Presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton spoke to Black Lives Matter protestors during her campaign stop in New Hampshire last week, but don’t give her a cookie just yet. In the short conversation, the candidate who’s often described as too practiced came across relaxed and more unfiltered than normal—but still politically rehearsed, and furthermore unapologetic.
In the exchange, according to the New York Times, Boston representatives of the Black Lives Matter movement Daunasia Yancey and Julius Jones asked Clinton what’s changed for her personally, in the years since her husband former President Bill Clinton shrank the Department of Housing and Urban Development while growing America’s prison industry during his eight years in the White House.
The protestors, I imagine, might have been wanting to hear something along the lines of “I’ve thought about my part in creating the mass incarceration numbers in America’s black and brown communities and I plan on introducing policies one, two and three to reverse our mistakes.” Instead, Clinton asked them for “vision” and a “plan.” Says the Times:
The combination of patience and gentle scolding with which she responded seemed a distillation of Mrs. Clinton’s worldview: that movement politics gets you only so far, and that activists must pave the way for those in office to act.
Stop right there. Activists paving the way for people with power to act?
It’s interesting to hear a white person like Clinton with so much power ask people with much less power for the solutions. The problems, anyway, are clear: the Black Lives Matter movement has been organized against police violence and mass incarceration, to which there are distinct policy solutions. White supremacy is an inextricable part of what buoyed Hillary Clinton to the top—a part of her political security blanket. In a way, her asking a BLM protestor ‘What would you have me do?’ is like asking a domestic violence victim what he or she can do to stop battering their partner.
In other words, it’s victim blaming, which Jones pointed out in their conversation, disguised as tough talk and the “hard truths of race and justice in America.”
At another point, Mrs. Clinton pushes back, and provocatively. When Mr. Jones tells her that she is “victim-blaming” and that the violence he wants to counteract is a “white problem,” Mrs. Clinton retorts, “Respectfully, if that is your position, then I will talk only to white people about how we are going to deal with a very real problem.”
Hillary, girl, that’s what you’ve been doing. Don’t get cranky when you’ve historically been in the wrong. Mass incarceration isn’t a shrug-worthy problem, especially for someone whose family helped create it and is campaigning on a platform to change it.
Unless I’m missing something, this exchange is Clinton’s first conversation with Black Lives Matter protestors in her year plus-presidential run, both before she officially announced her candidacy in June and the months before she campaigned off the books.
And, from a game-of-politics point of view, Clinton only spoke to the BLM protestors at her campaign stop in Keene, New Hampshire on August 11 because she had to or she would’ve looked like Bernie Sanders in Seattle, Washington; an old Democrat who talks a good game but displays that, when protestors of color come, she hasn’t much to say. As a democratic front-runner in need of black votes, old and young, Clinton doesn’t want to risk that problem.
Inevitably, at some point, Clinton will be asked about the Clintons’ role in creating the mass incarceration that Michelle Alexander writes about in The New Jim Crow. It’ll be interesting to see what her team comes up with. Will it be the same team that wrote “all lives matter” into one of her speeches about Dylann Roof’s Emanuel Baptist shooting? Perhaps it’ll be the folks who encouraged her to make a dig at President Obama about foreign policy as Ferguson burned and cops attacked protestors one year ago, instead of addressing racial violence that this week she said she’ll help combat “any way she can.”
As Jones said on MSNBC’s The Rachel Maddow Show, where he debuted the full clip of his and Yancey’s conversation with Clinton, “Political engagement is what they’re always asking of black Americans and when it comes and it’s not the way that they want it, it’s ‘Sit back down sister.’”
I look forward to the Black Lives Matter movement continuing to lobby presidential candidates, like Planned Parenthood and other incendiary groups, for their demands. Disruption and calling people out seems like the only way citizens can get things done in this country, for better or for worse. Clinton should not be patted on the back for deigning to address the elephant in the room. Instead, her constituents need to hear her vision and plan, like she asked of Jones. Hillary, what are you going to do?
Contact the author at Hillary@jezebel.com.