Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Racism, Sexism, whatever-ism ...

The Obama team now faces a different crisis, one of their own making. Obama has made noises, as we know, about bringing people together. The problem with that was always that Obama’s chief rival for the nomination was a woman, Hillary Clinton. Now there is a story (from the Washington Post, and to me via 2 Political Junkies) that Obama speechwriter Jon Favreau was caught in pictures fondling a cardboard cutout of Mrs. Clinton. This was apparently at a party, pictures made their way to Mr. Favreau’s Facebook page for a few hours Thursday afternoon before being taken down.

Maria at 2PJ’s suggests the guy would be fired if this happened at a private corporation. Commenters argue that’s too harsh, it was a private party (but public pictures). I think Maria might be wrong in the sense that corporations might excuse the behavior of lesser employees and think that higher level employees were too valuable. But Maria is not wrong in her assessment of what should happen. The Clinton team is laughing off this incident (what else can she do), but they shouldn’t have to.

Maria goes on to comment on how Clinton and Sarah Palin were characterized during the campaign. Personally I don’t believe I used sexism in my criticisms of either woman, but particularly with Sarah Palin, it was hard not to criticize her for being uncurious without stepping very close to the “dumb broad” line. The sole saving grace here was George W Bush, the most uncurious George who was a man and also President.

But the larger point is quite valid. I think sexism (and our progress on it) can be likened to racism (and our progress on it). Racism still exists, not only in the lives of the people who live in Garfield or Homewood, but in the lives of lawyers downtown who happen to be black, or doctors or college professors. As for sexism, there are no ghettos of women, but in every family and every business, there are the subtle dynamics of power. Women have been more common in every facet of the workplace since the 1970’s, but the glass ceiling still exists and is well understood. I suspect a female Secretary of Defense nominee would raise a hail of protest. I think both open racism and open sexism have become unacceptable in certain parts of “polite society” (i.e. wealthy parts), but other parts of society still cheerful indulge in either or both. But more importantly institutional sexism and racism are still both thriving, which would include making it not unacceptable to make fun of Sarah Palin in a sexist manner (i.e. her head on a nude woman’s picture). But that should be unacceptable. Whatever Sarah Palin’s failings that might make her an inferior candidate for President at this point, they do not include simply being a woman. Because being a woman is not a failing, just like being an African American is not a failing.

Now, I should point out that both women and African Americans muddy the issue somewhat. Many women dress and wear makeup in such a way as to be generally attractive to members of the opposite sex. Some African Americans dress in a distinctive “gangster” style, including wearing clothes so baggy they can conceal weapons. Many women take off time form work to raise children, and then are upset because they feel penalized for it. Many white people say that if African Americans dressed and spoke like white people, they would be accepted and not discriminated against, many African Americans are suspicious of this.

But the qualifiers should not justify sexism or racism, to me they just mean we have more work to do. The important thing is to speak out against racism and sexism where ever it exists.

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