Sister Souljah, the Cadillac welfare queen, and the fears of white people
Very recently, this thread on Clinton Derangement Syndrome erupted into flame over Bill Clinton's famous Sister Souljah Moment when I mentioned it as a possible cause of dissatisfaction with him felt by some people (me included) during his presidency. You know, things were different then, and we never imagined things could get this bad. Ah, the memories.
Anyway, the issue of race, Hillary Clinton, and Barack Obama keep cropping up for various reasons, and to me that thread illustrated a lot of the problems that some Clinton supporters have understanding the discussion of race and racial privilege. This is not to say that Clinton supporters are wrong about everything or that Obama supporters necessarily did not cynically exploit this misunderstanding or miscommunication to their candidates advantage, but it's a misunderstanding I thought was worth an illustrative post. I'm sure it's tl;dr for some of you, but I felt I had to write it anyway.
The problem is that racism and racist statements are very wide-ranging and complicated phenomena, and they depend on who is engaging in them and where and when. It does not mean the same thing when a black person says something racist than when a white person says it. Furthermore, ostensibly egalitarian-minded statements coming from a position of privilege can have racially disadvantaging effects.
(For a many-layered example, see here. On the naive surface level, it's two ignorant white people talking trying to be nice to their objectified black "friends." On the next level, it is white people laudably mocking this phenomenon among their own people. On the yet still next level, there is a risk that, e.g., white folk look at it and laugh and congratulate themselves that they don't do it, because they get the joke. And so on.)
So, for instance, as came up in the original thread, when Sister Souljah makes a radical and perhaps offensive statement, it means something quite different from when David Duke expresses a similar sentiment. Why? At the simplest level, David Duke's words are addressed to the majority. A powerful majority, which can and did once act on a large scale on those very sentiments. Who benefits historically from that action.
That makes David Duke's words powerful, and that he said it, a matter of special concern and offense.
Sister Souljah, however, is a cultural phenomenon of a historically oppressed minority, which has ostensibly shedded the bonds of formal oppression, but remains undeniably damaged by the history of it. Such situations typically call for experimentation with various forms of liberatory movements, and have done so the world over. Some of these movements have difficult ideologies, and some of them merely use violent expression to gain the attention and fear of the majority. The stick, as it were. The same kind of stick was used to bring in the New Deal. It's an ecology.
So when Bill Clinton, a white man, criticized Sister Souljah and equated her words to something that may have emerged from the mouth of David Duke, he was also declaring the contexts of these statements to be equivalent. He was eliding the entire historical context of a minor cultural phenomenon like Souljah, and declaring the sentiment to be as meaningfully dangerous as that of Duke.
I find that absurd on its face. It's obvious that nothing that Sister Souljah could ever be as dangerous as something said by David Duke. Remember, at around that time, people were really afraid of David Duke. At least, I remember that.
So let's say that Bill Clinton suffered from facile ideas about race (I doubt this, I really do). But I'll give him the well-intentioned benefit of the doubt. What was the effect of what he said? It apparently had the effect of reassuring white voters that he rejects black declarations of uprising and violence, he, a white man. This presupposes that there really was such a threat. This itself plays into a well-known racist trope. So even if he didn't mean to have this effect, he benefited from this effect.
Thus, he was either a witting or unwitting recipient of the benefits of white privilege from saying those things.
Herb the verb, in the original thread, then admonishes me,
Mandos, I would have more respect for your arguments if you had better arguments. For instance, look at the context of WHERE Clinton made his comment:
“while giving a speech to Jesse Jackson Sr.’s Rainbow Coalition, saying, “If you took the words “white” and “black” and you reversed them, you might think David Duke was giving that speech.”
Given where he said it, how can you honestly believe that was some kind of cowardly racist pander? Wouldn’t the less raving CDS viewpoint be that he was putting forth a point of common ground? Denouncing violence on both sides? Expressing respect by speaking in that venue and speaking his honest opinion even if it may not be warmly recieved?
This makes it even worse. If he were saying those things to white people, he would be just another well-intentioned white guy reassuring white voters that he does not intend to let a machete-wielding black man run around chopping them up, affirmative action or no. But when he said them to prominent black people, in public, he was putting them in their place.
Because you see, in the minds of many white voters at the time, and even now, it is black movements, through their threats of violence, that cowed bleeding-heart liberals to shovel white tax money at them. Where such shovelling allows the lifelong black welfare queen to drive her Cadillacs with her two dozen dole-collecting children.
You see, welfare reform and racism are all one big fabric. I remember it well. I remember the hype about workfare. And yes, it was about race. And the still-fresh fear of black militants, and the weakness of bleeding-heart liberals, and the need to assure the white voter that more money would not be shovelled down the black welfare hole.
Whether Bill Clinton was well-intentioned or not, it had this effect. And anyone running on an anti-racist platform, in my opinion, should at least be sufficiently educated to understand the basic operation of racial privilege.
So, for the record,
How many have that kind of courage? Obama? Are you really so blinded by your hate of the man that you can’t see that? The point is not whether “oppressed people” can talk like Sister Souljah it is whether it is GOOD to talk like that. Is it good? Do you think it is good to talk like she did? Productive? Healthy? Oops, sorry, since Bill Clinton is WHITE he has no place pointing out anything that is TRUE about race relations. How easy us white (or more specifically “non-black”) folk forget….
Most of these functions can also be executed by black politicians. Black politicians running for white votes. In fact, it is especially important for black politicians running for white votes to participate in these tropes. It's easy. It's fast.
And indeed, I don't doubt that Obama has no problem doing it. So save your accusations of CDS and Obama-worship for someone else. I'm neither with you nor against you.