Thursday, February 14, 2008

Gobsmacking Nastiness

In the last few months I have read and heard a lot of nasty things about Hillary Clinton - almost all of which, in my opinion, she did not deserve. I have heard her accused of being hypocritical, arrogant, racist; of pimping out her daughter; of being ugly; of having a laugh like a cackle. It feels like all the hatred in the world against successful women has been aimed at this one 60-year-old. It's not just depressing, it's distressing.

Then on Slate today, I saw a link to this article: Hillary's Scarlett O'Hara Act by Melissa Harris-Lacewell. This article is so unsubstantiated, so nasty, so unfair and so utterly a character assassination that it left me in shock. And then at the bottom of the article I see that the author is a professor at Princeton. And in the Comments section, other professors left messages of gratitude and agreement.

This is the author's argument against Hillary:
Throughout history, privileged white women, attached at the hip to their husband's power and influence, have been complicit in black women's oppression. Many African American women are simply refusing to play Mammy to Hillary.

The loyal Mammy figure, who toiled in the homes of white people, nursing their babies and cleaning and cooking their food, is the most enduring and dishonest representation of black women. ... Privileged, Southern white women were central in creating and propagating the Mammy myth. ...

Media have cast the choice in the current election as a simple binary between race and gender. But those who claim that black women are ignoring gender issues by voting for Barack just don't get it. Hillary cannot have black women's allegiance for free. Black women will not be relegated to the status of supportive Mammy, easing the way for privileged white women to enter the halls of power. women challenge white women who want to claim black women's allegiance without acknowledging the realities of racism. They will not be drawn into any simple allegiance that refuses to account for their full humanity and citizenship.

This academic does not ever make the case against Hillary that her headline implies: she relies on racist innuendo. She can't argue that Hillary has a poor record on helping African-Americans because it's not true: she and Bill have always been high profile supporters of the African-American cause, and were justly recognized for it until Obama supporters started to rewrite history.

Professor Harris-Lacewell concludes:
Black women want out of the war. Black women need health insurance. Black women need decent schools for their children. Black women need a strong economy that creates jobs. Black women need help caring for their aging parents. Black women want a Democratic win in the fall. Sisters chose Barack on Tuesday because they believe he can deliver these things, and that is much more empowering than just having a woman in the White House.

Never mind that Hillary is more qualified to tackle the economy, regulation, foreign affairs and domestic infrastructure than Obama. Never mind that her health plan is workable, while he refuses to admit the fatal flaw in his (lack of universality). Never mind that in a general election in which national security is a central issue, McCain has a huge advantage over Obama.

Far from proving her premise that race and gender both matter, the article completely disproves it, and shows that to Harris-Lacewell only race matters. No matter how good the female candidate is, Harris-Lacewell rejects the candidate who is not African-American. It's her right to make that choice. But it's not right for her to throw mud on the non-black candidate just because she isn't black, and to imply that Hillary treats black women as Mammys and is "complicit in black women's oppression" without a shred of evidence or rational argument.

Does being African-American give someone license to be racist? We might often be sympathetic when the African-American person is poor or under-privileged. That is not the case with Harris-Lacewell. She makes her money not just as a professor, but also with books, magazine articles and TV appearances. Being controversial has a commercial benefit for her, and her racist hatred should not be condoned just because she's black.

To me, the biggest insult is that this article is so poorly reasoned. As a woman, I'm embarrassed to see a distinguished female academic publish something so emotional, illogical and poorly researched. Her intent is apparently to support Obama over Hillary, and she could have done that more honestly and transparently, rather than launch a baseless, vicious attack against his opponent.


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