This is a piece I wrote shortly after Barack H. Obama, the 44th President of the United States, had effectively secured the Democratic Primary nomination in a very competitive contest against fellow Democrat Hillary Clinton. Democratic white women in particular were absolutely livid. Many had expressed a desire to "switch parties" and vote for the Republican nominee, Sen. John McCain. This was months before Sen. McCain announced his choice of running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah L. Palin.

I wondered if these white women really were that bitter--that racist--that they would vote for someone so diametrically opposed to their claimed beliefs, just to avoid voting for a black man. Their raw hatred, it seemed, for anything black and male was palpable.

Since Mr. Obama did win the Presidency in November of 2008, it seems that at least some of these Democratic white women did eventually come to their senses and--at least on Election day--not allow that racial hatred to dominate their voting. Sadly, even now, years later, that anger--that racism--remains.

Image of Barack ObamaImage of Hillary ClintonImage of Sarah PalinImage of John McCain

Democratic White Women and Barack Obama

by Terrell Prudé, Jr.
June 7, 2008
Updated October 4, 2008

Will Hillary Clinton Supporters Get Behind a Black Man?

That's really the question here.

Both Sen. Barack Obama and Sen. Hillary Clinton have repeatedly--and correctly--pointed out that this year has been a historic one for Presidential candidacy.  Had either of them secured the Democratic Party's nomination, it would've been the first time that a black person of either sex or a woman of any color would've been the nominee of a major political party.

In the end, it turned out to be a black person, specifically, a black man named Barack Obama. 

A glass ceiling has indeed been shattered.  Never again will people be able to think, "you can only be President if you're white."  This is a time to celebrate!  And you would think that the vast majority of the Democratic Party would be doing just that.  Over the last 44 years, since the days of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Democratic Party has held itself up as the "inclusive" party, the party of "all Americans," much like Lincoln's Republican Party of 143 years ago did.  And they have several claims to back that up.

However, we are seeing signs--even shouts--of anger, not celebration, regarding the shaterring of this glass ceiling.  Among the joy of many Democrats, we are also seeing the fury of many other Democrats.  For this latter group, this is a time of bitter disappointment and even a feeling of betrayal. We even heard many of them talking about changing parties and voting for Sen. McCain, the Republican candidate, instead of voting for Sen. Obama, a fellow Democrat.  The rallying cry from them is, and I quote, "Party Unity My Ass!"

What's going on here?  Why this anger?

I've listened to the news reports, I've heard protesters, and I've talked with plenty of folks around me, both before the Democratic Primary and in the four months after.  The conclusion that I've come to is as follows:

White women are angry that a black man got the nod, and not another white woman.

But a glass ceiling has been shattered!  Shouldn't all Democrats be overjoyed that it's no longer solely a "white guy's club?"  For the answer to that, we must look at the demographics of Hillary Clinton supporters.  The two major demographics are Democratic, feminist, white women; and so-called "white, working-class voters."  Of these two demographics, the former is certainly the larger.  Therefore, a look at the American feminist movement is in order.

The "Women's" Movement--Are Blacks Really Welcome?

Ever since the Democratic Primary vote in South Carolina, many of these "mainstream" feminists have asked, "why are over 90% of black women voting for Barack Obama?  Shouldn't they be voting for Hillary Clinton, a fellow woman?"   It is easily arguable that the voting patterns of black Americans, and black women in particular, played a huge rule in Sen. Obama's Primary victory.   The surprise--and disappointment--among these feminists regarding these voting patterns was palpable.   They seemed to be totally, utterly stunned by the results.   The message was clear: "why aren't black women allying themselves with us?"

I, too, noticed a distinct lack of enthusiasm among black women for the so-called mainstream feminist movement, starting in the early 1990's.  So, back then I started asking black women why that was the case.  The answer can be summed up in the response by one receptionist I knew, a black woman:

"Feminism would be great, if only it included us."

Sadly, "feminism" has not included black women.  Oh, there are a few exceptions like Maya Angelou, sure.  But where is the backing of black female candidates for high office?

For that matter, where is the feminist celebration when any glass ceiling gets broken?  Black Americans were the initiators of the Civil Rights Movement.  People like A. Philip Randolph, Martin Luther King Jr., Harriet Tubman, and Madame C. J. Walker, among many others, are why we have a Civil Rights Movement.  Since white women, too, have faced discrimination, would they not be overjoyed to see any ceiling shattered?  Wouldn't they be shouting, "right on, brother/sister!" with the same enthusiasm that, say, Oprah Winfrey has?

The feminist movement has claimed to be a "women's movement" ever since its inception.  However, such is not the case; it is not, in fact, a "women's movement."  Rather, it is a white women's movement.  It has simply failed to back its darker-hued sisters.  "Mainstream" feminists over the years have ignored and even ridiculed darker-skinned women, especially black American women.

Reciprocal Backing

During and after the Democratic primary race, I've kept a close eye on the major news channels, ever since the first caucus in Iowa.   One of the recurring themes would be a Clinton supporter (usually white and female) versus an Obama supporter (usually black, either sex).  This started happening a lot after Obama's famous "string of wins" in states with relatively large black American populations.  The question would usually get posed, "why are black women voting race instead of gender?"  The answer usually went along the lines of "white women want black women to support them in issues of gender, but they won't support black women in issues of race."

Since I live in a suburb of Washington, DC--a city affectionately nicknamed "Chocolate City" due to its majority black American population--I was able to ask questions of several blacks, both men and women.  For the men, it was obvious and expected:  "a brother actually has a chance this time, I'm backin' the brother."  For the women, the answer wasn't surprising, but it was telling.  Their response, in a nutshell, was, "I face a lot more discrimination for being black than I do for being a woman.  White women have it way better even than black men.  They don't get pulled over for 'Driving While Black.'  But my brother/uncle/father did."

The other thing I heard from the black women that I spoke with was a resentment toward white women generally, and they nearly universally saw Mrs. Clinton as a symbol of why that resentment exists.  "Why should I vote for my enemy?" they would ask.  It is important to remember here the frustration that the black woman has felt in terms of desirability to the opposite sex, compared to her white sisters.  A quick look at nearly any "mainstream" fashion magazine will illustrate the issue at hand and is a major reason why Ebony Fashion Fair came to exist.  Historically, white women have been considered, and indeed overtly or unconciously consider themselves, better looking than black women.

"Sieg Heil," NOW?

There is a fundamental thoughtlessness, I have found, on the part of white American feminists with regard to the experience of women of color.  One time, it even involved that universal symbol of hate, the swastika.

I remember a time in college when a new chapter of the National Organization for Women (NOW) was being formed on my campus.  I found out about it from a flyer, a copy of which was posted on virtually every bulletin board and telephone pole within a quarter of a mile of the campus, which is typical of any new organization announcing itself.  What I found distinctly not typical was the appearance of a swastika on those flyers.  Below this symbol of hate were the words, "Be a Femi-Nazi!" which I, being part black and Native American, took to be highly offensive.  I wondered just what kind of people could embrace that hateful icon.

There was no better way to answer that question than to meet those people face to face.  So, I went to the NOW meeting to do just that.

When I got there, I surveyed the population in the room.  Every woman in that room was white...and most were blonde.  Given the ad, I wasn't surprised.  Furthermore, when they became aware of my presence, the looks directed toward me were indeed hostile, in the way of, "what are you doing here?"  No welcoming feeling at all.  My work complete, I left.

Later that year, I learned that the term "femi-nazi" and the swastika were both a reference to something that conservative radio commentator Rush Limbaugh said on his radio show.  I hadn't yet heard Mr. Limbaugh's program, so I was unaware of this.  But nonetheless, using a swastika in a positive way to refer to your supposedly civil-rights-oriented organization is, at a minimum, thoughtless and inexcusable.  I found it interesting that this swastika-using group was as unwelcoming to me as a man of color as they were to women of color.

The "Year of the Woman"

In 1992, there was a big push for female candidates for the House and Senate.  That year was billed as "the year of the woman."  And, indeed, several women did get elected to positions in the US legislature.  Among them were Barbara Boxer, Dianne Feinstein, Maria Cantwell, and Patty Murray, all US Senators.  Celebrities like the actress Meredith Baxter were backing these female candidates, as were many other feminists and feminist sympathizers.

I noticed one glaring absence, and that was the utter lack of minorities, and especially blacks, in the news about the female candidates running.  And it's not that they didn't exist.  Sen. Carol Moseley Braun ran in 1992, and there was an occasional article about her immediately after she was elected.  However, the feminist organizations said precious little about her campaign, but they could be heard loud and clear about the campaigns of Boxer, Feinstein, Murray, and other white women.  This is despite the fact that Sen. Braun was the first ever female senator--of any color--from Illinois, and also the first black Democratic senator of either sex.  When she ended up embroiled in a financial scandal arguably not of her making, feminist rallying to Sen. Braun's defense was noticeably absent, unlike for Sen. Cantwell when she was under financial duress in those same 1990's.

Even today, in 2008, white Democratic women are showing political disdain of their black sisters. As previously mentioned, since June, many of them have been seriously considering voting for Sen. McCain, the Republican candidate.   They explain this as an act of "gender solidarity" specifically to protest the fact that Sen. Clinton did not get the nod.   But if that were true-- if this really were a "protest vote" as they claim--then why did they not instead threaten to vote for Cynthia McKinney, the Green Party's Presidential candidate?   She is a feminist, she is a liberal/progressive, she is even a former Democrat...and she is a woman.   So why are these white Democratic women rallying around Sen. McCain, but not Ms. McKinney?   Could it have anything to do with the fact that Ms. black?

Coverage of Injured Soldiers

Further recent evidence of white feminist racism, conscious or otherwise, can be found with the now infamous Pvt. Jessica Lynch story.  As we all know, Pvt. Lynch was captured, along with other Army soldiers, in Iraq.  Among them was another female soldier, Sgt. Shoshanna Johnson, who also sustained severe injury.  Coverage of Lynch was widespread and international.  She was offered a book deal and got interviewed by Diane Sawyer.

My question:  where was Diane Sawyer for Shoshanna Johnson?

But What About Hispanics?

Since the year 2000, when the US Census showed Hispanics to make up roughly 13% of the national population, politicians have been doing virtually everything that they can to woo "the Hispanic vote."  Feminist activists, too, are strongly pursuing Hispanic women.  It is their right to do so.

But in the 143 years since the end of slavery, why were they not pursuing black women?  Why aren't they today?  Why weren't they even 10 years ago?

Sojourner Truth's poignant question, "ain't I a woman?" remains sung out in the hearts of black American women yet today.   This is an important point worth emphasizing.   It's been 157 years since she originally asked that question, and it is still being asked.

What's up, white women? Do you really still consider your black sisters "not really women?"   After all this, do you seriously have trouble imagining why black women "voted race" this time?   If your answer still remains "yes", then please email me; I've gotta hear this.

The Question I Pose to White Democratic Women

Shortly after Sen. Obama's official acceptance of the Democratic Party nomination in August 2008, Sen. McCain announced his pick for Vice Presidential running mate. That pick was Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, a white woman.   This would appear to give Democratic white women a "guilt-free" way to change parties and vote Republican as an act of "gender solidarity," even though Sen. McCain's policies are nearly diametrically opposed to those of virtually all Democrats. It's essentially a get-out-of-jail-free card for them to "vote white."

Here, now, is the question that I will pose to you, the Democratic, American white woman.  Will you--finally--look past race and start cheering the destruction of a glass ceiling?  Will you vote for someone who is more aligned with your beliefs, even though he's a "nigger boy", as I've heard some say?  Will you at last look past that, or will you follow in the steps of your forebears who would never, ever vote for anything black?

* Personal note:  I am a mixed-race American man of Norwegian, Danish, Black (Malian), Cherokee, and Irish my knowledge.  There may be, and probably is, even more there.

Copyright (C) 2008, 2009 Terrell Prude', Jr.  All rights reserved.

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