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Unite and conquer
Time to turn off the horizontal hostility in the Clinton - Obama race

By Ellen Snortland

"Horizontal hostility" is a term that I first saw in Robin Morgan's book "Sisterhood is Powerful," an anthology of feminist essays that turned my life upside down. The late and great lawyer and political activist Florynce Kennedy, whom I first heard on a lecture tour with Gloria Steinem in the 1970s, discussed horizontal hostility in her essay "Institutionalized Oppression vs. the Female" in the "Sisterhood is Powerful" collection. She coined the term to describe the often bitter fighting that occurs between women about gender issues, or between people of the same minority or ethnic group about so-called minority issues. Now we see it happening between race and gender in the Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama campaigns.

I can't claim to have direct experience of racism, although I certainly have witnessed racially oriented ugliness. I have my gender creds just from walking around in a female body and reading, writing and thinking about misogyny and sexism for most of my life. Kennedy had loads of both gender and race-issue credibility because she was an African-American woman.

Simply put, horizontal hostility happens because the frustration of breaking barriers makes it easier to fight each other horizontally than it is to fight The Man vertically. You know that famous glass ceiling? It's called that because ceilings are up, and glass because you can see what's happening. Women, gays and people of color can see clearly what's above them, staring at the shoe bottoms of straight white men. If you're in the "out" groups, you're pissed off, not getting very far, and it's really convenient to start socking each other on your own level. At least you feel like you're doing SOMETHING.

While it's a mistake to compare suffering, it's almost unavoidable when discussing race and gender. Being the wrong race at the wrong time can get you killed, harassed or underemployed. So can gender. The rape and murder statistics for women attacked by their "intimates" are staggering. Most thinking people can understand the pain that comes along with being judged for attributes that come with birth, such as sexual organs or skin color.

What many of the same people do not factor in, however, is the horizontal hostility dynamic. Next time you hear a woman dissing Clinton for not being "feminine" enough, or another African American criticizing Obama for not being "African American" enough, think, "Aha, horizontal hostility at play!" By the same token (the word "token" used here advisedly), when you hear someone say, "It's a black man's turn to be in the Oval Office; women can wait," it's likely we're dealing with horizontal hostility because gender and race are the biggest factors that have kept the power structure in white straight male hands. How handy it is for the white patriarchy - which includes some women - when feminists and black men fight each other.

Who benefits from horizontal hostility? The establishment does. Make no mistake about it. The mainstream press loves this tit-for-tat between Clinton and Obama. Divide and conquer is a strategy that's as old as any game, war or campaign. The status quo can just sit back and watch other people duke it out.

Very few people know that there was a political party called the Equal Rights Party after the Civil War. In 1872 the presidential ticket had a white woman and black man running for president and vice president: Victoria Woodhull for president and Frederick Douglass for vice president.

They, of course, knew they would not win. Maybe that's why Douglass never acknowledged his nomination and did not campaign.

However, they remained a ticket for the disenfranchised. While black men had "won" the vote through the passage of the 15th Amendment, they were effectively denied the vote in real life; they could barely survive let alone exercise the right to vote after Reconstruction.

Women, including black women, wouldn't win the vote until 1920 with the ratification of the 19th Amendment. We have a history of heartache because of "rights" competition between women of all colors and men of color.

Thus, my greatest hope is that Clinton and Obama stop their bickering and keep their eye on the prize: the White House. My dream ticket - and I believe this is true for many people - is Clinton for president with Obama as her running mate. I believe that she's simply more prepared to be commander in chief. He'll be great as president after her terms. Let's see some horizontal unity.

Finally, I want to leave with you some quotes by Flo Kennedy. How I miss her.

  • "The biggest sin is sitting on your ass."
  • "There are very few jobs that actually require a penis or vagina. All other jobs should be open to everybody."
  • "Freedom is like taking a bath - you have to keep doing it every day!"
  • "You've got to rattle your cage door. You've got to let them know that you're in there, and that you want out. Make noise. Cause trouble. You may not win right away, but you'll sure have a lot more fun."

Pasadena Weekly: 1/31/08

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