Pollsters and the Democrats Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are perpetuating racism and sexism in this election. Have you noticed it? It’s happening almost every day.
For all of my life, this country has been making strides in the areas of gender and racial equality. I simply don’t know a world where women aren’t an accepted part of the work place. I don’t know a world where public displays of racism aren’t demonized. These are signs to the leaders of those movements that they have been effective in distributing their message. Generation after generation, progress is being made. Yet this election could set both of those movements back 20 years.
In identifying the Democrats, it should be noted that this is a curious quirk of fate rather than an attack on the party. It’s not their fault that the remaining candidates are a woman and a black man. Nor is it the fault of the GOP that two white men remain. But it is the Democratic candidates themselves, with the help of the pollsters, who are perpetuating racial and gender stereotypes.
Judy Day is a voter from New York. In exit polling on February 5, explaining why she voted for Hillary Clinton, Ms. Day said, “I’m a woman and it was hard for me not to support a woman.” Regarding voting for Barack Obama, many blacks have stated that they would feel like a traitor to their race if they did not vote for him.
If a woman says she’s voting for Senator Clinton because Hillary’s a woman, no one bats an eye. If a black says he’s voting for Obama because he, too, is black, we accept this without question. If a white man said he was going to vote for Edwards because he’s white he would have been handed his hood and told, “The meeting’s at 7. Don’t be late.”
Taken another way, what would be the response if men routinely said, “I’m NOT voting for Hillary because she’s a woman.” The media would be bemoaning the state of gender equality in America. Men would be perceived as oppressing the aspirations of women. Men would be chastised for feeling threatened. The hypocrisy in these campaigns is deplorable.
By no stretch am I suggesting that we go backwards and accept men verbalizing that they won’t vote for women because they’re women. Nor do I propose that we tolerate whites who say that they will not vote for a black candidate simply because he’s black. What I do suggest is that we acknowledge that the opposing statements are equally offensive. Even affirmative racism is racism. We should be just as offended by those who say, “I’m voting for a black because I, too, am black.”
Hillary Clinton, in the recent Democratic Forum in California said of the two candidates in her party, “…they [the GOP] are more of the same. Neither of us, just by looking at us, you can tell, we are not more of the same.” She is telling America that women and blacks are different. I was under the impression that the civil rights movement was about ending outdated ideas that blacks and women are somehow “different.” For her to now claim that there are differences and that those differences make her more qualified for the Presidency is a perpetuation of the very thing women and blacks have been fighting against for centuries.
The alternative conclusion is that there ARE differences, and, of course, we know there are. Decades of scientific studies show that women tend to process information differently. Women tend to work differently in groups. Women tend to respond differently to stress and the list goes on. Are THESE the differences of which she spoke?
Problematically, I don’t personally know Hillary Clinton so I don’t know if she is the exception or the rule in these issues. What she is asking us to do is to evaluate her using any paradigm or prejudice we have regarding women. She is appealing to those very characteristics in each of us. “Don’t evaluate us on our accomplishments,” she seems to be saying, “Evaluate our ability to bring about change based on how we look.”
If the voters are to heed her request, voters will apply those stereotypes to the male candidates as well: “Men are more decisive than women; men are less emotional than women; men are stronger than women,” we will conclude. Are these really the criteria by which she wants the two of them to be evaluated?
It will be a great day when the gender or race of the candidates goes unnoticed. To some extent these historic firsts are simply part of the process of growth and acceptance in these issues. We should not be surprised by their inclusion in the conversation or that these ideas have a home in our hearts which pollsters seek to explore. What I don’t expect is for the candidates themselves to now turn the tables and exploit their gender or race for their own benefit. I also expect that pollsters will begin to be helpful agents of change in these issues not perpetuators of the ideas that Americans have long fought to terminate.
Sure, prejudice reigns. But it need not. And it’s up to us to hold Ms. Clinton and Mr. Obama accountable on these issues.