Looking back to Hillary Rodham Clinton’s presidential campaign, it’s clear we witnessed the first campaign in which the majority of U.S. citizens—and not just straight white men—were the central focus. Women, African- Americans, Latino, Chicano, Asian Americans, LGBTQ Americans, and recent immigrants were all invoked and engaged. And why not? In addition to making up a majority of U.S. citizens, many of these groups–especially Latino, Chicano, and immigrant populations–are not only impressive in their numbers but growing.
While there is much to mourn in the coming Trump presidency, as a Northwestern University professor who teaches, researches and publishes on race, gender and sexuality across the globe I am most frightened by the return, in leftwing circles, to a racist, sexist, and misogynist logic around winning elections.
Contrary to the recent calls made by Democratic and leftwing circles to turn our attention back to straight white male voters, what we actually need is a more realistic and sophisticated focus on this incredibly diverse and growing majority of U.S. citizens.
Focus on us and you will attract a much larger and heterogeneous share of the electorate.
Despite all of the ink devoted to the radical differences between Republicans and Democrats, in most respects, they think alike: that a politician appeals to women and minorities (the majority of U.S. citizens) through simplistic, single-issue appeals. Briefly put: one appeals to women by speaking about abortion rights—and only abortion rights (as if all we do is reproduce and think about reproduction). Similarly, by this logic, Latino voters are attracted by paying lip service to immigration rights and Black voters by condemning poverty and gun violence. Left outside and unspoken are, of course, Native Americans and Asian Americans, not to mention Arab Americans.
Many, I would imagine, would argue with my thesis. Surely President Obama was the candidate who decentered straight white men in political discourse and brought diversity to the table. But consider how Obama discussed women (abortion rights), LGBTQ voters (maybe marriage) and Blacks (poverty and gun violence, with occasional paternalistic admonitions to get off the couch and find a job) and Latinos (immigration rights). And Asian, Native Americans, Arab Americans other minority groups? (Not much at all, really).
While many pundits and Americans alike enthused over Bernie Sanders campaign as the first true U.S. revolution, what they studiously ignore is that it was a revolution for the lost privileges of the white middle class and not much else.
In other words, it wasn’t so much a revolution as a return, which may explain why he lost the nomination. Like Obama, Sanders spoke of poverty and violence to Black voters, immigration rights to Latinos, and abortion rights to women—and yet, despite saying the “right” things, all of these voters preferred Hillary by notable margins. Especially those who, like Black women, occupy more than one of these categories.
Hillary knew that, but many ignored it or misinterpreted it. Hillary spoke of women and minorities as complex agents. For her, we were the logical center for understanding so much of the nation’s challenges and its solutions. She spoke more of our ability to craft a rich and promising future, and less of us as a woebegone product of historical humiliations. She spoke boldly and broadly of what we could achieve together, and she spoke as someone who had allied with us rather than reached down to hand out goodies and pity.
She encouraged us to form our own coalitions and speak our own concerns rather than have them spoken for us.
Yet this is not what so many pundits heard; what they heard was a failure to make straight white men the focus of her thoughts, projects, and promises.
As we said goodbye to Hillary as a political candidate (and I hope that I am wrong about this) we do not need to say goodbye to ourselves and the full and complex definition of “us” that she helped further. Rather than, as Biden, The Nation and others have opined, take Trump’s victory as evidence that we need to pay yet more attention to straight white men, return them to the center of our preoccupations, perhaps, however one may have felt about HRC, we can insist more stridently, as she did, on our right to occupy our own center—and, as such, draw attention to our innovations, our creations, our insights. We are not the ones we have been waiting for; we do not need to wait for anyone or anything—we are the now.
The FBI and the Putin administration may have destroyed Clinton’s chances, but that does not mean we need to comply with their desire to renew focus and attention on straight white men, to go back in time and once again become a nation that ignores both the world and our own destiny. We do not need to become, yet again, a nation that disempowers, denigrates, and otherwise marginalizes the majority of its citizens. Though we’ve said goodbye to the Clinton campaign, that does not mean we need to say goodbye to ourselves and our full identities and thus a promising future for our nation.
-Michelle M. Wright
Michelle M. Wright is Professor of African American Studies and Comparative Literary Studies at Northwestern University.