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Or, as we used to say, schvartze

I surprise myself by having something to say about the Geraldine Ferraro business. Not a lot to say, although I expect to say it in a lot of words, as Gentle Readers would imagine. So settle in.

Ms. Ferraro said “If Obama was a white man, he would not be in this position. And if he was a woman of any color, he would not be in this position. He happens to be very lucky to be who he is. And the country is caught up in the concept.”

Now, I want to be clear: rhetorically, this connotes racism. The connotations are clearly those of the white person who doesn’t get the job that goes to the underqualified black person. This is a trope that’s been repeated many times, in various places in the culture, and it reminds us (and should remind us) of those other uses. It doesn’t matter, rhetorically, if Ms. Ferraro is a racist, or meant it in a derogatory manner (she clarified that she meant to compare the situation to her own nomination to the Vice-Presidency: “In 1984 if my name had been Gerald Ferraro, not Geraldine, I would never have gotten nominated. Was I qualified? Absolutely.”). It still rings the bells that it rings. You don’t get a pass for good intentions.

I do want to examine the trope a little further, though. Usually, when I hear it in Real Life, it’s some white person (usually a man, in personal sample, but I don’t mean to suggest that men use it more frequently than women other than in conversation with me) saying that he has applied for a job, but that he wouldn’t get it, because he put on the voluntary form that he was white. Often this comes with a ‘joke’ about how he should put down that he’s one-thirty-second Cherokee, or that he’s from Betelgeuse, or something equally hilarious.

I try, sometimes, to point out the context. It may be true that the particular employer is giving a break to our dusky-hued brethren, but it often isn’t. There are other factors at work, and one of the factors is that the person making the hiring decision may be a person like our jokester, who likes to work with people like him, and hey! Our jokester is more like him than that other guy, the one with, you know, the different racial heritage. This happens a lot. A lot. Still. No kidding. Even when the hiring process is rigged to privilege the less-privileged.

But even if in this particular instance there is a benefit to being in a racial minority, how can anybody think that it’s even the slightest bit funny to sign on for that benefit without anything else? He’s not signing on for getting stopped by traffic cops. He’s not signing on for being followed around in clothes stores. He’s not signing on for being treated differently by mortgage brokers. No, he just wants to be a minority when he thinks it works for him. Even further—when he jokes about signing on as Cherokee, he’s not signing on for growing up on the reservation, with lousy schools and 50% unemployment, for having Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (or having cousins or neighbors with it), or for being tracked out of the possibility of getting prepared for the job that he just applied for. No, grow up white and then whine about it later.

As a digression, I should add that fellows like this aren’t always racist in the sense of believing that people of other races are genetically inferior. Many of them think it’s a matter of culture, that kids are taught such-and-such bad habits and given such-and-such bad role models. For some reason, that doesn’t bring out the pity in them. Surely, even if I can’t imagine that I might have been born with dark skin, I can imagine what it’s like to grow up being taught those bad habits. Surely that would be just as vicious a result of racism as if we taught Cherokees that two plus two is five! I would think that such people would be forced to support affirmative action to remedy the deprivation, even more strongly that people like me who don’t, on the whole, believe that Native Americans, African-Americans, Latinos and other racial minorities in America can be assumed to have any inferiority at all, cultural or genetic. Anyway.

Ms. Ferraro does, I should point out, know all this. A trifle over a year ago, in The Pattern May Change, Adam Nagourney quotes her: “I think [winning the presidency]’s more realistic for a woman than it is for an African-American. There is a certain amount of racism that exists in the United States—whether it’s conscious or not it’s true.”

Now, Gentle Reader, come one step further with me, please. For any aspect of life that is, on the whole, detrimental, there will be certain extraordinary people who are able to turn it to their advantage. This is a wonderful thing about us. And, on occasion, it’s an annoying thing about us. So Ms. Ferraro, facing the patriarchal structure in politics, was able to turn her sex into an asset. She had the disadvantages. Those didn’t disappear. But she was able to add onto those a new set of advantages. So, too, has Barack Obama turned the disadvantage that Ms. Ferraro saw a year ago into the advantage she sees today. This is entirely to his credit. It’s a remarkable thing, and I feel lucky to be witnessing it. Not only because it’s being done in this arena, but because Sen. Obama is doing it in a way that is good for the whole society.

Lincoln Perry turned the disadvantage of pervasive, vicious racism into the advantage of being Stepin Fetchit. The result could be argued back and forth, but I’d say that on the whole, it was not an advantage to other people. Barack Obama is not only turning his disadvantage to an advantage for his own candidacy, but an advantage for other African-Americans, and ultimately an advantage for everybody in this country. Whether he becomes President, or becomes the nominee of my Party for the Presidency, that’s a great thing.

I’ll retreat with another little point specific to Ms. Ferraro and the two Senators. It seems to me, and in fact it seems obvious to me, that if there had not been a black candidate who had been proved to be seen as a viable candidate by white voters in Iowa and New Hampshire, then Sen. Clinton would have got more than half the black vote in South Carolina and other of the early primaries, and the whole thing would have been over before Super-Duper-Ooper-Toosday. But then, if there had been a Jewish candidate that was proved to be seen as viable in Iowa and New Hampshire, perhaps Sen. Clinton wouldn’t have won California and New York. It’s cheating to take only the counterfactuals that make your side win. There is a viable black candidate, so of course things are different than they ever were. I understand why some of Sen. Clinton’s supporters, who along with Ms. Ferraro assumed that there was no fucking way that there would be a black candidate that anybody thought could win, feel that the reason their candidate is losing is because Barack Obama is black. I understand that, and I understand that it seems so obvious to them that they are frustrated that nobody is saying it. But if you are saying it, and you don’t also say that Barack Obama’s ability to turn the natural disadvantages under which he has lived into positives is admirable and remarkable, then you have lost the right to complain when people call you racist. Too bad. Swallow it. If the worst thing that happens to you today is that somebody calls you a racist, then you win the day.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,
-Vardibidian.

Comments

I understand why some of Sen. Clinton’s supporters, who along with Ms. Ferraro assumed that there was no fucking way that there would be a black candidate that anybody thought could win, feel that the reason their candidate is losing is because Barack Obama is black.

yeah because why would supporters of a female candidate ever suspect that novelty would create an advantage.


i mean, it's all kind of sweet, isn't it? all these pots and kettles.


because, you know, the first thing that came to mind when i saw that footage was, "oh yeah? well, if hillary clinton weren't a woman, president clinton was gay."


That was the first thing that occurred to you? You're an odd person, hapa.

Speaking of pots and kettles, and all.

peace
Matt


Just reminds me of a line from Neil Stehpenson's The System of The World. Eliza, a beautiful white English woman, who has risen from slavery and poverty to rank and wealth. Dappa is an educated, former black slave, and Eliza is his friend and patroness.

"...And I owe my position in the world today, not to wit or courage or goodness, but to my being hung on a good frame, and being able to propogate it. And what think you of that, Dappa?"
"If it provides you with a sort of purchase on the sheer cliff that the world is, from which to make use of your abundant wit, courage, and goodness, ehy, here's to bone structure!" Dappa returned, raising a teacup high.


Urg, excuse all the typos. Must ... sleeep.


i prefer "queer"


i prefer "queer"

I like it, too, but where are we going to find one at this time of day?

-V.

(sorry, one of my favorite jokes, can't help myself)


Oh, my case? I'm resting it, thanks for asking.

peace
Matt


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