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Black Women Are Not Feeling the Feminists' Pain

Illustration for article titled Black Women Are Not Feeling the Feminists Pain

Note to Geraldine Ferraro, Gloria Steinem, and complainer in chief, Hillary Clinton: Get over yourselves.


Your cries of reverse racism, your complaints about overt sexism in the campaign, your vocal protests about media favoritism being shown BarackObama, ring hollow.

We are not feeling your pain. None of you are symbolic of female oppression. You are all well-educated and well-connected. You are influential and have ready access to the media. You have had more opportunities than most black women could ever dream of and we doubt you could ever relate to the level of sexism and racism we regularly face. We know you couldn't even begin to understand what it's like for black men.


Last time we checked, none of you were struggling with the challenges that average working women – both black and white – deal with everyday: making ends meet, finding safe and affordable childcare, paying the rent or mortgage, getting jobs that pay a living wage and offer opportunities for advancement. Amid all of this, regular working women are trying to find personal fulfillment and build a sense of self.

You privileged ladies already have a huge sense of self, and an even bigger sense of entitlement. Your words have only served to widen the divide between us and you, and your faulty and misguided perspective that Obama, a black man, is the enemy only serves to underline the divide.

Obama is not getting a free pass because he's black; he's getting more scrutiny because of it. He did not get where he is simply because he's a black man; he got where he is in spite of it. Your piling on Obama is one very warped expression of "girl power."

Somehow we don't believe this was what Betty Friedan was thinking when she wrote The Feminine Mystique in 1963 and launched the modern women's movement. The movement was built on the premise that women were smarter than men believed, wanted more than men felt they deserved, were more ambitious than men were comfortable with, and had dreams bigger than the boundaries men set for them. It was about being politically affirming, not politically divisive.


The movement was not about being nasty, and calculating, and intellectually dishonest. And it was definitely not about playing dirty politics – like men. You make us wonder if you ever were really one of us now that we clearly see you have become one of "them."

Hillary Clinton, earlier in the campaign you complained that your Democratic opponents were "piling on" and "taking a page from the Republican playbook." The truth is you've taken a page directly from Karl Rove's playbook and appropriated his defining doctrine of win at any cost, take no prisoners, and when everything else fails, resort to shameless race baiting. How unoriginal.


The sisterhood, at least your version of it, has been unmasked. You have proven you will do and say whatever it takes to win, even if that means doing irreparable harm to your political party and the good relationship you once had with black women. Honest and fair political discourse is being hijacked by your hypocrisy and that is certain to hurt the genuine efforts of white and black women working hard to form alliances on common and larger feminist causes.

Geraldine Ferraro, you said that Obama was "lucky" to be where he is and should "thank" you.


"In all honesty, do you think that if he were a white male, there would be a reason for the black community to get excited for a historic first?" You asked. "Am I pointing out something that doesn't exist?"

What you fail to point out is that black people overwhelmingly voted for Bill Clinton for president not once, but twice. And we did the same for John Kerry, Al Gore, and other white candidates that came before them. Over the years, black voters have also supported plenty of white female candidates for Congress – including Hillary Clinton – and in statewide races.


When many Americans turned their backs on BillClinton after Monica Lewinsky and impeachment, black people stood by him as steadfastly as they would any member of their family. That's because we believe deeply in the power of forgiveness and redemption, but if you and other Clinton cohorts keep this up, we won't be so forgiving at the polls, even if Clinton is the nominee.

We remember, Geraldine, that you also derided Jesse Jackson when he ran for president in 1988. "If Jesse Jackson were not black, he wouldn't be in the race," you said then. Your comments then, and now, seem to consistently imply that no black male candidate can legitimately run for office or engage voters with his ideas, policies proposals or vision for a better America. We can probably guess what you think of black women candidates.


And by the way, what's wrong with the black community getting excited about a historic first? Aren't you in fact excited as well about the possibility of a historic first female president? Or did this point elude you even though you once tried to become that historic first?

Gloria Steinem, you wrote in the New York Times that Obama would not have succeeded if he were a woman because gender is "the most restricting force in American life." Yeah, right. Tell that to the thousands of unemployed black men in America who would gladly trade places with you and women like you whose lives bear few examples of social and economic deprivation.


Black men don't control a whole lot in this country; not the media, not Wall Street, not Capitol Hill. So when did they start holding you back or becoming your oppressors? White women have benefited from generations of white privilege and now that one black man has managed to play, and win, by the rules, you cry sexism?

We understand your frustration with the campaign and the failings of the packrat media coverage, we have our frustrations too. Nonetheless, it's entirely too convenient to try and turn Obama into a symbol of sexism, or reverse racism, or the manifestation of biased gender politics. The media is fascinated and obsessed with "firsts" and the possibility of the first black or woman president will undoubtedly continue to drive much of the focus and narrative of the campaign coverage.


So how about taking a deep breath and a couple of steps back to get some perspective.

Obama is appealing to voters of both genders and all racial stripes precisely because he's not playing the racial victim. Perhaps if Clinton stopped playing the female victim, other voters would flock to her too.


Marjorie Valbrun is a Washington, D.C. based journalist.

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