On July 13, presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton delivered a passionate speech at the site of President Abraham Lincoln’s famous "House Divided" speech. Using the venue as a segue into discussions about recent racial tensions, Clinton offered her own thoughts on the status of race relations in America.
Although anti-Clinton groups have been quick to say her comments fell short of expectations, Clinton arguably presented a topical, appropriate speech that addressed necessary aspects of racial relations.
Presidential candidates are the subjects of relentless critique. Every action taken or word spoken raises a debate, initiates angry tweets or sparks news headlines. This is the way of the American people; we constantly want more.
High-profile Hillary Clinton is often the victim of this.
After presenting her own spin on Lincoln’s famed speech, critics chastised Clinton for being too limited and failing to include enough in her speech, especially in such a historic location.
New York Times writer John McWhorter comments that Clinton’s speech, which called for a real “conversation” about race in America, implied the need for a one-sided dialogue in which whites would “listen” to blacks more.
McWhorter first criticizes her use of “conversation” as a legitimate strategy. He says that policies and laws are more effective than the abstract concept of a dialogue between groups of people.
McWhorter’s comment may have hit home with older readers, but conversations are the way of the future.
In an interview with NPR on the same day as Clinton’s speech, Black Lives Matter founder Alicia Garza stated that the movement is experiencing a “paradigm shift.”
Founder Opal Tometi said Black Lives Matter is becoming, increasingly, a “multiracial movement” driven by a “deepening level of commitment from people of conscience from all different walks of life.”
That level of commitment does not come from blindly responding to imposed federal laws. That level of commitment comes from conversation and understanding.
Clinton knows this to be true. So, her call for a “conversation,” is not only appropriate, but also intelligent.
McWhorter also criticized Clinton’s one-sided address of racial relations, saying she only emphasized the importance of listening to black voices. He reminds readers that white men are killed by police as well, and white lives matter too.
While McWhorter is correct, he needs to think about the fact that Clinton has a duty to respond to the current mood.
Clinton’s speech comes just one week after the losses of Philando Castile, Alton Sterling, and police officers in Dallas who were monitoring a protest against police shooting and killing black individuals.
As a presidential candidate, Clinton had to respond to these events. As a human being, she had to console and promise change to the families of those most affected by the shootings.
For these reasons, Clinton was right to address the potential of a house still divided through the lens of Black Lives Matter at this time.
Clinton addressed more than the recent shootings. In her speech, she also mentioned Laquan McDonald, a black teenager killed by a white police officer in Chicago in 2014, and Sandra Bland, a black woman who died in jail in 2015 after being pulled over and arrested.
Clearly those who claim that Clinton did not say enough are failing to recognize the fact that the presidential candidate walked up to the podium prepared and full of passion.
Race relations weren't Clinton's only talking point. Commenting on likely Republican nominee Donald Trump’s immigration policies, Clinton reminded the American people of the importance of unity.
Clinton said Trump has painted a picture that depicts all Muslims as terrorists. She added, “When kids are scared by political candidates and policy debates, it’s a sign something has gone badly wrong.” The solution to achieving unity, in Clinton’s eyes, is conversation among people from all different backgrounds.
Clinton’s comments did justice to her chosen venue and the moment in time. Less than a week after the incident in Dallas, she made timely comments. Two weeks before the Democratic National Convention, she offered important platform proposals. What more can we, as the American people, possibly expect?