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Reprinted from Consortium News
Not race nor gender -- nor any other innate characteristic -- should be the touchstone in voting for President of the United States. Yet, as I have traveled the country these past several years, I have been amazed at how many Americans have no qualms in stating that their support for President Barack Obama is based solely -- or mostly -- on his being black. Equally amazing is the unabashedly indiscriminate support I hear voiced by highly educated women for Hillary Clinton -- "because she is a woman and it's our turn," as they put it.
Five years ago in Atlanta, I sat down with Rev. Dr. Joseph E. Lowery, then 90 and a legendary leader of the African-American-church-led struggle for human rights in the South. We met in an historic building used 50 years before by the courageous young leaders of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee.
"We know now there were no weapons of mass destruction over there [in Iraq]. But Coretta knew and we know that there are weapons of misdirection right down here," Dr. Lowery said. "Poverty abounds. For war billions more but no more for the poor!"
So I was pleased to meet with Dr. Lowery in early May 2011 and felt comfortable enough to voice disappointment at how Barack Obama, despite his rhetoric, seemed to be pursuing the pro-war/pro-Wall-Street policies of his predecessor. But I was brought up short when Lowery reacted quite strongly.
"Obama is one of us," he said. "We will support him no matter what!"
I am aware of the delicacy involved in saying these things and the criticism one can expect. Granted, I carry the proverbial knapsack of white/male privilege. I do make a constant effort to reflect on the very real implications of that reality, rather than give it mere lip service. I have been working at a black-led nonprofit in inner-city Washington for the past 18 years; I worship at a predominantly African-American church, and just this week I was "Best Man" at the marriage of black friends.
If that sounds a little like "some of my best friends are black," well, they are. I do try hard to divest myself of the knapsack of white/male privilege that is mine by accident of birth. Recognizing that unearned privilege will always be part of my DNA, I feel all the more conscience bound to put those unmerited gifts to good use. Often this means risking opprobrium attached to telling it like it is -- or, admittedly, like I think it is.
Twenty-five years ago I earned the epithet "radical feminist" (not a good thing in Catholic circles) to which I proudly plead guilty. Rather than take the chance that our three daughters end up with the idea that they were second-class citizens, and not having any better idea, I stood up in silence in the middle of my parish congregation for the entire Sunday Mass for almost five years. It was a witness to the reality that the Catholic liturgy itself is flawed with fundamental injustice when women are barred from presiding. From time to time other "radical feminists," women and men parishioners, joined me.
But for many it was a most unwelcome reminder -- a disruption. I was treated like a leper by some of my most "progressive" co-parishioners, until I left the parish after those five years (1991-96) of standing. (Catholics in Crisis, a book by Jim Naughton centers on the bitter controversy sparked by what came to be known as "The Standing.")
Gender and Justice
In the midst of such witness, there seemed to be signs of some progress -- at least in the secular world. In 1993, I rejoiced that our country was getting a "two-for" with Hillary Clinton as a new kind of First Lady, essentially a partner in governance with her husband. And just four years later, another breakthrough, Madeleine Albright became the first female Secretary of State and the highest-ranking woman in the history of the U.S. government.
But, alas: as U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Albright had justified the brutal effects of the sanctions imposed on Iraq (later branded "unconscionable" by the U.S. Catholic bishops). When asked in May 1996 about the U.N. finding that the sanctions had taken the lives of 500,000 Iraqi children, Albright told CBS's Leslie Stahl, "We think the price is worth it." Albright displayed not only callousness, but entitlement.
In February of this year, while on the campaign trail in New Hampshire for former Secretary of State Clinton, Albright condescendingly chided and challenged women, especially the young who were rallying to Sen. Bernie Sanders: "You have to help. Hillary Clinton will always be there for you. And just remember, there's a special place in Hell for women who don't help each other."
Martin Luther King Jr. memorial in Washington, DC.
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Hillary Clinton is clearly expecting the votes of many women who believe she is entitled to become President because "it is time." While I agree that it is well past time for a woman to be President, I disagree that it should be Hillary Clinton. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., reminded us that people should not be judged by external factors (whether the color of their skin or, in this case, their gender) "but by the content of their character."