On being a black woman who isn’t voting for Hillary, and making peace with it all
Sometimes political decisions are as simple yet profound as this: White male presidents have long been ruining the country so it’s time for a woman to have her fair shot at ruining it too. At least that’s why the elderly Caribbean woman sitting next to me said she was voting for Hillary Clinton. We were in the Metropolitan Ballroom of the Sheraton hotel to hear Clinton speak during the National Action Network conference in the same room where many of us had heard Bernie Sanders speak the day before. Seeing up-close the admiration older black folks have for Clinton left me awestruck. Had they forgotten, or were they choosing to overlook the number of ways both Bill and Hillary Clinton have been detrimental to our people? I wasn’t sure, in that moment, what to make of Hillary Clinton, and the rampant support she was inspiring among black voters. I’m still not sure what to make of it.
Five days later, I voted for Sanders in the NYC primaries.
Sanders, as we know, did not win. I felt left with two options: vote for Jill Stein or sit out this election altogether. Neither of these were ideal choices, but they were ones that, after thoroughly thinking the shitshow through, I was relegated to. That was the conversation happening in my head.
The ongoing conversation with my circle of black girlfriends was slightly different, if adjacent. Their only focus (understandably) was that a Donald Trump presidency was too scary to consider any option other than voting for Hillary Clinton. “I’m not trying to find out what a dictatorship looks like,” Veronica, a journalist, told me. The only place I found solace in like-minded souls who also refused to vote for the lesser of two-evils was in my online communities and with a handful of my black male friends. Black women, especially those in my real-life communities, seemed to be largely on the same page: They were voting for Hillary, whether they liked it or not.
Their reasons, for the most part, are valid. They rightfully feel there is too much to lose with open Supreme Court seats, Trump’s pro-life rhetoric of wanting to “punish” women who have abortions, and his idea of law and order that includes nationwide stop-and-frisk. The fear of Trump running the nation is a real one, especially for anyone who is not a cisgender white male.
That fear, however real, was not my marching orders to run to polls for Clinton.
Back in February, Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow author, brilliantly outlined how black people were screwed during Bill Clinton’s presidency and how then-First Lady Clinton supported his policies. In The Nation’s “Why Hillary Clinton Doesn’t Deserve the Black Vote,” Alexander lists the 1994 crime bill, the increase of mass incarceration, President Clinton’s dismantling of Aid to Families with Dependent Children that Hillary Clinton supported, and the true economic stats for black people in the ’90s, during what was largely considered the golden era for us economically.
Some might argue that it’s unfair to judge Hillary Clinton for the policies her husband championed years ago. But Hillary wasn’t picking out china while she was first lady. She bravely broke the mold and redefined that job in ways no woman ever had before. She not only campaigned for Bill; she also wielded power and significant influence once he was elected, lobbying for legislation and other measures. That record, and her statements from that era, should be scrutinized. In her support for the 1994 crime bill, for example, she used racially coded rhetoric to cast black children as animals. “They are not just gangs of kids anymore,” she said. “They are often the kinds of kids that are called ‘super-predators.’ No conscience, no empathy. We can talk about why they ended up that way, but first we have to bring them to heel.”
Both Clintons now express regret over the crime bill, and Hillary says she supports criminal-justice reforms to undo some of the damage that was done by her husband’s administration. But on the campaign trail, she continues to invoke the economy and country that Bill Clinton left behind as a legacy she would continue. So what exactly did the Clinton economy look like for black Americans? Taking a hard look at this recent past is about more than just a choice between two candidates. It’s about whether the Democratic Party can finally reckon with what its policies have done to African-American communities, and whether it can redeem itself and rightly earn the loyalty of black voters.
Black women remain skeptical about Clinton despite polls showing they support her on par with the 96% vote they casted for Obama in 2012. Black women were the creative brains behind the #GirlIGuessImWithHer hashtag that spoke to the reluctance of having to cast a vote for Clinton out of an obligation to keep Trump away from the Oval office. As the election inches closer, that reluctance has waned. #GirlIGuessImWithHer, as a sentiment, has morphed into all-out support and endorsements from informed black feminists. Even Angela Davis, an undoubtedly radical black woman, has declared, “I am not so narcissistic to say I cannot bring myself to vote for her.”
In a way, I get this, the escalation in the intensity and clarity of support from people who were once decidedly hesitant to join up on the team at all. Once you’re on the team, once you pick your race horse, you might as well put all of your energy into making sure they win. It’s one thing to be lukewarm about making a choice when you aren’t genuinely excited about any of your options, but it’s another thing to be tepid when it comes to delivering on support once pledged. I get it.
BUT ALSO, I DO NOT GET IT.
This love affair with Clinton has spread across generations of black women. Back in June, professor Dr. Brittney Cooper wrote for Cosmopolitan, “But I support Hillary Clinton because I think she is the best, most qualified candidate for the job. I support her views on family leave.” The brilliant professor Salamishah Tillet wrote for ELLE what reads as a love letter to Clinton about why she’s finally with her. Tillet wrote: “As I cast my ballot this November, with my four-year-old daughter and one-year-old son in tow, I can only hope that Clinton’s legacy has laid the foundation for yet another crack in the glass ceiling: the election of our first African American woman president. Until then, I’ll settle for our first African American female Supreme Court justice.”
In an interview with Melissa Harris-Perry, Ferguson activist and Campaign Zero co-founder Brittany Packnett said she not only is With Her™ but she is publicly endorsing her:
My endorsement of Hillary Clinton and my encouraging young people to vote for her is squarely about our ability to push forward the things that we care about in the movement. It is not about a job. It’s not about some kind of political quid pro quo. It is absolutely about caring so deeply about this work that I’m okay taking some criticism. Because at the end of the day, this is about making the intentional, pragmatic strides we must take from the inside and the outside toward the radical dream of justice and liberation for us all.
To be clear, I respect the agency of black women who feel there is too much at stake not to vote for Clinton. As author Asha Bandele put it, she believes in harm-reduction and she’s voting for Clinton because she believes Clinton will do the least harm to black, brown, LGBTQ and all marginalized people. I understand it all…but I still wished black women didn’t feel like they had to vote for Clinton just because the other option is unthinkable.
For myself, I knew that if and when Sanders lost, I would not vote for Clinton. Putting aside the “superpredators” comment she made about black youth, and the 1994 crime bill she supported and the race-baiting she indulged in during the 2008 election against Barack Obama, and The Clinton Foundation’s shady dealings in Haiti and elsewhere, and her support of child-deportation (whew — does start to feel like a whole lotta shit to put aside), it was her rude dismissal of young black female activist Ashley Williams, who attempted to hold her accountable for her “superpredator” remarks, that solidified, in my mind, how little Clinton truly cares about black women. The first presidential debate sealed the deal: no way in hell was this person getting my vote.
I’d vowed to just tune out the rest of the election since neither of my options included voting for Clinton or Trump, which was proving to be an impossible task. So I tuned in to the first debate mainly to hear what she had to say about state-sanctioned violence, which is the greatest civil rights issue of our time (I say with zero hesitation). I was already very sure of my feelings about Clinton, but — perhaps as evidence that I would genuinely like to vote for a candidate I at least somewhat believe in, as opposed to wanting to hate her and searching for further evidence to support that predetermination — I wanted to be…the most sure?
Regardless, what I saw during the first presidential debate was an embarrassment to our country and a disrespect for black people who live in fear of the police. Both candidates handled race and police violence abysmally. I watched two presidential nominees argue over who was the bigger racist in a fight where neither of them came out unscathed. Clinton refused to push back on Trump’s idea of black criminality. She refused to address systemic racism or white supremacy that are the root cause of police killing unarmed black and brown people at disparate rates. The only thing she could muster up was buzzwords like “implicit bias,” which frankly, wasn’t nearly enough. That was all I needed to see.
The black vote has the extra burden of being attached to moral obligation because of the bloodshed and violence blacks have had to endure to gain the right. I take that right seriously. I have voted in every local and presidential election since I turned 18 in 2003. But I know my ancestors didn’t fight for us to choose the lesser of two evils, nor was their blood shed onto the streets for us to continue to choose leaders who have a track-record of harming our communities. They fought for us to have the right, yes, but not to use that right to participate in a system that looks eerily similar to the same thing they fought against during the first Civil Rights Movement.
Voting for Clinton out of the belief that she’ll at least be able to be held accountable is idealistic at best and naïve at worst. Black people are being lynched in the streets with impunity under a black president. Given the policies Clinton has supported in the past, I’m not sure why anyone would trust her to really advocate for the issues that matter most to black people or black women. She is like the politicians before her who use black cool and black vernacular to gain the black then promptly leaves us begging for scraps once elected.
I’ve made peace with the brilliant black women I admire who are rallying behind Clinton, including the ones who’ve scolded and disrespected my stance on potentially not voting. I’ve made peace with my black girlfriends who don’t care about Clinton’s unsavory racial politics because they’ll take anyone over Trump. I’ve made peace that black people are even in this position to have to choose between these two candidates. I’ve made peace because…you be on the team you’re on. And those women — the black women who plan to cast their ballots for a candidate I have infinite qualms about and almost no faith in — are the team I’m on, even if they are also on Clinton’s. And I’m still not with her. I am a black woman who refuses to separate those two identities for the excitement about the first female president. Even when she wins, there is still too much to lose.