HRC and U.S. “Exceptionalism”
March 10, 2015
It was supposed to be a busy week for Hillary’s roll out towards her 2016 campaign. March 8 was International Women’s Day. March 9 was the unveiling of the Clinton “No Ceilings” report. March 10 was meant to be Hillary reminding us all of her “human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights” speech in 1995 in Beijing at the U.N. Instead, all the media wanted to talk about was her email.
But this past week was also about Selma, Alabama and the 50-year anniversary of bloody Sunday, the day that mainly Black civil rights activists were beaten crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge fighting for the right to vote. Lots of new activists from Black Lives Matter were there to commemorate the day, as was Michael Brown’s mother, representing her murdered unarmed son, shot by a white police officer.
Instead of wondering about Hillary’s email I wonder why she did not take the opportunity to go to Selma to stand against the rampant racism in our country, then and now. http://abcnews.go.com/US/wireStory/100-set-retrace-selma-montgomery-march-29508106 Where were you Hillary? Why did you not offer Michael Brown’s mother your arm to walk across the bridge together—as mothers, and as women standing against racist bigotry and murder? Why don’t more of us wonder this?
Why? Because of the narrative that says that the U.S. is “exceptional”, in our opportunities, and commitment to democracy. This “exceptionalism” appears to cover over our indecency whenever it occurs, as an “exception” rather than the rule. To think that repeated violations towards humanity are an exception, allows the lie of US “exceptionalism”.
So, it is said that “we do not torture”, even though “we” do. And Ferguson, Mo. has a completely corrupt police department, but Obama says this is not the usual. And, the U.N. reports that rape and sexual violence operate in every society at record numbers. The U.S. is no exception here.
When 90 percent of those who are stopped for jay walking and stop-light infractions, are Black, it is time to say that racism is not an exception, and that the U.S. is not exceptional, as in a racial democracy. It is often said that US women have reproductive rights even though too few counties in the US have abortion clinics and most medical schools no longer teach the abortion procedure.
My Brothers Keeper and feminisms
Meanwhile President Obama initiated a racial opportunity program entitled ‘My Brothers Keeper’ (MBK) this past year that focuses on black boys and men and the injustices they suffer while excluding girls– their sisters, and mothers, and wives and cousins. http://abcnews.go.com/US/wireStory/100-set-retrace-selma-montgomery-march-29508106 What do you think about this Hillary? The injustice of racism is always threaded through the misogynist underpinnings of racism. Slavery was a sexualized and racialized system even though black enslaved women and girls are most often sidelined in the depiction of slavery as simply a racist system. Racism is never just about race because any race is made up of genders and sexes as well. The severing of this connection denies girls and women of color, especially Black ones their particular punishment because of their race. Hillary you must have an opinion here. Why is it left to Black feminists to query and challenge this initiative?
And then both Obamas this past week endorsed an international initiative called “Let Girls Learn” that will enhance education for girls across the globe, in clear distinction to MBK that excludes girls. http://www.whitehouse.gov/LetGirlsLearn How does it make sense to single out girls for education elsewhere and ignore the fact that Black girls suffer in similar ways to black boys in US schools and society. Black girls are punished in our schools, compared to white girls at an outstanding differential; Black girls are suspended at much higher rates than white girls; and suffer unequal punishment and incarceration also at much higher rates. Or as Kimberly Crenshaw says: we are now looking at the embodiment of intersectional erasure, the “all the blacks are men, and all the women are white and all the women of color live outside the US”. Again, Hillary, what do you think?
Similar erasures of women of color exist in the narratives of police violence when Black women such as Aura Rosser, Tanisha Anderson and Michelle Cusseaux suffer at the hands of white police and yet the discourse speaks mainly of violence towards Black men. Should you not be weighing in here Hillary in order to help make a more inclusive racial justice movement; and feminist movement as well?
And while I am wondering Hillary does your belief in US exceptionalism keep you silent on the pressing issues facing all women in the US? Instead of looking to improve women and girls elsewhere, what about safe-guarding abortion clinics, demanding a living wage, improving day care, lessening incarceration rates, increasing contraceptive coverage and paid maternity leave for the women of all colors in the US.
Laura Flanders of GRITtv hosted a meeting at the United Nations the same day that Hillary was at the UN this week. At Flanders’ session members discussed the question of reproductive and sexual rights. It was a chance for delegates to hear from domestic workers, sex workers, a trans woman, a disability advocate. HRC spoke in the hall next door, at the same time.
Too many white feminists—in imperial and neoliberal form–speak on behalf of women’s rights, but for elsewhere, not here. Critiques of women’s rights in Egypt, in Venezuela, in Nigeria, and so on so often overlap with similar indecencies here. Data shows that the US is well behind many countries when it comes to day care policy, family leave rights, rights to health care and reproductive rights for women. There are women presidents now in several African and South American countries. We are hardly exceptional; but rather trail here as well. Increased poverty among women, increased incarceration of women, and increased health crises for women, bespeaks a lack of women’s rights in this country.
The “No Ceilings?” report says that there “has never been a better time to be born female”. http://noceilings.org/report/report.pdf Really? in Syria? in Northern Nigeria? in Ferguson, Missouri? Violence against women is at epic proportions in every single country in the world according to Lydia Alpizar, director of the Association for Women’s Rights in Development. Campus rape is an epidemic at the rate of 1 in 5 women in the US. So what is exactly so great about being born female today for most women?
Young Black women are some of the leaders of the Black Lives Matter Movement. We need coalitions between them and progressives of any and all genders and sexes and races to formulate challenges to the structural racism and hetero-patriarchy that denies democracy to us all.
The findings by the U.N. on the status of women, twenty years after the 1995 Declaration to bring equality, are an outrage. The growing disparities of wealth are a women’s issue for women of every color. When it comes to torture, abortion access, equal pay, hunger, homelessness, a living wage, available day care, etc. millions in the U.S. suffer. This suffering negates exceptionalism.
Hillary—what are you thinking? Forget about 1995. Be present now. What are you willing to do? This is what I want to know. These are the silences that you must address. You have been too silent these past months of racial injustice in the US. You emerge to talk about the promissory of the 1995 Beijing Women’s U.N. conference and your “No Ceilings” project as though the recent racist tragedies at home are not connected to women’s lives.
This country needs a feminism that is inclusive of us all—across racial and class divides and against hetero-patriarchal white privilege. Then maybe we could start a really “exceptional” justice movement, at home.
Brief Bio Statement
Zillah Eisenstein is a well known anti-racist feminist author, activist, and professor. She has written more than 12 books and hundreds of articles detailing the continual struggles for social justice by women of all colors across the globe. See her: https://zillaheisenstein.wordpress.com for details.