UPDATE: The New York Times has a front-page article this morning, entitled, "Race and Gender Issues Erupt In a Tense day for Democrats." This is getting ugly, folks.
I have to respond to a comment in the article made by Geraldine Ferraro:
“As soon anybody from the Clinton campaign opens their mouth in a way that could make it seem as if they were talking about race, it will be distorted,” Mrs. Ferraro said. “The spin will be put on it that they are talking about race.”This remark is untrue and unbecoming of Ferraro, if you ask me. So far, Obama and his supporters have responded to very specific comments made by the Clintons or their campaign people. 1) Andrew Cuomo saying you can't "shuck and jive" at a press conference. 2) Hillary's comment about Martin Luther King. 3) The reprehensible email sent out by a Clinton campaign staffer in Iowa claiming Obama was secretly a Muslim who studied in a Madrasa and used the Koran at his swearing-in ceremony. 4) A questionable comment made by Billy Shaheen, the co-chairman of Hillary Clinton's campaign in New Hampshire about Obama's drug use. (Shaheen was fired afterwards.) 5) A comment made yesterday by Bob Johnson, one of Hillary's biggest African-American supporters, suggesting that Obama may have been dealing drugs. 6) Bill Clinton's comment about Obama's campaign being a "fairy tale."
According to Ferraro, it sounds like Obama and his supporters are just supposed to keep their mouths shut if the Clintons make questionable comments that could be insulting to people of color.
ORIGINAL POST: A series of statements by Hillary and Bill Clinton have ignited controversy within the African-American community. In my previous post, I mentioned Hillary's comment about Martin Luther King and Lyndon Johnson, and it has - unsurprisingly - grown into a much bigger issue in the last 48 hours.
But that's not the only statement that has upset African-Americans, and some are now claiming a purposeful attempt on the part of the Clinton campaign to introduce the race card into the 2008 Election. While I thought that race would raise its ugly head in the presidential campaign, I'm a little surprised that it's becoming an issue in the Democratic Primaries, rather than in the general election.
Like others, I was stunned by Hillary's comment that "Dr. King's dream began to be realized when President Lyndon Johnson passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964. . . . It took a president to get it done." (Here's a video of her making the comment.)
By itself, at any other time, that would be a stunningly stupid remark. Kind of like "Jesus' dream began to be realized when Pontius Pilate passed the Crucifixion Order. . . . It took a Roman governor to get it done." Johnson and Kennedy, left to their own devices, would never have done anything for the blacks without the pressure of King and the civil rights movement. Not when so much of the Democratic Party at that time was made up of racist southern whites.
But to make this statement when running against an African-American candidate, especially just before a primary vote in South Carolina, where 50% of the Democratic voters are black, seems incomprehensibly dumb. It's also a strange thing to say in an election where the public has made it clear that it distrusts politicians and wants a big change. Hillary seems to be saying that it wasn't really a courageous black minster who brought about a change in civil rights, but a white politician.
My first thought was: How could the Clintons - so expert in politics - do something so colossally dumb and seemingly amateurish?
Needless to say, the remark didn't go down well with African-Americans.
Yesterday, the New York Times, with a front-page headline, "Clinton's Comments Annoy a Black Leader," (the title differs on the web), reported that the highest ranking African-American in Congress, Rep. James E. Clyburn, from South Carolina, found the remark "as distorting civil rights history" and was reconsidering his neutral stance in the primary.
“We have to be very, very careful about how we speak about that era in American politics,” said Mr. Clyburn, who was shaped by his searing experiences as a youth in the segregated South and his own activism in those days. “It is one thing to run a campaign and be respectful of everyone’s motives and actions, and it is something else to denigrate those. That bothered me a great deal.”The New York Sun, in its article "Slight of King Could Linger for Voters," reported on other reactions among African-American political figures:
Assemblyman Karim Camara, a Democrat who represents Crown Heights, Brooklyn, and who is supporting Mr. Obama, said, "I got calls from constituents and from other elected officials and from pastors who were surprised." . . .And the comment wasn't getting any better play among African-American bloggers. In Hillary and Bill Clinton Invoke "Race Card" Into 2008 U.S. Presidential Campaign, African American Political Pundit wrote:
Mrs. Clinton's words could affect the outcome of the campaign, particularly in the religious community. King, after all, was not only a black leader but an ordained minister.
"I believe churches are very sensitive to the language we use," Mr. Camara said. "This can have a tremendous impact in increasing their level of churches in going out and supporting Senator Obama." . . .
"I thought her comments were not only out of line but it seemed to me to be desperate and a misreading of history," the executive director of the New York Civil Rights Coalition, Michael Meyers, said. "To say that President Lyndon Johnson was the one who did that when we know he could not do that without President Kennedy's assassination and death and the change in the national mood on civil rights is astonishingly ignorant." He added that the statement was also "ignorant of the participation of everyday people, including Dr. King."
The debate could get additional mileage with the approach of Martin Luther King Day, a federal holiday that this year is observed Monday, January 21. A national spokesman for the Congress of Racial Equality, Niger Innis, attributed Mrs. Clinton's statement to her determination to block Mr. Obama's rise and save the nomination for herself. "It seems to me Hillary was trying anything to stop the momentum that seemed unstoppable until yesterday at 10 o'clock," Mr. Innis said.
This is not the first time the Clinton's actually invoked race into the contest to beat Obama. It's unfortunate that "Team Clinton" have been able to inject racial tension into what should have been — and still should be — an uplifting contest. They have actually implemented a strategy of racial divide. As reported in the blog A Moderate Voice and Jack and Jack and Jill Politics, The Clinton's have used very cloaked racial terms, comparing Obama to MLK while Hillary Clinton was LBJ who, you know, was the one who actually got things done. The Clinton's also have their buddy Andrew Cuomo out there acting a fool saying to Obama: 'You Can't Shuck And Jive' at a press conf. Now Team Clinton is going south in order to explain to black voters that if they, black voters, have the audacity to hope that Obama will be the real first black President, black voters dreams and Obama 's audity to run for President is nothing but a “Fantasy.”As AAPP mentioned, it wasn't just the King-Johnson comment, but a series of recent statments that have raised suspicion among African-Americans. From Ben Smith's Politico article, "Racial tensions roil Democratic race":
“A cross-section of voters are alarmed at the tenor of some of these statements,” said Obama spokeswoman Candice Tolliver, who said that Clinton would have to decide whether she owed anyone an apology.Pretty strong language coming from a "longtime Clinton ally."
“There’s a groundswell of reaction to these comments — and not just these latest comments but really a pattern, or a series of comments that we’ve heard for several months,” she said. “Folks are beginning to wonder: Is this really an isolated situation, or is there something bigger behind all of this?” . . . .
“For him to go after Obama, using a ‘fairy tale,’ calling him as he did last week, it's an insult. And I will tell you, as an African-American, I find his tone and his words to be very depressing,” Donna Brazile, a longtime Clinton ally who is neutral in this race, said on CNN earlier this week.
Asked in an e-mail from Politico about the situation Friday, she responded by sending over links to five cases in which the Clintons and their surrogates talked about Obama, along with a question: “Is Clinton using a race-baiting strategy against Obama?”
Barbara Jordan (1936-1996) - From Houston, Texas - the first African-American woman from the south to be elected to Congress.
There's also an uncomfortable feeling that the battle between Clinton and Obama could begin to turn on an axis of gender versus race.
This week, Gloria Steinem wrote an Op-Ed piece for the New York Times entitled, "Women Are Never Front-Runners," in which she said:
"Black men were given the vote a half-century before women of any race were allowed to mark a ballot, and generally have ascended to positions of power, from the military to the boardroom, before any women (with the possible exception of obedient family members in the latter)."Which led blogger Angry Black Bitch to respond in "I'm Worried Too, Ms. Steinem...":
I think of the women and men in my family who were not extended the protected vote until 1965. I wince at the lack of acknowledgment for the black women of Birmingham, Selma and Montgomery who had to march with their brothers in the 1960s to attain the vote because the suffrage movement abandoned them in a Southern strategy to get the vote in 1920. . . .I find the the possibility that race and gender could be played off each other in the Democratic primaries to be profoundly disturbing. (Though not entirely surprising.) Maybe it's good practice for the general election. If either Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama receives the nomination, it's only going to get worse when the Republicans come after them. But this would be a particularly ugly situation if race and gender issues keep coming up "within the family." The last thing the Democrats need is to batter each other in such an undignified way in the primaries.
This isn’t an easy post to write. I am a proud black feminist who holds a deep respect for feminist leaders and has done a lot of inner work to come to terms with feminism’s history with race and class.
Yeah, this is not an easy post to write...but a sistah’s got to do what a sistah’s got to do. . . .
After reading Steinem’s Op-Ed I felt invisible...as if black and woman can’t exist in the same body. I felt undocumented…as if the history of blacks and the history of women have nothing to do with the history of black women. . . .
When I consider Steinem's “So why is the sex barrier not taken as seriously as the racial one?” I’m left confused.
What country does Gloria live in where race barriers are taken seriously? I’d love to know…shit, maybe I’ll move there. But I’m a black woman and this is America where none of my barriers are given more than a token consideration and I’ll present this Op-Ed as exhibit A in that argument.
Steinem goes on to say, “I’m not advocating a competition for who has it toughest. The caste systems of sex and race are interdependent and can only be uprooted together. That’s why Senators Clinton and Obama have to be careful not to let a healthy debate turn into the kind of hostility that the news media love. Both will need a coalition of outsiders to win a general election. The abolition and suffrage movements progressed when united and were damaged by division; we should remember that.”
But this article is soaked in the fluid of competition. It reeks of frustration that I fear is born from a place of entitlement even though it is dressed in the language of the oppressed. And I’ll point out again, the suffrage movement progressed without racial or true class unity and many a sister were damaged by that division.
We should remember that, but first we have to know it.
What worries me is that Gloria bought that bullshit about Obama’s race being a unifying factor. C’mon now, these are early dates yet and campaign operatives have already taken a dip in the race baiting pool. Not for one second do I believe that the unifying power of Senator Obama’s blackness will not eventually collide with the same elegant condescension contained in Steinem's Op-Ed.
What worries me is that this is kind of article that makes some black women wary of feminism…wary of the sisterhood…because eventually, just give it time, it will all come down to black and white or women and men with black women vanished from the equation.
What worries me is the ease with which Ms. Steinem tossed out the insult of implying that Iowans, when faced with a black male candidate, went with that candidate because they are somehow more comfortable with black male leadership than female leadership. It begs the question how John Edwards failed to win by a landslide.
What worries me is that the author is frustrated that Obama hasn’t been accused of playing the race card for his civil rights references and feels that Hillary is getting a raw deal when she gets accused of playing the gender card. Let’s keep it real…Steinem is just frustrated about that race card because a black man is supposed to get called on that shit and she didn’t give permission for any rule change.
What worries me is the patronizing tone with which Steinem dismisses the choices of young women voters. Is it any wonder that young women pause before embracing the feminist movement? Steinem concludes that young women are not radical yet. Will she conclude the same of black women should Clinton lose South Carolina?
I agree with Ms. Steinem that we have to be able to say that we are supporting her, a woman candidate, "because she would be a great president and because she is a woman."
But we also have to be able to say I’m not supporting her because I’ve evaluated her and examined her resume without being labeled a victim or self hating or not radical enough or not feminist enough or easily dazzled by great oratory skills or more black than woman or just too darn stupid to do what Ms. Steinem thinks we should do.
I've made it clear that I don't really like Hillary and Bill Clinton. I've tried my best to give her a fair shake, reading her book so that I could understand her better, looking for the good aspects in her as a candidate - her experience, her genuine concern for women and children. But I believe the burden of responsibility falls squarely on the Clintons right now. I'm not ready to say that the race card or gender card are being used on purpose because they're freaking out over Obama's success. But for a privileged white woman in a position of power to make a needlessly stupid remark that denigrates Martin Luther King is a major concern. For another priveleged white woman and Clinton supporter, Gloria Steinem, writing in the nation's paper of record in a way that does seem to pit race against gender is a major concern. For a white former president to call an African-American candidate's campaign a "fairy tale" is a major concern.
There was absolutely no reason for Hillary to use the Martin Luther King-Lyndon Johnson relationship as a means of stressing the importance of political experience. She could've brought up thousands of other examples. There's absolutely no reason for Gloria Steinem to bring up race in a competitive way when writing about the real problem of sexism. Even if these moves weren't intentional, they were both stupid and disrespectful, not just of African-Americans but of all people of color who've had to struggle their entire lives in this country, and in some cases been lynched, burned to death, raped, tortured or murdered trying to bring about change. If not the worst of political ploys, they show disregard and ignorance on the part of privileged white people in power.
In that light, whatever my reservations about Barack Obama, I much prefer his talk of working together with hope to bring about needed change. Maybe it is naive in the political process, but it's a far better alternative than cynically playing the race card or the gender card, or being too out-of-touch with ordinary people of whatever beautiful color who yearn to live the lives that we were ALL created to live.
On that note, I'll let Martin finish out . . .
With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith, we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.
And this will be the day -- this will be the day when all of God's children will be able to sing with new meaning:My country 'tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing.And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true.
Land where my fathers died, land of the Pilgrim's pride,
From every mountainside, let freedom ring!