After November 4th, the United States will have a Black male president or a white female vice-president. With both positions to date held solely by white men, this represents a power-weilding shift in the most powerful country in the world.
Race and gender are explicitly part of this US presidential campaign in ways they perhaps have never been before. They have been played off against one another – which Gary Younge takes issue with here – and they have provided opportunity for behaviour and media comment that has been quite unashamedly discriminatory.
Hillary Clinton was asked to “iron my shirt” across America by demonstrators when campaigning for the Democratic nomination. Comments on this and other sexism in the campaigns here and here, by non-Hillary supporters even, here. Katie Couric at CBS says:
“One of the great lessons of [Hillary Clinton’s] campaign is the continued and accepted role of sexism in American life, particularly in the media….It isn’t just Hillary Clinton who needs to learn a lesson from this primary season — it’s all the people who crossed the line, and all the women and men who let them get away with it.”
Sexist coverage for those who can’t see what the fuss is about kindly compiled by the Women’s Media Center:
And that’s not even getting into how Sarah Palin has been discussed.
Race is also still playing out – on September 24th, George Fox University campus hosted a cardboard cut-out of Barack Obama, lynched from a tree with fishing line, with a placard rejecting a scholarship program which mostly assists Black students to come to university.
The history of lynching in the US is tied irrevocably to race – estimates place the numbers of lynchings of Black people at 3,437 between 1880 and 1951. Lynching was briefly popular again in the 1960s as African Americans fought for civil rights alongside white allies – and were resisted by a resurgent Ku Klux Klan.
The university administration condemned the lynching incident – but it remains a chilling reminder of where some white Americans clearly think ‘uppity Black men’ belong.
Outside the US, Robert Fisk has taken vice-presidential candidates Sarah Palin and Joe Biden to task for their avoidance of ‘race’ in discussing Palestine and Israel.
Palestinians ceased to exist in the United States on Thursday night. Both Joe Biden and Sarah Palin managed to avoid the use of that poisonous word. “Palestine” and “Palestinians” – that most cancerous, slippery, dangerous concept – simply did not exist in the vice-presidential debate.
Would Barack Obama have dealt with this any differently? Evidence to date suggests not. Having a Black man in charge of the world’s only superpower will probably not fundamentally alter world relationships organised around race and access to resources.
But it is fascinating – and completely repugnant – to see sexism and racism being mobilised to discredit candidates who are not white and male.
I doubt I’m alone in wanting to know about the competency and political histories of Obama, Biden, McCain and Palin. Given the importance of the White House tenant to the rest of the world – economically, politically, socially and environmentally – it would be good to see the US media focus on who has funded these four people, on what they have voted for and against, and how they relate to others – not their biological traits.
I’m not seeking to pretend that race and gender don’t have enormous social impacts on our lives – just interested in what exactly is so scary about successors to the ‘founding fathers‘ including a man descended from the continent they had purchased their slaves descendant of someone they had enslaved – or indeed, a founding mother?