The talk of gender bias and sexism from Gloria Steinem and Anne Applebaum yesterday was entirely absent an acknowledgement of white privilege, which I intend to discuss in some more depth here. But suffice it to say that white women in New Hampshire broke for Clinton in large numbers.

Clinton: 46% women
Obama: 34% women
Edwards: 15% women

Clinton: 29% men
Obama: 40% men
Edwards: 19% men

What is fascinating about Applebaum and Steinem is that they both had little problem crediting Obama’s blackness with his victory. We would never do this with another candidate; no one would ever argue that McCain is “whiter” than Mitt Romney and that’s why he won. Likewise, neither of these women would argue that being a white woman is an advantage, despite the fact that white women make up a majority of the population, and can influence an election in any state in the union. This is similar to the way white women remain absent from dicussions on affirmative action although they are it’s greatest beneficiaries.

The pre-election polls put Obama way ahead of Clinton. But a secret ballot is not a caucus; the open process in Iowa may have kept white voters consistent with what they were telling pollsters. Once in the voting booth, they changed their minds. This is called the Bradley Effect, and it’s been seen over and over again.

Matthew Yglesias at the Atlantic argues that this was not the case last night.

I should say we’re seeing some talk of a “Wilder effect” possibly doing Obama in. I don’t buy that. If you look at the breakdown of the results, you’d need to believe that white women, but not white men, are inclined to lie to pollsters about that. More likely we’re looking at a combination of gender backlash, plus the fact that Obama was so widely perceived as likely to win led independents to vote for John McCain in the GOP primary.

I think it’s mostly self-serving for liberals to argue that there was no Bradley or Wilder Effect here. The pre-polling in Iowa was significantly more accurate, and it was followed by a weeklong fiesta of interracial and bipartisan backslapping over how “far” Americans have come in dealing with racism. Everyone (including me) made themselves feel very good about what happened in Iowa without thinking critically about how the format itself might have prevented a Bradley Effect like occurrence. More importantly, while a “gender backlash,” as Yglesias put it can happen anywhere in America, there are only certain states where a similar reaction by black folks can change an election.

One of the variables in New Hampshire was the secret ballot. What influence this may or may not have will be seen if and when the phenomenon repeats itself, but the simplest explanation is usually the correct one: White folks said they were going to vote for Obama when they weren’t.

Yesterday in discussing Steinem’s Op-Ed I briefly outlined some of the effects of white privilege for white women.

Meanwhile, there are 16 women serving in the Senate, all of them white. There have been three black senators since Reconstruction, one of them was a black woman. There is a grand total of ONE serving in the Senate now. White women still earn more money than both black men and black women, and despite the fact that white women are the primary beneficiaries of affirmative action the entire public discourse on the subject centers around race.


At the same time, it is entirely acceptable to express sexist sentiments directly (like calling Hillary Clinton a “bitch”) while racist attacks on Obama take on poorly veiled (but veiled nonetheless) forms. The reason is because the way racism and sexism work in American society is fundamentally different, not because one is “worse” than the other.

It is a simple fact that when Applebaum and Steinem say “women” they mean white women. When they don’t mean white women they say black women. Black women remain largely absent from the equation of white feminism unless the target of criticism is black, such as a Hip-hop artist. Under such circumstances, white feminists are often content to employ a black female voice so that they cannot be accused of being “racist” for their criticism. The interest in including black women usually wanes soon after.

I do not restrict this criticism to white women, or white feminists. The use of black voices as political props goes across both genders and political parties. While Republicans are somewhat more “honest” about expressing their prejudices, they largely can’t be reasoned with in terms of establishing that racism is still an issue in this country. Liberals are comfortable only when the discussion is about how uncomfortable Republicans are with race. When it comes to confronting their own prejudices, most aren’t as sanguine.

But one of the most important of these advantages is access to power. In terms of electoral politics, white women have a privilege no black person, male or female, will ever have. The GOP functions as a party entirely without the black vote because they don’t need it. The same cannot be said of white women voters. An election can turn on their vote in any state in the Union, but the black vote is only significant enough to do so in certain states.

But discussing sexism without acknowledging white privilege, saying “women” when what you mean is white women, is fundamentally dishonest. It allows people like Applebaum and Steinem to minimize their access to power, which by any objective measure is greater than that of black Americans of either gender. This is not to say that sexism doesn’t exist, or doesn’t place significant obstacles or social double standards in the path of someone like Hillary Clinton; but the reality is that such essentially race neutral discussions about sexism minimize the fact that while Clinton may be a woman, she is still white. There is no Bradley Effect for someone like her.

Suffice it to say that this election will be about race from this point on in a way it hasn’t before. As anxious as I am about what that conversation is going to sound like, in the end it’s for the best.

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