September 08, 2016
By Julianne Malveaux
Donald Trump is fond of asking, often belligerently and in front of predominately white audiences, what African Americans have to lose by voting for him. He presents a vision of dystopia, where African Americans are all poor unemployed crime victims and he suggests he can change the game because Democrats have caused all this mess. Really?
A more interesting way to look at the contest between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton is to ask what African Americans have to gain by voting for Clinton. I think the gains are massive. We gain a candidate who “gets race” better than most white people do. That doesn’t mean that she gets it perfectly, but it means that she is race-sensitive. Her race sensitivity will mean that, with the right agitation, she will be able to advocate for race-advancing policies.
She has engaged in productive conversations with the Black Lives Matter movement. She has acknowledged the legitimacy of “reparations”, a concept most mainstream Democrats would have eschewed two decades ago, when Bill Clinton was President. She seems more open to legislative solutions for racial wealth and income inequality than others have been. There is something to be said for being enthusiastic about a candidate that really “gets race.”
Hillary Clinton will repair the Voting Rights Act by fighting to restore those sections the Supreme Court struck in the 2013 Shelby County v. Holder case. According to her website, she is also committed to setting a national standard for early voting, and to restoring voting rights those ex-offenders who should not be precluded from voting because of their prior crimes.
Hillary Clinton’s website indicates that she is committed to reform in the criminal justice system, and to undo some of the damage done from the Violent Crime and Law Enforcement Act of 1994.
She gets lots of negative press from that legislation, but she was the First Lady at the time, not the President, and she had no vote.
Furthermore, the 1994 legislation must be contextualized. People were so panicked about rising levels of crime then that the majority of Democrats and the majority of the Congressional Black Caucus voted for some of the draconian measures that triggered mass incarceration. Now, she is committed to reversing the trend, and she ought to have that chance. The contrast – a “law and order” candidate who is reading from the Rudy Guiliani “stop and frisk” playbook.
When we vote for Hillary Clinton we gain an advocate for working families. She is committed to raising the minimum wage, and has always been. She has been on record in rejecting the current federal $7.25 wage as insufficient, and has been on board (with some pushing for the Bernie Sanders team) for the Fight for 15.
According to Fortune Magazine, just more than half of all African American workers earn less than $15 an hour. These folks are beneficiaries of Hillary Clinton’s support to raise the minimum wage.
Hillary Clinton has been an advocate for economically marginalized people, women and children all of her adult life, and she will continue in that role as our President. Her early work with the Children’s Defense Fund is commendable. Her 1995 statement at the UN Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, China that “women’s rights are human rights and human rights are women’s rights” is a paradigm shift from the way women’s rights have too often been sidelined in international discussions. She did not waver from her support for women’s rights during her tenure as Secretary of State. African American women are special beneficiaries when women’s issues are embraced.
Hillary Clinton is an education advocate. She wants to make preschool universal for every 4 year old in our country. She also wants to ensure that working families have affordable child care – paying no more than 10 percent of their income for child care. She also wants to make sure that child care workers are adequately paid, and would support women continuing their education with child care scholarships, and would expand campus child care programs. Many of these programs are efforts she supported while she was in the United States Senate. As President, she can push these programs with more force. Secretary Clinton has also pledged to increase K-12 opportunities, to close the achievement gap, to make college tuition more affordable, and to support HBCUs. Her choice for Secretary of Education will be important, and African American Clinton supporters need to ensure that her choice is not as tone-deaf on African American issues as President Barack Obama’s pick.
I would be disingenuous if I did not acknowledge the imperfections in the Clinton candidacy. The trust issue is a big issue and the drip drip drip of the emails that Bernie Sanders “doesn’t give a damn about” have a corrosive impact on her image.
But if you read past headlines, you’ll read that she has acknowledged mistakes around the emails, apologized, and said she wouldn’t do it again. Too many have vetted the Clinton Foundation and found no conflicts (and indeed a stellar rating from Charity Watch) in their work. The optics make many uneasy, especially when the media has a harsher approach toward Clinton than toward Trump, whose own Foundation ought to be better vetted, and whose failure to provide tax returns (or reasonable medical records) is an outrageous disregard for the American people.
We have everything to lose with Donald Trump, and we have an opportunity to gain so much with Hillary Clinton. I can’t guarantee that Hillary Clinton will implement all the things I think she should. Unless she has a friendly legislature, she will have to fight with Republicans, just as President Obama did. (She has a track record, from her Senate time, of playing the bipartisan game well. Paul Ryan, are you going to help a sister out?). That’s motivation to vote down ticket, to ensure that she gets the Senators and Congressional representatives that will help her with her agenda. Further, the base that is mobilized to vote must also be mobilized to agitate. The lesson of the Obama Presidency is that you won’t get fed in your mama’s house unless you bring your plate to the table. Just as the LGBTQ community pushed President Obama on their demands, so must the African American community push Secretary Clinton on ours. We can’t simply assume that she “gets it” even though we know she “gets it”. She is strengthened when her constituency makes focused demands about her action.
Politics is not a sport to engage in every four years or even every two. African Americans who want social and economic justice and systemic change must be fully engaged in the transformation of our political system by confronting politicians and demanding their action. From this perspective, Hillary Clinton represents an opportunity for our engagement. She a racially and culturally sensitive leader who will be an advocate for economically marginalized people, women, and children, and education advocate. She will do as much as we push her to do. She offers an opportunity that no other candidate does.