Hillary Clinton’s Outreach To African Americans Was Morally and Politically Important

hillary clinton economic speech
While her rivals were stumping in Iowa, Hillary Rodham Clinton took time to go to Philadelphia to fundraise and, more importantly, meet with about 50 African American ministers from around the nation.  Part and parcel of Clinton’s visit was speaking specifically to issues critical to the ministers and their African American communities.

There is already an inordinate amount of time spent on white middle class issues, and they are important. But there is another “class” of Americans that are generally underserved, deliberately disenfranchised, and particularly targeted for abuse by Republicans simply because they are poor and not white.

Clinton began by saying,

Now I doubt that I am saying anything that you don’t already know. But anyone running for president should see things as they actually are, not just as we want them to be, talk about the real problems, not try to create and inhabit some alternative universe.”

Clinton then went on to present the ugly reality facing African Americans in particular, and all disparaged and impoverished minorities in general. It is doubtless that Clinton missed one issue important to people of color. She said,

We know there are systemic inequities that haunt our economies, our laws, our schools, our prisons, our hospitals, even our water supply.  There is something wrong when African Americans are nearly three times as likely as whites to be denied a mortgage. Or when the median wealth for white families in 2013 was over $134,000 but for black families it was $11,000. Or when the rate of African American unemployment remains stubbornly high while the country as a whole is slowly doing better. And far too many communities struggle to overcome a legacy of poverty and neglect.

There is something wrong when African Americans are more likely to be arrested, charged, and sentenced to longer prison terms than white people for doing the exact same crimes. Or when so many encounters between African Americans and the police end up in humiliation or worse. There is something wrong when our schools are more segregated today than they were in 1968.

And there is something deeply wrong when people in an American city like Flint have been drinking and bathing in poisoned water for almost two years. They told their state government but no one could be bothered to listen. We know there are more Flints out there. Communities, often poor and black, and often poor and Latino, where kids’ lives and health are at risk every single day.”

This was not Clinton’s first time talking solely about African Americans’ plight, or the lead poisoning of Flint. She brought the subject up during the South Carolina debate when the candidates were asked if there was anything they wanted to talk about. To bring even more attention to the poisoning of a predominately African American city, Clinton has called for a Democratic debate in Flint.

Now, Clinton went beyond just reminding people of color they are treated like second-class citizens. She likely touched on everything America’s minorities are suffering including highlighting that Flint residents were singled out because it is a predominately poor African American population.

It is exactly the same situation, as Clinton noted, with education in particularly poor African American communities. In fact, just last year it was reported that America’s education system rivals any in the world and its students are among the highest achievers among all nations. But only if the students are white and live in affluent communities with well-funded schools. According to research, any American school that is adequately funded consistently post test scores and achievement results that are at least equal to, or greater than, any nation on the planet.

As Jonathan Capehart noted, Clinton’s speech in Philadelphia was politically important as explained in Steve Phillips’ book; “Brown Is the New White: How the Demographic Revolution Has Created a New American Majority.”

Phillips is the senior fellow at the Center for American Progress (CAP) who referenced census and voting data to propose a “New American Majority” comprising 51 percent of the voting-age population in America.

According to Phillips,

Progressive people of color now comprise 23 percent of all the eligible voters in America, and progressive Whites account for 28 percent of all eligible voters. The New American Majority electoral equation requires securing the support of 81 percent of people of color and 39 percent of Whites.”

Phillips’ book includes fairly important census and voting data for any Democrat errantly believing that pandering to predominately white middle class voters is the key to victory. It is true in all elections including the race for the White House, but particularly in state and regional races where Republicans dominate.

Phillips’ book provides justification for asserting just how important it was for Hillary Clinton to take time out from stumping in Iowa to acknowledge the plight of African Americans in a nation geared to serve white people’s interests and a presidential campaign focusing on the middle class.

There is a self-evident truth in American that applies to most poor Americans, but particularly people of color; it is difficult to motivate them to vote and with damn good reason. According to Phillips, “People of color vote in lower numbers because many of them feel that most of the U.S. public policy agenda has little relevance to their lives.” It is why Clinton’s speech to African American clergy was so crucial and why all Democrats running for any office should make their campaigns about more than middle class economic issues.

Phillips continues that,

Any discussion of the Democratic base must include the acknowledgment that that base is heavily Black. As Barack Obama showed, successful candidacies require a large and enthusiastic Black vote. Progressives cannot win going forward without large and enthusiastic support from people of color. White can no longer be the starting point. We must now begin with Brown, and that is why Brown is the new White.”

This is an even more important point for congressional and state-level elections where Democrats and progressives are being increasingly relegated to “also ran” status that has given Republicans control of Congress and a majority of state governments. And, it is worth noting, why Republicans are able to enact harsh restrictions on minority voting rights; something they could not have accomplished if they did not own state legislatures and Congress after the 2010 midterms.

To win minority votes, Democrats have to start acknowledging their past and present plight; no Democrat will convince minorities they can help remedy their problems without first identifying them specifically. All Americans comprehend there is gross income inequality, but African Americans face more than just economic injustice and Clinton deftly acknowledged that fact of life.

Republicans have made no secret they are openly racist and have no intention to appeal to what Steve Phillips labeled the “New American Majority.” It is something every Democrat in the nation should take advantage of and at least acknowledge that the issues facing the African American community are issues facing the “New American Majority.” It is what Hillary Rodham Clinton did and “why meeting with Black clergy and saying what she said” was significantly more important than a day on the stump in Iowa.