Racism vs. Sexism in 2008 Presidential Politics

It’s been 25 years since Gloria Hull, Patricia Bell-Scott, and Barbara Smith published their groundbreaking But Some of Us are Brave, and yet it looks like the women are (still) all white and all the blacks are (still) men. Gloria Steinem wrote an Op-Ed that appeared in yesterday’s New York Times in which she argues that “the sex barrier” is “not taken as seriously as the racial one.” Then ponders this in the following passage:

Why is the sex barrier not taken as seriously as the racial one? The reasons are as pervasive as the air we breathe: because sexism is still confused with nature as racism once was; because anything that affects males is seen as more serious than anything that affects “only” the female half of the human race; because children are still raised mostly by women (to put it mildly) so men especially tend to feel they are regressing to childhood when dealing with a powerful woman; because racism stereotyped black men as more “masculine” for so long that some white men find their presence to be masculinity-affirming (as long as there aren’t too many of them); and because there is still no “right” way to be a woman in public power without being considered a you-know-what.

I’m not advocating a competition for who has it toughest. The caste systems of sex and race are interdependent and can only be uprooted together. That’s why Senators Clinton and Obama have to be careful not to let a healthy debate turn into the kind of hostility that the news media love. Both will need a coalition of outsiders to win a general election. The abolition and suffrage movements progressed when united and were damaged by division; we should remember that.

…. what worries me is that he is seen as unifying by his race while she is seen as divisive by her sex.

What worries me is that she is accused of “playing the gender card” when citing the old boys’ club, while he is seen as unifying by citing civil rights confrontations.”

Curious, what do you think? Is Steinem correct here?

Of course, the underlying problem in Steinem’s logic here is the false-dichotomy of “racism” versus “sexism” which precludes thinking about the complicated ways these are interwoven, not just in the lives of women of color but in all our lives. The way the presidential politics are playing out in the media around a black (male) candidate and a white (woman) candidate fits rather seamlessly within the flawed logic that Hull, Bell-Scott and Smith pointed out years ago.


I don’t want to belabor this, but it’s been quiet around here for awhile and I thought I’d mention a couple of personal notes about why. On the personal front, a good friend of mine died over the holiday from cancer. He was far too young to die and I will miss him. His death has sort of taken the wind out of my sails.

And, ironically, the vicissitudes of academic life sometimes hinder the work of actually thinking and writing. A while back, Dave over at Radio Free Newport, mentioned his disappointment at not getting a fellowship and also wrote about how difficult it is to get back to being productive after such news. I got similarly disappointing news about a (permanent) academic job recently, and frankly, it’s just been hard to think or write following that. (Someday, I will write a piece about what it’s like to “do race” on the academic job market, but that’s writing better left for another, post-tenure, day.)

I do wonder how the uber-productive among us handle these routine disappointments of academic life and keep producing, keep writing, keep pressing onward?

Still, there’s a bright spot on the academic front. At about the same time as the bad-job-news, I had a paper accepted (with very little revision) in a well-regarded journal. And, I’m looking forward to a short-short Winter Session course on digital video that I’ll be talking about more over here. We’ll do a section on “Race, Visual Technologies, and Civil Rights,” that I’m really looking forward to.

With that, I suppose I’ve answered my question: this is how one goes onward, find the stuff that’s interesting and keep working on it, despite the ups-and-downs of external validation.