The Unbearable Agony of Voting for Black Women

or How to be Woke but still Maintain Your White Privilege

Recently, Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee for President announced that he was looking to fill the VP spot with a woman. John Lewis, who has been very supportive of Biden, has strongly encouraged Biden to choose a woman of color. So naturally the speculation over who he would tap ran rampant. The chief contenders on twitter seem to be notable black women Elizabeth Warren, Amy Klobucher, and Gretchen Whitmer.

Look at all that melanin. Only one of them’s even blonde!!

Now, that’s not to say that Klobuchar and Whitmer couldn’t do the job, but why is Lewis’ suggestion being ignored? The argument generally goes that Klobuchar will bring the Midwest, Warren’s def totes “progressive” even though she’s a former Republican, and Whitmer something something COVID-19 response. Which, okay. Cool. These are not actually completely invalid arguments. I’m still trying to figure out Tim Kaine. But as impressive as any of these or the various other white women being trotted out as the definitely best choice Joe Biden could possibly make, there’s quite a few black women and women of color who would also be comparable or better.

There’s Kamala Harris, Stacey Abrams, Maxine Waters, Marcia Fudge, Val Demings, Tammy Duckworth, Keisha Lance Bottoms, and realistically hundreds more. Now, the biggest problem here is there is voter suppression of minority voters and the system remains skewed towards white men so it’s quite difficult for a woman particularly a woman of color to win elections and thereby build up the requisite experience. Ironically, it’s kinda easier to win the Presidential nomination than it is to have the experience appropriate to be picked for the Vice Presidential spot. To get the Presidential nomination you do not technically need to have any experience, but to get the VP nod you must be well known and liked in the party and you must have experience.

A small selection of women of color who could do the VP job.

And there’s a sort of positive feedback loop here. Women in particular and in general are less likely to be interested and engaged in politics because there are fewer female politicians. Conversely, the more women in the upper echelons of politics the more engaged women voters and future female politicians tend to be. So, it’s super important to elect more women in general and women of color in particular. Biden’s instinct to make his cabinet representational of America is a rather good one.

So here’s where we get into “identity politics.” I am not going to get into where this term came from because I just don’t care enough. It’s probably in my book. There’s a lot in my book.

“I wrote it down in my book so I wouldn’t have to remember.” Also, pictured: several of the reasons I became an Archaeologist. That’s not actually a joke. (Indiana Jones the Last Crusade, Lucasfilm, 1989)

It’s hard to say exactly whether someone is anti or pro “identity politics,” because it’s just a ridiculous thing, but the idea is identity politics is about electing someone on the basis of their fitting into a given demographic rather than their actual accomplishments. Now, that sounds great. We absolutely should elect and hire people based on their actual resume as opposed to their melanin levels and genitalia. But that really only works in a system where there is no institutional racism and sexism.

As I pointed out before, women in general being in politics at high levels causes more women to be interested, involved, and start careers in politics. The other thing is that white people especially white men have a severe aversion to voting for anyone who isn’t also white and male. They need to get over it because it’s colossally stupid, but it also severely damages Western democracy as practised in the United States in that by keeping the governing class that white and that male we will never become an actual representative democracy.

The argument against women in general and black women in particular (although all women of color get this super racist treatment) is two-fold. First, the woman doesn’t have the experience because she’s never been elected to this office before or we’ve never had a woman in this level of office before. Obvious problem with that is obvious. Second, this white man who has also never held that office or even a office has the same experience as her and as a man we talk about him in terms of future potential rather than past accomplishments, so let’s just be safe here. I really hope I don’t need to explain the double standards present in this rhetoric.

Since 1870 there have been ten African-American Senators. In the Senate presently there are three. In all of American history there have been two black women who served as Senators. The first was Carole Moseley Braun of Illinois who served from 1993 to 1999, and the second is Kamala Harris. That’s it. Were this a properly representational democracy there should be right this very instant at least thirteen black Senators and seven of them should be female. Kamala Harris is currently up in the Senate having to do the work of seven black women. She is only one black woman and she tends to get race-checked for reasons. I like her a lot, but it’s unreasonable to ask her or anyone to shoulder that level of responsibility.

But until we normalize women, particularly women of color in higher office people are going to keep on saying stuff like, “but white people won’t vote for them; what about the white vote?” or “if we have a capable white candidate, why risk voting for a minority candidate? We should vote on the basis of ability, not skin color!” In fact, Bernie Sanders made that very argument — well, he made it about gender rather than race — in multiple campaigns. He went so far in his 1986 gubernatorial race to argue that voting for women was sexist. Sanders’ argument was not just corrupt, but absurd and misogynist. He was essentially saying, “women don’t matter, and have no place in politics.” Now, he and his supporters would argue that what he actually said is that voting for women just because they’re women is sexist but that’s still wrong. You can’t be sexist when voting for a woman even if you’re only doing it because she’s a woman because institutionally, men are prefered. Now, if you’re voting for someone like Tulsi Gabbard or Sarah Palin you’re being an idiot, but you’re likely not being sexist.

If we’re being truly fair the only identity politics which exists is when white people insist on having white politicians to vote for. And yeah, America is about 60–70% white so I’m not all that upset that there’s lots of white politicians, but if we were doing this strictly on the basis of ability then most state and federal government would be about 80% female and a good half of color. Female legislators are roughly twice as effective as male legislators and people of color tend to work harder than white people. So … I mean, democratically I don’t think white people should be drummed out of office, but I do think it’s a bit absurd to try to yell “identity politics,” when you’re supporting a white person or a man.

The really sad part about all this is this demand for Biden to choose a white woman for VP is coming from white women. I’m white, but I support Harris and — in case it wasn’t clear from that snide remark in the opening — have been pretty suspicious of Elizabeth Warren since she tried making demands of HRC. I’m devastated that HRC isn’t in the Oval Office right now but that’s because HRC is the most qualified person to have ever run for the Presidency. Seriously, name me any other individual who has been a US Senator, Secretary of State, and FLOTUS. Go ahead. I’ll be here. There’s actually only two other people in our history who ran for President after having served as both a Sec. of State and Senator. It’s fine to mourn HRC, but it’s not fine to do so because she is white.

Again, Bernie Sanders tried to poison the water here as well. One of the big claims in his 2016 campaign — and this one, I dunno if it came from the top or if it was just another of the super caustic Broisms — was that HRC not only couldn’t be President because she’s a woman but couldn’t get black votes because she’s white and blah blah white feminism. That was pretty soundly disproved in South Carolina. Black people were clearly quite happy to vote for her.

Pictured: Bernie Sanders’ political armour. Yes, I AM reusing this joke. It is still funny.

But if black people were willing to vote for a qualified white women do explain to me why white people shouldn’t have to vote for a qualified black woman. Again, I’ll be here.

There’s this super racist thing among white women that we shouldn’t include women of color in feminism and that we should preference race over gender. Never mind that women of color are the driving forces in feminism and progressivism. Once again, it comes down to white supremacy, white privilege, and status threat. For white women especially the threat of being othered and losing our racial privilege is a very real thing. White feminism is known for its sort of misery contest with civil rights and that very misery contest is what a lot of misogynists use to try to negate all feminism. Yeah, women couldn’t easily establish lines of credit in their own names as recently as 1974 and yeah the women’s suffrage movement did more or less cut ties with black civil rights activists over race. These things are true. They do not mean that neither women nor people of color should have rights. They also do not mean that feminism is diametrically opposed racial equality.

In fact, this conflict is artificial and a means for white supremacists to maintain control. Awhile back I wrote this article about how white supremacy is undermining democracy specifically by allowing white men to control the narrative. I put Susan B. Anthony’s gravestone covered in “I voted,” stickers as the main picture to highlight how long social justice takes and the tragedy that we elected a woman President but couldn’t seat her. Anyways, this was the first response I got. He is now blocked.

Unsurprisingly, he was not the only Bernie Bro who took serious issue with my article about democracy. The other guy got hidden and blocked as well because his comments were also nonfactual and bigoted.

Tim [last name redacted] is mad that I’m calling out white supremacy because white supremacy is what butters his white bread toast. To be honest, most white supremacists like Tim are a little more on the nose with their white supremacy, but dude, I’m not going to shut up just because a suffragette was problematic once. Tim’s basic argument is the typical, “your movement is not morally perfect in all possible ways and therefore burn the witch.” So yeah, I’m not playing with that.

But unfortunately, a lot of white women do in various ways. Some will abandon feminism completely as I think Tim was hoping I would do and some engage in “white feminism,” which is basically white women über alles. You might wonder how white feminism might be aligned with white supremacy or the patriarchy in that it does pretty rigidly promote only white women no matter what, but there’s two major issues with it:

  1. It’s really stupid and may therefore be used as a foil against actual feminism.
  2. It divides women and causes us to fight over stupid delineations that don’t really matter allowing white men to carry the day.

The biggest problem here is that white women tend to have more than a little bit of Stockholm Syndrome. We’re close enough to white men and therefore power that we feel like we are ourselves empowered, but we also know that if we don’t keep white men happy they will do terrible horrifying things to us … or treat us exactly the same way they treat our black sisters. Ultimately, white women have more in common with other women than we do with white men, but because other women have even less power we don’t want to identify with them. It’s our special messed up kind of status threat.

There’s all sorts of absurd justifications for why white women shouldn’t be challenged to vote for a woman of color and the majority of this stupidity is coming from people who claim to be progressive. But ultimately, if we want to see meaningful change and equality then the most expedient means is via supporting women of color. We’re not losing anything at all if Kamala Harris is Vice President. Well, we are. We’re losing a butt-kicking California Senator. But if you’re so intent on electing a white woman then I’m a California resident and I can run for her seat. Okay? Problem solved.

Doctor of Palaeopathology, rage-prone optimist, stealth berserker, opera enthusiast, and insatiable consumer of academic journals.

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