So which one will it be, folks? If you’re voting on the Democratic side, are you going for Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton? Who really has the interests of the black electorate at heart? A lot is at stake this year, when 31 percent of the eligible voters will be either black or Hispanic.
The furious competition to win black voters on the Democratic side is giving us something we haven’t seen in over 50 years: a real fight for the black vote, with candidates talking about issues that pertain to African Americans and activists calling out those candidates. The contrast from 2008 would give you whiplash. Then-Sen. Barack Obama was devoted to a colorless campaign that avoided specific talk of race and policy prescriptions. Now we have activists unloading on Sanders for not being race-specific enough on the income-inequality issue, and directing complaints at both candidates about too much focus on justice reform.
Race-neutral policy dodging is over. What ended it was an endless stream of police misconduct on video, followed by the activist work of the Black Lives Matter movement. Combine that with stats highlighting the 7.7 percent of African Americans (580,000) behind bars, the highest unemployment rates for blacks since the 1980s, 38 percent of black children living in poverty, black households having only 6 percent of the wealth of white ones and a 1.7 percent Small Business Administration loan rate for black business, and race-neutral talk is over.
It’s time to get serious: Who is better for black voters?
Let’s take a closer look at both candidates.
The former secretary of state and senator from New York has a specific funding plan for HBCUs. Sanders does not. Clinton’s first major address of her campaign was on justice reform, with a focus on institutional racism. Though she offered few policy commitments, her focus on the topic, as well as her highlighting of racism, was more than we’ve heard from any Democratic candidate since the Rev. Jesse Jackson when he ran for the presidency in 1984 and 1988.
But the last few weeks have been challenging for Clinton on policies affecting African Americans. Recently, the hashtag #WhichHillary trended on Twitter and highlighted her history of inconsistencies.
The hashtag started after Black Lives Matter activist Ashley Williams disrupted a fundraiser in Charleston, S.C., over a statement Clinton made in 1996, when she told an audience that young people who committed crimes had to be “brought to heel.” She also used the phrase “superpredators“—a theory advanced about black youths by Princeton professor John DiIulio in 1995 that has since been discredited. (Clinton now says, “Looking back, I shouldn’t have used those words.”)
Other blasts from Clinton’s past keep coming back to haunt her. In 2008, during a Democratic debate, the seven candidates onstage were asked if they would end the crack-and-powder-cocaine sentencing disparity and apply it retroactively to those already in jail. Clinton was the only candidate to say no to retroactivity.
She’s also having difficulty distancing herself from the record of her husband, former President Bill Clinton—specifically his 1996 welfare-reform bill and the largest crime bill in U.S. history, which he signed in 1994 and included over $9 billion in prison funding.
Clinton’s current problem is also that so much of what she says now is not backed up by legislation she worked on while she was a member of the U.S. Senate. As with so many other voting decisions, black voters must walk on by faith regarding which Clinton would show up at the White House. Clinton does have the high praise of many black lawmakers, who swear that she has always been focused on the concerns of African Americans.
“We have a relationship; it didn’t just start with this campaign,” Rep. Corrine Brown (D-Fla.) told The Root. Brown was a Clinton supporter in 2008 until the very end. “She has been involved in issues impacting African Americans before, during and after the campaign was over,” Brown said.