but (fill in the negative). "We" is collectively - the American people. And I dare say that no matter what we publicly assert - our unseen attitudes and behavior tell a very biased story....it's why women earn only a percentage of the dollar that men earn and why blacks earn only a percentage of the dollar that whites earn. It's why black drivers are pulled over, ticketed, arrested, convicted, and incarcerated with more frequent and harsher penalties than white drivers. It's why the Fortune 500 companies (both the companies and their Boards of Directors) are overwhelmingly white and male. If we are to assume that the Presidential campaign, as well as these what Dr. King called "the content of the character" of the individuals involved - the disproprtionate shortcomings affecting womena and minorities in local, state, and national trends in employment, prosecution, education, etc. would not be happening.

That said...I do believe that Sen. Clinton's mismanagement of her campaign has a large impact on her lack of success...however I also believe that the blatant sexism, misogyny, and 'boys club' atmosphere of America has made it more difficult and complicated for her campaign. Few male Presidential candidates have to prove their basic ability to be 'tough'....however that is a charge that was repeatedly leveled at both Clinton and Obama...I believe largely because of their gender/minority status. There are other successfuk candidates whose self interest over country prompted them to dodge - excuse me - defer their service in the military and their 'toughness' was never questioned at all - largely because they are white males.

Sent by Whole9 | 9:38 AM | 6-10-2008

@ Nos:

I didn't say she was more electable; I said that that was the perception especially from the Mainstream Media who all but coronated her the Democratic nominee a year ago.

@ Whole9:

Ditto to your comments.

Sent by Moji | 4:16 PM | 6-10-2008

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