Sarah Palin: Archetypal Whiteness

Sarah Palin, Republican Vice Presidential candidate and Governor of Alaska, represents archetypal whiteness (image from here). Her place on the ticket as been described as an effort to appeal to “women” voters but this characterization misses the very real way that she represents and appeals to white women and men. The “hockey moms” and “Joe six-packs” she relentlessly invokes in her speeches are cultural references to white people.  While there are a few black players in the NHL (e.g., Donald Brashear, Manny Malhotra, Jamal Mayers, George Laraque, Ray Emery, Jarome Iginla, Anson Carter , Kevin Weeks), hockey is an overwhelmingly white sport.  “Hockey moms” is meant to conjure an image of women like Palin herself, white and socially conservative.

Palin also asserts her representation of the group known as “Joe six-pack.” In a radio interview she said:

“It’s time that normal Joe Six-pack American is finally represented in the position of vice presidency.”

She’s repeated this reference multiple times, including in the Vice Presidential debate last week.  It’s a reference that’s meant to evoke “Everyman,” as William Safire noted in this 1998 piece (and, it’s not restricted to conservatives or Republicans).    Yet, the expression carries with it a particular – rather than a generic – referent.   The referent is to a white, working-class man, and, more specifically, to a white working-class man with an over-developed appreciation for televised sports and canned domestic beer.  It’s been interesting to watch and listen to Palin do the acts of translation necessary to transform this quintessentially masculine image into one that’s supposedly gender-inclusive of women.  Of course, little in the mainstream press has noted the gender-disconnect here, but has tried to take issue with Palin’s claim to be working-class since she and her husband Todd (the first dude) earned $249,000 last year.  But there’s no analogous clamor of critique of the whiteness of this term and the racial exclusion it implies.

Sarah Palin’s “cringeworthy” performance in a number of interviews, most notably the series of interviews with Katie Couric, suggest another element of her archetypal whiteness:  advancement despite a lack of verbal acuity.   We’ve seen this again and again with white people who don’t have the basic verbal skills you’d expect of a 5th grader, and yet they get promoted to higher and higher levels in government.   The most notable example in recent history is George W. Bush.  Any black man with his verbal ability would be relegated to cleaning office floors or driving a truck.   But not W., he rose to the highest office in the land.   And now, Sarah Palin is following in these well-worn white footsteps of promotion without ability.   In case you missed it, here’s some of what transpired in the interviews with Couric:

Questioned about her boast that being governor of a state that borders the frozen wastes of eastern Russia added to her understanding of foreign policy, she said: “As Putin rears his head and comes into the air space of the United States of America, where do they go? It’s Alaska.”

Asked if the US financial crisis was leading the country towards another Great Depression, her reply was: “Not necessarily this, as it’s been proposed, has to pass or we’re going to find ourselves in another Great Depression. But, there has got to be action – bipartisan effort – Congress not pointing fingers at one another but finding the solution to this, taking action…”

It is virtually impossible to imagine a black person – man or woman – with that lack of verbal ability or basic grasp of knowledge who would be considered for the vice presidency.     Black people have long recognized that to get ahead in a white world they have to work twice as hard as white people.  The flip side of this is the kind of half-assed performance we’ve come to expect from white people in high office in this country, people who are so arrogant that they believe that they don’t need preparation, education, and hard work to succeed.  Instead, they seem to cling to the comforting fiction that they are inherently blessed with some sort of “gift” of leadership that obsolves them from the need to read, speak and think in coherent sentences.     The winking, smiling hubris of the unprepared yet supremely confident Palin, combined with the images she conjures of  “hockey moms” and “Joe six-pack” makes her an archetype of whiteness.

More from White Women

This is a short clip (2:58) of candidate John McCain’s appearance on the television show “The View,” this week, along with the full couch of women who serve as co-hosts for the show (H/T: bfp via Twitter). Hasselback asks McCain about his views on Roe v. Wade, and when he responds that he want justices who strictly interpret the constitution as the founders wrote it, Whoopi Goldberg calls him on the racial implications of that stance. Listen for Barbara Walter’s reassurance to her black co-hosts:

So, what do you think about Barbara Walter’s statement? Racism? Paternalism? A harmless joke? Or, some combination of all the above. Drop a comment before you go.

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.