At CNN's Democratic town hall on Tuesday night, Secretary Hillary Clinton faced questions about women and systemic racism, but it was a question from an audience member about natural hair and Beyoncé that sparked a lively conversation.
Kyla Gray, a young black female attending Columbia College, addressed a series of racial tensions in her question to Clinton, linking the Black Lives Matters movement and the overwhelmingly negative responses received by Beyoncé’s politically-charged halftime performance.
"I've noticed a difference in the way some people address and look at me," Gray said, since she began wearing her natural hair in the midst of recent racially-tinged events across the nation. The junior majoring in English and Literary Studies wanted to know how Clinton would mend the country’s racial divisions.
“In the wake of things like Ferguson and Black Lives Matter and the recent backlash against Beyoncé and her “Formation” video, there have been a lot of racial tensions recently in our nation,” Gray said. “So, my question to you is what do you intend to do to help fix racial relations in our nation?”
Gray's questions instantly became a twitter moment, receiving responses from Donna Brazile and others praising the college student.
Another user tweeted, "Kyla tied Beyoncé, natural hair, & black lives matter all into her question in under 30 seconds. Go off. #DemTownHall."
In her response, Clinton acknowledged the nation’s systemic racism and her hopes to fix relations so that women like Gray could feel that they "have the right to wear your hair anyway you want."
Having had a ‘lot of different hair styles,’ Clinton joked, ‘I speak from some personal experience.'
The former secretary of state spoke for a couple of minutes about the barriers current racial tensions placed upon African Americans across several plains: the criminal justice system, opportunities for housing, and education.
'There are barriers that people are encountering that I think we need to be honest about,” said Clinton. “We have serious challenges and I think it's important for people, and particularly for white people, to be honest about those.”
However, Gray was not fully satisfied with Clinton’s answer. “She did address the issue I wanted but she didn’t really answer specifically what she would do to help fix [the problem],” Gray told NBCBLK.
Host Chris Cuomo then redirected Clinton to Beyoncé's halftime performance after failing to mention the pop star in her response. Cuomo asked Clinton for her opinion on Beyoncé’s "Formation" and her stance on the backlash towards the singer for the perceived anti-police demonstration.
"Look, I think there are an enormous number of police officers in our country that perform honorably every single day," said Clinton in follow-up response, in which she still neglected to mention the Beyoncé's name. She felt Americans should stray from dividing into "opposing camps," calling for respect for law enforcement while also holding "police behavior accountable."
“She listed all of the things that needed to be done, she didn’t necessarily say what she’d do," Gray said. Much like other voters in South Carolina, Gray admits that she didn't know of Sanders until he began campaigning in the state. However, she remains uncertain of her vote for the South Carolina Democratic primary.
"A lot of black people right now are comfortable with Clinton but that’s not to say that it won’t change in the future," Gray said.
The African American voter has become a growing force in the American electorate judging from the group's pivotal role in Obama's 2008 and 2012 electoral victories. And with Clinton's double-digit lead against Sanders for the minority vote, the black vote will be critical to the candidate's success in her campaign's South Carolina contest.
Many, including Gray, are well aware of the importance the African American vote will hold the key for presidential hopefuls this year. “The female African American vote, specifically, will be very important in determining who leads come the November election,” said Gray.