6 Hard Truths from Hillary’s Speech on Racism, Inequality, and Justice in America
On Saturday, former Secretary of State and current Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton delivered a wide-ranging speech to the 83rd Annual Meeting of the United States Conference of Mayors.
This was the latest in a series of speeches addressing issues of racial inequality and discrimination. And in my estimation, it was also Hillary’s most thoughtful and compelling to date — moral, historical, personal, spiritual, and prescriptive. Indeed, I’d highly recommend watching the entire speech or viewing the transcript.
But if you only have a few minutes, then this post is for you. The following are 6 “hard truths” that every American — and especially White Americans — should take from Hillary’s #USCM2015 speech:
1. The #CharlestonShooting was a Violent Example of Anti-Black Racism that Has Plagued America for Centuries
Hillary declared unequivocally that the violence and death witnessed in Charleston, SC, was motivated by a glaring, conscious, unabashedly hateful ideology. But she also asked us all to recognize how this most vile form of bigotry fits within a history of anti-Black racism that our nation has yet to resolve — and with more insidious, structural forms of bias and discrimination that separate Black and White America.
Once again, racist rhetoric has metastasized into racist violence.
Now, it’s tempting, it _is_ tempting to dismiss a tragedy like this as an isolated incident, to believe that in today’s America, bigotry is largely behind us, that institutionalized racism no longer exists.
But despite our best efforts and our highest hopes, America’s long struggle with race is far from finished.
2. The Effects of Anti-Black Racism are Both Persistent and Pervasive
Hillary went to great lengths to highlight the pervasive effects of legal and de facto discrimination on the lives of Black Americans. She recited a series of facts that demonstrate the wide divergences of opportunities and outcomes experienced by Black and White Americans.
Race remains a deep fault line in America. Millions of people of color still experience racism in their everyday lives. Here are some facts:
3. Black Americans Have Shown Remarkable Patience and Resilience in the Face of These Realities
Hillary situated our current moment — and the events in Charleston — within the broader history of Black struggles and resilience. And she expressed her confidence that the survivors in Charleston would maintain their hopeful outlook, persevere, and continue to press forward their claims for justice and equality.
Yesterday was Juneteenth, a day of liberation and deliverance. One-hundred and fifty years ago, as news of President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation spread from town to town across the South, free men and women lifted their voices in song and prayer.
Congregations long forced to worship underground, like the first Christians, joyfully resurrected their churches. In Charleston, the African Methodist Episcopal Church took a new name: Emanuel. “God is with us.”
Faith has always seen this community through, and I know it will again.
Just as earlier generations threw off the chains of slavery and then segregation and Jim Crow, this generation will not be shackled by fear and hate.
4. Today, White Americans Must Reflect on their own Biases and Prejudices, then Make Conscious Efforts to Change
Yet even as Black Americans — in Charleston and beyond — persevere, Hillary insisted that the burden of healing racial divisions now falls to White Americans. She demanded that White Americans confront their biases — both big and small, conscious and unconscious; that they reflect upon the origins of these ideas and feelings; and that they accept a new reality: that people of diverse backgrounds can learn from and must care for one another.
And our problem is not all kooks and Klansman. It’s also in the cruel joke that goes unchallenged. It’s in the off-hand comments about not wanting “those people” in the neighborhood.
Let’s be honest: For a lot of well-meaning, open-minded white people, the sight of a young Black man in a hoodie still evokes a twinge of fear. And news reports about poverty and crime and discrimination evoke sympathy, even empathy, but too rarely do they spur us to action or prompt us to question our own assumptions and privilege.
5. Active Rejection of Racism and Conscious Acceptance of Diversity are Not Only Morally Virtuous, They are Essential to Our Economic Future
While appealing to democratic values of justice and equality, Hillary also presented the example of Atlanta to connect these values to our nation’s economic strength and success.
As long as America continues to restrict access to opportunity and to produce such unequal outcomes, we will also continue to fall short of our full economic potential. Conversely, the work of narrowing racial divisions and expanding opportunity can produce tangible benefits for our economy, including increased innovation and productivity, full employment, higher wages, and more consistent growth in both domestic spending and foreign exports.
When the closing of Central High School in Little Rock happened, and President Eisenhower had to send in federal troops to keep peace, that sent a message of urgency but also opportunity.
I remember [Atlanta Mayor] Andy [Young] coming to Little Rock some years later, and saying that in Atlanta when folks saw what was going on in Little Rock and saw some of the continuing resistance to enforcing civil rights laws, opening up closed doors, creating the chance for Blacks and whites to study together, to work together, to live together, Atlanta made a different decision.
The leadership of Atlanta came together, looked out across the South and said, “Some place in the South is really going to make it big. We need to be that place.” And they adopted a slogan, “the city too busy to hate.”
Well, we need to be cities, states and a country too busy to hate. We need to get about the work of tearing down the barriers and the obstacles, roll up our sleeves together, look at what’s working across our country, and then share it and scale it.
6. Those Killed at Emanuel AME Church Provide a Role Model for the Principles that All Americans Should Embrace
Hillary eulogized those killed in Charleston as role models of faith and civic-mindedness. In her view, they — as individuals and as a community — embodied the kindness and generosity that is required to heal old wounds, to improve cross-cultural understanding, and to achieve a fuller vision of justice and equality.
As all of us reeled from the news in Charleston this past week, a friend of mine shared this observation with a number of us. Think about the hearts and values of those men and women of Mother Emanuel, he said.
“A dozen people gathered to pray. They’re in their most intimate of communities and a stranger who doesn’t look or dress like them joins in. They don’t judge. They don’t question. They don’t reject. They just welcome. If he’s there, he must need something: prayer, love, community, something. During their last hour, nine people of faith welcomed a stranger in prayer and fellowship.”
For those of us who are Christians, we remember the words of the scripture: “I was hungry and you gave me food. I was thirsty and you gave me drink. I was a stranger and you welcomed me.”
That’s humanity at its best. That’s also America at its best. And that’s the spirit we need to nurture our lives and our families and our communities.