hillary clinton’s been down with black prison labor for a hot minute, why is anyone surprised?

June 8, 2017

On Tuesday, social media erupted in controversy after Twitter user @JeanneteJing posted excerpts from Hillary Clinton’s 1996 book It Takes a Village revealing that the former presidential-candidate “employed” Black inmates while serving as First Lady of Arkansas:

In the passage, Clinton recalls the inmates working in the governor’s mansion she shared with her husband Bill Clinton, who was governor of Arkansaw from 1979 to 1981 and 1983 to 1992. At first, the former First Lady had a hard time getting used to the practice, calling it “unusual,” but quickly warmed up to the “longstanding tradition, which kept down costs.”

After some time, Clinton writes, she and her family became friends with “a few of them, African-American men in their 30s who had already served 12 to 18 years of their sentences.”

By Hari Ziyad*, AFROPUNK Writer

Using prison labor isn’t illegal, but it is certainly morally reprehensible, and especially hypocritical for a politician who ran on supposed progressive bona fides. The practice has been argued to be little more than slavery, and as Whitney Benns explains in the Atlantic article “American Slavery, Reinvented“, “Legally, this labor may be totally uncompensated; more typically inmates are paid meagerly—as little as two cents per hour—for their full-time work in the fields, manufacturing warehouses, or kitchens.” The Thirteenth Amendment allows slavery as punishment for a crime.

For anyone who has been paying attention to the Clintons’ political ascension, the light shined by this excerpt is older news than the 1996 book from which it comes. Clinton has been down with prisons, prison labor and other racist practices––from her much maligned “super-predators” comment justifying the criminalization of Black youth, to lobbying for a “three strikes and you’re out” policy while calling for tougher prison sentences for repeat offenders as First Lady, to pushing her husband’s crime bill that “encouraged states to enact harsher sentencing statutes and expanded the list of crimes subject to the federal death penalty” and also led to the construction of new prisons while increasing the number of federal crimes, to taking hundreds of thousands in contributions from lobbyists representing the private prison industry during the 2016 election cycle.

Many of us who pointed out this anti-Black, regressive legacy during the campaign were labeled “sexist” for drawing particular attention to Clinton’s devastating criminalization policies on Black communities. This attention was outrageously deemed unwarranted despite the fact that Clinton overwhelmingly won the Black vote over Bernie Sanders, undoubtedly with the help of far too many Black voters who were unaware of her anti-Black convictions (as evidenced by the shock and outrage now). But, as I argued earlier this week, liberalism is okay with oppressive practices as long as there is a “diverse” face at the helm. It has always been willing to have a white woman kill us and drag us for being sexist if we fight back, calling that “progress.” I am only surprised that so many others are.

Banner photo via CNN

*Hari Ziyad is a New York based storyteller and writer for AFROPUNK. They are also the editor-in-chief of RaceBaitR, deputy editor of Black Youth Project, and assistant editor of Vinyl Poetry & Prose. You can follow them on Twitter @hariziyad.