Note: This was originally suppose to be a piece for Jacobin, but strangely after they showed interest in it, they didn't want. It was originally a response to The New Republic's mostly dreadful mix of opinions from "notable" media center-liberals on the Democratic primary, specifically the expected asinine views on Bernie Sanders.
Now, it's also a response to good colleague & friend Terrell Starr's diligent piece in Fusion, where he feels again that Bernie Sanders didn't do enough for black people in this election. I firmly feel that even if Sanders had started campaigning back in 2014 and exclusively in black areas that it would not have made any significant difference. The media blackout on him along with this always being Hillary's time on the Democratic side, since the 2008 primary ended, was always going to make this a nearly impossible task for a 74-year-old not known in mainstream black circles. Just like every other race in America, most black people, particularly older black people, don't follow liberal/left politics online a daily and simply didn't have enough time to truly know Bernie Sanders on a deep, memorable level. A few months experience with knowing a white male politician for the first time in your life isn't enough for any black person to trust them, particularly when you have an older voter seeing Hillary be long determined as the Democratic nominee. The "Who the hell is this old white guy" response is very understandable.
Anyway, that section in particular is in the middle of this piece as a response to Terrell's long held perspective on that, since it is a sentiment I have LONG repeated as the reason Hillary crushed Bernie expectedly with black older voters and with black voters in general despite young black voters going for him in the end.
Among the many dishonest smears directed at Bernie Sanders and his supporters from visible liberal news personalities, even after all of the Democratic primaries have ended, is the continued belief that the Vermont Senator’s whole candidacy has alienated black people. This thought has unfortunately augmented rather than diminished not only from dubious black figures long antagonist towards Sanders or not halting in any chance to criticize him, but in non-black liberal notables who somehow think they can speak for all black Democratic voters.
The latest galling paradigm of this urge to talk about black voters while not being black came from former Cosmopolitan writer and now latest Guardian US anti-Sanders critic Jill Filipovic in a New Republic piece discussing why the Democratic Party is so divided after its unexpectedly competitive primary season. Titled "The Split," Filipovic didn’t have the only atrocious thought of that TNR amalgamation of opinions (and hot takes). Elaine Kamarck provided a fine display of lazy “both sides are wrong” centrism by being the latest to conveniently lump Sanders in with Donald Trump as “selling snake oil to the voters” and comparing Sanders’ public paid-for college tuition plan to Trump’s “stupid f—king wall.”
New book author Mychal Denzel Smith, who is black, breathlessly showed how not to do identity politics by claiming Democrats as being too fixated on white voters instead of the party’s “strongest voters”, black women. Smith question the “value” of doing that, figuring the fact that there are still a larger number of white people than any single demographic in this country and seemingly engulfing all white working class voters and Democrats trying to talk to them as trying to “win back the racists.”
The Wire’s David Simon was the owner of the worst, tired narrative of stupidity in that New Republic collection when he claimed Sanders supporters of “drinking the Kool-Aid and not even speaking in the vernacular of reality.” It truly has been an amazing phenomenon how the most privilege anti-Bernie white people like Simon, whose “fame” wouldn’t exist without the black people in Baltimore acting in the roles of the tragic ghetto tales that his white self thought fitting to be a “voice” for, think they are more sophisticated and more racially deeper than white people who support Sanders, but that is another discussion for another piece.
Filipovic is sadly among those people and still thought it was in her place to speak collectively for an entire range of black people despite being as “black” as a Carrie Underwood song. In her latest hackish defense of Hillary Clinton from legitimate and justified criticism, Filipovic claimed that the Sanders contingent of the Democratic Party’s focused primarily on the “concerns of the white working class and they aren’t bringing a lot of race analysis into it.” Filipovic then provided her latest race bait comments by saying that those supposed class focuses “have alienated African-Americans and, to a lesser extent, the Hispanic vote.”
Clearly Filipovic not only has wanted to pay little to no serious attention to Sanders’ entire campaign, but she again marches on with her own beat of bizarre generalizations that make no sense compared to concrete, substantive analysis on black voters. There really isn’t any legitimate sign of black voters being alienated by Sanders’ economic talk, especially young black voters (as well as younger Hispanic voters too). Instead, those are the things we demand as crucial to us finding the equality we have long requested in America, as many studies have shown how black Americans have urged for more public/government egalitarian action to dramatically lessen the gaps caused by white supremacy.
Once again, as a young black journalist and citizen of this country, it is important for me to tell the accurate, full picture instead of cliché’, asinine narratives about black voters from people who aren’t black. In general, black voters, especially older ones in the South, denied to cast their ballots for Sanders not because he alienated them with any economic talk (Sanders by the way has NEVER claimed that class issues are more important than race issues and has made racial inequality a major focus of his campaign repeatedly). Instead, it was mainly because of two simple reasons.
First, most black older voters who made up the majority of the demographics’ voters in the Southern primaries and throughout the country simply weren’t aware of who Sanders was or knew anything about him until election season came. This is just the firm truth, where those trying to deny this are being wildly dishonest to this salient fact that is legitimized with a full black perspective not focused solely on identity politics.
Abetting in that lack of familiarity with Sanders is the second reason for why Clinton owned the older black vote and overall black vote: the constant drumbeats of an inevitable Hillary candidacy if she chose to run after losing to Barack Obama in 2008, complimenting her already massive fame/familiarity. Along with the endless array of cable devotion to the Trump clown show campaign and Hillary’s visibility, Sanders didn’t have the echo chamber of big media coverage raise his profile with black voters to even half the swift rate it did for Obama, who obviously had optical advantages that Sanders never would have had with black voters.
Just look at these accounts from this Los Angeles Times piece from older black voters as the Democratic primary went to South Carolina, the state setting the dominos in place for the rest of the Southern region to go clearly for Clinton as expected and really not even need all of her black Congressional friends long in the tank for her (and in 2008 as well over Obama, least anyone else forgets).
“Who is Bernie Sanders,” one 59-year-old black voter asked in bemusement.
“I'm not up on all of them,” a 77-year-old black woman said. “I'm just up on the one I want” – meaning Clinton – “and the one I don't,” referring to her preference for Clinton and not Trump, despite that being about her primary voting preference and not the general election.
“I got nothing against him, but I don’t know anything about him,” a 76-year-old black man.
These accounts in South Carolina could be heard and seen in every other state from other older black voters who did participate in the Democratic primary, including even in the states with a diverse population that Sanders won in.
Instead of it being black voters not “feeling the bern,” it was black voters, particularly older black voters, not knowing the bern. And for those who were interested in hearing his beliefs for the first time while knowing little about him, older black voters weren’t alienated by Sanders’ economic talk, but just incredulous to if he was going to be able to actually have them occur.
“I know Bernie wants to do a lot. But are those things going to get accomplished?” said a 52-year-old black corrections officer in South Carolina. “I don’t want to say he’s a snake oil salesman, but he’s telling people what they want to hear.”
Whether on improved wages, demanding that the wealth gap significantly diminish and having public education schools that are only good in affluent, mostly white areas, anyone saying that black voters were alienated by Bernie’s economic talk is being an unfortunate charlatan. It is even more galling when people claiming that has been the case are people who are as black as a carton of eggs.
It willingly ignores the fact that Bernie has made both economic and social (race and gender) matters prime in his candidacy and is further offensive to black voters by thinking that we aren’t able to focus on both simultaneously with equal fervor.
Even after the Affordable Care Act has existed for a few years, black Americans continue to be uninsured and underinsured at higher rates than white Americans. We, just like any other rational person in America, would certainly love having a sane health care system, with expanded Medicaid for Aid single payer, strong public option and/or massive regulation to force private insurers to finally place people over profits instead of the other way around. You couldn’t find any black voter being alienated at Sanders for mentioning the onerous, high monthly premiums from Aetnas and Wellpoints we, just like other people, have to pay.
There is no alienation with hearing a candidate advocate for affordable public health care, or affordable public college tuition or an affordable $15 minimum wage from most black middle to lower case people. And with how black (and Hispanic) Americans as a whole have been at the bottom of America’s white supremacist structural racism, there is no large majority alienated by a candidate urging for years about our society needing to help the most disadvantaged and impoverished. Those are things that Sanders has stood for years for, yet Filipovic and her kind continue to parrot incongruous statements about how black voters feel.
Unfortunately, with the platforms they are continuously given and the dishonesty they enthusiastically espoused despite being called out on it right on Twitter, more wrong-headed minority takes from non-minorities like Filipovic on Sanders will only continue to fester well beyond the primary election season.