Friday, March 28, 2008

Juanita Johnson-Bailey, Ph.D. Mammy Or Conscious Black Woman?

"I have been called a Mammy so much over these last few weeks as I've voiced 
my support for Senator Clinton that I have started sending out this 
response to my Black girlfriends who call me a race traitor. 

Mammy or Conscious Black Woman? 
I do question Black women who think of me as a race traitor for being a 
Clinton supporter, especially those who can’t discuss either candidate’s 
platform. I wonder how they can blindly choose race loyalty over their 
racial and gender interests. Here are my thoughts. I don't feel like a Mammy to Senator Clinton, as Melissa Harris- Lacewell of 
Princeton claimed in her op-ed piece, Mammy Goes to Washington, of Black 
women who support Clinton. What I am is the invisible unheard Black woman 
voter who is trampled in the media dash to simplify racial politics. I 
can't give my loyalty to any person who takes my vote for granted and won’t 
bring me and my issues out in the light of day. Here are my thoughts:

1. Senator Clinton is not new to me or to Blacks. She worked with Marian 
Wright Eldeman back in the 70s for children's rights (esp. Black children). 
She was involved in the inception of One America, The President's 
Commission on Race headed by John Hope Franklin. 

2. Senator Clinton has been in the fight to open the doors for more women 
and Blacks. Senator Clinton has a Black woman campaign manager. She 
campaigned for Obama when he 1st ran for Senate. She still keeps a picture 
of Obama and his family from that campaign on her desk. Her office was the 
1st place that Senator Obama visited when he was newly elected. He thought 
so highly of her that he asked her to be his mentor. She mentored him 
during his first year in the Senate. 

3. Unlike most other First ladies who were just attached, Senator Clinton 
had an office in the West Wing and has actually worked on initiatives for 
people of color and women. She has traveled the world representing the U.S. 
and actually broken bread with international dignitaries like Bhutto. 

4. Clinton has also disagreed with her spouse. She supported gays in the 
military, no questions asked. I’m clear that I’m not electing Bill Clinton. 
I’m clear that Senator Clinton does not get all of my issues. But I’m also 
clear that she is not ignoring them and taking me for granted in an effort 
to appeases the masses. 

5. Senator Clinton has spoken out on race, while Senator Obama said has 
tried to ingratiate himself to those who believe in the power of a 
colorblind society. Obama has said that class was more in play than race in 
the Jena 6 incidents; he has said that Blacks are 90% on the way to 
equality; and Obama has said that the federal government’s incompetence 
during Katrina was colorblind. 
 A Black man who believes such things may share the dailiness of being Black 
in America with me, but he and I have certainly interpreted these 
experiences differently. A Black man who believes such things cannot take 
my support for granted. I cannot give him a pass on these issues because 
of the color of his skin. 

6. Black women colleagues, professors, have given me their singular reasons 
for voting for Obama. They have stated respectively: I’m voting for him 
because he’s Black; I’m voting for him because I want to see Michelle Obama 
as the 1st lady; I’m voting for him because I don’t like the way the 
Clintons have criticized him; I’m voting for Obama because she’s too 
intense, too serious; I’m voting for him because he’s a good speaker and 
excites the crowd; I’m voting against her because she cried, a White 
woman’s tactic to get her way. Surely there are good reasons to vote for 
Obama. The ones listed are not among them. 

7. My White colleagues who serve with me on diversity committees have 
reasoned their Obama vote thusly: he’s the 1st national Black 
leader/politician that doesn’t make me feel guilty; Obama sees beyond race 
and has gone beyond race; voting for Obama absolves me of my last vestiges 
of White guilt. I find these reasons for choosing heartwarming easily 
digestible Blackness offensive. 

8. I ask the question that Tavis Smiley asked Senator Kennedy, "Why is it 
that all these powerful White men have lined up behind Obama and most of 
the Black Caucus is lined up behind Senator Clinton?"

9. I ask further, "Do powerful White men come bearing gifts wanting nothing 
in return?" The Kennedy that I most respect because he has been in the 
trenches is Robert Kennedy's son, who is supporting Senator Clinton and 
worked for her in CA. But that didn't make the news either. 

10. I think we, as Black people are too uncritical of our own. We are so 
desperate to see a good Black man we can believe in after the likes of O J, 
Uncle Clarence, and Marion Barry. Yes Obama is squeaky clean, but only a 
few years on the national scene and he's ready to go? 

11. I don't buy the Kennedy comparison. Obama is no President Kennedy -- 
who by the way had many more years on the national scene when he decided to 
run. And I remember the real Kennedy who was pulled kicking and screaming 
into Civil Rights by Martin Luther King, Jr., not the Kennedy of the myth. 
I also remember the Southern, flawed, Johnson who had the political clout 
to twist arms to make Civil Rights a reality. But Johnson only did so 
because he had no choice, because King was a master strategist, and because 
even Johnson believed the time had come. I lived this history and won’t 
have it reinterpreted for me. 

In closing, I feel like a woman who has been where Clinton has been, 
abandoned by women who in their heart of hearts, can't quite live their 
self-love because they were so socialized into loving and caring for 
everyone else before themselves, especially men. And I’ve been someplace 
that Senator Clinton has not been. I’ve been called names, especially by my 
Sistahs, who feel like I’m choosing a White woman over a Black man. I love 
Black men. I have loved the same one for 37 years. And I'm not afraid of 
Black men with power. I also live with this same Black man who has power, a 
CEO. If this were not a time of crisis and 10 years down the road, I might 
consider the Obama bandwagon, but not today. I don’t feel like a Black woman who is choosing gender over race. I feel 
like a Black woman with an awareness of just how much gender matters. I 
still know that women make 71 cents to the $1.00 that men make when we have 
the same education and experience and that we make even less if we’re Black 
women. I know that it is women who are raped, assaulted, and not equally 
protected by the courts in the workplace and regarding domestic matters. I 
know that it is women’s pain that the press exploits and it is women who 
the press derides if we are too powerful and out of our place. 

No debate, the Clinton camp has made steps that have been scrutinized and 
over-analyzed and interpreted and they have not been given the benefit of 
the doubt-- something they mistakenly believed that they had earned from 
the Black community. Yes I see the racism, unintentional or not, in some of 
the things said by Clinton supporters during this primary season. But I can 
also see the hidden codes coming from the other side too. I see codes that 
play on my Black pain and oppression. Oprah used hidden codes to play on 
our pain when she asked, "Where would I be if I had listened to people 
(Whites) when they told me that it was not my time/turn?” I won’t apply TV 
mis/standards or Oprah’s life experience to mine. I like to compare apples 
with apples. If I remember correctly people said the same of John Edwards 
his first time out -- that he was not ready and that it was not his time 
and it was not considered racist, just a critique. 

In these times of crisis, I choose experience over inspiration. Nobody 
wants red states and blue states; everybody wants hope; but I want that and 
more. It's like a choice between the high school girl who is the class good 
girl, the valedictorian, the person who has worked so hard for the class 
over four years of high school. She's done most things right. And then a 
new boy moves to town. He looks good, he's popular, he has less baggage, 
and he speaks better. He says appealing things. She gives too much detail 
and she is sort of boring. What the heck? Let's vote for him. 

Well I've been in this situation in the workplace -- passed over by less 
qualified men, Black and White, perceived as more personable. And there 
were so many good reasons -- she seems radical, she talks too much, she 
seems mean, people don't really like her, she’s probably a feminist, and 
she's a “B”. Sound familiar? And even though it is now packaged 
differently, I still recognize it and it hurts me as a woman. 

I don't feel like a Mammy to Senator Clinton. If you want to talk female 
stereotypes, I don’t want be a mistress to Obama -- never mentioned, but 
taken for granted. I feel that I am making an informed choice. I choose the 
mentor over the protégé. I choose to be an empowered, conscious, and 
informed modern Black woman, not one who is having her pain played on by 
people who have not demonstrated that they hear me or value me – just 
people who want my vote and expect it or else."

-Juanita Johnson-Bailey, Ph.D (Professor of Lifelong Education, Administration Policy and Women's Studies, Princeton University, March 2008)

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