Sarah Palin and White Women’s Racism

There’s a lot of talk about how McCain’s running mate, Sarah Palin, is energizing conservative voters, but the real “base” that she energizes is white women Go, Sarah!(
Creative Commons License photo credit: GrodsCorp ). And, it’s very likely that white women will be the ones to decide this election.   While many news analysts continue to adhere to the facile equation of race versus gender (rather than race and gender), and interpret white women’s embrace of Palin as a symbol of “true womanhood,” even feminism, what such analyses leave out is the racism of white women.  The racism of white women like Sarah Palin herself.   Writing at the LA Progressive, Charley James reports that Alaskan citizens who know Palin well say she is “racist, sexist, vindictive, and mean.” According to a James’ interview with a local resident who served Palin breakfast shortly after an Obama victory over Hilary Rodham Clinton, Palin said:

“So Sambo beat the bitch!”

Charming.   Yet, as Adia so deftly pointed out here, because Palin and the McCain campaign are hiding behind protestations of “sexism in the media” Palin isn’t subjected to any hard-hitting questions about this statement, or any of her views on race, racism, or racial inequality (or anything else, for that matter).   That’s a wise move from the campaign’s perspective, because I don’t think it would be long before this sort of invective would escape Palin’s lips.   Even setting aside Palin’s overt racism (as some will inevitably call it an “aberration” and/or deny that she ever said it), her rhetoric of being a “hockey mom” and a “pitbull with lipstick,” is a rhetorical – and political – strategy that excludes women of color from the conversation.  As  Maegan la Mala eloquently writes as Vivir Latino (hat tip to Maria Niles):

Palin positions herself as continuing Clinton’s struggle, as continuing the struggle set forth by Geraldine Ferraro, the first woman to run as a vice-presidential candidate. Let’s not forget that Ferraro called Obama “lucky” for being black. Is Palin then lucky for having five children, like my abuela did before being forcibly sterilized? You wanna talk about Palin’s uterus or the uterus of her daughter? I want to talk about my abuela’s uterus, how it’s power was deemed dangerous because of it’s power to bear brown Spanish speaking babies, my uterus and it’s abortions, miscarriages, and pregnancies, violations upon it, the uterus of an immigrant woman being viewed as a weapon in a culture war and the need to put those immigrant women in chains as they push babies from them and the need the U.S. government has to separate mamis and babies and deport and dispose.

My uterus and my head is tired.

Unfortunately, this is a lesson that white liberal feminists fail to get over centuries of opportunities to learn this lesson: there is nothing incompatible about racism and white feminism.   In fact, they go together quite seamlessly.   Will racism pick the next president? You betcha.  And it’ll be the racism of white women leading the way.


  1. “…white women’s embrace of Palin as a symbol of “true womanhood,”…

    Some white women may be racists (just as any one of any skin shade can be a racist), but the excitement over Palin has nothing to do with skin color and a lot more to do with watching a conservative woman bust through the glass ceiling. Conservatives tend to be “anti-feminist” to some degree, and I am surrounded by conservatives in my area of the world, so it’s been heartening for me to watch a woman break a little glass in that camp.

    This has nothing to do with skin color. I repeat, NOTHING. Some of the people on the site you referenced (on the true womanhood site) mentioned that they wished Condaleeza Rice would have been picked instead of Palin. It’s not about skin color, it’s about conservative vs. liberal.

    Allegations about racism are not helpful, unless racism actually exists.

    Nor does repeating a racist comment Palin supposedly made but has now been debunked as a lie—much as the whole, “Obama is a Muslim” lie has been debunked.

    I’m more likely to vote for Obama or a 3rd party than I am for McCain/Palin. However, I do appreciate straight facts vs. assumptions. This post makes a lot of assumptions.

    Molly (of Alaskan Aleut heritage)

  2. Seattle in Texas

    Molly, if you are truly of the Aleut heritage in Alaska (at least even remotely in tact, let’s say), then you would know this has everything to do with race, as much as is does with grossly exploiting the land in that part our the world. I personally cannot be happy about a woman of such “making her way through the glass ceiling” and will not support it–put plexy glass above her as far as I am concerned. When it comes to governing this nation, I don’t care about race, gender, class, etc., as much as I do about having a sound and moral and ethical leader(s) that is not only best for the people of this nation, but for other nations, and our local and global environments, etc. And Chris, why don’t you explain that stragety? I’m curious…. Let’s dance, if you’d like.

  3. Milt

    It’s not that Palin has not been asked questions by the media, but she has been able to avoid unscripted events. Fortunately, she can’t keep that up forever. Her first open interview will be with Charlie Gibson, and I hope it’s hard-hitting. I especially think some grilling on the bridge-to-nowhere flip-flop and the per-diem to stay at home is in order.
    The LA Progressive citations may well be true, but the off-the-record sourcing is so shadowy its seems reasonable to be circumspect unless a few persons who heard this kind of thing go on the record in hearing statements like that from her. If someone came forward with a recording of her saying this kind of stuff–on the other hand–that would be explosive.
    In response to your conclusion, I doubt that almost any of the white women for Palin consider themselves “feminists.” Remember that only about 15-20% of American women are willing to claim this description for themselves, and they’re almost all too liberal to be McCain-Palin supporters.

  4. Seattle in Texas

    Just wanted to add though, if this can even be said, keep the presidential plexy class ceiling over McCain too–both of them. Saying this with the assumption that the “Presidential” and “VP” roles/positions are the highest in this nation….

  5. GDAWG

    FYI Molly:
    H/T tp William P. Ancker:
    “In 1971, through the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, 17.8 million hectares (44 million acres) and almost $1 billion were paid to Native Alaskans as compensation for the lands and livelihoods they had lost since 1867. The land and money were divided among newly established Native corporations that represented Native groups and villages. Today, Native Alaskans make up about 17 percent of the state’s population of approximately 640,000 people.”
    My point: This land was taken from these native folks in 1867. Yet, they are able to get ‘reparations.’ Are the people who took their lands and humiliated them as a collective of people alive today? Or, were they alive in 1971 when the land and money awards were given?
    That’s argument used to deny Black Americans similar claims. That is, the folks who caused our humilation and cultural destruction are not alive today. A total distraction because the government who enabled these treacheries is still here as was shown in the case of the native Alaskans and Hawiians, to name two. Sickening and duplicitous.

  6. I think what Molly is primarily addressing is that Jessie’s allegation of Palin’s racism rests on one very very shaky 2nd or 3rd hand allegation of racism- something allegedly heard by a waitress in a restaurant. Using that to label Palin as a racist strikes me as being unfair also. She is an awful lot of things- most of them bad. The evidence seems scant at best to label her a racist. There is a plethora of evidence suggesting she is an extreme right-wing conservative evangelical, umm, person (i will resist calling her what i really think she is).

  7. Jessie Author

    Hey folks ~ I appreciate your responses here. I just want to clarify a couple of points. The report that I cited about Sarah Palin’s comment is based on sound reporting (and is consistent with the social science research into white people’s backstage behavior), so I’ll let that stand, but in a way, it’s a little beside the larger point I was making. The larger point is that there is a long history of racism on the part of white feminists espousing feminist ideals (e.g., breaking glass ceilings). Even setting aside the individual bigotry of Sarah Palin, I think there’s growing evidence that we’re witnessing another example of this sort of phenomenon where white feminists are in step with racist ideals and goals.

  8. Milt

    RE: Jessie @ 11:
    I don’t believe your “larger point” quite works here, because the women supporting Palin are not “feminists,” and would not use that term as a self-description. They are white women, but your post elides the distinction between “women” and “feminists,” first describing many Palin supporters (correctly) as white women, then switching to talking to them (incorrectly) as “white feminists.” But they are not, they are white women who are political conservatives and moderates and are mostly anti-feminist.

  9. Jessie Author

    Hey GDAWG, I’m not sure I follow your question. Can you say more?

    Milt, you raise an excellent point about the slippage between “white women” and “white feminists” but I think the original slippage should be attributed to Palin. In her speech about continuing Clinton’s work on the “18 million cracks in the glass ceiling,” Palin went on to say, “the women of America are not finished yet” with cracking the “highest, hardest glass ceiling.” That, to me, suggests an appeal to a form of feminism, what some theorists refer to as “liberal feminism.” It’s sort of a misleading label, but basically “liberal feminism” refers to the notion that women should have equal opportunities with men. And, the point I was making is that there is absolutely nothing inconsistent between this brand of feminism (most often espoused by white women) and racism.

  10. GDAWG

    Hi Jessie. I guess the point I was trying to make was to point out some of the so called unhappy democratic women such as PUMA (Party United My A-s), with Geraldine Ferraro as exhibit A/B; to note the liberal / feminist / racist type you mentioned in your post #10. And I understand the recent upswing in the support for Palin, I can assume they are all not republican/conservative women, for they were on-broad to begin with. As such, it would be safe to assume that this recent upswing in support for Palin is, largely, from upset democratic and feminist type white and hispanic women, to name two groups. I’d love to the demographic data on her new female supporters.

  11. GDAWG

    More on the “qualified Sarah: H / T to Maureen Dowd of the NYT…..Governor Palin knows a lot about the End of Days from her years at the Pentecostal Wasilla Assembly of God, which had preached (after a war in the Middle East about light vanquishing darkness) that Alaska would be a shelter for Rapturous “saved” Christians at the end of times when they ascend to heaven.
    (Just what the masses ordered!)

  12. GDAWG

    More on the “qualified” Sarah: H / T to Maureen Dowd of the NYT…..Governor Palin knows a lot about the End of Days from her years at the Pentecostal Wasilla Assembly of God, which had preached (after a war in the Middle East about light vanquishing darkness) that Alaska would be a shelter for Rapturous “saved” Christians at the end of times when they ascend to heaven.
    (Just what the masses ordered!)

  13. Kulese

    Howard…. If the McPalins can get the American racists (both the overt and those who swear its only about issues, credentials, and experience) to believe they are the Great White Hopes, they will keep it close but still lose.

  14. Chelsea L.

    I don’t see thpoint in Sarah Palin directing that “white women” are going to decide the outcome of the Presidential election. One why does it need to be white woman that decide, not just white women are going to be voting, women of all races will be voting. Second what about all then men that are voting. This country is made up of a very diverse population there is no reason to pinpoint one specific kind of race or gender to say who is going to decide the election. Gender and race have nothing to do with who is most qualified or best fit to be our next President, and it shouldn’t keep someone from voting a certain way either. As long as we have the best fit person (any gender or race) nothing else should matter or even be considered. Neither masculinity nor femininity is what decides are next President, and I would hope that after all this country has been through that these assumptions and stereotypes would be gone by now. The only reason why I think that it is okay that the statement be made is that in the previous election there were more Caucasian women that voted than any other race, but still why is there a need to bring the voting by race into a debate? Overall, I think that it’s just immaturity bringing these statements into play and I can only hope that they will stop soon.

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