Monday, June 16, 2008

The Tougher Road

On two occasions last week, separate friends of mine voiced the opinion that gender bias is worse in this country than racial bias. Neither of them said it was a large margin, but still. My reflexive opinion was that the opposite was true, and that it was, in fact, kind of a blowout. I thought to myself, if I were someone interested in being treated fairly -- and with respect -- would I want to wake up tomorrow a woman or an African-American man? To me, the choice was easy. Obviously, the issue came up because of the battle for the Democratic nomination. In this week's New Yorker, Hendrik Hertzberg writes about the end of Clinton's campaign, and he gets around to the subject of historical wrongs. I couldn't agree more with the first six words of the excerpt below (which is why I'm not even interested in a prolonged debate), but the rest of it is smart about these competing grievances:
Competitions among grievances do not ennoble, and both Clinton and Obama strove to avoid one; but it does not belittle the oppressions of gender to suggest that in America the oppressions of race have cut deeper. Clinton’s supporters would sometimes note that the Constitution did not extend the vote to women until a half century after it extended it to men of color. But there is no gender equivalent of the nightmare of disenfranchisement, lynching, apartheid, and peonage that followed Reconstruction, to say nothing of “the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil” that preceded it. Nor has any feminist leader shared the fate of Medgar Evers, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Malcolm X. Clinton spoke on Saturday of “women in their eighties and nineties, born before women could vote.” But Barack Obama is only in his forties, and he was born before the Voting Rights Act redeemed the broken promise of the Fifteenth Amendment.

Clinton was right to say that from now on it will be “unremarkable to think that a woman can be the President of the United States”—and that, in large measure, is her doing. But the Speaker of the House is a woman; and there are, at the moment, sixteen women in the Senate and eight in the nation’s governors’ offices, the pools from which Presidential candidates are usually drawn. There are two African-American governors, only one of whom was elected to that office. There is one African-American senator—and seven months from now that one may have a different job.


Blogger Jamal said...

Laurie and I have had this discussion many times. And it's always seemed a silly argument to have. Who has been treated worse by history when both have been treated horribly? I too pointed to the disparity between black men and women in positions of power. To which she correctly pointed out that women occupy over 50% of the population and, relatively speaking, that puts us back at square one of the who gets discriminated against more debate. I view the consistent violent oppression of the black community (which includes women--most fail to mention) as the clincher. But it still remains a terrible stain on our history for both transgessions and always makes me feel a bit odd arguing for one over the other when I personally hate both forms of discrimination. Of course we both support Obama and despise the Clintons. And for reasons altogether separate from their race and gender. Therein lies the victory.

3:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I know this is a little late here, but I would argue that there are such differences between the ways black men and women in general have been mistreated that comparison is impossible. Yes, there is less public violence towards women, but there has been violence, nonetheless. The subtler, more private violence of rape and domestic abuse have been primarily directed towards women and, though they usually don't deprive the victims of life, they do debilitate in ways that cannot be understood by those who haven't experienced anything like it.
I would even argue that there have been fewer assassinations of women in power not because of a disparity in the respect of the white upperclass males, but because of a disparity in perception; black men seem to be something to be afraid of that must be stopped and women seem like something to be possibly humored before being sent back to the kitchen.

5:25 PM  

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