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Monday, April 14, 2008

In Response to: He's there because he's a black man!!!


What If Someone from the Obama Camp Said Hillary Clinton Is Where She Is Because She's a Woman?

By Arica L. Coleman

Ms. Coleman is Assistant Professor of Black American Studies at the University of Delaware.

"If Obama was a white man, he would not be in this position. And if he was a woman (of any color), he would not be in this position. He happens to be very lucky to be who he is. And the country is caught up in the concept."--Geraldine’s Ferraro

Geraldine’s Ferraro’s comment sparked a firestorm of controversy which once again injected race into the 2008 Democratic primary. It was bound to happen as earlier remarks by the Clintons began to trouble the waters as early as the New Hampshire primary. As Jim Davis so aptly states, however, the black elephant was always in the room. The primary has now taken a somewhat comic- tragic turn. So I wanted to take this opportunity to capture this aspect of the election by flipping the script. When Ferraro’s remarks were echoed over the airwaves many, including some from the Obama campaign, responded with the question, “What if someone from the Obama camp had made the statement that Hillary Clinton was lucky because she is a white woman?” Well, since you all brought it up, let’s explore the question. Now, who among Obama’s supporters would have reason to say such a thing? Why Jesse Jackson of course. Jackson ran for the Democratic nomination twice in the 1980s and since Ferraro made similar remarks about him in ‘88, I think it only fair that he be allowed to return the favor.

So let’s pretend that the following Jackson interview was conducted and published by the History News Network.

HNN: So Jackson, what are your thoughts at this point on the election? Although Obama is clearly the front runner and Hillary seemingly has little chance to close the delegate gap, she’s a formidable candidate, nonetheless, and can still wrest the nomination away from Obama if the super delegates favor her. What’s your response?

Jackson: If Clinton was a black man, she would not be in this position. And if she was a man (of color period), she would not be in this position. She happens to be very lucky to be who she is. And the country is caught up in the concept.

HNN: Do I hear you saying that Hillary Clinton, who has no chance of getting the nomination through the front door, is only being provided the opportunity to become the nominee through the back door simply because she is a white woman?

Jackson: You’ve read the political blogs. Since theOhio/Texas primary political analysts have been doing the math and they have all come to the same conclusion, Clinton can’t win. Her campaign has been operating in the red since February. She has only amassed five new super delegates since Super Tuesday to Obama’s sixty. And with the recent Richardson endorsement for Obama, her achieving the nomination at this point is a fairy tale. Her own husband said that. Honestly, the only reason she is still in this race is because she is a white woman. (Note: The last statement is taken from Ferraro’s ’88 statement regarding Jackson, for good measure).

Responding to Ferraro’s comments in his speech on race, Obama stated that such statements were “the implication that my candidacy is somehow an exercise in Affirmative Action; that it's based solely on the desire of wide-eyed liberals to purchase racial reconciliation on the cheap.”

Yet if such statements were made about Hillary being lucky that she is a white woman wouldn’t the interpretation be the same? Just as Affirmative Action policies were implemented as a redress to institutionalize racism, they were also implemented to redress institutionalized sexism. The assumption that affirmative action somehow benefits African Americans at the expense of whites is, in fact, a myth. Affirmative Action has helped a wide range of marginal groups. Studies conducted by the Labor Department have shown that the largest benefactors of affirmative action are women and more specifically white women.

Hence if she is married with children, then it stands to reason that her entire family benefits. As the American Psychological Association’s Office of Public Policy explains:

Finally, although affirmative action policies appear to target women and people outside a majority group as 'beneficiaries,' majority group members benefit as much as minority groups, if not more, from such policies. Although opinion polls reveal that many Whites believe they are unfairly discriminated against by affirmative action policies, it is Whites who benefit most. This is because of their larger numbers in most sectors covered by affirmative action interventions. For example, when white women, along with people of color, benefit directly from affirmative action in the schoolhouse and workplace, all citizens benefit by being part of a well-trained, competitive U.S. workforce capable of participating effectively in the global world market and of supporting an aging population. Further, when white women are as well educated and well employed as white men, then white men, women, and children also benefit, for in virtually every woman's life there is someone with whom she shares resources.

Therefore, if white women have been beneficiaries of affirmative action far more than is realized or that anyone would care to admit, is it a stretch to suggest that Hillary’s racial privilege as white and gender privilege as a woman makes her truly lady luck? Are wide- eyed liberals, to use Obama’s words, simply trying to purchase gender reconciliation on the cheap?

Let’s assume that Hillary’s race and gender are the only factors that provide the advantage over Obama, hence we can also assume that while his maleness may well provide an advantage over Hillary, his blackness most assuredly does not. So one can assume that if the shoe were on the other foot and Clinton had the delegate count, the popular vote, had won more states, had the math on her side with no way for Obama to close the gap, and his only recourse to getting the nomination were that he persuade the super delegates to overturn the will of the people, I believe this phase of the election would have been over after the Ohio/Texas primary. And no matter how much Obama would try to justify staying in the race with the argument “But I’ve won more states; I am more electable; Hillary’s experience is exaggerated,” I can imagine there would be far more pressure from political colleagues and the voting public, his own supporters notwithstanding, for the Illinois senator to terminate his bid for the nomination.

Having said that, I do not think the luck factor for Hillary (her ability to stay in the race despite the overwhelming odds against her) simply boils down to her being white and female. It becomes rather a question of power and her proximity to it. In a recent Washington Post article on race, gender and the Democratic primary, Lani Guinier states, “White women and black women have had different relationships to power . . .White women have had a greater access to it. They were sleeping with power. Even though they were disadvantaged in terms of access to conventional opportunities to their mates, they were also in an intimate relationship with power." Hillary, however, is not simply in an intimate relationship with power vis-à-vis Bill Clinton; as a former first lady of unquestionable political celebrity status and a two termed United States senator with ties to big money, she is a power broker within the Washington establishment. As such, her marriage to power and ability to wield it within the realm of the ultra-elite, places her in a class all by itself. It provides her a twofold advantage which no woman (of any color), to use Ferraro’s term, let alone a black man at this point in American history, could ever dream to enjoy. Perhaps, Hillary believes her unique status as an A-list political diva will be the rabbit’s foot that will clench the nomination.

Now that we have explored the question, “What if someone from the Obama camp stated that Hillary Clinton is where she is because of who she is,” perhaps it is time that the New York senator grapple with this question herself. Senator, when you are done “pursuing the ‘Tonya Harding Option,’ ” and Obama is no longer acceptable as a presidential hopeful, the Democratic party is left in shambles, and McCain is elected in November to begin Bush’s third term to embark on a hundred years war, and your family legacy has been mocked and scorned by the American people who become victimized by your audacity of hopelessness, and history judges you as the spoiler of the most historic American presidential election to occur in the first 232 years of this nation’s existence, you should ask yourself, do you feel lucky?

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