Race and Gender -- Is It Better to Talk About Them or Pretend They're Not There?

10 years ago

The conflict about the role that race and gender still play in our society is on display for everyone to see in this presidential race. The press says Geraldine Ferraro is a racist for stating that:

If [Barack] Obama was a white man, he would not be in this position. And if he was a woman [of any color], he would not be in this position. He happens to be very lucky to be who he is. And the country is caught up in the concept.

The "lucky" comment, not so artful. But what about the general point she was trying to make -- that if Barack Obama was a white man or a woman of any race, that candidate would not be in his position today -- on the verge of changing his address to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington, D.C.?

No on likes to admit that race, or gender, is a factor in how people make decisions today, but it is still a fact of our lives. As the mother of an Asian daughter, I want her grow up in a world where she will be valued for who she is, not judged by the color of her skin or the fact that she wears skirts.

But what former vice-presidential candidate Ferraro said isn't that far from the comments made by the grande dame of feminism, Gloria Steinem, in her New York Times op-ed Women Are Never Front-Runners, implying that Obama would not be where he is if he wasn't a man:

The woman in question became a lawyer after some years as a community organizer, married a corporate lawyer and is the mother of two little girls, ages 9 and 6. Herself the daughter of a white American mother and a black African father — in this race-conscious country, she is considered black — she served as a state legislator for eight years, and became an inspirational voice for national unity.

Be honest: Do you think this is the biography of someone who could be elected to the United States Senate? After less than one term there, do you believe she could be a viable candidate to head the most powerful nation on earth?

if (acm.rc) acm.rc.write(); If you answered no to either question, you’re not alone. Gender is probably the most restricting force in American life, whether the question is who must be in the kitchen or who could be in the White House. This country is way down the list of countries electing women and, according to one study, it polarizes gender roles more than the average democracy.

Is it OK to discuss that there are so many things divided by gender but not have that same disucssion about race? Wouldn't we be better if we actually faced the situation and talked about it the way we talk about sexism? While many in the GOP might agree with Ferraro's remarks, not so many on the Democratic side are. But some do recognize at least a small grain of truth in what she said.

Kristen at MOMocrats (and Motherhood Uncensored):

If we were wondering if race was going to play a role in the Democratic race then we should thank the Mississippi primary for firming it up in our minds. Am I saying that Obama's policies or heck, his inspirational speeches, were not the deciding factor for the state's fine residents, but rather that voting could have actually come down to skin color alone?

Yes. I am.

Sadly, it's not surprising. As a five-year resident of Mississippi, and a former professor at the University Barack Obama spoke at on Monday, there's no doubt in my mind that Obama won based on race.

While Liz at MOMocrats (and Mom-101) is conflicted, she said initially after the Ferraro comments:

For better or worse, these are often the details that get politicians ahead. We consider race, gender, religion, hometown, education, sexuality to help determine whether our values will be in sync with our candidate's. Wrongly? Maybe. But we do. This is exactly why liberals feel betrayed by a gay Republican. And conservatives feel betrayed by a Catholic liberal. And so here we are in primary season with Dems rallying around two Not Old White Men.

It's not a coincidence.

And let's be clear: Both Hillary and Barack leverage their Not Old White Men status whenever they can. Whenever it suits them.

Veronica at Viva La Feminsta, sees and discusses both sides of the race/gender coin:

What Geraldine Ferraro said about Barack Obama is correct and insulting all at the same time.


Then again, I've always known that sexism will win out in almost any race, including against race. When people have asked me if I thought we could see a woman President, I usually would say, "Right after a black man." I don't think that sexism is worse than racism...it's just that I think that given two choices (as we have now) people would rather vote for a man, any man, over a woman.


Am I glad that Ferraro resigned? Yes. Was her comment inappropriate? Yes. Was it racist? It had a tinge. Is she racist? I don't think so.

To have this conversation doesn't mean we think it's right. It acknowledges the not-so-pleasant reality that still exists in this country -- that race and gender still play a part in many people's decision making. The ferocity of reaction to Ferraro's comments -- and to Steinem's op-ed -- prove that racism and sexism are still here and will be for some time.

But when some people insist that we not talk about these issues, suggesting that they are not problems in this country anymore, it just makes me shake my head in wonder and ask, are they living in the same country I am?

I say, discuss away. It can only help us move past these barriers. I'd like to see them knocked down so I don't have to explain them to my eight-year-old.

When Joanne isn't trying to explain to her second-grader why people ask about the shape of her eyes or the color of her skin, she's trying to look at the presidential race in a way different from other pundits at her place, PunditMom.

Contributing Editor, Politics & News