WASHINGTON -- On Tuesday, Hillary Clinton became the first woman to be named the presumptive nominee of a major political party. Let that sink in: Ninety-six years after American women won the right to vote, the U.S. may finally be on the verge of electing its first female president. On social media and in regular media alike, women around the world rejoiced.
But I was conflicted. And I wasn't alone.
There's no doubt that Clinton’s achievement is breathtaking and historic, as the former secretary of state herself noted in a speech Tuesday night.
“Tonight’s victory is not about one person,” Clinton said. “It belongs to generations of women and men who struggled and sacrificed and made this moment possible. In our country, it started right here in New York, a place called Seneca Falls, in 1848. When a small but determined group of women, and men, came together with the idea that women deserved equal rights.”
But the specific racial context of the suffrage movement certainly doesn't do Clinton any favors with black women and other women of color. Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who read "The Declaration of Sentiments" at that gathering in Seneca Falls, was a well-known racist who didn’t believe that all women were created equally.
"The fact that even with all the discussion around racial equality and [Clinton] being challenged repeatedly by Black Lives Matter on race that she missed an opportunity to acknowledge [that] black women could not vote is telling of where we stand on the feminist agenda,” Tiffani Cordova, a 41-year old black woman from Illinois, told The Huffington Post via Twitter.
It’s tempting to invoke feminism and say that non-white women should be happy for Clinton because she is a woman. And certainly, many of women of color are happy for her. But for some of us, identity politics just aren’t that simple. Many non-white women have taken issue with Clinton's choice to put her achievement in the context of women’s suffrage, with the implication that it's a victory that should resonate with all women equally. It's a move that for many women only confirms their feelings that Clinton has a blind spot when it comes to race.
“It was a glaring omission. Hell, my grandmomma wasn't part of the group Hillary was referring to and I don't feel a part of that group today,” Cordova said. “A lot of times you'll hear the suffragette struggle being compared to the black civil rights struggle. It’s not the same. They don't want to acknowledge that their movement was steeped in a lot of racism and even today with ‘new’ racism.”
My great-great-granny wasn't included either (I’m black, in case you haven’t noticed). In 1920, Vinnie Click couldn’t walk into a North Carolina voting booth and cast a ballot. Though the 19th Amendment had that year legally extended the right to vote to all women, black women still faced opposition -- mainly in the South -- and weren’t effectively enfranchised until the Voting Rights Act was passed in 1965.
And for some women of color, the wait for enfranchisement was even longer. Not until 1975, 55 years after the first white women cast their ballots, was the Voting Rights Act officially expanded to end discrimination against non-English speakers.
“My thoughts on Hillary being the nominee are simple. It is extremely historic for white women,” Kara, a 21-year-old black University of North Carolina student who did not want to provide her last name, told HuffPost via Twitter. “However, her win does not pave the way for black women. It does not open doors and shatter glass ceiling for women of color. The only people who will truly benefit from this are other white women.”
“Clinton is not paving the way for black women," she went on. "Period."
While Clinton attracted far more black voters during the Democratic primary than her principal rival Bernie Sanders, she's also come under scrutiny for her attempts to woo voters of color, which have struck some people as clumsy and tone-deaf, if not outright cynical. It began in December with a Rosa Parks tribute that turned many people off, followed by Clinton's campaign bizarrely declaring that the candidate is "like your abuela." Clinton later told a crowd at Harlem's Apollo Theater to “raise the roof,” and a held a rally on Cinco de Mayo to discuss immigration -- complete with a mariachi band.
Because Clinton has so often fumbled while trying to connect with black and Latino voters, many people have stopped giving her the benefit of the doubt. In April, Clinton claimed on Power 105’s “The Breakfast Club,” a hip-hop-focused radio show with a solid black listening base, that she always carries hot sauce with her -- a remark that many listeners took as a nod toward the Beyonce lyric “I got hot sauce in my bag / Swag,” from the insanely divisive song "Formation."
Was this Clinton just trying to prove her street cred again? Actually, it's more complicated than that: Clinton really does have a history of loving hot sauce, going back to long before Beyonce bestowed the condiment's name on the baseball bat she uses to smash patriarchy. But the fact that people were so quick to accuse the former first lady of pandering is evidence of the mistrust many voters of color feel.
Keyonda Proctor, a 24-year-old black woman from North Carolina, said instances like that are part of the reason she's skeptical of Clinton’s dedication to the black community.
“As a feminist, I'm completely here for Hillary ‘invading’ a space that is historically male dominated. I will give her a standing ovation for that feat,” Proctor said. “On the other hand, Hillary Clinton in my eyes is just a white woman with a white woman's perspective pushing a white woman's agenda fueled by white feminism.”
“She's unable to fully grasp the experiences of those that are not white," Proctor continued, "[which is] evident in her continuous pandering for the black vote but support of policies that negatively affect the black community and her inability to provide real solutions for issues facing the black community.”
Many black women who spoke to HuffPost echoed Proctor’s feelings. They are well aware of Clinton’s policy platform -- mainly her stated intentions to end mass incarceration, improve community relationships with police and disassemble the school-to-prison pipeline. These and other policy proposals -- such as building on the Affordable Care Act and protecting voting rights -- are one reason why Shannon McKinley, a 36-year-old black woman from California, is ecstatic about Clinton’s win.
“These issues are important to me as an African American woman because I remember sitting in county clinics and emergency rooms for hours as a child because we didn’t have health insurance,” McKinley said in an email. “I am a product of public school. I know the value of quality public education and support Clinton’s policy to make sure every child has the opportunity to learn and thrive regardless of his or her socioeconomic status or neighborhood.”
McKinley argued that Clinton has even accepted her past mistake of lobbying for and defending the 1994 Violent Crime and Law Enforcement Act. The bill has been heavily criticized for its role in swelling the American prison population by adding the “three strikes” provision, which incarcerates anyone convicted of a violent crime for life if they have two or more priors.
“More importantly for me, however, is that Clinton listens and she has engaged with those who have protested her,” McKinley said. “She has demonstrated that she will work with people to make change happen, so I believe that things will improve under her administration.”
Some women in the Latinx community have questions about Clinton's commitment to people of color, both in and outside of the U.S.
“Her foreign policy, since her days as a Senator, has been to push for coups, militarism and more war," Raquel Saldierna, a 30-year-old Latina from Texas, said in an email. "We risk more war and death under a Hillary presidency.”
Saldierna went on to list a slew of decisions Clinton has made at various points in her career, including her support for the Iraq War and her dreadfully slow trudge toward supporting marriage equality when she was a U.S. senator for New York. Saldierna also pointed to the removal of Muammar Gaddafi in Libya while Clinton was secretary of state, a move that created a “power vacuum that wreaked havoc on civilians.”
“I simply cannot trust her judgement," Saldierna said.
Ana Maria Hernandez, a 20-year-old Afro-Colombian, doesn’t find Clinton relatable, and said she's not sure where Clinton stands on immigration. Hernandez noted that Clinton has claimed she won’t deport undocumented children -- but in 2014 she was on board with sending unaccompanied minors back to their native lands.
"Although she is proposing a promising immigration reform that leads to a path to citizenship, she hasn't been consistent," Hernandez said. "And for me, that matters because we aren't here to just get her into the White House."
"She is proposing life changing policies that matter to millions of people," she went on. "Whether or not she will follow through is crucial to how people will live their lives, and it must be taken seriously."
Hernandez also isn’t fond of how Clinton handled youth activist Ashley Williams. In February, Williams interrupted a fundraising event to bring Clinton to task for her 1996 comments on “super predators,” a racist term referring to black youth who are supposedly incapable of feeling empathy. As Clinton delivered a speech on racial justice, Williams held a sign referencing Clinton’s prior comments. When Clinton paused to look at the sign, Williams asked her to apologize for mass incarceration and informed the candidate that she was not a “super predator.”
Clinton asked Williams if she could talk following the event. When Williams continued making her case, Clinton dismissed her.
“When she dismisses a young black woman who is trying to ask her about her offensive and insulting past remarks about black youth in cities, when she doesn't seem to understand the Black Lives Matter movement, and when she think she's 'like my abuela,' it makes it incredibly difficult to stand with her," Hernandez said.
Clinton later apologized for using the term "super predators," telling The Washington Post that she “shouldn’t have used those words” and wouldn’t say them today. But to Hernandez, the fact that Clinton said them in the first place is a sign of a disconnect.
“She most definitely doesn't understand me or my experiences,” Hernandez said. “These are issues that are closest to my identity and as a woman. So, as a woman of color, it's difficult to connect with and trust her.”