Color Bind: Bernie Sanders' Intentional Ignorance When Facing Issues of Race
If a person doesn’t vote for a candidate because they’re Black, does that mean this person is racist?
This deep, philosophical question is brought to you by none other than Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, who raised this issue in a published interview with The Daily Beast on Thursday. Sanders, reflecting on the campaigns of both Andrew Gillum in Florida and Stacey Abrams in Georgia, claimed that a number of voters were hesitant to vote for either Gillum or Abrams because they had never previously voted for a Black candidate. Sanders said:
Dear God, where to start.
First off, yes, it does, in fact, make someone a racist if they refuse to vote for someone because of the color of their skin. That’s the textbook definition of a racist: believing that a certain group of people are inferior because of their melanin levels. That applies to politics, too. If you don’t think a person can properly govern because of the color of their skin then that means you believe in racist stereotypes. Rather than giving the candidate the benefit of the doubt, all you see is his or her race. If this was 80 years ago, you would hear the candidate speak on the radio and support them but if you saw them in person you would withdraw your support. You can attempt to justify it any way you want, but if you are judging someone by the color of their skin rather than the content of their character then that makes you a racist.
But Bernie Sanders’ mind-numbing confusion on this topic shouldn’t surprise anyone. After all, his entire career has been built on ignoring, and in many cases engaging in, racism for his own political gain. Sanders’ post-college path brought him from diverse, lively, engaging New York City to lily-white rural Vermont where he could be among similar-skinned men and women. It was in Vermont where Sanders would begin to cement his political ideas and would become an active member with the Liberty Union Party, a third party whose platform stressed its socialist ideals designed to appeal to the White working class. After unsuccessfully running for both senator and governor as a third-party candidate under the Liberty Union banner, Sanders would resign from the party claiming that it wasn’t active enough in off-years. He would then become a political independent, a designation he has kept through the present day.
Over the course of the next 40 years, Sanders would emerge in Vermont politics, first as mayor of Burlington, then as congressman, and now Senator. Through all this, Sanders has rarely, if ever interacted with people of color. As recently as April of this year, Sanders had been called out for his lack of engagement with the state’s African-American community. This comes on the heels of a February of 2016 article by The Daily Beast which quotes Black leaders describing Sanders being dismissive and evasive anytime they tried to engage him on racial justice issues. Despite the fact that Vermont has the third-highest rate of incarcerated African-Americans, Sanders has refused to discuss any sort of criminal justice reform that would address the issue. In a state that is 95% White, Sanders simply chooses not to deal with issues that don’t affect the White working class.
And Sanders knows this. He knows he has zero credibility when it comes to his actions on behalf of people of color. When Congressman John Lewis called him out in February of 2016 for never having been active in the fight for civil rights, Sanders immediately sought out people of color to vouch for him. This led him to campaign with such individuals as Cornel West, Ben Jealous, and Killer Mike among others. But despite this, Sanders could not refrain from continually demeaning the dignity of people of color. When he lost a string of southern primaries in April of 2016, Sanders blamed the losses not on his inability to connect with people of color but rather on the fact that “poor people don’t vote” and that having a string of southern primaries “distorts reality.” Of course, somehow poor people did vote, just not for Bernie Sanders, something that left him confounded. After all, he was stressing economic equality and that should have been a winning issue to poor people of color.
But what Sanders failed to understand, and continues to do so this day, is that economic stability won’t end systemic racism. The wealthiest Black doctor still will be bypassed when he tries to hail a cab. The most qualified Black woman will still have her resume rejected because her name is Janelle and not Janet. The most talented female tennis player will still be penalized for being too emotional. And the most talented professional athlete on the planet will still be told to “shut up and dribble” when he dares to gives his political opinion.
So it should come as no surprise to anyone that Bernie Sanders now thinks that people won’t support strong candidates of color. Truth be told, he shares Michael Avenatti’s views that only a qualified White man can become president. It’s why Sanders wanted to primary President Barack Obama in 2012, believing that he needed to be more progressive and refusing to understand Obama’s desire to compromise with a then Republican-controlled House of Representatives. Throughout the most-recent 2018 campaign, Bernie Sanders continuously chose to endorse White candidates over strong candidates of color, including choosing to endorse Sharice Davids’ primary opponent rather than supporting Davids on what became a historic campaign. It wasn’t until it became en vogue to do so that Sanders finally got behind both Andrew Gillum and Stacey Abrams and he was a much less visible presence on the campaign trail than President Barack Obama. Sanders knew, and still knows, how his message simply doesn’t resonate with people of color.
In the end, it shouldn’t surprise anyone why Bernie Sanders doesn’t understand racism: it doesn’t fit his pre-programmed understanding of the world. Ever since he was of an impressionable age, Sanders fully believed that economic stability was all that was needed for a person to succeed. To realize that someone can be economically successful and experience racism would mean that Sanders would actually have to have a platform that addresses more than just economic inequality. If that were to happen, Sanders would actually have to address all those pesky issues relating to identify politics, something he is simply unwilling to do. We all saw how he was exposed with his disastrous New York Daily News interview and so we can imagine what would happen if he was consistently asked about his criminal justice platform. To expand his platform to address all these underlying societal issues would mean that economic equality is not the cure-all that Bernie Sanders has claimed for his entire professional life. In short, it would mean that he had been living a lie, lying to his constituents, lying to all of those that voted for him, and ultimately lying to himself.
And Bernie Sanders simply cannot bear to face that harsh reality.
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