What White People Can Learn from Bernie’s Non-White Problem

If Bernie Sanders doesn’t fix his lack of appeal with non-white voters, his bid for the presidency will end very soon.  In the first real test of his appeal with minority voters, Hillary thumped him by capturing 86% of Black voters in South Carolina.  Michelle Alexanders believes Black individuals who vote for Hillary are making a mistake and has publicly stated that Hillary does not deserve the Black vote because of her role in mass incarceration.  I agree with Alexander’s points and feel that Hillary has done a lot of harm to the minority community, especially the Black community.  The natural follow-up to Michelle Alexander’s statement though is whether or not Bernie Sanders deserves the Black/minority vote instead.

A lot of Bernie supporters would like you to believe the answer is “yes.”  They would point to his extensive and impressive civil rights record.  They would also point to his stance on racial justice issues.  They would share that Bernie understands the needs of the minority community and point to his stance on physical, political, legal, economic, and environmental violence against people of color.

Given Sanders’ past history of racial justice activism and current racial justice stance, many of his supporters are wondering why he is floundering with minority voters.  Many explanations have been offered by both White and non-White political analysts.  The two most common narratives offered are that minorities simply do not know who he is, and that if they do, they have already allied themselves with Hillary because of the Clinton name and Bill’s legacy with Black voters.

Beneath the text in the above narrative is an undercurrent of implicit racism.  The unconscious message is that non-white voters are uninformed and do not make decisions that are in their best interest.  The message also implies the reverse, that White voters do.  In essence, analysts are saying that for the political system to benefit minorities, minorities need to shape up and act like White progressives.  Fuck that.  Bernie has tied himself to this belief as well.  He trusts that as long as he keeps his message consistent, as his campaign progresses minorities will naturally learn more about him, what he stands for, and join the fold. This belief could very well cost him the election.

I don’t question the good intentions of Bernie or his supporters.  I think Bernie Sanders and his supporters genuinely want to help people of color, unlike the Drumpfs of this world.  I think the issue with Sanders  is that he, in a manner of speaking, “hasn’t dealt with his own shit yet.”  What do I mean by that you ask?  That he hasn’t grappled with his Whiteness yet, and if he has, probably not to the degree that is necessary to be a true racial justice ally.

I’m going to offer a different narrative, one that doesn’t denigrate already stigmatized populations.  I’d like to suggest the following: plenty of minorities know who Bernie Sanders is, his history of racial justice activism, and his current stance on racial justice issues, but are CHOOSING not to vote for him.  That Bernie’s non-white problem could be because of Bernie himself seems to something that is not even being considered by him or his supporters. This is perhaps the biggest problem I see with Bernie Sanders and his supporters; they do not consider that they do not and can not understand all of the minority experience. To be fair, Bernie Sanders is a MUCH better racial justice ally than most politicians.   He has at least taken the first step in becoming an ally; he has separated himself from the dominant narrative of race in America, namely, that race does not matter.  He obviously recognizes that racial injustice is pervasive.

However, he and his supporters, while understanding that racism is still a “thing,” have not truly grappled with the fact that their experiences are not universal and that they are privileged in this country because of their Whiteness.  Not once does Bernie mention White privilege in his racial justice platform.  Not once has he really acknowledged that he has benefited from being a White man in America.  If Bernie does not understand the benefits of Whiteness, he doesn’t really understand racism in America.  He does not understand that the American narrative is the White narrative.  He does not understand that his system of economic reform while good and much-needed, will disproportionately benefit White individuals. Moreover, his downfall will likely be because he doesn’t recognize that minorities see what he does not and that he does not.

It is also true that Bernie Sanders could know and appreciate the benefits of being a White man in America and is choosing not to talk about it because he is afraid of distancing his White progressive base.  This is a nice thought until you think about it some more.  If the above is true, what does that say about how much of a racial ally Bernie really is?  Additionally, what does that also say about how much credit he gives to his current base?  Hillary,  is far from a saint when it comes to racial justice but she has at least publicly kinda acknowledged White privilege?  That isn’t much, but it’s something and certainly more than what Bernie has done.

I want to like you Bernie, I really do.  For me to like you though, you need to realize that minorities will no longer tolerate receiving tiny pieces of the pie anymore.

  • Bernie, please understand that while your past civil rights activism is great, it does not necessarily make you a racial justice ally in the present
  • Bernie, please understand, your racial justice platform is nice but that should not be the only time you mention race.
  • Bernie, please understand that racism is everywhere, that racism will be present in your economic reform plan unless you actively do something about it
  • Bernie, please understand that you need to do more than acknowledge the presence of racial injustice to be an ally
  • Bernie, please understand that minorities will not trust any White man in power to help them unless he is first willing to acknowledge and address his Whiteness
  • Bernie, most of all, please understand that unless you talk about HOW racism works today to negatively impact the lives of minorities, many of us will not trust any of your plans to improve our lives

Make no mistake, if Bernie loses to Hillary, he will lose because he didn’t get our vote.  If White people learn more about what it means to be an ally as a result, his loss will not be in vain.