words matter

In leaked emails, Clinton’s campaign didn’t want her using the phrase ‘white privilege’

Over the past several years, the term “white privilege” has become a very common part of the social justice lexicon. However, according to leaked emails from Wikileaks, the Clinton campaign appears to have been uncomfortable with the term.

An email exchange between several top campaign staffers concerning Clinton’s July 2015 speech before the National Urban League appears to show three top staffers agreeing that the words “white privilege” should be removed from the prepared remarks. The exchange was first discovered by The Daily Caller.

“Will be interesting to see if HRC keeps the line below in,” wrote campaign pollster John Anzalone, referring to a line about individuals who have benefited from “a lifetime of white privilege.” “[M]ade me a bit uncomfortable but that is probably the point. The term ‘white privilege’ could have press implications,” Anzalone concludes.

Later in the chain, media advisor Jim Margolis seconds Anzalone’s wariness. “Recognizing that we need to hear from Marlon and others on this point, [I] just want to express nervousness on the phrase white privilege.”

Top Clinton spokesman Karen Finney recommended striking the phrase, arguing, “I don’t think she needs to say white privilege.” (Disclosure: I worked briefly in 2014 for Finney at MSNBC, where she was a host.)

When Clinton delivered her speech to the National Urban League the following day, the words “white privilege” were not uttered. The National Urban League is a non-profit organization dedicated to the civil and economic empowerment of African-Americans. Its members likely would not have batted an eyelash at the use of the phrase.

Based on the emails, no one on the Clinton staff appears to have had strong substantive objections to the use of the term “white privilege.” Their reticence appears, instead, to have been fueled mostly by the Clinton campaign’s endemic aversion to even the slightest unmanaged press coverage.

Several months after the speech, Clinton was asked to describe a moment in her life when she benefited from white privilege at the Iowa Brown and Black forum presented by Fusion. Her answer was regarded by some as less-than impressive.