Hillary Clinton’s NAN Speech Sounds Good, but Does Anybody Really Believe Her?

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks during the National Action Network’s 25th anniversary convention April 13, 2016, in New York City. Clinton spoke at the conference ahead of New York’s primary April 19.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

“She know she lying. F—k outta here,” Charles Johnson, 31, whispered as Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton spoke inside the Metropolitan Ballroom of the Sheraton Hotel in New York City for the National Action Network conference.

Wearing a flattering red suit, the former secretary of state was met with a standing ovation from the predominantly black crowd. Cellphones and iPads were raised in the air to capture the woman who could be the next president of the United States. Clinton was introduced by the Rev. Al Sharpton, who made it clear that he hadn’t endorsed a candidate and demanded that black Americans be talked to substantively. And so, Clinton took Sharpton up on his word with a message that was part sermon, part “Let me remind you Negroes how I’ve helped you.”


Clinton opened by thanking the survivors of victims slain by gun violence at the hands of law enforcement. The front row was filled with the mothers, widows and daughters of Amadou Diallo, Sean Bell, Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown and Eric Garner. But we’ll get to that soon enough.

From the gate, she dropped names of prominent black leaders, including President Barack Obama and the first lady. She imagined that Jackie Robinson would be proud of the progress we’ve made. She boasted about working for Children’s Defense Fund President Marian Wright Edelman. She declared herself the candidate who would uphold the tireless work Eric Holder and Loretta Lynch have done to end police brutality and racial profiling. She acknowledged the policing problem in America but added, “Let’s learn from the police departments doing it right.” She vowed to support black entrepreneurs, especially black female entrepreneurs, who are the fastest-growing group of entrepreneurs in the country.


She spent very little time on the GOP other than to condemn opponents Donald Trump’s and Ted Cruz’s overt bigotry. The presidential hopeful was careful to take a stance against systemic racism and vow to dismantle it.


“More than half a century after Rosa Parks sat and Dr. King marched and John Lewis bled, race still plays a significant role in determining who gets ahead in America and who gets left behind,” Clinton said before launching into her spiel about gun violence affecting black Americans at disparate rates. In between name-dropping and giving the rundown of her résumé, she told white Americans that they must listen to blacks when we tell of our experiences with racism. You see, she knew her audience and worked it. I can’t imagine that she would tell a white Southern church that what happened in Flint, Mich., would not have happened if it were “a white suburb in Detroit.” But in this room, that statement was met with applause.

Her plans included creating jobs that will put blacks to work and putting money into transit systems so that rural blacks have access to better-paying jobs. She pledged to end the school-to-prison pipeline while simultaneously investing money in the education system.


“In America, every child should have a good teacher and a good school no matter their zip code,” Clinton said.

But, of course, when she talked about dismantling mass incarceration, she conveniently left out her support for the 1994 crime bill and how she lobbied for private prisons, which caused a white reporter to whisper to me, “Kind of hypocritical.” Indeed.


If you’ve been paying attention to Clinton since her 2008 run for president, her NAN speech was right on message. That didn’t make it any less disingenuous. Not all blacks are sold on Clinton, despite the initial standing ovation. Her words were not met with the thunderous applause I had expected. On the elevator ride down to the lobby after the speech, a middle-age black man told me, “I heard her. I’m rooting for Bernie Sanders.”

Her promises sound hopeful if you’re willing to overlook her missteps. Or if you've long forgotten how she used race offensively in her run against Barack Obama. Or if you are like the elderly West Indian woman next to me who told me she’s for Clinton because it’s time for a woman to run things, since men have long been screwing up the country; then perhaps she’s appealing. If you put her beside her GOP opponents, her promises sound like the land of milk and honey. But when you've heard it all before and find her dismissal of black female protesters and “superpredator” comments unforgivable, her words ring hollow.


What I’ll remember most long after the next president is elected is the front row of black female supporters who have been denied justice for their loved ones slain by police violence.

Clinton ended her speech by paying tribute to these women with praise for their ability to champion their pain into action. I found this a peculiar thing to say because black mothers, sisters and wives should not have to be lauded for using their unimaginable grief to fight injustices. They also should not be paraded around in an effort to win votes.


“Reverend” Clinton ended with a Bible verse from Galatians 6:9. “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” She added, “Those are words to live by and to govern by.”

I believe this Scripture to be true. What I have a hard time believing is that Clinton is doing good for black folks. And her candidacy for president does, indeed, make me weary. 

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