Whuh?

I’ve been reading articles about Geraldine Ferraro’s comments on Barack Obama, and I keep thinking the same thought over and over again.

That thought is simple: “Whuh?!”

Here’s the quote:

“If Obama was a white man, he would not be in this position,” she continued. “And if he was a woman (of any color) he would not be in this position. He happens to be very lucky to be who he is. And the country is caught up in the concept.”

Later she was quoted as follows:

Ferraro, a former congresswoman from New York, said she was “hurt, absolutely hurt, by how they have taken this thing and spun it to sort of imply in any way, in any way, I am a racist.” But she said she was “absolutely not” sorry she had said Obama was benefiting from his status as the first African American perceived as having the chance to win the presidency.

“I was talking about historic candidacies,” she said. “In 1984, if my name were Gerard Ferraro instead of Geraldine Ferraro, I would never have been chosen as the vice president.”


What the heck is Ferraro saying here? That she was chosen for her gender rather than her qualifications? Gee, that must really suck. Does she believe that she has no qualifications whatsoever? Or is she just using herself to prove a point?

Because what Ferraro seems to be saying is that Obama has got nothing–in essence, that he’s an affirmative action pick by a gullible U.S. public. Because we all know <snort> that the majority of the United States (which is white) believes strongly in affirmative action.

And because we know that Obama hasn’t got a single qualification of his own. No senate history, no speaking ability, no education, no time as a community organizer, nothing.

More than anything, Ferraro’s comments emphasize to me what white privilege is all about. (Remember John Edwards’ wife making a similar comment?) White privilege is the sour grape ability to believe that if a person of color earned anything you perceive to be rightfully yours, it must have been because of their color. White privilege is the deeply entrenched belief that whites really are superior. There was a research study about this in which white people and black people were asked to estimate each other’s intelligence. Not surprisingly, white people almost never rated black people as being smarter than themselves, even when standard measures indicated this was probably the case.

I’ve gotten into this argument any of a number of times with white people, almost always with the same dispiriting results. A white friend, after being wait-listed for grad school, complained that the selected cohort was 1/4 people of color and how they had taken “her” place. I pointed out that her assumption was predicated on the belief that she was more qualified than any of the students of color and was inherently racist. She didn’t complain about the white students who were admitted before her. She also seemed to have an underlying belief that she was entitled to a spot.

We went round and round on this, and finally I asked her whether or not it was true that I was academically more qualified than she was.

“Yes, but …” she kept saying.

Previously we had taken a class together in which I sensed the professor was racist. Later, an African American woman voiced the same opinion. This friend didn’t believe it.

At one point we compared our examination grades. To her surprise, I received a lower score than she did. So she asked to see my test. And we went over the questions one by one. In particular, on one question I had received 7 of 10 possible points whereas she had received 10. So she read my answer, frowning.

“You must have left out something that I included,” she concluded.

So we went through the points one by one. Not only had I addressed each of the points she had mentioned in her response, but my answer was more thorough and covered several aspects that she had not even considered.

Yet she still continued to try to find some rational reason I had received a lower score.

I felt bad when I directly confronted her about which one of us was more qualified academically. But I could never feel the same way about her again.

Similarly, I had a professor who kept praising my writing. And after publicly doing so, he would then pass my paper to a white guy in the class, who would look at it and then hand it to me. Once he figured out that a white man wasn’t writing the paper, my grades dropped dramatically. (I never did understand how he assumed that I was a white man since you would think the name would be a dead giveaway, but whatever. And it happened at least four times before I started receiving my papers directly.) Unfortunately for that teacher, he gave enough assignments and examinations with objective scoring to keep me at the top of the class.

To my surprise at the end of the quarter, I had the highest grade. This despite the lowered marks on subjective assignments and exam questions.

And I wonder now why I was surprised. But I think it has a little to do with never quite believing that you could be smart, because almost everybody tries to tell you otherwise. I discussed this once with an African American friend, and she said she often felt like an “imposter” in academic settings. Because the truth is that you internalize all the negative stereotypes others believe about you, and one is that you can never be smart. Nothing you have is from your own achievement. It’s been handed to you, simply because you are a person of color.

In reality, the opposite is true. And my parents knew this.

I hadn’t really thought about it until now, but now I think I understand on a much deeper level what it meant when my parents said that I had to work ten times as hard and be ten times as good as the next person. “The next person” meaning the “white person,” of course. That was never verbalized–so why did I know that’s what my parents meant?

My mother used to have a number of ribbons tucked under the frame of her bedroom mirror. Two were first-prize awards in a juried art competition. The rest (and there were at least a dozen of them) were honorable mentions. And one day they all vanished. My mother never talked about them and she never talked about the competitions.

But even as a child I could see that my mother’s work showed immeasurably more talent than any one else’s in our community. It was not even a contest. After the second year, there was some talk about whether the same person should be allowed to win more than once. After that, my mother never won anything other than an honorable mention.

I always wondered if one day she tired of looking at those reminders. But now I wonder if the white people who won first, second and third place really believed they had earned the awards.  And I wonder if my mother believes that she did not.

Ultimately, I think that if Obama were a white man, he would have had the nomination by now.  Except that if he were a white man, it is quite possible that he would not be the man that he is.  Because he never would have had to work ten times as hard.

Random footnote thrown in for interest, don’t feel like writing more about it now: Ferraro apparently made a similar comment about Jesse Jackson. And she was apparently saying the same stuff about Obama a few weeks prior to the most recent incident. And don’t get me started on her “reverse racism” accusations.

17 thoughts on “Whuh?

  1. This is a fantastic article. I’m going to repost in a couple of places and provide the links.

    Thanks for writing this. It’s very eye opening.

  2. Yes, great article!

    For chrissakes, how did the American people become so gullible? This has nothing to do with Ferraro or Obama. Geraldine Ferraro did this for the Clinton campaign. She sacrificed whatever good name she had for the Clinton branding machine, like a suicide bomber (but with words). It’s a con game. The way the game works, Clinton now distances herself from Ferraro, the same way that Bush distanced himself from Swift Boat Veterans for “Truth.”

    We need to look at this tactic in the broader view of the Clinton campaign’s ruthless tricks. What they wanted to do, and succeeded in doing, was to plant negative marketing points about Obama in the minds of gullible Democrats, subconsciously. The logic doesn’t matter. They wanted to activate the “white privilege” meme in the minds of gullible white Democrats.

    Whether Ferraro has damaged herself or is now seen as racist is completely beside the point. The point is that she sacrificed her reputation in the service of the Clinton spin machine – the same machine that wants you to think that some states matter more than others because they cherry-pick them; the same machine that creates issues about Obama out of thin air because they want to win at all costs regardless of the damage it does to the party or the nation. It’s slash and burn politics.

    Now, do we really want someone so ruthless, so out of control as our next president?? Or do we want someone more sensible, consistent, and steady? Someone like, I dunno… Maybe Senator Obama?

    From 1991 until a few months ago, I loved the Clintons. Now I can’t stand them.

    Thank goodness Obama’s running this year. Can you imagine four or eight years of Clinton bull—-?

  3. I run a blog that is aimed at the urban crowd and as a black man I’d like to go on record saying I don’t think Geraldine Ferraro is racist at all. At least not in the way we generally think of a racist. She see Barack being black as an advantage and not a disadvantage. In a way she is right. His race does get him noticed but in all honesty it is not going to help him get elected at all. One of the other writers over at Highbrid Nation says Geraldine Ferraro is evil not racist, lol. He might not be too far off.

  4. Great article! It’s time to realize that white liberals can be just as racist and blind to their privilege as anyone else. The disconcerting thing this election has shown is that they’re plenty of white liberals who like the idea of diversity as long as they’re still the leaders — the Clinton campaign members and surrogates have a history of making racist remarks which Clinton summarily denies and, like Obama, I think it’s no accident. She wants to plant seeds of doubt in the minds of Americans.

  5. Nice piece! I wrote about this when it first happened, but then what really amazed me (not really, I guess) is how she does not get it, even after she was called out, even after newspapers/blogs all over the country are explaining exactly what the problem is here, after she’s had time to think … she’s still in outraged denial. “No, he’s the racist! He’s attacking me because I’m white!” God.

    Your school experiences, wow – white people don’t believe how common that is. When my eldest began applying to colleges, we found out she was marked as caucasian in school records. Turns out the problem stemmed from my daughter not checking a “race box” when we first enrolled. Some of the comments from the school & district: 1.”If she didn’t check a box, Caucasian is the default.”
    2.”This may sound primitive, but if a child looks more Black or Hispanic, we’d probably mark them as such. If the registrar couldn’t see your daughter, he probably looked at her academic record and made a judgement call.”
    3.”If we allowed multiple categories, you could have white kids who don’t meet standards trying to slip under the bar to get benefits under lower standards.”

    There were other comments, even worse, but those are the ones having to do with their assumptions about my daughter’s race, based on her academic record. (Since then I’ve helped start a group advocating for kids of color, working directly w/ the district) The thing is, no one considers our district “racist”. No, we’re “tolerant, liberal, love diversity”. OK. They saw “racist” as individual, mean, KKK-type acts, they didn’t get that their comments were part of a racist institution that was affecting my daughter’s feelings and future. She’s at Howard now, thank goodness, the difference in her is … I can’t even describe it.

    Panracial hits it with white liberals being ok with diversity as long as they’re still in charge.

  6. So in Ferraro World, no person of color can be successful for any reason other than their race? And all successful white people can credit their success strictly to merit (unless they are women)? And black men have more status in our society than white women do? Wow, that is some twisted sh-t.

  7. For the Clinton campaign, their usage of this high-profile surrogate (Geri Ferraro) had as its purpose the subliminal effects the discussion would have on working-class white voters in the remaining states, especially Pennsylvania. For them, it doesn’t matter which way the national conversation about race turns. What matters to them is that a subliminal negative impression was made in the feeble minds of white voters in the margins who already had the “meme” planted in their brains over the years that says that “some blacks take our jobs thanks to affirmative action,” and who will then subconsciously attach those negative feelings to Obama.

    But, on the surface, Clinton can take the high road and “reject” Ferraro’s comments. Wink wink. The surface “scandal” doesn’t matter at all.

    Remember when (Clinton Democrat surrogate) Bob Kerrey said he “liked” the fact that Obama’s name was Hussein? That wasn’t an accident, was it? But it had nothing to do with Kerrey’s actual feelings or prejudices. The purpose was, again, subliminally to bury the Obama=muslim meme in the brains of people who, though they consciously understand that Obama’s a Christian, will develop a negative association and impression about Clinton’s opponent. Arguing against Kerrey is futile. Arguing against Ferraro is futile.

    The only way to win in the face of this is to expose Clinton campaign handlers’ game as a very clever way of swiftboating Obama in small steps while allowing their own candidate to appear innocent, above it all.

  8. Pingback: links for 2008-03-14 at Racialicious - the intersection of race and pop culture

  9. [Typically we prefer that commenters write original posts rather than cutting and pasting crap off the web.]

  10. Ferraro was criticized in 1992 by Liz Holtzman for her votes on schools that allowed discrimination and for her anti-gay stance.
    I think it’s Hillaryous that she was appointed to Bill Clintons Human Rights Commitee. I am sure she’s hoping to cash in if Hillbilly wins.

  11. Two things.

    First, great post. Very good anecdote.

    Second, you were spot on with your comment that many white people cannot fathom that a black man could be better than them. I discussed it over at my blog.
    http://ravingblacklunatic.blogspot.com/2008/03/good-negro-down.html

    Also, in 2006, Ferraro actually told a NY Times reporter that it was easier for a woman to win a presidential election than it would be for a black man. She said this during an interview about how race and gender would play a role in both of Hillary and Barack’s candidacies. It’s on the blog too.

    Once again, great post.

  12. [Hello, I don’t have anything better to do than to create multiple personalities and post racist things on the internet.]

  13. Pingback: COSELLOUT: Tellin’ It Like It Is when the “Cosellouts” Won’t

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s