Bernie Sanders and African-Americans

Senator Bernie Sanders, whose voting record is rated near-perfect by the NAACP, has a problem relating to African-Americans.

His recent mishandling of a #BlackLivesMatter protest at the Netroots Nation convention shows how style can matter as much to people as substance.

Bill Clinton was a master of style.   My guess is that more poor black people remember Clinton playing the saxophone on the Arsenio Hall show than his 1994 crime bill or 1996 welfare bill.

I have no reason to doubt that Clinton genuinely liked black people, but the important thing is that as a candidate for Governor of Arkansas, he needed the votes of black citizens.

Bernie Sanders' 12 points

Bernie Sanders’ 12 points

Bernie Sanders is from Vermont, a state that is as near to 100 percent white as it is possible to get.  When talking about civil rights, he talked to other white people about the principles of justice.  He never had to convince black people that he represents their interests.

I am sure that he, like me, is righteously indignant about the death of Sandra Bland in a Texas jail after being arrested for no good reason.  But I do not think of the deaths of Sandra Bland, or all the other black people recently in the hands of police, as something that could happen to me.   My guess is that the same is true of Sanders, and that is why the #BlackLivesMatter protestors found Sanders wanting.

Sanders’ 12-point platform is a program for economic justice, not specifically for racial justice.  (Double click on the graphic to read it.)  There is a point about equal rights for women, but not one for equal rights for racial minorities.

I don’t take this to mean that Sanders is indifferent to racial justice.  I take it to mean that, as a product of the socialist tradition, he sees economic justice as the fundamental question and that, as a practical politician, he sees economic justice as the issue that will bring him the broadest support.

You can’t have racial justice without economic justice, or vice versa.   The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. spent as much time speaking in union halls as he did in churches, and his last campaign was the support of a garbage collectors’ strike in Memphis, Tenn.


Can Bernie Sanders Be Less White? by Barrett Holmes Pitner for The Daily Beast.  Thoughts of a black man who once worked in Sanders’ Washington office.

Give the People What They Want by Seth Ackerman for Jacobin.  Opinion polls indicate that economic justice is not a “white” issue.

On Berniebots and Hillary Hacks, Dean Screams, Swiftboating and Smears by John Halle on Outrages and Interludes.

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