Dorothy A. Brown: Video of Hillary Clinton meeting #BlackLivesMatter reps shows disconnect in discussion of race
She says Clinton seemed to say #BlackLivesMatter should come up with a plan, but blacks can't fix white discrimination
Editor’s Note: Dorothy A. Brown is a professor of law at Emory University and author of “Critical Race Theory: Cases, Materials, and Problems.” The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.
This week we saw the video clip of a recent meeting between presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton and representatives of the #BlackLivesMatter movement. Not much, to my mind, was accomplished. It lasted about 15 minutes and was, generally, a series of speeches, not a dialogue. Halfway through, a Clinton staffer says the candidate only has a few minutes left.
The clip, however, is worth watching.
We observed a white woman and a black man talking about racial issues. They were largely talking past one another, but they were at least talking. While Martin Luther King Jr. said church is the most segregated hour in America, I believe moments spent talking about race are the most segregated moments in America.
We don’t tend to talk about race with people of a different race. Whites don’t want to say something that will offend, and blacks don’t want to hear whites say offensive things. We all have a sort of racial fatigue. It takes a lot of effort to have empathy when you may not understand where the other person is even coming from – or when you think they are wrong.
One exchange in the video, however, encapsulated the problem. When the young man for #BlackLivesMatter said to Clinton that this has been a white problem of violence with little blacks can do about it, Clinton responded that if that’s the case, then she would just talk to white people. The speaker, however, felt that Clinton was victim blaming with this response. They both, however, may have been right.
There isn’t much that blacks can do about the police violence unleashed on us. Michael Brown was killed as a result of police interaction that started with him walking in the middle of the street and Officer Darren Wilson telling him to get on the sidewalk. Have you ever crossed the street other than at the light? I grew up in New York City – many of us do not know any other way to cross the street.
Sandra Bland died after a police interaction in which she made an improper lane change, arguably to get out of the police officer’s way, landed her in jail. Who among us can drive any distance without occasionally breaking minor traffic laws? But most are not pulled over every time. Eric Garner’s police interaction began while he was standing on the sidewalk. For an elegant explanation of what this is like – the fear of being in a black body – I would direct you to Ta-Nehisi Coates’ new book, “Between the World and Me.”
Hillary Clinton said the #BlackLivesMatter movement should come up with a plan, but black people cannot fix this problem.
It will take whites across this country who have been part of the problem (even as bystanders) to fix the black policing madness. That is why Clinton was onto something when she said she would talk to white people, because that’s exactly what she needs to do.
I think that Clinton needs to come up with a solution. She’s been a U.S. senator, secretary of state, wife of a two-term president, and went to one of the best law schools in the country. Why should those of us who have been the victims of police oppression have to come up with a solution to a problem that is not of our own making?
Clinton should begin each of her stump speeches with a discussion of her plans to end systemic racism in the criminal justice system. This should not be the script solely for predominantly black audiences. I think all of the presidential candidates – Democrats and Republicans – would be wise to adopt the approach that it is up to them to work on creating solutions.
Hillary Clinton and her husband had some involvement in the mass incarceration mess we currently face, so theirs is a special burden. Former President Bill Clinton has apologized for supporting legislation that made mass incarceration worse. We need more of that self-assessment. Everyone who has ignored, cheered or actively supported the criminal justice system’s systematic denial of rights to black citizens going about our normal routines needs to become part of the solution.
#BlackLivesMatter didn’t cause this problem. Why should it have to fix it?