Gender, Race & Privilege

The flipside of the gendered racism that is focusing attention on Michelle Obama is the gendered racial privilege that Hillary Clinton enjoys. Increasingly, this is getting some attention in the blogoshere, as in this eloquent post over at TheRoot, by Princeton University Professor of Politics Melissa Harris-Lacewell is worth quoting at length. (Hat tip to my pal Bryan Alexander over at Infocult for giving me the heads up on this one.) Harris-Lacewell writes:

Sister voters have a beef with white women like Clinton that is both racial and gendered. It is not about choosing race; it is about rejecting Hillary’s Scarlett O’Hara act.

Black women voters are rejecting Hillary Clinton because her ascendance is not a liberating symbol. Her tears are not moving. Her voice does not resonate. Throughout history, privileged white women, attached at the hip to their husband’s power and influence, have been complicit in black women’s oppression. Many African American women are simply refusing to play Mammy to Hillary.

The loyal Mammy figure, who toiled in the homes of white people, nursing their babies and cleaning and cooking their food, is the most enduring and dishonest representation of black women. She is a uniquely American icon who first emerged as our young country was trying to put itself back together after the Civil War. The romanticism about this period is a bizarre historical anomaly that underscores America’s deep racism: The defeated traitors of the Confederacy have been allowed to reinterpret the war’s battles, fly the flag of secession over state houses, and raise monuments to those who fought to tear down the country. Southern white secessionists were given the power to rewrite history even as America’s newest citizens were relegated to forced agricultural peonage, grinding urban poverty and new forms segregation and racial terror.

And, there’s growing evidence that the Clinton campaign will pander to the basest instincts among us, as in the reported circulation of a photo of Barack Obama in traditional Muslim-wear by Clinton operatives.