Dear Hillary, You Betrayed Me, But I Admire You
Dear Hillary Rodham Clinton,
You are not the first First Lady I lived through, but you’re the first one I actually remember seeing on TV. As a young girl, I was taught to aspire to the classics like Jackie Kennedy, but here you were: incredibly smart, accomplished in your own right, and outspoken. You reminded me of my mother. You both are Beyonce’s “6 Inch.” You have the same relentless grind that even when you’re on top, there is always further to go.
In 2008, I was working in Washington, D.C. when you announced your candidacy, and I did not think there could have been a more exciting time — until there was Barack Obama. Maybe a year or so before then, I had witnessed him speak at Northwestern University, and his energy was intoxicating. He brought that same energy to his campaign. It was at that point that I started to look at you differently. My stomach already churned from decisions made under your time as Secretary of State that cost the lives of many Africans, but compounded with the dog whistles your campaign threw out, those little key words that played into white supremacy, and the more and more so Bill Clinton’s legacy began unfold.
The ugly truth is that you represent the nice racists, the white moderates, the type of people that may or may not harbor personal feelings towards the disenfranchised, but your compliance to institutionalized racism in order to gain power and protect your bottom line. The type who may have set out to change the system, but soon became addicted to it because you thrived. Look at the crime bill, the repeal of free trade, Glass-Steagall. How you sat on the board of Walmart as it systematically targeted worker unions and essentially catalyzed the destabilization of the middle class by wiping out jobs because the bottom line mattered more than human welfare.
I could not help but feel betrayed and humiliatingly bamboozled. I had grown up under the Black American lore that “Black people had it so great during the Clintons!” I had been fed the same rhetoric of your white-savior-hood, your husband’s many Black cabinet appointees, and I remember life before the Great Recession with the great nostalgia, an era of Fresh Prince, bright colors and Tupac. An era when apparently huge credit card limits, loans, and houses all seemed to fall from the sky. I remember my teacher reading me Toni Morrison’s 1998 New Yorker piece and lamenting on your husband’s innocence:
This is our first black President. Blacker than any actual black person who could ever be elected in our children’s lifetime. After all, Clinton displays almost every trope of blackness: single-parent household, born poor, working-class, saxophone-playing, McDonald’s-and-junk-food-loving boy from Arkansas. And when virtually all the African-American Clinton appointees began, one by one, to disappear, when the President’s body, his privacy, his unpoliced sexuality became the focus of the persecution, when he was metaphorically seized and body-searched, who could gainsay these black men who knew whereof they spoke?
But mostly, I remember being taught to blame other Black people for being victims of their own condition. I learned to never date a boy with baggy pants. I learned to obsessively straighten my hair, to speak with a pretty white voice, and to dress modestly because three strikes and you’re out! And in my pursuit of ever-wokeness, I’ve now had to deconstruct my own psyche just to discover where white supremacy ends and I begin.
I may be “young-minded,” as my elders told me. I may not yet understand that “Washington will never change,” but your supposed practicality was outdated and long-proven to not be enough.
Hillary, I do not and would not ever blame you for all the woes of the U.S.A. You take some fault that isn’t yours. You are greatly criticized for your husband’s decisions, more than even your husband. You are criticized for decisions made by a presidency that wasn’t even yours, and gosh-darn-it, EMAILS! If I wrote you an ode, I’d sing of your valiance — how you, in many senses, have been the mule of American politics for decades. You fought your way into politics despite your husband’s impeachment. You fought your way into the Senate, into the presidential cabinet, and you ran for president and lost twice.
For many, that would be humiliating, but for me it only proves to me your tenaciousness, that even in the face of that failure and embarrassment, you got your ass up and you tried again.
I am grateful that as a child, I saw you on TV. I saw your strength and understood that strength in a woman was desirable. Not desirable by the male gaze, but desirable by my own. Know that this comes from a woman who felt the Bern like no other, who went to Sanders rallies and screamed until my throat was sore.
When it was all said and done, I cast my vote for you on November 8th, and drank with my officemates as we cheered for those swing states to go blue. It wasn’t to be. And as you gave your concession speech, so composed, and told little girls that they were valuable, I could still see the fight in your eyes, where others would be defeated. Now, we all face a possibly radical presidency in the oncoming years, and if those who oppose a return to the Dark Ages can display a fraction of your gall, wit, and endurance, then the U.S.A. will make it through.
Carol H. Hood
Lead image: WikiCommons/Kai Mörk