Note: Today, I am publishing an essay on Hillary Clinton that I began during the Democratic Primary, and completed just after Clinton clinched the Democratic Nomination. I began this essay in order to vent my frustration at the fact that I felt voices like mine -- people who fell somewhere between the large voting blocs, for example, blacks who supported Sanders over Clinton -- were all around me, but somehow never showed up in mainstream media. This essay's publication history illustrates at least one aspect of what went wrong during this election. I shopped this essay, through my agent and on my own, to at least 30 outlets, all of which rejected it without much explanation. When it was finally accepted by an outlet I admire, it was edited heavily, and I made the difficult decision to cancel its publication. It is my firm belief that if voices of dissent were given more of a platform, we would not have created the media echo chamber that prevented us from seeing this outcome, which led to voter apathy, which led to the Democrats' loss.
I am no political expert, and I don't think this essay is perfect or beyond reproach. Nor do I think that its publication, or the publication of pieces like it, would have singlehandedly changed the outcome. Rather, at the very least, this was a point of view that deserved to be heard, and passages like this one from the conclusion, speak powerfully to their own necessity in hindsight:
I don’t fault those who refuse to vote for her, and on some level, I envy their ability to self-preserve to the detriment of all else. And why shouldn’t they vote exactly as they choose? The real culprit is the Democratic Party, which has refused to listen to the sizable portion of its party that is frustrated with establishment politics, and have voted for Sanders in droves. The Party has stuck us with a candidate with the second-lowest likability rating in history (Trump is #1, of course), and who is under investigation by the FBI. Their backing of the candidate, while ignoring dissenters, is criminal, and if their support of Clinton proves to be a miscalculation and she loses in November, will go down as one of the most disastrous political decisions in history.
I’m Not With Her, But I’ll Vote For Her
How #GirlIGuessImWithHer perfectly captures the frustrations of progressive black women
I didn’t identify as a feminist until my early twenties. I didn’t deny it either—I identified with feminist writers and saw parallels between their words and my own experience. But I didn’t join the groups, didn’t wear the label proudly, as an identity, in the same way that I wore my blackness. And the reason for that was, simply, that I couldn’t stand the company.
In my youth, I moved from one whitopia to another—I grew up in a white suburb, then attended a mostly-white college. The women who self-identified most strongly as feminists were white women who showed little understanding of my blackness, and less respect for my struggles as a black person.
My story is extremely common. The loudest voices within feminism are often deaf to the inscribed experiences of racial minorities, differently abled people, and arguably most embattled right now—transgender people.
On the other hand, during college, I studied critical race and postcolonial theory, and was in the thrall of Franz Fanon and other African theorists from the fifties and sixties, who held as little esteem for women’s issues as white feminists. Black women, historically, have been excluded and marginalized by all sorts of activist movements.
In the 1970s, multiracial feminists began to bring the movements for racial and gender equality together. In 1989, they were given a term—intersectionality, coined by Kimberle Crenshaw, that described the ways that identities such as race, gender, socioeconomic status etc. are not separate, but rather combine to effect individuals in unique ways. The theory reinforces what we know as self-evident: black women are treated differently (read: worse) than black men or white women because we are both black and female.
A clear illustration of Crenshaw’s theory came early in Hillary Clinton’s campaign for the Democratic nomination. On February 6th, Madeleine Albright pronounced at a Clinton rally in New Hampshire: “There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other,” in reference to women who didn’t support Clinton’s candidacy. Clinton applauded, and later, when the statements drew controversy, she defended Albright.
The statement contained a blatant hypocrisy. Though Clinton has supported legislation for women and children, she has also supported legislation that has had a negative impact on African-Americans, such as the 1994 crime bill and welfare reform. Black women were sent to prison, and their husbands and fathers sent to jail in record numbers, leading to the current state of mass incarceration. Clearly, these women weren’t implicated in Albright’s statement. Also not implicated: the mothers and sisters of the 500,000 Iraqi children killed by the US that Albright famously deemed “worth it”.
Out of this erasure, and in the wake of the implosion of one of the first truly progressive candidates to be viable in a national election, came #GirlIGuessImWithHer.
The hashtag, which arose yesterday after Clinton was called as the winner of the Democratic race (an injustice on its own that hasn’t been identified enough for what it is: voter suppression). Plug it in on Twitter and the results you will find are mostly funny. Many of the posts feature playful gifs from the likes of Clueless and The Real Housewives. But the humor masks a very real frustration with the political system, deployed in the same way that Black people have used humor for centuries to distract from suffering. They tell a very clear story: our candidate of choice has lost, and we are forced to choose between supporting a candidate that many of us find insulting and dangerous, and an even bigger, unknowable danger in the opposing candidate.
This primary election was steeped in discussions of racial inequality that, on their face, resembled those taking place on college campuses and between activists. In short, both Democratic candidates—but Clinton to much greater effect—appropriated the language of the radical left in order to appeal to progressive voters. Thanks to Black Lives Matter activists, both Democratic candidates were forced to address questions of police brutality and systemic racism, and their poll numbers were influenced by such discussions.
Thus, the “Black Vote”—along with the “White Working Class”—has become a highly sought-after demographic in this election. Clinton has, for the most part, got out in front of the Black Lives Matter stories by, in the manner of her husband, appealing directly to black voters. An early meeting with Black Lives Matter activists led to Clinton crafting a platform on racial inequality that is largely based on that group’s demands.
A few months ago, Clinton began to use the term intersectionality in public statements. When the Flint water crisis hit, Clinton employed the following graphic to explain the intersection of issues of race, class, etc. that effects residents of that city:
Here is a sampling of graphics that depict intersectionality:
Whereas the second sampling demonstrates convergence around a single individual, the Clinton graphic does not converge around a single point—in fact, there is no representation of an individual at all. The difference is very telling. It’s the intersection—and the varied ways this blend of issues works to oppress people—that she is trying to depict. Clinton’s intersectionality ultimately makes no sense. Unemployment and poverty are obviously connected; we don’t need a diagram to tell us that. Black women aren’t centered in Hillary Clinton’s politics, and in fact don’t really exist, except as political tools.
In an essay entitled “Hillary Clinton Does Not Deserve The Black Vote”, renowned black female author Michelle Alexander effectively lays out the case against Clinton, lining up all the policies that her husband enacted, which Clinton supported, that have landed Black Americans in their current position—a time when Black Lives Matter has become necessary. She says, “If you listen closely here, you’ll notice that Hillary Clinton is still singing the same old tune in a slightly different key. She is arguing that we ought not be seduced by Bernie’s rhetoric because we must be ‘pragmatic,’ ‘face political realities,’ and not get tempted to believe that we can fight for economic justice and win. When politicians start telling you that it is ‘unrealistic’ to support candidates who want to build a movement for greater equality, fair wages, universal healthcare, and an end to corporate control of our political system, it’s probably best to leave the room.”
Clinton is a centrist, a former Republican, who came from wealth and followed her husband to the White House. Compare her to Dilma Rousseff, the currently embattled female president of Brazil, who spent years in jail and endured torture for being a Marxist political activist. Hillary Clinton’s bio alone is enough to make any progressive suspicious, and rightfully so. She has never been an activist (despite somehow successfully denying Sanders’s activism), and in fact, has always cozied up to Republicans when politically necessary. Her latest focus on systemic racism is just the same: a clear attempt to distract from her economic policies in order to secure the progressive vote.
Triangulation is the Clintons’ well-defined political strategy of bait-and-switch. Bill Clinton was an expert in triangulation, the process whereby he gave lip service to liberal ideals, then passed legislation that played to the interests of Republicans. This strategy kept him on the good sides of both groups, and cemented his political legacy, which has only been undone in the space of the last couple of elections. The strategy is clearly at work in both Clintons’ appeals to people of color.
“Hypocrisy” doesn’t do justice to the deliberateness of this set of actions. They are focus-grouped and strategized down to their smallest detail, created to benefit the candidate and to desert our most vulnerable citizens: the poor, blacks, immigrants, which includes many, many women.
In October 2014, the leading black feminist scholar bell hooks said of Clinton: “There are certain things that I don’t want to co-sign in the name of feminism that I think are militarist, that are imperialist, white supremacist, whether they are conducted by women or men … there are a lot of women that are feeling political turmoil right now, because of our history of supporting feminists, supporting a woman, looking forward to the day when we can say we have a woman president—and that constant challenge about identity politics versus, who are you and what do you stand for?”
Then, in October 2015: “I think [Clinton] embodies the very best of white supremacist imperialist capitalist patriarchy, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t vote for her… she can be all those things, as Obama has been many things we don’t agree with. At the same time, it has been an intervention to have a black male president.”
Finally, she released a statement on her website, that seemed compelled due to controversy over her previous remarks: “As a firm believer in the importance of free speech, I consider it vital to feminist democratic process that all women be free to choose who they want to support—whether I agree with them or not. … No one is all good or all bad. Importantly, our focus should be on critical issues, standpoints and political perspective, not on personalities. In my private journal, I write ‘Michelle Obama for President!’”
This vacillation represents the dilemma many black women are having regarding Clinton, and it reflects the reality of our political invisibility. It has been dispiriting and wearying to witness, in this election, the reduction of various millions of black people, of all host of ages, income levels, geographic locations, genders and sexual orientations, to one predictable bloc. Of course, this is the goal of polling—to categorize and predict. But, in the absence of coherent narratives outside of the “All black people vote for Hillary”, “Only rich white people vote for Bernie” something important is being lost: Me. I’m guessing that some variation of these thoughts were at work for @MADBLACKTHOT, when she coined #GirlIGuessImWithHer.
Most of my close friends and family are people of color, of a variety of ages and socio-economic backgrounds, and the majority voted for Bernie Sanders. Yet, the media says that we do not exist. Out of this group, black women have been erased most.
I feel hatred sometimes when I look at Hillary Clinton. It’s the result of being ignored, told my problems don’t exist, that they’re not so bad. That white women adequately represent me. Wouldn’t you be angry too? My feelings are valid—I will not go to hell for them, and I am not simply internalizing patriarchy. And being told so only increases my anger, and the anger of so many women like me. It’s why, instead of lashing out, we post gifs and make jokes: because it’s simply too much for us to handle. So, instead, we laugh.
I find it more important to stand against Donald Trump, and to stand in solidarity with Muslim and Latino people, who would be imperiled in a Trump presidency, than to withhold my vote from Clinton. However, I don’t fault those who refuse to vote for her, and on some level, I envy their ability to self-preserve to the detriment of all else.
And why shouldn’t they vote exactly as they choose? The real culprit is the Democratic Party, which has refused to listen to the sizable portion of its party that is frustrated with establishment politics, and have voted for Sanders in droves. The Party has stuck us with a candidate with the second-lowest likability rating in history (Trump is #1, of course), and who is under investigation by the FBI. Their backing of the candidate, while ignoring dissenters, is criminal, and if their support of Clinton proves to be a miscalculation and she loses in November, will go down as one of the most disastrous political decisions in history.
I will vote for Clinton, with extreme resentment. Resentment at being ignored, at being saddled with the responsibility of rescuing our nation by voting for a candidate that has disrespected and used us over and over again.
Black women are used to having to make such false choices, often between our own happiness and the survival of others. This is the peculiar scenario Crenshaw sought to describe when she coined “intersectionality”.
Our struggles are more particular than those of white women, and those of black men. We are always left stuck between a rock and a hard place. And I wouldn’t expect Hillary Clinton to understand that.