Written by Emma Glassman-Hughes
To the surprise of absolutely no one, the presidential politics in this country are, like, super white. A majority of white candidates, moderators, and even voters (thanks to attempts of re-disenfranchising working class people of color in certain parts of the country) makes for an increasingly unrepresentative group of political participants. That’s why gatherings like this week’s Iowa Brown and Black Forum--created in the 80s by members of the local black and Latinx communities to increase participation from people of color, as well as to demand awareness of issues that are specific to these communities--are necessary to ensure that candidates are focusing on issues that will affect communities of color the most, and why it was so special to hear the candidates speak forthrightly about controversial topics that would otherwise be ignored. The forum felt like the first time I really got to hear the candidates speak non-defensively about what matters most, and I was so into it. Viewers watched as each Democratic candidate came out on stage and enthusiastically answered questions from equally enthusiastic students and moderators about a sea of topics that ranged from immigration reform to abortion access to pop culture savvy (who has the most selfies with Kim K?). Among my favorite questions from the night was a question directed at Hillary, asked from a member of the audience and a junior at the university. She asked Hillary to first explain the concept of “White Privilege” and then to identify one instance in her own personal or professional life that she had benefitted from it. Whoa.
Image via CNN
The audience, along with Hill, chuckled a little at this one, because duh: Hillary--of a middle-class upbringing in midwestern suburbs, and now of a wealthy political legacy--is, in a lot of ways, the walking definition of white privilege. Now, for any skeptics out there, this is not in any way saying that HIllary has had it “easy” or that she enjoys the same privilege as her white male peers--because as any reasonable person will recognize, Hillary has shouldered more than her fair share of sexism (LOL, not like there’s a ‘fair share’ of sexism that some women should endure, but you get the point). There have certainly been hurdles that she has had to overcome; but at the same time, her skin pigment has lessened the frequency with which her hurdles occur. She has benefitted from a stable family life and an education system that encouraged her to succeed and pursue higher education. Her whiteness has made her and her husband more universally likeable, trustable, and ultimately electable among voters, particularly at the beginning of their political careers. She has been able to find wealth and economic success without being considered a racial outlier. She has never been profiled by police or made to feel lesser-than because of the color of her skin. And she identified these things in her answers, with grace and assurance in a way that I don’t believe I’ve seen from any politician elsewhere. Of course, as a white woman who benefits from similar (though not entirely the same) privileges, it’s probably pretty easy to impress me with the verbalization of one’s own white privilege, so I’d love to hear opinions (here’s one) about her response from people who don’t benefit from white privilege (psst, youuuuuu could start a conversation here, maybe?!). I will admit, the story about the children of immigrants in the suburbs of Chicago was a little wonky, but overall it struck me as an important conversation.
Other standout moments from the night included Bernie’s thoughts on comprehensive sex education, and Hillary’s comments about fighting the Hyde Amendment. First, yes: Bernie enthusiastically supports making drastic changes to our sex education curriculum in the States--the first of which, I am guessing, is actually creating a sex education curriculum. The democratic socialist discussed his love and appreciation of science and facts, and made the point that our current method of depriving young people of accurate and useful sex education is anti-intellectual and irresponsible. As you must know already, our team has done some work on the topic of sex education and the need for a better system, so Bernie’s comments had us soaring on Cloud 9 (← proper noun or no?).
Second, let’s talk a little bit about this Hyde Amendment business. Team THINX has been extra vocal about our stance on reproductive rights over the last few months, mostly because so many of our sisters have been in danger of losing them, and also just because we like to talk about that stuff. Derailing the Hyde Amendment, however, is right up there with maintaining federal funds for Planned Parenthood in importance, but hardly anyone talks about it--including us... until now *wink*.
Defined by Wikipedia (ily, Wiki), the Hyde Amendment is “a legislative provision barring the use of certain federal funds to pay for abortion unless the pregnancy arises from incest, rape, or to save the life of the mother.” Yum.
During the forum this week, a moderator asked Hillary: if she should win the election, would she put energy toward ditching the Hyde Amendment? Without wasting a breath, Hillary dove right into how, ¡of course! she would, and then explained how the amendment is a particular threat to female minorities and low-income women. She discussed how removing funding and subsidies from healthcare (which is what abortions are, whether you like it or not) means that women who are not able to afford the procedures on their own will not be able to receive the procedures. Point blank. The Hyde Amendment and its supporters are basically leveraging poor women for their own political and social agendas of “ending abortion”--an agenda that, again, any reasonable person would be able to see for what it is: literally impossible. To our knowledge, women have been ending pregnancies pretty much as long as modern women have been getting pregnant. Like, B.C. status. Furthermore, there are evolutionary and scientific reasons, impulses, and even instincts that lead women to seek abortion or infanticide, specifically when a woman knows she does not live in an environment fit for raising offspring. Don’t let me explain it to you, though! Read it from sociobiologist Sarah Blaffer Hrdy, whose life work has been dedicated to the study of motherhood and what a “maternal instinct” actually implies (hint: it’s not always unconditional love and cuddles).
ANYWAY, sorry for the rant. The point is that removing funding from abortion services will not, by any stretch of the imagination, ~end~ abortion. It will only make financially stable women subsidize their own, private abortions, while making the abortions sought by financially unstable women unhealthy, unprofessional, illegal, or fatal. But here’s the kicker: you can be certain that those poorer women will still seek abortion. Though a disturbing amount of politicians are unwilling to understand the logic behind all of this, Hillary is not one of them; and that’s why she vehemently opposes the Hyde Amendment and promises to work to remove it from the books, and, TBH, why I had goosebumps listening to her discuss it with the folks at the forum.
Alright. So we have two high profile presidential candidates espousing rockin’ feminist rhetoric (sry, O’Malley--you seem like a very sweet man, tho), and practicing thoughtful, engaging politics generally in line with minority populations and desires. Nice! I respect both candidates immensely, and while I have my own voting plans, I genuinely support both of ‘em, and appreciate all they do for the political climate of this country (in case you were wondering, Team THINX is pretty split, and you'll be hearing a lot from us about the elections this year. "But you're an underwear braahnd, stay out of paahlitiiiics," yeah, yeah, we know). Watching each one converse with attendees about sex education, immigration reform, gun policies, reproductive rights, and Drake (important) was an affirmation of that support in a big way. Thank you, to the Iowa Brown & Black Forum for making me feel feelings in a way no other political discussion or debate has done. What an important time for U.S. voters--and, as the kids say these days, what a time to be alive.