Washington Post: Elizabeth Warren Is a Modern-Day Frederick Douglass

Because of her 'selfies'

September 20, 2019

The media are rather obsessed with Elizabeth Warren's obsession with taking "selfies" (NB: they're not actually selfies) with supporters at campaign events. The Washington Post has taken that fixation to a whole new level by publishing an article that earnestly considers the question: Could Elizabeth Warren be the next Frederick Douglass?

The headline reads: "Frederick Douglass photos smashed stereotypes. Could Elizabeth Warren selfies do the same?" The article itself, published in the paper's "Retropolis" section (Tagline: "The past, rediscovered"), expends more than 1,000 words, bolstered by "expert" testimony, in an effort to answer this question in the affirmative:

The two are separated by race, gender and more than 100 years of history that forged an America that would probably be unrecognizable to Douglass. Still, experts say, their use of photography collapses the distance: Douglass sat for scores of pictures to normalize the idea of black excellence and equality, and Warren’s thousands of selfies with supporters could do the same for a female president.

"It is cognitively harder for people to think about women in the role of political leader because we haven’t seen a lot of women in political leadership," said Nichole Bauer, a professor of political communication at Louisiana State University. "With this selfie factory, she’s normalizing that image — in the same vein that Douglass used photography."

Douglass, one of the most influential intellectuals in American history, is considered by some historians to be the most photographed American of the 19th century. He posed for more than 160 pictures as "a means of spreading influence" and combating the racist notion of black inferiority, according to Yale professor David Blight.

Warren's "selfie lines" are basically the same. "I think the comparison is really good," Alexander Alberro, a Columbia University professor who studies the history of photography, told the Post. The nearly 60,000 photos she's taken with supporters, according to her campaign, are "confronting another harmful myth" about women in politics, the paper argues.

"She's showing she's warm and thoughtful and interested in people through these really direct personal interactions and pictures," said Bauer, the Louisiana State professor. "It overcomes that image that women in leadership roles are cold, they’re unfeeling, they’re not kind." And even if she doesn't win the nomination or become president, Warren's legacy as a media influencer will live on, her thousands of "selfies" amounting to "just a little bit more of a crack in that glass ceiling."

Whether or not the comparison is offensive to Frederick Douglass is an open question, but it's certainly offensive to ignore the contributions of 2016 Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton in combating stereotypes of female leaders as cold and unfeeling. She also knew how to use a cell phone.