Bernie Sanders Still Doesn't Know What Racism Is
One-time presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders further revealed how he really feels about Black people, in an off the cuff remark made yesterday to The Daily Beast. In discussing key losses for the Democratic party, Sanders said, “I think you know there are a lot of white folks out there, who are not necessarily racist, who felt uncomfortable for the first time in their lives about whether or not they wanted to vote for an African-American.” Interesting, because that sounds exactly like racism to me, Bernie. Though I’ve lived with the institution of racism my entire life, I somehow still don’t feel like an expert. I’m going to let Baldwin shape the conversation.
“To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time.” - James Baldwin
To clarify, Sanders insists these statements were taken out of context. In an interview with NPR, Sanders is quoted as saying, “There’s no question that in Georgia and in Florida racism has reared its ugly head.”
Stating the obvious does not negate the fact that Sanders’s initial statement can be interpreted to mean it’s not racist to be afraid of Black people. It isn’t racist to believe a Black man is inferior to and incapable of doing the work 43 other white men, with varying degrees of success, did before him. There are good people on both sides. Right, Bernie?
Statements like this are why Sanders can never hope to sit in the Oval Office. His politics, much like Hillary Clinton’s, require obedience and patience from the Black community. These are commodities long since dried up in the endless fight for political equality.
How is it that nearly every violent white nationalist finds his way, unharmed, into the back of a squad car when non-lethal, non-white citizens die by the dozens at the hands of officers? Are the cops not necessarily racist, Mr. Sanders? There’s no inherent bias there, right?
“From my point of view, no label, no slogan, no party, no skin color, and indeed no religion is more important than the human being.” - James Baldwin
When those claiming to be on the left go unchecked it leaves room for people like Kellyanne Conway to defend the president’s hate speech. At a press conference on November 8th, President Trump called PBS NewsHour reporter, Yamiche Alcindor’s question racist. She asked, “…you called yourself a nationalist. Some people are suggesting you’re emboldening white nationalists. There are some people, that now see the Republican Party as supporting white nationalist because of your rhetoric. What do you make of that?”
Guffawing at the question, Trump began to shout. “I don’t believe it,” he said. Then he accused Alcindor, a Black woman, of being a racist.
Conway later defended those remarks on the PBS NewsHour. Staring Alcindor’s colleague, Judy Woodruff, right in the face Conway said, “I believe that what he was saying to your colleague Yamiche is that the implication of racism in the word ‘nationalist’ is very unfortunate because there’s a difference between nationalism and white nationalism.”
A brief education for Conway. A nationalist is simply someone who advocates for the independence of a country. America is American owned. From whom could Trump possibly be seeking independence? Is it the Black and brown people he constantly threatens? The same people his followers attacked. Trump hasn’t even expressed remorse or horror that the mail bomber had a four-wheeled shrine shrouded in his image.
Nationalism, as defined by Britannica, is an ideology based on the premise that the individual’s loyalty and devotion to the nation-state surpass other individual or group interests.
To put the state above the people spit in the face of the ideology upon which America was founded. A nation of the people, for the people, and by the people must put its people first. Otherwise, it sounds like white nationalism to me.
“We have invented the nigger. I didn’t invent him. White people invented him. What you were describing is not me and what you were afraid of was not me. It had to be something else. You invented it. So, it had to be something you were afraid of.” James Baldwin
I’d like to remind Trump and Conway that Black women cannot be racist. They can be prejudiced and they can be cruel. But no one, outside of the financially, historically, and politically dominant white race can benefit from the systemic racism that exists globally. Like the majority of white women, they can play into it. Those outside the white race have the ability to try and bring others down using the same systems of oppression. Sheriff David Clark of Arizona is a perfect example of this. But at the end of the day, to so many in his own state, Clark is still a “nigger.”
I use blatant terms because I am tired of skirting racism. I’m tired of sweeping it under the rug. I am worn out by the misnomer of racism. There is a prevalent theory amongst Americans that if an action is not done in malice it can’t be equated to racism. Sanders believes that people afraid of Obama weren’t necessarily racist.
Update, they are racist. The fact is, we live in a racist society. Police shootings, the stealing of land and water from indigenous peoples, the fear mongering over a caravan of individuals seeking asylum, the threats that Muslim people and anyone perceived to be Muslim receive daily, and the rise of anti-Semitism has made it abundantly clear. To deny it is to threaten the lives of the millions of disenfranchised Black and brown people living in this country.
“I was born here almost sixty years ago. I’m not going to live another sixty years. You’ve always told me it takes time. It’s taken my father’s time and my mother’s time; my brother and my sister’s time, my niece and nephew’s time. How much time do you want for your progress?” - James Baldwin
The United States has just witnessed blatant and irresponsible voter suppression. The president is doing everything in his power, including doctoring footage that aired live, to discredit journalists. There have been eleven mass shootings between the Tree of Life massacre and the horrific events at Thousand Oaks. That makes 307 mass shootings this year. Nearly one a day.
To be flippant about how one speaks about race and racism in this era will fuel racist fires. Everywhere in this country, a lie is perpetrated. The thought that being called a racist is somehow worse than living through racism is at best laughable. At worst, it speaks to how racism is viewed as not that big of a deal.
A school in Pennsylvania recently had to cancel all sports matches with a neighboring school. Students were whispering racist taunts in the ears of their opponents. One student reported the abuse to a referee, who stood by and did nothing. Proving to the racist students that their actions were acceptable. In Orange County, a school with a white population of 50 percent, brought posters with border walls and pro-Trump language to a ball game. Their opponent was a school with a large Latinx student body. On Facebook, a supporter of the pro-Trump school declared, “We are a multi-cultural school. Sure do we have outliers just as your school does? Sure, but for you to call our school a racist school is horrible to do to our students and our players.”
“What one does realize is that when you try to stand up and look the world in the face like you had a right to be here, without knowing that this is the result of it, you have attacked the entire power structure of the Western world.” - James Baldwin
Why do so many people caught in the act of racism deny it so vehemently? Corner Store Caroline, otherwise know as Teresa Sue Klein, explicitly said she was not a racist after calling the cops on a nine-year-old boy. But Klein lives in Bed Stuy, NY. This is a historically Black neighborhood. Everyone in America knows what happens when the cops are called on Black boys. Like Tamir Rice, they’re seen as grown men and are handled as such. Klein had a racist moment.
She has to acknowledge that what happened stemmed from a long line of racism. This precise situation, an insulted white lady in a store, is what led to the lynching of Emmett Till. Klein’s level of exhaustion, what she thought happened, her feelings, none of those matter. They cannot take away the trauma she inflicted on a Black child. Until she acknowledges her racism, she won’t be able to move on. The chances that she’ll inflict her racism onto someone else remain high.
If you are a white individual there’s a chance that you’ve said or done something racist. As woke as I try to be, as a Black, queer woman I know I’ve been prejudiced in interactions before. I did not do it with malice. It was not my intention to hurt another human. That does not exempt me from the responsibility of my actions. Racism happens. Be better than Sanders. Be better than Teresa. Embrace the mistake. Apologize. Make amends. Then, try again.
“I’ve always known, and that’s the agony of it, I’ve always known. I am not a nigger.” - James Baldwin
I know it seems like everything boils down to race. When living in Black or brown skin, everything does come back to that one aspect of being. Our names, our hair, our body shapes, our music and films, how our families gather, everything we do, lays outside the white normal that has been established globally. Skin lightening cream can be bought all over the world to help dark skin people try to meet a white ideal. Light skin actors are more desirable in South American, North America, and Bollywood cinema. I have to talk about race. It shapes everything I do.
If you’re tired of hearing about it, encourage the world to be a better place. There’s nothing more I’d like to do than learn who I am when standing on an even playing field with my peers. Until the rules are changed, I’ll keep yelling about how unfair the game is. I will continue to call out favorites who have yet to see their actions as racist. It’s the only way to cure the disease.
Bernie Sanders is a prime example of how the left is still struggling to own its racist past. It is easy for white northerners to believe the South is filled with backwards thinkers. I encourage them to look at their own family, their circle of friends, their politicians, and themselves for the racism I know is there. Call it out. Then wipe it out. Do better.
Header Image Source: Getty
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