by Samuel James
by Samuel James

The Hillary backlash 

My great grandfather — as a slave and, later, as a free man — picked cotton in East Texas. My grandfather also picked cotton and eventually became a janitor. My grandmother was a cook. My father is a retired Air Force veteran, as well as a retired janitor. My sister is a caterer. I have worked service jobs most of my life. Most of us have also been musicians. None of us have had offices or desks. Instead, we wore name tags.

Everyone on the black side of my family, as far as I can trace, has had stereotypically “black” careers in the service or entertainment industries. Everyone except my nephew. Right now he’s in college learning how to design videogames. He has broken the mold. This isn’t because he’s smarter than the rest of us (which he definitely is). It’s not because he’s a better student than the rest of us (which he definitely isn’t). It’s also not because he has a bigger ego than the rest of us (the jury is still out). No, the main reason is because my nephew has come of age at a time when the man holding the highest office in the land looks like him. That ceiling put on previous generations has been removed for my nephew.

Prior to 2008, my father and sister and I laughed at the very idea of a black president. My father had been so devastated by the loss of Dr. Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Huey Newton, etc. that, despite favoring him politically, he did not actually vote for Barack Obama. My father didn’t want his vote to risk the life of yet another promising black leader. Among the old black men I know, this was a popular sentiment. That sentiment was not as popular with my generation. It’s not as popular with my nephew’s generation either, and now he will spend the majority of his life in a world in which it is possible to be black and the president. I smile whenever I think of my nephew, and this is one of the many reasons.

This is not to say that all wounds are healed or that certain problems are even being addressed. After President Obama was elected, there was a rise in white-power movements and violence against black people in general. There have also been giant political shifts as a racist reaction to a black presidency. In some ways, those shifts make my nephew’s world more difficult than mine. Being black in this country has always been a political act, but he has come of age during an era in which the significance of that act has been amplified.

This brings me to Hillary Clinton. Now, before I get into this, you should know that I am not a Hillary Clinton supporter. Having said that, I am absolutely looking forward to the day a woman occupies the Oval Office. I mentioned the joy I feel when I contemplate my nephew’s bright future. I want others to feel that joy when they think of their nieces’ and daughters’ futures. A Hillary presidency will bring that joy, and given the way the race is shaping up so far, we should all prepare for that joy. But we should also prepare for the reaction. Just as a reaction to Obama’s presidency was a rise in violence against black people, one reaction to a Hillary presidency will be a rise in violence against women.

Jill Cote has a Master’s degree in education; is studying for her second Master’s, in counseling; and worked for years as an advocate for victims of domestic violence. I asked her what we can do to prepare for such a backlash. “We need to talk about it,” she said. “We need to learn the signs and to say something if we see something. We need campaigns that address the prevalence of domestic violence. We have stop-smoking campaigns everywhere, but how many people know about the Power and Control Wheel? Those should be on the back of every bathroom stall.”

“We also need to challenge the language,” she added. “For example, those of us working with young children need to stop saying boys hit girls because they like them.”

There is a chance I’m wrong. There is a chance there won’t be a rise in violence against women if Hillary is elected. But even if I’m wrong, Maine still has some of the highest rates of domestic violence in the country. It’s within our power to change that, and it starts with us talking about it.


Samuel James is an internationally renowned bluesman and storyteller, as well as a locally known filmmaker. He lives in Portland and can be reached at racismsportland@gmail.com.

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