Thoughts. Dreams. Funny Stuff.

The place in hell for Hillary Clinton: Her legacy for black women living with HIV


At the crowded New Hampshire rally, Hillary Clinton supporters chanted, waiting for the presidential hopeful made her way to the stage. She wasn't alone -- beside her was former Secretary of State Madeline Albright. As Clinton stood just inches from the feminist icon, she looked as if she could hardly contain herself.

"We can tell our story about how we climbed the ladder. And a lot of you young women don't think you have to -- it's been done," Albright said as Clinton nodded. "It's not done! You have to help. Hillary Clinton will always be there for you."

She added: "And just remember there's a special place in hell for women who don't help each other."

The crowd erupted in laughter and cheer. No one was louder than Clinton. The speech has spread across the Internet, drawing harsh criticism from young women who find it offensive to be shamed into voting for a candidate because they happen to have the same genitalia.

It is easy to see why Albright would make that joke -- she's been making it for years. You might think of her as the aunt who keeps telling the same, lame joke at every family function, but everyone laughs because she's the family matriarch.

And, it's also easy to see why Clinton would laugh -- she's earned the right to do so. Clinton has been a force for women's rights. As first lady of the United States, she gave a stirring speech entitled "Women's Rights Are Human Rights" at the United Nation's Fourth World Conference on Women in China.

As a U.S. Senator representing New York, Clinton sponsored legislation to reduce the rate of abortions through access to sex education and contraceptives. She also cosponsored the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which provided many individuals with considerably more time to file equal-pay lawsuits, and cosponsored the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would prohibit sex-based pay differentiation. An analysis of her staffers' pay found that she practiced what she preached, paying men and women equally.

As Secretary of State, Clinton continued her global fight to help women: She appointed the first Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women's Issues at the State Department; supported the creation of the U.S. National Action Plan on Women, Peace, and Security; and introduced a $63-billion global health investment to help partner countries provide comprehensive maternal and infant health services.

With that kind of record, no one would blame her if she brushed the dirt off her shoulder.

But as I watched the video clip, I couldn't help but think, "If this were a room full of black women living with HIV, would any of them laugh?"

While Hillary has been touting her record as a card-carrying feminist who fought in the trenches for women's rights, she's forgotten to mention her role in dismantling black women's lives, especially those living with HIV.

When Hillary became FLOTUS in 1993, she made a firm decision: She wasn't going to be the first lady who wore beautiful dresses and gave tours of the White House on TV, showcasing the personal items she'd brought to make the White House a home; she wasn't just going to visit kindergarten classes to read The Little Engine That Could.

Who could blame her? She was the first first lady to have a postgraduate degree and a professional career before her husband took office. She was also the first first lady to have an office in the West Wing. During the first week of his presidency, Bill appointed Hillary to head the Task Force on National Health Care Reform. Policy responsibility wasn't unfamiliar to her, as Bill had appointed her head of an education reform task force when he was governor of Arkansas. So when Bill "Clyde" Clinton went on a policymaking spree that decimated a struggling community, Hillary "Bonnie" was just as much to blame.

Bill Clinton campaigned as a force. He wasn't a weak-willed liberal; he wanted to stomp out crime between his saxophone solos. The legislative policies he proposed with Hillary were also a force, one that forever changed many lives.

During Clinton's presidential tenure, the U.S. saw the largest increase in state and federal incarcerations in its history. This was due in large part to President Ronald Reagan's "war on drugs," which disproportionately affected the black community. While black men and women are less likely than whites to sell drugs, they are more likely to be arrested for it. According to the NAACP, as of 2008, blacks and Hispanics made up 58% of the U.S.'s incarcerated population, but only a quarter of its total population. While Bill Clinton was in office, he continued Reagan's anti-drugs policy, increasing its budget by 25% and pressuring state and federal agencies to increase drug prosecutions.

Often, this higher rate of incarceration is discussed in terms of its effects on black men. In 2011, the Department of Justice Statistics estimated that one in three black men could expect to go to prison during his lifetime. But anti-drugs policies also had an enormous impact on black women.

Between 1980 and 2010, the number of women in U.S. prisons increased by 646%. Black women were the hardest hit: In 2010, black women were three times more likely to be incarcerated than white women.

Among other reasons, this is concerning because women are more likely than men to have a chronic, communicable disease such as HIV in prison. And according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in jails, black women are more than twice as likely to be diagnosed with HIV than white or Hispanic women.

In addition to their incarceration policy, the Clintons removed many of the safety nets available to black families, particularly public housing and welfare. The Clinton administration signed legislation that placed a lifetime welfare and food-stamps ban on anyone convicted of a felony drug offense. A 2013 Yale School of Medicine survey of felons affected by this legislation in Connecticut, California and Texas found that the ban raised the risk of HIV exposure and led some women to sex work to pay for food. A quarter of the women respondents with children said that their kids had gone hungry for a full day in the past month. Four in nine women reported that they had gone an entire day without eating anything in the past month.

The "One strike, you're out" policy, which piggy-backed on the Anti-Drug Abuse Act, created screening criteria for public housing eligibility, cementing Clinton's hardline on crime.

In his 1996 State of the Union address, President Clinton said, "I challenge local housing authorities and tenant associations: Criminal gang members and drug dealers are destroying the lives of decent tenants. From now on, the rule for residents who commit crimes and peddle drugs should be one strike, and you're out."

Within a year of the legislation's passage, Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development -- now New York State Governor -- Andrew Cuomo, heralded the campaign as a success.

Public housing authorities (PHAs) reported denying 19,405 applications for public housing because of drug use or criminal records within the first six months -- nearly double the number of denials in the six months before the policy was implemented. During that same period, evictions rose to 1,096.

However, as early as 1997, some public housing administrators saw a flaw in the program's design. Cuomo's report stated: "Still, some PHAs complain that under the new initiatives they have been obligated to evict law-abiding residents whose children, grandchildren, or guests have violated the new rules. However, HUD expects the number of One Strike evictions to decrease as housing authorities strengthen their applicant screening procedures." This problem still existed over a decade later.

People living with HIV were hard hit by this legislation. A 2010 survey of consumers of HIV services in Alabama found that 47% were unstably housed -- including 27% who were homeless and 50% with a history of incarceration.

It is easy to see with hindsight these practices were a bad idea. But, Hillary still sees many of them as a success. As recently as 2008, she said that the Clinton-era welfare reforms were necessary for and successful in making poor families self-sufficient.

"Welfare should have been a temporary way station for people who needed immediate assistance," she said in an interview with The New York Times. "It should not be considered an anti-poverty program. It simply did not work."

Since Bill left office, Hillary hasn't done much for HIV/AIDS. As Secretary of State, she was in charge of PEPFAR, the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. This is a government initiative to address the HIV/AIDS epidemic worldwide. The program was instituted during George W. Bush's first term and is run through and funded by the Department of State. Aside from a "blueprint" for an "AIDS-free generation," Clinton did little to make this aspiration happen.

Funding for PEPFAR dropped 12% between 2010 and the first quarter of 2013 when it reached its lowest effective funding level in six years. PEPFAR contributions to global HIV/AIDS programs went from $5.503 billion in 2009, Clinton's first year at the State Department, to $5.083 billion in 2012 and $4.726 billion in 2013 -- the year she left the State Department.

So yeah, perhaps there is a special place in hell for women who don't support other women. I guess I'll be seeing Hillary there.