Early this morning, the Associated Press reported that Hillary Clinton had won the California primary, a final validation to her claim to her party’s presidential nomination. The delegate math is now clear.
Last night, at a rally in Brooklyn, the new nominee took center stage repeatedly clasping her hands over her heart in emotional gratitude. It was picture perfect. She had been introduced by a video that framed this moment as a historic one for women, born from the hard work of generations who had fought for equal rights. The video was inclusive and effective, with lots of faces of color, of every age, with gay and transgender women clearly in the mix.
Before she took the mic, Clinton threw her arms wide in joy. The already thrilled crowd went wild.
Drawing a bright line from the Seneca Falls Convention for women’s suffrage in 1848, to the 19th Amendment of 1920 to today, she paused to consider how far we had come and what was still at stake. Taking Donald Trump to task, as she did repeatedly, Clinton pointedly decoded his “Make America Great Again” slogan. What Trump really wants, she said, was, “to take America backwards … to a time when we didn’t have the rights that we have now.”
But there are no bright lines when it comes to race and this country’s past. Native Americans couldn’t vote because they weren’t considered U.S. citizens until 1924, and many individual states barred them from voting until 1957. And it took a nation transfixed by televised violence in Selma, 1965, before support for the Voting Rights Act, which barred racial discrimination at the polls, finally became law. And although Seneca Falls did kick off the equal rights movement for women, over time, the movement became largely one that represented the voices of affluent, heterosexual, white women, a tectonic drift that animates conversations in African American studies departments and among community organizers, LGBT activists, and Black Twitter today.
Hillary Clinton has her own complex history with race, partly due to her long involvement with government. But today, intertwined with activist movements bearing hashtags, there is a new generation asking her tough questions, often with refreshing candor. People like Tracy Clayton and Heben Nigatu, hosts of Buzzfeed’s extraordinary podcast Another Round, who traveled to Iowa last year to interview Clinton about many things (including why she never seems to sweat on camera) but also dig into race.
“You’ve got to be willing to constantly say there are gross inequities,” Clinton said. “Black men are arrested more, charged more, tried more, convicted more, and incarcerated more than than white men who do the same things.”
“I’m glad you brought up the deplorable state of the prison system,” began Clayton, who went into a detailed lead-in about the Clinton Administration’s crime bill of the 1990s, among other things. “Do you ever look at the state of black America now – regardless of your intent – and say, ‘Wow, did we really f@#$^ this up for black people?’”
Clinton didn’t flinch. (Short answer: No. Crime was an issue everyone wanted to solve, they did their best, and will learn from their mistakes.) Head to the 20:40 mark if you don’t want to wait.