You Say You Want a Revolution?

You Say You Want a Revolution?

Why none of the candidates are a reflection of the word.

Published February 10, 2016

Bernie Sanders described his double-digit win over Hillary Clinton in the New Hampshire primary as "the beginning of a political revolution." And Donald Trump, after trouncing his opponents in the Republican primary, marched on stage to the Beatles song "Revolution."

Revolution is a muscular word, defined as "a forcible overthrow of a government or social order in favor of a new system." Certainly, the messages from Trump and Sanders reflect an acute dissatisfaction with the status quo and a powerful prescription to disrupt it. And yet there's one aspect of America that won't change if either candidate wins: our bias for white men in power.

White men make up just 31 percent of the nation's population but have accounted for 98 percent of all U.S. presidents. Trump or Sanders would continue that pattern, which has been interrupted only once with the administration of Barack Obama.

There is something ironic about a white male billionaire New York real estate developer and a white male U.S. senator who served eight terms in Congress vying for the title of outsider in a country where 43 of our 44 presidents have already been white men.

There is something even more ironic about a declaration of "revolution" after a single primary in one of the smallest and whitest states in the union. Of course, there is some precedent to such political hyperbole. Both Bill Clinton and Barack Obama finished second in their first New Hampshire primaries and yet Clinton declared himself "the comeback kid" and Obama introduced his iconic campaign motto, "Yes, we can."

But now it's 2016. We've had a Black president for two terms. We have marriage equality for LGBT citizens in all 50 states. Women make up a majority of the population. And white Christians have lost their majority status. Given all the change that's taking place, what's revolutionary about a country that repeatedly, and almost exclusively, picks white men to be president?

Bernie Sanders rails against the Wall Street oligarchy of plutocrats, but what are we doing to challenge the oligarchy of race and gender in America? Why do 31 percent of the population — white men — continue to control nearly all levers of power in our society? In business, in politics, in media, and even in the management of sports franchises with demographically diverse team members and fan bases, white men continue to rule.

While we debate Sanders's proposals for income inequality or Trump's promise to "make America great again," few are challenging the confluence of white supremacy and hetero-patriarchy that has once again thrust white men to the cusp of the highest level of political power. Women, people of color, and women of color, are simply expected to place their confidence in another white male savior to lead them to the promised land. In the "great" tradition in which we trusted Lincoln, Roosevelt, Kennedy, and all revered living or dead presidents of the past, black and brown bodies of various genders are to line up to support the next white Messiah.

Never mind that I agree with Sanders and disagree with Trump on virtually every issue, why are my choices once again so constrained by race and gender? And why, even in a Democratic political party teeming with diversity, do so few of the candidates seeking the presidency reflect the population they would represent?

Meanwhile, the only woman left in the race, a woman once derided by the right as a "femi-nazi" for her progressive views in the early 1990s, had to accumulate so many credentials — first lady, health care task force chair, senator, secretary of state — and make so many compromises just to be taken seriously as a woman that by the time she arrived she was no longer politically palatable to the new far left that had replaced the older far left which once championed her.

Would a man have to labor so hard as a woman to prove his qualifications for the presidency? And would a politically inexperienced Black woman, even someone as rich and powerful as Oprah, be able to waltz into a presidential race and claim victory in the first primary?

So when I hear the word "revolution," I don't see it in the faces of any of the candidates currently running for president. Nor do I feel the beginnings of a forcible overthrow of our social order. Lincoln promised us freedom. Roosevelt promised a New Deal. Lyndon Johnson promised a Great Society. But none of them, nor their policies, could eradicate white supremacy or hetero-patriarchy in America. That work remains to be done.

When I think of revolution, I don't just want a good job or a new law. I want to change the way we think about ourselves, and I want to see myself represented in the people who are making those changes. Until then, I'll gladly cast my vote for the best candidate, of any race or gender, for each office on the ballot. Just don't call it a revolution.

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(Photos from Left: Andrew Burton/Getty Images, Melina Mara/The Washington Post via Getty Images, Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Written by Keith Boykin


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