I’ve tried so many times to nail down a succinct definition of blackness. My efforts have never produced any worthy results, though. But even if I can’t define it, I know it when I see it. I can’t articulate all the experiences, traditions and culture that comprise blackness and my indulgence in it. Blackness is metaphysical and spiritual and absolute. It is kinship and rituals and struggles. It’s simple and complex, innate and learned at all once.
Because of the abstract nature of race, blackness specifically, there’s no fool-proof method for crafting a strategy to appeal to the black masses, a dilemma exemplified in popular both business and political marketing. Too often, people attempt to sell black people products or ideas using their surface understanding of what it means to be black, employing elements of black popular culture confiscated from social media and limited academic/professional interactions in attempt to pique black interest. In doing so, those interested parties rely on gross underestimations of not only the intelligence of the black populace wholly but disregard for both the collective complexity and nuanced individuality of black people.
Hillary Clinton’s current campaign is a case study in this phenomenon.
Growing up, I learned from the all black adults around me that black and Democrat were synonymous. It wasn’t just that the Democrats had policies more aligned with black interests than Republicans, but that the white Democrats were the “good white people.” I was in 6th grade when Bill Clinton was elected. Listening to my parents, their friends and most of my teachers, I gleaned the Clintons were indisputably a friend of black people.
At 11, I was in no position to question this assessment. I saw a videotaped message from Bill Clinton played on the Soul Train Awards. I watched him play the sax on Arsenio. I saw him golfing with his friend and adviser Vernon Jordan. My pre-pubescent grasp of what it meant to be black combined with society’s obsessive grooming of black people to seek and pledge devotion to white saviors made the Clintons tactical shows of stereotypical blackness enough.
I’m not a child anymore though. And as I watch the Democratic frontrunner for the highest office in the land make a mockery of my blackness, I realize that Hillary Clinton and is anything but a friend. Without even addressing the Clintons dreadful record of anti-black black policy making, it’s clear that the two are content to resort to whatever debased comprehension of what black people expect in hopes of rocking the cradle of our oppression and silencing our cries for judicial, economic and social relief.
After Hillary Clinton attempted to do the Nae Nae on The Ellen Degeneres Show last September, I was convinced her crude caricaturing of blackness couldn’t offend me any more than that. I was wrong. Last week, at an Inner Circle show, Clinton set up a “joke” for New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio to make a remark that he was on “CP time.” After reading about that engagement in anti-black racism, I was positive she could descend no further into virtual blackface. Yet once again, Hillary Clinton has proven that her desire to secure the majority black vote knows no boundaries and will leave no stereotypical stone unturned.
On Monday, Mrs. Clinton stopped by New York’s Power 105.1 The Breakfast Club radio talk show where she informed the hosts and the thousands of black listeners that she carries hot sauce in her bag. To be fair, it’s not entirely unbelievable that she enjoys hot sauce. After all, despite the myriad of differences socially, black and white people do live in the same country, often in close proximity, and for centuries, food was cooked for white people by black hands. So a white woman who probably ate many meals prepared by black women who carried hot sauce in their bags declaring her love for the spice is no revelation.
But there is certainly no doubt that Hillary Clinton in her ill-advised approach of regurgitating the most visible markers of ethnic blackness made that declaration as a nod to Beyonce’s line in her megahit “Formation.” After all, she had a much larger audience and much more time last Thursday at the Democratic debate held in Brooklyn, and she made no mention of affinity for hot sauce. That was business though. White people were watching.
For Hillary Clinton, as is the case with most politicians, there is a decrescendo in the voice of black people after the deciding votes are counted, reversed only by the kickoff of election season. And even in the thick of campaigning, black people are never worthy of detailed and explicit plans to not only address our most immediate concerns – police brutality, disproportionate unemployment, deliberate mass incarceration – but to dismantle systemic racism altogether. Soothing us with familiarity is easier. Never mind that her dancing and jokes diminish black people to a monolith easily distracted from or altogether disinterested in confronting the gatekeepers of our subjugation.
Yet as gross as it is to watch this white woman stand before black people flailing her arms about pathetically in an effort to show us she can replicate our moves so we should vote for her, it’s more disheartening to know that black people are lending her platform credence. Black decision makers are giving this woman the pulpit in black churches, airtime on black shows and mics at black events. We are allowing her perform with a preschool comprehension of blackness. When the Congressional Black Caucus sponsored a debate for the democratic candidates, Clinton and her opponents were permitted to discuss what they’d do for the as a whole, not required to answer to the very specific concerns of black people. And when black activists have disrupted her rallies and fundraisers to do just that – demand that she address the imminent threats we face – they have been dismissed and ridiculed. If we are going to keep inviting this woman to dinner, she needs to bring a little more than hot sauce and rhetoric.
I don’t care much for hot sauce. I can’t Nae Nae. And while I admittedly have some trouble with punctuality, that’s attributable to my penchant for grossly misjudging how much time I need to prepare, not some ethno-cultural tradition. Regardless of the various superficial litmus tests for authentic blackness, the one test we all pass is that for being undervalued and oppressed. So if Hillary Clinton is ever really interested in talking black people, she can keep the spices in the cabinet and the eight counts on the dance floor. I won’t hold my breath though.