Saturday, March 15, 2008

No fighting?

Well, after two weeks at two different professional conferences in cities fairly far away from one another, I can honestly say that the Democratic primary has created a challenge for chillin' with my colleagues. Now, my discipline has people of various opinions, but mostly we are Democrats. This is especially true among my crowd, as I tend to hang out with the lesbians and gay men, both white and people of color, and black straight women. And this primary season, with its attendant nastiness, divisiveness, and intensity, has heightened tensions among people who tend to agree more often than we disagree.

The split for us falls along the lines laid out in recent polls: white older women (and some Latinas) tend to go for Hillary, other people of color (especially African Americans) and younger white folks (men and women under 45) are more likely to go with Barack. The line from most of my older, white, female friends (OWFFs) is usually about Barack's lack of experience. This is challenging for those of us who are Obama supporters, since Hillary's greater experience is mostly a product of her age and access as first lady. Oh, yeah, and she voted for the Iraq war.

Truthfully, when the campaigns began, I found both candidates quite impressive, but my support of Obama has grown as I have seen his campaign (and Hillary's) develop. I have also been so disgusted by commentary by the second generation feminists like Gloria Steinem and Geraldine Ferraro that it has made me start to resent Hillary. Bill's race-baiting in South Carolina was unforgiveable. Worse yet, in the last 16 years, I have grown to intensely dislike the crowd around Hillary, especially the Blue Dog Democrats (and Terry McAuliffe) that has sold us out for so long. (Anyone remember how Bill and the BDD worked against Howard Dean?) But enough of my argument against Hillary...

What has been interesting is how far my colleagues will go to avoid talking politics, especially my OWFFs. It is painful for all of us to have this wedge between academic compatriots who are working, in our careers and personal lives, to address the many intersecting issues of oppression and discrimination, including sexism, heterosexism, classism, ableism, ageism, and racism. And it doesn't help when the media, and some of those old-time feminists I mentioned above, individualize, decontextualize, and pit oppressions against one another, trying to figure out which one is most important or most detrimental. And of course, both candidates are privileged in many ways--by education, access, role, gender or race, heterosexuality, religion, income, etc. We should never forget that.

But we also know, even as we acknowledge that identity doesn't determine our politics (see Margaret Thatcher), that our experiences influence our perspectives and insights. Barack's race and gender matter, as do Hillary's. And we have heard from their speeches and ads the many ways that these experiences do touch them and shape their approaches to policies. So, I get why we are often drawn to the candidate who resembles us most closely--even though that doesn't seem to gibe for me as a middle-aged white lesbian for Obama.

Looking back, I wish we had had more conversations about the Democratic primary race with one another. I think this would be a good time for all of us to think critically about race and gender, about politics, about coalitions and difference--to engage in the important political discussions that are swirling all around us. What better bar talk for engaged academics? Perhaps next year, I should go join the historians with Tenured Radical!


Lorraine said...

we al need to talk--it is getting harmful

Lorraine said...

that was "all"