The complexities of “isms” leave room for damage in a multitude of ways. It can be a landmine for well meaning people and a nuclear bomb for the completely unthinking. Consider palin and obama in this election. Both wear their isms with little ability to hide…Palin her womanhood, obama his blackness.

With palin, discussions turn immediately to sexism. And in a flash anything and EVERYTHING is awash in that cry. Call it the gender card. Even to ask about her qualifications is considered taboo. But in this gymnasts nightmare of contortions the adhering to the new rules of engagement exposes the sexism people are presumably trying to avoid. In an attempt to mitigate the negative assumptions tied to gender, her handlers have silenced those who might utter something unfair – be it media or joanne public. The reality remains, no one would assemble such a protection force for a male candidate. mccain fields inquires and insults alike regarding his age and obama continues to face questions about his “otherness” without the buffer instituted for palin’s defense.

What message does that send? As a woman she can’t handle the pressure – is she too frail? It is both shield and weapon. At the debate it was evident that biden was restraining his response – not, by my thinking, because he didn’t think she deserved his wrath or even because he thought her incapable of handling it – because the outcry has been “unfair”, undue attention to our woman selection. And as such she is both buffered but she equally reaffirms sexist assertions.

For obama the ism conundrum has shifted slightly over the months. Questions of how black is too black and what isn’t black enough have lowered their volume and been replaced by cries for heat and more relaxed speech patterns.

For his part, he is caught in an impossible situation. At the beginning of his candidacy so much attention was paid to how “different” he seemed to white America from the pervading representation of black men. Biden himself asserted, “the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy”. I have no doubt that obama in a suit, watching what he eats, and paced and deliberate speech patterns would be that even if he weren’t running for president – even so I recognize that if he wasn’t that he couldn’t be running for president. Fast-forward the primary season and all of a sudden people have forgotten that that was what made him palatable to them in the first place.

He doesn’t rhyme when he speaks. His cadence, though distinct, doesn’t sound like it was born in the pulpit of a southern baptist church. And he wasn’t angry. But with mccain and palin increasingly insulting and misleading in their attacks I have heard calls for him to get mad. And even as people still think that calling a harvard educated, president of the law review, senator, articulate is a compliment, there are those who now lament his grasp of the queen’s english – his suit and tie – in fact, all the things that originally brought him praise.

My sister and I have discussed at length how impossible it is for obama to be or do anything except what he has been and is doing. Hillary’s female successor in the journey to the white house (polar opposite in every way except ovaries) has closed the loop on ideas of gender- hillary wasn’t feminine enough and palin’s “off limits” reality has spurred comments ranging from too girly to too distracted by motherhood (ends of the sexism spectrum hillary never reached).

Of course the difference remains, obama has been grilled on policies and when his grand speeches were brought to question he has answered with an ability to speak to specifics and to think through answers he may not have yet. For palin, what we’ve seen has been less than inspiring. Gender issues pushed out of the spotlight- what she has shown is a gross underestimation for the complexities of the world she seeks to govern.

The thing about isms is that despite the roadblocks they add to already arduous roads to success, once the age, color, or gender is peeled back, if what remains is lacking it makes it tough to claim unfair treatment…even if it was unfair.

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