Hillary Clinton 2016 campaign election

Hillary Clinton

photo: Getty Images

A significant shift in American history happened in 2008. The very thing that swathes of people believed unfathomable had become concrete right before our eyes. A Black man assumed the role of president of the United States.

It felt like a surreal dream that would be stolen from us, the joy dragged from our chests before it could even settle. The ripples of this revolutionary moment were felt as far as my parent's living room in southwestern Nigeria.

We now have an opportunity to experience another moment: Democratic presidential nominee, Hillary Rodham Clinton, could make history as America's first female president. If Clinton wins, her victory will undoubtedly come with a formidable meaning: When little girls see a woman in the White House, they will know they can wield power in institutions built and designed for white male dominance.

I can't vote in this election as a British-Nigerian woman. But I know being #WithHer is more complex than it seems since I already have a female leader and I'm becoming increasingly aware of what it's like to move through the world in my body.

Little girl Hillary Clinton campaign rally
photo: Getty Images

In July, Theresa May MP became Britain’s second female prime minister after David Cameron resigned. Of course, May’s victory had been touted as a woman 'breaking the glass ceiling.' It feels almost accidental that come November, women could "lead world powers Britain, the US and Germany at the same time."

I am optimistic that things might change, but there is no genuine excitement. Like Clinton, May's appointment is a step forward in terms of the power and the visibility offered to women, but her appointment does not necessarily mean that my life will be better because we're both women. 

Just because May is a woman does not mean that austerity, which disproportionately affects women, will disappear. The media touting their success as victories for all women subtly silences marginalized women by dismissing our experiences.

There's an assumption that a white woman's triumph is a victory for all women, so Black girls and women are taught to ride on the coattails of white women's success. It seems tiresome to keep repeating a fact that should be an understood truth: We are not simply women. There are different obstacles when you are not white, straight, rich, cis, or able-bodied.

History has shown us this. It is easy to forget the women that were left behind when discussing feminist victories, such as (white) women winning the right to vote in 1920.

The white women marching in the suffrage parade during Woodrow Wilson's inauguration in 1913 told Ida B. Wells, a successful Black female journalist, anti-lynching activist, and suffragist, that she could not march alongside them. Wells took part anyway — but her Blackness intersected with her womanhood, so she experienced racism from her white female counterparts.

Shirley Chisholm, the first Black person and woman of color to run for president for a major political party, couldn't even garner the support of white feminists during her 1972 campaign, according to Robert Gottlieb, her student coordinator.

He told Smithsonian Magazine that prominent feminists, like Gloria Steinem, refused to support Chisholm because they were uncomfortable with a Black woman candidate.

"Feminists were split over her candidacy," Gottlieb said. "Gloria Steinem, who you would expect to have supported her, supported [senator George] McGovern instead. That was significant and it hurt on a personal level quite a bit. . . .you can't look at 1972 through the same magnifying glass as 2016." 

Shirley Chisholm's since been relegated to the shadows of history, which is a testament to way Black women's contributions, even when momentous, are dismissed. 

Black women voters matter in this election, but the ambivalence that some of us feel toward Clinton is deeply rooted within the fabric of this history. 

In this election, Black women are dealing with "electoral capture," as writer Victoria M. Massie explained in Vox. This means, Black women can't choose the best candidate, as Massie pointed out. "Instead, they have to choose the candidate who will do the least amount of harm to their interests," she wrote.

Therein lies my problem with Clinton. Her election doesn't necessarily mean that women's lives will be better. 

Supporting Clinton because she is the "lesser of two evils" would mean that I have to strip off the layers of my Blackness, be forced to choose between my Blackness and my womanhood. But it is exhausting and dehumanizing to be constantly told that I must split my personhood for the "greater good."

Politicians are flawed like the rest of us, but there are some mistakes that can be difficult to forgive.

Hillary Clinton vehemently supported her husband's 1994 Violent Crime and Law Enforcement Act, which used the "three strikes" rule to fuel the mass incarceration of Black men. While some argue that this is Bill Clinton's political record, it is hard to divorce Hillary from her husband's administration, especially since she lobbied for some of these policies.

In 1994, she also referred to Black people as "super predators" and said the government needed to "bring them to heel." At the end of Bill Clinton's presidential term in 2001, America had the highest rate of incarceration in the world. Human Rights Watch reported that Black people constituted between 80% and 90% of drug offenders in prison in seven states, even though their white counterparts are equally-as-likely to sell or use illegal drugs.

Additionally, unemployment rates sank to historically-low levels for white Americans during the Clinton administration, but the rates for Black men in their 20s without college degrees rose to the highest levels ever. It's hard not to be a little bit skeptical with all of this in mind.                     

Hillary Clinton has endured her fair share of overt sexism and misogyny throughout her long political career. Moreover, she has used her global influence to raise the issue of women's rights around the world

Becoming the first female presidential nominee is huge — and it is not something that I, or any of us, should take for granted. But the traumatic histories that Black people have lived through for centuries makes accepting the significance of a Clinton victory very complicated.

I was only 10 when Obama won in 2008, but I could feel the weight of his win deep between my bones. I'm not sure I’ll feel the same way if Clinton wins in two weeks. Clinton is having a moment that I am excited to watch from the sidelines, but if she's elected, there still won't be a Black woman in the White House, even with the efforts and visibility of women like Chisholm and Anita Hill

And that is the moment that I hope I will be lucky enough to see in my lifetime.