Not long after the mainstream media crowned Hillary Clinton winner of the Democratic primary race, she published this tweet, with a one-word caption that reads “History”:
— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) June 8, 2016
When Whites use the word “history,” Black people fidget and grow concerned. Because when it comes time to give an account of the past and frame the present, it’s tradition for whites to omit Black people from the books, or demote their role in the American story. That’s when the trouble starts.
Right now, we’re in trouble.
Shattering the Glass Ceiling
Despite what the media and Hillary Clinton might make you believe, a white woman is not the first woman to run for the American presidency on the Democratic ticket. That honor is reserved for a Black woman from New York. She went by the name Shirley Chisholm.
Amid all the hoopla and confetti being thrown at Hillary Clinton by the mainstream media this past 48 hours after she became the first white woman Democratic presidential nominee, there is a real danger that Chisholm’s story will be pushed to the sidelines, forgotten.
We can’t let that happen. In fact, I think it’s only fitting, hours into the aftermath of Clinton’s oh-my-God, earth-shattering achievement, that we make a righteous plug for the powerhouse that was Shirley Chisholm.
Shirley Chisholm Shakes America
Long before anyone had ever heard of the existence of a white, conservative, middle-class woman from Chicago’s suburbia with political ambitions, Shirley Chisholm was paving unprecedented ground for Black Americans and women seeking to use electoral politics to bend the arch of the moral universe toward justice.
Four years after she made history by becoming the first Black woman elected to United States Congress, in 1968, she channeled the same drive and dynamic energy into the 1972 presidential race. She was the first woman liberal to do so.
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Sure, she didn’t win. But, given the period, given the racism and sexism that circumscribed (and continues to circumscribe) the times, would anyone have expected her to?
Moreover, it was not simply sexism, which Chisholm was well aware of and openly acknowledged, that held her back. I’m intuitive and versed enough in history to suspect that the political establishment would never allow a Black woman to successfully run for, let alone become, president– at least until a white woman captured that milestone first. Does that sound like an exaggeration? Remember this: 43 white men dominated the Oval Office before 2008. 43.
(Black) Women in the Whitehouse
Some people may have respected, even admired, Michelle Obama, during her time as First Lady. But, that admiration didn’t stop the monkey pictures from going viral. For many, it was still the case that the office of First Lady looks better on white women. We’ve reached a point, now, where they can wear the executive office too.
The irony is that it is Chisholm who made this moment possible– for this, we must make sure that her legacy is as celebrated and drummed into the consciousness of the public as Hillary Clinton. We must remind folks that a Black woman opened the doors for a white woman to run for President.
This is our task, our responsibility, going forward — to ensure that the narratives of Black women trailblazers are never forgotten, never erased, never lost to the white, wild winds of time.