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The Rec Report

Thursday, 24 January 2008


Identity Politics: Sexism, Racism and the Political Imaginary

It is by now cliché to say that the central story in Democratic nomination process is the race-gender convergence in the leading candidates. But what has not been noted is that sexism and racism have recently sought respectability under the cover of anti-racist and (to a lesser extent) anti-sexist progressivism, respectively. Expected in the rightwing, this twisted deployment is now also being enacted in (on?) liberal politics.

That’s how Chris Matthews has been operating. His misogynist commentary about Clinton has resulted in what some have called the “Tweety Effect” --backlash of progressive men and women voters, some who had actually intended to vote for Obama, against his and others’ misogynist Clinton bashing. This may have helped her win in New Hampshire. Matthews in particular claims to be for the underdog, for the people who’ve never before had a chance at running things. His hatred for the Clintons, and his misogynist bashing of Hillary, is by now legend. But now he has Obama, the African-American cover, to help him to rationalize his blinding prejudice.

Obama, the first viable African-American presidential candidate in our nation’s history, has been used to provide a “liberal” Trojan horse for sexists like Matthews to drive their misogyny home. But as divided as the electorate is by the Clinton-Obama clash, liberal activists have not been fooled. I submit that not only is Matthews’s deployment sexist; it is also racist. It’s a cynical use of supposed progressive anti-racism to cut in anti-progressive ways.

The question of presidential worthiness has been refracted in the convex prisms of race and gender as modified by questions of “experience.” Those who suggest that Mrs. Clinton’s residency in the White House as First Lady provides no recommendation for her return as President make implicit claims about the value of “domestic” labor, and thus the work of some women in the domestic sphere. Similarly, questions of Obama’s preparedness are being asked in a context of racial presumption and the thinly veiled accusation of unearned, Affirmative Action preferences. In short, the question of “experience” is constructed along an axis of straight white maleness.

At this vital period in our history, as we seek to recover from the Bush catastrophe, solidarity demands a principled and united opposition against all means of dividing us into opposing blocks of identity politics combatants. After all, women and blacks are not disjunctive categories. “Black” and “woman” are not mutually exclusive. Fractured identities are the constructs of a racist-sexist hegemony that divides one subjugated subject against another, often in the very same person.

Not only the media, the blogosphere, but both leading candidates are playing by the rules as laid out by the dominant ideology. Both are deploying the suggestive imaginary tropes of race, gender and presumed privilege to the detriment of solidarity. As Obama might put it, they, the leading candidates and their surrogates, are also accepting the playing field as provided. The rightwing is laughing as we fall on these fractured, identity-politics swords, ironically provided by them.

Dr. Rec, The Rec Report

Michael D. Rectenwald, Ph.D.


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