A Must-See, Listen, Read on Race, Gender and the Election


cross-posted to Jack & Jill Politics

"The very worst of second-wave feminism"

This is why I listen to Democracy Now and why it should be the only news source you absolutely check out. I am so serious about this.

Last week, our own dnA did a marvelous piece about feminism and racism and the rough intersection that this campaign is exposing. He was responding in part to Gloria Steinem's oped in the NY Times in which she claimed that Barack Obama would never be so lauded were he a woman.

Well, yesterday Gloria Steinem appeared on Democracy Now opposite Princeton University Assistant Associate Professor for Politics and African American Studies, Melissa Harris-Lacewell.

You. Must. Listen. To. This. Interview.

In short. Steinem got her behind handed to her and her arguments danced around. In fact, I want yall to see this so much, I created a custom YouTube player with the entire interview in video (35minutes). Below the player are some incredible excerpts, but you need to read, listen to or watch the entire thing!




Lacewell:
And so, when Steinem suggests, for example, in that article that Obama is a lawyer married to another lawyer and to suggest that, for example, Hillary Clinton represents some kind of sort of breakthrough in questions of gender, I think that ignores an entire history in which white women have in fact been in the White House. They’ve been there as an attachment to white male patriarchal power. It’s the same way that Hillary Clinton is now making a claim towards experience. It’s not her experience. It’s her experience married to, connected to, climbing up on white male patriarchy. This is exactly the ways in which this kind of system actually silences questions of gender that are more complicated than simply sort of putting white women in positions of power and then claiming women’s issues are cared for.

Now, what I know from the work that I’ve done on the Obama campaign is that there are tens of thousands of extremely hard-working white men and women, as well as black men and women, as well as actually a huge multiracial and interethnic coalition of people working for Barack Obama. And so, for Steinem to sort of make this very clear race and gender dichotomy that she does in that New York Times op-ed piece, I think it’s the very worst of second-wave feminism.

On Hillary Clinton trying to have it both ways as an independent woman and a woman whose powers are derived from her relationship with a man
And I will say that I am really offended by the ways in which the Hillary Clinton campaign has not taken the high road on this. They’ve consistently used ways of thinking about her as Bill Clinton’s wife. You cannot have it both ways. You cannot both claim this sort of role as independent woman making a stand on questions of feminism and claim that your experience begins as First Lady of Arkansas.

Responding to Steinem bringing up the value of women's work as caretakers:
I certainly understand, in a very intimate way, you know, the power and the value of domestic and caretaking work. But I also know very clearly a history that I believe Steinem’s piece attempted to distort, and that is that as white women moved into the workforce, much of that caretaking work did not go to white men who sort of took up and helped out, but it fell on women of color—African American women, immigrant women—who stepped in to do much of the domestic labor and childcare provision, so that white women could in fact become a part of the workforce. So to, for example, make an argument like black men had the right to vote long before white women is to ignore that black men were then lynched regularly for any attempt to actually exercise that right.

I just feel that we have got to get clear about the fact that race and gender are not these clear dichotomies in which, you know, you’re a woman or you’re black. I’m sitting here in my black womanhood body, knowing that it is more complicated than that. African American men have been complicit in the oppression of African American women. White women have been complicit in the oppression of black men and black women. Those things are true. And so, to pretend that we can somehow take them out of the conversation when a white woman runs against a black man, when she tears up at being sort of beat up by him, when her husband can come in and rally around her and suggest that we need to sort of support her because she’s having difficulties, while Barack Obama is getting death threats, basically lynching threats on him and his family, these are—for a second-wave feminist with an understanding of the complexity of American race and gender to take this kind of position in the New York Times struck me as, again, the very worst of what that feminism can offer—in other words, division.

On the role of black women in the feminist movement (echoing statements by dnA here last week)
Part of what, again, has been sort of an anxiety for African American women feminists like myself is that we’re often asked to join up with white women’s feminism, but only on their own terms, as long as we sort of remain silent about the ways in which our gender, our class, our sexual identity doesn’t intersect, as long as we can be quiet about those things and join onto a single agenda. So, yes, I absolutely agree, we must be in coalition, but it must be a fair coalition of equals.

And it’s one of the things that’s exciting about Barack Obama’s campaign, working on it in New Hampshire, seeing it at work in Iowa, being a part of meetings here in New Jersey, is in fact that you cannot pick what an Obama supporter looks like. Obama supporters are young and old, black and white, male and female. And it is, in fact, the most sort of nurturing and coalition-building space I’ve ever had an opportunity to do political work in.

On Obama's experience and opposition to the war
I taught at the University of Chicago for years before coming to Princeton. So Barack Obama was my state senator. He was my US senator. So every time I hear people say he doesn’t have much experience, I find it extremely irritating, because it means that somehow representing me in my government meant very little experience. So I actually was there in Chicago and in Illinois when Senator Obama took those stands against the war, and I can tell you, it was not an easy thing to do. So I’m appreciative of having been represented by someone like him who had those kinds of positions.

On the risks of brining up race in the campaign
I mean, I’m very glad that Ms. Steinem got such positive responses to her op-ed piece. I wrote a piece which hit Slate, in which I sort of made the similar arguments I made here, and I received death threats to myself, to my daughter. I was called a racist, even though I spend most of my hours, you know, working with privileged white students, who I love and adore and work very hard for here at Princeton.

So I have to say that the ways in which race, the moment it shows up, explodes campaigns is part of why the Obama race has sort of kept race at an arm’s distance. And so, many of us who are supporters but not part of the campaign are the ones who end up bringing up race, because the campaign itself does not do so.

There is so much more. On Lani Guinier, voting rights, the media. Oh lord. You really must print this out or put it on your iPod for the commute home. Now

Send Bracewell a thank you note (info at melissaharrislacewell.com), and tell her JJP sent you. She kept it so real.