When it comes to communities of color, many celebrities (now including West himself), have chosen to pursue a “safer,” less controversial route by ultimately siding with power over the people. During election 2016, for example, most celebrities of color have fawned over Hillary Clinton, a political figure whose neglect and abuse of marginalized groups is well established. Getting more specific, one can count popular black figures willing to hold Clinton publically accountable on one hand. Two such figures are San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who has excoriated Clinton for her racism, and Dr. Cornel West, who opted to endorse Jill Stein for president after backing Bernie Sanders in the primaries instead of the person he refers to as a “neoliberal disaster.” In the storm of mainstream praise for Clinton regarding her supposed willingness to “listen” to marginalized communities, Kaepernick and West have served as lighthouses, and for a good reason.
The reality is that duplicity reigns supreme in Clintonian rhetoric. From internal discourse to public speeches and related policy, Clinton and her campaign prefer to play to “both sides,” always at the expense of the most vulnerable. While canned statements by Clinton and her surrogates may open with an embrace of the Arab-American community, for example, subsequent lines create a false dichotomy of “good,” patriotic Arabs and “bad,” subversive Arabs, with the former charged with the undue burden of gathering intel on the latter. Likewise, when Clinton speaks about police brutality against black people, she immediately follows that assertion with calls to obey law enforcement officers, simultaneously creating a false equivalence between the two groups that minimizes violence against unarmed civilians. Most recently, Clinton has emphasized the importance of listening to “all voices” in a dispute over land use in the construction of an oil pipeline in North Dakota, with one voice being that of indigenous water protectors and their allies, while the other is that of heavily armed police and privately-contracted security forces with attack dogs and machine guns at their sides. The incongruence is glaring.
Despite the magnificent fluency of Clinton’s doublespeak and triangulation, Clinton supporters continue to applaud her “progressivism” on racial issues, while her political record, words, and behavior during both the 2008 and 2016 elections indicate otherwise. Clinton’s reluctance to fully embrace policies that would disproportionately benefit marginalized groups is well documented. Furthermore, correspondence exposed over the course of the election, in particular, the most recent leak of Clinton campaign manager John Podesta’s emails, provides further confirmation of what some of us already know: Hillary Clinton doesn’t care about black people. Unfortunately, other marginalized groups have not fared well on Clinton’s watch either, a problem that will no doubt continue should she become president. As her leaked private speeches readily intimate, Clinton’s primary concern is the happiness of her donors, whose interests she thinly veils with platitudes sufficient enough to appease her voter base.
This concern is in no way exclusive to Hillary Clinton. On the contrary, many figures in our current political state serve in office not to represent the needs of their constituents, but to fatten their respective wallets and contact lists. The reality, however, is that at the moment, only the Clinton campaign’s email correspondence has been made available to the public. It is Clinton and her campaign staffers whose words convey a sense of indifference toward the concerns of people of color. While one can argue that the attitudes members of the campaign express toward marginalized groups are not those of Clinton herself, it bears considering the adage that the culture of a company starts at the top.
It is this culture that we must consider in greater depth. As Clinton’s team and those in their indirect employ in the media insist that voters have an obligation to support Clinton to “protect” marginalized groups from the wrath of Trump and his supporters, it is of the utmost importance that we familiarize ourselves with the attitudes they hold of the groups they purport not only to represent, but to “save.” The public rhetoric of the Clinton campaign and its supporters toward people of color takes a page out of Rudyard Kipling’s imperialist and paternalistic poem “The White Man’s Burden,” now refashioned for the twenty-first century, and should not slip under the radar unnoticed.
Patterns of Neglect
As with Kipling’s vision of the U.S. government toward its new foreign subjects at the turn of the twentieth century, Clinton’s team has sought to offer the bare minimum to its “captured minority” electorate. Despite all the careful details in Clinton team emails – from the countless speeches staffers edit to tweets they mull over for hours to get just right – substance is noticeably absent from the output. This approach is by design. In several instances, those working on the campaign actively discourage the slightest mention of policy, seemingly less in the interest of caution than to explicitly avoid accountability for anything said on the record. Take, for example, the suggestion to emphasize feeling over substance in September of 2015 from policy advisor Kristina Costa about a Clinton op-ed in the Spanish-language paper La Opinión. Costa says the team must “lay out a passionate case for why HRC stands with the Latino community and call out the Republicans for their rhetoric, rather than leaning on policy positions.” Similarly, in a June 2015 discussion over a tweet regarding the debt crisis in Puerto Rico, policy advisor Ann O’Leary notes with caution that she and Clinton “don’t want to suggest a bailout,” and instead “want to suggest that [they] should partner to solve the problem.” Clinton’s subsequent endorsement of the vulture-fund backed PROMESA bill, and her continued support from big banks demonstrate that “suggestions” are likely all that Puerto Ricans will get from Clinton in their fight for economic sovereignty.
Consider this approach to avoid solidifying policy positions alongside information from a leaked March 2016 DCCC internal memo that advises Democrats in a set of “best practices” to follow when dealing with Black Lives Matter activists in person. Democrats are encouraged to limit contact with activists to “personal or small group meetings” that give the appearance of concern without “offer[ing] support for concrete policy positions.” This method of neutralizing confrontational forms of activism continues into the present, with Clinton having met on several occasions with two well-known figures of Black Lives Matter, though no video footage or transcript of the most recent meeting in late October has been released to date. Shortly following the meeting, Clinton received their endorsement, which the Black Lives Matter network clarified does not speak for the entire movement.
This fear of confrontation pervades the Clinton campaign emails, as staffers express concern on several occasions of being held publically accountable not only for Clinton’s record on the issues, but her gaffes during the campaign. In February of this year, with the South Carolina primary fast approaching, protester Ashley Williams revived criticism of Clinton’s use of the racially charged term “super predator” during a speech she gave in 1996 in support of the now infamous Crime Bill that expanded the U.S. prison system by astronomical proportions.
Though an exasperated Clinton responded to Williams claiming that she had not discussed the issue because “nobody’s ever asked [her] before,” emails between staffers show that Clinton was indeed well-aware of the issue and her team was crafting a preemptive response. As noted below, just days before Williams’s protest, the Clinton camp had been preparing to address the issue briefly during an interview slated with the Tavis Smiley show, then have Clinton “pivot to [her] Senate record.” What they penned during the exchange of emails went on instead to become the text for Clinton’s expression of regret over her use of the term “super predator” that Washington Post columnist Jonathan Capehart cited in his article about the protest.
Similarly, in another fraught exchange two weeks later, Clinton staffers went into full damage control mode to soften the blow from dismay over ahistorical claims Clinton made during Nancy Reagan’s funeral. In a moment of reflection on Nancy Reagan’s time in the White House, Clinton lied – later claiming she misspoke – that the Reagans had “started a national conversation [about HIV/AIDS] when before nobody would talk about it, nobody wanted to do anything about it.” What Clinton claimed was Nancy Reagan’s “very effective, low-key advocacy” that “penetrated the public conscience” was anything but, as both Reagans maintained a cold silence amid thousands of deaths from AIDS-related complications during the early years of the HIV/AIDS crisis in the United States.
As Clinton’s history has demonstrated with disturbing predictability, if she is consistent about one thing, it is that she has sided with the powerful far more than those dealing with considerable adversity. As writer and income equality advocate Katherine Geier has argued, despite Clinton’s claims she is a champion for the less fortunate, she has repeatedly prioritized the interests of their oppressors instead. Clinton’s record bears out this assertion. After hearing Martin Luther King, Jr. speak in 1962, Clinton not only campaigned for virulently racist presidential candidate Barry Goldwater in 1964, but as recently as 1996 expressed pride in having been a “Goldwater Girl.” Decades after spending her honeymoon in Haiti, she, her husband, and their associates would go on to misuse funds meant for hurricane relief in the nation, orchestrate handing over power to a corrupt puppet government, and attempt to exploit the nation’s natural resources.
Hillary Clinton giving a speech to promote investment in HaitiAfter graduating from law school, Clinton briefly interned with the Children’s Defense Fund, though the time she spent “defending” lower-income women and their children clearly was not enough to dissuade her from advocating for the dismantling of programs and protections they depended on to survive. After her time at CDF, Clinton went on not only to serve on the board of Walmart, a corporation notorious for union busting, low wages, and employee mistreatment, but also to campaign alongside Bill as he gutted the welfare system. Similarly, years after declaring that “women’s rights are human rights” at a conference in Beijing in 1995, she repeatedly violated the human rights of women and girls by voting in 2002 to authorize the Iraq War, by orchestrating (and subsequently defending) intervention in Libya in 2011, by facilitating massive weapons deals to Saudi Arabia to attack Yemen, and by backing a 2009 coup in Honduras that has resulted in the murders of activists and an increase in femicide. The body count in the aforementioned acts of state terror, particularly of women and girls, continue to rise on a daily basis.
The examples above form just the tip of the iceberg, providing a mere glimpse into a larger pattern of violence Clinton engages in and that her team regularly papers over with displays of “charity.” What expands into the territory of harmful policies and practices begins first as a form of disaster capitalism at the electoral level. Over the course of the primary and well into the general election, Clinton has cloaked herself in the suffering of others, relying on a type of atmospheric adversity or empathy by proxy, while her own social status and immense privilege prove she could not be further removed from the downtrodden groups for whom she claims to “fight.” Amid these glaring contradictions, Clinton’s campaign continues to search for people with so little to lose they are willing to place their faith in a person who has shown time and time again that she cares more about a photo op than their wellbeing.
In the United States, crises in black communities, in particular, have provided fertile ground for the Clinton campaign to cultivate its supposed social justice bona fides, and when they come to harvest, they are well rewarded. From the prevalence of toxic, lead-contaminated water in Flint, Michigan to the relentless extinguishing of lives by trigger-happy police officers and homegrown racist terrorists, black tragedy has been Clinton’s greatest boon. Discussions in leaked emails demonstrate the ways the Clinton campaign has repeatedly used human suffering to its electoral advantage.
Hillary Clinton in Flint
In an email from February, at the height of media coverage of the water crisis in Flint, Demos board member and Planned Parenthood Action Fund chair Gina Glantz congratulates Clinton on a “brilliant” trip to Flint and for “getting ahead of [Bernie Sanders] around ‘caring,’” a word Glantz placed in quotation marks. One could argue that Glantz’s strange punctuation was simply for the sake of emphasis had she not continued in the email to list tragedies similar to the Flint water crisis where Clinton’s “caring” could “be repeated.” In the email, Glantz advises that “there must be any number of low income communities with high rates of asthma or other stuff in South Carolina sitting next to fossil fuel plants belching out toxic material.” While Glantz remarks that these crises were “not on the scale of Flint,” they were “sure to be found all across the country” for Clinton to capitalize on during the primary. A week before Glantz gave the campaign her two cents, another Clinton supporter, megadonor Phillip Munger, forwarded an article about an NAACP-led lawsuit over incidents of voter suppression in Georgia to Podesta and Clinton’s foreign policy and national security advisor Jake Sullivan. With it, Munger left the hint, “This could be like the Flint moment…” as if to imply that the campaign could use black disenfranchisement to secure the nomination, a rather ironic suggestion considering their subsequent silence on election irregularities throughout the primaries.
Upon a Clinton win, two fates await black people in the United States – though likely, in several degrees, other people of color as well: 1) we will be neglected, only to be offered platitudes at best upon complaint and/or 2) we will be used in the interest of sustaining empire. Some people will be happy with one (or both) of these options because we as a people are so well-conditioned. After all, Obama gave us these two options as well, though he was sure to include a third: using us as punching bags in areas where he had failed us, offering scolding sessions instead of policy. It will be much harder for Clinton to scold people of color simply because the optics will be bad and it will appear racist (which, to be honest, it is, even when Obama does it). Clinton will fall back on her usual triangulation instead, and plenty of people of color will happily serve as her consummate apologists. We are watching them practice right now. They will pretend to be concerned about certain issues that affect less economically fortunate people of color, but, ultimately, it will all just be an act, a little dent in an otherwise solid structure of power they uphold in hopes of keeping their positions in line to one day sit atop it.