Hillary Clinton responds to controversy over a former campaign employee in a viral post.

Minutes before Donald Trump took the stage to deliver this year's State of the Union address, Hillary Clinton published a story of her own.

Four days after a New York Times report uncovering Clinton's mishandling of a sexual harassment allegation against the faith advisor for her 2008 campaign, the former Secretary of State offered a thorough response on social media. It's probably safe to say it's not a coincidence that the explanation was posted while the rest of the political world was busy watching Trump, likely with hopes that it'd go largely unnoticed and she'd be able to put this issue behind her.

With that said, there is a lot of substance to the statement, and it's certainly worth a read. In case you're feeling a bit burned out on the news these days, here's a rundown of some of the highlights.


The most important work of my life has been to support and empower women. I’ve tried to do so here at home, around the...

Posted by Hillary Clinton on Tuesday, January 30, 2018

1. "The short answer is this: If I had it to do again, I wouldn’t."

Clinton opens the statement by saying, "The most important work of my life has been to support and empower women." So why was it that Burns Strider, the faith advisor accused of harassment, was given a pass? And why was it that the woman who reported being harassed was punished for his actions and given a different job on the campaign?

In short, Clinton says, it was a lapse in judgment — one she explains in more detail later in the post.

2. "I asked for steps that could be taken short of termination."

It was Clinton's call not to fire Strider, a decision that conflicted with the advice of her then-campaign manager. After receiving the complaint, the campaign determined that Strider did, in fact, act inappropriately around the woman. Still, Clinton says she "didn't think firing him was the best solution to the problem."

"He needed to be punished, change his behavior, and understand why his actions were wrong," she continues. "The young woman needed to be able to thrive and feel safe. I thought both could happen without him losing his job. I believed the punishment was severe and the message to him unambiguous."

Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.

3. "I’ve been given second chances and I have given them to others. I want to continue to believe in them."

Second chances are important, and sometimes people can change for the better. While Clinton notes that Strider went the rest of the campaign without any additional complaints, he was eventually fired from another job years later for similar behavior.

"That reoccurrence troubles me greatly, and it alone makes clear that the lesson I hoped he had learned while working for me went unheeded," she adds. "Would he have done better — been better — if I had fired him? Would he have gotten that next job? There is no way I can go back 10 years and know the answers. But you can bet I’m asking myself these questions right now."

4. "When The New York Times reported on this incident last week, my first thought was for the young woman involved."

The person who matters most in this story is one whose name might never be known to the public. Clinton and Strider are just an ancillary focus here; it's the woman who was harassed who deserves our thoughts and concern. According to Clinton, she reached out to the woman after the Times report was published, to offer her apologies and to better understand what happened.

"I called her not knowing what I’d hear," Clinton writes. "Whatever she had to say, I wanted her to be able to say it, and say it to me."

From Clinton's retelling of the conversation, the woman says that "she felt supported back then — and that all these years later, those feelings haven't changed." Maybe that's how the woman truly feels, and if so, that's great to hear. "She's read every word of this and has given me permission to share it," writes Clinton.

Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images.

5. "For most of my life, harassment wasn’t something talked about or even acknowledged."

Clinton's statement offers up some important context. The #MeToo and Time's Up movements have sparked an important and overdue conversation about workplace harassment — sexual and otherwise — but it's only begun to be taken seriously relatively recently.

"More women than not experience [harassment] to some degree in their life, and until recently, the response was often to laugh it off or tough it out. That’s changing, and that’s a good thing," she writes.

6. "No woman should have to endure harassment or assault — at work, at school, or anywhere."

Clinton urges the world to consider "the complexities of sexual harassment, and be willing to challenge ourselves to reassess and question our own views" — doing just that in this lengthy, imperfect-yet-honest post.

"In other words, everyone’s now on their second chance, both the offenders and the decision-makers. Let’s do our best to make the most of it."

Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images.

7. "We can’t go back, but we can certainly look back, informed by the present."

Nothing Clinton does now will change her 2008 decision not to fire Strider at her campaign manager's recommendation, but she can use that moment, resurfaced by the Times, to help inform her future decisions.

"We can acknowledge that even those of us who have spent much of our life thinking about gender issues and who have firsthand experiences of navigating a male-dominated industry or career may not always get it right," she acknowledges.

8. "There was no man in the chain of command."

"I recognize that the situation on my 2008 campaign was unusual in that a woman complained to a woman who brought the issue to a woman who was the ultimate decision maker. ... The boss was a woman," she says, noting the role of enablers, even accidental ones.

"Does a woman have a responsibility to come down even harder on the perpetrator? I don’t know. But I do believe that a woman boss has an extra responsibility to look out for the women who work for her and to better understand how issues like these can affect them."

Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images.

9. "You may question why it’s taken me time to speak on this at length. The answer is simple: I’ve been grappling with this and thinking about how best to share my thoughts."

Life is filled with hard choices and situations without a clear "right" answer. This, to her, at the time, seemed like one of them. In hindsight, she acknowledges that she made the wrong call. By opening up, she says she hopes it'll take some of these conversations out of the abstract.

This is not a full-throated apology, nor is it a walled-off defense. It's not an example of self-flagellation, nor is it an attempt to ignore the issue at hand. It's simply a Facebook post, by a famously calculated public official showing a bit of humanity, humility, and a willingness to say that she was wrong. It won't make everybody happy, and it might not change many minds. It doesn't answer all the questions, but it does contribute to a much-needed conversation so many of us are currently having.

As far as apologies go, this is far from perfect — it would have been nice if she'd actually said the words "sorry" or "apologize" — but she took responsibility for her actions, and that's a start. It does give us a bit of insight into the mind of Hillary Clinton, and that's certainly a welcome perspective here.

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Whenever someone's words or behavior are called out as racist, a few predictable responses always follow. One is to see the word "racist" as a vicious personal attack. Two is to vehemently deny that whatever was said or done was racist. And three is to pull out the dictionary definition of racism to prove that the words or behavior weren't racist.

Honestly, as soon as someone refers to the dictionary when discussing racism, it's clear that person has never delved deeply into trying to understand racism. It's a big old red flag, every time.

I'm not an expert on race relations, but I've spent many years learning from people who are. And I've learned that the reality of racism is nuanced and complex, and resorting to a short dictionary definition completely ignores that fact. The dictionary can't include all of the ways racism manifests in individuals and society, and the limitations of dictionary definitions make it a poor tool for discussing the topic.

Since "racism" is such a loaded term for many people, let's look at such limitations through a different complex word. Let's take "anxiety." According to Merriam-Webster, "anxiety" is defined as "apprehensive uneasiness or nervousness, usually over an impending or anticipated ill."

Now imagine thinking that you understand everything that encompasses anxiety from reading that dictionary definition. Imagine thinking you could recognize the signs of anxiety in someone based on that definition alone. Ridiculous, right? The dictionary doesn't explain that some people's anxiety manifests as anger, even though it does. It doesn't say that anxiety sometimes manifests as withdrawal or aloofness. It doesn't say that you often won't see obvious signs of fear or nervousness in someone experiencing anxiety.

The dictionary doesn't offer anything close to the reality of what anxiety is or looks like. It would be silly to say that someone isn't experiencing anxiety because they're not clearly showing signs of nervousness like the dictionary definition implies. Just as the dictionary definition of anxiety is not comprehensive, neither is the dictionary definition of racism. Yet people keep using it to "prove" that something or someone isn't racist.

Fox News analyst Brit Hume just pulled that trick on Twitter to try to back up his claim that Donald Trump's "go back to" statements to four Congresswomen of color weren't technically racist.


The first Merriam-Webster entry for "racism" reads "a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race."

Merriam-Webster

First of all, I'm not sure how this definition actually makes Trump's statements not racist. A belief is not always conscious, so even assuming that his racism is unconscious, a white man telling four women of color to "go back to" their countries of origin—despite three of them being born in the U.S. and the fourth being a naturalized citizen of the U.S.—is pretty objectively racist. No one knows exactly what is going on in the President's head, but such statements only being made to women of color would certainly be consistent with the behavior of someone with a belief in white people's inherent superiority.

But that simple definition isn't truly definitive, either. Shortly after Hume's tweet, Merriam-Webster pointed out a usage note for the word "racism," which clarifies that dictionaries do not provide the be-all-end-all definition of words.

Anti-racism advocates have tried time and time again to explain that racism is not as straightforward as someone saying, "I think I'm superior to people who don't share my skin color." Racism is almost never that blatant, and yet oodles of Americans refuse to call anything less than that kind of bold statement "racism." We have a long history showing exactly how white supremacy—the origin of racism in the U.S.—exerts itself in both strong and subtle ways, and thousands of hours and pages of education from experts describing how racism works on an individual and societal level. But people still insist on the simplistic narrative of "Racism=hating people of a different race."

I've seen many people, including Brit Hume, argue that the word racism has lost all meaning. Frankly, that's a copout. Racism—as both a conscious or unconscious belief of racial superiority and as a system of racial prejudice blended with power dynamics—has a broader meaning than one person hating another person for the color of their skin. But that doesn't make it meaningless.

I've also seen people complain that "everything is racist these days," but no, it's really not. We simply understand more about racism now, thanks to the field of race studies and to people of color offering their time and energy to explain it, so it's easier to identify in its various forms. In my experience, when someone's understanding of racism reaches a certain stage, they start recognizing it in places where ignorance or unconscious bias may have caused them to miss it in the past. That's not imagining racism where it doesn't exist or "calling everything racist these days"; that's simply seeing reality more clearly.

When you really dive deep into the historical, psychological, and sociological reality of racism in America, it becomes painfully obvious that racism is far more prevalent and enmeshed in our society than most people think. Until defensive, mostly-white folks stop automatically denying racism every time the word is used and stop throwing around dictionaries to avoid having to do that deep dive work, we're not going to make real headway on this issue.

Let's stop pretending that the definition and supposed overuse of the word "racism" is the problem, when the problem is racism, period.

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