Founder and President of the Institutes for Women's Policy Research
There seems to be very little interest in examining race attitudes, or racial disparities more broadly amongst women. Do you think that this is an example of seeing race primarily as a conflict between men and not as a conflict or disparity between women?
I think that could be it. Sisterhood is a powerful idea, but obviously we’re not acting as though we are all in this together. I think people like me, who have studied these economic differences are well aware of this, but I would agree the racial differences among women are understudied. The election results appear to be a plea for more racial superiority for whites who perceive themselves as being left behind and left out. It’s very disappointing to have the Democratic Party response focus on the white male working class. That’s not going to get us anywhere. Certainly, it won’t help win elections.
In this election cycle, we saw a collective shoulder shrug not just about racism and xenophobia, but also about some of the bread and butter issues of the women’s movement—sexual violence, abuse, harassment in the workplace—they didn’t move the needle much. Does that make you think they weren’t properly framed? Or, is it even more bleak than that—yes, it was properly framed, and many people, including the majority of white women who voted for him just don’t care?
I don’t think that’s true. I came from that working class and I think sexual assault and harassment are upsetting to most women. But in the class I grew up in women could generally not consider leaving even abusive husbands and most did not. When I was young, I was the only child I knew of a divorced mother (and I will add my father had not been physically abusive, but he did gamble away the money my mother worked very hard to earn).
I think white women see that the future for their children is working in a multicultural world. For example, I read an interview-based story that said, “These women are very concerned about making sure their children go to college.” The[se] women understand which way the economy is going, and that’s the name of the game: you got to get educated, you got to be technically sophisticated, and honestly you have to be culturally tolerant as well. I think we have a potential opening .
Thinking about the letter that Elizabeth Warren publicized, that she wrote Trump: It really is setting out two fronts. On the economic front, we’re willing to work with you, but not if you hurt LGBTQ communities or communities of color on the other front. We’re going to protect them, but we’re willing to work with you to get the economic issue taken care of. I think that’s a feature of the way they’re approaching it now, as you said. We’re separating the two issues, and we’re going to work on the issues that are good for the white working class, but we’re not going to let you do it at the expense of people of color and the disabled. That’s not a sufficient response, because it’s not getting at the point that Trump is using racism to divide our base.
I also think that sexism was also used to spike that white male vote. There’s nothing better than making fun of both women and Blacks, if you want to get the white working-class man on your side. I think that was part of Trump’s appeal as well: He was willing to abuse women and, lucky him, he got away with it. I’m sure that is putting white women in that class in a very difficult spot, but many of them certainly voted with their husbands, with their class.
It’s not all Trump, or only Trump that appealed to them; others making the same appeals might also have succeeded with them. I agree that, in the long run white racism will not work for this group of people who are being left behind.
What are you doing at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research [IWPR] that you think the public should know about? What are you doing differently since the election, what's your focus now?
IWPR has a long history of working on policy changes that help all women but tend to mean the most to women with lower incomes and fewer advantages: policies like paid family leave and paid sick days. We did a lot of work on the overtime issue, which is likely to disappear now. Single mothers of color benefit the most from overtime because they work the most hours for the least pay. Social Security is a program that is helpful to all women, but women of color depend on it most. All of these policies are helpful to all women, but at IWPR we tend to focus on the ones that address the issues of lowest-income people most. And in much of our research we look explicitly at racial and ethnic differences among women to identify the policies that will be most helpful to each group.