As many have noticed President Bill Clinton was among the first to recognize that you can make African Americans feel like you are one of them by use of dialect, style and the like, without truly conceding much in terms of real policy that advances their community.
From dancing the nae nae, being on CP time with Mayor De Blasio, to now saying she keeps hot sauce in her purse on “The Breakfast Club,” an all too infamous line from Beyonce’s new song formation.
Several years ago Eric Dyson was quoted as stating, “Clinton exploited black sentiment because he knew the rituals of black culture,” then “exploited us like no president before him.” From the Crime Bill, to welfare cuts, it has become increasingly obvious that Dyson’s words have only rang truer through the years.
Despite all of the evidence of the damage he inflicted upon African Americans, however, Bill Clinton has persistently been understood as a friend to the black community, the man who knew all the words to “Lift Every Voice and Sing” who cultivated warm relationships with black leaders, who played the saxophone on Arsenio…Clinton has therefore always seemed somewhat of a paradox on race, a man who connected with black Americans emotionally while introducing policies that devastated them materially. His rhetoric, which acknowledged the trauma of slavery in a way no other president had before, and which treated African Americans as coequal participants in American life, has always made it appear as if Clinton must have been well-intentioned. Even Michelle Alexander, while saying it’s “difficult to overstate the damage” done by Clinton, credits him for “feeling bad” about creating mass incarceration, and points out that black leaders supported “tough on crime” measures too.
But in order to understand Clinton, it is important to set aside the idea that his heart must necessarily have been in the right place. The evidence suggests something different, something far simpler and more logical: Clinton treated black interests with total mercenary cynicism. If cultivating their support helped him, Clinton would go to every length to connect with black voters. But the moment he faced a difficult choice between the politically expedient thing to do and the racially just thing to do, there was quite literally no harm he was unwilling to inflict upon black people in order to secure even minor political victories … Nobody in the history of American race relations from slavery to the present has ever so cruelly manipulated the aspirations of the black population, has ever so heartlessly tormented them with empty promises while happily destroying their lives.
This is the great irony of Hillary Clinton’s new attempt to relate to a Black America that she so tried to distance herself from in 2008 during President Obama’s campaign. Her new act feels all too eerily similar, like a play out of a old political playbook. Instead of being truly changed, she’s simply playing the same card her husband had done so well in the nineties. A act which allows you to pose in one stance, while operating out of another position. A nae nae dance that can only be done with the perfect saxophone song. The hope is this time Black America will be more aware of the reality behind the dance and be better informed as they vote.