As candidates turn their attention to the so-called “southern firewall” of minorty desnse voting states, the once certain assumption that Hillary Clinton has an advantage among minority voters is now being challenged.
With the Iowa Caucus and New Hampshire Primary in the books, candidates in the Democratic contest for president have now set their sights on minority voters in Nevada and South Carolina. In the days leading up to the New Hampshire primary, when a loss looked inevitable for Hillary Clinton, her team made sure to emphasize her connections within the African-American community as indication that success is on the way.
However, this has been a tumultuous week for Hillary Clinton when it comes to black support. Just yesterday, two leading voices in the black community, Atlantic journalist Ta-Nehisi Coates and Ohio State professor Michelle Alexander recently came out to express views that no one in the Clinton campaign wanted to hear. Coates, while not exactly endorising Sanders, said that he plans to nonetheless vote for him, despite his recent criticisms of the senator’s stance on reparations. Michelle Alexander did not endorse or pledge to vote for either candidate, but instead issued a scathing argument as to why Hillary Clinton does not deserve black voter support.
Why is it that just as Clinton needs them most, similar to 2008, minority voters are suddenly challenging the long-held assumption that Hillary Clinton owns their vote?
To start with, no voting block should ever be taken for granted, a lesson that Hillary Clinton should have learned in early 2008 when surprising numbers of black voters switched sides en masse to support Barack Obama. Although to compare the primary season of 2008 to the current primary season is to compare apples and oranges, there is still a precedent for supporters of Hillary Clinton losing passion when a more attractive candidate is presented.
Support within minority communities is based on trust. A poignant quote from early 20th century thinker and prolific African-American writer James Baldwin, recently printed in a New York Times opinion article by Charles M Blow, calls attention to how the needs of the minority are often ignored by politicians. This is done to an extent that minority voters feel that there is no place for them in politics, and even less of a place with a candidate that they do not feel that they can trust.
To be a minority often means that your needs will be ignored. They will be overlooked in favor of more popular opinions geared to benefit members of whichever group has the most social influence and visibility. This goes for women. This goes for people of color. This goes for people with disabilities and anyone else who does not conform to the image of concentrated power in American society. When minorities choose a candidate to represent their needs, the implied belief is that this person is trustworthy enough to assure that those needs will not be overlooked.
Therefore, the assumption goes that black voters will support Hillary Clinton because they trust her. She’s a known fixture in American politics. We’ve seen her on a national stage dating back to the early 90’s, from a time when many middle-aged and older voters will remember her and her influence during President Bill Clinton’s tenure in office. While many minority voters hold generally favorable opinions of Hillary Clinton, not everyone feels the same way about Bernie Sanders.
But can minority voters really trust Hillary Clinton? In her sharp rebuke of the Clinton administration, Professor Alexander describes in lengthy detail the series of policies that Bill Clinton supported in an effort to appear tough on crime and supportive of working families, while simultaneously decimating communities of color by enforcing disproportionately biased policies. Alexander asserts that black voters should not reward Hillary Clinton with their support.
In his same thoughtful opinion piece, Charles M Blow warned against the temptation to “Bernie-splain,” or to condescendingly explain to minority voters why they should support Sanders. Blow is right. We do not need to be taught our own culture by those outside of it, nor do we need to learn about our best interests from those who do not share them. For decades since emancipation, the practice of empowered whites taking it upon themselves to “educate” uninformed blacks has long since been the tool used to suppress social progress from within. But now we are hearing critical opinions from respected voices within the minority community, and it remains to be seen how Hillary Clinton will fare in the battle to earn our votes.