Bernie and Black Voters

Back to Bill Maher’s question

Listen. Who am I to speak with authority on black voters? What do I know about systemic discrimination? Sure, as a gay man I could say a great deal about LGBT discrimination–how I lost my job over my sexuality, how marriage to my partner wasn’t even possible until very recently, and exactly why I think that Bernie Sanders has better represented my cause than the other Democratic candidate. But I said in my last post that we would talk about that answer that Sarah Silverman didn’t have for Bill Maher, and like Silverman, I’m not the best source for information on the black vote.

I have real advantages in being a white man, advantages that make it impossible for me to understand what it must be like for a black father to explain to his sons how to carefully act and present themselves when pulled over by police. My own sons are very aware of the unfair privilege they have just by virtue of their skin color. So instead of my writing at great length on this, let’s talk to people who can speak to the issue of racism personally.

Two Guys From Brooklyn: some serious talk

First, I’d like to present the following video from an video from Wednesday’s Hollywood Reporter, a discussion between Senator Bernie Sanders and American film producer, director, actor, and writer, Spike Lee:

Early on in this Democratic race I had speculated that part of the reason for Bernie’s apparent lack of votes among blacks was possibly a southern issue more than a race issue, but it should be noted that whether it be among blacks, older white Democrats, or gays, Hillary’s success could also be attributed significantly to “brand recognition” and celebrity status. I’ve already made the point in previous posts that corporate media long ago decided that the most obvious contest would be the one that would sell the best, the strong feminist woman Secretary of State versus the racist, misogynistic blow-hard billionaire.

Slow to get on board the Bernie train

A lot of gay people like me can say, as Shaun King did recently, that we were “slow to get on board the Bernie Sanders train.” With our enthusiasm for Hillary Clinton’s new (as of 2013) support for gay marriage we felt confident that continuing strides would be made against marriage discrimination, and it was hard for us to imagine a better candidate to beat the Republicans to the White House, and secure the next liberal judge in the Supreme Court. She was strong, smart, experienced, qualified, and incredibly well-connected. Hillary Clinton seemed the obvious choice, and so it seems that’s how the narrative went for most Democrats. We were with her.

But as many of us got to know Bernie Sanders better, we began to gravitate more toward a candidate who we believed had a longer and stronger record of supporting gay rights, civil rights, and the interests of the working and middle classes. Many of us came to have a great deal of respect for the candidate who pledged to take no money from super PACs and who had for decades consistently stayed true to his words and his message for a government that worked for all of us. We also began to read the polls and see figures that we were not hearing about from the news personalities on our Televisions.

Required reading

Please read Shaun King’s recent article from the New York Daily News, “Destroying the Myth that Bernie Sanders Doesn’t Address Race or Racism,” in which King says:

Not just comfortable to analyze the problem, Bernie Sanders is the only candidate left in the presidential campaign who is against the death penalty, which disproportionately impacts people of color. He has called for an outright ban on for-profit prisons, while Hillary Clinton was actually receiving donations from their lobbyists.

King also mentions activist and author Michelle Alexander:

If America had a required reading list, “The New Jim Crow” by Michelle Alexander would have to be high on the list. In it, she unpacks how after the Civil Rights Movement, a very concerted effort to replace the old systems of our country with new systems of oppression and criminalization took place.

If you haven’t read the book yet, click here for a good summary by Alexander herself when she was interviewed a few years go about the The New Jim Crow by Bill Moyers. Michelle Alexander endorses no candidate as of yet, but this week she said she “endorses the political revolution” that he represents, and explains (especially about the 5 minute mark to 6:50), why she thinks that many black voters have been supporting the Clintons, despite the their role in the system of mass incarceration that has so damaged their community.

This “emotional blackmail” that the Democratic party has held over black voters, Alexander says, needs to come to an end. And she’s right, the black vote is taken for granted, as can be seen by Bill Clinton’s actions this week, deciding to lash out at Black Lives Matter Protesters in defending his own record.

In the interview with Alexander, Chris Hayes looks worried. Maybe that’s just my interpretation, but as I’ve said before people like him in the media, even from the so-called liberal media, have had it in their heads, not only that it would be an inevitable Clinton/Trump contest come November, but that Hillary Clinton was hands-down the best bet to keep the White House occupied by a Democrat. If I had to interpret his reaction to Michelle Alexander’s words here I’d say that he starts out trying first to persuade her that a Hillary ticket is the best way to achieve that, before resorting to his familiar shouldn’t-we-all-support Hillary argument that he tried on Susan Sarandon. But in the end he just seems to give up and let Alexander make her case. I think she owns this interview, as she obviously knows her material and has done her homework far more thoroughly than Hayes. So in the end, he relents, letting her have the last word. To me, that’s a hopeful sign.

It’s a hopeful sign that corporate media will not be able to continue dismissing Bernie as a white-only candidate. Remember when Hawaii became a mostly white state? It happened when Bernie Sanders won there and folks at the big networks tried to pretend that it didn’t matter, despite the fact that the state of Hawaii is comprised of more than 75% non-white voters. I do hope that I am right that big media is waking up to see that there is more happening on the Democratic front than Hillary Clinton’s press releases.

There is so much more to discuss about race and this election, and as I said I am not the best person for the job of saying it. So in posts coming up this week I’ll present more articles from others who have already made the case for Bernie Sanders. I’ll also share more videos with Bernie supporters Rosario Dawson and Michael Render (“Killer Mike”). For today, let me wrap this post up with the words of former NAACP president Ben Jealous:

“I recall the words of the late, great Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who said a genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus but a molder of consensus . . . And that brings me to why I’m here today. Bernie Sanders has been a principled, courageous, insistent fighter against the evils that Dr. King referred to as the giant triplets of racism, militarism and greed . . . In short, Bernie Sanders has the courage to confront the institutionalized racism and bias that stains our nation.”