Inequality And The Establishment: Group Membership Isn’t Everything

I recently read an article from Shakesville, a feminist blog, entitled “The Inherent Misogyny of Sanders’ Anti-Establishmentarianism”. The main point is that Sanders displays misogyny by accusing Clinton of being part of the establishment, thereby upholding, reinforcing, and ultimately misunderstanding the white-male essence of the establishment.

That won’t be my main focus, though. My focus will be on something else that was said in the article.

[T]he very existence of a black president convey[s] a possibility to young nonwhite people with a concreteness that can serve as the foundation of an achievable dream. Paths littered with obstacles are always easier to traverse if someone has tread them before. In this way, President Obama’s presidency has changed the establishment forever. A Hillary Clinton presidency would change the establishment forever, too.

Here’s the idea up for discussion: does the mere presence of a minority in a position in power automatically change the way the establishment works, such that it becomes at least a little bit easier for minority groups to enter positions of power?

NO

Why not?

First, what the fuck is the establishment? Here’s what Wikipedia says:

The Establishment generally denotes a dominant group or elite that holds power or authority in a nation or organization. The Establishment may be a closed social group which selects its own members (as opposed to selection by merit or election) or specific entrenched elite structures, either in government or in specific institutions.

Let’s go with that definition for the sake of simplicity. I’d simply add to it that the establishment also includes the rules, habits, customs, practices, and attitudes that reinforce that power structure.

Now, why doesn’t the mere presence of a minority figure in a position of power change things? I think a commentator on the article hit the nail right on the head. Here’s what user Lo Kl had to say in response to the article:

It’s not that her gender doesn’t matter, it’s that her gender doesn’t matter when it comes to the question of whether she truly is a representative of the establishment. It’s clear that someone can be black and be a supporter of white supremacy. Likewise, a woman can certainly help to perpetuate a sexist system. Yes, a woman in the White House would be more than a simple symbol, but that does not undermine her position within white imperialist capitalist patriarchy…

Insofar as the establishment includes rules, customs, attitudes, and habits that keep things the way they are, it simply isn’t sufficient for a minority member to be in a position of power. They must take steps to actively undermine the power structures, whether that be through policy changes or culturally significant acts of defiance that are replicated throughout various levels of society. If that does not take place, I don’t see how the mere presence of a minority group member changes things to a significant degree.

Would Hillary do a better job of undermining the establishment, insofar as gender is concerned, than Sanders? Truth be told, they both appear to have somewhat mixed histories with gender equality. Nevertheless, it seems like you couldn’t go wrong with either one of them when it comes to this topic.

More to the point, would Hillary do a better job of undermining the establishment, simply in virtue of being a woman? As I’ve argued above, it doesn’t seem like it. By the same token, it doesn’t seem like Sanders would reinforce the establishment simply in virtue of being a white male. Granted, a Sanders’ presidency would match superficial establishment patterns (white, male), but that does not mean Sanders could not undermine the practices undergirding the establishment, thereby facilitating changes in how power is “distributed” in the United States.

In short, there’s no reason to assume that someone reinforces or undermines the political establishment just in virtue of their group membership.

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