For the Record: ‘Superpredators’ Is Absolutely a Racist Term

If some people want to forgive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton for dog-whistling, so be it—but no one should forget or repackage it as anything other than what it was.

Hillary Clinton in 1996
Hillary Clinton in 1996 PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images

When Black Lives Matter activist Ashley Williams was kicked out of a Hillary Clinton fundraiser in North Carolina in February, she made headlines. Why? Because Williams demanded an apology from the Democratic presidential nominee for her use of the term “superpredators” during a 1996 speech in New Hampshire.

As anyone who has even been half paying attention to the 2016 election is aware, Clinton used the term while whipping up support for then-President Bill Clinton’s 1994 crime bill. Yes, the same one that Sen. Bernie Sanders voted for and then-Sen. Joe Biden authored. Though Hillary Clinton didn’t apologize for the remarks, she later acknowledged during a spin with Jonathan Capehart that she shouldn’t have used the term and wouldn’t use it today.

That’s all well and good, but using the term “superpredators” was completely in line with the racial dog-whistling that Clinton is currently known for doing in order to appeal to other Third Way Democrats and moderate Republicans—and the record needs to reflect that, even in the face of Trump hysteria.

Unequivocally, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump is a demonstrably misogynistic white supremacist who is unprepared to move into 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. And the fear of that horrifying reality has led some of Clinton’s most fervent supporters to become political revisionists. This was most recently evidenced after the first presidential debate of the 2016 election season.

After Trump brought up the 20-year-old statement between sniffs—again indulging in the “Who’s the most racist?” game both he and Clinton love to play—some Clinton supporters jumped to her defense. “Wait, you’re not looking at ‘superpredators’ in context,” some of them said, “because if you did, you’d know she was just talking about drug cartels, not black boys.”

In fact—wait for it—one woman even told me that it was racist for black people to assume that Clinton was equating gangsters with black children. Imagine that.

To clear up any misconceptions and correct any revisions, let’s make it plain: The term “superpredator” is absolutely a racist term that was specifically deployed to stereotype and target black children in the 1990s with the intention of locking them up to protect terrified white people from “bad [black] dudes.” Period.

John DiIulio Jr., a former aide to President George W. Bush and currently a professor of politics, religion and civil society at the University of Pennsylvania, is the man who coined the term “superpredator” in 1995. In a piece titled, “The Coming of the Super-Predator,” written in November of that year, he wrote:

There is even some evidence that juveniles are doing homicidal violence in “wolf packs.” Indeed, a 1993 study found that juveniles committed about a third of all homicides against strangers, often murdering their victim in groups of two or more. Violent youth crime, like all serious crime, is pre-dominantly intra-racial, not interfacial. The surge in violent youth crime has been most acute among black inner-city males.

While the trouble will be greatest in black inner-city neighborhoods, other places are also certain to have burgeoning youth-crime problems that will spill over into upscale central-city districts, inner-ring suburbs, and even the rural heartland.

Dilulio was invited to discuss juvenile crime with President Clinton in 1995. He says that over the course of a three-and-a-half-hour meeting, Bill Clinton “took copious notes and asked lots of questions.” In describing the meeting in December of 2015, Dilulio, once again, went back to his favorite racist myth:

The superpredators are radically self-regarding. They regret getting caught. For themselves, they prefer pleasure and freedom to incarceration and death. Under some conditions, they are affectionate and loyal to fellow gang members or relatives, but not even moms or grandmoms are sacred to them; as one prisoner quipped, “crack killed everybody’s ‘mama.” And they place zero value on the lives of their victims, whom they reflexively dehumanize as just so much worthless “white trash” if white, or by the usual racial or ethnic epithets if black or Hispanic.

On the horizon, therefore, are tens of thousands of severely morally impoverished juvenile superpredators. They are perfectly capable of committing the most heinous acts of physical violence for the most trivial reasons (for example, a perception of slight disrespect or the accident of being in their path). They fear neither the stigma of arrest nor the pain of imprisonment. They live by the meanest code of the meanest streets, a code that reinforces rather than restrains their violent, hair-trigger mentality. In prison or out, the things that superpredators get by their criminal behavior—sex, drugs, money—are their own immediate rewards. Nothing else matters to them. So for as long as their youthful energies hold out, they will do what comes “naturally”: murder, rape, rob, assault, burglarize, deal deadly drugs and get high.

John Dilulio Jr.
John Dilulio Jr.YouTube screenshot

There is no room for interpretation here, only this: “Superpredators” was unambiguously a term meant to malign, stereotype and target black and Latino youths. It was not about raceless, faceless “drug cartels”; the Clintons knew exactly whom they were going after, and they did just that—just as Richard Nixon, George H.W. Bush and Ronald Reagan did before them.