On Bernie and the Black Vote

Sen. Bernie Sanders speaking at the Black Community Forum in Minneapolis. Photo by Evan Vucci of AP Photo.
Sen. Bernie Sanders speaking at the Black Community Forum in Minneapolis. Photo by Evan Vucci of AP Photo.

Bernie Sanders has ended March very strong. On March 22, he won Idaho and Utah, picking up 43 delegates. He swept Hillary Clinton on March 26, winning Alaska, Hawaii, and Washington along with 55 more delegates.

A lot of Sanders’ success has been attributed to the power of the youth vote. The senator has dominated with voters under 30. The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, or CIRCLE, has been tracking the youth vote throughout the primaries. Their estimates show that he has won more votes within this age group than Clinton and Donald Trump combined.

Between Clinton and Sanders, Sanders is winning 71 percent of the votes cast by voters under 30. The enthusiasm that surrounds Sanders can be seen all over social media. On sites like Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr, you can see the popular hashtag #FeelTheBern.

However, not everyone is “feeling the Bern” for Sanders. African-American voters have been favoring Clinton. Although he does have many minority supporters, he has not done as well as Clinton. In states where nonwhite voters make up a large portion of the Democratic electorate, Sanders has not performed well.

Lack of substantive outreach to black voters is an issue that has followed Sanders throughout the race for the nomination. Despite being heralded as someone who has been “on the front lines” of the Civil Rights Movement, black voters do not seem enthusiastic about his run for office.

Prior to South Carolina primary, Sanders seemingly conceded the state before voting even began. Many African-American voters viewed this as a slight. African-Americans make up 62 percent of the Democratic electorate.

When commenting on his loss in the South and his hopes on the West Coast, Sanders said, “Those people are not going to be voting for establishment politics. They want real change.” This comment became apart of the long list of dismissive statements Bernie has made during this campaign.

He has been criticized for being tone deaf when it came to issues specific to African-Americans. He has been accused of whitewashing inequality issues in the United States.

At A Community Forum on Black America in Minneapolis, Sanders faced a crowd of people who felt dismissed. Felicia Perry, a local entrepreneur, asked, “Can’t you please specifically talk about black people?” Sanders responded, “I said ‘black’ 50 times.”

The reply was viewed as insensitive and condescending to the participants in the forum and black voters in general. This was not the first time he was viewed as condescending.

In a debate in January, when asked about the lack of minority support, Sanders said he would win more votes once African-Americans learn more about him. Again, black voters felt as though they were being spoken down to.

Not only does Sanders have to work on his own tone toward black voters, but also his supporters.

It is not abnormal to see not-so-friendly conversations about politics on social media, but it is strange to see racialized barbs being traded back and forth amongst progressives. Something that I have noticed is the rise of the “brogressive.”

The “brogressive” is a politically left-leaning person who routinely downplays injustices towards women and other marginalized groups in favor of some cause they deem more important.

As it has become more evident that Sanders has had an issue courting black voters, I have seen those who criticize Sanders get bombarded with insults from Sanders supporters. Many have been accused of being “shills” for Clinton.

After Black Lives Matter protesters interrupted Sanders at his events, many of his supporters accused the organization of backing Clinton or a right-wing plant. Many popular African-American personalities on social media have been accused of the same.

Black voters have been called ignorant, uninformed and even racist when they question or criticize Sander’s stances on the issues. When people criticize his lack of focus on systemic racism, many of his supporters point out his involvement in civil rights protests 60 years ago.

This, to me, is the political equivalent of “my best friend is black.” The constant reminder of his arrest at a protest sparked the hashtag #BernieSoBlack.

Another favorite among Sanders supporters seems to be the idea that African-Americans do not know what is good for them. This is patronizing and insulting to black voters.

Many of those who have been on the receiving end of the pro-Bernie backlash, have not stated who they are supporting. Imani Gandy, Senior Legal Analyst for Rewire News, who tweets from @AngryBlackLady, has constantly reminded followers that she does not support Clinton despite her criticism of Sanders. This does not stop the accusations.

Some Democratic African-Americans who were once undecided, decided to vote for Clinton due to harassment or insults from white Sanders supporters. This needs to be addressed explicitly by Sanders.

Although Sanders has addressed the sexism of some of his supporters, there has not been a direct address to the claims of racism. This is something that needs to be addressed.

Sanders cannot afford to lose the support of minority voters. Losing them could mean losing the nomination and the White House.

His progressive and energetic message has been compared to Obama’s in 2008. Unlike Obama, he has failed to stake claim to the Obama Coalition. That coalition was not just young voters, but also minority voters. It has also grown to be the base of the Democratic Party. The party for which he is currently running to be the nominee.

This is a very crucial election considering that there is a serious possibility of a President Trump. This is not the time to ignore African-American voters.

Dismissing this could cost him, if it has not already, the nomination. Having Dr. Cornel West as a surrogate has not helped his chances of winning over the Obama Coalition either. West is a very polarizing figure in the black community and has been pretty clear that he is not a fan of Obama.

Sanders needs a better game plan. He needs better outreach. Honestly, he needs Obama to be his black friend.

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