After Hillary Clinton announced earlier this week that she will seek the Democratic nomination for president, an image that’s periodically made the rounds in recent years resurfaced. It’s a photo, perhaps PhotoShopped, of Clinton engaged in what appears to be a good-natured laugh while a little black girl standing next to her gives the pol a perfected side eye. One friend, a black woman, texted me the image—no words, just the image—Monday morning. A Facebook friend, also a black woman, made it her profile picture soon after the announcement.
The deep cynicism and obvious exasperation of the little girl, or of whoever thought to create this now-viral mash up, speaks volumes about a hurdle Clinton will need to clear as she courts black voters—particularly black women voters—this election cycle. As I’ve noted before, black women are often called the most reliable progressive voting bloc, with their participation in 2012 contributing to a higher turnout rate for black voters than for those who are white for the first time ever. If Clinton’s efforts at a more family- and woman-friendly campaign fall on deaf ears in black communities, that spells trouble for her.
Clinton has a history of using dog-whistle politics when it suits her, and it’s painful to remember the ways that she wielded her whiteness as a weapon during the 2008 primaries. There was that interview with USA Today when she, in an effort to explain why she still expected to win the nomination despite recent defeats in Indiana and North Carolina, said the following:
“I have a much broader base to build a winning coalition on,” she said in the interview, citing an article by The Associated Press. It “found how Senator Obama’s support among working, hard-working Americans, white Americans, is weakening again, and how whites in both states who had not completed college were supporting me.… There’s a pattern emerging here,” she said.
The audio from that interview was especially upsetting, because of the way it sounded as if Clinton were saying that “hard-working Americans” and “white Americans” are synonymous. That earlier slip makes it easy to meet her current repeated promise to champion the interests of “everyday Americans” with one of those side eyes. Who does she mean this time around? On Sunday, the multiracially cast video that Team Clinton released to announce her candidacy hits a lot of the right notes in terms of communicating inclusivity. There’s the glowing black couple preparing for the birth of their son, the adorable black child talking about dressing up as a fish for an upcoming play. But beyond the symbols, Clinton will need to make sure she avoids galling missteps this time around.