Wednesday, July 20, 2016
Did Hillary Really Call Blacks "Superpredators?"
Did Hillary Clinton really once call black kids "superpredators?"
In a word, no. She did use that term, however. And she used it specifically in application to gangs.
The year was 1996, the place was Keene State College in Keene, New Hampshire. Hillary was campaigning for her husband's reelection, and was defending the Crime Bill - something we who lived through that era all regret supporting (and yes, we pretty much all did). The term "superpredators" was a newly minted term, and nobody had yet considered how it might be misunderstood or misused. But then Hillary used it, and it instantly gained more weight and notoriety. Republicans used the word, well, liberally. But when an actual liberal spoke it, well, then it was obviously racist. Anything to dislodge the black vote away from the left.
Fast forward twenty years later to 2016. Hillary's comment has been reduced to a ten-second sound byte, misused and taken out of context by everybody. Does this mean that Hillary singled out black youth as predatory? Was this therefore a racist statement?
The answer is flatly no. Although Hillary has said she regretted using that term years ago, she was talking not about race, but about gangs - those organized criminals who peddle drugs and violently protect their territorial franchises. Are they often comprised of black kids? Yes, but then as now, sometimes the kids are white, Asian, or Latino. The phrase "superpredators" might have had an explicitly racist overtone to Republican ears, but street gangs can be equal opportunity employers, too! They often were in 1996, and they still are today!
We ought not let the prevalence of gang youth being black trick us into thinking a statement about gangs is a statement about black people. That's the stereotype, but it's wrong.
Note how Cenk Uygur of The Young Turks makes this very point in this video, and then completely abandons it for racial generalization again! Come on, dude!
It's an easy mistake to make, even for smart people. We tend not to recognize that we are all the same race. It goes against our tribal instincts.
If you want to see the entire context of Hillary's 1996 speech, you can watch it for yourself on C-SPAN's archive here and see that she was talking gangs, not blacks. Compare it to the twelve-second clip which you can find on YouTube here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ALXulk0T8cg. But just to break it down a bit more (and because a few computer users out there don't follow links), let me just write out the important part of the transcript:
"...but we also have to have an organized effort against gangs, just as in a previous generation we had an organized effort against the mob. We need to take these people on, they are often connected to big drug cartels, they are not just gangs of kids anymore. They are often the kinds of kids that are called 'superpredators,' no conscience, no empathy, we can talk about why they ended up that way but first we have to bring them to heel, and the president has asked the FBI to launch a very concerted effort against gangs everywhere."
So that's it. Gangs. Gangs that include groups like Crips and Bloods, but which also include groups like the Latin Kings, or white Neo-Nazis. In fact, American History X, starring Avery Brooks and Edward Norton, Jr., was released in 1998, only two years after Hillary made her 'superpredators' remark. Art follows life in film long after the phenomenon upon which the plot is based. That means that Neo-Nazi youth gangs were well known to exist in 1996 and even long before that. When Hillary said, 'superpredators,' she was including the white Neo-Nazis who were/are also selling drugs and fighting turf wars in inner city streets!
"Superpredators" was not about just black kids. It was about organized and avowed miscreants of every hue. Mostly black in some areas, yes, and according to popular cliche and Republican myth, that's all. But by no means limited to such. We do society a disservice by forgetting Latin and Nazi gangs.
When some people accuse Hillary of calling black kids "superpredators," and thinking that this would cost her the "black vote," they are insulting the intelligence of black Americans, thinking them too stupid to see through your shallow argument. But here's something that will blast your little, racist world apart: black people are not stupid! They are smart enough to evaluate Hillary's 20-year-old statement on its own merit, and can figure out for themselves how she singled out a kind of organization rather than a kind of ethnicity.
This is why this particular accusation did not result in Hillary losing black voters. It wasn't because they were either blind or stupid.
It's because her accusers are.