Friday, February 22, 2008

Gender, race and essentialism, part 2, by Suzie

       I decided to write on gender, race and essentialism after reading “Hillary's Scarlett O'Hara Act” by Princeton professor Melissa Harris-Lacewell.
      Harris-Lacewell suggests that Hillary wants the allegiance of black women, even though she has been complicit in their oppression. “Many African American women are simply refusing to play Mammy to Hillary,” she writes. This implies that black women who support Hillary are playing Mammy.
       Harris-Lacewell describes oppressors who expect affection and allegiance from people who serve them, while giving little or nothing in return. The oppressors mythologize those who serve them, in an attempt to justify their oppression.
       Although used to describe the Mammy mythology, this scenario also fits the idealization of women who are selfless in their service to their men and children.
       If Harris-Lacewell is suspicious of privileged whites as a group, how does that differ from a white woman who assumes a woman would have more of her interests at heart than a man would? In other words, if a person generalizes about one group, then she can’t fault someone else for generalizing about another.
         No voter should assume the allegiance of any politician, and vice versa. It's politics, after all. 
    Harris-Lacewell concludes: Black women want out of the war. Black women need health insurance. Black women need decent schools for their children. Black women need a strong economy that creates jobs. Black women need help caring for their aging parents. Black women want a Democratic win in the fall. Sisters chose Barack on [Super] Tuesday because they believe he can deliver these things, and that is much more empowering than just having a woman in the White House.
          I don’t know any Democrat, no matter what gender or color, who would disagree with the agenda Harris-Lacewell describes. Nor have I heard anyone say that, even though she doesn’t think Hillary can get us out of Iraq, pass universal health care, improve education, etc., she’ll vote for Hillary anyway just to elect a woman as president.
         Jezebel’s critique of Harris-Lacewell includes information on actual policies.