As the election season kicked-off throughout the U.S., more than ever issues over identity and gender are being commented in the media on both sides of the pond. An article in the Canadian Globe and Mail highlights the obvious sexism that Hillary Clinton seems to be facing by both male and female commentators in the election race. After 24 years since the last female to play a prominent position in a presidential election, Geraldine Ferraro, it seems that traditional views on gender are unfortunately still strong. Much like experience that Clinton has received by the press recently, Ferraro also had to endure sexist treatment from the media and fellow politicans, most notably when after the vice-presidential debate, George Bush Sr. declared that he “kicked a little ass”. No longer can a female candidate be just that- she now has to be yummy mummy and/or MILF, a fashion plate, a caring and understand wife, a professional- you name it and the list goes on.
Futhermore, if you are a woman in control, the media plays the lesbian card to imply that because of her supposed sexuality as a lesbian, this allows one to assume masculine modes of success. In addition, by dallying with the lesbian card, the media, both liberal and conservative can play one off as being somewhat anti-male, anti-family, and anti-femininity. There is much speculation that Hillary Clinton has been deceiving the media for years- that her marriage to Bill is a sham and that she is a closed lesbian.Whatever the case may be, why are female candidates presented by denigrating them sexually? I don’t know if Hillary is a lesbian or not, but at this point I don’t care- it should be about the issues and not about what goes on behind the sheets.
However, it isn’t Hillary Clinton that has been questioned and criticized for about her identity-specifically gender related. Likewise, Barack Obama has also had to content with Islamophobia within his presidential bid. Obama represents an emerging segment of the U.S. population- diasporic, bi-racial and one exposed to different religious traditions, namely Islam. Although Obama has stated repeatedly that he is a practicing Christian, there are those who feel that he is still a threat to the American people because of his Islamic middle name, Hussein, and because he spent his early years in Indonesia- a predominately Muslim country. In light of 9/11 and anti-Muslim feelings (on both sides of the pond), it seems that Obama is having to constantly reiterate his Christian faith, by down playing his obvious Muslim background. Naomi Klein, has recently written a good piece on this issue, and one that I agree with: for Obama the best thing to do to tackle the Islamophoic feelings within the media and with political rivals is to simply acknowledge that there is no shame in being or coming from a Muslim background.
The politics of identity within the U.S. elections has much to do with the evolutionary ideas of what it is to be American these days. Exactly, what is American these days? The ethnic and religious make-up of the U.S. is transforming in addition to the fact that women have a powerful role politically and economically in today’s society. The rise of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama point towards this. Especially in light of Obama, I have always said to friends that it won’t be his race that will be dissected as much as his multi-cultural background. Unlike Clinton, Obama does not hail from a predominately white, Protestant, Anglo-Saxon background that for the most part has been the standard in becoming president of the U.S.
Meanwhile the push and pull of identity and politics are not tied to the U.S. alone. The 20th of April will mark 40 years since the Rivers of Blood speech given by Enoch Powell. Sarfraz Manzoor has investigated the affects of Powell’s speech in Birmingham in a piece written in the Guardian. It is odd that someone like Powell, who encouraged immigration during his period as Health Minister would warn in the Rivers of Blood speech of the impending doom and the eventuality that “In this country in 15 or 20 years time the black man will have the whip hand over the white man.”
Remember, when Powell encouraged greater immigration, the National Health Service was woefully understaffed. I don’t doubt that Powell came from the colonial mind-set that those employed from the immigrant, and largely from the former colonies would “know their place” within society and behave accordingly. The main fear for those like Powell was that these immigrants would gain and have a higher position than the native white population. Coupled with this, was the greater fear that these new immigrants, coming from the all parts of the British Empire, namely South Asian and Black, would change the racial landscape so much that it would cease to be British.
Much like the U.S., as seen with the presidential election, the main issue is again, what is British? Like the U.S., the U.K. is coping with coming to terms with a changing ethnic and religious landscape, while trying reconcile and put together elements of what is considered British identity. The themes of the River of Blood speech are still echoed today especially with regards to the new Polish immigrants and with the general mood of xenophobia in the Daily Mail as represented in Zrinka Bralo‘s article on her experiences as a refugee in the UK.
Of course, the easiest people to dissect are those who are immigrant, refugee, and diasporic. Nevermind the fact that the economic infrastructure of both U.S. and U.K. are less American and British these days and no one is up in arms over that. However, it is pathetic that in this day and age being an immigrant or having bi-cultural status still makes one seem “dodgy” and deserve more scrutiny.