Hillary Clinton, the presumptive Democratic nominee for President, is working tirelessly to distance herself from her (former) friend, Republican nominee Donald Trump. Her method in doing so suggests that she is somehow critically different from him. But, young people of color don’t seem to be buying that claim. This begs the question: Why are her supporters struggling to understand this dissonance? Well, it’s likely because many of those in the Clinton camp have a problematic definition of racism and, to a larger extent, systematic oppression in general.
Far too often, it is assumed that racism and many other public forms of oppression are reserved for conservative, usually Republican, people in America. Mythological ideas about old southern racists grasping their confederate flags and antebellum nostalgia still emerge in the collective psyche when folks discuss explicitly racist manifestations of hatred in the United States. The problem with this conception is that it only focuses on one type of racism: the explicit kind. And, even then, it doesn’t acknowledge the ways that racism has transformed into colorblind systems of oppression which are usually embraced by younger, “liberal”, upwardly-mobile Whites, precisely the types who support Hillary Clinton.
This limited perception of racism leaves out the ways that many people in power (especially White, affluent, generationally wealthy people) maneuver through society without any intention of ending racial oppression. In this context, people of color who have voiced opposition to Clinton (and also Bernie Sanders), are repeatedly disregarded, overlooked, and effectively silenced as Clinton’s supporters ignore their political concerns as they espouse their own form of “egalitarian liberalism.”
The idea that Trump and Clinton are diametrically opposed to one another politically is the same substance that perpetuates legends and animates fairy tales. In a two-party system like our’s, it is nearly impossible for the two presumptive nominees to be drastically distinct from one another without risking a serious bid from a third-party candidate. This is just a fact of our politics.
But, the concern here isn’t even how similar the candidates are politically. Rather, it is the idea that just because Clinton is a Democrat and calls herself liberal, that she is necessarily anti- or even non-racist.
Case and point: recently, Clinton’s super PAC has ramped up advertisements focused on Trump’s lack of respect for minorities, women, and people with disabilities. The candidate and her supporters rely upon the multitudes of inappropriate, racist, sexist, and simply vile words Trump has used in addressing commentators, opponents, and many others as evidence that we have all got to get behind Clinton if we are going to defeat him. Simultaneously, there isn’t even the slightest intention of surveying the ways that Clinton’s tenure in the White House, her career in the Senate, and her subsequent presidential campaigns have used anti-Black rhetoric to gain power and prestige.
Clinton’s supporters (and Sanders supporters for that matter) will find themselves disappointed in November if they do not begin to grapple with the fact that implicit racism and the support of policies which systematically criminalize, exclude, and economically deprive people of color do not belong exclusively to conservatives or Republicans. The fact is: Whiteness is a unifying and organizing principle which fundamentally regulates public life. Until people in power begin to address the ways that whiteness functions socially, economically, and politically (not to the exclusion of heterosexism, queer antagonism, transphobia, and other forms of domination and repression but in tandem with them), fans of the leading White liberal leader in the United States will find that they, too, are assisting in the preservation of the systems many people of color have been working so fervently to dismantle.
What’s worse, as young people of color have been considering sitting out this year’s election cycle for a host of reasons, those liberal cheerleaders who want so badly for us to cast our votes toward our own demise will only further alienate these groups of voters who have many other ways to engage politically. Political participation isn’t just a vote. Young people everyday are finding innovative ways to act politically – whether by petitioning their local officials on single issues, joining civic organizations which put forth clear grievances to be redressed, or by working to register new voters. The point is simply that voting for Clinton or Trump is much like choosing between McDonald’s or Burger King, the flu or pneumonia, spoiled milk or curdled cheese. It’s a matter of picking a poison.
Some of us are choosing not to pick at all not because we haven’t formed clear political opinions, not because we’re naive, not even because we don’t value the vote. Rather, it is because we clearly see the trick bag placed before us. Perhaps, it’s time the White liberal establishment gets some clarity too.