The Incredible Whiteness of Clinton

Hillary Clinton effectively entered the 2016 presidential race this week with a major speech to a women’s conference in Silicon Valley. Word is, she’s decided to make gender even more central to her campaign this time around. In California she did just that; she also exposed the incredible whiteness of her feminism, which reminds a lot of us just why her last campaign was so painful the last time.

Just seconds after she was introduced (as “a modern day suffragette”) Clinton made very clear that her idea of America was a limited one:

“Our country is a great entrepreneurial experiment,” she began, founded by “pioneers” and “new patriots” like her ancestors. No acknowledgement there that the most successful early entrepreneurs were enslavers; their capital, captured people, their land seized from native Americans. People of color don’t tend to omit that part of the story of “our” country. The erasure is a familiar sign of whiteness.

Clinton went on to bemoan the sexism of Silicon Valley where only four of the top 100 investors are female and 83 percent of tech jobs are held by men. But the same percentage of workers is white. Would a more gender-equal whiteness be acceptable? Given the history of white people who’ve said yes to that, Clinton has a responsibility to be explicit.

I’m not even going to get into Clinton’s reference to former Secretary of State (“my friend Madeline Albright” who apparently once said “there’s special spot in hell for women who don’t help other women,” even as she endorsed sanctions that led to the deaths of tens of thousands of Iraqi women and children in the 1990s. (That’s not my idea of feminist foreign policy.)

We have an uprising happening in this country which we didn’t have eight years ago. And thank heavens for it. It’s led by women of color many of them young queer and trans women who don’t find it so hard to hold race and gender in their minds simultaneously. Theirs is a capacious vision of justice with room enough for everyone. Does Hillary Clinton really think the women of mobilizations like #blacklivesmatterand #whywecantwait aren’t watching, listening and hearing their exclusion? And does she really think she can get elected without them?

As she herself said in Santa Rosa, “inclusivity’s more than a buzzword or a box to check. It’s a recipe for success.” For Barack Obama that was literally true: while he lost the white women’s vote, women of color gave him the edge to get elected.

But inclusivity’s not really the point. Nor is winning. What we need, and we need desperately, are leaders who are honest about right-now-existing privilege and power; how things got set up this way, and what we might do to redistribute those so as to give us all some chance of surviving and making a less divided 21st Century.