Comedian Patton Oswalt has a tendency of tweeting intelligent and poignant things in light of current events, and in the social media flurry after Donald Trump was elected, you can bet he had something to say. While I appreciated him speaking out against the hate that brought us this terrifying election result, one of Oswalt’s tweets shared a sentiment I could not fully agree with:
What I've learned so far tonight: America is WAAAAAAAAY more sexist than it is racist. And it's pretty fucking racist. #ElectionNight
— Patton Oswalt (@pattonoswalt) November 9, 2016
The Huffington Post said Oswalt’s tweet “summed up election night”, but in reality it missed the mark. This tweet points out a larger problem with the way many people talk about systems of oppression. It is crystal clear that sexism played a role in this election, but to use the election results to state that this country is more sexist than racist is to ignore the rhetoric that Trump spewed for his entire campaign, as well as the racism ingrained in the system in which we live.
After watching the debates, many commented that this election is a representation of what it is like to be a woman who is qualified for a job competing with a man who is not qualified for it at all. The fact that Trump is now the president-elect further brings the point home, representing many unqualified and entitled men gaining positions in lieu of qualified women. There’s no doubt in my mind that a number of Trump voters chose him over Hillary Clinton because they, either consciously or subconsciously, view the position of president as a man’s job.
And of course, we can’t forget that Trump’s campaign itself was rampant with sexism and misogyny. His immense disrespect for women was evident from his comments about women’s bodies, his interrupting of Clinton countless times throughout the debates and his bragging about sexually assaulting women in the disturbing Billy Bush tapes. I’m truly disgusted that America has elected a man who condones and–according to what he said in the tapes–engages in, sexual assault. I don’t feel safe in public because I know that the wealthy white businessmen I commute alongside have been given proof that a man who looks like them can sexually assault a woman and still become the president of what many have been conditioned to refer to as the “free world.”
While the sexism and misogyny are glaring, I refuse to believe that this presidential election is more an indication of sexism than racism, or that we should even be ranking the two at all. There was so much racism involved in this election, and Oswalt’s tweet just highlights our society’s inability to recognize it in its entirety. Just because America didn’t elect the first woman president after eight years of the first black president doesn’t mean that our society is more sexist than racist.
If you paid even the tiniest bit of attention to the election, I don’t need to tell you that Trump’s entire platform was racist. He was elected president after calling Mexican people rapists, advocating for more stop-and-frisk and stating he was going to “ban Muslims” from this country. Many people didn’t vote for him despite this bigotry, but rather because of it. Others heard these comments and didn’t approve but chose to look the other way when casting their votes. As Hasan Minhaj said on The Daily Show last week “You personally may not be a racist, sexist, xenophobe, but that comes with the package…So if you take that deal, what you’re telling me is ‘Hey, man. I don’t hate you. I just don’t care about you’.” And while it’s horrific enough to think that this blatant racism, xenophobia and Islamophobia wasn’t enough to turn American people away from Trump, that’s not the only way racism was involved. There is so much racism beneath the surface of the election process.
Every time the coverage of the election showed a segment about voter suppression, I saw camera pan down an extremely long line of people who were mostly, if not all, black. That’s not a coincidence. A major voting rights lawsuit that ended in July found that the state of North Carolina eliminated Sunday voting because those who engaged in it were disproportionately black and Democratic. Black people are urged not to vote in so many systemic ways and then are blamed for the results of the election. Unsurprisingly, black people were in no way to blame, with 53% of white women voting for Trump and only 4% of black women doing so.
And then there’s the idea of the racists’ redemption after a black presidency. CNN political commentator Van Jones called the results a “white-lash against a black president, in part.” Whether it was explicitly stated or not, a number of people voted for Trump out of anger at having eight years of Obama as president. People can give whatever reason they want for being angered by Obama’s presidency, but there is no doubt his race played a role. The fact that people were willing to vote for a racist demagogue to follow Obama’s presidency only further underscores this.
But alas, at the core of this issue is not whether America is more racist, sexist, xenophobic, or anything else. The fact that we even feel the need to rank systems of oppression is extremely harmful. Patton Oswalt is a white man, but I know that these kinds of beliefs find their way into marginalized communities. This divides marginalized people against each other, ultimately showing an exemplification of white supremacy at work. When we make these comparisons, we fight over who gets to hold the coveted yet dreaded title of “most oppressed”. When we say sexism is more prevalent than racism, the result is the white feminism that allowed many women to celebrate Susan B. Anthony on Tuesday despite her racism. When we say racism is more prevalent than sexism, we have the entire black community, women included, being told we need to stand behind misogynists and assailants like Nate Parker and Bill Cosby.
America is filled with racism, sexism, xenophobia, Islamophobia, homophobia, transphobia, ableism and so much more. If we try to determine which one is the worst, we will never defeat the systems of oppression that keep us down. Being a part of one oppressed group does not give you the ability to know what it feels like to be in the other. And if you’re at the intersection of two or more of these identities, then your experience is a unique experience all its own, and it’s tricky to dissect individual types of oppression and their respective severities. If we follow a code of “half-wokeness”, of fighting for the group we are a part of and no one else, we’re not making real progress. If you’re not fighting for all of the marginalized, for everyone who is hurting and fearing for their lives right now, then you’re not fighting the system, you’re fighting the people who hold you back. Let’s stop deciding who’s more oppressed than who and unite to fight the system that made Trump the president-elect. America isn’t more sexist than racist. Let’s stop comparing and start fighting for justice.
Zola Ray is a writer who is focuses on feminism and racial justice. She has a bachelor’s from the University of Pennsylvania, a passion for intersectionality and a love of cats. You can check out more of her work at zolaray.com or follow her on twitter @zolamray