The Democratic presidential primary is forcing the country to pay attention to its own sexism and racism, bigotries we have swept under the rug for years. In a recent New York Times Op-Ed, Gloria Steinem called sexism “the most restricting force in American life,” reinforced by NYTimes columnist Bob Hubert’s statement, “if there was ever a story that deserved more coverage by the news media, it’s the dark persistence of misogyny in America.” A San Francisco Chronicle op-ed has declared that “the race is now about race,” and the question of whether we are more misogynistic or more racist suddenly becomes of the utmost importance.
In The Difference “Difference” Makes, Deborah Rhode argues that “a central problem for American women is the lack of consensus that there is a significant problem. Gender inequalities in leadership opportunities are pervasive; perceptions of inequality are not.” It will be interesting to see how Hillary Clinton’s candidacy, propelled as it is by her husband’s career, influences this balance: her candidacy is bringing attention to institutionalized and individual misogynies, but her extraordinary chance at becoming President could be used to further dismiss the real obstacles that most women face in assuming leadership.
Despite the 1990s movement, exemplified by Tiger Woods and examined in Making Multiracials by Kimberly DaCosta, to create widespread recognition of multiracial and multiethnic identities, Barack Obama is identified, and appears to self-identify, as African-American. At the same time, he is a figure of potential reconciliation, presenting himself as a symbol that we can all move beyond black and white. Like Clinton, Obama’s position as a political leader is a challenge to the way American society conceives of its minority groups (discussed by Stephen Steinberg in Race Relations).