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Voting for 'victims'

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I once married a Muslim "man of color" and assumed, unthinkingly that, as an outsider himself, he might somehow identify with and make common cause with women. 

I found that this misguided assumption was untrue and, in my new book, "An American Bride in Kabul," I write about my unsentimental education in such matters, an education which took place both in America and in Afghanistan long ago.

I had also once assumed that all formerly colonized peoples and Third World impoverished countries were filled with naturally noble inhabitants who were instinctively spiritual and kind to each other. 

I quickly discovered that barbarism is indigenous to such regions, and that tribal and religious wars,  the most profound misogyny, cruelty, and corruption were accepted asnormal." It was only a crime to criticize such practices.

I learned long ago that belonging to a particular gender, race, class, religion, or sexual preference tells us nothing about how a particular person might think or behave.

Nevertheless, I became  a proud member of the 1960s non-violent Civil Rights movement.

Thus, as an ardent anti-racist, I must deplore the racialization/Balkanization of identity and the valorization of victim status that has come to characterize the contemporary American academy and electoral politics. 

Not every victim transcends their ordeal. Many inflict upon others (or upon themselves) precisely what was done to them and they do so over and over again. Not all victims are heroes; some are.

I learned long ago that belonging to a particular gender, race, class, religion, or sexual preference tells us nothing about how a particular person might think or behave. 

Women can be cruel, men can be compassionate (and vice versa of course);  people of color, those who share the same religion, and gay people, routinely exploit, scapegoat, and are prejudiced towards others like themselves. They have internalized the same sexist, xenophobic, and racist beliefs as everyone else.

At first, I did not believe this was possible but it has become very clear that like some heterosexual men, lesbians sometimes batter their partners. Lesbian custody battles are sometimes very bitter. Imagine two women fighting over who will remain their child's mother. Even Solomon would not be able to solve this.

In terms of religion, the greatest and most murderous violence against Muslims in the world, is at the hands of other Muslims; the Sunni-Shia religious wars have been raging since the 7th century and they rage on today all across the Islamic world. Thus, being a Muslim is no guarantee that other Muslims will "privilege" you as opposed to murder you.  

As the saying goes, one really cannot judge a book by its cover -- which  brings me to the subject of race in American politics.

Why did some people vote for President Obama? The answer: He is a man who looks black and who ran a cool and charismatic game. 

White America was atoning for the sin of institutionalized slavery;  the fact that we are the only country that fought and won a bloody Civil War on this very issue was irrelevant, insufficient.

Now, we had finally elected our first black/African-American President.

But had we, really? 

Obama's mother and the maternal grandparents who helped raise him were white, Caucasian. This did not matter. We judged him solely by his appearance and his considerable Ivy League charm,  and not by his record--he had none. 

As I read his autobiography, "Dreams From My Father," I became increasingly outraged by how little he mentioned his mother or grandparents and how much he magnified the role of his totally absent, alcoholic, wife-beating Kenyan father. 

As a feminist, and a mother, I felt tremendously sorry for his mother who, although she herself had chosen a series of men of color as husbands and lovers, did not seem to merit much love or loyalty from her son.

Electing a good-looking "symbol" is not the same as electing the best candidate for the job. And lately, America has not had many stellar presidential candidates.

Now, we in New York City are expected to elect a mayor because his wife is African-American and their son looks totally black (just like President Obama). Bill de Blasio is using his 15-year-old son Dante in an ad to show and tell that de Blasio deserves both the black and the progressive vote because he married a black woman and has a son who looks all-black and who sports a very 60's style Afro. 

No one should vote for de Blasio for this reason -- or for Bill Thompson merely because he is a black man. 

Check out their records.  

I will not vote for someone merely because she is a woman. I want to know where she stands on the issues, beginning with foreign policy and the economy as well as where she stands on women's issues. 

I want to know the same things about any male candidate.

As the author of "Woman's Inhumanity to Woman," I know that women lawyers, judges, corporate executives, physicians, social workers, and professors can be very anti-woman. Prosecutors often do not want women on the jury when a rapist is being tried; they tend to disbelieve the victim and feel compassion for the alleged rapist.

Gender, race, religion, and sexual preference are not necessarily forms of victimization and we should not be voting for "victims" as a way of atoning for their suffering or for our prejudice.

Phyllis Chesler, Ph.D is an Emerita Professor of Psychology and Women’s Studies, a Fellow at the Middle East Forum, the author of thousands of articles and of fifteen books, including "Women and Madness," and "An American Bride in Kabul." She archives her articles and may be reached through her website: www.phyllis-chesler.com