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Hillary, Black Women Aren’t All in Yet!

By Stephane Dunn | @DrStephaneDunn | with thanks to NewBlackMan (in Exile)

Thursday, July 14, 2016.

History is Made. Hillary Rodham Clinton, you are going to be our first bona-fide female presidential candidate for one of our two major US political parties. We're right to honor this moment with you and highlight the humongous historical significance as we remember the sheroes before you, like Shirley Chisholm, who blazed the trails so this inevitable day could actually become reality.

However, we celebrate with some reticence. We understand that it being overdue time for a female president doesn’t mean the woman in question will be anymore down for black women than the slew of men before for her, including, to some degree and surprise, our beloved first black president, Barack Obama.

Sure Trump, for me and many other African American women is the easy no way in hell, under no circumstances choice. But what about you, Hilary? Here’s where things with you and me and a lot of black women gets murky. It has nothing to do with your hairstyle or how warm and fuzzy you come across on TV or not. We’re not mad cause you wore the mask and stayed with your husband during all that humiliation. But you take us back - not to how cool Bill was with black folk but some very uncool stuff. You magnify how feminism and its big moments have been for black women tangibly significant, problematic, and exclusionary.

We’ve done our share of the heavy lifting from some early days. Sojourner Truth’s 1851 ‘Ain’t I a Woman’ speech at a white women’s rights convention gives dramatic evidence of this and how prevalent the face of feminism has been white female and middle class.

We go back with you to the Clinton administration years.  You weren’t merely a voice whispering in your husband’s ear [thank goodness] but working. Remember Lani Guinier? You and Bill’s friend, his nominee to head the Justice Department’s civil rights division? She got tagged one of his ‘Quota Queens’ then left out there, dumped. There was ‘92 when Bill attacked Sister Souljah and placed her in the same company as David Duke and the Klan. No disrespect, but how many times have you publicly, privately, steadfastly, and passionately spoken up for us and fought in defense of us?

Under your first lady feet, the ground was plowed for the prison industrial complex with three strikes laws sealing in class and racial discrepancies that exploded the incarceration of young black and brown men and women for generations. There were the zero tolerance policing in public schools that hurt poor children. Yeah, you acknowledge this some since you’ve been campaigning. You say it’s time to revise policies, direct money towards decreasing mass incarceration and supporting rehabilitation and addressing police violence. “Black lives matter” you say; we have to go beyond “talking.”

But I don’t know. How much do they and black women’s lives here and around the world really matter to you? Will this be a priority post the election if you win? Got a plan for getting a House and Senate to support new policies? We don’t need throwback political ad pics of your activist self pre-Bill. We want to know your true social justice spirit is still strong in you or has it been driven out over these years sitting on corporate boards and doing intricate political tangos?

President Obama is right. You have politics down from foreign affairs and domestic policy fluency to understanding government inner workings where cred is earned through navigating, mediating, surviving, manipulating where necessary. Gender has nothing to do with it. Keepin’ it real  - you’re fitter than a lot of presidents were when they took office. But you’re only as good as what you privilege and what you accomplish if you win. African American women have been peculiarly invisible or demonized and hypervisible but our smarts, talents, labor, and dollars helped build and enrich this country. We’ve been necessary voters but not ever a priority.

The air went out of some of us when President Obama didn’t select or seriously vet a black woman for his Supreme Court choice and nominated instead a “uniformly qualified smart guy” with “impeccable credentials” and a “good temperament.” Valerie Jarrett came to us in the media to defend the diss. Neither she nor the President would say it, but we’ve been reading through political lines since slavery when we couldn’t read. An “impeccable” white male candidate was the more digestible choice. Would you ever select an impeccable black woman as your Supreme Court nominee?

We were overjoyed to have a first black president but wouldn’t have elected any black man– who it was and his vision mattered. Now we know wanting better and liking the vision isn’t enough. Having our backs, substance, and follow up is what counts. We’ll require more visible progressive change than what we’ve gotten under Obama and other presidents. Our vote is not automatically inheritable. Historically, we often had to vote for the lesser of two evils and for candidates unenthusiastic about huge issues that disproportionately affect our communities and us.

Hilary, answer clearly and convincingly, to paraphrases Ms. Janet J: What have you done for us lately? What can we count on you to do for us if you win? Don’t offer the insulting,  ‘I’m not the president of women or the president of black folk but of everybody.’ That’s a given. And a ps. Don't think we just forgot how nasty and ‘white’ you and Bill got trying to take Obama out in 2008.

Truthfully, I hate I gotta be conflicted like this about you Hilary, but I must. Too much is at stake - always has been - to endure and accept ongoing invisibility and such low status in the political hierarchy of more privileged constituents. So, don't  let the polls declaring the anonymous block of black Democratic voters yours lull you into thinking we are, to use Ohio senator Nina Turner’s word some sure “firewall.” Don't rest and rely on Trump being boss bogeyman enough to win you the White House by driving us to the polls in Obama-like numbers. President Obama is with you.

Hell you got Oprah, and some staunch Republicans, and it looks like that email scandal thing isn't going to torpedo the whole thing before you actually make it on the ballot. But you, me, and more than few black women folk - we got some ways to go to be down like that. You have some serious, authentic attention to pay and some good work to do Hilary. Don't sleep.


Stephane Dunn is a writer and professor at Morehouse College.  Publications, include the 2008 book Baad Bitches & Sassy Supermamas: Black Power Action Films (U of Illinois) and a number of articles in mediums such as Ebony.com, The Atlantic, The Root.com, the AJC, and others.

Hillary, Black Women Aren’t All in Yet!

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