It's interesting being a black woman living in South Carolina these days. All eyes are on us, as if the press and politicians have just realized that we do in fact vote, and, more importantly, that we can't be counted on to vote with our black brothers or white sisters.
Of course this is all being played out most dramatically in the Democratic primary race between Barack Obama and Hilary Clinton. Neither the Iowa caucuses nor the New Hampshire primary contained a significant number of black voters, and each candidate's win is being contributed to women voters choosing one over the other. With black women making up the majority of registered black voters in South Carolina, we are suddenly historically important.
Now you would think that would translate into at least a little respect for the political power we wield (if only at this moment), but instead we're being told that we're naïve, politically regressive, or easily swayed by a good-looking face. We're being told that the civil rights establishment "doesn't know" Obama and that fact doesn't matter anyway because it was actually LBJ that made civil rights reform happen. The implication is clear--vote for Clinton (and not this shucking and jiving outsider) or forever be branded as the backward thinking cabal that brought down the Democratic party.
Alison over at Baxter Sez says she feels as if she's being asked to choose a team in this election. I feel the same way, only I feel as if I'm only being given one choice--Hilary Clinton. No one, besides the man himself, is asking me to vote for Obama. Voting for Clinton will somehow prove my rightness as a Democrat and a woman and a feminist, whereas voting for Obama, apparently, will prove only that I'm hanging on too tightly to the irrelevant category of race.
Like Alison, the last two weeks have been difficult for me because I feel torn. Like Mark Anthony Neal, I absolutely understand the importance of being black and claiming feminism as my own. It's a particularly public and political statement that demands feminism take the concerns of women of color seriously and a reminder to black people that we have our own gender work to do. But these days I'm agreeing with Aaminah Hernandez and remembering why we need a black
If Steinem's, and others', argument about voting for Hilary had been about feminism, about how a Clinton presidency would be good for the progressive feminist politics we presumably all share, that would be one thing. That's an argument I'd be willing to entertain. But of course this isn't what's happening. I'm being asked to vote for Hilary Clinton because she has a vagina and because she's white and if you doubt the "white makes right" tone of the post-Iowa push for Clinton, check out the race-baiting that her campaign has resorted to in order to drum up votes.
Is Obama the right person to be the next president of the United States? Maybe. Maybe not. But if Hilary's going to get my vote, she's going to have to do a lot more than show up with vagina and talk with a "black" accent. And I suspect a lot of other black women in South Carolina feel the same way.