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OpEd: Was Clinton’s Speech About Privilege or Personal Responsibility?

This week Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton did something I haven't yet seen in this election cycle — she held an honest dialogue about racial inequality in America, urging of white Americans to recognize their privilege.

To be fair, President Obama has had countless conversations on race throughout both his candidacy and his presidency, but urging white people to recognize racial inequity, as a black man, isn't in his wheelhouse, nor should it be.

Just as women believe it's the responsibility of men to stop rape—black folks believe it's white folk's job to breakdown the white supremacist structure that was created to assure their success and black people's emotional, economic and physical demise.

"Just imagine with me for a minute, if white kids were 500% more likely to die from asthma than black kids, 500%. Imagine if a white baby in South Carolina were twice as likely to die before her first birthday than an African American baby. Imagine the outcry." Secretary Clinton lamented and then continued, "We have to begin by facing up to the reality of systemic racism—because these are not only problems of economic inequality. These are problems of racial inequality. And we have got to say that loudly and clearly."

Clinton in Harlem: America's 'Long Struggle' With Race 'Far From Finished' 1:45

For once, I didn't have to fight through the rhetoric and job description bullet points often laden in her speeches to try and figure out what Secretary Clinton means—she laid it out plain.

She used her white privilege for what it's worth—appealing to other like-minded white Americans to put themselves in the black community's shoes—not through guilt, but by just imagining atrocities like the poisoning of an entire community taking place in the wealthy white suburbs.

"…None of this is a 'they' problem, it's a 'we' problem, and all of us have to admit that. And you know what, it is not an urban problem, it's an American problem." Secretary Clinton commanded in the most presidential manner, "Ending systemic racism requires contributions from all of us, especially those of us who haven't experienced it ourselves. White Americans need to do a better job of listening when African Americans talk about the seen and unseen barriers that you face every day."

For decades black Americans have been going hoarse chanting, I Am a Man, Black is Beautiful, and now Black Lives Matter, only to be faced with an All Lives Matter response to countless stories of injustice and death that have not only gone unheard, but often ignored all together by some.

There always seems to be a reason why they can't wrap their minds around the slaughter of our children at the hands of police that are supposed to protect them. There's always a counter argument for how black people need to more "respectful" in the face of indignities.

In addressing the white American "ostrich effect," where they bury their heads in the sand and pretend black America is exaggerating our daily experiences, Secretary Clinton said this: "We need to recognize our privilege and practice humility, rather than assume that our experiences are everyone's experiences."

This was powerfully worded. White Americans can't wrap their minds around a racist system that purposefully seeks to inhibit their ability to dream, so they assume what black Americans experience is self-inflicted, because to recognize the reality would mean to recognize their part in upholding injustice.

Hillary Clinton Meets With Civil Rights Leaders In New York City
NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 16: Democratic presidential candidate and former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gives an address at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture on February 16, 2016 in New York City. Clinton is hoping to win the upcoming South Carolina and Nevada primaries. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images) Andrew Burton / Getty Images

As their conscience, Secretary Clinton is asking Americans to simply to understand that their experience isn't everyone's. It seems simple, but it's impactful—because she is shepherding, white America through the first stages of "becoming woke."

"Imagine what it would be like to sit our son or daughter down and have the talk. Or if people followed us around stores or locked our car doors whenever we walked past. That kind of empathy is critical. It's what makes it possible for people from every background, every race, every religion to come together in this great city, and to come together as one nation. It's what makes a country like America endure", she expressed.

Imagine what America would look like if white America decided to hear us.