Thanks to $3.60 for bringing my attention to a new endorsement of Hillary Clinton by Maya Angelou. Although I don’t usually post on (explicitly) political themes, Marisa’s post got me thinking about the correspondence between gender & race being employed in the video. So, first, here’s the video:
As Marisa notes, the advertisement uses Angelou’s blackness as a verification of Clinton’s femininity. As if African-American women (by extension, all “women of color”) somehow have a greater capital of “femininity” at their disposal. I won’t deny that a black woman may be more likely to be interpellated back into her (female) body more often and more painfully so than a white woman- the long history of rape, poverty, and oppression in the US has always put darker female bodies at a double disadvantage. But I find it a bit problematic that Angelou boils this distinction down to the African-American woman’s superior knowledge of “multi-tasking.” And at the same time she excludes Hillary from this group of hard-working women via race, she includes her via gender. Moreover, I’m disconcerted that the makers of the ad are calling upon Angelou’s authority, purely as a black woman, to convince us that she can recognize femininity and assure us that, yes, Hillary is really, truly a woman. Which the ad, in turn, unabashedly plays up as an unmediated good thing. Now that the great mystery of her gender is solved, we can all breathe a sigh of relief…
As for the photos of Clinton that accompany the message (here she is with this minority group, here she is with that one, blah blah), they seem to rather cheesily and unapologetically tend toward fetishism. If we’re lucky, they’ll end up on Black People Love Us.
Interestingly, Elizabeth Benjamin at The NY Daily News’ blog contends that the ad has a “humanizing” effect. Which again suggests, strangely, that being “human,” or perhaps more likely “humane,” has to do fundamentally with being a woman. So, because Clinton “gives herself the authority to be in her own skin” and demonstrates the “honesty of being a woman,” she’s got a greater, bodily source of compassion which extends to all creeds and colors, etc. etc.
All in all, it’s a very weird message. I wonder who the intended audience is, since I’m guessing that, historically, most female politicians have spent their time proving the exact opposite of this ad- that is, “I’m so caring toward minorities because I’m a woman” is a little at odds with the typical “I can be as tough and competent as any man.” If anything, this pandering to both images indicates the double standard that successful women now face- play with the boys at work, but don’t forget to come home and take care of your family. If Clinton wants to project this new and softer look to get female votes, however, she’s got a lot of work to do. And that starts by connecting directly to women themselves, not getting her “ethnic” friends to provide testimonials.