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Who Should Be First?

Feminists Speak Out on the 2008 Presidential Campaign

Beverly Guy-Sheftall, Johnnetta Betsch Cole

Publication Year: 2010

Feminists speak out on race and gender in the 2008 Presidential campaign. Who should be first? With Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton as frontrunners, the 2008 Democratic primary campaign was a watershed moment in United States history. Offering the choice of an African American man or a white woman as the next Democratic candidate for U.S. President, the primary marked an unprecedented moment—but one that painfully echoed previous struggles for progressive change that pitted race and gender against each other. Who Should Be First? collects key feminist voices that challenge the instances of racism and sexism during the presidential campaign season, offer personal reflections on this historic moment, and trace the historic legacy of opposing issues of race and gender that informed debates and media representations of the 2008 Democratic primary. In this collection of writings by leading feminists including Patricia J. Williams, Gloria Steinem, Alice Walker, Carol Moseley Braun, Maureen Dowd, Katha Pollitt, Pearl Cleage, Robin Morgan, Erica Jong, Mark Anthony Neal, and M. Jacqui Alexander about and during this unprecedented—and to many, unexpected—moment, editors Beverly Guy-Sheftall and Johnnetta Cole deftly balance charged conversations in the first collection on this key moment in contemporary U.S. history.

Published by: State University of New York Press


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pp. xi

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pp. 1-8

Like most book projects, this one began long before what appears to have motivated it—in this case, the 2008 U.S. presidential campaign. Having grown up in the Jim Crow South before the Civil Rights Movement, we would never have imagined that we would publish an anthology whose focus is the race/gender debate among feminists in the wake of a Black man and a White woman running...

I. Editorials, Opinions, and Petitions

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pp. 9

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1. Feminists for Peace and Barack Obama

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pp. 11-12

In the coming elections, it is important to remember that war and peace are as much “women’s issues” as are health, the environment, and the achievement of educational and occupational equality. Because we believe that all of these concerns are not only fundamental but also are closely intertwined, we will be casting our vote for Sen. Barack Obama as the Democratic nominee for ...

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2. Feminists for Clinton

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pp. 13-15

We write to you now because it is time for feminists to say that Sen. Barack Obama has no monopoly on inspiration. We are among the millions of women and men who have been moved to action by Sen. Clinton. Six months ago, some of us were committed to her candidacy, some of us weren’t, but by now we all find ourselves passionately supporting her. Brains, grace under...

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3. Stop the False Race–Gender Divide: A Call to Action

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pp. 17-20

We are calling on White progressive women activists and feminists to join us in challenging the onslaught of reactionary and racist arguments being put forward in the name of feminism and in defense of Hillary Clinton. We are saddened and frustrated by the abandonment of feminist commitments to the freedom and liberation of all women from all forms of oppression. We stand with all the women ...

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4. Morning in America: A Letter from Feminists on the Election

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pp. 21-23

Two days after the Texas debate between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, a group of old friends broke out the good china for a light breakfast of strong coffee, blueberry muffins, and fresh-squeezed orange juice. We were there to hash out a split that threatened our friendship and the various movements with which we are affiliated. In some ways it was a kaffeeklatch like a million ...

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5. Duel of Historical Guilts

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pp. 25-27

Some women in their 30s, 40s, and early 50s who favor Barack Obama use a phrase to describe what they don’t like about Hillary Clinton: shoulder-pad They feel that women have moved past that men-are-pigs, woe-is-me, sisters-must-stick-together, pantsuits-are-powerful era that Hillary’s campaign And they don’t like Gloria Steinem and other old-school feminists trying ...

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6. It’s Not as Simple as White Trumping Black or Man Trumping Woman

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pp. 29-31

It was delightful, those early days when Republicans were in fractious disarray and the Democratic field bloomed with interesting candidates like a pasture full of daffodils—any of them! All of them! Bluebirds sang. We were rolling in good will. Now, however, John McCain has unified the right with a lizardy, smothering oil of “my friend,” “my friends,” and “hey listen, pal.” And Democrats are ...

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7. Sex Versus Race, Again

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pp. 33-39

The struggle between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama to make history as either the first woman or first Black president resurrects the unfortunate historic battle between sex and race.2 The current debate presents striking parallels to the battle for voting rights after the Civil War when infighting between abolitionists over race and sex created deep separatism that pitted allies against each ...

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8. Obama and the Sisters

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pp. 41-43

When he accepts the Democratic nomination on August 28, Barack Obama will give the most important speech of his life. The bar is set especially high after a primary season of soaring rhetorical achievements. Obama must capture the historical relevance of his nomination while keeping his focus firmly on the country as a whole. He must define the nation’s problems while conveying a ...

II. Personal Reflections: Having Our Say

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pp. 45

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9. Lest We Forget: An Open Letter to My Sisters Who Are Brave

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pp. 47-51

I have come home from a long stay in Mexico to find—because of the presidential campaign, and especially because of the Obama–Clinton race for the Democratic nomination—a new country existing alongside the old. On any given day we, collectively, become the Goddess of the Three Directions and can look back into the past, look at ourselves just where we are, and take a glance, ...

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10. Culture Trumps Politics and Gender Trumps Race

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pp. 53-58

In 2003, I stood for nomination by the Democratic Party for the presidency of the United States. That this is a little known fact doesn’t bother me much: It was a very personal exercise that I hoped then and believe now helped shape attitudes about the proper place to be occupied by women and people of color in American society. From that experience, and many others in my personal ...

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11. What Would Shirley Chisholm Say?

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pp. 59-62

“Hello Brooklyn!” I imagine that Bedford-Stuyvesant (Bed-Stuy, do or die . . . ) native Shirley Chisholm might have said that when she addressed a crowd of hundreds, as she stood in front of a Brooklyn church in 1972, to announce her candidacy for president of the United States. Ms. Chisholm was the first Black woman elected to Congress in 1968 and a founding member of the ...

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12. Voting for the Girl: Some Thoughts on Sisterhood and Citizenship

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pp. 63-69

It’s Friday night and I’m sharing our weekly pasta dinner with my daughter, Deignan, and my grandchildren, Michael, age six, and Chloe Pearl, age four. As we step up to the counter and place our order, one of the omnipresent televisions that now routinely share dinner table conversation with you in American family restaurants, begins to review the day’s political news. The split screen ...

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13. The Sisterhood Split

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pp. 71-73

At a Washington reception last month for a well-known national women’s organization, the chair of the board asked Maureen McFadden, a communications executive with the organization, which candidate she had voted for in the recent primary. McFadden, hoping to avoid an awkward moment, answered that she had voted by absentee ballot. The board chair pressed ahead, “Did you vote ...

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14. Hillary Versus the Patriarchy

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pp. 75-78

“Look, the only people for Hillary Clinton are the Democratic establishment and white women,” said Bill Kristol yesterday on Fox News Sunday, one of the many “news” outlets to expose Kristol’s reliable sexism. “The Democratic establishment would be crazy to follow an establishment that led it to defeat year after year,” Kristol continued in his woolly, repetitive style. “White women ...

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15. Hillary Is White

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pp. 79-83

At the time of this writing it already seemed pretty certain that Barack Obama would be the Democratic nominee in the fall. Even though this was the case, and maybe because this was so evident to many of us, it seemed more crucial than ever to clarify how wrong-headed Hillary Clinton’s campaign had been. Otherwise, feminists of all sorts would be left with a bad taste of feminist rac-...

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16. Your Whiteness Is Showing

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pp. 85-88

This is an open letter to those White women who, despite their proclamations of progressivism, and supposedly because of their commitment to feminism, are threatening to withhold support from Barack Obama in November. You know who you...

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17. Black and for Hillary

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pp. 89-91

The other day I attended a candlelight banquet for Morehouse College, where actor and emcee of the evening Hill Harper took a few minutes to remind the distinguished crowd of Atlanta’s finest luminaries that he and Barack went to law school together and that he would be happy to accept money that anyone...

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18. Why I Support Obama

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pp. 93-95

I’m taking off all my institutional hats to endorse Barack Obama for president. I support Obama because I am inspired by his energy, his vision, and his demonstrated capacity to heal divisions and bring about change. I aspire to be like Obama in bringing agents of change together to pursue innovative ideas that resolve seemingly intractable problems. On the issues that I care most ...

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19. Daughters of the South, Rise Up: On Generation, Gender, and Race in the 2008 Democratic Election

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pp. 97-102

It’s an ironic generational divide. I remember one afternoon when I was sitting in my nightgown, teeth unbrushed, nursing my daughter at home, and my mother came by to visit. She was on her way to a board of trustees meeting and she looked at me and asked, “Is this why I worked so hard all those years for you girls—so you could stay home and take care of...

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20. Generation Y Refuses Race–Gender Dichotomy

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pp. 103-105

I was born on the last hour of the last day of the last year of the 1970s. So, like so many of my Generation Y peers, I was raised on Free to Be You and Me, hip hop, and feminism. I was eleven years old when Anita Hill changed the world and just about Monica Lewinsky’s age when her blue dress dominated the headlines. So that just gives you some perspective on where young voters ...

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21. Why I’m Supporting Barack Obama

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pp. 107-108

But right now, I’m supporting Barack Obama. On domestic politics, their differences are small—I’m with her on health care mandates, and with him on driver’s licences for undocumented immigrants; both would probably be equally good on women’s rights, abortion rights, and judicial appointments. But on foreign policy Obama seems more enlightened, as in less...

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22. The Obama Feminists: Why Young Women Are Supporting Obama

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pp. 109-110

The epic struggle between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama reveals strong fault lines between some older and younger women, first underscored by no less than Gloria Steinem who scorned those of us supporting a man over a woman. Women of my generation venerate Steinem for her pioneering leadership but tend to reject her insinuation that the Democratic primary winner must have ...

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23. Yo Momma

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pp. 111-114

The next president of the United States will be at the helm of the largest and most powerful military and economy in the world, literally holding the power over life and death, wielding the legislative veto, administering the bureaucracy, and selecting life-tenured federal judges. Here’s how young feminist writer Courtney Martin is selecting her candidate: “I have a dirty little political secret. ...

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24. Feminists Must Heal the Wounds of Racism

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pp. 115-117

I’m writing self-identified second- and third-wave White feminists, who have expressed a commitment to ending sexism and racism, about their public uncritical support of Hillary Clinton. Granted my letter could be perceived as a moot point because she conceded on Saturday, June 7, 2008. However, for me, a hard-core unapologetic third-wave Black feminist lesbian (who is ...

III. Essays: Making Our Case

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pp. 119

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25. Crises of Representation: Hate Messages in Campaign 2008 Commercial Paraphernalia

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pp. 121-154

As everyone knows, each U.S. president and vice-president until now has been a White man. The election of Barack Obama to the presidency, as well as the historic primary campaign of Hillary Clinton and the Republican vice-presidential candidacy of Sarah Palin, aroused many hopes, but also many fears, resentments, and prejudices revolving around race, sex, gender, class, and religion. The issue ...

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26. Goodbye to All That #2

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pp. 155-162

During my decades in Civil-Rights, anti-war, and contemporary women’s movements, I’ve avoided writing another specific “Goodbye . . .” But not since the suffrage struggle have two communities—joint conscience-keepers of this country—been so set in competition, as the contest between Hillary Rodham Clinton (HRC) and Barack Obama...

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27. Race to the Bottom

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pp. 163-170

In the course of Hillary Clinton’s historic run for the White House—in which she became the first woman ever to prevail in a state-level presidential primary contest—she has been likened to Lorena Bobbitt (by Tucker Carlson); a “hellish housewife” (Leon Wieseltier); and described as “witchy,” a “she-devil,” “anti-male,” and “a stripteaser” (Chris Matthews). Her loud and hearty laugh has been ...

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28. Intersectionality: Race and Gender in the 2008 Presidential Nomination Campaign

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pp. 171-182

The presidential campaign during this primary season has generated broad discussion of race and gender by the Democratic candidates, as well as the rest of society.² The tensions and challenges raised by the conflict between the “first woman,” and the “first Black” candidates, Sen. Hillary Clinton and Sen. Barack Obama, have set off an unexpectedly exciting campaign. The following ...

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29. Does Race Trump Gender? Black Women Negotiating their Spaces of Intersection in the 2008 Presidential Campaign

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pp. 183-200

Many would agree the 2008 presidential election process was one of the most exciting presidential contests in the past thirty or more years. Regardless of political affiliation, the image presented by the Republican nominee and the two lead contenders for the Democratic nomination served to stimulate many within the American electorate who had never before taken a serious interest...

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30. The Generation Gap: Graduate Students and Democratic Primaries Spring 2008

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pp. 201-214

The 2008 U.S. presidential primaries stimulated many teachable moments on college and university campuses. Even the most apolitical student, faculty, or staff person could hardly escape discussions surrounding the campaign. As an on-the-ground civics lesson, the state primaries allowed ordinary citizens a voice in the nomination process of the highest office in the land. Massive voter regis-...

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31. Michelle Obama on My Mind

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pp. 215-229

In January 2008, as the presidential primary season was just getting underway, celebrated African American poet Maya Angelou published a tribute in honor of presidential hopeful Hillary Rodman Clinton. Angelou borrowed words from the opening of her famous poem Still I Rise (1978), which bears testimony to the resilience of the Black female spirit. In her tribute to Clinton, which came ...

IV. Post-Election: What We Learned

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pp. 231

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32. Why We Need to Stop Obsessing Over Obama

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pp. 233-249

In my involvement in various women of color organizing projects, I have noticed typically two responses to the 2008 presidential elections. On the one hand, many activists have dismissed this campaign, focusing on the limitations of Barack Obama himself. These activists conclude that Obama’s charisma obscures his neoliberal and imperial commitments. Additionally, they contend ...

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33. Learning from a Year of Hope and Hard Choices

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pp. 251-284

I know this has been going on for at least forty years because that’s how long I’ve been volunteering in political campaigns; an addiction I owe to my mother. Her stories of suffering during the Depression before I was born, and how Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt helped us out of it, convinced me that politics were a crucial part of daily...

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34. Reading Obama: Collective Responsibilities and the Politics of Tears

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pp. 285-304

What collective stories do we tell of this moment? How would we answer the question: where were you when . . . ? What we are presenting here is not a neat narrative, but part of an ongoing conversation that needs to provisionally end now, but that of course is only an arbitrary end and countless new beginnings will occur each time this piece is read and on each reopened conversation ...


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pp. 305-325

List of Contributors

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pp. 327-334


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pp. 335-345

E-ISBN-13: 9781438433738
E-ISBN-10: 1438433735
Print-ISBN-13: 9781438433752
Print-ISBN-10: 1438433751

Page Count: 357
Illustrations: 10 b/w photographs
Publication Year: 2010

Edition: 1

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Clinton, Hillary Rodham.
  • Presidential candidates -- United States -- History -- 21st century.
  • Presidents -- United States -- Election -- 2008.
  • Obama, Barack.
  • Feminists -- United States -- History -- 21st century.
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