As I've pointed out before, it's odd how white Americans were generally upset over the remarks of an African American candidate's African American minister, but they tended to overlook the racism of Hillary Clinton's own remarks on race. In a radio interview, Clinton made an overt call to white solidarity, proclaiming herself a more viable candidate than Barack Obama because she supposedly has broader support among white voters. The public reaction was mild, at best, and Clinton was not pushed into making a major speech about race in America, as Obama eventually was because of someone else's remarks.
White Americans tend to overlook the racism of Hillary's playing, in this instance and others, of the white race card, as well as those by her husband Bill, and by other supporters of her campaign, such as Geraldine Ferraro. White Americans commonly overlook such racism because they've been trained into ignoring the more general white supremacist context of contemporary American society.
Democrats are making history this year because for the first time, their nominee will be a person who is either a woman or an African American. While Obama continually downplays his racial status, nearly everyone else foregrounds it. Clinton usually downplays her gender status, and with the exception of many white feminists, who receive little attention in the corporate media, nearly everyone else downplays her gender too. These disparate treatments of Obama and Clinton have more to do with the significance of race, which in this election seems to be trumping the significance of gender.
In an exceptional analysis of these issues posted yesterday on the progressive-opinion web site CommonDreams.org, political scientist Zillah Eisenstein explains why these different perceptions of the two Democratic candidates occur. The very title of Eisenstein's article is a blunt declaration of the significance of what most white Americans tend to overlook: "Hillary Is White."
Eisenstein writes in part,
Hillary Clinton presents herself to the electorate as a woman. She argues that she wants to break the glass ceiling of/for gender. But the truth is that she is not simply a woman but both a woman and also white. The very fact that she ignores her own race, in a way that Obama cannot, is proof of the normalized privileging of whiteness.
In this instance white is not a color, but the color, the standard, by which others are judged. So she silently, inadvertently but knowingly, uses her color to write her meanings of gender and mobilize older white women and angry white men by doing so. She presents herself as a woman but her real power here is as white. . . .
Most often the term white is not spoken alongside the term woman; there is no need. One only specifies color when it is not white. Women are assumed to be white if not specified otherwise, especially if you are speaking about gender or women’s rights, or feminism. Forget the fact that it was a group of black women that initially challenged the Supreme Court in the first sex discrimination case in this country years ago.Hillary speaks of herself as a woman, and then speaks separately about race, as though she does not embody both at the same time. She has as much ‘race’ as Barack, but her race is not a problem for her. It is for him, even though it may not be as much as a problem as she is trying to make it. As such, Hillary, as a (white) woman pits herself against Barack (as black) with a race so to speak. So Hillary (as a woman) is falsely, wrongly, pitted against Barack (as black). Her whiteness privileges and pits gender against race. She encodes her whiteness as though it is central to her gender, and to her kind of feminism without saying a word.
In America's past, whiteness was a highly marked, highly sought status,* but most forms of whiteness today go unnoticed as such in the minds of white people. While most white Americans immediately see and react to the blackness of black people (and to lesser degrees, the racial status of other non-white people), they tend to think of other white Americans as mere individuals. Accordingly, in contrast to anything that might have to do with Obama's blackness, such as the controversial remarks of his minister, Clinton's calls for white solidarity are not widely considered in terms of her own racial status.
Another oddity here is that while Clinton's whiteness means she is not pressured to address her own racial status after making her own racist remarks (again, it was instead Obama who was pressured into delivering a major speech on race, because of someone else's remarks), her minority status in the political arena in terms of gender is also not something she feels pressured to address.
Although gender disparities still exist in America, Clinton has not been pushed into making a major speech about them. She has felt pressured to compensate in less direct ways for her gendered minority status in the political arena. Her occasional response has been to project a paradoxically "manly gender," as Eisenstein puts it, which she does by embracing the stereotypically white working-class behaviors and attitudes associated with militaristic posturing, hunting, and alcohol consumption.
As Eisenstein points out,
She has never spoken on behalf of women or as a candidate with a woman’s agenda, let alone as a feminist when she was in the White House. Many of us who are her contemporaries were active in the Civil Rights Movement and Women’s Movements and Anti-Vietnam War movement — while she chose not to be. Her one speech addressing the exploitation of women was delivered in Beijing, China, as though it is women outside, but not inside the U.S. who face untold discrimination. Now she runs for president and has become a gun-toting, war mongering white woman who asks for your vote if you are an angry white Reagan Democrat. Maybe she thinks manly gender is the answer for breaking glass ceilings for women. . . . Instead of challenging the gender divide Hillary simply slides over to the other side of it.
Clinton's various performative contortions have demonstrated that race, class, and gender are all significant factors in this election season. Religion is too, in the persistent efforts to associate Obama with Islam; alternative sexualities are less at play, since, unlike George Bush, all of the candidates project unquestionable heterosexuality.
In terms of race, Clinton carries her whiteness wherever she goes, but white people tend to overlook its significance, even when she makes racist pleas for white solidarity by suddenly pretending to care about white working-class people.
(Hat-tip: season of the bitch)
*"By 1850 American expansion was viewed in the United States less as a victory for principles of free democratic republicanism than as evidence of the innate superiority of the American Anglo-Saxon branch of the Caucasian race. . . . a sense of racial destiny permeated discussions of American progress and of future American world destiny. This was a superior race, and inferior races were doomed to subordinate status or extinction." (Reginald Horsman, Race and Manifest Destiny)
Update: The New York Times has a good discussion of the overall uselessness of Clinton's effort to appeal to limited sectors of the white voting population. In "White on White," Timothy Egan writes in part, "In Kentucky, over 25 percent of Clinton supporters said race was a factor in their vote – about five times the national average for such a question. Clinton, if she really wanted to do something lasting, could ask her supporters why the color of a fellow Democrat’s skin is so important to their vote."