Sunday, March 16, 2008

Geraldine's moment of lucidity

What was your moment of epiphany, Geraldine, when you realized that society had bent over backward for the Black Man? What was the moment when the resentment of one caught looking upward at the glass ceiling boils over into a rage of the privileges offered to those who were offered instead the legacy of the lynching tree?

It is no fault of Hillary’s that the candidate that has emerged as her antagonist is a Black Man. Surely, Geraldine Ferraro believed that she was signing up for the Great Campaign that would pit Hillary against the best Man the system might put forward. And certainly she is not alone in having failed to truly grasp the significance of the historical moment. But in her lashing out, her words betrayed her. To suggest that being Black in American politics is an advantage is curious. Point if you will to the ranks of African American Senators or Governors, or those elected to majority White districts whose residents looked beyond color to elect the man or woman.

Our system remains rife with the symbols of centuries of the abject oppression of Black Men. Our criminal justice system educates more Black Men, by some counts, than our great universities. Affirmative action, once viewed as a critical tool to redress past and current disadvantages, lies but a shell of its former self, its demise at once a symbol of America’s commitment to egalitarian values and denial of the cruelty and ugliness of its past. But meanwhile, Title Nine lives on. Ironically, it is OK to offer White Woman a free ride for their prowess at lacrosse but not to the descendents of the African slave trade.

I would have thought that the intellectual prowess of the icons of the Women’s Movement would have shown greater insight. To condemn Obama’s rise as one more manifestation of the Old Boy’s Network rising up to defend the status quo against the rise of a woman warrior fails the tests of intellectual honesty. Why not instead move the conversation forward rather than backward. Why not question why America’s fixation with racial identification fails to accept Obama as bi-racial. Why not—if we are to be true to our commitment to our children who view the world with far greater nuance and acceptance of difference—let this moment deepen and animate our understanding of identity.

If Hillary loses the nomination battle, the scars will be bitter and deep for her supporters, whose belief in her is firm and deep. But Ferraro has fallen prey to her own demons. Barack Obama is not Jesse Jackson. Barack Obama’s base was not Black until Bill Clinton made it so. Before Iowa, a majority of Black voters were for Clinton. But the world of identity politics is part of Democracy, not a creature of this race. And Hillary’s strategy has been built on that reality. Clinton chief strategist Mark Penn early on articulated their calculus being to win the 48% of the electorate that is Democratic, and pull up to 20% of Republican women—and when push comes to shove, that will be the case that they will make to the super-delegates.

That is the case they will make, and the case that they are making now. Plus, they will argue, America will never elect a Black Man to be president. Despite whatever Geraldine might think.

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