The narrow takeaway: Even if we adopt left-leaning assumptions about what constitutes progress against racism and sexism, and pretend that those issues were deciding factors in every ballot cast during the postwar era, it still makes no sense to treat the partisan affiliation of white women voters as a proxy for their bygone attitudes toward group bigotry. Pointing out that they voted GOP in those years as if it supports the proposition that they tend to uphold white supremacy and patriarchy is nonsense.
The larger takeaway: “To see what is in front of one’s nose needs a constant struggle.” Racism and sexism are ugly. Confronting their role in politics is unpleasant. Many fail to do so, whether with regard to U.S. history until WWII, the postwar decades, or our own era. And that leads to a distorted view of the world. So does analysis that blindly assumes that the left-economic coalition always aligned with civil rights, that Democrats are always and everywhere on the side of the angels, or that the way we vote—or in this case, the way white women vote—is neatly explained by attitudes toward white supremacy and patriarchy.
Intersectional analysis has both promise and perils. This article focuses on a single example of how it can go wrong. I hope it serves as a cautionary lesson, too. If you were nodding along as you read about a majority of white women voting Republican in all but two elections since 1952, thinking It’s just like them to use their votes to uphold white supremacy and patriarchy, what other woke lines that you applaud don’t stand up to scrutiny?