Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump is fond of asking, often belligerently and in front of predominantly 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 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 who really “gets race.”
Hllary 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 for those ex-offenders who should not be precluded from voting because of their prior crimes.
Clinton’s website indicates 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.
When we vote for 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 Clinton’s support to raise the minimum wage.
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 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 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 Barack Obama did.
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, Clinton represents an opportunity for our engagement. She is 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.
Julianne Malveaux is president emerita of Bennett College for Women, an economist, author and commentator whose writings have appeared in USA Today, Black Issues in Higher Education, Ms.Magazine and Essence Magazine. Follow her on Twitter @drjlastword.