Don’t ‘Arquette’ Hillary Clinton

Will Clinton’s 2016 campaign, like in 2008, be used to pit women and people of color against each other (as though the two don’t overlap)?

Andrea PlaidMay 7, 2015

Calls for all feminists to rally around Clinton ignore intersectionality

When Hillary Rod­ham Clin­ton announced her pres­i­den­tial run, I braced for an onslaught of Arquet­ting.” That term, coined by orga­niz­er Irna Lan­drum, entails demand[ing] sup­port from a group based on ahis­tor­i­cal nar­ra­tives about civ­il rights,” and was inspired by Patri­cia Arquette’s mis­guid­ed pitchfor wage equi­ty at this year’s Oscars: It’s time for all the women in Amer­i­ca and all the men that love women, and all the gay peo­ple, and all the peo­ple of col­or that we’ve all fought for to fight for us now.”

What­ev­er she intend­ed, Arquette’s com­ments per­pet­u­at­ed a con­flict between white fem­i­nists and fem­i­nists of col­or over the mean­ing of gen­der equal­i­ty that dates to at least 1851, when Sojourn­er Truth gave her Ain’t I a Woman?” speech, coun­ter­ing white fem­i­nists’ insis­tence that suf­frage and abo­li­tion­ism were sep­a­rate caus­es. More than a cen­tu­ry lat­er, the black fem­i­nists of the Com­ba­hee Riv­er Col­lec­tive expressed their dis­il­lu­sion­ment” with both the elit­ism” of the fem­i­nist move­ment and the sex­ism of the civ­il rights and Black Pow­er move­ments. And the term repro­duc­tive jus­tice” was coined in 1994 because fem­i­nists of col­or felt that the pro-choice” frame­work focused too nar­row­ly on indi­vid­ual access to birth con­trol and abor­tion while ignor­ing struc­tur­al inequities, like pover­ty, that lim­it women’s repro­duc­tive options.

These are exam­ples of the need for inter­sec­tion­al fem­i­nism: a strug­gle for equal­i­ty that goes beyond just con­sid­er­ing gen­der” and women” to oth­er com­pli­cat­ing fac­tors, such as class and race.

Clinton’s 2008 cam­paign, how­ev­er, was short on inter­sec­tion­al­i­ty and long on Arquet­ting. Her hus­band, Bill, accused then-can­di­date Barack Obama’s cam­paign of play­ing the race card” to under­cut African-Amer­i­can sup­port for Clin­ton. Fem­i­nist icons Glo­ria Steinem and Geral­dine Fer­raro assert­ed that Clinton’s gen­der was a big­ger dis­ad­van­tage than Obama’s race. It all left an indeli­bly bad mem­o­ry, and I braced myself for more of the same this time.

So far, I’ve seen no bla­tant Arquet­ting. Maybe that’s because no one from either par­ty has emerged as seri­ous com­pe­ti­tion. Or it could be a lin­ger­ing effect of the jus­ti­fiedblow­back against Arquette.

Clin­ton sup­port­ers, how­ev­er, have been guilti­er of a sub­tler lack of inter­sec­tion­al­i­ty in imply­ing that any­one who iden­ti­fies as fem­i­nist must get behind Clin­ton. The Nation her­ald­ed her fem­i­nist fam­i­ly val­ues,” and author Gail Shee­hy dubbed herthe right can­di­date for the fem­i­nist move­ment.” The impli­ca­tion is that con­flu­ent fac­tors like race should receive no con­sid­er­a­tion. But Clinton’s record, as doc­u­ment­ed by Kevin Young and Diana C. Sier­ra Becer­ra in the jour­nal Against the Cur­rent, would give any inter­sec­tion­al fem­i­nist pause:

She insists that abor­tion must remain rare,’ but has also helped deprive poor expect­ing par­ents of the finan­cial sup­port they would need to raise a child [through her sup­port for wel­fare reform in 1996]. … She has sup­port­ed the fur­ther mil­i­ta­riza­tion of the Mex­i­co bor­der and the arrest of undoc­u­ment­ed immi­grants, under­min­ing the repro­duc­tive rights of women who give birth in chains in deten­tion cen­ters before being deport­ed back to lives of pover­ty and violence.

New York lawyer and writer Car­olyn Edgar argues that Clin­ton ignores these con­cerns to her detri­ment. It took a coali­tion of women of col­or to make up for the white women’s vote that Oba­ma lost to Rom­ney,” Edgar says. So while I wouldn’t say that white women aren’t a pow­er­ful vot­ing bloc, I would say that they have to rec­og­nize they can’t do it alone.”

Edgar is opti­mistic that Clin­ton does rec­og­nize this, giv­en the addi­tion to her team of peo­ple like Maya Har­ris, a senior fel­low at the Cen­ter for Amer­i­can Progress who wrote an influ­en­tial paper on women of col­or as a vot­ing bloc. But to draw the sup­port of women of col­or and inter­sec­tion­al fem­i­nists, Clin­ton won’t just have to avoid Arquet­ting; she will also have to find a way to address her less-than-inter­sec­tion­al record.

What­ev­er Clin­ton does, let’s hope the Arquet­ting on her behalf remains at a min­i­mum. As the actor found out the hard way, it’s a los­ing strat­e­gy for solidarity.

Named one of Ebony.com’s 8 Dynam­ic Black Women Edi­tors in New Media,” Andrea Plaid serves as a con­tribut­ing edi­tor at The Fem­i­nist Wire and a crit­ic for Kirkus Review. She was the asso­ciate pro­duc­er of renowned web series Black Folk Don’t. Her com­men­tary has appeared on MSNBC’s Melis­sa Har­ris-Per­ry, Huff­in­g­ton Post Live, the Chica­go Tri­bune, and the Wash­ing­ton Post. Plaid served as an asso­ciate edi­tor of the award-win­ning race-and-pop-cul­ture blog Racia­li­cious, and her work on race, gen­der, sex, and sex­u­al­i­ty has appeared, among oth­er places, at On The Issues, Bitch​.com, and RH Real­i­ty Check.
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