Maybe it’s his decades of residence in lily-white Vermont. Maybe it’s his stubborn streak. Maybe it’s the overweening self-regard that inevitably develops in the mind of the successful politician. But Bernie Sanders is having an awful time getting over his “black problem.”
It’s gotten to the point where a possibly innocuous move like visiting Jesse Jackson takes on a “some of my best friends are black” vibe.
“Longtime friends, the senator and the civil rights leader held a very productive, hour-long meeting on important issues confronting the country and the African American community,” spokesman Michael Briggs wrote in the statement.
Err, Mike. Don’t try too hard with the “longtime friends” stuff.
Bernie ought to be the candidate of racial justice as well as the economic variety. But he can’t quite seem to find his footing after twice being challenged by “Black Lives Matter” protesters. The latest gaffe came Sunday on “Meet The Press”:
CHUCK TODD: Buzzfeed has an article out this morning. Headline is this: “Sanders Campaign Reaches Out to Black Lives Matter Activists.” Quote, “I apologize it took our campaign so long.” Tell me more about it.
BERNIE SANDERS: Well, that was sent out by a staffer, not by me. Look, we are reaching out to all kinds of groups, absolutely.
CHUCK TODD: I understand that but, you said a staffer put it out, but you felt an apology was necessary?
BERNIE SANDERS: No, I don’t. I think we’re going to be working with all groups. This was sent out without my knowledge.
Well, that’s just great.
Bernie had been taking concrete steps to reconcile with “Black Lives Matter” — and right there he went back to the “All Lives Matter” line of thinking that’s anathema to the movement. Plus, bonus negative points, he undercut his own African-American outreach director, who sent the email in question. All because, apparently, he’s too crusty and self-centered to apologize.
Which he should, for purely political reasons if nothing else. And he ought to be plausibly sincere about it. Not only for the sake of his own campaign, which needs to be a Rainbow Coalition if he really wants to take down Hillary Clinton; but for the sake of the 2016 campaign, because the Democrats need a strong and active minority presence to win the presidency. And he’s not helping.
The longer he continues this pattern of mixing positive steps with hurtful comments or actions, the harder it’ll be to extricate himself from the situation and to regain the trust and support of the black community. He doesn’t deserve that trust and support because he marched for civil rights in the 1960s or because Jesse Jackson is his “longtime friend”; he earns it through his present-day actions. He’s still got some work to do.
And now, a word for Sanders supporters who don’t believe he has a problem.
He does. And you’re part of it.
When Bernie backers react angrily to African Americans who are dissatisfied with Bernie Sanders, they are making it worse. The great Imani Gandy, a.k.a. Angry Black Lady:
Sanders’ fanatics have been viciously harassing Black people on Twitter and Facebook for weeks now—ever since the #BlackLivesMatter activists stood up during the presidential town hall at Netroots Nation and demanded that Sanders provide substantive answers about what he would do about the epidemic of police violence in the Black community.
In the wake of that protest, Sanders supporters took to Twitter to condescend, patronize, and belittle Black people, talking to us as if we are stupid and don’t know what’s best for us, and therefore should listen to our White Progressive ™ betters lest we usher in a Trump presidency or a Clinton presidency or whomever is the Boogey Man du jour.
Okay, white Bernie Sanders supporter. How do you react to that? Kneejerk consternation or anger?
Better check yourself. A whole lot of black progressives see things her way, and you should be asking yourselves why.
In my spare time, especially if I’m cooking or canning, I’ll listen to sports-talk radio. Harmless background chatter. Often, a show will feature white and black co-hosts. (The white guy is usually a sports radio lifer and the black guy is an ex-athlete. Stereotypes live!) Whenever a racial issue comes up, the reaction is predictable: the white guy doesn’t think it’s a big deal and the black guy does.
This ain’t coincidence. It’s the way our perceptions are shaped by our own experiences. That’s why diversity is a social good, whether it’s based on race, gender, religion, or whatever. Similarly, there is no way a white person — especially a white person from Vermont — can be fully in touch with the black experience in America, no matter how well-intentioned s/he may be.
Bernie needs the active, passionate support of blacks (and Hispanics and women and the LGBT community) more than they need Bernie. He needs to stop the temporizing and bloviating, and get to some serious listening.
And not just to his longtime friend Jesse.