If people can say they will vote for Hillary Clinton because she is a woman, why were Obama supporters so reluctant to say they were voting for him because he is Black?
Writing for The Fix in The Washington Post, Hunter Schwarz points out that a number of celebrities are supporting Clinton specifically because of her gender. For example, Jennifer Lopez said “It’s time for a woman,” while Ne-Yo said: “I know we got some sort of females running. … Ms. Clinton, I should say, she’s a favorite of mine. … I’m all for that. I’m all for change.”
And Pharrell Williams declared: “We’re about to have a female president. Hillary’s gonna win. … No matter how staunch of a supporter you are on no-abortion, whatever you are: You’re a woman, and there’s no way in the world you’re going to vote for somebody that’s going to try to tell you what to do with your body. … She represents a woman in power, and she did great as the secretary of state. She’s gonna win.”
However, when Obama ran for president in 2008, while some of his supporters may have invoked race when voting for him, Obama’s Blackness was not discussed nearly as frequently. Certainly, the candidate was loath to openly or blatantly mention his own blackness for fear of being boxed in, however historic his candidacy may have been.
Assessing why it is both popular and acceptable for supporters to say they are supporting Clinton because of her gender, Shwarz surmises that gender transcends politics more than color or faith, and is safer to discuss. He also argues that since Obama was elected in 2008, on both the left and the right, society has become more comfortable in announcing “firsts.”
Nevertheless, Johanna Dunaway in The New York Observer has a different take on Hillary. Noting the Clinton campaign has recently embraced the candidate’s gender, Dunaway writes: “This is probably the right strategic decision for her candidacy, but in some ways may not be a great exemplar for other women candidates.” The writer argues that conventional wisdom would dictate that Clinton could downplay her gender in favor of her political experience, Clinton is no ordinary candidate. After all, she a former first lady, senator and secretary of state.
Moreover, Dunaway believes it is wise for Clinton to emphasize the “historic firsts” concept, given that she is part of a political dynasty at a time when people want change and have a low level of confidence in government. Further, there have been the distractions, such as Benghazi, financial questions about the Clinton Foundation, problems relating to the press, and the scandal surrounding her State Department emails. And although Clinton would not be the first woman to run on being a woman, she may be the first to run against her former image.
Writing for CNN last April, Jennifer Lawless said Clinton the presidential candidate will be expected to solve gender inequality if elected—an impossible task for any one person—saddling her with a burden that male politicians do not have to shoulder. “A win would mean a woman in the White House, which is a vital step in the march toward women’s full political inclusion. But it’s possible that the march will end right there. We’ll break our arms patting ourselves on the back for how far we’ve come. We’ll raise the ‘Mission Accomplished’ banner over the women’s movement. And we’ll call it a day.”
Before Clinton officially announced her candidacy, Donna Brazile said on CNN that Clinton would run as a woman, a stark contrast to 2008, when “she had to reassure voters that a woman could be president, primarily by not accentuating the fact that she was a woman. This time around, there seems to be a shared assumption that, of course, a woman would make an excellent president, in part simply by virtue of being a woman.” In 2008, according to Brazile, Clinton ran as the most experienced candidate to distinguish herself from her less experienced challenger, Barack Obama.
Meanwhile, “Black firsts” are held to standards to which others are oblivious, reflecting society’s tendency to treat Black people based on racial stereotyping and as if they are of lesser value, and a reluctance to embrace blackness on Black people’s terms. This is part of the “Jackie Robinson” syndrome, the notion that Black people must work harder, have superior credentials to white competitors, not appear to be too loud or angry, and prove that they, too are American.
Speaking at Tuskegee University in May, First Lady Michelle Obama spoke of the double standards she faced on the 2008 campaign trail, the slights she has faced and the emotional toll it took on her. “You might remember the on-stage celebratory fist bump between me and my husband after a primary win that was referred to as a ‘terrorist fist jab,’ ” she said. “And over the years, folks have used plenty of interesting words to describe me. One said I exhibited ‘a little bit of uppity-ism.’ Another noted that I was one of my husband’s ‘cronies of color.’ Cable news once charmingly referred to me as ‘Obama’s Baby Mama.’ ”
People “will make assumptions about who they think you are based on their limited notion of the world,” Ms. Obama said, as was reported in The Hill. “My husband and I know how frustrating that experience can be. We’ve both felt the sting of those daily slights throughout our entire lives. … And all of that is going to be a heavy burden to carry.”
In contrast, the first Black president has been criticized for not addressing racism. According to Cornel West, President Obama is the first “niggerized” president. “A niggerized Black person is a Black person who is afraid and scared and intimidated when it comes to putting a spotlight on white supremacy and fighting against white supremacy,” West recently told CNN. “So when many of us said we have to fight against racism, what were we told? ‘No, he can’t deal with racism because he has other issues, political calculations. He’s the president of all America, not just Black America.’ We know he’s president of all America but white supremacy is American as cherry pie.”