Obviously a presidential nomination contest that pits the first viable woman candidate against the first viable black candidate will shake things up a little bit in the standard discourse about race and gender. We've seen questionable comments slip from the mouths of supporters of both sides, and we've seen quite the media stampede to denounce them time and time again.
I think it's important, though, to note a pattern. From Joe Biden's slip over a year ago to the "pimping Chelsea out" comment on MSNBC and now to Geraldine Ferraro's "lucky to be black" shitstorm, we've seen some pretty ridiculous comments that have aggravated already sensitive relations. Let's look at Ferraro. She said that if Barack Obama were not black, that he would not be where he is today. Then, defending herself later, she said that of course this is the truth. If she hadn't been a woman, she wouldn't have been selected as Mondale's running mate. Likewise, if Obama weren't black, he wouldn't be where he is now. It's the truth! She said. Then she spun reverse-racism, and the feeding frenzy began again.
As much as Ferraro's comments irritate me, I think there is a critical distinction here that a lot of people are missing. Her comments are being touted as racist. I don't think they're racist--I think they're just plain stupid. I don't mean stupid as an empty insult--I mean literally stupid; unintelligent. If Obama weren't black, she's right, he may not be where he is now. If he had stayed in NYC when he was young instead of moving to Chicago, he may not be where he is now. If he had not slept in one morning and missed the train on his way to class, he may not be where he is now. All of these comments are potentially true and simultaneously completely worthless. So I agree with Ferraro's defense of herself that she was not being racist. I think that there is a difference between a person making racist comments and a stupid person making stupid comments that have to do with race. These people are not trying to demean others because of their skin color or gender--they are trying to show off their logical reasoning skills (however flawed they may be). The fact is that race is a hot issue right now, as is gender. ("Pimping Chelsea out"--sexist? Really? Or just idiotic, like something a drunk frat boy might say if he were allowed an appearance on national television.) And that means that a lot of people are going to be speaking up with their original position on the matter--and a lot of these people are going to be stupid, and their positions will follow.
The reason I think this is important is because there IS some major, widespread "-ism" going on with this election. And it's happening everywhere--the mainstream media, in private conversations, in mass e-mails, in blogs. People are saying that Barack Obama is a muslim, and people are defending him by saying THAT'S NOT TRUE!!! I can count the number of times I've heard the response "no, actually he's not, but so what if he was?" on one hand. The muslim label is being invoked and rejected as though it categorically defines a person's fitness for office. That, my friends, is what we need to be fighting. That is what the dissolution of racism and sexism in this country has revealed as the next frontier of bigotry--bias that nobody is fighting, that both sides reinforce, as though it were an aspect of reality rather than our own minds. Check this video where they get Barack's reflection on an Ohio voter's mispronouncement of his faith:
The worst part of this video is not the sad, sad ignorance of the voter they interviewed, but rather where it ends: Cutting Barack off in mid-sentence as he tries to explain how this rumor is offensive not only to him, but to muslims as well. I guess that's not part of the story of bigotry in America today.