Thursday, February 18, 2016

Just Maybe, She Gets It

Expanding more on last night, NY Magazine's Rembert Browne covers Hillary Clinton's speech earlier this week in Harlem, and like me, found himself both surprised and impressed.

Then it hit you that Hillary was going to talk — at length — about black people, almost exclusively. She began with the normal rhetoric of just listing black people she knew, whom she spoke with, whom she associated herself with — but then it took a turn. When she began discussing Flint, the white woman Establishment presidential candidate said, “It's a horrifying story, but what makes it even worse is that it's not a coincidence that this was allowed to happen in a largely black, largely poor community. Just ask yourself: Would this have ever occurred in a wealthy white suburb of Detroit? Absolutely not.”

It was that moment of, Oh shit, did Hillary come to play today? I looked down my row, and multiple people had that same goddamn face etched on their faces. She was making points about privilege that minorities always make, but it packed such a different punch — even if President Obama had said it — because she was chastising her own privilege, putting the privilege of whiteness front and center.

The moment was a brief callback to the controversial opinion of scholar Michael Eric Dyson in his November 2015 New Republic piece, which said that Hillary Clinton will do more for black people than Barack Obama. And like Dyson further argues in his book, The Black Presidency: Barack Obama and the Politics of Race in America, Obama uniquely had to comply with the expectations of whites. That’s not something Clinton will ever have to deal with to the same degree.

Hillary then followed up the Flint statement with the following series of points, all delivered in about two minutes:
  • "We still need to face the painful reality that African-Americans are nearly three times as likely as whites to be denied a mortgage."
  • "Something's wrong when the median wealth for black families is just a tiny fraction of the median wealth of white families."
  • "Something is wrong when African-American men are far more likely to be stopped and searched by police, charged with crimes, and sentenced to longer prison terms than white men convicted of the same offenses."
  • "Black kids get arrested for petty crimes, but white CEOs get away with fleecing our entire country — there is something wrong."
  • "Just imagine with me for a minute if white kids were 500 percent more likely to die from asthma than black kids — 500 percent."
  • Imagine if a white baby in South Carolina were twice as likely to die before her first birthday than an African-American baby.
  • "Imagine the outcry. Imagine the resources that would flood in."
  • "Now, these inequities are wrong, but they're also immoral. And it'll be the mission of my presidency to bring them to an end. We have to begin by facing up to the reality of systemic racism."
I genuinely couldn’t believe what I was hearing. The tiptoeing had vanished. She wasn’t trying to win everyone’s vote by flying as close to the middle as possible. And even though the room was markedly black, these thoughts were now on her permanent electoral record for all to see. The use of “imagine” was powerful, because it comes with an almost implied,You can’t imagine it, because that shit wouldn’t fly. She was finally just saying it, bluntly. Hearing this, in February, was so much more powerful than any policy plan. Because before many people want to know your plan — or before people will ever truly consider believing in your plan — they want to know that you understand their world.

And that's what I've been waiting to hear from either candidate, that they understand that 50 years after the Civil Rights movement, the deck is still greatly stacked against black America and in favor of white America.

Actions speak louder than words, of course.  20 years ago Hillary's husband signed GOP laws that made all kinds of things worse for black America, a price we're still paying today.  Promising to do better is literally the absolute least she can do.

But it's a start.

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