In addition to the immediate sense of relief upon Tuesday’s news that Doug Jones beat Roy Moore in Alabama’s Senate race, lots of us felt anger and shame and weariness at the continued racial divide in voting in that state. As in the 2016 presidential election, white women overwhelmingly voted for a sexual abuser, while African American women turned out in great numbers (and not just turned out to vote but turned out the vote in their organizing) to oppose him. How can white women be so awful?
To complicate the situation, some exit poll data:
- Most white people with college degrees voted for Moore.
- 80% of white people describing themselves as born-again Christians voted for Moore–about the same percent of white evangelicals voters who voted for Trump.
- 76% of Moore voters said that the allegations of sexual assault of children was not a factor in their voting; 15% of voters who said it was an important factor chose Moore.
- 63% of white women who voted for Moore said that they think the allegations are true.
- Of those Alabama voters who approve of Donald Trump’s performance as a president, 97% of them voted for Moore–and 27% of them were voting for Moore as an act of support for the president.
The majority of fathers voted for Moore. The majority of mothers voted for Jones. (The Washington Post data didn’t break this down by race, though I’m very interested to see how white mothers compared to African American and Latina mothers on this one.) Men who are fathers were just as okay with voting for a serial sexual predator as were men who are not fathers, so, no, it turns out that you don’t need a daughter to think it’s wrong to assault girls–and, in fact, having a child doesn’t really convince you that they are worth protecting.
How can educated, white, Christian, and women voters support someone they actually believe groomed children for sexual abuse? How can the majority of fathers vote this way? How can 1 out of 3 mothers vote for Moore? How can white people who should know better (because of their education) and believe better (because of their faith) vote for a man they accept sexually assaulted teens?
In short: how can white women be so awful?
Above, the worst white woman ever, Scarlett O’Hara.
The question is only narrowly about Moore or even Trump. Broadly, it’s a question about why we would vote for the dream in which America is great “again”–that is, as it once was, in the past. The sweet version of this story is a Hallmark Christmas movie--small towns where families are intact, crime is low, wages support families, and non-white people make only rare appearances and then in supporting roles. That this has never really been history–and certainly not for African Americans, who, in slavery, were denied the right to their own families and who, ever since Emancipation, have been denied the best paying jobs in our economy–does not matter. Also, conservatives know who to blame for the fact that it’s not our current reality: people of color, immigrants, non-Christians, women, queer people. A vote for Moore wasn’t a vote for sexual assault (though it was certainly a vote that sexual assault isn’t a disqualification) so much as it was a vote for white patriarchy. When Roy Moore said that the best time for American families was during slavery, he wasn’t saying slavery was good (I mean, he wasn’t saying it.) as much as he was saying when we think about who America is good for, we only count white families.
So of course white men would vote for that. Notice that our post-election conversations aren’t about why white men are so awful. We know the answer: because voting for Moore is a vote to protect their power.
But why would white women vote for white patriarchy?
First, we (I’m speaking here as a white woman) are socialized into both racism and sexism. We benefit from racism, and we internalize sexism. Our culture itself is racist and sexist in the same way that the US is 3.8 million square miles–we could change it, and we can imagine it being different, and it’s been different in the past, but, boy, making that kind of change is hard and even if we made it, we’d have to redraw every map in the world. Socialization works. If we don’t want to be racist and sexist, we have to actively counter that socialization. But messages of sexism and racism come at us from every which way, all day long, and it’s hard to be vigilant, even if you want to not be racist or sexist.
Second, in a white patriarchy, our race will get us farther ahead than our gender, so we stick with whiteness and stick it to women and girls, whatever their race. In a white patriarchy, white men will ally with us as white women (not equal to white men, but as complements to them), whereas solidarity with women of color means that white men have no reason to share any kind of power with us at all.
Finally, many of us would rather be oppressed by a white man than have a person of color be our equal. We know how badly white men will treat us, and we still prefer it to what we imagine our own feelings would be if we were seen as only equal to, not superior to, people of color. For some of us, we cannot imagine our own lives having the little value we place on black lives; the thought is intolerable. For some of us, feelings of superiority to non-whites placate our suspicion that, economically, we’re pretty powerless–because, at least, after all, we’re white, so there is still someone to look down upon.
Perhaps we fear the retribution we deserve. Perhaps we have done some of the work of taking account for the ways in which white women have harmed women of color and benefitted from harm to them and we think, I can’t pay for that. We cannot imagine the grace we would have to receive in order to reconcile what we owe to black women (an impossible task that we must try to do) because we are so selfish ourselves. Because we have hurt others with injustice, we can’t envision mercy at all for ourselves.