30
Jan
08

It’s My Turn

Sing along with Diana Ross, y’all:

It’s My Turn, to see what I can see. I hope you’ll understand, this time’s just for me. Because It’s My Turn, with no apologies, I’ve given up the truth to those I’ve tried to please. 

It’s My Turn, with no more room for lies.  For years I’ve seen my life through someone else’s eyes.  It’s My Turn, to try and find my way.  And if I should get lost, at least I’ll own today. 

It’s My Turn, to start from number one: trying to undo some damage that’s been done.  But now It’s My Turn to reach and touch the sky. No one’s gonna say at least I didn’t try.

Honestly, does it get any better than that?  Yes, some might say, if, for instance, we realized the amazing opportunity to vote into office the first woman or African-American president in our two hundred plus years of that elected office.  And yet, for some reason, with two excellent candidates before us, whom arguably share few policy differences, those of us who culturally identify with either are chastised for, or (often vocally) shy away from, the idea that we take into account the gender, race, personal history, etc. of either candidate. 

Normatively, this makes zero sense.  It’s as if we are somehow not continuously factoring in – subconsciously or not – the *identities* of the people around us.  Sparing you a lecture on how identities are self-made, externally imposed, and constructed in everyday interactions, I am compelled to point out that race and gender are only two of a theoretically infinite number of factors that we use to categorize and sum up one another: age, geography, nationality, looks, clothing, accent/language, family size, education level, religion, income, political views, are a few others that come to mind.  Hell, I used to go to pains to point out that I’m from Massachusetts and not Rhode Island when friends lumped the two New England states together (I mean c’mon, those people drink coffee milk!!), and growing up in my mostly white Irish and Italian Catholic Boston suburb, being of Portugese descent was low enough on the ethnic hierarchy that one of my cousin’s ex-boyfriends tried to “pass” as Italian.  It’s just that ethnicity/race and gender are particularly ubiquitous classification schemes, and have been particularly insidious as the justifications for centuries of discrimination, violence and inequality here and elsewhere.

Furthermore, as I’ve talked about here before, homophily patterns the structures of our lives; i.e., birds of a feather flock together.  For most of us, building diverse relationships and acruing diverse experiences is conscious, deliberate work.  In business school, I always marveled that 35% of my class was foreign born, and from a plethora of countries, yet they were all bankers.  Their converging worldviews around the importance of finance and capitalism had a tendency to obscure their otherwise more obvious cultural differences. 

All of this virtual lecturing is to say that there’s a reason same-sex mentorships are more effective for mentees than cross-sex ones, and that we so often make role models of successful individuals with whom we can identify somehow, whatever it is of their life stories that leads us to believe their paths can too be ours.  Layer onto these social psychological realities that for women, people of color, and other non-white/non-male/non-affluent groups or persons, the opportunities for gain and achievement are systematically fewer and farther between, and there should be neither surprise nor condemnation for African-Americans, women or others who identify with or believe in Obama or Clinton for reasons at least partially related to their race and/or gender. 

Maybe it’s because I believe so deeply in the role of policy in structuring our lives that I tend to find electoral politics less than enthralling.  The two leading Democratic candidates are an improvement for this country at base because they are not George W. Bush.  We do not know, though we do not fail to try and predict, based in part on history and our own subjectivities, whether Obama’s “post-partisan,” “anti-establishment” platform will *restore* our nation any more effectively than the “I’ve done my homework and will get the job done” rhetoric of Clinton.  What we do know is that race and gender matter, and will – and should be – factors in this election.  What we also know is that how race, gender and other categorization schemes pattern our thinking varies by individual, as well as group – hence, the largely generational outrage among older women over Kennedy’s endorsement of Obama over Clinton, and a corresponding lack of understanding from a new generation of feminists and varying populations of men. 

As a nation we seem a lot less comfortable with both the importance we assign to race and the persistence of racism (structural, institutional, individual) than we do with the ubiquity of sexism, hence the naive desire to believe that electing Obama “transcends” our national past and lets us all off the hook, and the resentment I’m hearing among some white women that “we” are somehow prohibited from saying anything about Obama lest it be construed as racist, but the sexist attacks on Clinton abound.  (The fear among some white men of both of these candidates has been discussed much more frequently.) 

I agree with NYC Weboy that this post-racial naivete is especially prevalent among white liberal males. I also theorize, based on my personal experience as a student heavily mentored by white women or black men in homogeneous institutional networks that mostly lack, exclude or discount black women, that this choice of candidates is difficult for black women not becausely they are crudely torn between voting according to their race or gender, but because neither candidate represents the same notions of inclusion or equality as white women and black men might see in Clinton and Obama, respectively. 

African-American political scientist Michael Dawson offers expert research detailing the political primacy of race in African-American voting patterns and political views; rockstar sociologist (and honorary urban planner, I’d vouch) Mary Patillo describes “blackness” as a political project, or a “collective endeavor.â€? In Black on the Block, she writes, “Alongside the work of difference, distinction and sometimes even dislike exists the salience of race as a unifying social category, fostering allegiances across class and similar experiences of racial otherness.”**  And from older feminists, female political leaders, and women in general we’re hearing that it’s women’s turn to lead, and arising from that conviction is a tremendously invigorating and inspiring unity among the women I’m meeting in volunteering for Hillary.  It seems this Campaign, for better and worse, is a new and too rare by degree opportunity for us all to confront how race, gender, identity, power and privilege matter to us and shape our attitudes, beliefs, and actions.   

I personally am thrilled that Clinton and Obama are the candidates before us; both are smart, talented, inspire great passion, will likely assemble strong leadership teams, and have policy proposals I generally like or can live with, given we’re nowhere near turning the U.S. into a social democracy (yet).  So I’m ultimately supporting Clinton because she is a woman, and the first viable female candidate for President of the United States, and politically, that matters most to me.  But should Obama win, in large part because of African-American organization, influence and turn-out, well wouldn’t that be an alternative happy ending. 

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