Yesterday, Hillary Clinton was quoted citing an AP article "that found how Sen. Obama's support among working, hard-working Americans, white Americans, is weakening again, and how whites in both states who had not completed college were supporting me." (To be clear, that's Clinton's quote, her categorization of the AP article.)

Now, I'm not particularly interested in discussing the veracity of the argument that white, working class voters' preference for Clinton makes her a stronger candidate—though, for whatever it's worth, I quite honestly believe that the vast majority of left-leaning voters are going to get behind whoever is the nominee, and the bigots who wouldn't support Obama solely because of his race are a wash with the bigots who wouldn't support Clinton solely because of her sex. That said, I know there are people who legitimately disagree, and fine, wev.

What I am keenly interested in is Clinton's having either intentionally or unintentionally equated "hard-working Americans" with "white Americans." Because, you know, on one hand, it's a cynical and ugly dog whistle to racists who equate brown-skinned people with laziness—and, on the other hand, it sounds exactly like a cynical and ugly dog whistle to racists who equate brown-skinned people with laziness. Even giving her the benefit of the doubt that she didn't intend to imply that non-white Americans aren't hard-working, the effect is the same.

And, since the best-case scenario is the one generally used to avoid apologies, I'm going with that only to show why she still needs to apologize, anyway.

Because that's where the whole "owning the context" thing comes into play. Let's revisit a statement about sexism and make it about racism:
Let me quickly stipulate and clarify that one can unintentionally express sexism racism. That innocent intent, or ignorance of the history of how women people of color have been marginalized, does not, however, in any way change the quality of what was being expressed. Something can still be expressed sexism racism even if the speaker's intent was not to oppress women people of color. And particularly if it does fit neatly into a historical pattern, it necessarily conjures that pattern of sexism racism, intentionally or not.

So: Toss out the idea that intent determines sexism racism. And the idea that any of us, or any of the things we say or do, can exist in a void.

What we're then left with is the idea that if something fits into a historical pattern of sexism racism, unavoidably invokes such a pattern, and/or can be overtly quantified as marginalizing women people of color, it is an expression of sexism racism.
In that way, Clinton, by invoking whether intentionally or not the well-established slur against people of color that they are not as hard-working as whites, has transmitted the slur. Whether it was a gaffe, or a "misspeak," or whatthefuckev doesn't actually matter in terms of whether that pernicious falsity was perpetuated.

What she needs to do at this point is acknowledge it was problematic for that reason, irrespective of her intent, and apologize for it. Unequivocally. "I am sorry that I conflated hard-working and white. I don't believe that." And then she needs to be vigilant about not making the same mistake again, especially if she wants us to believe it was a mistake in the first place.

People of privilege are often resistant to apologize for something if they genuinely didn't mean it or can reasonably get away with arguing they didn't mean it. But an apology after a blunder is not about the intent; it's about the result. It's about making amends for the transmission of marginalizing language (or behavior, etc.) and acknowledging its indecency.

"I didn't mean it" isn't an excuse for not having to apologize. When I step on someone's foot unintentionally, I still say "I'm sorry."

So should Clinton.

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