I guess none of us were prepared for the intense examination of prejudice in America that this Democratic primary has brought with it. We have such an ugly history of being one of the last civilized nations to allow slavery, and then even when that was abolished we continued to have legal (and socially accepted) discrimination against women and people of color for several more generations. My mother — not some ancient ancestor — had very few places she could lunch with her best friend in Washington DC in the early 1950s: her friend was black, my mother is white. But in DC now? Neighborhoods are mixed, the faces in the restaurants are mixed. People of all shapes and colors intermingle daily.
So it has come as a shock that in this supposedly enlightened time in which we live, blatant discrimination still exists. Look, I'm not naive. I grew up in 1960s Virginia and have spent a lot of time in the South. And I'm a professional woman who also happens to be gay. So I know discrimination exists in America, 'k?
What I didn't know, however, was how much discrimination exists within the progressive, liberal population of this country.
With our choices narrowed down to 2 candidates, it's as if some in the Democratic party feel free to criticize and attack at the most vile and base level. And yes, it's happening with both Obama and Clinton supporters.
We seem to have a perfect storm for our underlying prejudices to be exposed. At the same time that we have a public forum as powerful as the internet, we also have the incredibly emotional and historical firsts of a person of color and a woman within reach of the White House. It has all come together to produce a sense of righteousness and anonymity among some bloggers and commentors, who say things online that I cannot believe they would say in person.
I keep thinking back to an online discussion I had a few months ago with an Obama-supporting blogger who had criticized Hillary Clinton. I took issue with his comments about her "cackle" and her appearance in general. I said look, criticize her policies all you want, but these are extremely sexist comments you're making. He was furious. He said that he is a "bigger feminist than Alan Alda" and how dare I call him "sexist." We went back and forth a bit before I realized what the problem was.
This blogger — and many many others just like him on both sides of this campaign — have a disconnect between what they say and what they value. In this case, I took a step back, and said look, I'm not calling you sexist. I'm saying the words you use are sexist. He still resisted, taking this as a personal attack. So I gave him this example: if I say a phrase, and a person of color tells me they find it racist, do I say "no it's not — I'm not racist!" or do I say, "I'm sorry, I didn't know. Can you tell me why that is racist?"
When I was a corporate trainer, I taught a course on diversity. The bottom line in that course was, view your interactions with other people as a learning opportunity. Ask questions. Ask for clarification. But don't get defensive.
This campaign season has certainly tested my abilities to stay calm, and in the end I decided to simply avoid certain blogs that seem to have gone off the deep end in their attacks of Hillary Clinton. When I try to point out how a comment is sexist, I'm labeled "a Clinton operative" or my comment is simply ignored. I see no point in reading comments posted by people with closed minds. It defeats the whole purpose of having a comments section.
While many fellow Democrats are worried about "the party" coming together once a nominee is chosen, I will be honest with you: I am much more worried about my fellow Democrats themselves and the state of our country. The insidious discrimination and prejudices of so many liberals may well be much harder to fight than even the legally segregated lunch counters my mother and her friends faced.