Your momma's so privileged that...

...she's "shocked" to discover she lives in a sexist world. Dig this from the WashPo's Clinton campaign obit:

In an interview with The Washington Post last month, Clinton described some of the media coverage of the race as "deeply offensive to millions of women" -- a remark that aides later said they worried came across as self-pitying, but that was sincerely felt.

"She started to see gender inequity in a more profound way than she ever has," one top adviser said.

In that way more than any other, the adviser said, the campaign was a "totally transformative experience" for Clinton. She concluded that "there is a lot more sexism than racism," the adviser said. It was a difficult sentiment to square with the results in the later states, as white men voted for Clinton in Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Kentucky and South Dakota. But it lingered.

The sexism/racism comment is hokum, and has been roundly dismissed as such, but there is something deeper here. Why the hell was Hillary Clinton, and many of her allies, "shocked" by the sexism she encountered? I've been wondering this for months. I mean think about: Nobody black is "shocked" that Clinton won West Virgina and Kentucky 2 to 1. Nobody black is "shocked" that there is a Curious George tee-shirt of Obama. Nobody black is shocked that a Kentucky Congressman called Barack Obama "boy." Black people can't afford to be shocked. If anything we're  shocked Obama won Iowa, Oregon and Idaho. In other words, we're shocked that America is evidently less racist than we thought it was.

I think this reflects how gender interacts with privilege--and arguably white privilege. No black woman who has to walk down Lenox Ave. and endure the cat-calls, who has to deal with the latest ho-slapping Snoop single, who has to function in a culture where "pimp" is now a postive word, is "shocked" by sexism. Indeed, Essence magazine has been on this shit for years. In fact, I'd argue that no white woman who spends her days, say, as a waitress in a diner would be shocked. That is how you know Hillary is an elite--she has the right, indeed the privilege, to be shocked by sexism. If she's shocked by what she saw running for president, let me submit that a day as black woman, a Latina, or working white woman would send her into cardiac arrest. .

In this sense, race works completely differently than gender. Indeed, in some ways, racism troubles the black elite in ways that it never troubles the black poor whose major concerns are economic. You see whereas corporate women tend to live/eat/sleep with other corporate men, corporate Negroes don't eat/sleep/live with corporate whites. In other words, there is no natural relationship across race, like there is across gender. The result is that racism among the elite is an abstraction for whites, something that happens to that dude/chick who they nod at in the hall. But sexism is something that can happen to their wife/mother/daughter. The white male has a vested and immediate interest in at least a less sexist environment. Of course he can't always see things that way, and women in the corporate world have more than their share of horror stories. But privilege changes how things are seen.

(As an aside, think about Linda Hirshman and the whole "opt out" debate--an issue which, for a few months, consumed all the oxygen in the debate over gender. But "opting out" is discussion for approximately ten percent of the women in the country--you have to be relatively wealthy to even consider it. I guess it's a feminist debate, but it's kind of peculiar given that it's a not discussion that even applies to most women.)

I think this accounts for any "feminist rage" among white women. They really thought their white brothers, husbands, and fathers had evolved, and that now it was their time. But black folks had no such faith, and had Barack lost it would have simply confirmed what we thought we knew. I think if Barack wins, it will be very interesting to see how many white women writers deal with Michelle. Color, methinks, colors everything.

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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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