When Disadvantages Collide
One hundred forty-three years ago, women's suffrage advocate Elizabeth Cady Stanton faced a conundrum: With the Civil War over, Stanton had to decide whether to support the 14th and 15th amendments to the Constitution, which enabled black men to vote -- at a time when white women such as herself still did not have that right.
Stanton decided to oppose the amendments: "As the celestial gate to civil rights is slowly moving on its hinges, it becomes a serious question whether we had better stand aside and see Sambo walk into the kingdom first."
The question of what to do when the interests of two groups that had long suffered discrimination clashed with each other split the feminist movement. In order to gain passage of the 19th Amendment, which in 1920 gave women the right to vote, leading feminists jettisoned issues important to African Americans to win support from women and politicians who would have nothing to do with people of color. Without the support of the racists, the amendment might have failed, said Kimberle Crenshaw, professor of constitutional and civil rights law at Columbia University and UCLA.
There were two ironies in this: Stanton, like many other suffragists, was a passionate abolitionist. And in the years before she made her derogatory remark about "Sambo," abolitionists had treated women in exactly the same manner -- excluding them from equal participation in the movement merely because they were female.
The political alliance that the suffragists built helped pass the 19th Amendment, but it drove a wedge into the women's movement. Over the long term, just as relegating women to second-class citizens weakened the campaign for civil rights, abandoning solidarity with people of color weakened the women's movement.
"At the end of the day, what is winning and what is losing?" asked Crenshaw. "Yes, the 19th Amendment happened, but feminism lost its soul in the process."
The real question, with the suffragettes or with those in the current political race, comes down to whether groups that face discrimination focus their disappointment and resentment at discrimination -- or at each other.
[We can either Fight Each Other or Fight the Power but we can't fight both and win anything worth fighting for.]
Much as with the political race being run today between Senators Clinton and Obama I don't see anyone losing any souls here. Just one person slamming another hard enough to make that other look less deserving, in hope of proppin' their own diminishing opportunities.
The Big Stink lately has been Clinton's repeated refs to the assassination of Bobby Kennedy as being only one of the reasons she's maintaining the Fight for the Democratic nomination. Unlike her Bosnian Dream this is hardly a bold-faced lie. In plain fact, it's simple truth; as far as it goes. By making that particular allusion though, Clinton seems to once again cross over the line of Civil discourse and into the realm of pandering to the fears of ignorance.
We don't know what might have happened in the 1970's had Bobby Kennedy not been shot, and while the two men's earliest backgrounds are extremely different, their lives of dedication to helping those far less fortunate than average folk raise themselves up to within sight of the American Dream, make me really hopeful that, in this decade, in our time, we may actually get to see what Might Have Been.
As a white man, you know, one of the Rulers of the World, I don't care if a person is "one of my own" or a diametric opposite of me physiologically. I care that what they do and what they say is in accord with what I hope for my country and my species as a whole.
Hillary Clinton, extraordinary woman and incredibly worthy politico though she be, gives me no such hope.