November 11, 2008

Clinton Could Have Done That...

Last night I had a friendly argument with an American in my residence over the symbolic value of having a black man president vs. a white woman president. I say, in the fantasy world where Hillary Clinton had won the democratic primary and gone on to win the US election, that the symbolic value of having her as president would have been equal to that of having Obama as president. Not so, according to this random but quite intelligent American. He says that the symbolic value of having a president of a different race is greater than a woman. Sure, both women and black people have been oppressed in US history, but the history of slavery is more important to overcome than the history of sexism. I pointed out, however, that the history of sexism IS a history of slavery. I mean, before the 20th century, no woman could vote or own property or even really walk down the street freely if there was a man who really wanted to stop her.

I'm not going to argue that life was worse for female salves than male ones. I don't think you can quantify that level of suffering in that way, but surely it's worth pointing out that even once black men were freed at the end of slavery, black women were still other people's property, just not white people's. Of course, both black men and black women faced discrimination, but it was arguably even worse for black women, who made even less money and were even more likely to be attacked walking down the street, and then went home to a community of black men who technically had similar legal powers over them as white men had over white women.

My point is that at one point, almost all black people, men and women, were enslaved. At one point in US history, basically all women, no matter what colour, were also enslaved, just in different ways, with black women obviously often receiving worse treatment than white women in their enslavement. But still, given that both groups were subjugated for so long, in a world where we are in touch with sexist history as well as racist history, does a woman president not seem like just as powerful a symbol of change as a black man president? Neither one of them would have even been legally able to run for president not so long ago.

If people preferred Obama and voted for him, that's cool with me. If they liked his policies and his mannerisms better than Clinton's, that's fine, but if they just voted for him because they thought he was a better symbol because he was black and she was just a woman, well, I don't agree. Either one of them looks different enough from the typical old white guy to signify change in the US government. The only question is, will Obama end up acting differently from the typical old white guy president....

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