Friday, January 25, 2008

Black women and liberal coalition

She's been there all along, the African-American woman, the most loyal and stalwart voter any Democratic politician ever met. You just didn't see her. So steadfast is she, exercising loyalty to her party, to her race, to her gender, to her country, that her support over the course of decades has long been taken for granted by Democratic politicians able to appeal to that set of loyalties.

Embodying the intersection of race and gender, the black woman voter was, in years past, rendered invisible, as the bloc known as "the black vote" took on, in the popular imagination, the face of the African-American man, and the one known as "the women's vote" was given a white face. What irony, then, that this time, in this primary season, when the two main candidates in contention for the Democratic party presidential nomination each wear the assigned face of one of those blocs, that the black woman is, for a moment, revealed as an entity in her own right -- and one who may ultimately decide the party's nominee in the coming general election. Nowhere is that more apparent than in South Carolina, where 50 percent of Democratic voters are African-American, the majority of them women.

As I watched the Democrats' testy South Carolina MLK Day debate, I found myself thinking, how does the liberal coalition manage to hold together when this is all over? Here you have three candidates, each of whom symbolizes in his or her very person a major constituency of that coalition, whether he or she chooses to or not. To many women's rights advocates, Hillary Clinton is a living symbol of a dream yet to be fulfilled. To many civil rights activists -- especially African-American activists -- Barack Obama likewise represents a dream. For many working-class people and labor movement members, John Edwards, with his millworker father and economic populism (and, yes, his trial-lawyer millions), embodies their ideal of a fair economy and upward mobility. With each of the candidates, especially Obama and Clinton, occupying the sacred places of icons, their warring holds great danger for the future of the coalition.

When it's all over, it will be black women who hold the key to drawing the coalition back together. They will be in the unique position of being the one group with the moral authority to forgive everybody, because all the mud that is thrown in this contest will almost certainly spatter on them.

As the president of the New Jersey chapter of the National Organization for Women (NOW), Maretta J. Short, your blogstress's college friend, sits at the vortex of the swirl of race- and gender politics that define the 2008 presidential race. Short is the first only African-American to lead currently leading a NOW 's state-level chapter. She's also the first African-American to lead NOW-NJ and her state ranks in the top three in Democratic delegates up for grabs in the February 5th Super Tuesday contests.

Short is all for the effort to heal the coalition, and is quick to note that hers is an organization devoted to the concerns of all women. Nonetheless, she's urging African-American women not to bury the hatchet before they stake a claim. Given the bruising nature of the Democrats' 2008 presidential primary campaign, especially along lines of race and gender, she would like to see black women leaders from around the country, starting at the grassroots level, come together for a summit at which a political agenda would be devised, as well as a strategy for healing any wounds left by the primary fight.

"I think the sister in New Jersey may have a point," said Gilda Cobb-Hunter, one of three black women in the South Carolina state legislature, when told of Short's suggestion. "Listen, there are show horses, and there are work horses, and black women, quite frankly, are the work horses. We are the ones who are always there; all the crap falls on our shoulders."

Short envisions a feminist agenda arrived at by African-American women that encompasses economic and education issues, as well as healthcare access, reproductive health and health-privacy measures. But aren't those issues that are of concern to all women? Yes, said Short, but, for example, "the attack on reproductive rights usually is targeted at the African-American population, the poor population, first," she explained. "And then it sets a precedent for the movement to repeal our rights and our reproductive rights into other communities."

For more on this subject, go to your écrivaine's essay at The American Prospect Online:

CLICK HERE TO READ "CAN BLACK WOMEN SAVE THE LIBERAL COALITION?"

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3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Sad but true. Excellent article. Some African-Americans will forgive 'the Clintons'...just as some gay men and lesbians will for Bill's policy of 'don't ask don't tell' justifying continued discrimination...in a two party system with Republican=white Christian conservatives and monied elite, what choice is there? In politics, everybody has dirty hands.

suburbanhousewife said...

Anonymous is so right. Progressive voters have no viable alternative to the eventual Democratic nominee. Unfortunately, some of Bill Clinton's advocacy on behalf of Hillary is reminding us all that the big dog really has been a dog. His history engaging with women of any race is fraught. We always hear that Bill likes women, but respect. . . ? Maybe not so much.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for giving rise to the attention of the Black women. Whenever the Black vote is mentioned it belongs to men and when the women’s vote is mentioned it belongs to white women. It’s a shame that someone should have to write such a commentary during year 2008. But based on the nature of the campaign strategies being used by all three democratic candidates it is necessary to call attention to their most loyal voter who they seem to almost always ignore or give 1 or 2 token trophies a high position with good pay. Black women are not voting so that 1 or 2 token Black Women can get a position in the candidates cabinet. We don’t just want to be able to stand in the same room with them and shake their hands. We want them to remember us when they start writing policies that will ultimately rid them of their constituency. We want them to stop pretending that we don’t exist.Maybe we should have a day of absence.