NPR recently published an article titled: “Is It OK To Vote For Hillary Because She’s a Woman?” This line of questioning frustrates me because I, like the 8-year old girl, do believe that it’s okay to vote for Hillary because she’s a woman; I believed it was okay to vote for Obama because he was black. I don’t care if that’s how some people are voting because that is their choice, and people have been guilty of it for decades, if not centuries.
How many women are in politics today? There was a great photoset done by Elle UK that showed what rooms in some of our governmental spaces would look like should we remove men from them, and the results were strikingly empty rooms (they also showed that some University Challenge teams ceased to exist). We have had centuries where women have been represented only by men, and we’re even finding out that many of these men know literally nothing about the people they’re legislating for (with Vito Barbieri going as far as to think people with uteruses could swallow cameras to get ‘pregnancy pictures’). If people want to vote for someone because she’s a woman, I have no problem with them doing it.
But let’s push this farther. How many people of colour are there in varying levels of the US government? When you look at the 114th Congress, which is the “most diverse ever” according to the Pew Research Center, you still have white people representing 83% of the Congressional population despite the fact that white people make up 62% of the overall US population. If there are people who want to vote for their Congressional representatives based only on their race, I see no problem with it because that is the decision they have made. For some people, that representation really matters and opens up doors that weren’t previously open to people like them. And why should it matter to me if people are voting based on race alone when, previously, non-white people weren’t allowed to participate in government?
It’s not even a coincidence that this same argument cropped up when, as a junior senator, Barack Obama ran for president. And it wasn’t just the first time he was elected that it happened, we literally saw it happen in both 2008 and 2012. In fact, we still see that racist logic – that all black people only voted for him because he was black – in varying ways today, including a reference to something Romney said during his 2012 congratulations to President Obama that popped up in David Axelrod’s memoir.
Now let’s keep going: How about the number of LGBTQ+ people represented in government? If you can name people beyond Barney Frank and Mark Takano, that’s fantastic; I’m literally struggling to think of many other LGBTQ+ individuals in the US government because there are so few of them (and this list proves it). Honestly, the only other person I can think of is Penny Wong, and she’s over in Australia. It’s fantastic that many of these people exist, but we’re missing huge chunks of our society; there are significant portions of the queer community missing, and that representation is necessary. How many transgender people are visible? And how much influence are they having in creating these awful pieces of transgender legislation?
And let’s add a couple other aspects to this list of identities. How many individuals in government have a disability (physical or emotional/mental)? We continually make laws and legislation for disabled people, but we seem to forget that they should be included in creating it. How many people in the US government are non-Christian? We’re supposed to be non-secular, yet the justification for so many of our laws about reproductive health include the Christian God. How many of these people are from poor backgrounds? We’re creating legislation and massacring social safety nets, but we’re not even talking to the people who are genuinely affected. And we can even sub-divide many of these identities further and continue asking these questions over and over, but the answer would still be the same: There aren’t enough people in our government who genuinely represent the diversity of people in our nation.
Regardless of whether or not we agree with these individuals on their positions – and I am the first to stand in line explaining why I don’t believe in Hillary, while there are numerous think-pieces being published telling me that we “shouldn’t hold her to higher standards of feminism because she, too, has faced sexism” – the simple fact is that these people are there and, usually, are going to support further representation of people like them; it may create an environment where marginalised communities are capable of participating in the government that, at the moment, pretends to represent everyone equally.
We have seen Obama be an inspiration to many people, and there are children who are growing up today who have never known anything other than a Black president. It’s hard to deny the impact he has made on these children, especially when you see how much he meant to Kameria Chayten, a first grade girl who cried because she wasn’t ready for his final term to be over. How many people who share at least one of her identities has she seen in positions of power? Him being president now shows that it’s more possible for black people to participate in all forms of government, including the highest positions. (It’s still bloody difficult, though, because of how systemic racism is. It just means that it’s finally not impossible.)
People are allowed to use their vote how they see fit, and that is the very purpose of giving it to them; we don’t have the right to deny them that, no matter how many times politicians seem to think so (by gutting the Voting Rights Act, forever increasing ID laws, the constant gerrymandering, decreasing the number of polling stations, and so on). Some people are going to use a much more simplistic set of standards than others, and that’s okay; it’s based on what they believe is important, and it’s not my place to tell them otherwise. (Similarly, how about we point out that many of the Republican candidates seem to be doing just fine with going in on single-issue platforms – we hate everyone who isn’t like us – with no one really crying about that?)
If identity is your most important criteria for voting for someone, that’s fine. I may disagree with you (and that’s okay), but I want you to make your own decisions; it’s not my place, or anyone else’s, to tell you how and who to vote for.
But it is interesting to consider: Why is it that identity is only a factor when it’s a person who isn’t white, isn’t straight, and isn’t a cissexual man? And how many times are we going to hear “Women only voted for Hillary because she’s a woman?” should she win the nomination? And if Bernie’s to win, how frequently will we hear “Jewish people only voted for him because he’s Jewish?”
Because I’m betting it’ll be quite a lot, and it will most certainly ignore the numbers or logic as to why they won, especially over any of the possible Republican nominations. I mean, it’ll be obviously difficult to figure out why we would vote for either of them when we’ve got some amazing xenophobic contestants on the other side. (And we’re kind of stuck with two options because of ballot access laws, but that’s a topic for another day.)