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Race and Gender Soul-Searching

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An estimated 20 percent of Hillary Clinton’s supporters are saying they wouldn’t vote for Barack Obama in the November election. This dangerous game is pure stubbornness, rank immaturity, and classic self-sabotage.


An equally high percentage of Obama’s supporters have indicated an unwillingness to vote for Clinton should she become the Democratic nominee. This attitude is also folly of the highest order.


It’s vitally important that all Democrats emerge from the bruising of this groundbreaking primary battle with unity and common purpose. Standing in the way of this positive outcome are problematic emotional issues.


Many of Clinton’s supporters are staunch loyalists who are convinced she has been treated unfairly by the media and the Democratic establishment. Democratic white female voters give Clinton a 58-to-33 percent advantage over Obama, according to a Gallup poll taken earlier this month. The feeling is widespread among them that the political system is denying the nomination to the worthy, seasoned Clinton and giving it instead to a charismatic upstart simply because he’s a man.


This perception of a woman being passed over for a man—of any race—is about women “having an experience in their lives where they’ve been treated unfairly,” says Dianne Bystrom, director of a center for women and politics at Iowa State University.


Feeling wronged and feeling unfairly treated are common experiences for both men and women. Usually these feelings originate from our perceptions (and the realities) of how we were treated as children by our parents, siblings, and care-givers. Many white women now supporting Clinton grew up in the 1960s and earlier in a stubborn patriarchal system and still carry the wounds of that injustice. In addition, some of Clinton’s male supporters who also grew up in that era might have guilt for past gender discrimination, which could convince them that Clinton’s second-place standing is a further injustice.


Both men and women are tempted to hold on to grievances and grudges that stem from the original hurts of childhood. It’s almost as if we have a secret grudge-file stored in the back of our psyche. Our dark side, for instance, can turn some of us into dedicated injustice collectors. We then get angry at others and hold grudges to cover up our own participation in these negative feelings.


Releasing ourselves from the hurt of past injustices can involve a process of forgiveness. Better yet, this release can be accomplished by recognizing how, through our dark side, we recycle unresolved negative emotions.


Certainly, feeling wronged and feeling unfairly treated are common feelings among black Americans. Obama’s pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, has expressed these feelings with bitter rhetoric. Obama has denounced the pastor’s angry words, though he said the anger was understandable. Blacks and whites need to move beyond the pain of past injustices to forge a united country, Obama said.


The anger of women who have been unfairly treated on the basis of gender is also understandable. Once again, though, we have to move beyond old hurts. The hurts over past injustices involving both racial and gender discrimination are breeding grounds for personal and national self-sabotage.


Just about every human being has unresolved negative emotions and thus a dark side. It’s the sticking point of human evolution. On a collective level, our dark side has emerged from the bottom of the abyss to expose itself in our country’s occupation of Iraq, in our torture policies, in our investment in weapons of mass destruction, in our abandonment of the poor, as well as in the corruption of our financial system. The dark side is harder to see in ourselves. For starters, we can detect it by recognizing the part in us that is quick to rekindle negative or painful memories, feelings, and impressions.

The impulse to act spitefully and destructively can be powerful. Within the chaos of our dark side where our humanity struggles to evolve, we harbor a death wish or death instinct, as well as aggression, hatred, narcissism, and a profound passivity. Obviously, these traits all undermine the wisdom of acting in our best interests. When we take ownership of our own negativity, we find it easier to do the right thing.

We don’t have to become Zen masters, of course, though more detachment from negative feelings as we participate in the political process is synonymous with maturity. Short of knowing our true natures, we at least have to rise above the left-wing divisiveness that gives ammunition to the GOP.

More than an election is at stake. Our dark side also threatens our survival from global warming. The destructive potential of existing and newly developing technologies has brought us to an evolve-or-die fork in the road. Honest and fundamental change requires rebellion against the old reactions and negativity of our human nature. We need new inner software to move beyond the old default positions.

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Peter Michaelson is an author, blogger, and psychotherapist in Plymouth, MI. He believes that better understanding of depth psychology reduces the fear, passivity, and denial of citizens, making us more capable of maintaining and growing our (more...)
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