[Content Note: Racism; white privilege.]
"Hillary is a good listener. But she still has lots of room to grow when it comes to listening to black people actually talk about the issues that are affecting them, vs. how she perceives the issues to affect us."—#BlackLivesMatter activist Johnetta Elzie (@Nettaaaaaaaa) on the 90-minute meeting on institutional racism she and her colleagues had with Clinton on Friday, which "included topics such as demilitarization of police, the school to prison pipeline, and violence committed against members of the LGBT community."
Deray McKesson (@deray) also observed: "Sometimes her language does not match her intent. In this setting—we were with her for 90 minutes. So if she said something and we wanted more clarity we had the time to do that. But I think in general I think she can just be clearer and more plainly talk about issues related to black people and black people than she has done for the duration of the campaign."
From day one of her campaign, I noted this was going to be a particular weakness: At best, she usually sounds awkward when talking about race, and, at worst, she avoids personal accountability for racist policies, sometimes because she doesn't even seem to realize that's what she's being asked to do.
That's a pretty common problem among white people in positions of power who ostensibly care about racial justice—this stilted, impersonal way of speaking about racism, combined with a refusal to be meaningful accountable for one's own racism, privilege, and upholding of systemic marginalization—and the reason it's so common is because Good White FolksTM know that racism isn't personal the same way it is to the people affected by it, and the only way to make it personal is to interrogate our own internalized bias; deconstruct white privilege; be accountable for the ways in which we've wielded it, traded on it, and benefitted from it; and listen to what people of color need from us, as individuals, and how we can leverage our privilege and power on behalf of racial justice instead of on behalf of white supremacy. As an ongoing process.
The only way to make it personal is by owning our power to oppress.
It's never going to be personal, and Clinton is never going to be able to "more plainly talk about issues related to to black people and [about] black people," until she's got a willingness to be more fully accountable, and to own her power to oppress.
I know this, because I've been there.
It's easy to say "I have white privilege," but it's harder to talk about what that means in practical terms. What it means we are empowered to do with that privilege. What we have done, by intentional action or indifference. That is the harder part; the part white people resist. That is the part that makes people say things like, "I didn't ask for this privilege, and I don't want it." Too damn bad. As a person with some parts of my identity being privileged, and some being marginalized, I can say that not asking for and not wanting oppression is really the bigger burden than not asking for and not wanting privilege.
Clinton is still sitting in that space where maintaining your identity as Good White FolksTM is more important than actually addressing your fuck-ups in a meaningful way. Which is where most white politicians sit. (And a lot of white liberals generally.) But I expect more, because she's given me reason to.
Come on, Hillary Clinton. You can do it. But more importantly: You must.