There's 1 Big Problem With Hillary Clinton's Focus on Grieving Black Mothers

Source: Getty Images
Source: Getty Images

The second night of the Democratic National Convention belonged to grieving black mothers. As millions watched, Lucy McBath — the mother of Jordan Davis, a black teen who was gunned down by an angry white man for playing his music too loud — spoke about parenting while black. "You don't stop being a mom when your child dies," she said. "I lived in fear my son would die like this."

McBath was soon joined on stage by other mothers who know her pain, including Geneva Reed-Veal, whose daughter Sandra Bland was found dead in a Texas jail cell after being arrested for a minor traffic violation, and Sybrina Fulton, whose teenage son Trayvon Martin was gunned down in 2012 by George Zimmerman. "I'm here with Hillary Clinton because she is a leader and a mother who will say our children's names," Reed-Veal said. "Hillary knows that when a young black life is cut short, it's not just a personal loss. It is a national loss. It is a loss that diminishes all of us."

These women, called the "Mothers of the Movement," gave voice to why black lives matter, and played a critical role in communicating Clinton's criminal justice platform to the nation. For months, they have touted Clinton's sincerity on the campaign trail, describing how she reached out to them personally after their children were slain, and how she followed up with them as they grieved the loss of their children. Clinton's candidacy has provided a powerful platform for black women to talk about losing their children to police brutality. 

Not everyone was impressed, however. Clinton's critics have pointed to her embrace of welfare reform in the 1990s as first lady. The bill her husband signed in 1996, the "Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act," made public assistance more difficult to access, encouraged states to cast off welfare recipients and limited the time they could receive benefits. It has been credited with driving up poverty rates in black communities and removing a crucial safety net. That, coupled with Clinton's haunting quote about the need to reign in "superpredators" — young children of color in the inner cities — embodies the tough-on-crime approach that dramatically increased America's prison population, and led to spirited debate on social media about whether Clinton will fight for black families:

Each step of the way, Mothers of the Movement have defended Clinton against such attacks. In January, when Sybrina Fulton publicly endorsed Clinton in a CNN op-ed, she wrote that what appealed most to her wasn't just her grasp of the numbers, but Clinton's understanding of her son's humanity. "We talked about Trayvon and other families who have lost a loved one to gun violence," she said. "We talked about all of the wishes and hopes we had for their lives. And knowing we can never get them back, we discussed how to prevent more moms from losing their sons to gun violence."

As effective as the mothers of slain victims may be as messengers for Clinton's criminal justice platform, it's lamentable that these women must plead for their children's humanity in the first place. As a country, we need to call out the continual violence inflicted on black people by white communities and the institutions that give them power. Unless we name the problem — white privilege, manifested in violence against black bodies — we'll be powerless to fix it. The Mothers of the Movement are doing their jobs. It's time for white America to do theirs. 

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Jamilah King

Jamilah King is a senior staff writer at Mic. She was previously an editor at Colorlines.

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