Hillary Clinton: Good for White Feminism, Bad for Racial Justice

Today in New York City, Hillary Rodham Clinton announced that she is officially a candidate for the 2016 presidential campaign. While many people are excited about the prospect of the first woman president, I think that a Hillary Clinton presidency will be another in a long series of triumphs for white, corporate feminism and defeats for racial justice.

Hillary R. Clinton announcing 2016 presidential bid on YouTube


Clinton’s announcement with the “Getting Started” video on YouTube  features people facing new beginnings — a couple getting ready for a baby, a stay-at-home mom about to return to work, two men getting married  — “everyday Americans need a champion, and I want to be that champion,” Clinton assures us. For some on the left, this ad signals her “feminist family values”.  A group of feminist academics and writers has formed Feminists for Clinton to support her candidacy and the National Organization for Women (NOW) endorsed her in 2008, and I assume that endorsement will hold for 2016.

For her part, noted feminist Gloria Steinem said (in 2008) that she supported Clinton over Barack Obama because, “Black men were given the vote a half-century before women of any race were allowed to mark a ballot, and generally have ascended to positions of power, from the military to the boardroom, before any women…”

But what’s missing from the hagiography of Clinton superfans is any recognition or critique of her corporate-themed white feminism and the deleterious consequences this could have for black and brown people in the US and globally.


Art for Resisting Hillary Clinton

(Image source)

Here’s a very incomplete, yet still telling, run-down on Clinton’s résumé to date:

  • Despite trumpeting her work on behalf of “mothers and children,” she and her husband worked to reduce federal assistance to women and children living in poverty. In her book, Living History, Clinton touts her role: “By the time Bill and I left the White House, welfare rolls had dropped 60 percent.”  This 60% drop was not due to a 60% decrease in poverty. Instead, it was a reduction in federal benefits to those living in poverty, many of them working poor, like those employed at Wal-Mart.
  • Clinton sat on the board of Wal-Mart between 1986 and 1992, where she says she learned a lot from Sam Walton, and she remained silent while the corporation fought the unionization of its workers.
  • In Michelle Alexander’s book, The New Jim Crow, she notes that it was Hillary Clinton who lobbied Congress to expand the drug war and mass incarceration in ways that we continue to live with today, and that have a significantly more harmful impact on black and brown people than white people. According to The Drug Policy Alliance, people of color are much more likely to be stopped, searched, arrested, convicted, harshly sentenced and saddled with a lifelong criminal record due to being unfairly targeted for drug law violations. Even though white people and people of color use drugs at about the same rates, it is black and brown people’s bodies that continue to fuel the machine of mass incarceration.
  • As Secretary of State, Clinton left a legacy that included both a hawkish inclination to recommend the use of military force coupled with  “turning the state department into a machine for promoting U.S. business.”  This does not bode well for black and brown people in other parts of the world, since the US is not likely to attack Western Europe under a (second) Clinton presidency, but some region of the world with people who do not have light-colored skin tones.

As I’ve noted in the trouble with white feminism series here, this form of feminism has a long history here in the US and within colonialism. To the extent that Hillary Clinton’s ascendancy is consistent with her record to date, and with the record of white feminism to date, this is very bad news, indeed, for black and brown people the world over. As I said, this is an incomplete recap of what Hillary Clinton has given the world so far under the guise of feminism. For a more thorough recounting, see this and this and this.

While I realize that Hillary Clinton has been the target of many sexist attacks, and, likely, will be again in this campaign, I do not think that these attacks should require anyone to support her out of some sort of misguided idea about feminist loyalty.  As Young & Becerra observe:

“A more robust vision of feminism doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t defend women like Hillary Clinton against sexist attacks: we should, just as we defend Barack Obama against racist ones. But it does mean that we must listen to the voices of the most marginalized women and gender and sexual minorities — many of whom are extremely critical of Clintonite feminism — and act in solidarity with movements that seek equity in all realms of life and for all people.  These are the feminists not invited to the Hillary Clinton party, except perhaps to serve and clean up.”

It’s going to be a long, long road to November, 2016. Ready for Hillary, with the side-eye.

Little Girl Gives Side-Eye to Hillary Clinton

(Image via Cherrell Brownsupport Cherrell!)


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  1. Hillary Clinton is not good for white or black feminism either as feminism wants greater protections for poor women of all races and higher wages for women.
    The headline should say something like, Good for Big Business, But Not Good for the People. Of course the alternative in Jeb Bush is worse so I’ll support Hillary as the lesser of two evils. Those are great quotes in the article. But the article seems to attack feminists in the title.
    Katherine van Wormer
    Professor of Social Work
    University of Northern Iowa

    • Jessie Author

      Thanks for your comment, Katherine. A few things: I do think she’s good for white feminism. If you take a look at the longer series I’ve been doing about white feminism, HRC fits within that tradition and is a triumph for that version of feminism, a la Sheryl Sandberg back through Susan B. Anthony. I was making a particular point with the headline, and it works for making that point. As for the “lesser of two evils” argument, I just have to quote from Ijeoma Oluo who was saying earlier: “I refuse to choose between the lesser of two evils… My allegiance isn’t to a party. My allegiance isn’t to pragmatism. My allegiance is to justice and equality.”

  2. rschiff

    I agree that nobody should be excited about Clinton’s run, but by these standards (waging war on countries with black and brown people, mass incarceration), Obama has also been bad for racial justice. The two are cut from the same corporate Democrat cloth and whether the face of the party is a black man or a white woman seems to matter little. I think people concerned with racial justice or justice of any kind need to put our energy into worthwhile causes, into activism and strikes, and push the politicians closer to where we want them to be. In terms of foreign policy, I don’t have much hope, but I’m open to new ideas.

    • Jessie Author

      Hey Rebecca ~ Thanks for your comment. You said: “Nobody should be excited about Clinton’s run…” but they are, Blanche, they are! (old joke + Betty Davis reference). The OP was in a way meant to critique the rather uncritical excitement that I read from many – but not all – white feminists about HRC. They are glee-filled. You go on to say: “but by these standards (waging war on countries with black and brown people, mass incarceration), Obama has also been bad for racial justice.” Yes, excellent point and no disagreement from me here. I would just suggest that there is, perhaps, a kind of challenge to white supremacy in having an African American president. This has unintended consequences, of course, such as the data suggesting there’s an increase in people expressing racially prejudiced views. In terms of electoral politics, there are a lot of white Americans who are looking to this election to “put the white back in the white house” and HRC will do just that. I agree with you about putting energy into worthwhile causes, such as activism and strikes, that push politicians to be more responsive to real concerns of all the people, particularly those being killed by state-sponsored violence.

  3. dumspirospero

    Hi there!
    I appreciate, and agree with most of your points, but I find one critical piece missing: what the viewer can do with this information. Even though I agree, when I come to vote, I feel she will likely be the least of all evils, so to speak. Of course this is frustrating, but currently I feel there are no viable alternatives–and if you believe there to be, I (and I am sure other readers) would like to hear your opinion.

    • Jessie Author

      Thanks for your comment, dumspirospero! I appreciate your appreciation of the post. There are not a lot of viable candidates at the moment, but it’s early days still, and someone could yet emerge. My point above was more about offering a critical lens on HRC in a way that I haven’t seen done much. I’m also interested in what others reading here might have to say about your comment or the original post.

  4. mperiod

    Ah, the good old “feminism as an idea over actual rights and issues” argument.

    Rand Paul opposes the civil rights act, while Marco Rubio is in opposition to social security medicare, increase the min wage, etc..

    Hillary without a doubt is in bed with corporations, however articles like this are why immigration reform will always “win out” over concerns about racial justice. We want to argue for the sake of arguing instead of moving the conversation to the left. Hilary is far from perfect, but instead of kneecapping her, why are we not raising issues in a similar fashion to gay rights, latio rights, etc.. that’s how you are successful in changing police, ny in complaining that the people who agree with you 85% don’t agree with you 100%

    Fighting for or against specific policies, rights etc.. is how change is made, not “I read a book where Hillary said she liked Sam Walton” (yes i combined two of your complaints) At this point who even cares about Hillary, if this is a serious talk about fighting for rights, and advancing issues, you want to move the debate not weaken those who out of the debaters are still the best advocate for your position

  5. xfileluv

    Jessie, thank you for this article. I seem to be surrounded by many who (a) assume that because I identify as a feminist, I am thrilled and automatically going to vote for Clinton, and (b) believe that because she is female, she is “good enough”. I had enough from both sides recently and made this post on my Facebook page.

    “I wouldn’t spit on Hillary if she was on fire (or any candidate from EITHER party in our oligarchy, so that includes Jeb), but I will be damned if I will tolerate people judging her based upon her LOOKS, AGE, and/or GENDER. That is sexism, plain and simple. If you oppose her, be intelligent enough to take her to task for her plutocratic politics and lifestyle, her voting record, or other ways in which you would oppose a male candidate. Resorting to jokes about her appearance, how she dresses, how she is aging, her parenting style, etc., only highlights the implicit sexist beliefs of the person making such comments, as well as the systemic sexism of our country in general. I will be calling out every comment or meme from here on out that people post related to this topic.

    I also want to state that disliking Hillary does not automatically make one sexist (any more than disliking Obama automatically makes one racist). However, remarking on her appearance, or making other comments that do not directly address her stance on political issues or prior political decisions and actions, points to the speaker as being a simpleton who is incapable of nothing more than grade school name-calling. Again….I will call that shit out.

    Let the pointless presidential political games begin!”

    I was very surprised by the responses I received. If many did not agree, they at least claimed to accept my stance. You have done a wonderful job of giving actual examples of the reasons I will not support or vote for her. Again, thank you.

  6. Songbird74

    I believe Bernie Sanders is a very viable alternative to Hillary and he has been speaking up against racism since the sixties. He even was arrested in Chicago for protesting segregated schools when Hillary Clinton was actually attending one of those segregated schools before she went on to attend an all white girls college (Wellesley) afterwards!

  7. Songbird74

    Sanders also supported the Rev. Jesse Jackson’s run for President. I think President Obama really favors Bernie over Clinton but he is not going to officially support either one of them during the primaries. He will support whoever gets the Democratic nomination however.


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