Tuesday, March 25, 2008

It's Like Trying To Unscramble An Egg: Race, Gender and Our Election

I read an interesting article about race and gender in the Washington Post yesterday. The thing that I found most interesting (almost offensive) was that idea that people have some sort of allegiance to race and or gender so that, in this election cycle black women will have to “choose” one over the other. Of course, if the election were about issues, which it should be anyways, it would be so easy to color- and/or gender-blindly choose a candidate. But, the media, always trying to sensationalize things, just can’t let this go. I really thought we could make it through this election without putting race or gender in the forefront. Boy, was I wrong! I feel like I need a vacation (the Caribbean sounds nice).

Then I realized that I’m on vacation this week, so I figured I’d just write about it. I started thinking about which identity is more deeply entrenched in our psyches. Have you every tried to buy baby clothes for someone who wants to be surprised by the gender of their child? Not easy, is it? Your choices are yellow or green or some sort of rainbow so as to remain as androgynous as possible. You can have balloons, maybe trees or things like cookies or weird non-gendered cartoon characters. So, from the time we are born we are either pink or blue, hearts and ruffles or trucks and airplanes. From the moment of our existence we are categorized into our own little niche based on gender. Boys are this and girls are that, boys do this and girls do that.

I think the issue of race is a bit more complicated, and one of the problems is that the standard in our society is still the white man (although I’m not sure why, they certainly haven’t proven their usefulness lately). Here’s what I mean, white men are still expected to do any range of jobs, nothing is surprising when it is done by a white man. However, if a minority does that same thing it’s considered shocking by some. And I don’t even mean running for president, but even things like becoming lawyers, doctors, holding political office. And they cynical tone perpetuated by white men is that somehow that person is a “token” in their world. Token candidate, token political appointee, token board member. And, in my experiences, the race issue is far more likely to fall into this category than gender.

What I see is that the gender issue is fought overtly, while race has once again slipped into the realm of taboo (or maybe it never left). Yes, the Equal Rights Amendment was never passed, while the Civil Rights Amendments of the 1960s were. Maybe that’s the difference. Maybe people assume that the race issue was already settled, but that gender has yet to be settled. I believe that women are making greater inroads while racial integration is not breaking the glass ceiling at the same pace.

As a person who falls into both the black and female category, I have to say I feel no particular “allegiance” to vote either my race or my gender. I voted for Edwards in the primary because I voted on the issues. And, I believe that the socioeconomic issues weigh far heavier on racial differences than they do on gender differences. But, I don’t think it takes a person of a particular race or gender to be able to tackle those issues. I think it takes dedication to the principles on which America was founded, life liberty and the pursuit of happiness, and that all of mankind is created equal.

Honestly, I think all of these attempts to categorize people by things out of their control is a sign of some sort of societal weakness. Why can’t people be identified by what they choose, such as occupation, hobbies, interests or dislikes? Why are we so busy putting people into boxes and making them choose sides? Why are we still living by the white man standard? Why do I even feel that it’s necessary to write this article? Some people feel comfortable promoting the same old divisions, but it’s about the issues. We need a president who can solve America’s problems, who can address all of America, not just a niche.

Vote Of Allegiance?

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