Friday, January 4, 2008

Zora Says: Why should Negroes Vote for Hillary Clinton?

Friend or Foe?

The presidential primary season has just begun and Barack Obama has surprised a lot of pundits by surpassing Hillary Clinton at the polls. Already, the "yes, but" folks have begun to raise their voices: "It's still early in the race;" "Iowa isn't reflective of the rest of the nation;" "Primary votes only reflect the sentiments of true believers;" "Obama will never secure broad support in the general election"... Yes, Obama may be both popular and qualified, but he'll never get elected -- is what it boils down to.

A lot of African-Americans are still reluctant to throw their vote behind Obama not because of any particular policy issues or concerns, but simply because they doubt his electability. The old guard of black leaders voiced their doubts early on expressing "concerns" about his experience and authenticity. We all know that their real concerns have to do with losing their place in the line for white patronage. They didn't/don't like Obama because they feel that he is an upstart and that it isn't his turn. Many younger African-Americans, and those who are not as invested in the leaders of the civil rights era, are less concerned with Obama as an upstart and are unwilling to play the black authenticity game. Still, they do express concerns about Obama's ability to actually get elected. For them, Hillary Clinton represents a safer choice.

Back in 2005, Al Sharpton challenged black folks to think more critically about their support for the Clintons. While I am certainly not a fan of Al Sharpton, I have to admit that he does a good job of putting shit out on the table. Given the rise in "yes, but" voices and the inclination to go with a "safer choice," I'll raise again Sharpton's challenge: Why do we support Hillary and Bill to the degree that we do? Is Hillary really a safer choice than Obama in this election?

I never really understood the joke that Bill Clinton was America's first black president. I don't know who first said it, but be they black or white, it was a terribly racist statement. The Clinton's are clearly comfortable around African-Americans and it is true that they have appointed a fair number of black faces in high places (they do like symbolic Negroes). Does this make them black? (Given this criteria, we could then say that George Bush, Jr. is America's second black president.) Believe it or not, Bill Clinton was even inducted into the Black Hall of Fame. I didn't even know that such a thing existed.

The Clinton's both have been very good at strategically playing the wigger role. Bill Clinton won many over when he pulled out his saxophone and began wiggling his hips during his first bid for the presidency. Both Bill and Hillary have expressed their appreciation for soul food. At every opportunity they jump into our pulpits and give speeches with accents and mannerisms so affected that they would have made Norman Lear proud.

Some would argue that it is Bill Clinton's background and behavior that links him to African-Americans. Unfortunately, they are neither thinking about his Rhodes scholarship nor his Yale degree when they say this. They are more often thinking about his drug addict brother and his working class mother. They are even more often thinking about his womanizing and fast talk. I wish that I could say that only white people express such essentializing foolishness, but I can't. Ambassador Andrew Young, for whom I once had a tremendous amount of respect, recently was called out for saying that Hillary and Bill were "blacker than Barack." Young supports this very weighty statement by citing that Bill has probably been with more black women than Obama has and that Bill is often the first to start a Soul Train line at official gatherings. This may make "Slick Willy" a pimp, but it certainly doesn't make him black. Nor do heavy-handed, aggressive responses in the Middle East make Hillary Clinton "a strong, black woman."

The fact is that the Clinton record on issues that affect African-Americans is not very strong. Bill and Hillary have successfully used black-face to mask actions that have negatively affected African-American progress. Even while it defended Federal affirmative action programs in Congress and the courts, the Clinton Administration made more cuts in affirmative action than any administration since they were instituted during Nixon's presidency. Bush, Jr. is merely finishing what Bill started.

The Clinton initiative on race, begun in 1997, never went anywhere:
  1. *Creation of a permanent body, which would be known as the President's Council for One America, to promote harmony and dialogue among the nation's racial and ethnic groups;
  2. *The Government's development of an education program to keep the public informed about race in America;
  3. A Presidential ''call to arms'' to leaders of government and the private sector to ''make racial reconciliation a reality;''
  4. Engagement of youth leaders in an effort to build bridges among the races.
Do you recall any of this? I don't. A voluminous report that emerged from the race initiative apparently acknowledged the problem of racial-profiling, but didn't make any substantive recommendations to address it.

Bill Clinton promised in his first campaign that he would end welfare "as we know it." In endorsing the Republican agenda, he participated in "the most sweeping reversal of social policy since the New Deal." He did exactly what he promised, but not what he led voters to believe. (We've witnessed the same kind of 3-card Molly, double-talk in Hillary's presidential debate responses.) Bill's early rhetoric rang of education and resources that would allow the poor to escape the cycle of dependency on government programs. Somehow the practical translation of this was an increase in the numbers of women and children in homeless shelters. Added to the Clinton list of shame should be failed health-care reform, Operation Gatekeeper and NAFTA.

If the Clinton treatment of Lani Guinier and Marion Wright Edelman is at all representative of how they value and relate to African-Americans, we're in trouble. Guinier was a long-time friend of the Clintons and perceived them as comrades-in-arms in the ongoing fight for civil rights. Bill Clinton nominated her as assistant attorney general for civil rights and promptly sold her down the river when opponents began to challenge and distort her work. The friendship was tossed aside as soon as Guinier represented an impediment to Clinton political ambition. Marion Wright Edelman, too, became persona non grata in the struggle between politics and integrity. She was at first touted as a mentor and role model to Hillary Clinton in her legal training. When Edelman challenged them to live up to their rhetoric and professed ideals, the Clintons distanced themselves. One dear friend that the Clintons decided to keep close was Sheriff Harry Lee of Jefferson Parish, Louisiana. Yes, this is the same Sheriff Lee that ordered his officers to prevent Katrina evacuees from crossing the Crescent City bridge to safety. Apparently, he was a committed fundraiser for the Hillary for President campaign.

Respectable Negroes, ask yourselves why Hillary Clinton deserves your support. What will you gain from her election to the presidency? Is she really a safe choice? As self-interested as he may have been when he made the statement, we have to wonder if Senator Joeseph Lieberman was right when he said that the Clinton's have used African-Americans like Kleenex.


deva said...

Amen and Hallelujah.

I'll always remember my mom's reaction when Andy Young said that stuff about Bill Clinton being blacker than Barack (she's a long time Atlanta resident who voted for him more than once). "What kind of self-hatred, makes you want to attach yourself to the 1st white man who can go into a black church without exhibiting overt discomfort and fear, while denying your own without a second look?"

I am less prone to make totalizing psychological statements than my mom, but still it does beg the question how hungry for white approval are some black people, that Bill Clinton is styled the scion of establishment black politics? So sad.

Anonymous said...

There is definitely a huge amount of racial self-hatred going on. I read a article on The Nation site about this same subject,about Black people being reluctant to vote for Obama,(its recent,you might be able to find it on the front page), and one reluctant Obama supporter,that was a black woman, said "Obama combines the warmth and humor of Black culture with the wit and intellect of white culture".What she basically said is that whites are intelligent, Blacks emotional and childish. Another, a Hillary supporter I remember, called him a "white boy". And whats sad is that Obama had been mayor of Chicago and took urban issues head on, while Hillary has yet to talk about issues that afflict the Black community Black people really outta start reexamining who we place our allegiance to.

gordon gartrelle said...

I never really understood the joke that Bill Clinton was America's first black president. I don't know who first said it, but be they black or white, it was a terribly racist statement.

Not quite. This is one of the cases in which knowing the identity of the speaker, Toni Morrison, helps. Morrison is in no way a racial essentialist, but the adolescent level of popular political and racial discourse via the mainstream media condemned her to "moral outrage" purgatory for what was clearly an ironic, subversive, anti-racist comment.

I have a Friday Five post that speaks to this very point. Stay tuned.

Zora said...

However Morrison may have meant it, the comment has taken on a whole other set of meanings and expectations. Those who most often wield the statement are definitely being essentialist.
This is a warning to all of us to understand that we lose ownership of our words and their meanings once they become part of a public/popular discourse.

Werner Herzog's Bear said...

Great post! Hopefully the Barack wave keeps rolling.

Unknown said...

Toni Morrison started that 'black president' ish, but I can't believe Bill is letting it go to his head. Does that mean Hillary is in an interracial marriage? Or is she a sista too?