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Oops! She Did it Again: An Open Letter to Gloria Steinem

01/10/2008 10:43 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

In discussing the train wreck that has become Britney Spears, the headline "Oops, she did it again," (a reference to her 2000 hit song of the same name) has been used so much by the tabloids to describe her increasingly bizarre behavior that it has officially peaked to the point of cliché.

And yet "Oops She Did it Again" seems to be the perfect phrase to describe Gloria Steinem's recent New York Times Op-ed titled, "Women are Never Frontrunners."

Let me start by saying that on my very humble wall of fame in my very humble apartment, I have a framed photo of the time I met Gloria Steinem. Like many young women I consider her a feminist icon. So reading her much ballyhooed Op-ed and seeing just how far off the mark she was, was somewhat akin to when you have that first grownup realization that your parents are only human, and as humans are often just as prone to being wrong as everybody else. In the case of Ms. Steinem her Op-ed was yet another reminder of just how wrong, well-meaning, well-intentioned white liberals can be in their attempts to serve as moral authorities in our country's ever-evolving dialogue about race.

The primary question posed by Ms. Steinem is this:
Could a half-African, half-white woman with only a few years of experience in the United States Senate and two small children be considered a viable candidate for the presidency? The answer is obvious to Ms. Steinem. Absolutely not. Her gender would make it impossible. Ms. Steinem uses this hypothetical assessment as the springboard to opine at length about the inherent unfairness in the fact that a female version of Barack Obama would never have enjoyed the meteoric rise that he has. The moment I read this overly simplistic analysis, I knew that we were in for a bumpy ride.

To be clear, I agree with Ms. Steinem's fundamental point. She is right that a hypothetical female candidate with Mr. Obama's story and credentials might not be considered as viable a candidate. But I would argue that this is not simply because she is a woman, but because she is a black woman.

A new report out by Catalyst notes that white women in corporate America not only out-earn, their African-American female counterparts, but ascend higher and faster, in greater numbers than black women--numbers that cannot simply be accounted for in terms of population demographics.

Historically the feminist experience between black women and white women has been viewed through very different lenses, based on their very different American experiences. While some white women were treated as property by their husbands during the 19th century, most black women were property, and often the sexual victims of white men. (For anyone who ever wondered, that is why we, as black Americans come in so many different colors, from Vanessa Williams vanilla, to Denzel Washington chocolate). While white women struggled with second-class citizenship in the early 20th century, black women worked to help white women keep their homes and raise their children--becoming the first "working mothers" long before the feminist movement popularized the term in the 1970's and 80's.

So while I have great respect for Ms. Steinem, her Op-ed demonstrated an extraordinary level of naivete regarding the differences between the black experience in America and the white female experience; a level of naivete that only a white woman of privilege could. For instance, she notes that black men received the right to vote before white women. What she forgets to mention is that for decades many of those black men could not actually exercise that right because attempting to do so could result in death--and did many times.

Ms. Steinem writes, "I'm not advocating a competition for who has it toughest." That's good. She shouldn't. Because there is no competition. Speaking as someone who has both ovaries, and a God-given tan, I can personally tell Ms. Steinem that she has no idea just how tough it can be.

While I was disappointed by her Op-ed, I'd be lying if I said I was surprised. The feminist movement wasn't particularly known for its multi-cultural paradigm, and "Women are Never Frontrunners," was merely a continuation of a limited perspective.

What can I say? Besides simply, "Oops they did it again."

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