Hillary Clinton displays the signs and characteristics of white neoliberal resentment, especially in the second video segment released by Black Lives Matter.
Clinton represents the values of third-wave feminism, as opposed to the ethics of Bella Abzug’s second wave feminism**. As feminists rose, the movement’s separation along racial and class lines continued as before, with Black feminists continuing down a path apart from the white upper middle class women who lead the movement to this day, while the rest of womanhood largely remained on the sidelines, if not completely out of it. Today, the same divisions exist, but with some very important shifts brought about by the post-Great Recession economy. One interesting shift is generational, with the young generation that will vote for the first time, differing from their elder millenials in fundamental ways. I will address those shifts in a future piece on the state of feminism today.
Feminism, understood through the neoliberal prism, is central to understanding Hillary Clinton as a political leader, as well as Hillary Clinton in the context of privileged white women in America. Please pardon the long route to the heart of this essay, but I feel it is essential to grasp this piece of the discussion in order to truly appreciate the significance of her reaction to BLM.
Neoliberalism is usually used in economic discussions. It is also widely used in the feminist context to explain the disparity in goals and benefits in terms of class, within the gender subset. In, “How feminism became capitalism’s handmaiden – and how to reclaim it“, Nancy Fraser explains:
“In a cruel twist of fate, I fear that the movement for women’s liberation has become entangled in a dangerous liaison with neoliberal efforts to build a free-market society. That would explain how it came to pass that feminist ideas that once formed part of a radical worldview are increasingly expressed in individualist terms. Where feminists once criticised a society that promoted careerism, they now advise women to “lean in”. A movement that once prioritised social solidarity now celebrates female entrepreneurs. A perspective that once valorised “care” and interdependence now encourages individual advancement and meritocracy.
What lies behind this shift is a sea-change in the character of capitalism. The state-managed capitalism of the postwar era has given way to a new form of capitalism – “disorganised”, globalising, neoliberal. Second-wave feminism emerged as a critique of the first but has become the handmaiden of the second.”
In America, specifically, race relations add texture and layers to this conflict, at every level along the way. The two are intertwined in every way imaginable. In the video, BLM activist Julius Jones elicited comments from Clinton on race relations. As a part of her answer, Clinton mentioned her work as an activist for the Children’s Defense Fund. Of note is the fact that she did not take credit for policies she promoted or promulgated. Why? As a New York Times reader recently reminded me, Marian Wright-Edelman, head of the Children’s Defense Fund, had this to say in connection to Clinton-era welfare reform:
“For the sake of looking tough on “welfare queens,” Bill and Hillary (and they were indeed a team) sacrificed the well-being of millions, forced single mothers into underpaid, underinsured work and added further strain to many families. “
Clinton’s tone and body language took a radical turn for the indignant as Jones characterized her previous answer as victim-blaming, and assigned her and Bill Clinton direct blame for the policies that led to the current state of affairs. It is at that juncture in the exchange that her passive demeanor changed, as she stepped much closer to Jones than she was before, and leaned forward. Her tone then became much firmer, her voice grew a few decibels louder, and her demeanor went from a placid neutral to overbearingly patronizing. So, what did Clinton really tell her audience of voters through Jones? Here is my translation of the subtext, though I highly recommend watching the video and reading the transcript below:
You can’t change people’s racism but you can change the laws we all operate by. You can distribute more resources and change the way institutions work, but you can’t get rid of all racism. While we can do more to bring change and increase the chance of success for those who deserve and have the potential for it, you have to ask for it. You have to do the dirty work of making a list of demands and then go out there and make sure we, the ruling class, hear it and we’ll see what we can do to sell it to all the other semi-conscious white people who don’t think they owe you a thing. But if you don’t work for it in much the same way, we, white women did back in the 60’s and 70’s, then you and I will meet again in ten years and have the same discussion all over again.
It isn’t that Hillary Clinton doesn’t know that African Americans have been demanding fair treatment for centuries. It isn’t that she doesn’t know what Martin Luther King’s advocacy was for or about. It isn’t that she doesn’t know what the Civil Rights movement was for. Andrew Young, the newly deceased Julian Bond, Reverend Jessie Jackson and many other leaders are all people both Clintons have known well and had dealings with over the last decades. It’s none of that.
What it is, is a core belief that white America doesn’t owe Black America a thing beyond whatever Black civil rights organizations can win in the courts for themselves, opening more opportunities for Blacks with potential to avail themselves of, but only if they pull themselves up by their bootstraps enough to make the request that she, in turn, will sell on their behalf. In this day and age, and after Bernie Sanders’ groundbreaking proposal, this takes one’s breath away.
People like Clinton have no clue that sentiments among Blacks, and progressives on the far left, have long left that kind of paternalistic thinking behind. Moral Monday and Black Lives Matter are not supplicant movements. They are movements to reclaim a lost or stolen share of America’s patrimony.
The cultural difference expressed in the reaction and level of deference and innate understanding and respect between Clinton and Sanders stands worlds apart. Whereas there was never any question as to merit for Sanders, merit is a huge component of Clinton’s understanding of a solution she has yet to propose and expects groundwork for. Whereas Sanders has always demonstrated a fundamental understanding in terms of human rights and equality, Clinton labeled those “problems” in her answer to Jones’ admonishment that “this is and has always been a white problem of violence.”
Whereas Sanders was never in a position where he needed to be sold any package in order to figure out what’s needed to put together a plan for racial justice, Clinton demands it. Whereas Clinton has had the resources and a staff with which to whip up a policy position for publication, Sanders, with his limited resources took longer than he should have, post-Netroots. But once he hired his new press secretary, it only took a day for his plan to be released. Was it fed to him by an activist as some claim? I highly doubt it. Sanders is a policy-wonk, just as much as Hillary is a policy-wonk. He already knew the issues intimately and what policies are needed in order to start making a real difference.
One thing neither candidate has addressed is the part of this Clinton-BLM encounter that the media has latched on to in this statement by Clinton to Jones: “I don’t believe you change hearts.” This is where I differ completely in my own experience, and it is where I hope activists will make strong demands.
As it stands, our education system is the single most effective way racism has been perpetuated on the entire population since the establishment of public schools, through compromises and the granting of states rights to exclude much of our taught history from the curriculum. A nation that doesn’t know itself cannot rid itself of its bias.Yes, you can change hearts. Yes, you can change them by removing the institutional racism component from the education code and mandate, through fundamental reform, that every child in America receive the same thorough instruction in American history; one that includes what we call African American studies and ethnic studies, as well as gender and race relations in the curriculum of all schools, public and private, throughout the land, as a part of federally-mandated curricula.
Will fundamental reform of our education system eradicate racism completely? Likely not. Will it be a sea change? I believe so. I’ve seen the change with my own eyes, as college-aged students who elect to take gender and ethnic studies finally know themselves and their peers.
This Clinton-BLM video reinforces our memory of behavior patterns Hillary Clinton has exhibited for years. There hasn’t been a change of heart or attitude with respect to racism. Mrs. Clinton demonstrates not only a lack of change on issue after issue that caused her to fail in her 2007 bid for the presidency, but a lack of recognition of the need for change, with a resultant willingness to implement it in her campaign. It’s still the same overbearing and combative Hillary we’ve always known.
** Editorial note: Several readers have construed that I place Mrs. Clinton in the third wave. I do not. Hence the wording “represents the values of…”
See my companion piece: “White, non-white neoconservative swagger and BLM”
Transcript of video 2:
BLM: The piece that’s most important and I stand here in your space and say this as respectfully as I can, but, if you don’t tell Black people what we need to do, then we won’t tell you all what you need to do.
Clinton: I’m not telling you, I’m just telling you to tell me
BLM: What I mean to say is that this is and has always been a white problem of violence. It’s not – there’s not much that we can do to stop the violence against us.
Clinton: Well, if that
BLM: That’s a conversation that got the push back
Clinton: I understand. I understand what you’re saying.
BLM: Also respectfully,
Clinton: Also respectfully, if that is your position, then I will talk only to white people about how we’re going to deal with the very real problems.
BLM: That’s not what I mean. That’s not what I mean. But like what I am saying, what you just said, was a form of victim blaming. Right? You were saying what the Black Lives Matter movement needs to do to change white hearts is
Clinton: Look, I don’t believe you change hearts. I believe you change laws. You change allocation of resources. You change the way systems operate. You’re not gonna change every heart. You’re not. But, at the end of the day, we can do a whole lot to change some hearts and change some systems and create more opportunities for people who deserve to have them to live up to their own G-d-given potential, to live safely without fear of violence in their own communities, to have a decent school, to have a decent house, to have a decent future. So, we can have one of many ways. You can keep the movement going which you have started, and through it, you may actually change some hearts. But if that’s all that happens, we’ll be back here in ten years having that same conversation because we will not have all of the changes that you deserve to see happen in your lifetime because of your willingness to get out there and talk about this.
First segment of BLM meeting.
NPR’s interview with BLM Boston founder, Daunasia Yancey: