There is no doubt that presidential candidate Bernie Sanders has garnered a good deal of black voters’ attention, but there are still plenty out there who are not convinced. The proportion on each side is constantly up for debate, leaving Sanders in the crossfire of public opinion in the black community. One case in point occurred Friday evening at “A Community Forum on Black America,” hosted at Patrick Henry High School in Minneapolis, MN.
After a friendly welcome by Rep. Keith Ellison, one of a mere two representatives in the House to endorse Sanders, the sparse audience soon grew impatient with Sanders’ obstinacy on the issues at hand, who opted to address the numerous points being made by panel members as “national issues,” rather than “racial issues,” prompting many present to feel that Sanders is afraid to say the word “black,” or call black issues what they are – black issues. The more Sanders focused on economic equality, the more the audience felt he was dodging the obvious elephant in America’s room.
Issues brought to the table by both the audience and panelists included voting rights for felons, environmental racism, reparations, as well as more general questions as to what a Sanders presidency would look like for black America. While Sanders states he does support restoring voting rights for felons and environmental issues (even if he doesn’t refer to the obvious environmental racism aspect of the issue as much as he should, again, insisting that it is an economic issue affecting the poor), he has come out against reparations in a way, by sidestepping his own personal beliefs on the matter for the “it will never make it through Congress,” response.
Time and again, Sanders deflects the issues presented by black Americans as “economic inequality,” inadvertently echoing a possible racist blind spot for the democratic socialist candidate, which gives rise to concern that he doesn’t acknowledge the obvious racism across the nation, regardless of his history working for civil rights. After 40 minutes of that talk, folks like moderator Anthony Newby began asking over and again for “specific redress” from Sanders. As stated by local artist and entrepreneur on the panel, Felicia Perry, “I know you’re scared to say ‘black.’ Can’t you please specifically talk about black people.”
Sanders still wasn’t hearing it, though, and at a forum on “Black America,” no less, which is incredibly unfortunate. Admittedly, it’s a shortcoming he will need to contemplate, and likely later apologize for, as he did with the Black Lives Matter movement early in his candidacy. Instead, Sanders responded:
‘I said “black” 50 times. That’s the 51st time.’
The miscommunication is abundantly clear. The panelists and audience members are asking under that specific forum focused on “Black America” for Sanders to speak to that subject specifically when they ask him to say the word “black,” and Sanders responds literally that he has used the word “51 times” without doing as they are truly asking. Sanders kept right on insisting the issues are more about economics than anything to do with race, stating, “It’s not just black, it’s Latino. In some rural areas, it is white.”
While that is certainly true, and even Dr. Martin Luther King took a heavy turn toward economic inequality before his assassination, it is also irrelevant at a forum on “Black America” where people are present to discuss, specifically, Black America. Furthermore, it fails to recognize that, on a massive scale, economic inequality drastically impacts black communities far greater than others save for Indigenous communities, which does, ultimately, make the issues around economic inequality Back issues. All these panelists and audience members are asking for Sanders to do is acknowledge that reality more often—a simple, reasonable request, and one he’d be a fool to continue declining.
While no politician is perfect, it is important to engage politicians on their shortcomings, and people have a reasonable expectation that the politician being addressed will remain open to their criticisms, and even change themselves for the better. In this simple, necessary request, Sanders has so far proven to either not hear or understand the criticism, or simply remain obstinate on the issue, which somewhat underlines, again, a lack of understanding. Either way, in the end his refusal to do as he is being asked by some members of the Black community could hurt his candidacy. It may also give an advantage to candidates paying lip service to this issue; however, it is important in politics, as is often said, to ignore what a politician says and instead look at his or her track record.
Neither Hillary Clinton nor Bernie Sanders are perfect when it comes to matters surrounding race and racism in the United States, and both are absolutely racist being that they have white skin and have benefitted from America’s systemic racism, no matter how much they’ve worked for betterment on the issue. With that in mind, and simply looking at their track records, it’s clear Bernie Sanders is still one fabulous candidate. He just needs to wake up to the fact that, while focusing on economic inequality is spot-on, it doesn’t hurt for him to also talk about how that plays into everyday reality specifically for black Americans, especially when speaking to a black audience at a forum on “Black America.”
Featured image via YouTube video screen capture.