Sunday, February 17, 2008

Race v. Gender? Some thoughts on an e-mail supporting Hillary

On February 13, 2008, I received a very interesting e-mail from Marilyn Fitterman, NOW's Northeast Regional Director, indicating her support of Hillary Clinton's candidacy. In trying to find it via Google, I did not see it in any NOW website, but did find two references that quote it in full (and then there are added comments, not related to my own).

The first place is on a Blogger blog called XpatriatedTexan: A blog on faith and politics, by Thurman Hart:

"More Idiocy from NOW"

Mr. Hart's blog is subtitled: A Christian Liberal is NOT an oxymoron.

The other is at Message 194 on page 13 in a thread entitled Hillary for President -- Part VI, in forum on the "Big Soccer" website (the message itself is at):

Yet another e-mail from New York State NOW

So I really don't have to repeat Ms. Fitterman's entire message here.

Her message, when I received it, moved me to respond - especially because the examples she gave as her rationale for supporting Senator Hillary Clinton's presidential candidacy resonated so well with me. I have used those very same examples (and others) from the experience of the civil rights struggles of women and African-Americans in my own advocacy work for LGBT issues. I often think of these as lessons of history.

So here is the text of my response to the message:

From: Joann Prinzivalli ((EML ADDRESS REDACTED)
Sent: Wed 2/13/08 12:13 PM
To: Marilyn Fittrerman, NOW NE Regional Director & Pas (

Thank you, Marilyn. I have myself on numerous occasions used the same historical perspectives you so eloquently set out in your message in different contexts.

In the case of the
Married Women's Property Acts (in New York, 1848 for inheritance and 1860 for wages - Ernestine Rose and Elizabeth Cady Stanton and others started to work on the first bill in 1836), I often point out the reaction of conservative religious leaders of the time that enacting these laws would destroy the institution of marriage, when advocating for a gender-neutral marriage law.

The 50 year gap between the 15th Amendment and the 19th Amendment, and the fact that women had to wait so long (as well as the nearly accidental last-minute inclusion of women in the Civil Rights Act of 1964) is something I hope doesn't get repeated in another context, though it seems to be doing so - in December 2002, when the
Sexual Orientation Non-Discrimination Act (SONDA) was enacted, the transgender community was left behind by the legislature, and by the gay and lesbian community. The analogous bill, GENDA (Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act) is still struggling to gain passage in the allegedly "friendly" Democratically-controlled New York Assembly. Last year's shameful theatrics in the House of Representatives over the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (originally HR 2015, but severely weakened and then passed by the House as HR 3685) seemed to be a reverse of what happened with the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

I agree that Senator Clinton is the better choice for President, despite her poorly nuanced position on the repeal of the federal
Defense Against Marriage Act (one point where Senator Obama's position is superior) - she supports only the repeal of the provision of 1 USC §7, pursuant to which the federal government is prohibited from recognizing certain marriages that may be legal in any of the states, but would leave intact 28 USC §1738C, which permits each state to refuse full faith and credit to certain marriages legal in other states. In addition, she does not appear to support an affirmative federal recognition of the same-sex marriages currently prohibited from recognition.

Senator Clinton got my vote in the New York primary on February 5th - but while my support is genuine, it is less than completely enthusiastic, considering that even in Hillary's view, I am only entitled to a third class status without all the rights enjoyed by other citizens.

Joann Prinzivalli
State Director, New York Transgender Rights Organization (NYTRO)

PS: We really need to be doing more about (New York) Governor's Program Bill #16 - the
Reproductive Health and Privacy Protection Act. Like GENDA, it hasn't moved anywhere in either the State Assembly or the State Senate. I understand that Assembly leadership is the current key bottleneck (though the bill has little chance in a Republican-controlled Senate with Senator Bruno having become recalcitrant on anything progressive since former State Senator Nick Spano lost his seat.)


And I received a very nice response from her.

In this primary season, I am currently supporting Senator Clinton's candidacy, despite the reservations I expressed as to her poorly-nuanced view on the repeal of the Defense Against Marriage Act.

It isn't because she is a woman, or because Senator Obama is black. It's because I really do think she would ultimately do a better job in the presidency. However, If Senator Obama becomes the Democratic candidate for president, he will get my support in the general election. I may have some personal respect for Senator McCain but he would not get my vote - I have too many issues with his positions. That respect was also eroded a bit by at least one sexist-seeming statement during the campaign where he didn't properly address a reference to Senator Clinton from a questioner as "that bitch" and laughed at the reference as if it was something funny. Surely, he would have received greater condemnation had he similarly laughingly sidestepped a racist reference to Senator Obama. (And I note, the McCain gaffe is something that wasn't even mentioned in Ms. Fitterman's e-mail message.)

I do have one last thought: I always thought is was a kind of institutionalized racism to think of "white" as if it has to mean somewhat with completely caucasian ancestry, while "black" includes people of mixed-race ancestry where one not-terribly-remote ancestor is negroid, though apparently having some known "Native American" ancestry seems to trump "black." Senator Obama's mom is "white," and pro golfer Tiger Woods'" mom is "asian." Both Senator Obama and Mr. Woods are usually thought of as being "black," but that is an identity that is placed on them by the lingering residue of white supremacist institutionalized racism. On the other hand, both men appear to identify that way themselves - and I don't think it is necessarily a matter of incorporating and internalizing the racism. The strangest thing is that it seems, from mitochondrial evidence, that every person in the world is descended from a single woman who lived 75,000 years ago in Africa.

Of course, I would prefer to be race-neutral as well as gender-neutral, and even the exclusionary racism of the "purity of whiteness" might be a little better than the sort of racial hierarchy that one finds in old, unenforceable real estate restrictive covenants, which are illegal and unenforceable under New York State and federal law (and perhaps the laws of most states). It's even illegal to reprint the words of the covenants in a title insurance commitment - references to racial covenants are limited to noting that they exist but are not enforceable. A copy of an instrument with the racial covenant has to be redacted to make the racial covenant unreadable.

One covenant I once ran into, regarding a subdivision in New Rochelle, New York, from the 1930's, prohibited any "negro, mullato, quadroon or octaroon," except domestic servants, from residing in homes built at the subdivision. While I had run into mulatto before, I surmised (correctly, as it turned out) that a "quadroon" would be an individual with a single black grandparent (or maybe two mulatto grandparents?), and an octaroon would have a single black great-grandparent (though if one is counting blood percentages, perhaps two black great-great grandparents might do, even if they weren't married to each other). This sort of racial slicing and dicing is reminiscent of the way Jewish ancestry was parsed by the agents of the Third Reich's "Final Solution."

I don't see the Democratic primary season as being a matter of race v. gender. That may be the spin some sophisticated pundits have tried to impose - and their best shot at that may have come when former President Clinton made some comments, or when Senator Clinton made a reference to the need for an LBJ as well as an MLK to get the civil rights act of 1964 passed. (The attempt at seeing that latter comment as racially divisive required a real stretch of the imagination).

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