Anita Hill and Biden: White liberals selectively listen to Black women

Ralph Corbelle, Contributing Writer

On Oct. 11, 1991, Anita Hill testified that Clarence Thomas sexually harassed her while she worked under his management at the U.S. Department of Education. Appointed by former U.S. President George H. W. Bush, Thomas took his seat on the Supreme Court on Oct. 23 of the same year. Hill’s testimony was televised and aired across the nation with then-Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Joe Biden at the helm of the proceedings. Biden’s dismissive handling of Hill’s testimony, as well as the aggressive treatment Hill experienced at the hands of the entire Committee, have long been weaknesses of Biden’s congressional record.

In a Sept. 5 CNN interview, Hill endorsed Joe Biden’s 2020 candidacy for President of the United States. Immediately after, many liberals began circulating the news far and wide, exclaiming such sentiments as “This is healing,” and “If she can do it, why can’t you?” Hill’s support of Biden is certainly a substantial endorsement for the Biden campaign and her voice should unquestionably be heard by all American voters. The issue with this news cycle is not Hill’s statement, but rather a trend among white liberals who dismiss the accounts, opinions and expertise of Black women, except for in very specific instances where listening to Black women coincides with a mainstream white liberal agenda. In other words, if white liberals decide to capitalize on Hill’s recent statement, they should be more than willing to prioritize the perspectives of Black women in all sectors of civil life.

Am I overreacting? Has this sort of thing even happened before? Look no further than Jul. 13 when Angela Davis announced her endorsement of Biden and social media exploded with captions along the lines of: “Davis is voting for Biden, what do you know that she doesn’t?” Davis, a pioneering force within critical Black scholarship and prison abolition, has been all but ignored by the white liberal mainstream until she provided a concise, “agreeable” sound bite for them to use. This same sentiment can be found underneath the fervor we are seeing around Hill’s endorsement of Biden; white liberals have made it clear that they are uninterested in the perspectives of Black women until they can take advantage of them. The embrace of Hill’s endorsement of Biden — and only that — reduces her to a pawn in the political game and dismisses her years of advocacy around gender issues. The exclusive focus on Davis’s endorsement of Biden reduces her decades of radical scholarship and activism to a mere stamp of approval.

The goal here is not to dissuade voters from voting for Biden. Biden is the least important part of this article. The focus here should be on Hill’s personhood and professional work beyond this endorsement. Hill and Davis are merely two examples of the persistent trend of selectively hearing and amplifying Black women when politically convenient, and countless more Black women are sidelined every day by the status quo of the current system. White liberals must embrace the opinions of Black women past the “agreeable” one-liners that they may provide; Black women have been the pioneers of just about every social movement this country has seen, are the Democratic Party’s most consistent voter base and have constantly contributed timely, critical scholarship to the public that has been far too often cast to the side by violently, willfully ignorant white liberals.

Hill is a Black woman who stood up and spoke her truth to the system and the system failed her. The system did not listen. The very fact that she is now in a position where she is driven to voting for Biden is one more example of a system that continues to fail her and countless other Black women who have spoken louder and louder but whose voices have never been truly respected by the white liberal system. 

Anita Hill is daring, compassionate, motivated and unwavering in her work as a lawyer and current professor at Brandeis University. She coupled her endorsement with an open extension of the partnership, declaring her willingness to work with Biden on gender issues at the national scale. She is more than an endorsement — she is a Black woman with an individual political perspective, personal values and professional goals.

White liberal support of Black women has been shown time and time again to be conditional and selective. Black women deserve the platforms to express their perspectives, especially critical perspectives that complicate the foundations of white liberalism. Furthermore, Black women are not a monolithic group full of singular ideas and should not be treated as such. The mainstream political discourse in this country is long overdue for the complex, varied, differing and challenging opinions of Black women, women whose self-advocacy has largely been met by white liberal silence.

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