Amy Alexander's essay dismissing the bereavement faced by Hillary supporters prompted me to make a few conclusions of my own from my vantage point as an Obama supporter working as a political organizer with Clintonites over the past two years.
All I can say is: Wow! This piece is intense.
What immediately came to mind is a scenario familiar to many people of color: You are the only one in a room full of white people. Someone makes a racially-insensitive remark. You diplomatically deplore said remark. White person, usually a white woman, starts to cry. Everyone crowds white person with consolation. You, the innocent, blameless victim of racism are cast aside.
As tempting as it may be to conclude this scenario with, "sounds like the 2008 presidential election cycle to me," a deeper analysis, deeper than Alexander's grief explication, is necessary to understand how and why Clinton's supporters acted the way they did in the days after Obama clinched the nomination.
At issue in Alexander's article is the behavior of Clinton and her band of supporters. Whether we are talking high-level supporters or common folk, this article conjures the image of the vulnerable white woman who has no reason to be grieving over Hillary's loss on account of her perceived white privilege in society. This article, in a backhanded way, is posing the quantification-of-suffering question that submerged the likes of Geraldine Ferraro and Gloria Steinem deep in controversy. Essentially, Alexander insinuates that Clinton and her supporters do not belong to the class of the oppressed that really have something to grieve about. This is a dangerous assumption and not exactly the way to win the war now that the primary battle is over.
To make this assertion is to misunderstand where the grief really comes from. Of late, in the media, a few presumed supporters have gone out on a limb to acknowledge some of the Clinton campaign's strategic failings. From delays in perfecting e-fundraising to not addressing internal conflicts, members of the feminist intelligentsia have been forthcoming with examples of the campaign's failures, and it is a sentiment that reverberates among the Clintonites.
But feminist writers and activists have also been insistent about the true source of their ire throughout this entire campaign: the unchecked sexism that the mass media hurled at Clinton during her campaign.
It is this that has left them angry not necessarily at Obama, but at a Democratic Party that did not once acknowledge their influence and power throughout the campaign season. Howard Dean's recent remarks "The wounds of sexism need to be the subject of a national discussion" are 16 months late.
Now it is true that many feminists, using the media treatment of Clinton and Obama as a measure, chose not to stop themselves from insinuating that sexism is worse than racism. In this, they stifled what would have otherwise been unanimous support from the multi-racial coalitions that pounced on misogynists like Isiah Thomas and Don Imus.
It is also true that many supporters were so wrapped up in electing a woman, that seldom was this woman questioned about her role in the Telecommunications Act of 1996, a pro-consolidation, anti-media justice policy measure that in many ways helped create the environment of heinous sexism and racism that reigned during this primary cycle in the mass media.
Despite these truths, the grief many women of all races experience on account of patriarchy is legitimate. In its own macrocosmic way, this is what the fall of Hillary Clinton has come to represent. It is not just about an individual woman's failure but about how far all women must climb just to gain a little ground toward fair portrayals in the media. This is the grief we have observed over the past days.
Those who proclaim "McCain '08!" during DNC rules and bylaws committee proceedings do so to get the DNC and everyone else to wake up to sexism.
Despite how immersed I have been over the past two years in liberal feminist organizing, this didn't hit home for me until a few weeks ago when I was at a family function with my grandmother, a N.Y.-settled, Ghanaian immigrant who, yes, grieved over what she felt was Clinton's inevitable loss. My grandmother believed that Clinton's narrative of strength in the face of obstacles was in many ways her own. And she felt that each obstacle (from Bill's infidelity to the media diatribes) Clinton had overcome had left her more fearless and more emboldened, well-equipped to tackle recession, global warming and war. "Overcoming obstacles perceived as impassable through strength" she told me "was the story of women everywhere." It was in this moment, that despite my long-held enthusiasm for Obama, that I decided to give Clinton some time.
The grief that progressives are "tiptoeing" around cannot simply be compartmentalized in the white privilege box. The remedy for this rift lies in making our movements more accessible to each other with a diplomacy that springs from the recognition of our overall goal: the enactment of policies that are inclusive along race and gender lines.
Clintonites must be allies in the racial justice movement not propagators of racism. They also must realize that there cannot be a pecking order among issues. Racial justice advocates must make themselves accessible to the seriousness of sexism and advocate accordingly.
The fact is: We will all be on the same team this November to combat the abundance of anti-affirmative ballot measures, and the racist and sexist targeting of Michelle Obama, to name a few of the challenges. This will require the re-assembly of coalitions now fractured.
Rose Afriyie is a student in the Black Europe program at the University of Amsterdam, Netherlands and was named Alabama State University's 2008 Ida B. Wells award recipient and lecturer for her media justice advocacy.