“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.

The Contemporary Argument for Affirmative Action

Affirmative action remains one of the most divisive issues today in contemporary race relations.  SCOTUS is set to rule again this Fall on the legality of affirmative action.  A decision is expected in early 2016 and there is little doubt that affirmative action will be a key issue in the 2016 presidential campaign.  The Supreme Court will hear Abigail Fisher’s appeal to her case against the University of Texas Austin.

Affirmative action has traditionally been framed as an effort to overcome past discrimination against racial minority groups.  This argument is a compelling one.  America’s history of explicit, and at the time, legal discrimination against minority groups is well documented.  We have the obvious examples of slavery and the genocide of Native Americans, but discrimination did not end there.  We also had Jim Crow laws, Japanese internment camps, and more.  Anti-miscegenation laws, laws banning interracial marriage in some states, were only declared unconstitutional by SCOTUS in Loving v. Virgina in 1967!  These racist policies by the US government have deprived racial minorities of invaluable economic and social capital, making it very difficult for them to compete with White Americans who have not faced the same barriers.  Affirmative action, under this traditional argument, helps to level the playing field.

While this is a compelling reason for affirmative action, there are problems if it is the only reason.  It leads to the ever popular “reverse racism” argument.  In this belief system, White individuals become the ones who are the recipients of racism as they face more barriers to college admissions and employment with affirmative action. Under this logic, White men have the most difficult road to success in this country. Therefore, White men who do succeed must be exceptionally qualified.

This believe in reverse racism by White Americans is more prevalent than one might think as well. In a large national sample of Black and White Americans, it was found that a significant amount of White individuals believe that racism is a zero sum game they are now losing.  White participants in the study believed that anti-White bias has surpassed anti-Black bias. Black individuals in the study unsurprisingly did not have similar views.  No shit.

Furthermore, if the only reason for affirmative action is to overcome past racial discrimination, it reinforces the contemporary notion of a colorblind society.  It frames racism as a problem of the past.  It reassures Americans that racism is in fact a meritocracy where everyone gets what they “deserve.”  This blindness makes it very difficult to discuss racial inequality.

The reality is that the world is far from being colorblind. Racism continues to exist in modern society – it looks different and it feels different, but it’s still there.  Colleges and employers continue to favor White individuals and discriminate against people of color.  Discriminatory outcomes still occur today despite our intentions because of implicit bias.  The research tells us that explicit racial bias is largely unrelated to implicit bias.  In fact, meta-analysis examining self-report racial bias and implicit bias show that our implicit racial bias is more predictive of discriminatory behavior than our explicit bias.

What does this all mean though?  It means that many of us have racist beliefs we are not aware of and that these unknown beliefs have more of an impact on our actions.  These implicit racial biases are inherited from American culture. Messages regarding the value/worth of people based on their race, gender, sexual orientation, social class, and more are omnipresent in America. These messages demean the vast majority of people but bypass a certain group: heterosexual White men.  Think about the many stereotypes you have heard over the years for a second.  Can you think of any stereotypes that target heterosexual White men?  If you can, could these stereotypes negatively affect how they are perceived by a college or employer? The answer is most likely no.

This unconscious preferential treatment of heterosexual White men in selection decisions is also supported by research.  In the current color-blind system, we tend to only discriminate based on race when we can get away with it.  For example, when there is a very qualified Black individual for a job, discrimination tends not to occur. Discriminating against a very qualified Black individual can not be attributed to anything other than racism and would be clearly seen as racist. This changes however when a Black individual is only somewhat qualified.  When this occurs, bias happens.  This effect is so strong that Black individuals without a criminal record receive fewer callbacks for interviews than identically qualified White individuals WITH criminal records.

In essence, this means that we already have an unconscious affirmative action in place.  This informal affirmative action benefits White individuals, particularly White men.  Formal affirmative action is needed to balance the implicit biases we inhale from society.  Without formal affirmative action, racial inequalities will undoubtedly become worse.

While rectifying past discrimination against racial minorities is an important reason for having affirmative action, we should not forget that racism continues today.  We may not want to acknowledge its existence, but our indifference only perpetuates injustice.  I sincerely hope SCOTUS makes the right call on this one.

The Myth that Won’t Die: Political Correctness as Outrage Culture

Recently several high-profile individuals have spoken out against what they perceive as a “creepy PC culture” infecting the nation.  These individuals believe that millennials, particularly college-going individuals, can no longer take a joke and are always looking to be offended.   Critics of PC culture feel that in the desire of younger generations to not offend anybody, they have limited critical thinking and discussion.

The argument on the surface seems compelling.   If we try to limit offensive language, are we not censoring free speech?  Are we not narrowing important discourse?  How can we grow as people if we do not hear all perspectives?  After all, isn’t surrounding yourself with like-minded thinkers not conducive to critical thinking?

This notion is actually pretty insulting.  It stereotypes everyone who supports political correctness as the same.  Obviously we must all think alike if we all feel the same way about using language that is inclusive rather than exclusive.  The thing is, we don’t all feel the same way about race or gender a lot of the time.  Each of us carries with us our own experiences and identities.  I, for example as a heterosexual Asian male from a privileged upbringing, have a lot to learn about both race and gender from the literally millions of people in this country who do not share my small cluster of identities.  When a significant portion of us can come together and as a group say “this is wrong,” it’s pretty significant accomplishment.  Suggesting that we are just looking to get outraged suggests we lack substance and real conviction.

This couldn’t be further from the truth.  There are literally thousands of articles that show the detrimental effects of racism and misogyny on racial minorities and women. There are too many to cite here but I highly recommend a google scholar search if you haven’t already.  Scholarly articles stating the opposite, that using sexist or racist language actually contributes to critical thinking, are just not there.  We are not limiting the discourse by censoring individuals who perpetuate injustice.  Discarding discourse that we know is not helpful is a hallmark of progress in society.

Politically incorrect language is also highly selective and targets every group but the one in power: heterosexual White men.  That most of the critics of political correctness are White men is not a coincidence. Political correctness clashes with their privilege; they are used to saying whatever they want whenever they want. This is the appeal of Donald Trump to parts of conservative America.  He, due to his position, can say the things they want to say but no longer can in a PC culture.  He still exudes the unlimited White heterosexual male privilege they want but no longer have.  This is what “outrage culture” and political correctness took away from them.

We as a society need to stop pitying the spoiled White boy on the playground told to share for the first time.