Black Lives Matter finally had its closed-door meeting with Hillary Clinton. As promised, they’ve released the video of the encounter, in two parts, and it is, predictably, the topic of much conversation.
While BLM has earned both praise and criticism on all sides and inflamed several discussions about race and racism, there’s more of the latter for their role in this meeting.
Over at The South Lawn, Doug Williams is aghast at what he sees as a lost opportunity. At one point Clinton asked, after listening to a description of everything BLM’s Julius Jones saw as wrong with where matters are, “Well, the next question is, ‘So what do you want me to do about it?'”
The response from Jones is what Williams describes as stupefying:
“I stand here in your space and I say this as respectfully as I can, ‘If you don’t tell black people what we need to do, then we won’t tell you all what to do...‘What I mean to say is, this is and has always been a white problem of violence. There’s not much that we can do to stop the violence against us.”
As Williams explains,
“And for a series of protests that handwaves about “accountability”, it would have been beneficial to make concrete demands with which you could actually hold this person, you know, accountable. But what they allowed Hillary Clinton to do was completely evade any discussion of things that might actually get done if she becomes president in favor of allowing her to school them about the most fundamental premise behind policymaking institutions, which is to make policy.”
Williams’s piece is worth reading in its entirety and while I have several mixed feelings about everyone involved — Bernie Sanders, Clinton, and Black Lives Matter (more on all that later) — I’m in general agreement that this was an epic fuck-up on the part of BLM.
But I also want to point to something else that seems to have escaped notice in all the criticism of BLM, and that’s the role of gender. To be blunt, I want to point to the sexism apparent in BLM’s treatment of Hillary Clinton (and let me issue the caveat that I am far from being a supporter of hers).
In the first video, Jones says, “I want to know you have been partially responsible [for the state of mass incarceration].” The video then flashes a fact, that Clinton backed the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act which her husband signed into law in 1994.
He continues, “There may have been unintended consequences. But now that you understand the consequences, what in your heart has changed that’s gonna change the direction in this country? What in you, not your platform, not what you’re supposed to say. How do you actually feel that’s different from what you did before? Like what are your mistakes and how can those mistakes that you made be lessons for all of America, for a moment of reflection on how we treat Black people in this country?”
This is sexist bullshit, and we need to call it what it is.
Would BLM have ever asked such questions of Bernie Sanders and demanded such responses? Clinton was, in fact, yes, partially responsible for the heightened incarceration rates in the country, but for that she needed to be interrogated in terms of her policy framing and support of such legislation.
Would BLM ever have asked a White male politician or even, really, a Black male politician what had been in his heart when pushing for policies of any kind? Would any male politician have been asked, in such condescending terms, how he actually feels? It’s also deeply condescending and sexist to reduce Clinton’s policy decisions and support, even from behind her husband, as mere mistakes that can now become a moment of reflection “on how we treat Black people in this country?”
What Clinton engaged in were conscious acts of law-making that came with entirely intended consequences, not unintended ones. When it comes to incarceration and criminalisation in this country, there are few such things as unintended consequences: the system is deliberately set up to impede and even annihilate the lives of the most marginalised — mostly very poor people, often people of colour. These are not unintended consequences but very deliberate ones and Clinton and other politicians need to be questioned on that basis.
This entire encounter was set up to fail spectacularly precisely because they went in with the intention of treating Clinton as a woman, not as a politician who happens to be a woman.
Her response was polished and deliberate and it showed them up as the rank amateurs they seem to be in this setting (again, really, you have no idea how much it pains me to admit this, given my strong dislike of her as a politician). More importantly, she did the right and very difficult thing, which was to wrest back her power and experience as a politician of some standing (regardless of how some of us may feel about how she gained that power, as the wife of a former president) from a group of people who seemed incapable of looking at her as anything more than a woman with all the feels.
If BLM is to continue with its interrogation of Clinton, it needs to do so with the clear understanding that she is first and foremost a politician. It’s not what’s in her heart that matters, but what her platform is. She is not required to tell us what was in her heart when she supported harmful pieces of legislation; she is required to be accountable for them.
Img: Pablo Picasso's Weeping Woman, 1937