Black Feminists Don’t Owe Hillary Clinton Their Support

If I were a middle-class white woman, I would probably love Hillary Clinton. 

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton greets supporters during a “Get Out the Caucus” event at Grand View University in Des Moines, Iowa, on Jan. 29, 2016.
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton greets supporters during a “Get Out the Caucus” event at Grand View University in Des Moines, Iowa, on Jan. 29, 2016. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Over the course of the last few days, I have been accused of both protecting and vilifying Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

The reason for this is as simple as it is complex: People of color, especially black women, have to hold so many things in tension regarding race, gender and class that depending on whom they find themselves in conversations with, it appears as if one facet is being prioritized over the other. This is why, when we’re speaking about Hillary Rodham Clinton and the major two-party political system, it’s imperative that we make it plain.

Clinton’s candidacy is evidence of why intersectionality is so critical, because for black women existing on those fault lines of race, gender and class, not much improves for us regardless of who is in the White House; nor does it matter for which party we carry the banner.

This does not equate to support for the Republican Party, though I’ve had that accusation hurled at me as well. Marco Rubio’s voice is like nails on a chalkboard; Ted Cruz is like some political science experiment gone horribly, horribly wrong; Donald Trump’s rallying cry should be, “Heil Trump!”; and Carly Fiorina, the lone woman in the pack, is traipsing about making references to fabricated Planned Parenthood videos that look as if a 14-year-old techie created them in iMovie.

The racist and misogynist policies they propose are dangerously regressive and primarily serve wealthy white, Christian men holding on for dear life to maintain their supremacy.

Still, Clinton herself has said that she and Republicans get along just fine when she’s in office. Both Clinton and Bernie Sanders—the largely beloved senator from Vermont and her Iowa co-front-runner—have been vocal about their nonsupport for reparations. Both of them have the same weak stance on Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestine and our country’s complicity in it. They also support drone warfare, just like President Barack Obama and President George W. Bush before them.

The 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act—which Hillary Clinton lobbied for, Sanders voted for, Vice President Joe Biden authored and President Bill Clinton signed—shows why black women shouldn’t just follow the Democratic Party by default, even if the front-runner is a woman.

Mass incarceration and its tentacles have been disastrous for black America. On everything from HIV and AIDS to poverty, crime, limited access to a quality education, destruction of families, and recidivism most often due to difficulties finding and maintaining employment, the law has been disastrous.

Then, in 2008, when Clinton faced off against Obama in the Democratic primaries, she trafficked in the bitter racism that such structural inequities cement in the hearts of white Americans. From the New York Times:

“I have a much broader base to build a winning coalition on,” she said in [an] interview, citing an article by The Associated Press. “[It] found how Senator Obama’s support among working, hard-working Americans, white Americans, is weakening again, and how whites in both states who had not completed college were supporting me. […] These are the people you have to win if you’re a Democrat in sufficient numbers to actually win the election. Everybody knows that.”

Her call to bet on bigotry in order to win a Democratic election matters.

Hillary Clinton has some relatively progressive ideas, including equal pay for women. Still, she claims to believe that health care is “a basic human right,” while not fighting for true universal health care. She whole-heartedly supported welfare reform, also known as TANF, which not only proved to be harmful for many working-class, black and Latino families, but also trafficked in lazy stereotypes about black and brown mothers.  

Third-way politics, to which Clinton subscribes, is progressive on most social issues and to the right on most economic issues, reaffirming the capitalist structure that keeps people of color oppressed, while lulling some into believing that substantive progress is being made.

Nothing about this necessarily makes Clinton a “worse” Democrat than her predecessors in a party that continues its slow slide to the right; it just undergirds my contention that both the Democratic Party and the Republican Party are the same on many issues that disproportionately affect people of color—including the women whom Clinton claims to champion.

Certainly, not all the women are white, and this brings us back to those blanket charges of sexism and how they fail to take into consideration the lived experiences of many women of color.

What’s funny—and not “funny ha-ha”—is how some white feminists who ride for Clinton as hard as Bernie bros ride for Sanders have been silent about the criminalization, sexual assault and police brutality that black women and girls face. Despite this, they expect us now to be all sister suffrage “Vote for women!” or risk being deemed traitors to gender equality.

Cocooned in the white privilege that many of them deny, this type of white feminist expects black feminists with legitimate concerns to push those concerns aside for the so-called greater good—a good, to paraphrase both Harriet Tubman and Viola Davis, that exists over a line where there are “green fields and lovely flowers and beautiful white women with their arms stretched out to us … but we can’t seem to get there no-how. We can’t seem to get over that line.”