On Race, Gender, Michelle Obama, And The Politics Of Twitter

Illustration for article titled On Race, Gender, Michelle Obama, And The Politics Of Twitter

Another day, another roadtrip, as the Washington Independent's personal Attackerman, Spencer Ackerman, joins me live from the Netroots Nation conference in Austin, Texas. Topics discussed: Arianna Huffington's ability to channel the evil that is Karl Rove, race relations and the old-guard feminist movement in America, why we haven't heard the anti-sexism drum beating quite so hard for Michelle Obama and why the Obama campaign has to try so hard to remind people that Michelle's a mother, wife, and woman, too.


MEGAN: Hey, how is Austin?

SPENCER: It's filled with liberals, positive reinforcement, beef products, Johnny Dash-themed dive bars, extremely cheap beer, and bloggers with pulverizing hangovers.

MEGAN: HuffPo has been Twittering it.

SPENCER: I have met a lot of FDL commenters, who rule; Brandon Friedman of VetVoice gave Wesley Clark a terrorist fist jab at the keynote; I was told to pipe down because I was telling off-color stories during Howard Dean's keynote.

MEGAN: I get told that a lot, too, but really? Howard Dean is that important to listen to?

SPENCER: yeah, Nico asked me if I'd be on the HuffPo twitter feed, but that would require unlocking my Twitter and inviting people I don't know to see it, and there's a lot of stuff that I really don't want to make public on there.

MEGAN: I know, because you never accepted even me as one of your Twitter friends. I'm trying not to be mad about it.

SPENCER: I didn't? I'll put you on. Anyway we should probably talk about the news and shit.

MEGAN: Yeah, probably. So, at an ad conference, someone asked Arianna to play Karl Rove and run plays against Obama. Arianna's not that creative, but hearing her say aloud what we all know is going on at RNC HQ is sort of freaky.

Barack Obama may be Muslim, we're not sure, but he is definitely a Muslim sympathizer. He is the candidate of Hamas. He wants to negotiate with terrorists. He does, basically, not really care for America.

Also, she said "Hawai'i barely counts" as growing up in America and Michelle is "angry and bitter."

SPENCER: The first piece of Obama literature I saw when I got here was a doorknob flyer that read COMMITTED CHRISTIAN.

MEGAN: Which is part of the current messaging that this committed agnostic (no, it's not an oxymoron) doesn't really love, but whatevs.

SPENCER: Arianna's probably right that the sotto voce campaign will move away from the statement "Obama is a Muslim" to "We can't be sure that Obama isn't a Muslim". At this point, it's a safer play to make that sort of epistemic claim — there's absolutely no way Obama could disprove it, it's not the sort of statement that admits of the facts, as they taught me in epistemology class.

MEGAN: Hasn't it already?

SPENCER: It has? My prediction has come true already? See, that's why I'm an A-list blogger.

MEGAN: Indeed! I mean, it's (not to bring up old wounds here) but totally where Clinton went, "I have no reason to doubt it" and "not that I know" and such.

SPENCER: Let's. Not. Talk. About. That.

SPENCER: There is sooooooo much relief-slash-jubilation that the primary is over here — at our FDL caucus yesterday, a review of the last year on the blog tread delicately on the subject of the Great Interfamilial Unpleasantness.

MEGAN: I'm glad at least some bitches are hugging it out after the whole Ricki Lieberman thing that left a bad taste in my mouth. So, moving on to something everyone can be pissed about, there's a new anti-Michelle ad.

SPENCER: YES LET'S. It actually ends with these women pledging allegiance, and what's up with that Reagan quote at the end? "Freedom is never more than a generation away from extinction?" is that like, a threat?

MEGAN: Yes, the Pledge of Allegiance, the vaguely martial music and the use of all women in the add is rather pointed. All in all, still shit but far better done than the North Carolina ad.

SPENCER: Did you see the NYT/CBS poll about Michelle Obama? Her negatives are stunning, or, rather, the racial discrepancy in views of Michelle is stunning

There was even racial dissension over Mr. Obama's wife, Michelle: She was viewed favorably by 58 percent of black voters, compared with 24 percent of white voters.

MEGAN: Yeah, that would be what freaks me out a little more, that and the whole "where are the feminists that are so opposed to sexism in the media" doing right now?

SPENCER: What accounts for this, Megan?

MEGAN: Oh, God, where to start? I mean, mean girls, the legitimacy of female anger, fear of strong women, envy... Did I ever tell you I have actually met people that have never met a black person until they were an adult. And I'm not talking until they were 18 and went off to college, I'm talking as a legitimate adult. They still exist. They aren't few in number. I mean, I think we've seen this reflected in Crappy Hour comments before:

Nearly 60 percent of black respondents said race relations were generally bad, compared with 34 percent of whites. Four in 10 blacks say that there has been no progress in recent years in eliminating racial discrimination; fewer than 2 in 10 whites say the same thing. And about one-quarter of white respondents said they thought that too much had been made of racial barriers facing black people, while one-half of black respondents said not enough had been made of racial impediments faced by blacks.


I think this is also horrifying and telling:

Nearly 70 percent of blacks said they had encountered a specific instance of discrimination based on their race, compared with 62 percent in 2000; 26 percent of whites said they had been the victim of racial discrimination. (Over 50 percent of Hispanics said they had been the victim of racial discrimination.)


Seventy percent of blacks have encountered at least one incident of racial discrimination. And I'm one of the 26 percent, as once when I broke up a party as an RA in college, I was called a "racist Jewish bitch." And I still know that's nothing by comparison.

SPENCER: Can I tell a story here? I once had this girlfriend who grew up in a mostly-white area, and I took her to my mom's house in Flatbush for the first time. Flatbush is majority-black but rather internally diverse — lots of immigrants from West Africa, the Caribbean (Haiti esp) as well as African-American; and it also contains Russians and Jews. As we were driving down Foster Ave, my GF took a look at the people on the street and said, "So, does your mom's house have a blackyard?". True story

MEGAN: Whoa. Um, how long until you broke up with her?

SPENCER: You were called a Jew?

MEGAN: Yes. A racist Jew because as an RA, I was breaking up a loud frat party 4 doors down from my apartment during finals week and it happened to be the one African-American fraternity on campus. And, obviously, I was just doing it because I hated them and not because I had a 17 page paper to finish and a 25 page paper to finish by the next day and it was finals week and because they were heard by the head of housing. But, yes, Jewish.

SPENCER: So, seriously, where's the organized defense of Michelle Obama? She's an extremely accomplished woman and while she may not have been the professional powerhouse that HRC was by 1992, I don't understand why organized feminism doesn't evidently identify with her. that was badly expressed — I'm hungover — but you get what i'm saying i hope.

MEGAN: No, I think it was said pretty well, it's close to how I've said it. Where's Geraldine Ferraro decrying the attacks by the media on her working status? Where's Gloria Steinem's impassioned defense of righteous anger and women? Did we all just admit that sexism triumphed and go home? Is it only sexism if it's Hillary?

SPENCER: A couple months ago, my friend Ann Friedman of TAP and Feministing wrote a really prescient piece called "Solidarity Politics" about this sort of thing

Let's make this election about the issues, everyone says — and rightfully so. Our presidential nominee should be chosen primarily on the issues. But most of us don't separate issues from identity as cleanly as we'd like to believe. When it comes down to it, everyone is an "identity politics" voter. The problem is that phrase, as commonly used by right-wingers and some on the left who are tone-deaf on issues of race and gender, has the effect of cutting down the political choices and involvement of women, people of color, and gays and lesbians.


MEGAN: I have to say, please introduce me to Ann sometime and I promise not to fan girl out. I almost always really love her stuff — thoughtful, well-written, etc.

SPENCER: and Ann is right about this, but the character assassination of Michelle Obama demonstrates that the argument needs to be taken a step further — recognizing that cross-cutting identities within the context of identity politics is fucking up people's expectations too

MEGAN: I took the best class ever in college in Microsociology (mind-blowing topic) and one of the things that stuck with me was the professor's assertion that we are a collection of equally accurate but not equally relevant identities and roles.

SPENCER: You were saying in the car yesterday that there's a cohort within the feminist movement that's increasingly indistinguishable from an HRC machine and how bad that is for the movement as a whole — it was a really good point that you should tease out for the benefit of CH readers.

MEGAN: Like, because you're white, you'd never call me your white friend, or because we know a zillion bloggers, you'd never call me your blogger friend. I'd never introduce myself to your friends as Pam's sister or Butch's daughter or Greg's ex-girlfriend.

SPENCER: Or George Costanza's father's lawyer.

MEGAN: Yes, exactly. And so I feel like, for many people and sadly probably too many women, the identity that more people associate with Michelle Obama right now is that she's black. Not that she's a woman, or a lawyer, a wife, a mother or anything else. And that's why the Obama campaign is trying to play up the prominence of those roles.

SPENCER: It's depressing that a core mission of the Obama campaign is to teach white America that black people are, like, people.

MEGAN: Or like people, commas deliberately excluded.



I just did a paper on this for my Cultural Pluralism class where we had to identify ourselves culturally. Although I identify with all aspects of who I am, what strikes me is that to society I'm black before I'm anything else including female, educated etc.

And just last week a co-worker told me I was so angry because I spoke out when someone treated myself or others unfairly.

Basically I'm "angry" to her because I stand up for myself, you know for all the things society hands her that I have to fight for daily.