Dueling oppressions. My ‘ism’ is more important that yours is how this works.
It is at least as old as Anthony and Douglass, Susan and Frederick, when the women’s movement that started before the Civil War willingly turned its efforts to support abolition of slavery with the hope and reasonable belief that once that scourge was removed, the blight of women’s lack of rights would be ripe for repairing. But it did not happen. Black men got to vote more often than white women.
Until 1920, when the 19th amendment secured women the franchise. Then the relationship changed insofar as the enfranchisement of women was far more effective than the enfranchisement of African-Americans until the 1960s.
Which is worse? Which is more wicked, or more important, or more deserving of remedy? False question. All oppressions are not alike, though their burdens are experienced alike.
Racism is our national sin. Sexism is the human sin. The difference is crucial. Our nation exists virtually because of slavery. The irony of a nation conceived in liberty but built on slavery is the psychodrama behind the Civil War, revealed by Lincoln, and systematically denied for a century after that, makes it clear that race is our national shame. I do not know if electing a black president will bring an end to racism. Actually, I do. It won’t. But it signals our willingness as a nation to face it.
That’s why Obama prevailed. He represents our collective sense of duty to return to the task undertaken a hundred and fifty years ago. But I must say that the same failure back then is before us now. Even if we finally take serious steps to remedy racism as a national blight, we will not, as a nation, then take up the deeper challenge of sexism.
Why? Because that is a challenge humanity itself must address, not a nation. Sexism is in every culture, and at the personal level even more than the national. National politics is not a solution to a universal problem.
Ultimately, sexism will be dealt with at the highest (or lowest) common denominator, spirituality. Religion must face the profound depths of its misogyny, including its surrogates of homophobia and heterosexism. The meaning of being human is at stake here, and meaning is the religion business par excellence.