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.

 

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“Feeling the Bern:” Minorities are Not

The focus of Bernie Sanders’ campaign is unequivocally economic inequality.  On his website he notes that “there is something profoundly wrong when the top one-tenth of one percent owns almost as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent.”  Bernie is choosing to be in the vanguard and take a stand against corporate greed and the 1%.  This is especially notable given the recent Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision by SCOTUS that deemed corporate spending on political campaigns to be a form of protected speech under the First Amendment.  Bernie Sanders knows that the 1% have the power in this country and will do everything in their power to stop his ascension but he’s going to try anyways.  Good for him.  We need more people like Bernie in this country.

Bernie Sanders is the only presidential candidate to not have a Super PAC, i.e. a political committee that gives anonymous and unlimited financial contributions to candidates.  Bernie believes that corporations have too much of a say in the contemporary political process.  That he has actively refused to have a Super PAC is a testament to this belief.  He believes that a campaign should win because of its strength on the issues, not the strength of its pocketbook.  For this strategy to be successful, Bernie must energize the disenfranchised middle and lower classes. He has been somewhat successful in this regard and support for him is as high as it has ever been.

Bernie’s surge of support has however been limited to the White demographic.  This should not come as entirely surprising.  Bernie comes from a state that is 94% White.  “White people appeal” is something Bernie Sanders is intimately familiar with and has garnered his entire political career.  To win a presidential election however, Bernie must learn to appeal to minority voters – and initial results are not promising.  In the crucial third primary state of South California, a state where the majority of democratic voters are Black, Bernie only has the support of 11% of the Black Americans.  Clinton on the other hand is polling at  86% with Black South Carolinians. If Sanders doesn’t do something to change his appeal to minority voters, there is no way he will win the democratic nomination.

The most popular explanation given for Sanders’ lack of support among nonwhite democratic voters is that minorities are unfamiliar with him and his stance on the issues.  The logic is that since Bernie’s primary goal is to remedy income inequality, and because minorities in this country are much worse off financially than Whites, Sanders should be able to easily win over minority voters.  Since he has not, they must not know who he is.

DEMOS_NetWorth_ChartThere are multiple things that are wrong with this explanation.  First and foremost, it may not actually be true.  Black democrats watched the debates at a rate higher than every other demographic group.  Another thing I find troubling about the explanation is it is grounded in Whiteness and victim blaming.  It suggests that minorities are not aware enough to even know what is in their own best interest but Whites are.

I will offer another explanation.  I believe that even when minorities are hearing Bernie’s message, they still are not “feeling it.” Bernie Sanders mentions the billionaire class and the injustices they perpetuate through their excesses almost every time he opens his mouth.  He speaks of this group as though they are an amorphous amalgamation of all that is evil with capitalism in this country.  The only problem is that they are not amorphous and they are not faceless.  In Forbes list of the 400 richest people in the US, there is one Black woman (Oprah in case it wasn’t obvious), 3 LGB individuals, 4 First Nations individuals, 6 Asian Americans, and 34 women. The rest?  The other 353?  You guessed it, White men.

Bernie Sanders, despite his focus on income inequality, continually misses out on two factors that contribute to his passion pit: race and gender. Bernie Sanders talks about income inequality in a colorblind and gender-blind manner.  This may explain why he is able to appeal to Whites but not minorities.  Research suggests that minorities understand and recognize colorblindness but White Americans do not.  We know that colorblindness perpetuates racial inequality; the only way to overcome racial differences is to talk about race.  If Bernie does talk about how race affects income, the hierarchical and racialized nature of income inequality will not change under his leadership.

In a future where Bernie Sanders is president and makes good on his promises, the economic situation of minorities would likely improve. In Bernie’s current world, the colorblindness and systemic racism present in our economic structure do not change and minorities remain at the bottom of the pyramid.  They are better off, but they are still worse off than White America.  This would be particularly true for women of color.

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I’ve had it stated to me by other minorities that  Bernie will do something to improve minority economic welfare once he is in office but that this future plan is not something he can talk about right now if he wants to win the nomination.  In their eyes, the damage this plan would have on the working class white bloc would be too great at this stage.  This is something I refuse to abide.  Minorities have been screwed over too many times by politicians for us to put blind faith in another.  It is something we cannot and should not be asked to do.

Bernie has given some hints that he is aware of these issues as he mentions them briefly on his website.  He needs to be more vocal to earn my support though.  He needs to bring it from the background to the foreground.  Make it part of your plan for the next debate Bernie.  Make sure everyone knows that you will not keep quiet about it anymore.  If your platform truly is one of the issues, make sure everyone knows that this is one of the big ones.  If you don’t change, I and all minorities have the right to assume our economic welfare is not something you actually care about.

Reforming the legal system is a great first step Bernie, but racial justice is much more than that.  I need to hear you talk about racial income gap Bernie.  I need to hear your plan.  Then and only then will I transition from “liking the Bern” to”feeling the Bern.”

 

 

Deconstructing “the Donald’s” Hit Job on Bernie Sanders

We need a strong leader- and fast!

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Donald Trump’s recent attack ad on Bernie Sanders has struck an emotional cord for me. There are so many things wrong with it that I need to deconstruct it piece by piece.  I intend this post to be both cathartic for me and any potential readers.

Trump’s shtick is that he will not back down or capitulate to anyone. His supporters view him as refreshing in the era of “pussification.”  Yes, conservatives have actually used that word. This term centralizes aggression and dominance within masculinity.  Trump is cleverly using this implicit sexist bias in his attack ad.  He is attacking Bernie’s lack of aggression and therefore, his masculinity. This appeals to his party base as Republicans in general tend to be less tolerant of compromise, see the world in us vs. them terms, and are more willing to use force to gain an advantage. In other words, Republicans look for the toxic masculine shtick in their leaders.  Vile though his methods may be, Donald Trump sure knows how to play to his party base.

Trump has no problems alienating those who do not fall within his party base.   His supporters are 91% White and support deportation of undocumented immigrants, feel that the confederate flag is a symbol of Southern pride, and believe Blacks who struggle are responsible for their own condition.  They are not exactly a group supportive of multiculturalism and diversity.  Trump’s racist comments are not bold; they are exactly what his constituents want to hear.

Bernie Sanders is at least attempting to reach out to the Black community.  He should be applauded for sharing the stage with the Black Lives Matter activists.  His sharing of the mic is a show of solidarity towards Black America by a person in power – historically something almost all of our political leaders have avoided like the plague.  Bernie Sanders showed that yes, he actually to some degree does care about Black lives.  In the era of colorblind racism where racial differences and inequities are denied, this move by Bernie takes courage.  As yesterday’s democratic debates aptly demonstrated, not all progressives are supportive of racial justice reform.  Bernie is taking a risk; by taking a stand and supporting racial justice reform, he may actually alienate some of his White constituency.

Bernie Sanders does know how to defend himself.  Unlike Trump, he defends his beliefs even if they are unpopular with his supporters.  In sharing his mic with the Black Lives Matter activists, he demonstrated that he knows sometimes the most important voice is not his own. This to me is what takes courage and strength and is what I look for in a leader.

Unfortunately and unsurprisingly, the issues with Donald Trump’s attack ad are not limited to toxic masculinity.  In the short clip he also manages to denigrate the Black Lives Matter movement as well.  By juxtaposing BlackLivesMatter activists with ISIS, he not so subtly insinuates that BlackLivesMatter is a serious threat to this country and its values. This is downright offensive.  One group, ISIS, has murdered innocent people.  The other group, Black Lives Matter, is trying to prevent the murder innocents. How could groups with literally opposite goals be similar?

Trump ends the video with his campaign slogan: “Make America Great Again.” Someone needs to tell Donald that this so called American Greatness he keeps referring to would not have been possible without the literal blood, sweat, and tears of Black America.  Millions of Black lives have been lost to create the America we know today.  Despite this, we as a society remain inhumanely indifferent to the struggles of Black America, the struggles we create and perpetuate.  No Donald, Black Lives Matter is not a threat to “America.”  America is a threat to Black lives. Props to Bernie for recognizing this.

Last but not least, the 15 second or so clip also manages to promote Islamophobia. I’m not here to debate the potential danger ISIS poses to this country; I am here to critique the depiction of Muslim individuals in our country.  Donald Trump likes to cherry pick the worst individuals of Islam and use them to represent the entire religion to his constituents.  Unfortunately his supporters don’t know any better.  Are some Muslims terrorists?  Yes, a very small handful are.  Are the vast majority? Overwhelmingly, no.  In fact, in the last 14 years since 9/11, White Americans have killed more innocent people than Muslims or any other group.  Of the 26 terrorist attacks on the US since 9/11, only 6 have been committed by Muslims.

Another issue Islamophobes like to bring up is Sharia law and the human rights atrocities permitted through it.  Specifically, conservatives like to critique Islamic countries for oppressing their women.  Typical platitudes include “Saudi Women aren’t even allowed to drive!” While this is a travesty, one Islamic country’s injustice is not representative of an entire religion. Finally, when your political party is hell-bent on defunding Planned Parenthood, you absolutely do not have the right to critique others for denying women’s rights.

Well, I think that’s about all I have to say on the matter.  I do feel better getting all of that off my chest.  I hope reading this post offered you some relief as well.

PS. I realize that the current post is very pro Bernie Sanders.  In the next post, I will provide an anti-racist critique of him.  Stay tuned.