And she called for peace in the most Hillary Clinton way possible.
Violence has no place in our politics. We should use our words and deeds to bring Americans together. pic.twitter.com/FofjognpIA
— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) March 12, 2016
Her statement perfectly highlights the racism inherent to much of the liberal commentary around politicized black rage and this present election.
Hillary begins her statement by saying: "the divisive rhetoric we are seeing should be of grave concern to us all. We all have our differences, and we know many people across the country feel angry."
“Divisive” operates as the politically safe description of Trumps politics. This isn’t merely a matter of semantics; depending on the positionality of the speaker, “divisive” can either be commenting on something truly awful or a transformative change or politic that would inconvenience and undermine the status quo (see: Bernie Sanders calling reparations for slavery “very divisive” while both he and Hillary supported reparations for survivors of the Holocaust).
Trump’s rhetoric isn’t merely divisive: it is threatening, racialized, implicitly incites and openly endorses violence. In saying that “we all have our differences,” she’s reducing fundamentally violent language to a mere difference of opinion, akin to a partisan disagreement on how much one should tax rich people.
In presenting that “many people across the country feel angry”, she’s equating the righteous anger of black and brown communities with Trump’s racist supporters. She’s using “anger” to simultaneously describe communities of color refusing to allow a fascist to incite more violence and xenophobic white people raging against multiculturalism, angry that America isn’t great or white enough.
The comparison is unconscionable—while smarmy intellectually superior liberals might dismiss Trump’s supporters as uneducated rednecks and racists, they represent the ideologies of violent structures that liberals and progressives ultimately benefit from and largely stay silent about.
“We need to address that anger together,” the statement goes on to say. “All of us, no matter what party we belong to or what views we hold, should not only say loudly and clearly that violence has no place in our politics, we should use words and deeds to bring Americans together.”
Violence, here, has a very specific definition. Violence here refers to the unwavering forceful reaction to Trump’s politics and presence. But she’s, again, equating violence in defense of white supremacy to the violence in resistance of it. And she’s wrongly characterizing these divisions as partisan rather than racialized divides.
Time and time again, I’m reminded of Jean-Paul Sartre’s words in the preface of Frantz Fanon’s Wretched of the Earth. Here he says:
How come he cannot recognize his own cruelty now turned against him? How come he can't see his own savagery as a colonist in the savagery of these oppressed peasants who have absorbed it through every pore and for which they can find no cure? The answer is simple: this arrogant individual, whose power of authority and fear of losing it has gone to his head, has difficulty remembering he was once a man; he thinks he is a whip or a gun; he is convinced that the domestication of the "inferior races" is obtained by governing their reflexes. He disregards the human memory, the indelible reminders; and then, above all, there is this that perhaps he never know: we only become what we are by radically negating deep down what others have done to us.
The “monopoly on the legitimate use of physical force” is a defining characteristic of the state, first described by Max Weber in his 1919 essay Politics as a Vocation. He states that the state is the only community “which lays claim to the monopoly on the legitimated use of physical force,” a monopoly constrained by the state’s borders. The state, by Weber’s definition, has exclusive rights in the threatening or authorization of physical force against residents within its borders. Through this mandate, as well as the historical amnesia of colonizers, this use of force in reaction to structural violence is not only illegitimate but as illegitimate as those who use violence against protesters resisting.
Hillary says that “violence has no place in our politics,” but American politics has been characterized by violence since settler-colonizers landed on this soil. American “democracy” has been built on the genocide and ethnic cleansing of indigenous communities, the enslavement and forced labor of black people, and the violent criminalization of queer and trans and poor and racialized bodies.
There is no America without this legacy of brutal state violence, a fact that Democrats conveniently forget as they attempt to make more diverse and positive counterpart to Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan.
The whole statement reeks of dog-whistle politics. The last three sentences are nothing short of deplorable:
“Last year in Charleston, South Carolina an evil man walked into a church and murdered 9 people. The families of those victims came together and melted hearts in the statehouse and the confederate flag came down. That should be the model we strive for to overcome painful divisions.”
I’m particularly taken aback by the idea that those families “melted hearts in the statehouse,” because if black feelings truly mattered, it wouldn’t have taken a terrorist murdering nine black churchgoers to force the hand of South Carolina lawmakers. If black feelings mattered, if our feelings truly warmed stony racist hearts, then wouldn’t the tears of the families of slain black folks throughout history have resulted in policy change by now?
Wouldn’t the feelings of the families affected by the 1994 Crime Bill that Hillary pushed for compel her to publicly address her role in the further criminalization and devastation of black communities? Black feelings are both irrelevant and discreditable within white supremacy: the tears of those families merely aligned with and further precipitated the turning tide of public opinion.
Implicit to the “bigotry hurts us all” approach to anti-racism is the placing of onus for peace and reconciliation on black and brown communities, rather than on white folks whose investment in white supremacy ultimately maintains the structure. Hillary is simultaneously courting black and brown communities while appealing for peace in a way that alienates our communities and insulates white supremacy.
For whom are these divisions painful? For the white folks and their “Trump anxiety”, or the communities with far more to lose if Trump gets elected? Are these divisions painful because Trump’s inevitable Republican nomination represents America’s chickens coming home to roost in painful ways, or is our scary flirtation with fascism simply a set of talking points to be used by Democrats too cowardly to honestly confront American racism?
The model we should strive for should not be bereaved and burdened racialized communities crying and yelling and desperately self-advocating in hopes that someone will take heed. We should strive for white people, so-called “good white people” and “white people who get it” to actively disrupt and divest from and dismantle white supremacy in the spaces they navigate and occupy.
We should strive for personal and community accountability rather than fragility—honest confrontation of complicity and benefit from structural racism rather than exceptionalism and smug elitism.
Short of that, though, we’ve got the convenient monomania of white liberalism.