Open Thread: Geraldine Ferraro

by Racialicious Special Correspondent Latoya Peterson

*We interrupt this political blackout in order to bring you a topic of debate.*

Simply put, were Geraldine Ferraro’s comments racist?

For those who are unaware, Geraldine Ferraro said:

If Obama was a white man, he would not be in this position. And if he was a woman (of any color), he would not be in this position. He happens to be very lucky to be who he is. And the country is caught up in the concept.

Ben Smith of the Politico also dug up this older quote from Ms. Ferraro, from about twenty years ago:

“If Jesse Jackson were not black, he wouldn’t be in the race,” she said.”

Really. The cite is an April 15, 1988 Washington Post story (byline: Howard Kurtz), available only on Nexis.

Here’s the full context:

Placid of demeanor but pointed in his rhetoric, Jackson struck out repeatedly today against those who suggest his race has been an asset in the campaign. President Reagan suggested Tuesday that people don’t ask Jackson tough questions because of his race. And former representative Geraldine A. Ferraro (D-N.Y.) said Wednesday that because of his “radical” views, “if Jesse Jackson were not black, he wouldn’t be in the race.”

Asked about this at a campaign stop in Buffalo, Jackson at first seemed ready to pounce fiercely on his critics. But then he stopped, took a breath, and said quietly, “Millions of Americans have a point of view different from” Ferraro’s.

Discussing the same point in Washington, Jackson said, “We campaigned across the South . . . without a single catcall or boo. It was not until we got North to New York that we began to hear this from Koch, President Reagan and then Mrs. Ferraro . . . . Some people are making hysteria while I’m making history.”

Ferraro fires back with “they’re attacking me because I’m white.”

And Obama denounces the comments, but downplays accusations of Clinton using a race based strategy:

“That’s one person’s remarks and I don’t want to suggest that somehow one remark by one person is a problem,” Obama said.

The subtext is Obama’s choice never to be the spokesman for racial grievance, and to explicitly disassociate himself from the older politics of race, and he offered an unusually direct glimpse into his thinking on a matter that few people in American politics have given more thought. It was a glimpse both at his views on the issues of race, and how he’s been able to navigate the choppy political waters with such success.

“I don’t think identity politics has served the Democratic Party well,” he said, stating it as flatly as any DLCer would.

He said Ferraro’s remarks had been “ridiculous” and “divisive,” but he also described his own wariness about allegations. (Obama aides said yesterday that Axelrod hadn’t meant to refer to a pattern of racially-charged remarks, but just of negative attacks, though many of his examples have been seen as having a racial edge.)

“I don’t like to throw out words like ‘racist,'” Obama said. “I would defy anybody to look though the rhetoric for the last year-and-a-half or the last year and a couple months to find one instance in which I have said some criticism of me was racially based.”

He did, however, accuse the Clinton campaign of slicing up the electorate along racial lines. He noted that Clinton’s aides — notably Mark Penn — have told reporters on conference calls that part of her strength lies in her ability to win traditional swing-voting groups, working class whites and Hispanics.

So, readers of Racialicious, what do you think?


Over on Feministing’s thread about this topic, I saw a comment that made me literally laugh out loud.

Commenter Chevalier writes:

To deny this basic reality is ridiculous. And stating this reality is not equal to making a value judgement. What Ferraro is saying is a statement of fact – as there are disadvantages to being black, there are definitely some gigantic advantages to being ‘different’, and Obama’s candidacy is totally benefiting from the fact that he’s black!

How, again, is stating that racist?????
And seriously, how do you explain 91% of African-Americans voting for Obama if not by the fact of his race? No other demographic breaks as skewed-ly as this for ANY candidate!

Hahahahahahahaahahah! Again, we black folk just line up, don’t we? That’s why Jesse Jackson was the first black president, and Al Sharpton was in a dead heat in 2004 with Alan Keyes.

I wonder why it doesn’t occur to Chevalier that perhaps – just perhaps – black Americans started breaking for Obama when it became obvious they were trying to snow him in that backhanded, “I’m not a racist because I didn’t use the n-word” way. As I said when this race first started, we had two great candidates. (Three technically – John Edwards was pretty good too.) I checked out the policy issues and made a decision based on that. [And please, I don’t want to hear jack shit about policy in this conversation. Everyone knows where the candidates stand, time for that has passed. I’m writing about this to prove a point.]

Personally, my decision came down to splitting hairs on policy issues. They have similar goals and similar ideas about how to correct major problems here in the US. So, I looked at the policy and noticed one key difference (best outlined in the poverty post from a while back): Obama’s policies looked like they would be able to make immediate changes in someone’s day to day life. (And by immediate, I mean about a year out – as a bureaucrat, I see how government money flows up close and personal.) Clinton was going to make broad changes that would take a few years really feel the effects. And the decision was made.

But for me, over the course of this campaign, I went from being pro both, with a lean toward Obama to being pro-Obama with deeply conflicted feelings about Clinton. Like Angry Black Bitch talked about in her last two posts:

I don’t know you, Geraldine, and I don’t assume a person is decent simply because they hold a certain status in the Democratic Party and feminist history. This bitch has never met you, but I sure as shit know what it is like to have someone attribute my success to my being black.

The personal is political.

And all this shit hits at me, personally.

So, while I can understand being tired of “these muthaf—–g surrogates on this muthaf—–g campaign,” I have to say I am more tired at the treatment of these surrogates after they say something out of pocket. And since Obama has been quick to fire, denounce and reject, or distance himself from these kinds of remarks when they are made, I find it fascinating that Hillary has not.

So this black American is starting to weigh the benefits of voting for Hillary versus my personal beliefs. I mean, if I wanted to ignore racial digs and bias for personal gain, I would be a Republican.

Again, what do you all think? I’m especially interested in hearing from black HRC supporters on this one, but everyone should feel welcome to weigh in.

[And as always, comments policy is still in effect.]

About This Blog

Racialicious is a blog about the intersection of race and pop culture. Check out our daily updates on the latest celebrity gaffes, our no-holds-barred critique of questionable media representations, and of course, the inevitable Keanu Reeves John Cho newsflashes.

Latoya Peterson (DC) is the Owner and Editor (not the Founder!) of Racialicious, Arturo García (San Diego) is the Managing Editor, Andrea Plaid (NYC) is the Associate Editor. You can email us at

The founders of Racialicious are Carmen Sognonvi and Jen Chau. They are no longer with the blog. Carmen now runs Urban Martial Arts with her husband and blogs about local business. Jen can still be found at Swirl or on her personal blog. Please do not send them emails here, they are no longer affiliated with this blog.

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