Monday, May 12, 2008

prefer hillary clinton because she's white?

[Update: I recently analyzed Hillary Clinton and her whiteness in a broader context over at Talking Points Memo, in a piece entitled "Is Hillary Clinton a White Supremacist?" It made its way up to their list of "Recommended Reader Posts," and a heated discussion took place in the "comments" section below the article. -- Macon D]

The Democratic race now moves to West Virginia. Today, Hillary Clinton claimed she always wanted to be a coal miner. But those dreams were dashed when she was forced to attend Wellesley and Yale.

After last week's primary election results, it looks more than ever like Barack Obama has a lock on the Democratic nomination. Thus, whatever remains to be said about Hillary Clinton's latest playing of the white race card is sort of moot by this point.

Also, almost everyone else is blogging hard and well about this. So, I'll keep my comments short.

First, for the record, here are Clinton's 43-second comments about white solidarity, which she made during a radio interview:

Despite their brevity, Clinton's comments are generating a lot of bloggage because they display several severe errors in judgment. Perhaps the worst is her inaccurate implication that Obama cannot win because he's black, and that white Americans are finally waking up to his blackness as a problem.

What I'm wondering is, why are Clinton's efforts to rally white people together not being called out by the corporate media for what they are--a desperate, remarkably racist effort to solidify what amounts to a White Power Movement?

Just imagine how many talking heads would explode if Obama were to ever say such a thing about his appeal to black voters (most of whom, by the way, shifted their early support from Clinton to Obama precisely because of the repeated race-baiting of both Hillary and Bill Clinton).

As I've said before, the main reason Clinton doesn't get nearly as much blame as Obama would for trying to rally race-based support is that white people are not seen by other white people as white people. They're seen instead as individuals. Non-white people, though, are seen as members of a group, and as a result, they're considered unfairly biased.

From a white perspective, Hillary may come across as a racist fool, but if so, it's Clinton herself who's acting the fool--she doesn't represent white people in general. But again, if Obama were to say such things, white suspicions and fears about black solidarity, black bias, black claims to victimhood, and even black revenge would come to the fore.

So, since the producers and actors of corporate news outlets are overwhelmingly white, and since the media's audience and the voting population also remain largely white, Clinton more or less gets a pass for the kind of race-baiting calls to racial solidarity that would destroy Obama's campaign. Obama, on the other hand, has to demonstrate, constantly, that even though he's black, the common interests of black people are not a priority for him.*

As many statistical analysts have shown, Hillary Clinton does not actually have a broad base of support among white voters. Clinton is right about one thing, though--she does still have strong support among certain sectors of the white voting population, especially working-class/blue collar people (which is why, despite Obama's lock on the nomination, she will soon win in West Virginia and Kentucky), and older white women.

Now if she could just somehow combine those two voting blocks . . .

*By the way, I do think that such things as Obama's early work as a community activist and his recent speech on race demonstrate that he understands, and will work to change, the race-based disparities caused by the ongoing fact of American white supremacy. Again, though, I don't think he can openly say such things, since he does want to get elected.


  1. nice post.

    mmm, race-baiting. goes so well with a nice side of losing to the black man anyway. (knock on wood)

  2. there's a whole other post to be written about blackness in American Gangster.

    the fact that Lucas is terribly critical of the typical "black" style of dress favored by the other criminals, that he uses his contacts with the Italian mafia as a sort of model for his organization, the way the cops are incredulous that a black man could be that high up the criminal hierarchy, that the only way a black man could be as successful as he was would be to sell drugs (and the minute they saw him in all his glory at the boxing match, they knew he must be a criminal).

    you should write it. ;)

  3. Heh! pretty cool, and accurate. I like the way you put this together. The vid at the end is perfect.

  4. Hillary Clinton's time in this race has come to an end; Your concern with whiteness prompts intense discussion about race. As such I am wondering what do you think about the way in which Obama is pathologizing African Americans who are from the darker era of American history in which segregation was the law of the land? That is, do you see this affirmation and subsequent rejection of their experiences as problematic?

  5. Hello Gregory. I must confess, I didn't know Obama was doing that. Can you explain how he's done so, or maybe provide a link to an explanation? It does sound problematic, but so far, I don't know what you're talking about.

  6. Wow, that's a great discussion you got going over at TPM! I think the points you're making there are dead-on, and it's interesting to see what a nerve they hit in some of the readers there.

    I too wish Gregory would elaborate on his question. It's intriguing.

  7. Gregory,

    Thanks for making that point. "Pathologizing" is a precise way to put it.

    Macon, you have to analyze, honestly, Obama's speech on race, etc. The way I've put it several times is that Obama disparaged Black anger while privileging White resentment (aka White backlash) which he insisted was "legitimate" or grounded in "legitimate concerns."

  8. Obama attributing Rev. Wright's anger to his "generation" and, by extension, declaring that people in Wright's generation have distorted views about America because of their experiences that just don't apply now is problematic.

    There are no such hard and fast generational walls dividing philosophical/ideological view points. My views are more in line with Rev. Wright and I'm younger than both he and Obama.

    As my post above should indicate, Black "ANGER" is such a loaded term invoking a number of problematic assumptions about it. It carries a markedly negative connotation and Obama treated it as such.

    Black are supposed to "get over" their "anger" which suggest that it isn't quite justified or, at least, not appropriate but, again, White resentment is said to be founded in "legitimate concerns"... no "get over it" included.

    The effect of Obama's overall philosophy is to lay the blame for lack of further "racial progress" on Black people. After all, it's Black anger that stops African-Americans from forging alliances and Black anger contributes to the EMPATHY DEFICIT White America has because focusing so much on Black greviance, "seeing things through the lens of the oppressed", stops us from seeing what we have in common with others, per Obama's press conference where he cut ties with Rev. Wright.

    White Americans merely have an EMPATHY DEFICIT. They just don't see other people's pain. Black people who exhibit "anger" like Rev. Wright, however, are WRONG. America is not the way they see it (i.e. "the rejection of their experiences").

    Even more, Black people like Rev. Wright are so focused on their pain and problems that they can't see what other people are going through. This is not something non-elite Whites are asked to do... to not focus on their problems. In fact, they are deemed justified for denying that they, too, have White privilege:

    "Most working- and middle-class white Americans don't feel that they have been particularly privileged by their race."

    It's the convenient Poor White Tour. The circus that only comes to town when achieving social justice and eradicating racial inequality is presented on the agenda table.

    There's some nuance to what Obama said (the way he actually phrased so of that talk) but the effect is... at every turn he takes a sympathetic view towards Whites while taking a "tough love", at best, when it comes to African-Americans complete with the implicit (and paternalistic) idea that we're supposed to just "get over it", our "anger" and all. America has changed. There has been progress. And we aren't going to listen when Rev. Wright talks about how "governments change, sometime for the good and sometime for the bad."

    What was all that EMPATHY DEFICIT talk about, again? The "corridors of shame" in education are holdovers from the failure to achieve the goals of Brown v. Board and, you know, White resentment that emerged from attempts to secure the promises of Brown, etc.... Well, White resentment is founded in "legitimate concerns."

  9. Thank you nquest, I actually agree with most of what you wrote, and you do a lot of good here explaining where Obama's speech on race falls short of accurately and empathetically addressing black resentment and disadvantage. I do think, though, that Obama's speech was more candid than any speech given yet by a serious contender for the White House; given the current racial climate (that is, the ongoing fact of unmarked white supremacy), he couldn't say as much in support of black resentment as you or I would like, nor even as much as he surely would like.

    Perhaps I should do a post about white resentment, something like, white people "consider white resentment legitimate and black resentment illegitimate." I certainly agree that the disparity in legitimacy that you explained exists. I also agree that Obama's speech is problematic, and in the ways you say it is. But, to put this another way, it's clear that Obama and Hillary are involved in a game of sorts, and it's being played before an audience that will judge their game-play and choose a winner. Given that, Obama may well agree with most or all of what Wright has had to say, but he can't say so if he really hopes to win the game's grand prize, the White House.

    Also, could you send me to a source on the term "empathy deficit"? I know what you mean by it, but you seem to be using it as if it's explained somewhere. As I wrote in this movie review, Janine Jones deals well with the common white lack of empathy, and I'd like to see other elaborations of the concept.

    Thanks again for your insights, nquest.

  10. Macon,

    First, the "EMPATHY DEFICIT" theme was part of Obama's speech at Ebenezer Baptist on MLK day and part of a campaign theme both he and Michelle Obama used in other places.

    Unity is the great need of the hour... Not because it sounds pleasant or because it makes us feel good, but because it’s the only way we can overcome the essential deficit that exists in this country.

    I’m not talking about a budget deficit. I’m not talking about a trade deficit. I’m not talking about a deficit of good ideas or new plans.

    I’m talking about a moral deficit. I’m talking about an empathy deficit. I’m taking about an inability to recognize ourselves in one another; to understand that we are our brother’s keeper; we are our sister’s keeper; that, in the words of Dr. King, we are all tied together in a single garment of destiny.

    We have an empathy deficit when we’re still sending our children down corridors of shame – schools in the forgotten corners of America where the color of your skin still affects the content of your education.

    We have a deficit...

    Now, don't get me wrong; Obama's speech on race was necessary, admirable and the most important speech on race in a long time. He's to be commended for making it and he said a lot of good things. Overall, it was excellent. There just happens to be different ways of analyzing the speech.

    Insofar as it captured the essence of his overall campaign message and the type of candidate he wants to be, there is little to debate about. It showed why he is, IMO, the best candidate in the race and why I've always viewed him as a statesman.

    Where we do differ is on how much Obama shares views like Rev. Wright's (or mine, for that matter). And that's not to say that Obama is the kind of "sell out", post-racial "bargainer" (Shelby Steele's term) or Magic Negro a number of people suspect he is.

    I happen to believe that Obama believed the things he said, for the most part, BUT instead of that being a hard-set difference in fundamental beliefs (i.e. a completely different interpretation of reality), I thing Obama's ideals suggest a difference in strategy. I don't say that in a cold, calculated sense either.

    I view Obama as a pragmatist whose basic disagreement with someone like Rev. Wright is over the best way to get things done. The problem with that is: Obama treads on shaky grounds. In fact, his remarks about Black anger and the shades of Bill Cosby in a lot of his rhetoric (statements he has made over the course of several speeches) fall right along the fault line where the main strains of African-American thought diverge.

    And that's the problem I felt Gregory touched on. While Obama was careful to try to understand or create space for understanding how Whites feel, he simultaneously declared the way a number of Black people feel via Rev. Wright as, at best, problematic and internally harmful AND, at worst, invalid or inappropriate.

    That's what I see as a "rejection of their/our experiences."

    And then the most ironic thing is how in the 2nd denunication of Wright, a lot (Black) people felt like Wright had crossed the line because of how some perceived disagreement or dispute right had with Obama was "taken to the media" vs. discussed in private. For some reason, a lot of people didn't see Obama's speech on race in the same way.

    To be honest, I was basically okay with his speech on race because I felt he took a stand to insist on the fundamental respect for Black humanity. Ironically, even as his comments insisted on stating that Rev. Wright views about "America" and where we are in terms of race relations were wrong, he moved to humanize Rev. Wright and resisted the mob calling on him to "disown" Rev. Wright which, tragically, is what he turned around and felt he had to do after Wright's NPC appearance.

    Now that's the incident that made me mad for a lot of reasons. Of course, there's a lot of theories about that, too. And like Obama's race speech, the problem I had was not so much that he sought to distance himself from Wright but the disingenuous, media driven rationale Obama used to do it along with Obama declaring how Wright's very interpretation of reality and the lens through which Wright viewed reality was "wrong."

    Obama's remarks were not only problematic but hypocritical and contradictory if not completely dishonest and opportunistic. Of course that's when you critically examine his statements.

    Honestly, those statements really hurt me even as I viewed the whole "spectacle" as sad with Wright and Obama sharing blame in the media created/instigated feud. The thing that hurt me the most was the history... (this clip from a sermon at Trinity captures my sentiments on the whole ordeal) and the fact that the way Obama sought to distance himself from Wright gave credence to a lot of the "sell out" theories out there.

    Over the course of the campaign, I found myself defending Obama against African-Americans who wanted to believe the worst about Obama; who were willing to promote all kinds of propaganda attempting to discredit him, most of the time in ways that were completely at odds with the facts about what Obama has said and done often questioning his commitment to the Black community, etc. His fallout with Rev. Wright has took most of that interest and energy away from me. I'm getting it back, though... I just can't stand dishonest, partisan hacks no matter what the source of their partisanship is (political party or perverse concepts of "blackness" and "black struggle").

    Sorry for being so long winded.

  11. It's disheartening that HRC seems to be okay with ignorance and fear if it means that she wins.

    That's the part that gets me...
    she's so willing to traffic in the ugly in order to win.

    What's wrong with educating people and maybe helping them move away from the biases and closer to their humanity?

    a divided america is not the best america.


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