Of course this issue cannot be laid to rest until it gets wider, more meaningful recognition, not to mention some profuse apologizing from Hillary Clinton and the white troops in her white-oriented campaign, as well as the mainstream media with its racialized double-standards. If one wants to have a discussion about race and gender, then one way not to preclude the need for any such discussion is to do as Clinton: proving that being black in America still carries greater stigma than being a woman, and bears a greater load of disadvantage, mistrust, and hostility. This post was motivated by three items; let’s go through each of these in turn.
First, in an editorial by Geoffrey Dunn in Black Star News titled, “Hillary Clinton’s Disgraceful Campaign: Racism and Hypocrisy” (23 April, 2008), which echoes many of the same sentiments in my previous post on this topic, we read the following, an extract provided here:
In the aftermath of the Pennsylvania Democratic primary – a race in which Senator Hillary Clinton had a 20-point lead only a few months ago – the racism and hypocrisy of the Clinton campaign was laid bare for all a nation to scorn.
Desperate and willing to do anything to win, the Clintons resorted to a naked form of racism aimed directly at white working-class voters in the rural portions of the state. Their message: Barack Obama cannot win because he’s black.
In the early stages of the campaign, it was Clinton’s cadre who kept playing the race card. In New Hampshire, Clinton’s co-chair, Billy Shaheen, accused Obama of being a drug dealer; then there was the photograph of Sen. Barack Obama in Somalian garb leaked to the press by Clinton’s staff.
In the aftermath of the South Carolina primary, former President Bill Clinton compared Obama’s victory to those of Jesse Jackson in 1984 and 1988. His message was clear: Obama was a marginal, black candidate.
Then came the disgraceful remarks of Geraldine Ferraro, who could not, and would not, shut her mouth. “If Obama was a white man,” she charged, “he would not be in this position.”And she was adamant and unapologetic amid the resulting outcry. “Every time that campaign is upset about something, they call it racist,” she proclaimed. “I will not be discriminated against because I’m white.” [MF: Note that neither Ferraro nor Clinton make any apology for this apparent confession of what they see as their own party's tokenism--Obama got as far as he did in their party after all.]
The Clintons refused to publicly call for Ferraro’s resignation. Ferraro remained unrepentant when she finally did resign. “The Obama campaign is attacking me to hurt you,” she bitterly wrote Hillary. And she never apologized for her remarks.
I encourage readers to read the full article: please click here.
(Update: Hillary Clinton appears to have reaffirmed her role as the leader of “the white vote”–see The New York Times, “Clinton Touts White Support,” and USA Today, “Clinton makes case for wide appeal.” As her campaign begins to fade, Clinton is taking a desperate, damaging turn: “Senator Obama’s support among working, hard-working Americans, white Americans, is weakening again, and how whites in both states who had not completed college were supporting me. There’s a pattern emerging here,” she said. There is indeed a pattern, and The Angry Black Woman has a very incisive post on this with some lively commentary from readers.)
The second item comes from Orlando Patterson, in an Op-Ed in The New York Times for 11 March, 2008, titled: “The Red Phone in Black and White“. It concerns the Clinton campaign’s airing of the “phone call at 3:00am” ad that I show on my previous post mentioned above. Patterson argued the following, very perceptively in my view:
I have spent my life studying the pictures and symbols of racism and slavery, and when I saw the Clinton ad’s central image — innocent sleeping children and a mother in the middle of the night at risk of mortal danger — it brought to my mind scenes from the past. I couldn’t help but think of D. W. Griffith’s “Birth of a Nation,” the racist movie epic that helped revive the Ku Klux Klan, with its portrayal of black men lurking in the bushes around white society. The danger implicit in the phone ad — as I see it — is that the person answering the phone might be a black man, someone who could not be trusted to protect us from this threat.
The ad could easily have removed its racist sub-message by including images of a black child, mother or father — or by stating that the danger was external terrorism. Instead, the child on whom the camera first focuses is blond. Two other sleeping children, presumably in another bed, are not blond, but they are dimly lighted, leaving them ambiguous. Still it is obvious that they are not black — both, in fact, seem vaguely Latino.
Finally, Hillary Clinton appears, wearing a business suit at 3 a.m., answering the phone. The message: our loved ones are in grave danger and only Mrs. Clinton can save them. An Obama presidency would be dangerous — and not just because of his lack of experience. In my reading, the ad, in the insidious language of symbolism, says that Mr. Obama is himself the danger, the outsider within.
The third item concerns Clinton’s hypocrisy. Having taken the opportunity to lambaste Obama’s association with Reverend Jeremiah Wright, it turns out that she and her husband invited him to the White House for a prayer breakfast of salvation and forgiveness following her husband’s “indiscretion” (Trinidadians: read “she get horn” here, as you already know well). Hillary Clinton pompously declared recently:
“Given all that we have heard and seen, he would not have been my pastor. While we don’t have a choice when it comes to our relatives, we do have a choice when it comes to our pastors or our church.”
Black Star News finds this hypocrisy staggering. Not so much, perhaps, in the context of U.S. “democracy”. As Malcolm X, simply and cuttingly, explained: “American democracy is hypocrisy“. It is such a voice that is badly needed today, and has been sorely lacking for decades now, Malcolm X having been–I will argue–the most monumental and significant public intellectual and political leader that the U.S. produced in the twentieth century. Let’s hear and see Malcolm X in the YouTube video below:
The additional hypocrisy comes from this mass-mediated outrage–more like white hysteria–over the comments by Rev. Wright, which have been construed as “anti-American” and as justification for the attacks of 9-11-2001. This manufactured outrage and fear has been perpetuated for several weeks already. (The fact that the lexicon of McCarthyism has been revived and reinforced seems to attract the critical attention of too few.)
But when a famous, right wing, Republican-friendly, white religious leader like Reverend Jerry Falwell asserted, with Pat Robertson‘s consent (the man who called for the assassination of a foreign head of state who was popularly elected: Hugo Chavez), that 9-11 was God’s curse on America for having tolerated gays, pagans, and the American Civil Liberties Union, among others…how long did that furor last? How many political campaigns were derailed from being associated with Christian Conservatives? See and hear for yourself Falwell making these comments:
If a white pastor justifies the attacks, well, OK, the white mass and its media note it, make some comments, and largely let it die. When a black pastor makes much more reasonable, historically grounded, arguments: OUTRAGE, FEAR, LOATHING, CONTEMPT.
(Update 1: Six days after this post was originally published, E.J. Dionne produced an opinion piece in The Washington Post titled, “Fair Play for False Prophets“, featuring a discussion of Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson. At least some still remember, and can compare similar situations. Dionne leads his article by asking: “Do white right-wing preachers have it easier than black left-wing preachers? Is there a double standard?” His first answer is yes, and the second one should also be yes. He qualifies that since left wing black preachers attack the fundamentals of American social structures, they draw more heat than those on the right who focus on morality. This would seem to miss the point of what Falwell was doing in the video shown above.)
(Update 2: Eight days after this post was originally published, Frank Rich wrote an opinion piece in The New York Times titled, “The All-White Elephant in the Room.” Rich speaks at length of the white, right wing preachers that have endorsed Republican candidates, and received these candidates’ warm regards in return, including John McCain and Rudolph Giuliani. Rich notes the racial double-standards at work in spotlighting Rev. Wright, while moving his white counterparts into the shadows:
Mr. Hagee’s videos have never had the same circulation on television as Mr. Wright’s. A sonorous white preacher spouting venom just doesn’t have the telegenic zing of a theatrical black man.
Perhaps that’s why virtually no one has rebroadcast the highly relevant prototype for Mr. Wright’s fiery claim that 9/11 was America’s chickens “coming home to roost.” That would be the Sept. 13, 2001, televised exchange between Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell, who blamed the attacks on America’s abortionists, feminists, gays and A.C.L.U. lawyers. [Mr. Wright blamed the attacks on America's foreign policy.]
….it is disingenuous to pretend that there isn’t a double standard operating here. If we’re to judge black candidates on their most controversial associates – and how quickly, sternly and completely they disown them – we must judge white politicians by the same yardstick.
It is encouraging that at least a couple of voices in the mass media are finally, and only too late, coming to these realizations and drawing these conclusions. Let’s see if this line of media self-questioning develops any further.)
Finally, let’s note one consistent pattern in this electoral campaign. It seems like a campaign of two against one: the two white candidates who are strong on security, versus the dangerous black kid. Hillary Clinton almost always has something personally positive to say about Republican candidate John McCain–how much she likes him, respects him, how well she has worked with him in the Senate, how she honours his great service to the nation (a common preface to all her comments on McCain, a favour Republicans never paid to John Kerry in 2004), what a war hero McCain is, and so forth. Clinton seems to be signaling to voters that McCain would be preferable to Obama. She has raised “experience” (being encrusted in the Washington establishment for long enough) as being the measure of a candidate–effectively passing her baton to McCain who has far more “experience” than she does. Hillary Clinton also was in fundamental agreement with McCain, after their return from a trip together to Iraq in 2005, that the insurgency was failing, and that it would be a mistake to withdraw U.S. forces.
The last time Clinton had anything positive to say about Obama, it was to better set up the sucker punch that she delivered the next morning–standing as the violated victim, shrieking about dishonest Obama, the little black boy she was oh so kind to. The idea here is that the man to vote for, in her eyes, is the fellow white insider, John McCain, and to damage Obama as much as possible in the meantime. Bill Clinton has also stated very directly that Hillary Clinton and John McCain are very close:
“She and John McCain are very close….They always laugh that if they wound up being the nominees of their party, it would be the most civilized election in American history, and they’re afraid they’d put the voters to sleep because they like and respect each other.”
Let’s then sum up the critical cues that have been transmitted to a fearful, conservative, and white dominated American public, cues which can be listed under the heading of, “Obama the savage“:
- Black, can’t win
- Black, got ahead because of our favours to him
- Black, above his station, hence “elitist” (Clinton, with a $109 million income, is “more in tune with the white working class”…read white, and drop working class)
- Black, can’t be trusted
- Black, dangerous
- Black, in Somalia, looks local there, looks foreign to us
- Black, and his black pastor is un-American
- Black, and one of his friends is a “terrorist”
- Black, he is Christian, “as far as I know” (as Clinton said, suggesting there may be some room for knowing something else to be true)
- Black, an outsider, we need experience
- Black, so the other white person, McCain, is more trustworthy, better for “our” safety
- Black, he is just words, another big black talker, a flim flam man, a cool show, but deep down you don’t know what you’re getting
Of course racism is alive and well in America, and there is no greater racism than making subtle diabolical uses of that racism while avoiding the issue of race altogether.