Posted by: coloradokiwi | March 13, 2008

Ferraro Furore

Let’s cut to the chase.  Here’s why Ferraro’s comments were racist, or perhaps to be more accurate, part of a racialized discourse.  And as we peel back the onion layers of meaning here, based on her numerous statements thus far, we can see how ugly her remarks really are.  To whit:

First layer:  Noting that part of Obama’s appeal to some voters is his “blackness” is not necessarily dodgy, and it’s true, just as it’s true that for some voters Hillary’s appeal is that she’s a woman.  However, Ferraro implied much more than this, and has since said much more in more explicit terms.  It is not merely that Obama’s race is appealing to some voters, it’s that in her mind it’s his primary appeal.  She plainly thinks that if his oratory style, policies, and qualifications had been given to any other kind of person other than a black man (or someone who signifies as being “black,” which given his mixed parentage is a topic for a whole other entry), Obama would not have gotten as far.  What she’s saying, basically, is that his race and gender are the only things he has going for him, or, charitably characterizing her remarks, that his race and gender are the things that work for him the best, moreso than those other qualities.  But it gets worse…

Second layer:  She has since said that:

“I was asked after the speech, ‘What is the reason that you see that Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are at this level together?'” she said. “Could I have said because his experience is what puts him there? No. Could I say because the stands on issues have distinction? No.”

So, it is not that his race and gender are his primary assets.  They are his only assets, the only possible reason why people could be voting for him, if they’re honest.  In other words, his success is unearned.  She is invoking the air of objections to affirmative action:  that minorities in positions of high rank, authority, or status haven’t gotten there on their own, but have been helped out because of their race, because someone has taken pity on them, or sees oneself in them and wants to help a brother out.  And it’s unfair, dammit.  Leaving aside whether affirmative action actually accomplishes this, even your basic office drone understands that saying to someone’s face, or merely suggesting, that they were hired not because of qualifications but because of race, is an extremely demeaning thing to suggest.  Ferraro then has the gall to act offended when people are offended by this insinuation, to claim that she’s being “attacked” for telling the “truth” and that they’re playing the race card.  As some wags have put it, this is in fact Ferraro’s race card card.

Third layer:  She is so over the top, so adamant in her defense of her comments, and so clearly angry, that it’s hard not to see her comments as also being sour grapes.  Not just any sour grapes, mind you:  she is clearly angry that this upstart (I would like to officially put out a watch for Ferraro to utter the word “uppity” sometime soon), who in her view has no qualifications, who has not “earned” it, is just about to derail Hillary Clinton.  I can certainly understand Ferraro’s frustration:  she no doubt she thought she was on the cusp of seeing the first woman president in her lifetime, and given the political landscape at the moment, this is probably the one shot she has at seeing that (Ferraro is currently 72).   It may be too much to suggest that she and other Clintonites are just pissed that this is a hard fought campaign, and not a coronation, but it sure has that sort of reek to me.  So this is not merely racism, it’s incredible arrogance.

Fourth layer:  she has insinuated not merely that Obama’s race is his only asset and that this is unfair, but also suggested that people who either don’t support Clinton or are actually against Clinton are sexist or misogynist.  So, if you support Obama it’s not merely because because he’s a black man — you support him because you’re also sexist.  Ferraro clearly can’t see the irony here, so I’ll spell it out for her:   she is capitalizing on Hillary’s (and hers, I think) sex, playing the sex card, if you will, meanwhile insisting that it trumps Barack’s race card, which she claims he’s played (which he hasn’t).

Let’s imagine if the tables were turned, and someone in the Obama campaign had said that the only reason that Hillary’s gotten as far as she has is because she fucked the former president.  Hmm…well, that’s pretty nasty, but it’s not actually quite the reverse, is it?  After all she had control over who she fucked, she wasn’t born fucking Bill.  So, imagine that someone said that the only reason Hillary got as far as she did was because she’s a white woman.  Does she have experience?  No.  Can we talk about her  stands on “issues of distinction”?  No.  Well, I really can’t see why all those people would be voting for her, then.  It must because she has a vagina.  And/or, because a former two-term President who is still enormously popular in the Democratic party has access to that vagina.

Now, by my reckoning that’s pretty damned offensive.  Of course, it’s true that Hillary is renowned because she’s the former First Lady.  And it’s true that her appeal to some voters is her gender and/or race.  But to imply that these are the only things she has going for her, when she’s clearly a very capable candidate in other respects, who is smart and has policy ideas that appeal to a lot of people…well, what would we call this, then?

Geraldine, what you said was racist.  That doesn’t make you “a racist” as such.  You don’t have to hate people or discriminate against people in order to espouse racism — that’s how racism fucking works!  It’s a discourse, embedded with complex signifiers and power relations.  It can be taken up by anyone, and its power lies not in overt hatred or contempt, but rather in the subtle, unconscious, and normative ways in which “race” as concept, category, descriptive, etc., is worked in society (or more acutely, social settings)*.  Racism is in fact most powerful not in the hands of small-dicked good ol’ boys dressed in sheets; rather, it cuts deeper, wider, more jaggedly, when it’s at its most subtle — ideological notions that can be articulated by even the most “right-thinking” people.

You should be ashamed, Geri, and you should know better.

* How Obama signifies as “black” when he is actually half “white” and half Nigerian black African underscores the inherent problems of racialized discourse.  Technically speaking, Obama is just as much a white man as he is a black man.  His “blackness” is about physical appearance and the way he carries himself, among other things.  In the real world, Geri, there is ample evidence that the “mark” of race (as if whiteness is no race at all, of course, but the “reset” or the “normal”) is typically a disadvantage in our society.  Ferraro surely knows this, and as much as her affronted stance may be legitimate, my guess is that the reason she brought this up in the first place was to capitalize on racial resentment among working class whites in Pennsylvania.  YOU may not have a racist bone in your body, Geri, but they do, and you know it.  For shame.


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