No, White People, Joe Biden Doesn’t Need A ‘Sister Souljah Moment’
According to conservative pundits such as George Will and Amanda Carpenter, the best way for Joe Biden to show he's “tough on riots" is to publicly drag some third-tier Black rapper. That's what Bill Clinton did in 1992, and it looms large in the Big Book of White History as a "Sister Souljah moment." Conservatives seem to think it's the best thing Clinton ever did, aside from humiliate Hillary Clinton in front of the entire nation.
From Will's column last week:
[Biden] needs a Sister Souljah moment. In 1992, this rap singer was pleased by the deadly Los Angeles riots following the acquittal of the police officers involved in the Rodney King beating: "If black people kill black people every day, why not have a week and kill white people?" Candidate Bill Clinton's criticism, not of extremism in general, but of her explicitly, reassured temperate voters that he was not intimidated by inhabitants of the wilder shores of American politics.
Yep, scratch a Never Trumper and you find someone who says “inhabitants of the wilder shores." You might've had other things going on at the time, but I can confirm that Black people didn't spend a week murdering white people in 1992 upon Sister Souljah's direction. We aren't the Borg. We don't all know each other nor can we control everyone else's actions in our collective. Also, most of us didn't know who the fuck Sister Souljah was. She worked briefly with Public Enemy, but that year, the most commercially successful rappers were Arrested Development (not the show), a positive Afrocentric sorta-hippie group; Sir Mix A Lot, who couldn't deny his appreciation for large asses; and the Fresh Prince, whose hit “Summertime" was not in fact a secret call to arms against whitey if you listened to it backwards while drinking Kool-Aid.
Sister Souljah was just exercising her constitutional right to free speech. Her words weren't marching orders or proposed political policy. They were also taken out of context, as she tried to explain shortly after Clinton turned her into a household name like Gennifer Flowers and later Monica Lewinsky.
From the L.A. Times:
"I do not advocate the murdering of anybody," Souljah said in a telephone interview from New York Tuesday. "Not white people. Not black people. That charge is absolutely ridiculous. Mr. Clinton took my comments completely out of context. In the quote he referred to I was speaking in the mindset of a gang member."
But context didn't actually matter. This was all about asserting racial dominance. Clinton called her out in front of Jesse Jackson. This and executing a Black man who barely knew his own name convinced moderate whites that Clinton was truly a New Democrat. Bret Stephens claimed Clinton courageously broke with his base, assuming somehow that Clinton risked any real political fallout from beating up on a "bad" rapper. This was hardly a profile in courage.
Biden is expected to pacify today's white moderates with a ritualistic sacrifice of some random “scary" negro. It's like a Shirley Jackson story: "A Sister Souljah moment in September. Electoral college landslide to remember." That's repulsive. But even supposed non-conservatives such as Bill Maher keep demanding it.
Sister Souljah was not an elected member of the House of Representatives, unlike future congresswoman and nut job Marjorie Taylor Green. She didn't even win a political primary like aspiring Nazi fucker Laura Loomer. These are people Biden's opponent Donald Trump has actively endorsed.
Republicans are never asked to have Sister Souljah moments. They can shrug off the worst, most vile statements from Rush Limbaugh or Tucker Carlson. Meanwhile, Democrats have to show white moderates that they can "control" Black people and ensure we stay in line.
Most of the terrible “violence from the left" has been destruction of property, which conservatives can't help but prioritize over Black lives. As Carpenter wrote in her list of demands for Uncle Joe:
First, issue a statement condemning the violence and looting we have witnessed in too many beautiful American cities in clear and unequivocal terms.
He's already done this.
Every American has a right to protest, but no one has the right to inflict harm upon their American brothers and sisters.
Sorry, whenever a conservative talks about their "American brothers and sisters," with the absurd implication that they're actually includIng Black people, I need to drop some realness from Muhammad Ali.
White and black are not brothers. - Muhammad Ali youtu.be
So far this summer, even during protests where property was unmolested, the police have broken a woman's collarbone, put out several reporters' eyes, and almost castrated a guy ... as a start. Trump himself has justified Buffalo cops critically injuring an old man for no good reason.
Carpenter has more advice for Biden.
Then go to Kenosha. Call your volunteers to take to the streets that have been damaged by protests and ask them to help restore them to their previous state. Request that they scrub graffiti and lock arms with business owners who have watched their stores be burned and looted. Take a week off fundraising to support a national GoFundMe campaign to help business owners get back what they lost.
First place, it is very hard to scrub graffiti and lock arms with people. This is either a cleanup job or a Coke commercial.
Trump is literally the president and could do all this himself instead of throwing parties for his inflated ego on White House grounds. He's only invaded the cities with his personal goons. Jacob Blake is the now paralyzed father of three. No one's suggested that Trump supporters bring his kids a casserole.
It's telling that moderates invoke Sister Souljah without dwelling much on what caused the L.A. uprising. Police officers almost beat the Black off Rodney King on video and were still acquitted. That miscarriage of justice and contempt for Black life is why people took to the streets. It wasn't just because it was Thursday.
Not a single uprising has occurred without significant provocation: The police permanently injuring a Black person, often fatally, and the police getting away It. That is the predictable, hardly mysterious cause of the unrest in L.A., Ferguson, Baltimore, Minneapolis, and Kenosha. State-sanctioned violence marred the beauty of those cites, not just what happened afterward.
Carpenter alludes to the 1968 “holy week" unrest as if it was an unsightly outbreak on the face of white America and Nixon brought the “law and order" Clearasil. In reality, the “riots" happened right after Martin Luther King, who preached and practiced non-violence, was murdered by a white man. Hiroshima is bad enough, but America would look even worse if you discussed it without mentioning Pearl Harbor.
Sister Souljah did respond to Clinton's broadside against her. She put her original statement into the context Clinton and others deliberately ignored. Not that it mattered — she'd been “cancelled" and not in the way that results in a speaking gig at a national political convention.
If conservatives are using Sister Souljah as an “example" almost 30 years later, the least we can do is listen to her scorching retort. Clinton was still only the governor of Arkansas in 1992, but he was far more powerful than this Black woman who refused to break or even bend. We do need more Sister Souljahs, but not just for a politically convenient moment.
Sistah Souljah press conference slamming Bill Clinton's attack in 1992 youtu.be
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Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He's on the board of the Portland Playhouse theater and writes for the immersive theater Cafe Nordo in Seattle. Tickets are on sale now for his latest Nordo collaboration, "Curiouser and Curiouser," an adaptation of "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" and "Through the Looking Glass." It promises to feel like an actual evening with SER (for good or for ill).