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Science: Department of Human Behavior

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Shankar Vedantam and Kimberle Crenshaw
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, June 2, 2008; 1:00 PM

Washington Post staff writer Shankar Vedantam, who writes the Department of Human Behavior column will be online Monday, June 2 at 1 p.m. to discuss how the century-old debate of which disadvantaged group has suffered more, is playing out in the race for the Democrat nomination.

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He will be joined by Kimberle Crenshaw, a constitutional and civil rights scholar at Columbia University and UCLA.

Read more in today's column: When Disadvantages Collide.

A transcript follows.

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Shankar Vedantam: Welcome to an online discussion of my article, "When Disadvantages Collide" which looks at some interesting ways to think about the "race versus gender" divide in the ongoing Democratic presidential primary. I will be happy to take any questions about my Department of Human Behavior column in general, although we may not have time. There are a lot of questions and comments in line already about today's article, so please write in soon to make sure your voice gets heard.

The column today looks at what happens when two disadvantaged groups reach for the same goal at the same time. The column uses the historical analogy of the struggle to win the vote for women and former slaves, and shows how groups fighting for long denied-goals have sometimes come into conflict in the past. Late 19th century suffragettes such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton opposed the 14th and 15th amendments to the Constitution which would have given black men the right to vote when white women did not have the right themselves -- despite the fact that the Stanton and other suffragists were staunch abolitionists. Many abolitionists were guilty of an identical flaw -- they chose to exclude women from the movement merely because they happened to be female.

Two scholars whose work I cite in the column today suggest that the problem lies in thinking about disadvantages in unidimensional terms. Patricia Hill Collins, a sociologist at the University of Maryland, for example, once summed up the problem this way:

Although most individuals have little difficulty identifying their own victimization within some major system of oppression--whether it be by race, social class, religion, physical ability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, age or gender--they typically fail to see how their thoughts and actions uphold someone else's subordination. Thus white feminists routinely point with confidence to their oppression as women but resist seeing how much their white skin privileges them. African-Americans who possess eloquent analyses of racism often persist in viewing poor white women as symbols of white power ... In essence, each group identifies the oppression with which it feels most comfortable as being fundamental and classifies all others as being of lesser importance. Oppression is filled with such contradictions because these approaches fail to recognize that a matrix of domination contains few pure victims or oppressors. Each individual derives varying amounts of penalty and privilege from the multiple systems of oppression which frame everyone's lives.

What Collins suggests is that even as supporters of Sen. Hillary Clinton are extremely attentive to the unfair disadvantages she has faced in the race because she is a woman (and there is ample evidence that Clinton has been disadvantaged in this fashion) they are less attentive to how they may have benefited from unfair advantages -- the large number of voters, for example, who openly tell pollsters they will never vote for a black man. Supporters of Sen Barack Obama, meanwhile, might be more keenly aware of racism than how much their candidate benefits from voters who gravitate away from Clinton because she is female.

Kimberle Crenshaw, a professor of constitutional and civil rights law at Columbia University and UCLA, said the question for many Democrats is where to target their anger as the race grows increasingly bitter -- Crenshaw argues that the only way out of the bind that the 19th century suffragettes and abolitionists found themselves in is for people to get mad at discrimination, and not each other.

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Shankar Vedantam: I am delighted to be joined today by Dr Crenshaw, who is moving several small mountains to be with us. She is in transit and trying to connect from an airport, so we may have some communication hurdles. Dr Crenshaw specializes in the idea of intersectionality -- the idea that aspects of identity such as race, gender, class etc never exist in isolation, but always intersect and interact with other elements.

In an interview I conducted with Dr Crenshaw, she told me that black women have invariably paid a heavy price when blacks and women think about race and gender in unidimensional terms. In the current political race, for example, she pointed out that Democrats who are black women have been made to feel like "traitors" regardless of whether they suport Obama or Clinton.

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Shankar vedantam: In our interview, Dr Crenshaw, you told me about how several leaders in the movement for women's suffrage decided at one point to oppose the 14th and 15th amendments to the Constitution, which were to give black men the right to vote. Can you give us a brief sense of how leaders such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton, whose interest in women's suffrage grew out of her participation in the abolitionist movement, came to say: "As the celestial gate to civil rights is slowly moving on its hinges, it becomes a serious question whether we had better stand aside and see Sambo walk into the kingdom first."

Kimberle Crenshaw: It probably cannot be overstated how disappointed many feminists were when it became apparent that women were not to be included in the 15th amendment. The suffrage movement had been nurtured within the abolitionist movement, and many feminists actually framed the oppression of women as a form of slavery. Thus, when the cataclysmic events of the Civil War led to the possibility of expanding the rights the previously excluded, quite naturally feminists expected women to be among that number. Their feeling of abandonment and deep disappointment was real and understandable. What remains troubling about the reaction was the racist inflections of their disappointment. Not only did some of the leading feminists campaign against ratification of the 15th amendment, they suggested that if any one group should be enfranchised it should be

(white) women over Black men, given their greater learning, culture, and understanding of American institutions. They were not above making subtle suggestions that enfranchising Black men would embolden them and would constitute a threat to all women who remained voteless. One has to keep in mind as well that the abolitionist movement from which the early feminists emerged was not an antiracism movement. Abolitionist feminists could very much oppose slavery and not believe that African Americans were in fact equally worthy. To Stanton and others, it is one thing perhaps to be enfranchised along with a group that was backward and undeveloped; it was an insult to be a more "qualified" citizen and to watch less qualified citizens march through those fabled celestial gates toward suffrage. The racial epithet that Stanton threw into the quote was almost redundant, simply an exclamation point to an argument that was already deeply racialized.

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Shankar vedantam: When it came time to pass the Equal Rights Amendment in 1920, you told me that suffragists found that they had to choose between retaining their solidarity with people of color and winning the support of politicians who wanted to have nothing to do with people of color. The suffragists decided to build a winning political coalition. In our interview, we talked about how this caused a split in the feminist movement and eventually weakened the ability of women's rights groups to speak out on other issues. Can you give us some background about the 1920 dilemma and some of its longterm consequences?

Kimberle Crenshaw: One problem is that to this day "feminism" is still widely imagined as a white women's issue. Generations of Black feminists-those who campaigned both for suffrage and against lynching and other racist practices--have been marginalized in popular history. Authors such as Paula Giddings and others have attempted to bring the stories of Black feminists to the forefront, but I would contend that there remains a fairly widespread sense that feminism is white, and is a fair weather friend to civil rights. Some of this is of course unearned-there are many feminisms, and some are deeply rooted in antiracism. But there is also historical grounding for the uneasy relationship between mainstream feminism and antiracism. The stories of how white feminists excluded and humiliated their Black sisters such as Ida B. Wells, and a whole contingent of Black suffragists who were told that they could not march with white suffragists but only in the back of the parade continue to cast a shadow over feminism.

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Shankar vedantam: You told me you thought there were some intriguing and disturbing parallels between the suffragists' dilemma and the current race for the Democratic Party presidential nomination between Sens Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. What is the link that you see?

Kimberle Crenshaw: Acknowledging of course that the contexts are different in some important ways, there are nonetheless some disturbing themes that seem familiar. One is the myopia that seems to have been grounded in the tendency to see racism and sexism as parallel discriminations such that one can find a common measure to declare which group-(white) women or Black men-has had it worse. It's been claimed that Black men always get things before women, and that the burden of gender is more restrictive than the burden of race. This fails to grapple with the ways that race and gender create very different barriers and that it is simplistic and misleading to say that Black men always get things first with reference to the 15th amendment, the military, etc. On issues such as wealth, life expectancy, education, profiling, incarceration--I could go on (white) women, yet these arguments have gained some currency in recent months.

I'd say another similarity is the sense some feminists critics have that the true measure of gender discrimination suffered by Clinton is captured by the fact that the more "qualified" woman it being passed over for the less qualified Black man. In the case of the two Democratic candidates, a significant part of that claim is based on Clinton's proximity to power-her eight years of "on-the-job" experience. Yet this proximity is not race neutral. Currently there is no person of color who has lived in the White House as part of a First Couple. One could go further to identify this fact as part of the racial capital that Hillary Clinton has garnered. The insult here is that because of sexism she cannot fully use it. One need not deny the sexism here to be troubled by the way that her racial advantage is just taken for granted in much the same way that some first wave feminists seemed to take their racial advantages as an unquestioned qualification that they had every right to exploit. Clearly no one today has embraced the kind of racial rhetoric that peppered the debates over women's suffrage, but there are subtextual elements that still resonate in the contemporary debate. One issue that should be most disturbing to the Democratic party is the sense of betrayal that so many of Clinton's women supporters seem to feel. It's difficult to look into the faces twisted by the agony of disappointment and not wonder whether the decision of some feminists to oppose the 15th Amendment might not find a historical analogue in the upcoming election.

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Shankar Vedantam: Both you and another scholar I interviewed for my column today, Patricia Hill Collins at the University of Maryland, said that part of the error made by the suffragettes -- and by some Clinton and Obama supporters today -- is to think that aspects of identity can be looked at in isolation. Your own research shows that different aspects of identity -- race, class, gender, religion, age, sexual orientation etc -- not only intersect but influence each other. Can you give us a very brief sense of this idea, and how it might be relevant to the ongoing political race?

Kimberle Crenshaw: I'm a big fan of metaphors, so I use the idea of an intersection to capture the reality that racism, sexism, heterosexism, etc are often criss crossing dynamics. Since no one is JUST their race, or gender, or class, then then we all are sometimes caught in intersections.

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Shankar Vedantam: We discussed in our interview how, in opposing the 14th and 15th amendments, suffragettes ended up targeting some of their disappointment and resentment at people from another group that had long suffered discrimination. It seems that when two groups that have long been disadvantaged reach for the same goal at the same time, there is a real risk that they will come to see each other as the problem. As a civil rights scholar -- and a woman of color -- how would you prefer that people think through such dilemmas? Or, to put it another way, if you could go back in time, what would you tell the suffragettes?

Kimberle Crenshaw: My colleague Mari Matsuda offers the best strategy. She encourages everyone who can see, for example, the racism in a situation to pause and ask, OK, I get this, but can I see sexism here? Can I see class disadvantage? The challenge is to refract our lens so we can see not only the disadvantages staring us in the face, but the ones we have to squint to see. I have used intersectionality as a way of imagining how all the isms intersect, but it really is a matter of understanding that no "ism" is complete in and of itself.

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Chevy Chase, Md.: The Dick Cheneys and Karl Roves of the right must be loving this - Democrats fighting amongst themselves. Why is it either/or? Why can't it be both? And if you want to be truly invisible to all politicians, try being a single female, over 50. No politicians (or employers, or anybody) care about us, court our vote, or give us any tax breaks. I exist only to pay for other people's tax breaks. Will Obama give me a tax cut if he's elected? Just like Bill did? Hah!

Kimberle Crenshaw: With all due respect to the writer, this kind of "I have it worse than everyone else" is part of what we are talking about. So, could it really be plausible that a single female over 50 who pays taxes is really, truly the one sector that is invisible to everyone? Surely we must acknowledge that there are others--especially women--who are never courted. Think of how often politicians talk about the middle class as though the poor don't exist. Perhaps the others are so invisible that we don't even notice that they are not courted. What about single Black and Latina moms, the ones stereotyped as poor and irresponsible despite their struggle to survive. I can't recall the last time a politician actually tried to speak TO them rather than ABOUT them. Yet many many others feel like they are most ignored. This seems to me to e the kind of politics that exclude rather than include.

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Cheverly, Md.: As a black person, I am very upset with the democratic party, the Clinton campaign and many others. why? Clinton's campaign is the most subtly racist campaign I have ever seen in my short life. this is not in your face Willie horton, but it's code speak 101 to white folks. This cry of victomhood, while suggesting that Obama cannot win because working class whites are not voting for him is just appaling because it shows she lacks any integrity! i will not say that our society is not sexist. As a male i know I am not senstive to all female issues to see all blatant or even subtle slights. But i can tell you from my black perspective I would not vote for Clinton and might leave the party if they pull off something that puts her on the ticket. I think during the course of this campaign she embodied the lack of integrity that plagues DC.

Shankar Vedantam: Thanks for the comment.

Here's the challenge posed by the two scholars in the column today: Let's assume your perceptions of bias are accurate. Now, is it possible that there are biases that you are not seeing, biases that may have advantaged your candidate and not merely disadvantaged your candidate?

The question is not just that Clinton has been the target of any number of sexist comments -- for examples of this, see Betsy Reed's article in The Nation, Race to the Bottom.

The question is also about UNCONSCIOUS bias, which I explored in this column last year: The Myth of the Iron Lady.

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New Smyrna Beach, Fla.: From all the vitriole of femenists you would think that Clinton has suffered the most. The black community has not shouted about the racist diatrribes. Could it be that blacks are used to being treated badly? Which suffered the most in your opinion and will shouting about it help or hurt?

Shankar Vedantam: I am hoping Dr Crenshaw can weigh in on this as well, but I feel it is important to point out that Clinton is the candidate who finds herself in a desperate position. We can argue whether Obama supporters would have felt the same way if he was the one who was behind and she was close to clinching the nomination -- I think we might have to say we don't know the answer to that question. In other words, I am cautioning against drawing a race vs gender conclusion when a frontrunner-challenger dynamic might also be at play.

Kimberle Crenshaw: I do think It is difficult to know exactly how Obama supporters would react at this point, so we only have the election before us to analyse. That said, I do think it is meaningful that there have been no claims from Obama's surrogates that (white) women have always had it easier than Black men, yet the parallel claims are made on gender. I think this reflects the fact that there are just very different parameters for race and gender debates in this country. Think about the different trajectories of the terms "race card" versus "gender card."

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Shankar Vedantam: I would like to take a moment to publish a note sent to me by Dr Lynette Long, a Bethesda psychologist. Long, a liberal white woman and passionate Clinton supporter, says she has received angry calls today because she is quoted in my column as saying she sees black men (and potential Obama supporters) as "an impediment to something I want more than anything in the world, a chance to see one of my own win the highest office in the land."

I am appalled that people would call Dr Long with angry remarks. I personally thought her eloquent piece, which she billed as an "oped", was anguished and heartfelt -- and passionately honest -- and I think it would add to the conversation for you to hear it in its entirety.

Fall from Grace

My home, in an affluent neighborhood in our nation's capitol, is surrounded by foreign embassies and outdoor restaurants. When I venture outside for a walk, soldiers of misfortune cross my path, shake a cup, and ask for change. When I arrive at my destination, a neighborhood CVS, Starbucks, or my favorite sandwich shop, one of these soldiers is usually there to open the door. Expecting them, I keep a roll of dollar bills in my pocket to hand out liberally. My friends urge me not to give money to street people, but I think, there but for the grace of God go I. Besides, for my efforts I get a smile, a thank you, and often a "God bless." A dollar for God's grace is a good investment.

I grew up in a tenement in the South Bronx, where water bugs and roaches claimed the floors at night, where cats fought battles I only heard, and where unemployed drunks roamed the streets. I know what it's like to buy your clothes at the Salvation Army, not because it's hip, but because it's all you can afford. I know what it's like to be poor, hungry, and disenfranchised. I know what it's like to covet something you can never have. I know what it is like to grow up in a neighborhood that is less than friendly. I made it out. Others were not so lucky.

So for me, "there but for the grace of God go I" is not just a phrase I learned in church. It drives my generosity and my social conscience. It has been as fundamental to me as the color of my skin or my gender. Until now. Originally a contest between eight candidates, the Democratic Party Primary ended up a contest between a black man and a white woman; a battle between race and gender. I am a white woman and the soldiers of misfortune I speak of are mainly black men. I am a Clinton supporter and most likely they support Obama. They are no longer my compatriots in poverty, but rather a profound test of my liberal ideals. In this election cycle, they symbolize an impediment to something I want more than anything in the world, a chance to see one of my own win the highest office in the land. She is in some subconscious way a projection of myself and if she can achieve the presidency, I could forgive this country, my country, the countless small and large affronts I experience every day. It's easy to be generous with what you don't need or want, but it's hard to watch someone take what you crave. I have a dream to finally be equal in a country that founded itself on the truth, that all MEN are created equal, yet didn't give my grandmother the right to vote until 1920.

My son, an affluent white male by birth, struggles to comprehend my explanation of what it means to me to see a woman run for president. "Imagine a world where every president and every vice president throughout history was a woman and where the Supreme Court had eight female justices. Imagine a world where every news anchor was a woman. Where the money printed by your government only contained pictures of women. Imagine a world where you couldn't go to certain schools, play on certain sports teams, go to certain clubs, or get certain jobs because you were a man. Imagine a world where you were expected to iron the skirts, cook the dinner and clean the kitchen. Imagine my world, my reality. And then finally by some miracle, some grace from God, a man had a chance to become president. How would you feel?" My son, not one to show emotions, choked up. "I'd vote for him. Every man would vote for him."

I am not oblivious to the fact that many black citizens of this great country feel the way I do. After hundreds of years of their own oppression to see one of their own become president, would also affirm their very existence, and undo many wrongs afforded on their race. But the oppression of one group is not more valid than the other. Clinton and Obama can't both be president, two teams in a bitter battle can't win, and a house divided amongst itself cannot stand.

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Proximity to Power: Dr. Crenshaw wrote that Clinton's proximity to power is not race neutral. Well, neither is it gender neutral. As a woman, I have been quite annoyed at Clinton's claims that her experience in the White House makes her qualified to be president. She was in the White House as a spouse, not as a qualified elected or appointed official. She didn't gain that extra experience on the merits of her own work and qualifications. Yet somehow, I'm supposed to vote for her because it is the feminist thing to do. In my view, claiming those 8 years as part of her qualifications is profoundly anti-feminist.

I'm astounded by all these feminist voters claiming that they will vote for McCain over Obama. McCain is staunchly anti-abortion, wants to overturn Roe v Wade and does not support strong anti-pay discrimination laws. How does this square with feminism? It looks to me more like spoiled children refusing to vote for the black guy, even if it means installing a president who is against most things that feminists are for.

Kimberle Crenshaw: Oh yes, well of course Clinton's qualification as a part of a First Couple isn't gender neutral either. That I took as a given. This is complicated of course because there are feminist arguments on all sides. On one hand, women often don't get credit for their contribution to their husband's success. This is a key argument in high power divorces all the time and women are right to demand recognition that it is often the couple that succeeds, not just him. On the other hand, there is the fact that most women who have won power have done so through dynasties that male centered. Getting power through one's connection to a powerful man at least trades on patriarchy. So it is somewhat of a dilemma. The point is that there are advantages to being Hillary Clinton that Obama cannot muster--and there are advantages to being a man that Clinton can't muster as well.

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Capital city of a swing state: Mr. Vendantam and Prof. Crenshaw:

I find it notable (but not surprising) that the self-described liberal Bethesda psychologist is comfortable helping "disadvanted" Black men, but appears threatened by a Black man whose education, ambition, professional abilities and accomplishments render him her peer...at the very least. Will you please comment/deconstruct?

Thanks for the article-it is fascinating and an important exploration of this long-standing issue.

Shankar Vedantam: Thanks for the note. I think it would be wrong to suggest that Dr Long is "threatened" by a candidate like Obama. As the article of hers that I just posted would suggest, she passionately wants Clinton to win. I find it problematic to suggest that people who want one candidate to win must automatically be seen to be "threatened" by that candidate's opponents. What room does that leave for making political choices because one happens to like a candidate, or because you prefer one set of policies over another?

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Kensington, Md.: This is a terrific interview so far. I can only add that the transcript should be published in its entireity in the print edition of the Post. Ms. Crenshaw is giving her readers a history lesson of the highest and most timely order, and it's one that should be taken to heart by everyone.

Shankar Vedantam: I heartily second your views on Dr Crenshaw, who has had to cancel a flight in order to be with us today. (I won't hold out for republication in print, though!)

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Anonymous: In this debate I must say that the accusations cannot be directly attributed to Obama as they can be attributed clinton and her camp. I might be wrong, but to see Geraldine Ferraro speaking out so vicously and making statement that Obama only qaulification is he is Black is just astounding. moreso than anything, this election has revealed to me just how stupid our primary season is.

Shankar Vedantam: Thanks for the comment. Dr Crenshaw and I are falling behind with our answers, so I will post some notes without too much commentary in order for you to hear as many voices as possible.

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Sun Prairie, Wis.: Interesting subject, this, but there is something about it that makes me uncomfortable. Most of the Americans complaining about sexism on the one hand and racism on the other have had, by historical standards and in comparison with most of the people now living around the world, awfully easy lives. They are not persecuted, they are not oppressed; at most, they have been mildly disadvantaged.

The candidates they support can't even say that much. Hillary Clinton in particular has had her life handed to her on a plate. Truth is, there have been only two recent major party Presidential candidates who can be said to have endured real suffering; their names are Bob Dole and John McCain. I wonder whether their experiences are so outside most Americans frame of reference that they don't fully register, while a vote for their opponents is seen to be an answer to a thousand petty resentments.

Kimberle Crenshaw: I have to confess that I thought awhile about whether it was possible to engage this comment. I'll say this--part of the problem that we are confronting now and I'd say in the 19th century is that people seem confident of their ability to find an easy objective measure of oppression and weigh the validity of the claims that various groups have made against this stick. But who can determine what measure should count? Sure there are ways of measuring things like life span, wealth, access to employment, housing and the like and by that measure it would be appalling to call such disadvantages "petty." Your position is apparently that veterans really have it worse--another claim in the unending race. The question is--by what measure should your claim prevail over others?

Nor does it suffice to say that because others have it worse in other parts of the world, that conditions of disadvantage are irrelevant. This kind of relativism is troubling because it seems to come up with some issues and not others. For example, to offer a "petty" counterexample, our complaining about gas prices seems nuts to people who are paying ten bucks a gallon, but I doubt that you are happily paying unprecedented prices here simply because it is all relative.

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Delmarva: More a comment than a question. With the exception of Obama's race speech which was in response to the Rev. Wright controversy, most of the times race or gender has been issued as an issue, it has been from the Clinton campaign. Race was raised by Bill Clinton in South Carolina and Hillary Clinton has certainly raised race and gender in speaking about support from females and white males.

It seems as if Hillary Clinton is trying to have it both ways on the sexism charges. When she teared up in New Hampshire it was very much used to her advantage. Certainly a male candidate would not have gotten away with such a "Muskie moment."

Shankar Vedantam: Thanks for the note, Delmarva. I wonder whether some of this might have to do with the dynamics of the race. In trying to reach women voters, is it possible that Obama has to tread more carefully than Clinton does in trying to reach white voters? I am not suggesting people are voting only along race and gender lines, but I think there is evidence those factors are playing some role in Democrats' choices. Given that black voters are in a minority, may Clinton suffer less risk from antagonizing these voters while appealing to whites, whereas Obama risks antagonizing a much larger group (women) if he were to explicitly reach out to men? Doubtless there are also differences between the candidates themselves, and the different profiles of race and sex bias in our society ... so these are really questions I am asking, not assertions.

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NW, DC: I cam into this election simply assuming that I would be voting for Hillary Clinton. (i was actually pro-Biden for his openess and candor on the war issues, but new he would not win.) the money, the talking heads, the name and everything just pointed to clinton being the nominee. I dismissed Obama as no more than Jesse or Sharpton running again in my view. frankly, between hearing Clinton basically speaking to the same old same to hearing the Obama speak to hope and change. Obama won me over.

Shankar Vedantam: Thanks for the comment, NW DC.

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Ocala, Fla.: The column today was interesting. But I think we're way past the point where anyone is going to step back and look dispassionately at the issues & ask "am I forgetting any isms?". The emotions are just too raw. For months I've been trying to ignore the sexist attacks on Hillary. I've actually been making a very conscious attempt to keep it from affecting my judgment. But I've failed, I must admit. It finally hit me in the gut. And if the comments of my women friends are any indication, I'm far from the only one. I suspect this is going to have a much bigger effect on the November election than anyone yet realizes.

Kimberle Crenshaw: I appreciate your candor about this. This is precisely the challenge that the Democrats face now. I wonder if you might indulge a few questions. Could you say more about why it is that the sexists comments about Hillary would shade your views about whether to support the Democratic ticket over the Republican? What if anything would women leaders need to say or demonstrate to rally women such as yourself to focus on the gender issues rather than the sexist comments that "hit you in the gut"? Are they more meaningful that the broader policy debates that will be differenty advanced depending on who is in power? And what might you suggest to voters who are annoyed by their sense that the campaign has been racially tinged as well? I think these are just some of questions that might be fruitfully explored at this point, and I do agree that the problem is a profound one.

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N.C.: Its great to have experts like yourselves talking calmly, intelligently about this topic. Do you all think that the female voters who say they won't vote for Obama

if Hillary doesn't get the nomination are saying that out of disappointment or resentment at not having a female presidential nominee and not really a racial issue? Or am I just naive? Thank you.

Shankar Vedantam: I think it is impossible to say what is happening in the minds of millions of voters, but if I were to hazard a guess I would think that supporters of both candidates who say they will not support the other if their candidate loses are acting out of disappointment and not bias.

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Del Ray, Va.: I would be interested to your views on the Clarence Thomas-

Anita Hill harassment question. It seemed to me at the time that race trumped gender in that black women turned against Hill, whereas white women tended to believe her.

Kimberle Crenshaw: One of my favorite topics. I've written a lot about it (I'll shamelessly plug Toni MOrrison's book in which I have an essay) but I'll say here that I was saddened but not surprised by the way that racism was captured as a "high tech lynching" while the long history of harassment that Black women have faced---both interracially and intraracially --was excised from Black history and consciousness. It is yet another example of visions of racism and sexism that presume that these are unidimensionsal problems. It seems to be a story that keeps replaying itself over and over.

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Who benefits???: It is true that the true benificiaries of things like affirmative action programs are White Women. However, when the topic is raised on a pundit show, the black person (man or woman) is trotted out to discuss/debate. They WW never had to put their face on the issue and reap the benefits.

That's the source of some of the women's anger at the Obama campaign. He's sidestepping a hierarchy that is very real, yet very unspoken.

Liberals are comfortable pitying black people, not competing with them.

Kimberle Crenshaw: You raise an interesting point here. Efforts have been made over the last ten years to enlist white women as supporters in the affirmative action debate, particularly where the policies have been under attack in Michigan, Washington and now in Colorado. So far it's been a real challenge and some would say that it is because white women don't tend to see themselves as beneficiaries of affirmative action but simply equal opportunity. It is a deep wedge that is unfortunate because when affirmative action is lost, women of all races lose access to contracts, employment, etc. If anything comes out of this, perhaps the need to renew the conversation between feminism and antiracism to talk frankly about the tensions that exists and about the common interests that can only be advanced by healing this old wounds and attempting to resolve them in this contemporary moment.

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Shankar Vedantam: We are going to have to wrap-up now; feel free to email me directly with questions you feel we did not get to. The email address is vedantams@washpost.com

I want to thank Dr Crenshaw again for sharing her time and perspective. This has been an interesting and provocative discussion. Thanks to everyone who weighed in with thoughtful and heartfelt comments and questions.

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Editor's Note: washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. washingtonpost.com is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.


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