Sister Souljah moment

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In United States politics, a Sister Souljah moment is a politician's public repudiation of an extremist person or group, statement, or position perceived to have some association with the politician or the politician's party.[1]

It has been described as "a key moment when the candidate takes what at least appears to be a bold stand against certain extremes in their party"[2] and as "a calculated denunciation of an extremist position or special interest group."[3] Such an act of repudiation is a signal to centrist voters that the politician is not beholden to those positions or interest groups, although such a repudiation runs the risk of alienating some of the politician's allies and the party's base voters. The term is named after the hip hop artist Sister Souljah.[3]


Sister Souljah in 1997

The term originated in the 1992 presidential candidacy of Bill Clinton.[3] In a Washington Post interview published on May 13, 1992, the hip-hop MC, author, and political activist Sister Souljah was quoted as saying (in response to the question regarding black-on-white violence in the 1992 Los Angeles riots):

Question: Even the people themselves who were perpetrating that violence, did they think that was wise? Was that a wise reasoned action?

Souljah: Yeah, it was wise. I mean, if black people kill black people every day, why not have a week and kill white people?... White people, this government and that mayor were well aware of the fact that black people were dying every day in Los Angeles under gang violence. So if you're a gang member and you would normally be killing somebody, why not kill a white person? Do you think that somebody thinks that white people are better, are above and beyond dying, when they would kill their own kind?

— Quoted in David Mills (16 June 1992) "In Her Own Disputed Words; Transcript of Interview That Spawned Souljah's Story", The Washington Post[4]

Speaking to Jesse Jackson, Sr.'s Rainbow Coalition in June 1992, Clinton responded both to that quotation and to something Souljah had said in the music video of her song "The Final Solution: Slavery's back in Effect" ("If there are any good white people, I haven't met them").[5] "If you took the words 'white' and 'black,' and you reversed them, you might think David Duke was giving that speech," said Clinton.

Prior to his appearance, Clinton's campaign staff had conducted an intense debate about how far he should go in distancing himself from Jackson, who was unpopular with moderate voters. When Souljah was invited to speak at the conference, Clinton's advisors saw their chance.

External video
Sister Souljah's response to Gov. Bill Clinton's remarks, June 16, 1992, C-SPAN

Clinton's response was harshly criticized by Jackson, who said, "Sister Souljah represents the feelings and hopes of a whole generation of people," and he claimed that she had been misquoted.[6] Clinton was also criticized by some of the Democratic Party's other African American supporters.[7] Souljah responded by denying she had ever made remarks promoting murder and accused Clinton of being a racist and a hypocrite because he had played golf at a country club that refused to admit black members until he decided to run for president earlier in the year;[8] Clinton acknowledged that he was once a member of an all-white Arkansas golf club early into his presidential campaign and publicly apologized.[8] In response to the rebuttal, Paul Greenberg, a progressive Arkansas journalist and longtime Clinton critic who dubbed the Arkansas Governor "Slick Willie" during his 1980 re-election bid,[9] criticized Souljah for lying about what she said in an earlier interview with the Washington Post, accusing her of trying to fend off criticism "with the savvy of an experienced pol." In the same article he compares her to Louis Farrakhan, the leader of the Nation of Islam.[10]

Other examples[edit]

As a candidate for the Republican nomination for president in 2000, Texas Governor George W. Bush spoke before the conservative Manhattan Institute in October 1999 saying, "Too often, on social issues, my party has painted an image of America slouching toward Gomorrah," quoting the title of a book by conservative jurist Robert Bork. Bush's comments were seen as a repudiation of the religious right and an attempt to appeal to moderate voters; commentator Charles Krauthammer called it "an ever so subtle Sister Souljah on Robert Bork."[11]

Also in the 2000 campaign for the Republican nomination, Arizona Senator John McCain stated, "Neither party should be defined by pandering to the outer reaches of American politics and the agents of intolerance, whether they be Louis Farrakhan or Al Sharpton on the left or Pat Robertson or Jerry Falwell on the right." This was similarly seen as a repudiation of the religious right; columnist Jacob Weisberg called it "a pungent Sister Souljah moment."[12]

During the 2008 United States presidential campaign, Democratic Party nominee Barack Obama received much criticism for his association with his longtime Pastor Jeremiah Wright, and Wright's pattern of racist statements. On April 29, Senator Obama distanced himself, in a well-received speech on racism, calling some of Wright's statements "outrageous" and "a bunch of rants that aren't grounded in truth."[13][14] South Carolina Congressman James Clyburn said of the speech, "This, I think, offers Barack Obama his Sister Souljah moment";[14] the speech was also described as "more than a Sister Souljah moment" by columnist Maureen Dowd.[15]

On July 10, 2008, prior to a taping of Fox and Friends, civil-rights activist Jesse Jackson was unwittingly caught by an open microphone whispering to a fellow interviewee, saying that then-candidate Barack Obama was talking down to black people and that he, Jackson, wanted to cut Obama's "nuts off".[16] Jackson's son, Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. of Illinois—co-chair of Obama's presidential campaign—publicly blasted his father's comments. Dan Balz called the comments an "accidental Sister Souljah moment" for Obama, since Jackson had distanced himself from the candidate, without Obama having to take a stand.[17]


  1. ^ "Time for a 'Sister Souljah' moment". July 17, 2014. Retrieved July 20, 2014.
  2. ^ "Mitt's Sister Souljah Moment". March 5, 2012. Retrieved September 29, 2012.
  3. ^ a b c Vennochi, Joan (September 16, 2007). "Sister Souljah moments". The Boston Globe.
  4. ^ David Mills. "Sister Souljah's Call to Arms.' Washington Post, May 13, 1992, p. B1.
  5. ^ Anthony Lewis. '"Abroad at Home; Black and White," New York Times.
  6. ^ Lewis, Op.cit.
  7. ^ Kornacki, Steve (2019-07-29). "1992: Bill Clinton builds a winning coalition, Jackson is diminished". NBC News. Retrieved 2019-10-08. It was against this backdrop that Clinton delivered his "Sister Souljah" speech, which opened up a public war with Jackson.
  8. ^ a b Chuck Phillips (June 17, 1992). "'I Do Not Advocate ... Murdering' : 'Raptivist' Sister Souljah Disputes Clinton Charge". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved August 25, 2014.
  9. ^ American Frontline:Stories of Bill Accessed August 25, 2014
  10. ^ Paul Greenberg (June 19, 1992), Sister Souljah And The Irrational Rationality Of Hate, Chicago Tribune, retrieved August 25, 2014
  11. ^ "Setting Himself Apart From Those Hard-core Conservatives". tribunedigital-chicagotribune. Retrieved 2017-09-25.
  12. ^ Weisberg, Jacob. "McCain's Selective Outrage". Slate. Slate. Retrieved 25 May 2016.
  13. ^ Slevin, Peter; Fears, Darryl (April 30, 2008). "Obama Calls Minister's Comments 'Outrageous'". The Washington Post.
  14. ^ a b Nick Timiraos and Jackie Calmes. Obama Denounces Ex-Pastor for 'Rants', Wednesday, April 30, 2008, ppA1, A18.
  15. ^ Dowd, Maureen (April 30, 2008). "Praying and Preying". The New York Times.
  16. ^ "Jackson apologizes for 'crude' Obama remarks". CNN Politics. July 9, 2008. Retrieved 14 May 2012.
  17. ^ Balz, Dan (July 10, 2008). "Obama's Accidental Sister Souljah Moment". Washington Post. Retrieved 11 May 2012.