Sexism and Racism: Going Prime Time, Like It or Not

Over at DailyKos, Markos makes the observation that in this election "too many unmerited claims of racial insensitivity and sexism have been thrown around carelessly." I'll agree with that -- but I think it's an observation that deserves some further refinement.

Lately I've been told by no small number of men that if I hear something as sexist I'm being "oversensitive" or just plain wrong. When that happens my back goes straight up and all I hear is the patronizing tone of someone who thinks their life experience is superior to mine and that they are therefore entitled to tell me what I hear and when I hear it. Suddenly the discussion gets dragged onto the carpet of who's "right" and who's "wrong" and many distinctions that would allow us to have a reasonable conversation about the subject get abandoned.

No wonder people are desperate for liberation from the problems of sexism and racism and are to willing to sweep them under the carpet and pretend they don't exist any more.

But they do. And Pam Spaulding, writing about race politics, gets to the heart of it:


The subject is too deeply embedded in the American psyche to will it away - remember, Obama doesn't have to "make a big deal of his blackness." He's black, but he's not carrying the perceived "chip on his shoulder" that Jackson or Sharpton have by default. That's what scares white folks, because J&S have traded on race merchantry in the past - where all forms of racism - benign, ignorant, overt and violent, are seemingly the same. This only drives further discussion into the closet.
What I am saying is that the underlying reason for promoting "post-racial" (note you don't see many blacks tossing that around) is more about wanting it to be true so badly so that race doesn't have to be dealt with. It cuts both ways.
Note you will see folks on the right (and the Clinton camp) complaining that they "cannot talk about race" in regards to Obama. No, they feel they cannot successfully use the familiar political dog-whistles that evoke fear without getting called on it.
It all goes back to the fear of being labeled "racist." It's almost as if we need to come up with another term that doesn't conjure up visions of Klan Night Riders, lest whites recoil at the mere thought that they can hold ingrained biases through no fault of their own by growing up in this culture.
I'm pretty sure implicit bias is what drives much of The Bradley Effect, because many who change their minds and vote for the non-minority candidate don't see themselves as racist; they can rationalize their decisions in ways that avoid ownership of that factor.
If this primary has taught us nothing else, it is that people hear things subjectively and view them through a filter of their own life experience. When Michael Eric Dyson said Hillary Clinton was using racist code when she said that she was the best person for the presidency, I was left scratching my head and thinking, "well, that's what every politician says in every race. How is she supposed to run?" And at the same time, it didn't invalidate that this is what Dyson and others are hearing -- an echo of things they've heard their entire lives when people are attempting to be dismissive based on race. Hillary Clinton was just running a political campaign like any other political campaign, but it doesn't erase people's feelings or experience that they are bringing to the table.

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