Maybe more than in any previous presidential campaign, “identity politics” is playing a major role. One obvious reason is that there has never been such a diverse candidate field. Before Barack Obama, it was inconceivable that the United States would elect an African-American. Even then, he may not have been elected if he were not half-white, raised by his white mother. In addition, Obama was further removed from being “African-American” because he was not derived from slavery. His father was African, his mother American. So he’s not really “African-American” at all. He’s “African AND American.”
Regardless, the “wall” has been broken, so it’s not as surprising this year that Corey Booker is running. Of course, Booker is at a new disadvantage, since the “wall” may be too recently broken. That is, could America elect another Black man so soon? Even his supporters have doubts. Along with Kamala Harris, they represent a 10% share of the Democratic electoral field. That’s roughly commensurate with the African-American share (12.6%) of the total population.
Meanwhile, we have the “glass ceiling” that was “cracked but not broken” by Hillary Clinton, according to the Jerusalem Post.
For the first time in American history, a woman was nominated for president by a major political party. She didn’t win the general election, and certainly, her gender played a part. However, another problem she had was that she was seen as being “privileged.” As the wife of a former president, she was able to “walk” (no need to “run”) to “carpetbag” into being New York’s senator. From there, she was chosen to become Secretary of State. She was generally seen as effective in both roles, but the point is that, like in a Banana Republic, her primary credential was that she had been a wife.
Now that that “ceiling” has been cracked, we have six serious female candidates. That’s a lot, considering historical precedent, but it’s still just 30%, while women are 50.8% (the majority) of the country, as a whole. As both a woman and an African-American, Kamala Harris was not considered as having much of a chance to win the nomination. It has been her words and actions that have put her in the “first tier.”
Julian Castro is the only “Latin” candidate, but Beto O’Rourke is trying to cash in on his connection to Hispanics. While we’re speaking of identity, we should note that “Hispanic” means “speaks Spanish,” but it’s only preferred by those in the western part of the country. In the east, “Latino” is largely preferred, partly because many are from Portuguese-speaking countries, such as Brazil, but more so that it designates coming from the Atlantic Ocean side of the country. Can we use “Latin” for all, or will that bring on an attack? (“Et tu, Brute?”)
That’s not the end of the field, We also have the first-ever serious gay candidate, the first candidate of Asian heritage, the first Eastern Indian, and the first American Indian (OK, that’s an Elizabeth Warren joke). We might add that Tulsi Gabbard is the first Hindu. It took us 171 years to elect a Catholic and 219 to elect a Black man. How long to elect a Mormon, Jew, Hindu, Muslim, or (seriously, it could eventually happen) an avowed atheist? “The times, they are a-changin’.”
That’s very healthy. Only a really, really bleached, Wonderbread, white guy would bemoan inclusion. And that brings us to racism. Racism is about “prejudice,” which means to “pre-judge” someone, without knowing anything about them. It’s hard-wired into us to pre-judge, because if someone is coming at us, and we think they look threatening, you can’t stop to ask, “what are your intentions, sir?” Instead, we jump to conclusions. By nature, we fall back on stereotypes, for better or worse, so to varying degrees, we are all racists. Only a true racist could claim they “don’t have a racist bone in my body,” because it’s built into us, from birth, like it or not. Racism R Us.
Back to “White Privilege.” A reader sent us a link to a relevant article. The article is about the term and what it means to someone who does not have the benefit. The writer notes that it’s not very descriptive of reality.
The phrase “white privilege” was popularized in 1988 by Peggy McIntosh, a Wellesley College professor who wanted to define “invisible systems conferring dominance on my group.” McIntosh came to understand that she benefited from hierarchical assumptions and policies simply because she was white. I would have preferred if instead of “white privilege” she had used the term “white dominance,” because “privilege” suggested hierarchical dominance was desired by all.
Another term might be “white hegemony,” although most people are not familiar with that word, which means total control. The Chinese always used to complain about “American hegemony,” since the entire world social, political, and economic structure has been built on American influence, since World War II.
Don’t leave home without it
The trouble with the term “white privilege” is that it sounds as if it is deserved, as in the old American Express slogan, “membership has its privileges.” In other words, if you’re a card-member (or member of the white race), you DESERVE better treatment. It just “comes with the territory.”
The term also makes it easy for the privileged to ridicule those who are not. After all, just because we’re “privileged” doesn’t mean you’re worse off. But in a “zero sum game,” if some people are “privileged,” then the rest are “underprivileged” or “disadvantaged.” There is just an assumption that the “privileged” members of society, whether here, or in the upper castes of India, are just expected to get extra benefits or better treatment. “White Entitlement” was also suggested. As Bruce Hornsby sang, “That’s just the way it is. . . Said hey, little boy, you can’t go where the others go ‘Cause you don’t look like they do.”
The article writer spoke to a white friend, who didn’t get a job he wanted, theorizing it might be due to “reverse discrimination.”
Just recently, a friend who didn’t get a job he applied for told me that as a white male, he was absorbing the problems of the world. He meant he was being punished for the sins of his forefathers. He wanted me to know he understood it was his burden to bear. I wanted to tell him that he needed to take a long view of the history of the workplace, given the imbalances that generations of hiring practices before him had created. But would that really make my friend feel any better? Did he understand that today, 65 percent of elected officials are white men, though they make up only 31 percent of the American population? White men have held almost all the power in this country for 400 years.
McIntosh arbitrarily gave 46 examples of white privilege in her book, “White Privilege and Male Privilege.” The author of the article above offered her own examples.
I hesitated when I stood in line for a flight across the country, and a white man stepped in front of me. He was with another white man. “Excuse me,” I said. “I am in this line.” He stepped behind me but not before saying to his flight mate, “You never know who they’re letting into first class these days.”…
I was waiting in another line for access to another plane in another city as another group of white men approached. When they realized they would have to get behind a dozen or so people already in line, they simply formed their own line next to us…[On another flight] I was a black woman in the company of mostly white men, in seats that allowed for both proximity and separate spaces. The flight attendant brought drinks to everyone around me but repeatedly forgot my orange juice. Telling myself orange juice is sugar and she might be doing my post-cancer body a favor, I just nodded when she apologized for the second time. The third time she walked by without the juice, the white man sitting next to me said to her: “This is incredible. You have brought me two drinks in the time you have forgotten to bring her one.”
The author went on to note another flight when she had had a surprisingly “real” conversation with the white man next to her. She was surprised, then he “told me he had been working on diversity inside his company. “We still have a long way to go,” She agreed, without saying so, but then he said, “I don’t see color,” as if that were true, and made him special. Saying, “I don’t see color” means, “I don’t acknowledge a large part of your identity.” It was even a running joke on the old Colbert Report TV show.
“Now, I don’t see color, not even my own. People tell me I’m white, and I believe them, because police officers call me ‘sir.’”
Yes, we have a long way to go.
Regardless of how things started out in the Democratic primary race this year, at this point, it looks as if we will have a choice next November between Donald Trump and Joe Biden, two of the very whitest men in America.