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  • Writer's pictureNancy Dafoe

Racism and Sexism Continue to Define America

Updated: Aug 12, 2020

The moment former Vice President and current Presidential candidate Joe Biden announced his preference for a woman Vice President, overt statements of racism and sexism leaped out front again.

The small-town mayor of a Virginia township wrote on his Facebook post: “Joe Biden just announced Aunt Jemima as his VP pick.” After his clearly racist post drew him unwanted attention, Barry Presgraves wrote not a correction or apology but dug deeper in his racist screed: “I took it to be humorous…I don’t have a racist bone in my body,” said the clearly racist man. Of course, when it comes to racist statements and denials of the apparently obvious, Barry has lots of company in this nation.

After the inauguration of Trump, ex-con (arrested for stealing FEMA funds) Pamela Taylor, a West Virginia official at the time, wrote, “Thank God. I’m tired of seeing an ape in heels,” referring to former First Lady Michelle Obama. After receiving flak for her statements, Taylor wrote, “My comment was not intended to be racist at all.”

There are two things that are givens in this still racist, sexist country: racists will deny their racism even as it is falling from their mouths and sexists feel comfortable in their sexism in a country which still encourages such talk and behavior in the 21st Century. It is agonizingly apparent in that nearly every Western country in the world has elected a woman to lead them except the United States of America.

If the problems of racism and sexism were confined to small town mayors and their constituents, we would not have the kind of pervasive issues we are dealing with today. When Hillary Clinton, a former First Lady and Secretary of State, ran for the presidency, the sexism flew fast and furious: “her voice is too shrill;” “she never smiles:” “when does she stop talking;” “her awful high-pitched tone;” “the way she dresses;” “aging before our eyes:” “always been too ambitious:” “her unlikability factor.”

As a direct result of the sexist barbs thrown at Hillary Clinton when she was running for President in 2016, a group of women leaders got together and created the “We Have Her Back” statement to release to news media. Signed by leaders from NARAL, Emily’s List, Planned Parenthood, Time’s up, among many others, “We Have Her Back” notes, “Women have been subjected to stereotypes and tropes about qualifications, leadership, relationships, and experience. Those stereotypes are often amplified and weaponized for Black and Brown women.” These stereotypes, the group noted, “turn into misguided stories that perpetuate impressions of women as inadequate leaders.” “We Have Her Back” is not aimed at the Barry Presgraves of the country but journalists in national media outlets. Even the best real journalism corporations have been complicit in perpetuating these stereotypes and holding qualified, intelligent women leaders down.

The New York Times intentional or inadvertent attempt to derail Hillary Clinton’s bid for the Presidency with over 400 articles about her choice of email file server (as opposed to the scant number of articles about the very real crimes committed by Donald Trump) are now well documented. Yet, the New York Times has been far less egregious than most news outlets, which is not saying much for how journalism approaches sexism today.

Men are not alone in continuing these injustices. New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd wrote her column, “Can Hillary Cry Her Way Back to the White House” during Clinton’s bid for the Presidency. The idea that sexism is perpetuated only by men is entirely false. Too many women have found a way to achieve employment and power is to fully embrace the male patriarchy no matter how many individuals, and the country as a whole, are demeaned.

Many will recall radio personality and right-wing propagandist Rush Limbaugh stating about Hillary Clinton’s run for the Presidency: “Will this country want to actually watch a woman get older before their eyes on a daily basis?” The number of times Clinton was called a “stereotypical bitch” in various conservative media outlets during her bid for the Presidency are too numerous to count.

Talk-show contributor Mike Barnicle said on the Morning Joe show that Hillary Clinton looked, “like everyone’s first wife standing outside a probate court,” to the painfully obvious complicity and laughter of the televised audience.

The United States of America does not feel particularly united on much except its racism and sexism. A Christian news outlet wrote during Hillary Clinton’s campaign, “Do you think that Mrs. Clinton would be willing to have ‘entire submissiveness’ when she sits at her desk in the White House, when she addresses Congress, when she is interacting with the Heads of State of other nations, or when she discusses national policy?” The idea that women must remain “entirely submissive” should have long ago disappeared, just as should have the idea of demeaning people of color, but today we have Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton. Cotton recently publicly stated, “slavery was a necessary evil” that allowed America to develop. When called out on his statement, Cotton merely doubled down in defense of his blatant racism.

Americans from nearly every cross section of the country have aided and abetted the perpetuation of both racism and sexism. How many times have we all heard, “We want a woman leader, just not that kind of woman.” Democrat legislator and Biden vetting committee member Chris Dodd said of Kamala Harris, a potential VP choice, “she lacks contrition.” She is also “too ambitious,” according to Dodd, and she might not be a “team player,” regardless of her high regard in the Senate. Former Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell said of Senator Harris, “she can rub people the wrong way.” He only needed to add, “men who are threatened by intelligent, confident women leaders” to make the statement complete.

You know, American people, the ambitious one, the one who does not smile enough, the one who holds her head too proudly, the one who must have “slept her way to the top.” It would be interesting and entertaining to see an article in which a male leader is examined in the same manner as a woman leader.

“We Have Her Back” signer Jess Morales, Executive Director at Care in Action, wrote, “Even in this moment of women ascending to heights that we never have had in our country’s history, it’s still really being talked about and debated through the lens of a man.”

If you do only one thing besides vote during this critically important election cycle, make sure you do not perpetuate racist and sexist tropes. Thank goodness that Kamala Harris is ambitious. We are grateful Stacey Abrams wants higher office. Keep that steely look in your eyes, diplomat Susan Rice.

Yes, we are a long, long way from our Constitution’s promise of “being a more perfect union.”

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