Can Black Women Do Better Than Hillary?

Already lining up behind Clinton for 2016, this demographic should be playing hard to get.

Hillary Clinton (AFP/Getty Images)

Granted, Democrats should end up with a strong margin of White House winning streaks — long past 2016 — as Republicans fail to adapt to demographic realities. But that will hinge rather significantly on Democrats’ ability to produce a candidate as brand name tested as Apple, which has now outdone Coke.

The puzzler in the Dems’ political calculus for 2016 is what to do once Obama leaves the ticket. Strategists and activists alike worry that once the first African-American family vacates 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, black voters will essentially stop paying attention in big numbers — that vested feeling abruptly done.

Little surprise, then, that Clinton is pushed as the front-runner, despite an evolving phalanx of other capable candidates — including the current vice president — going about the business of building campaigns. Even if political superstar Mayor Cory Booker of Newark N.J., or the less-known, but extremely capable, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick were to run in 2016, Clinton might still get a much more solid nod from black female voters.

Womanhood, of course, plays a significant role in this political dynamic — but that factor is much more complex, given the differences in perspective and experience between black and white women. Their struggles are worlds apart, despite the usual tendency to prioritize women’s issues according to the whims of white women. High-profile white women (such as Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg) frequently either dismiss or simply forget to note women of color in their commentary. 

In the case of Clinton, absent her predictable appearances before national groups representing women of color, the jury might still be out on what is truly persuasive about her in that context. She makes powerful and essential statements about female empowerment — but they are mostly general in scope. On the other hand, the lesser-known but politically rising freshman Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) constantly strikes a chord on myriad issues much more critical to the social and economic realities of black people, including income inequality, unemployment, college tuition and foreclosures.

Although we have yet to hear a Clinton doctrine aggressively addressing those areas, we might be once again limiting ourselves to the glare of celebrity and inevitability at the expense of some important items on the policy checklist. And if the goal is, ultimately, a woman in the White House, then what about considering a Warren or a fairly qualified bench of other female candidates?

Beyond polling numbers and expectations from many African-American politicians (particularly in the Congressional Black Caucus) who had a much stronger relationship with the Bill Clinton White House than with Obama’s, why should black women support Hillary Clinton? It’s not as if first lady Michelle Obama is hanging out with her as much as she is, say, Jill Biden.

Currently, there is quite a bit of premature quiet high-fiving among sisters on the subject of Hillary Clinton, despite the lack of anything racially, spiritually or emotionally discernible that really connects them to her — with the exception of femininity. But with the world a much more complicated geopolitical and economic space now than it was in Bill Clinton’s ’90s, is that enough?

Charles D. Ellison is a veteran political strategist, Washington correspondent for the Philadelphia Tribune and chief political correspondent for Uptown magazine. When he’s not mad, he can be reached via Twitter.