In Black and White: Why Bernie's Race Problem Persists

African American voters are the most reliable Democratic voting bloc. A Democrat who cannot make inroads among black voters can forget about winning the presidency. Yet, here we stand, with a racial divide within the Democratic primary electorate in white and black, quite literally. An NBC News/Survey Monkey tracking poll released today finds Sanders and Clinton roughly maintaining their positions within the primary, with Clinton maintaining her lead. Clinton's lead is in large part to her runaway advantage among black voters, with whom she is at nearly 75% support, while Sanders has yet to touch 25. White voters lean slightly in favor of Sanders, 47-44. A separate poll shows Clinton is also holding a steady lead among Latino voters.

The picture holds among young voters as well, with only one out of four black millennials choosing Sanders, with Clinton being the choice of roughly the same share of white millennials.

The battle in the race for the Democratic nomination is not one being waged between the young and the old or even the "establishment" and "revolution", much as many Sanders supporters would like to believe.

The divide in race the Democratic nomination for President of the United States is one, quite literally, between white and black, or to a pretty significant extent, white and non-white.

This surprises many of Bernie's fans. Why oh why, they wonder, can't black and brown people see what they can - namely, that giant halo around Bernie's head? In more than one place now, Bernie has claimed that the softness in his support from people of color stems from ignorance - and proceeded to tell black people what they should base their support on - a likely cause of the divide in the Democratic primary electorate.

It isn't black voters and other communities of color who are ignorant of Bernie's plan to fix everything with noun, verb and Wall Street. To the contrary, it is Sanders who has shown his ignorance - if not downright contempt - for issues black leaders and grassroots voters want addressed.

Bernie Sanders has expressed visible irritation and frustration with the literal life-and-death concerns raised by members of the Black Lives Matter movement. In a recent event in Minnesota, the Senator was so frustrated he began to count the number of times he's said the word 'black' (according to him, it's 51). Sanders has claimed that he, a white man, would "absolutely" do better to heal racial tensions in America the first African American president (not to mention one who won twice with the most diverse electoral coalitions in history). He's attacked President Obama's stewardship again and again, calling himself the president's harshest critic, and even talking up a primary challenge in 2012.

White liberals claiming a monopoly on progressivism may have forgotten that, as has the mainstream media, but black voters didn't. Most people of color didn't. Neither did prominent black leaders. It doesn't help his cause any that when black leaders do speak their grievances about Bernie's disloyalty to President Obama, his campaign simply dismisses the criticism as a desperate ploy by supporters of his opponent's presidential campaign, or that when black and brown activists and leaders want to address deeply entrenched institutional and social racism they are told it could all be solved by sending sufficient number of bankers to jail and and if only black kids would stop hanging out on the street corner (you know, because Bernie would save them with jobs).

It doesn't help his cause any, in no small part because Hillary Clinton's campaign has amassed sweeping support in the black leadership of this country reflective of her support among minorities in the polls by doing precisely the opposite of what Sanders has done: listening more than talking to the concerns of these communities, putting forward a real agenda to address social inequities, unequivocally defending President Obama's record and demanding respect for his leadership.

Prominent Sanders supporters have responded to this overwhelming statement by belittling, claiming that leaders like Civil Rights icon John Lewis are nothing more than lobbyist-purchased Uncle Toms, and of course, by holding all-white training sessions on how to talk to black women. The Sanders campaign itself continues to lie about minority endorsements, viciously attacking young people of color for having the temerity to back Hillary Clinton in addition to apparently keeping a count of how many times their candidate says 'black.'

What's more, Sanders has been ill-prepared to address the issue of racism even within the context of his overarching campaign issue: income inequality. After Sanders met with Al Sharpton last week, the Reverend said that he did not get direct answers from Sanders on the issues of systemic racism that affects financial well-beings of minorities, from employment to affirmative action.

This is serious. At the core of the modern Democratic party is the crucial struggle to root out racial prejudice, not just economic disparities. If all we were going to be is the white liberals' economic parity party, LBJ would not have passed the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act, angering southern Democrats who had nonetheless been economic populists - at the cost of losing the south for a generation (turned out to be a lot longer) for the party. A candidate who doesn't fully understand and effectively campaign on that premise does not deserve the Democratic nomination for President.



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