Moving from blame to anti-racism

October 24, 2018

Jamie Hadel comments on an article challenging one analysis of Kavanaugh’s success.

I WANT to thank Tess Carter and Leela Yellesetty for putting out their article “Are white women to blame for Kavanaugh?” and I agree with much of what they argue in it.

Particularly, I want to second their conclusion, which is that any movement against sexism has to foreground the voices of Black women and other women of color, and that our role as revolutionary socialists has to be to put racism and the demands of women of color at the forefront.

However, while I agree with much of their argument, I found the framing of the piece to be unhelpful. In my view, asking the question “Are white women are to blame for Kavanaugh?” obscures more than it clarifies.

First and foremost, this framing doesn’t really allow us to grapple seriously with the numbers. Yes, voting for the Democrats should not be the barometer of whether one is racist or sexist (as Alexis Grenell may argue) — for instance, Hillary Clinton is no antiracist.

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But questioning why a high number of white women did vote for an open misogynist and serial sexual abuser should not be seen as an attack on white women, but a legitimate question.

I agree with Tess and Leela that the statistics that 53 percent of white women who voted in the election voted for Trump and 45 percent supported Kavanaugh’s confirmation are “alarmingly high and worth trying to understand.” (There is some dispute about this former statistic, with the Pew Research Center estimating that 47 percent of white women voted for Trump in the election, while the figure for nonwhite women was 16 percent.)

Sure, it’s not all white women, but if we can agree it’s an alarming number, what do we say about that? While I have many disagreements about the way Grenell frames things (and her theoretical understanding of how sexism and racism work), we don’t want to deny or downplay the significance of this phenomenon, in which racism is clearly a central factor.

These statistics raise questions worthy of nuanced discussion and debate, as we find ourselves in a politically polarized era that has seen the growth of the left, but also the growth of explicitly racist right-wing politics on a global scale.

Tackling the growth of these politics requires us to neither vilify nor defend “white women” in the abstract, but to try and come to grips with the factors that are driving large numbers of them to vote for Trump or support Kavanaugh.

There are many: class position (we know some of them are middle or ruling class), politics, background, historical legacies, the underlying political system and economy — and, of course, race. It’s never just one of these things, though — and as we know, racism is usually caught up in all of these.

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Polls have also shown that, thanks to the Black Lives Matter movement, a significant number of white people have increasingly come to anti-racist politics. How do we understand that and also account for the growth and hardening of a racist right which includes white women?

Again, framing the question in terms of whether white women are to blame doesn’t allow us to answer these questions. The question of blame is the problematic framework of the Grenell article, which Tess and Leela rightly point out the limitations of, but then go on to reproduce some of that framework in their response.

PROBLEMS ASIDE, Grenell does pose an important question: Why are white women voting against their interests (i.e., for an open misogynist) in the case of Trump, or supporting someone who’s against their interests in the case of Kavanaugh? Such support constitutes a shocking normalization and sanctioning of sexual assault.

I think we as socialists have something to contribute to answering that question, but we need to be able to ask it, free of the charge that to do so constitutes blaming all white women for Trump or Kavanaugh.

Thus, “Are white women to blame for Kavanaugh?” is a false question: It creates a binary that leaves only two options: 1) white women are at fault or 2) white women are not at fault.

Tess and Leela write: “Put simply: the demonization of white women as culpable for the Donald Trumps and Brett Kavanaughs of the world lets the real culprits off the hook.” I would argue the reality is more complicated. On the surface, some white women are “at fault” (the ones who voted for him). But I expect what Leela and Tess are pointing to is on a deeper level, that the system that produced him is to blame.

While it’s right to focus on the system that creates racist and sexist divisions, it is a system perpetuated by people, and those people are not solely white men — thus, we must have a sober assessment of the racism that does exist among some white women, which is something we will have to fight as socialists if we are ever going to win.

But in asking the question in this way, all of this gets missed in favor of a strict binary: Either you defend white women or you vilify them.

Lastly, as revolutionary socialists, “Are white women to blame for Kavanaugh?” is not the question that the movement demands of us to ask.

We never want to be put in the position of glossing over the racial divides in our society by apologizing for some white women’s lack of antiracist consciousness, which this type of framing often leads to. Instead, our focus should be to try to change consciousness and convince working-class white women not only to be in solidarity with working-class women of color in class struggle, but in solidarity with women of color in fights against racism.

That’s a large task in one of the most intensely racist countries on Earth, but it will be necessary for any future socialist victory. This is something Tess and Leela argue as well — but then our starting point has to be: How do we get there from where we are now? That will mean fighting racism everywhere it crops up, be it perpetuated by men or women.

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