Thursday, August 20, 2015

Wait For Hearts To Change. And Wait. And Wait. And Wait.

In the unlikely event that Hillary Clinton is brought down by the matter of State Department e-mails or some other real or trumped-up scandal, we should remember some of the high points of her candidacy. They included her discussion last week with representatives of Black Lives Matters, including spokesperson Julius Jones who in admonishing the former Senator stated

I think that a huge part of what you haven’t said is that you have offered a recognition that mass incarceration has not worked, and that it is an unfortunate consequence of government practices that just didn’t work. But the truth is that there is an extremely long history of unfortunate government practices that don’t work that particularly affect Black people and Black families, and until we as a country, and then the person who’s in the seat that you seek, actually addresses the anti-Blackness current that is America’s first drug.

Mrs. Clinton might have asked whether "anti-blackness" is  a recent phenomenon in society.  The argument she faced appeared predicated on the idea that whatever racism or white supremacy once existed in America still does- or has gotten worse. She might also have asked how anti-blackness is a "drug"; the claim is at best hyperbole, at worst, incoherent. Does anti-blackness mimic marijuana or heroin, Oxycontin or alcohol?

Mrs. Clinton was told "You know, I genuinely want to know, you, Hillary Clinton, have been in no uncertain way, partially responsible for this.  More than most.  There may have been unintended consequences." That's an awful amount of responsibility to place upon the shoulders of someone who served as merely one of 100 US Senators and went on to serve as Secretary of State, in which the dilemma of mass incarceration was understandably not her highest priorities.   The activists might have confronted a President or two, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, or Barack Obama- who had more impact- and then they might have had to suggest, well, something.

And that they did not want to do, as Clinton must have begun to realize as she explained

I think there is a sense that, low level offenders [inaudible] treatment, we’ve got to do something about that. I think that a lot of the issues about housing and about job opportunities — “Ban The Box” — a lot of these things, let’s get an agenda that addresses as much of the problem as we can. Because then you can be for something, in addition to getting people to have to admit that they’re part of a long history in our country of, you know, either, you know, proposing, supporting, condoning discrimination, segregation, etc. Now, what do we do next? And that’s, that’s what I’m trying to figure out in my campaign, so that’s what I’m doing.

Little could have annoyed the BLM folks more than the suggestion that the politician confronted might want to effect change, for they responded

The piece that’s most important, and I stand here in your space, and I say this as respectfully as I can, but you don’t tell black people what we need to know. And we won’t tell you all what you need to do.

As politely as possible, Clinton responded "I'm not telling you–I’m just telling you to tell me." She went on to call their bluff:

QUESTION: The piece that’s most important, and I stand here in your space, and I say this as respectfully as I can, but you don’t tell black people what we need to know. And we won’t tell you all what you need to do.
HILLARY CLINTON: I’m not telling you–I’m just telling you to tell me.
QUESTION: What I mean to say is– this is and has always been a white problem of violence. It’s not– there’s not much that we can do to stop the violence against us.
HILLARY CLINTON: Well if that—
Q: And it’s a conversation to push back—
HILLARY CLINTON: Okay, Okay, I understand what you’re saying—
Q: Respectfully, respectfully—
HILLARY CLINTON: Well, respectfully, if that is your position then I will talk only to white people about how we are going to deal with the very real problems—
Q: That’s not what I mean. That’s not what I mean....

Bluff called, Jones got to the crux of the disagreement, maintaining "Right. you were saying that what the Black Lives Matter movement needs to do to change white hearts."

It's understandable these folks don't understand that changing hearts is difficult and wouldn't accomplish much,  anyway (discussion with CNN's Don Lemon about the confrontation, below). Unsurprisingly, Brittney Cooper, a Rutgers University professor who regularly excoriates white people in Salon, fails to understand. ("....white people got significant joy out of the encactment of violence upon American Black people," she once wrote. She'd be disturbed to learn I knew one of two who didn't.) .Responding to the confrontation with Clinton, she remarks "I think we have to go back to the question of trust and changing hearts. The real question is 'Can and will White people change?' It’s an uncomfortable question, because change means relinquishing power and privilege."

Well, no, it's not, though stereotyping all people of one race is an old game. ("They're all the same," many individuals said of blacks in mid-20th century. They were not being complimentary.)   Hearts eventually change. They did so after President Johnson- considered racist by some people- effected passage of three civil rights laws.  As people were forced, legally, into changing their behavior, they found out that these black people (or Negroes, as known at the time) really weren't quite so bad. Ending legal discrimination has a way of doing that- changing perception for the better.

Improvement of attitudes, or "hearts," through the law is one common denominator of the past half century.  Additionally (and notwithstanding her reference to "even for us sinners"), Hillary Clinton is running for President- not for the pastor of your local church. Nor does she wish to act en loco parentis.   Cooper refers to Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. changing the hearts of Americans- but he was not running for President and HRC has not compared herself to him. She understands her role, her part in this great drama.

"At the end of the day" goes the cliche popular with politicians. Whether at the end of the day, the end of the decade, or the end of her term, Clinton nailed it with

Look I don’t believe you change hearts. I believe you change laws, you change allocation of resources, you change the way systems operate. You’re not going to change every heart. You’re not. But at the end of the day, we could do a whole lot to change some hearts .... But if that’s all that happens, we’ll be back here in 10 years having the same conversation. 

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