“Ten Questions for Black Feminists Regarding the Lack of Public Discussion on the 2008 Democratic Primary Election”

1. Why does it take Second Wave White Women Feminist to provoke Black Feminist to respond “publicly” to issues race and gender in the 2008 Presidential Election?


This is not to say that black feminists or other feminist of color are not responding to the identity politics at play in the primary season outside of second wave white feminist responses. Furthermore, this is not to say that black feminist and other feminist of color are only responding to second wave white feminist critiques only. But, it seems as if the most vocal “public” outcry from feminist of color comes when second wave white feminist weigh in such as Gloria Steinem and Robin Morgan.

2. Why do black feminist “publicly” only focus on the privileges of Hillary Clinton’s white supremacist gendered identity and ignore the privileges of Barack Obama’s racialized gendered identity among black people and black womyn?

3. Why aren’t black feminists “publicly” critiquing Barack Obama’s presidential candidacy?

4. Why aren’t we willing to “publicly” critique how Barack Obama’s candidacy is framed in very heteronormative terms?

One of the main responses I’ve received from Black people when I’ve critiqued Obama’s candidacy is this idea of what Obama’s presidency will mean for “the black family.” And I will paraphrase a comment that was sent to me, “having Obama and his family in the White House will be good for black America because they are such a strong couple and it would be good to have such images for young black people to see.” For many black people, Obama exemplifies the image of a responsible, successful, professional, heterosexual black man who’s married to a strong, successful, and professional black woman who “both” are raising two black girls. This in of itself is not a bad image, however, it becomes problematic when black people consciously or unconsciously juxtapose it against how white society and black people view black families as inherently deviant—no fathers, out of wedlock children, teen mothers, emasculated black men, sexually deviant black womyn, sexually deviant black men, down-low brothers, dead-beat dads—it is something we as black feminist should dialogue about.

Obama and Michelle

5. Why is it that some black feminist fleetingly mention how misogyny is at play in the competition, but who then will write and email long in-depth critiques in response to second wave white feminist charges against Obama’s candidacy?

6. Why do we pat ourselves and our colleagues on the back for critiquing second wave white feminist who we know lack an analysis of race? Outside of publicly showing how they lack an intersectional understanding of oppression, how than does it become more constructive? What comes after the critique?

7. Why is it that some black feminist fleetingly mention how misogyny is at play in the competition, but who then will write long in-depth critiques about how racism is affecting Obama’s candidacy?

8. Why aren’t we “publicly” critiquing the racialized gendered sexualized class-based meanings behind the tee shirts, internet slogans, video, and blogs dedicated to Obama Mommas, Obama Girls, and Bro’ (Obama) before Hoe’s (Clinton)?

obama te shirtObama PantiesObama hoes
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9. Why are some feminist of color saying that identity politics is overshadowing the real issues when the issues are definitely colored by the intersection of various social identities?

10. Why is it when we ask these questions people assume we are white women and we are Hillary’s supporter?

Black woamn Black woman

Let us know what you think of these questions by commenting. To comment, please click on the comments tag next to the title of the blog entry.



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~ by fal25 on February 7, 2008.

24 Responses to ““Ten Questions for Black Feminists Regarding the Lack of Public Discussion on the 2008 Democratic Primary Election””

  1. Hey love,
    Thanks so much for creating yet another great space for women of color to engage each other. These are great questions…rhetorical and otherwise. My response to most of the questions is the same…and you know (via much facebook conversation!)something about how I’m thinking about this, but I want to celebrate your invitation to continue the conversation here.
    So basically my answer to most (maybe all) of the relevant and helpful questions you are posing about why “we” black women or really anyone are not visibly having a creative, intersectionally robust or complicated conversation about these primaries is one answer.
    Corporately funded elections are not a creative, intersectionally robust or complicated frame in which to have a conversation about freedom, health, well being, feminism (black or otherwise), love, transformation or really..any of the things that our best conversations are about. The “election” conversation is framed in exactly the either/or terms that steal the energy we need to PRODUCE new systems of freedom into old, unchanged ways of BUYING INTO power through the sellable personas of the candidates. I could critique all of the candidates in both the democratic and republican parties endlessly. I can nurture my wish that someone not from those two parties steals back the day towards a more multiple democracy. But at this point I think the most useful thing I can do is to disavow the terms of this conversation holistically. I think even our most brilliant engagement of this debate is a trap as long as it is limited to a conversation about the these two people….either of which cannot help but dissappoint. What they talk about is “change” but their words and actions are already circumscribed in an election system that is fundamentally anti-transformation…it is a system that is generally about maintaining a status quo.
    Staceyann Chin has a great new poem called “my electable parts” where she talks about the impossibility of completely identifying with or being represented by any of the candidates in the two dominant parties. I would extend her position to say that for me…even if there was a black, queer, 25 year old politician with parents from Anguilla and Jamaica vying for the democratic party candidacy…even if I was the potential candidate my damn self I wouldn’t trust her (me). As soon as she (I) buy(s) into the dominant electoral system she (I) sell(s) out my vision for a radically transformed power relation.
    So the beautiful thing about your 10 questions is that the conversation that you desire is impossible in the context in which you have placed it…and yet you are making the conversation you want (an intersectional, complicated, holistic and HEARD conversation) possible by creating, building a space of freedom and a possible relationship HERE. And I am always an eager partner with you in that project. Because THAT is primary.

  2. Yes, much of the response is to the statements by White feminists, but it’s because what Steinem and Jong and Morgan have said publicly is so utterly insulting and reductionist to Black women and women in general. It’s as if we are supposed to fall in lock-step with the agenda of putting a woman in the white house no matter if we agree with her policies or voting record (which I do not). They are making this a race vs. gender issue which, as Crenshaw and Ensler point out it is not, it is far more complicated than that. You’d think we’d have learned far, far more by now.

    Also I’d like to point out that I don’t understand how Clinton’s campaign is any less heteronormative than Obama’s. Also, yes, there have been sexist pro-Obama elements, but they are not produced by the campaign itself. Yes, they are circulating in the broader discourse, but you cannot attribute them directly to the candidate or his policies.

    The Yes We Can music video was not produced by the Obama campaign, but independently.

    I also find this to be an interesting Second Wave vs. Third Wave feminist issue as well.

    More astute and powerful Black Feminist commentary by Melissa Harris-Lacewell:


    “… Black women voters are rejecting Hillary Clinton because her ascendance is not a liberating symbol. Her tears are not moving. Her voice does not resonate. Throughout history, privileged white women, attached at the hip to their husband’s power and influence, have been complicit in black women’s oppression. Many African American women are simply refusing to play Mammy to Hillary.”

  3. Thanks for the invitation. I agree with the points Alexis made. The 10 questions raise important concerns about the cultural politics of the elections. Mainstream U.S. politics gives no space to the type of cultural criticism implied in the questions. Most all talk about race and gender (implicit and explicit) on television and public space represents a disavowal of these concerns. Everyday our public culture slanders and demonizes the perspectives the cultural Left. This is the political reality that black feminists and other progressives face. To the extent that we raise these issues, it seems we’re distancing ourselves from the mainstream candidates and etching a different (and very marginal) politics. The question remains as to how to confront and overcome that marginalization.

  4. yessss! thank you for raising these very important questions. as a black, queer, male-identified subject, i find much of the discourse around the election primaries daunting, if not insulting. because i’m black, i’m supposed to vote for obama. if i’m a (white) woman, i’m supposed to vote for hillary. there is absolutely no nuance in the discussion.

    i am equally floored by many black feminists whom are willing to “hang up” their feminist critiques while rabidly attacking second-wave feminists for being racist. i am SO thankful that you point out the latent heterosexism in obama’s framing. his family as the “change” towards which the country should aspire is nothing more than a white, heteropatriarchal aspiration. and for all of the black feminist critiques of second wave white feminists for being racist, there has been a silence regarding the particularity of obama’s hybrid, trans-racial makeup (white mother, kenyan father: someone pointed out on another blog, why are there no pictures of obama with his (white) mother? what purpose does that serve to have her erased from a collective memory?)

    all that to say: Ase!

  5. I think it’s a good question Theo raises about how to avoid marginalization even as we reject the limiting terms of a mainstream political contest. I was reading this article this morning by that a friend of mine posted called “We Own the World” by Noam Chomsky (it’s not 100 percent relevant to our discussion, but here it is if you want to check it out: http://www.chomsky.info/articles/20080101.htm). The most interesting thing that he says is that based on political polls (not the most radical instrument…but still) now, as during the Vietnam war, as most of the time the political views of most of the people in the country have almost NOTHING to do with the “articulate” terms of debate (which terms basically agree and perpetuate the lie that foreign affairs should be decided in a context which already assumes that the US owns the whole planet). For example 70% of people polled said in the late 1960’s that the Vietnam War was not only a mistake, but was immoral…when nobody even the most pacifist people in the media was saying that. And just now a majority of people voted that the US needs to get out of Iraq…even though even the democratic parties exit strategy (which was not passed) didn’t really entail exit for quite some time at all.
    Which means the “mainstream” as represented in the NYtimes or wherever…isn’t actually so mainstream at all. In fact most of the people are actually much more radical and pragmatic than even the most seemingly radical pundits represented in the media. So all that is to say…while the type of radical stance that I (we?) are taking may seem marginalized in the terms of the publicized debate…it could be that in other terms (like the mass of unrepresented people that CONTINUE to not be represented within the limits of electoral politics) we are not marginal at all…but actually right in the midst of it…trying to figure out freedom in a language that has no corporate sponsorship, that we can only make visible by speaking it.
    love again,

  6. I want to say thank you to everyone for your willingness to join the conversation.

    I think both Alexis and Theo bring up a great point concerning how the media affects our ability to publicly and fully engage in critical cultural conversations regarding gender, race, class, and sexuality. Therefore, it’s important that we create or find spaces for these conversations to occur. But even in this space of blogsphere and cyber space there is a type of control where people chastise me through email for wanting to have such conversations that deal with the complexities of women of color lives and what it means to critique a candidate (i.e. Hillary and Barack) from that complexity.

    Furthermore, Rana I agree that Clinton’s campaign is also heteronormative. The questions were not written from a pro-Hillary Clinton stance or that Hillary Clinton is better than Barack Obama. I do not support Hillary. Even having to say “I am not a Hillary supporter” to justify my critique of Obama is problematic in ways that the 10 questions try to address.
    To be honest, I think both candidates lack a radical transformative politic that really seeks to help the most marginalized and of course as Alexis indicated earlier such a candidate can not exist in this current political system.
    This is probably why I wrote the questions because “if you choose” to participate in electoral politics than I think you should support the candidate of your choice. Hopefully, your choice will do the least amount of harm and the most amounts of good for marginalized communities who stand at the center of many intersections.

    Furthermore, as black feminists, I do not think our electoral choice should mute our private and public critiques irrespective if the candidate is a white woman or a black man who speaks of change—change in a very de-racialized, de-gendered, de-sexed, de-classed way. For we know as black feminist,“All the women are white and all the men are black, but some of us are brave . . .”

  7. Hey fal, thanks for inviting me over here to review your questions. I think everyone else has raised important issues, and I will respond to some of your questions – in particular, questions about why black feminists are more critical of second-wave white feminists than of Obama supporters who express sexist views.

    For me, what I find objectionable about the public statements made by Gloria Steinem and Robin Morgan, which I’ve critiqued on my blog, is their racism, pure and simple. That and their complete marginalization of black women by relying on race-baiting tactics while, through their white female privilege and self-centered views that gender issues revolve around them, expect women of color to fall in line BEHIND them in order to support Hillary Clinton just on the basis of gender identity politics. They have a misunderstanding of “sisterhood,” assuming they can call us “sisters” while treating us like “aunties.” And, quite frankly, black women ain’t having it.

    The other issue of concern is just an overall sense of anger, on my part, because I am concerned about the ways that sexism and heteronormative ideologies have framed both their campaigns, and yet, when public feminists are given a chance to speak intelligently on the issue of gender, they seem unable to do so without raising the specter of racism. Had either Steinem or Morgan simply commented on the ways that sexism has shaped public responses to the campaign, I would have been fine with their statements, even supported them fully. But they don’t just do that. They do “comparative” analogies between race and gender, only to argue that sexism is worse than racism. And because they’re always wrong about this assumption, their entire arguments about sexism then get dismissed, and they have now ceased to be relevant as intelligent critics.

    When Melissa Harris-Lacewell confronted Steinem and basically made her look like an ignorant bigot, we can see how “sisterhood” is certainly not “powerful” nor “global.” And that’s because white “sisters” have still not learned to dialogue with us. Had they learned that, they would have already known that comparing race and gender was simply the wrong way to address sexism.

    The other reason why I, a black feminist, have been more critical of these women is because, frankly, I’m sick and tired of white feminists being the ones the media immediately turn to as the “authoritative” spokespersons for feminism. Now that they have spoken and been proven to be fools, perhaps we might take some time to ALSO listen to some other feminists, preferably of color. There are some respectable ones at respectable universities. Some that come to mind, apart from Harris-Lacewell, include Patricia Hill Collins, Patricia Williams, Dorothy Roberts, Chandra Mohanty, Eden Torres, and some antiracist white feminists, like Ann Russo, Elizabeth Spelman, Alison Bailey, Rosalyn Petchesky, Cynthia Enloe, etc. I would gladly listen to what any of these women have to say than to listen to some outdated second-wavers who still don’t understand the complexity of women’s lives, let alone the complexity in which their images will be received.

  8. Thanks to Fal for sending me the link to this great discussion. I think that a large part of what is going on is political calculation. Ultimately who better serves the interest of Black feminists? Yes Hillary is a women but Obama is Black and has to look at a Black woman every day (his wife) so if push came to shove on the face of it Obama would be the better choice for Black women (including feminists) as he is the closest to being able to see and take seriously the issues and concerns of Black women. Now, if you believe that Obama is your best choice the next step is to get him elected. Criticizing him in public and creating a situation where the media can exploit Black women’s criticism of Obama as a major split in the Black community (think of the three ring circus that was Anita Hill v Clarence Thomas) will not get him elected. Instead you at least stay quiet through the nomination and election (that way you are not openly supporting him but not doing anything that would cost him the election) and when he is safely in the Whitehouse that is when you start to press him on your issues. This strategy is not necessarily right or wrong but it is pragmatic. Just as most Americans have to weigh voting for someone who shares their views versus someone who actually stands a chance of being elected, Black feminists are having to make decisions based on pragmatism. And of course, Black feminists are human and have a human attachment to their identities. When the Clinton campaign attacks the first Black person with a legitimate chance at the Presidency with some rather questionable and some would say race-baiting tactics Obama supporters, including Black feminists, are going to speak up for him.

  9. Fal, very thought provoking questions. While black feminist/womanist work toward liberation on many fronts, I think that the reality is that black feminist/womanist still struggle with their own race and gender i.e., black and woman. The questions are on target however, part of me feels like much of the questions are great in theory but hard to make practical because while they themselves are ridding themselves of the oppressive gaze, as women they are so committed to the survival of the black community even if at times it is in lieu of the their own survival. So yes, these questions are much easier to ask and even harder to ponder.

  10. Thank you Anxious Black Woman for enriching the conversation with your analysis as to why black feminist are more critical of second wave white feminist blatantly racist “we are sisters aren’t we” analysis.

    The same anger you felt toward second wave white feminist is the same anger I felt toward both second wave white feminist and certain black feminist who purport to deliver an intersectional account of the identity politics at play in the democratic primary, but who then chooses not to or at least publicly choose not to critique not only Barack’s policies, but also the campaign framing of his candidacy, the language of how gender, sexuality, class, and race do not matter, and the list goes on.

    Mind you when I saw will.i.am video, I felt inspired. I felt inspired when Obama won the Iowa caucus. I felt the same exact feeling when my middle school guidance counselor came running down the hall saying, “OJ is free.” And all the little black kids and my black female teacher rejoiced. We were so happy that this black man was free. My teacher said to us, “We finally got one.” At that time, I did not know what she meant by “We finally got one,” but eventually I understood what she meant that finally a “black man” was able to walk away from a racist justice system that she felt all to often targeted black men. But, that racialized gendered feeling of “Yes, finally we got the possibility of electing a Black Man as President” cannot impair my ability to also deliver an intersectional analysis of his candidacy and an analysis as to why I felt “Yes we got one” if Obama is elected.

    To be honest, the reason why I wrote the questions is that I felt like I was not hearing enough critique of Obama especially by my black feminist friends and black feminist scholars in general who are able to given an intersectional analysis of many things. But, who then publicly chooses only to critique the intersections of Hillary’s privilege and the privilege of second wave white feminist, while choosing publicly not to turn the intersectional gaze upon Barack Obama.

    So, I guess what I am struggling with is—How do you deliver a black feminist analysis that not only covers the public statements of second wave white feminist, the gendering and de-gendering of Hillary, the racing and de-racing of Obama, the gendered white classed based heterosexual privilege if Hillary Clinton, the gendered class-based heterosexual privilege of Barack Obama, the non-radical nature of both candidates, the media framing of Hillary and Barack candidacies, the essentialization of Black female identity by some black feminist who endeavor to show why “most” if not all black women are not voting for Hillary, the language of change that renders identity invisible—how do you get at those complexities and others that I did not name when delivering a black feminist analysis regarding the identity politics in this primary?

    Hm, my godmother would say to me, perhaps, you do it by taking one piece of the puzzle at a time and figuring out where to place it . . . maybe this conversation is a piece of the puzzle . . .

  11. Can I pose a slightly different question to the discussion…is this dialogue itself very “classed”? Granted this conversation was posed to women who consider themselves “Black Feminist” (which I don’t really identify with) but in what ways could this dialogue be held with other Black women who are not in these academic spaces, or who don’t know what a Black feminist or a Second Wave white feminst is?

    I guess my question is, how can we make this dialogue accessible to other women and men outside of the walls of academia? Or is this particular discussion even relevant to them?

    Part of my day to day challenges I confront being in the academy is realizing that some of what Im doing is not really relevant to all. Whenever I go home to Baltimore reality sets back in about a lot of the “posturing” I as an academic might do to flaunt my book smarts at school is not relevant to my best friend who is a single mother of two children, on section 8, who’s trying to make ends meet.

    So then with that in mind, when we have a discussion about the race,class, gender, and sexuality dynamics in this presidential race how do we take that discussion to the broader community?

    And perhaps that is happening for many Black feminist (taking these dialogues to the hood). I’m not at all familiar with all of the literature that characterizes Black feminism, or who all of those scholars might be, but I just would like someone to let me know if they are doing that.

  12. fal, those black feminists who have not been as critical about Obama’s campaign are already leaning towards him as their candidate of choice (Harris-Lacewell admitted just as much that she was working on his campaign). It’s the only reason I can think of why they haven’t been as vocal. The only black feminists that I know who are willing to take Obama to task are those who may have voted for Edwards and, as such, can look critically at both Clinton and Obama. Also, Obama’s spouse, Michelle Obama, is just an amazing, motivational speaker, that I think black feminists are gravitating to their campaign because there is a sense – despite the limitations of gender politics – that we seem included in their vision, in ways that the Clinton campaign has not been as inclusive.

  13. Nycetwin, I hear you loud and clear. As a womanist, I think that this is one of the most important tenets which is being committed to the survival of the entire community. In an effort to reach the community one must find a non-threatening vehicle to bridge praxis and theory. I am not suggesting that the vehichle is void of critical engagement as much as I am saying that we must be able to walk on the holy ground of foremothers and sisters offering respect while providing a third way.

    This conversation has been rich however, I must admit that on some level, I struggle with some feminist approaches that black feminist adopt. In some ways the conversation about Obama amongst black feminist and womanist seems anti-male. While I agree Hilary’s campaign has had to endure great scrutiny because of her gender. And while, I feel that Barack, McCain or any of the other male candidates would have had to endure comments suggesting that they pimped out their daughter for votes–well maybe Barack would have on some level, I feel that what is being asked of me is to not acknowledge that their are some issues that Barack’s campaign has had to endure because he is black. So are we just returning the favor because he’s male. It doesn’t sound like we’re really trying to build a bridge of ideas more than give the white male driven, owned and operated media some germinal points on which to continue to cast division. I will admit I am torn. On some levels it feels very anti-male. My womanist views place me in a position that causes me to critique and analyze from a point of view where my voice and experiences are tantamount as a black woman. Yet for me this cannot be done without taking into account my relationship with black men good, bad or indifferent.

    I definitely think there are issues and will be issues to take Barack to task on however, I’m not sure if blasting him during his campaign is effective. The issue that most women have with those of us in the academy is that our ideas are not practical and do not trickle down to their reality. My mother always says, “I’m pro-woman but I don’t hate men. While it continues to be said that it’s not about race or gender but which candidate can do a better job, I know that it really is about race and gender. I am black and woman and I see things through those lenses. To ask me to depart from that is to ask me to separate myself. Is this not what the establishment is trying to get me to do?

  14. thanks for your questions. your weblog is great evidence that black feminists are out here. can’t bear liberal heterosexual/heterosexist politics. don’t like hillary, but think she’s smart and experienced. she has a lot to answer for endorsing the war in iraq, despite her rationalizations. don’t like barack for many of the reasons you have stated in your questions. he’s a machine politician. he couldn’t get outta chicago without being part of that machine. don’t like michelle obama either. experience her as anti-feminist. you’re right about how the obamas are held up as the black bourgeois nuclear family. i wish black people could get away from inserting christianity into everything in public. i voted for hillary in the n.j. primary as a vote against the barack machine in jersey city where i live. its obama territory here. all my neighbors have obama posters. i am not one who forms alliances, coalitions, or allegiances on the basis of race–or gender–for that matter. thanks for giving us the opportunity to blog you

  15. also–neither hillary nor barack have said anything about guantanamo. and the other detention sites.

  16. 1. I think we have to realize that having a discussion about politics in general is a classed discussion. People with more privilege i.e. jobs or situations that allow them to make it to the polls on time are the folks who are able to vote. There are folks in my family who have not been able to vote because they are unable to get the time off work to make it to the polls on time. Some folks have convictions that may or may not prevent them from going to the polls but the perception is that it will. I think a voting holiday is one way to make this a less classed discussion but you won’t hear any front runners talking about that in terms of voter reform.

    2. The “audacity of hope” is quite compelling and I see people being moved by what Obama represents more so than what his politics are. I’ve asked many people who say they support him because they like the “idea” of him and he is inspiring. But what does that really mean? Is the idea of him or the fact that he’s inspiring going to stop gentrification? Is it going to break down the school to prison pipeline? Is it going to make the U.S. sign the kyoto agreement and get on it about the environment?

    3. Electoral politics can only go so far. We live in an illegitimate country that refuses to acknowledge that it stole land and performed multiple genocides to exist. We must not forget that every time we validate the U.S. political system we are also invalidating the lives of indigenous people. That said, it seems the both/and of feminism must be at work here. We must be simultaneously critical of electoral politics on all fronts to ensure that we elect someone who is most capable to fight for the rights of the most marginalized and we must also think about the way elections distract us from the fundamentally imperialist nature from which they come. We must always remember that elections are not designed to fix the system but perpetuated it and this system is ultimately too toxic to be salvageable.

    4. We have to ask these questions of obama and of hillary. We even have to ask ourselves when will we ever have a viable multiparty system if we don’t take green or communist candidates seriously. Both candidates are extremely moderate, otherwise they wouldn’t have the funds to still be in the race. As my friend Brandy said “you’ve got to be trickin’ to be a front runner.” I mean it seems criminal that both campaigns are allowed to waste all this money on this foolishness and that money could be used for a million different things.

    5. My only hope is that whatever way it goes, people who were moved to participate in this election because of obama (definitely a point in his favor) don’t throw in the towel if he looses or if he wins. I hope people stay crunk and on him and don’t think that thing are over if he makes it into the white house or doesn’t.

  17. I like the respect and clear admiration that Barack exhibits for Michelle. Their relationship appears to be egalitarian. I think this bodes well for how he would look at gender as president.

    As for Hillary, I will never forgive her for her cowardly war vote. Ironically she didn’t want to appear as weak if the war went well and thus dampened her presidential prospects. She and Bill have proven over and over again that political expediency quickly trumps principles. My opposition to her has nothing to do with gender.

  18. Hm . . . I am really happy to see people conversing in this space. I think it’s great that we are saying unapologetically how we feel concerning the identity politics at play in this election, but I do have some concerns with respect to what it means to critique Barack Obama. My concerns are listed below.

    1. The Critique of Barack Obama Being Viewed as Support for Hillary Clinton

    I have received several emails and have had several conversations regarding the 10 questions. Most people automatically assume I am Hillary supporter primary because I make no mention of Hillary in the ten questions. As indicated in earlier comments I have many critiques of Hillary along the same lines as the critiques I have concerning Obama. The reason why I posed the questions to black feminist is because of the ideology of black feminism. The intersectional lens must not only be cast upon Hillary, but also upon Barack. I find it quite interesting that some black feminist are upholding a strategy of “lets not publicly critique Obama, wait until he gets elected” or “lets not publicly critique him at all because he has a lot of things to stand against already.” Hm . . . reminds me of some of the augments made in the early 90s concerning Clarence Thomas’ nomination to the Supreme Court (I am not saying that Barack Obama is a Clarence Thomas, not at all!). I think its okay to electorally support Obama if this is your choice, but it should not silence critique especially if you purport to be a black feminist.

    Furthermore, the same type of caricature we accuse second wave white feminist of doing “if you support Obama than you must not be a real feminist or truly committed to liberating women,” is the same type of caricature some Obama feminist supporters are doing to black women who critique Obama or who support Hillary “you must be white woman or the white woman’s Mammy” not knowing that some of the women who publicly critique him are supporters of him electorally. In general, I should not have to say I do not support Hillary to legitimize my critique Obama.

    2. The Strategy of Electing Barack Obama

    Above I’ve mentioned this. I’ve received emails and have had conversations with people concerning the ten questions and they have said what some have said on this blog that “we can’t afford to critique Obama publicly” because: (1) He is an intense primary delegate competition with Hillary Clinton; and (2) We cannot give more ammunition to the Republicans for the general election if Obama is the one chosen to represent the Democratic party. I find this somewhat troubling because once again we are being told to silence ourselves “publicly” as black feminist and support Barack Obama. And if we have problems with him “wait” until he is elected and than critique him publicly . . . “we must be united together.” This political strategy of “we must be united” quails dissent and has historically marginalized women of color and other communities that exist at the intersections of various social identities. This strategy is reminiscent of “don’t air the dirty laundry.”

    3. The Critique of Barack Obama as Being Anti-male

    Black feminist are not anti-male. The critique rendered against Obama on this blog is to begin another conversation concerning the candidacy of Barack Obama. Black feminist have publicly critiqued both second wave white feminist and Hillary Clinton, but there has not been much “public” conversations regarding Barack Obama’s privileges. So perhaps those who think this space seems to be anti-male because we critique Obama or the framing of Obama’s candidacy must also keep in mind that there are many public spaces were one can read critiques of Hillary and read critiques of second wave white feminist support of Hillary.

    4. The Lesser of Two Evils

    Also, I find it very interesting that many people I talk to say “Obama represents the lesser of two evils and we need to support the lesser of the evil” which once again is saying “we must all unite behind” Obama and not critique him in public. To this I say as I said above, support should not silence critique. Furthermore, why must we choose any evil??????

  19. i am one of those feminist sistas that didnt say anything until the pot boiled over wit steinam’s op-ed piece. she struck a nerve and i responded.

    nontheless, the real issues is what has this brotha done as senator? what has he vote on? what has he strayed away from and what has he embraced? how effing messy or unmessy is he?

    why vote for obama
    i still think my answer is the ‘bestest’
    cuz he got ears like will smith. *shrug*
    that’s as good of an answer as ‘cuz he’s Black’

    but seriously, i can understand why elders would vote for him jus b/c he is black. they showed a 90 year old lady and her 75 year old daughter voting last tuesday right after i saw the elders on the screen and i looked at through their eyes.

    i was talking with my great aunts, and for them, as wit many elders. it’s as simple as them never thinking in their lifetime that they’d see something like this- a Black man with such a good chance of at least getting the democratic nomination and possibly becoming president. oh and let’s not mention that he sounds like a baptist preacher, that definately does help. he got the messiahtic (sp) thing going on, and the comparisons to mlk.

    and yes, as fal pointed out it is very heteronormative (sp) how he is being played up. many Black folks are supporting him b/c they are happy that he represents an image that counteracts all other images of us in pop culture. and not to mention black folks are annoyed with bill clinton, our ‘first’ black president lol lol lol, for bad mouthing obama. so they support hilary.

    and yes, we all know ‘family’ does not neccessarily have to be the traditional man, womon and child. but, pop culture shows/presents so few HEALTHY Black families, albeit heteronomative or any other, that Black folks are happy to see him. he is a breath of fresh air for many. so though that aint my take on obama, i totally get it. yeah, it’s six in one hand and 1/2 dozen in the other.

    yes, obama is problematic. moreso, on what he has voted on as a senator and his waivering views on some keys issues, but, i can see why elders in particular would vote for him. elders in particular, b/c of what they’ve been through and them wanting their vote to be counted and matter. moreover, they want to exercise their right to vote. unlike me, who believe in exercising my vote but is okay with writing harriet tubman’s name on the ballot if the people running arent someone i would vote for.

    a 12 year old told me saturday that he would have voted for obama b/c he was black. he said, “not that he is great, but a nigga in office would piss them off….then again, they will try and kill him!”

    it was a primary…how many us voted for cynthia mckinney?

  20. so… i’ve been hesitant about responding to this discussion for a number of different reasons… but… here are a couple (although nowhere near most) of my thoughts…

    1. Nycetwin i completely agree. as scholars/black activists/feminists/whatever… at some point we have to start thinking about the usefulness of these type of discussions. what are we really accomplishing? of course it can be argued that it is providing a space that doesn’t currently exist for black feminists (and those connected to them) to talk about the presidential elections… but ultimately… isn’t it just preaching to the choir? we talk about the privledge of obama and clinton… but ultimately aren’t we just perpetuating our own privledge through these spaces that are closed to most non-educated and/or poor people? even the language of this discussion for the most part is inaccessible… not only to the groups just mentioned but to anyone who isn’t familiar with black feminist scholarly work. if there is any hope of a black feminist rhetoric truly influencing anything outside of itself… it would seem that the most important thing would be to starting thinking about critiques of the candidates that the everyday black woman can engage in on a meaningful and significant way.

    2. poet… i disagree… i think one of the amazing things about this electoral season is the way in which it has opened up politics to the everyday person. i go to the beauty salon or the barbershop… and i see cnn on instead of jerry springer…. people are not only voting before and after they go to work (remember the polls are open from 6am to 9pm in most states)… but they are continuing to engage in the political process in a number of different ways…

    3. as far as the question(s) at hand… primarily.. why aren’t (all/some) black feminists publicly critiquing obama in the way they may or may not be critiquing clinton? quite simply.. unless the said black feminists have decided they are going to disengage from the political process because of its inherent problems/biases/etc… (which doesn’t seem to be the case)… then they are going to pick a candidate to support… and if the candidate they chose is obama… then why would they publicly critique him? it just wouldn’t make any sense for alice walker or toni morrison to write the beautiful endorsements that they did for obama and then turn around and publicly critique him… it would on the other hand make sense for them to have private conversations with him about whatever they see as problematic in his campaign or platform… which may or may not be happening… i wont pretend to be a political insider…
    now if a significant number of black feminists are choosing to endorse obama thats an entirely different question… but i wouldnt even think to start generalizing as to why any one person or group of people are making the political choices that they are.

    ultimately… i think this all goes back to my original point… yes the american political system is broken… it was probably built with a couple of pieces left out from the beginning (lol). but the reality is that it is a political system that is affecting the lives of our friends.family.daughters.sisters.mothers.sons.etc. in real.tangible.significant ways. so it is critical as people of color/women with the privledge of accessing these spaces of influence… that our work remains grounded in that reality. in other words. if our work doesnt remain grounded in the everyday. and instead becomes trapped in our own privleded ivory tower… what better are we then the white scholars that we fight day in and day out?

    this is not to say that theoretical discussions have no value… or that having a vision beyond the current structures that define our lives is not important… instead… it is just a reminder of why we are all here.


  21. good questions. i will listen for a while.

  22. Ajmb and Nycetwin, I fully agree with your comments especially the idea that often our theoretical discussions do not bare light on the realities of everyday living. And perhaps the discussion in terms of language and the internet are inaccessible.

    But I think we should be careful in making assumptions about people’s ability to reason and their ability know the things we know in this space concerning black feminism. Because to assume that people outside of the academy are not affected by the questions that are posed or to assume that people outside of the academy are not asking similar questions of Obama or to assume that people outside of the academy do not understand some of the terms that are used is somewhat troubling. And I do not mean to beat a broken drum, but I think we should be very careful not to assume that people outside of the academy are not having similar discussions.

    I will admit that black feminism is an abstract theoretical concept, but black feminism as an ideology exist in response to the daily lived experiences of women of color who found themselves at the cross sections of many “real life everyday oppressions.” When I ask the question—Why aren’t we willing to “publicly” critique how Barack Obama’s candidacy is framed in very heteronormative terms—I am speaking to how heterosexuality is privileged in ways that marginalize, discriminate, and oppress other sexualities that are deemed deviant. And of course the framing effects are even more complicated when you add race, gender, and class to how both white and black people are viewing Obama, Michelle, and their two children. I think we should talk about the framing because it does have real life affects on both people inside and outside of the academy. (I don’t like the categories of inside vs. outside)

    When I ask the question—Why do black feminist “publicly” only focus on the privileges of Hillary Clinton’s white supremacist gendered identity and ignore the privileges of Barack Obama’s racialized gendered identity among black people and black womyn—I am wanting people to remember, acknowledge, and discuss the gendered cultural scripts that operate within the black communities regarding how black men are endangered, how we need married black fathers, how black men have it hard, how we have a history of always wanting to protect black men even when they do us harm. I think these things are important to talk about because they have real life consequences for people’s lives in particular black women’s lives in particular my life.

    When I work with black female youth some of them know of black feminism and some do not, but they do tell me that they are treated differently because they are black girls especially when they have brothers. They tell me they are treated differently by men when they walk down the street by themselves or with their guy friends. They tell me they know black men have it worse than black women and it’s their responsibility as strong black women to help black men. I guess what I am trying to say is that the terminology black feminist may be abstract for some, but the concerns and the questions posed on this blog derive their potency from the everyday lives experiences of what it means to be a woman of color who stands at the intersections of many social identities.

    But I do understand that often the academy is far removed from the everyday experiences of life . . . but this should not be the case for people of color who are committed to a transformative social justice politic. On some level, the dichotomy of in or out of the academy is antithetical to black feminism.

  23. Fal I think you raise some great points. I have always been extremenly advid about getting Black men and women to see some of the priviledges that Black men are afforded, despite the narrative of victimization that constantly gets perpetuated everywhere.

    However my statement about class is not to say that people outside of the academy are not having conversations about the election or the race, gender, and class dynamics that are being played out. Instead my point was just that are they articulating some of these same points in the same way? I just feel like this dialogue is exclusionary. I myself as a doctoral candidate frankly didn’t understand the context behind some of what was said in the original post. And immediately I felt excluded from the dialogue (and I recognize that was self-imposed and not because someone said so).

    I suppose I just feel like sometimes Black feminist or womanist don’t acknowledge their own priviledges too. Perhaps I’m wrong. Again I don’t follow the Black Feminist or womanist movement. In undergrad I did consider myself a womanist. Now I don’t subscribe to any title. I’m just a Black woman who wants there to be a better recognition of the race/class/gender/sexuality/disability/sexual health and etc. disparities that we all participate in everyday either as the oppressed or the oppressor.

    I’ve read P.Hill-Collins and bell hooks, and a number of other women but I don’t really identify as a Black feminist because I don’t think I fit that paradigm. If I did try to identify with that I feel like I would, simply put, get played for not following all of the tenants of Black feminism, whatever that may mean. Pardon my cynicism.

  24. One last thought…I just feel like often times in many spaces (particularly liberal spaces) someone always wants to trump one person for not being as PC, or not being as open-minded, or not understanding the struggles of every group.

    I am certainly biased when it comes to certain issues that others may not agree with. Yes I am heterosexual and yes I admire the significance and symbolism of Barack and Michlle’s family and yes I recognize that as a priviledge.

    But does that make someone else a better person than me because they can empathize with a struggle that I can’t? Am I narrow-minded because I’m not whole-heartedly critiquing the heteronormativism of what the nuclear family symbolizes (though I recognize that it’s exclusionary)? I don’t see anything wrong with Barack and Michelle being promoted as the “strong Black family”. That’s important to me. I understand that’s not everyone’s reality (it certainly wasn’t mine growing up) but I don’t think that image is all bad.

    We all have the power to marginalize some group of people, or some voice and we all do this whether we admit it or not. The question though is whether or not we recognize those traits within ourselves?

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