In 2007--2008 as the staggering sexist tirades escalated against Hillary Clinton as she ran for the Democratic nomination for president (yes it happened----check out the first two videos in the right column for those of you who need proof), people like me felt a growing anger. The sexist insults and jabs kept coming unabated. It turned many of us from mild-mannered regular people into furious warriors not content to just sweep it under the rug. While each of us felt we were alone, we learned soon enough that there were millions of us, and together we spoke up, spoke out, and made our feelings known.
In return, three main things blew back at us. First of all, we were screamed at to shut up, that we would lose our right to an-----ABORTION if we kept speaking up. HUH???? What in the world was that all about? By pushing the envelope and going outside of the accepted script, we laid bare the worst fears of Democratic women whose fear of losing reproductive freedoms superseded everything, including the sexist assaults on the woman who could have become our first woman president. We've been fighting into that wind ever since, and the dialogue is changing in surprising ways.
The second gust that blew back was the one from scolding women who told us over and over that we were making fools of ourselves, and to shut up and sit down at the back of the bus. HUH???? It was infuriating to many of us to have our concerns shouted down by the tut tutting mothers who tried to get us to "behave." As the saying goes, "well behaved women seldom make history," or some such thing. Those scolds come onto this blog and usually sign themselves "anonymous" because they are too chicken to identify their scolding selves. They can go take a hike as far as I'm concerned.
But the third evil wind that blew back like a cyclone into our faces and souls was that we were called racists for objecting to the sexism. RAAAACISTS, they said. You are ALL racists on blog posts and comments and to our faces. RAAAAAAACISTS.
We were the first wave to receive this ugly chorus and it surprised and stung. Because it wasn't true. Well, soon enough everyone who disagreed with the president was being called a racist, and soon enough we were under the bus with lots and lots of company. Why even the "first black president" Bill Clinton was a racist, an unbelievable charge. I remember doing a Mary Kay party one night with an African American group of ladies (I have been an Independent Sales Director with Mary Kay for 26 years and yes, I drive a pink Cadillac), and while I was rinsing out the washclothes in the kitchen, the women were sitting around the table almost screaming about the horrible things Hillary and Bill had done to blacks and how if Obama were murdered the Clintons would have his blood on their hands. Really------that's exactly what happened. It was all I could do to keep my mouth shut and maintain my professional composure. Shortly after that night, I "came out" with my grievances and ended up on The O'Reilly Factor and did alot of other shows for a few months. One of the ladies from that night sent me a horrible piece of hatemail, and another demanded her money back and asked what kind of person I was and she would never ever buy Mary Kay products again. Well that's really her loss because we have just come out with a phenomenal new product line for women over 50, and she's going to miss out. Wrinkles to her!!!!!
What has prompted my piece tonight is this article from the Atlantic by Ta-Nehisi Coates that has really disturbed me. I've read various reactions to this piece on The Crawdad Hole and another by Robert Stacy McCain on his blog, and they were interesting, honest, and exasperated. While I've also felt exasperated, this article has haunted me for different reasons.
First of all, I HATE being called a racist. I'm not a racist. I'm just not. But I'm sure getting pissed off for being accused of being one as many are these days. The bar for being called a racist has become very very low.
Secondly, alot of what is called racist is really just part of the human experience that everyone goes through. As I always say, no one gets a free pass in this life. We all suffer for a wide variety of reasons, but being human means we all will suffer. I understand that it can be difficult to sort it all out sometimes, but it needs to be sorted out. What good does it do to call white people racist because they don't agree with you. Some whites ARE racist, but many if not most are well-meaning people who may be a little ignorant, but don't have the dark heart of a racist within them. They need to be educated, not berated.
You know, I have been a woman and a Jewish one at that all of my life and I could make the case that it's not just blacks who have suffered ignominously. For part of my life, as a female I was still considered legally someone else's property and didn't have the right to sign a contact. Women live a life of derision every single day, if you want to look at it that way. Why even the African-Americans have equal representation in the U.S. Congress which is more than you can say for the women of the U.S. who are 51% of the population but only hold 16.8% of the seats.
And growing up as a Jew in a smallish Ohio city I remember all of the places I wasn't allowed to go because I was Jewish. I remember being chased around school and being taunted regularly as a "dirty Jew." We even had a swastika burned on our lawn one summer. My father's family had a chain of department stores, and my Dad managed the one in our city, and even though we had money and could have joined any golf or country club, my Dad, a golf lover, had to travel 40 miles to find a golf course that would let him play on it. And of course, since the holocaust of World War II happened less than 10 years before my birth, my generation has had to suffer the main shocks of the aftermath of that attempt at the genocide of our people. And yes, I have white skin which may confer some advantages on me. I have also acquired an Italian surname and I look Italian, and people assume I'm Italian so I hear some amazing things being undercover. You just wouldn't believe the anti-Semitic remarks that are still made. Or maybe you would.
The whole point of this mini-tirade is that I have learned that most people are good, and some of them are just ignorant. And if you want to tar all of them with the brush of hatred then you will live a very small, very embittered existence. What good does it do to call people racist, anti-Semitic, or even sexist? And when it comes to these isms, unlike other things, if it smells like racism, sexism, it isn't always what it appears to be.
I found Coates assessment of who is racist very convoluted, and I was shocked to see him call things racist when they clearly weren't. I mean when Joe Wilson blurted out "you're lying" at the President during the State of the Union, the last thing I thought of was that he did it because he is racist. On what basis was that racist? It could have been called alot of things-----rude, nasty, whatever. But racist? On what proof----because he is white and from South Carolina? There is a very short memory of the taunting that Bill Clinton or George Bush had to put up with that in some ways was much rougher than what President Obama has to deal with. I think that some of the garbage goes with the turf.
When the big country club in my small city finally decided to take Jews, my Dad was the first one they gave membership to. I was a teenager and a rebellious one at that, and I refused to go. My mother told me that we HAD to go because these people were trying to mend their ways and we had to encourage them. I grudgingly went with them. But you know, she was right.
As a nation, the vast majority of white people want to get past our burden of racism, and it doesn't serve Coates and others to constantly scream racism under every rock and around every corner. To tar all of us with the same broad brush has the opposite effect. People will be awkward as they shed their history of racism. But it would serve him well to encourage that growth, not to discourage it by calling everyone a racist whether they are or not.
And I would like to say also that I am still pissed off about how we Hillary supporters were made to feel racist because we cared about the sexism. SOMEONE has to keep watch on the sexism. But that doesn't make us racist----not by a long shot. And it is stupid to reduce the whole thing into what is worse, racism or sexism. They both stink. This isn't the "ism" olympics.
Which bring me to the cautionary tale of this whole sordid mess. We will also have to show some enlightened restraint about who we call a sexist. People like Coates and others have shown us how diluted we can make our cause if we don't exercise some caution in that area. We need and want as many people as possible fighting sexism along with us. We may have to encourage some who say and do stupid things. There are teachable moments and teachable people. We just have to be wise about it. And I'd like to say that I've rarely read such a beautifully written piece about the agonies of racism. That doesn't change the fact that Coates went overboard in calling us all racists.