The Democratic race for the Presidency is now down to only two candidates: Barrack Obama, a black man; and Hillary Clinton, a white woman.
I was listening to NPR’s Talk of the Nation the other day while they were having a special on Barrack Obama and how race is impacting his candidacy. At one point, a guest mentioned that the major news outlets keep going after black women asking them if they are going to vote their race or their gender. He then mentioned that no-one is asking white males whether they are going to vote their race or their gender.
My question is whether this is even a valid question to ask white men. That is, is there a clear isomorphism between black women in this election and their inverses, white men? Is it even possible for a white man to be as conflicted about such a choice? I don’t think so. At best (or at worst), white men will be influenced by racism, otherwise, I don’t think it will matter much to them.
It has been said that the history of America is the history of Race and Space. Our country is unusually large in terms of shear land mass. We have natural resources that have made us the envy of much of the world. And we’ve exploited the hell of out them. Much of our current global hegemony is predicated on a history of this abundance of land resources, seemingly endless expanse of country, and ability to always go over the next bend to find more trees, gold, coal, oil, etc. (Of course, that had to end sometime. But, we rode the wave as long as we could.)
Our country and its current state has also been equally as shaped by the history of race in America. We acquired that vast expanse of land by exterminating whole nations of indigenous peoples. We exploited that land with the forced labor of millions of slaves. We overworked and underpaid Chinese immigrants, Irish immigrants, and anyone else who we could temporarily relieve of their humanity. The effects are still with us today (though it would be ridiculous not to point out that massive progress has been made). Poverty among certain groups remains rampant.
But, there has always been in our country (and most) a direct delineation between the world of men, and the world of women. (White women did not suffer quite the same horrors that befell black and Native Americans, and it would be wrong to claim that they did. But they certainly underwent massive trauma, and it is just as wrong not to keep that in mind.) Women were virtual prisoners of men, a subclass of the species, treated more like children than adults.
Where does that leave us in this election? And if black women feel an obligation to both Hillary because she’s female, and to Barrack because he’s black, does that mean white men should feel a similar pull in opposing directions? Absolutely not.
Black women are in a precarious position precisely because they belong to two groups who have suffered greatly in the history of America. White men belong to neither. White men have been historically the favored group. They are the golden born children of the society. And while that status may seem blurry and fading in the modern world (particularly for economically poor white men like myself), white men haven’t the generations-long struggle for equality and dignity behind them to drive the kind of passionate dilemma that faces some black women.
But, is it still possible that white men might vote based on gender and race for other reasons? Maybe. I’m sure there are plenty of racists out there who would rather see a woman in office who is white than a black man. And by the same token, I’m sure there are still sexists who would feel the exact opposite. However I seriously doubt that will motivate most white men, particularly considering that this is the democratic primary and not a general election. The majority of people who vote in the democratic primaries are Democrats, and of those most are rather partisan and as such aren’t likely to be as racist nor as sexist as their counterparts in the Republican strongholds. (I know there may be outcries to my branding of the Republicans as an inherently more bigoted party, but if we’re being honest, there is a reason women and blacks both skew democratic.)
So, if white men aren’t likely to vote with much thought toward race, nor to gender, then what are they likely to vote because of? I know this answer might seem shocking, but I’m gonna say “the issues.” I put “the issues” in quotes because I’m not sure about what that means exactly (and I don’t mean to imply that race and gender are not issues. They are certainly, but they’re issues one is born into association with and cannot, without major surgery, change – as opposed to poverty). “Issues” is a word thrown around to describe those things a candidate supposedly believes in that are “important”. (But, at one point, the other Clinton was being lambasted because of a blow job, and his attackers defended themselves by claiming that it was an important “issue”, so let’s not take the term too seriously. )
What are the main issues that white-male-America is worried about? And which candidate, Hillary Clinton or Barrack Obama, best embodies their desire for change in relation to these issues? To answer that, we’ll need to take a closer look at what we mean exactly by white men. I’m a white man, so is Dick Cheney, and yet I feel a whole lot more like (one of my closest friends) Maria who is a black lesbian. Clearly being both white and male doesn’t a constituency make.
So, how about I just start off with a case study: me. I’m broke, haven’t any health insurance, I’m massively in debt because of school loans, and the likelihood of me making much money in the future is (in my mind anyway) doubtful. I’m also well educated (thanks to my debt), am young (30), and supposedly have a lot of prospects. I grew up moving around a lot, including living in Japan for 5 years. I was born in Montana, but I now live in Portland, Oregon, one of the most liberal places in the country.
The key issues that seem to motivate myself are economic issues, health care, and foreign policy (broad, right?). On economics: I’d like to see more emphasis placed on small business, less on breaks for large corporations, and particularly I’d like to see the government work harder at dismantling the monopoly-like condition of our economy at the top end that result in not only a worse economy for the rest of us, but also in massive pollution and an unwillingness to try new technologies (electric cars, anyone?) that can make a substantial difference to the betterment of our world.
On health care: I want universal health care, fully paid for by the government (AKA, taxes); an end to the corporate health care system that is killing small businesses and is never going to be able to provide the coverage we want it to.
On foreign policy: I want to make sure we don’t, in our haste about the Iraq war, dismantle the effectiveness of our military; pull out of Iraq in such a way that doesn’t result in a worse state for the Iraqi’s than they already have (because of us, we owe them that much); more emphasis put on hunting down Al Qaeda; greater emphasis on diplomacy; and, a heavy push to attack global warming on an international scale as quickly as possible (a job only the US can do).
The point: based on all of the above, I haven’t a clue who I’m gonna vote for. On the issues that matter to a guy like me, Barrack and Hillary look about the same. There are minor differences, and they may prove important as time rolls on, but on the level they seem rather similar. I’m ambivalent. Race and sex just aren’t something that matters to me on any kind of gut level.
But, I’m not a poster child for normality, so maybe my own opinions don’t count for much. Maybe I’m not a good example of white male America.
For example, in South Carolina, among white men, the candidates received votes in the following percentages: Edwards (43 percent), Clinton (29 percent), and Obama (27 percent). Notice, white men were split over Hillary and Obama, but still leaned heavily towards Edwards in the state. If the election was decided by white men, Edwards would have won. So, maybe race and gender matter more to a southern white man than it does to a white dude from the NW? Just a thought.
I’ll follow up in the future once I’ve gone and mined the polling numbers for what white men in the country are thinking. I’m really only tentatively sure about one thing: White Men aren’t likely to be worried about the same things as Black Women. At least not generally. And they certainly aren’t in a position of dilemma. The sad thing is, if white men are thinking about race and gender at all in this election, it’s probably in the negative.
If you find any polls, post them in the comments section.
As a fun little aside about the relationship between white men and black women:
Statistics show that more Black women are dating White men. Black female/White male marriages went from 27,000 in 1980 to 80,000 by 2000, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.