Editor’s Note: In light of recent headlines suggesting that Hillary Clinton should return for a 2024 run at president and her ‘subtweet’ to white moderates that lacks self-awareness, HC wanted to bring back this masterful piece by Editor Onyesonwu written in 2016 to remind our readers of just who Hillary Clinton is.
Privilege politics are a common way of describing how things like white supremacy and patriarchy allow white folks, cishet folks, men/masc of center folks, and other folks with arbitrarily assigned status or structural power to navigate society in ways that they would be denied if they existed with marginalized identities. You’ve probably heard of ‘white male privilege’ or something similar. It’s one way to describe the variety of ways in which white men as a social class are permitted to engage in general anti-social fuckery and destructive behaviors on a personal and global scale while still having access to some level of status, power, and resources in most Western societies.
Put another way: privilege politics are a way of understanding how the absurd ideologies produced by capitalism and colonialism intersect with arbitrary personal characteristics to change the way humans navigate the world. An understanding of privilege politics can allow folks with valued identities – and the social status or power those identities may grant them – to learn how to empathize and organize in solidarity with marginalized folks without those marginalized folks wanting to choke them to death.
But a common issue with privilege politics and discussions about privilege and privilege call-ins/outs is that they’re too often conducted without analysis or even acknowledgement of the conditions that created privilege in the first place: white privilege, for example, exists because of white supremacy. White supremacy exists because of colonialism and capitalism. White supremacy was created with the intention of manufacturing an ideology that would justify the process of systematic theft, dehumanization, displacement, and genocide we call colonialism while also convincing the majority of working class and poor white people to protect and uphold with their lives a system that’s ultimately going to kill them off. White privilege is just the ‘polite company’ name for what we already know to be white supremacy.
This separation of privilege from the conditions that created it is how we have found ourselves in a place where folks withholding support for Hillary Clinton – a person responsible for orchestrating death, destruction, and resource and land theft targeting Africans and Indigenous peoples in Libya, Haiti, Honduras, and countries throughout the global South – are said to be engaging in a selfish act of white privilege
The folks who actually believe that rejecting Hillary Clinton represents an act of privilege are providing an incredibly useful illustration of what a dead end privilege politics are as currently practiced.
Many arguments in favor of Clinton – particularly those which invoke privilege or identity politics in an attempt to make her seem like the only just or moral choice – are defined by an underlying commitment to a (monstrous) status quo and a preference for slow, largely imperceptible and ‘preferably just symbolic, thanks’ change. When pushed beyond privilege politics to confront what Clinton in power has actually meant for poor and colonized peoples worldwide, most conversations end the same way: criticism of Hillary Clinton’s record and politics is a vote for the Failed Mail Order Steak Salesman and His Bad Weave. Swear your undying loyalty to the American settler colonial state and help build the intersectional corporate feminist dystopian wasteland or all the brown people die.
The American people must never allow this nation’s highest office to be filled by an ill-tempered, deeply stupid, rich, racist white man with a thirst for absolute power and an incredibly fragile ego. Americans would never vote for slight variations of that exact person consistently and repeatedly for decades.
Panic and quietly falling in line is the only moral option.
But what does Hillary Clinton’s lesser evil actually look like?
Democratically elected governments throughout Central and South America are routinely run through the same distinctly North American process of manipulation, demonization, and destabilization to accommodate a never quenched corporate thirst for lands, rivers, resources, and life.
For the people of Honduras the aftermath of the coup is like this: Dozens of villages lose water each time a dam goes up, sometimes for good. They keep going up. Miles and miles of trees come down. Beaches where generations of parents and children fished and bathed are divided into sections to be parceled out to men who won’t look them in the eye and who’s skin burns and crack in the sun.
These people and their ancestors have been here for hundreds of years but men with burnt, bubbling skin block the sand on three sides with pastel colored concrete poured eight feet high and topped with broken glass. The men post signs that say ‘Keep Out.’ The people keep out and begin to keep to themselves. Their elders see their land bought up from under them, another plot every week, then every day. One day an entire village to the north is gone. A few days later most families to the south have moved too. All around them people are giving in and empty resorts keep popping up in a line for miles and miles like tombstones. There will be nothing left soon.
They resist. And almost overnight there are marches with many hundreds, sometimes a thousand people. They build. They organize. One day they find that when they speak, others find their voice. More and more every time. Every day.
This is when the threats start. They notice they are being watched by strange men in cars, a different pair each time. Strangers watch them from street corners. Follow them through markets. Their friends say they’ve been stopped by police with no badges, asking where they are or where they’ll be. Men in pairs begin showing up where they work. Getting bolder ever day.
One night their house is broken into and they’re shot as they sleep. Nothing is stolen. A suspect is never found. Autopsy records are lost. The investigation is closed. Another dam goes up. Another forest comes down.
Sometimes in the chaos that always follows a coup, cartels armed with American weapons, dollars, and diplomatic impunity seize the future before a proper sham election can be coordinated. Then, instead of photo ops, state dinners, and the kind of business where the blood is dismissed with solemn regret, there are new rules of blood, greed, and retribution that no one understands. The police are gone first and the people can’t learn fast enough. Overnight bodies rot in side streets. Children old enough to run don’t come home. People flee, first in a trickle, then in a steady stream. Whole families, children, pregnant women on foot. With luck there is few days worth of wages – $2 or $3/hour as demanded by American trade agreements. Not enough to feed a family for more than day but enough to be robbed for. Enough to be murdered for. Most of the women fleeing are raped. Sometimes lone children are all who make it to a place where they will never find safety or shame. They are put in a jail cell in some border state to sit alone for a long time.
A wealthy nation that embraces socialism, chooses to nationalize it’s resources, and organizes for the end of Western imperialism’s stranglehold on the currencies, economies, and destinies of the African continent gets the accelerated, hyper-violent version of manipulation, demonization, destabilization. A decision is made – the kind you’ll never find in an email – and within hours State Department employees share breathless lies about terrorism, torture, viagra – anonymous tips of course. They sell it. Clips of lies are played repeatedly, endlessly, for a week. Next news cycle comes and suddenly there’s solemn salt and pepper gray haired generals covered in green wool and bronze lying too. Then excitable small brown men – called analysts – in gray suits paired with ties in infinite shades of berry and blue start lying. Then white women with cornsilk yellow mom hair and crinkled concerned faces with cold deep set eyes start lying. Americans consume it all: first confused, then frightened, then titillated. That’s all it takes.
Just weeks after most of the US first found out this country exists, Libya’s skies are filled with bombs and lights. The ground is dust and ash and blood. A man survives one attempt at regime change but can’t escape the next. In a video watched and replayed over and over again on 24 hour news channels, discussion boards, Reddit, and Youtube, he is dragged out of a hole by a mob. The camera is steady on his face and for a moment the fear is clear and unmistakable. Then fists and elbows fill the frame, hitting him until he falls. He is beaten with large rocks, sticks, feet, and fists. He’s quiet and still, purple and spreading red. Watching it all, you hope he’s dead.
When he is sodomized with a bayonet you realize he is still alive, still awake. A very long time later, he finally loses consciousness. He doesn’t wake up again. The mob, still not satisfied, mutilates his corpse.
In another video, not as widely shared, Hillary Clinton talks about his death. Almost singing, her eyes sparkling, she says, “We came. We saw. He died!” before bursting into laughter. Her laugh is genuine, a full-throated and delighted cackle.
The people of Libya – the people we are told have been saved by this man’s lynching – are still there. After the American news cameras leave and before an entire political party commits itself wholly and fully to the task of spending millions of dollars and dozens of months reading emails out of spite: Libya’s cities burn. In the many weeks and months that come entire villages and towns full of people – Black people – disappear.
The way many progressive and liberal Americans vote, sometimes called ‘pragmatism’ or ‘lesser evilism’, is widely considered to be some high moral and intellectual ideal within American electoral politics – it’s described as a grudging choice to hold one’s nose and do what one believes is best for their country and their neighbors. It is hot bullshit.
The tactic of ‘lesser evilism’, as perfectly embodied in a vote for Clinton, is a grotesque expression of colonizer privilege. It’s an inevitable product of hundreds of years of settler colonialism and imperialism and an unchallenged national ideology which says that (rich, white) deaths in the West are the only deaths that matter. Only a person indoctrinated into exactly such a belief system could argue that Hillary Clinton and her trail of blood and devastation – spread across the Middle East, Africa, Central America, South America, and the Caribbean – represents a lesser evil.
In this country, voting for the ‘lesser evil’ isn’t an act of courage or political maturity. It’s literally just selling out yourself, your people, and huge swaths of humanity in exchange for:
- a slightly more diverse parasitic capitalist class
- purely symbolic but somehow still incredibly slow progress
- a shallow feeling of smug self-satisfaction that will be quickly overwhelmed by a growing sense of impending doom.
If this remarkably ineffective political strategy is how you choose to rock: own it and own what it means.
Don’t try to sell the idea that your tolerance for the spilling of African and Indigenous blood somehow exists for the benefit or safety of the oppressed.