By: Sarah Neal
My best friend was the first of my circle of friends to venture into the realm of politics. A self-proclaimed Riot Grrrl on the forefront of progressive ideals, she was and is one of the most forward-thinking, well-informed, thoughtful people I know. So, when she recently told me, after a coffee date and a good catching up, “I love Bernie Sanders, but I’m voting for Hillary because I think we need a woman in the White House,” I was taken aback.
“I love Bernie Sanders, but I’m voting for Hillary because I think we need a woman in the White House”
She said this with a proud Bernie 2016 bumper sticker on her car. A shining example of the constituency Hillary so ardently courts — the female vote — to couple the dozens of articles decrying the symbolic nature of electing a woman as president and what that would mean for progress. On one hand, I agree with that logic. Barack Obama’s presidency, while not perfect, has – in my mind – represented a flicker of hope, however small, that the United States could one day be free of the stain of racism. But it only takes a moment to look around at the state of racial inequality, to see that a black president did not rid us of our country’s original sin. I do not believe it is coincidence that the era of the first black president coincided with the fierce GOP resistance to Obama that’s seen in Congress today. I do not believe that the rising partisanship is solely ideologically based.
As a feminist who’s a far cry from quiet with regard to sexism and the systematic and cultural disadvantages women face in the world, I get it. I want a woman in the White House, too. But Hillary Clinton isn’t that woman. I’m prepared to vote for the most feminist candidate running for the presidency: Bernie Sanders.
“To me, Hillary Clinton epitomizes White Feminism,” my good friend Charles Stephens – a black, prominent Austin-based slam poet (Chucky Black) – expressed last time we discussed politics together. This gave me pause.
What is White Feminism? Think the early women’s liberation movement, which narrowed female empowerment to a white only, predominately middle class sphere. It’s the kind of feminism that does not acknowledge the dynamics of ethnicity, sexuality and class in the systematic oppression of women. It refuses to confront the mechanisms of white supremacy that benefit white women, that ignores the fact that a white woman does not experience the same kind of, nor the same amount of, oppression that a woman of color faces. White feminism is liberation for the elite.
“To me, Hillary Clinton epitomizes White Feminism”
Enter Madeleine Albright, a woman who many consider a feminist icon for having been the first female secretary of state. While that accomplishment was no small feat and served as a symbolic force to push gender equity to the forefront of politics, we must assess her connection to white feminism as it relates to Hillary Clinton, who Albright has officially endorsed for the 2016 presidential election.
“There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other.” Albright reiterated this statement, as she has been doing for years, at a Clinton rally. This time, her previously-inspiring words sparked anger and resentment from the very group she was seeking appeal from – young women. It came in light of Clinton’s polling coming up short with young female voters, many of whom have become energized by Sanders’ candidacy, and judging from the social media reaction to Albright’s statement, it felt like exactly what it was: chastising young women for failing to continue the legacy of feminism that the previous generations fought so ardently for.
Clinton and Albright can’t fathom how or why young women are more enthusiastic about an old white man than the opportunity to elect the first woman president. It might come from their inability to acknowledge or grasp the ways in which the feminism that’s happening today is different from the feminism of her time. This friction between waves of feminism is the reason for the generational divide among Clinton’s supporters and Sanders’ supporters. According to an NPR article on the subject, “women under 35 support Sanders by a 20 point margin” over Clinton.
It’s not for lack of trying that Clinton doesn’t fully appeal to the millennial and millennial women vote. She has decried a broken criminal justice system as a systematic form of continuing the oppressions of nonwhite people, but she does this while accepting campaign money from a for-profit prison lobbyist. According to Politico: “Richard Sullivan of Capitol Counsel—until recently, a Raleigh, N.C.-based federally registered lobbyist for the for-profit prison operator GEO Group—bundled $69,363 in donations for Clinton in the fourth quarter, bringing his total for the year to a whopping $274,891.” She can’t spout injustices while denying that her capitalistic gain contributed to them.
Feminism is equality for all, rooted in gender equity but strengthened by its ties to every aspect of socioeconomic inequality. When people of color are being punished disproportionately, it is a feminist issue. It’s widely agreed that the tough crime laws and minimum sentencing that began in the early ‘90s during the Bush Sr. administration and were made law by the succeeding Bill Clinton administration, led to the mass incarceration that we see among America’s prisons today.
Bernie Sanders has long vehemently opposed the so-called “tough on crime” tactics, though his record is not perfect. He voted in favor of the 1994 aforementioned bill, a modification of the first “tough on crime” bill proposed in 1991 under Bush Sr.’s presidency. Sanders states his support for the 1994 bill was based on a new provision it added to the 1991 bill: “I have a number of serious problems with the Crime Bill, but one part of it that I vigorously support is the Violence Against Women Act. We urgently need the $1.8 billion in this bill to combat the epidemic of violence against women on the streets and in the homes of America.”
While I somewhat sympathize with Sanders here, I still have to disagree with the bill and it’s (however unintended) consequences. This remains a blotch in both Clinton’s and Sanders’ records, and though both candidates speak of a broken criminal justice system and the perils of mass incarceration, Sanders goes further. While both candidates supported the 1994 bill, Sanders did not partake in the inflammatory rhetoric of deeming young black men and boys “super predators” with “no conscience, no empathy,” rhetoric then First Lady Hillary Clinton used without reluctance in order to push the bill through.
The only candidate for the presidency who is daring enough to declare that legalizing marijuana would decrease crime rates, and subsequently relinquish communities of color who are most impacted by these laws (even though whites use marijuana and other drugs at the same rates as people of color), is Bernie Sanders.
As Black Feminist scholar Audre Lorde famously said, “The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.” Thus, how is Hillary Clinton to tackle the intersections of inequality when she is a product of the capitalist machine by which these intersections are perpetuated?
Thus, how is Hillary Clinton to tackle the intersections of inequality when she is a product of the capitalist machine by which these intersections are perpetuated?