#BernieSoBlack: False Narrative of Bernie Sanders as a Civil Rights Hero is Offensive, Racist, and Blindingly White

In 2016, Bernie Sanders got clobbered among people of color. There is no denying that in that cycle Sanders drew huge (and hugely white) crowds, but he kept falling short on votes. In fact, Bernie Sanders did not win a single state that did not either have a majority white primary electorate or implement the undemocratic caucus system.

Sanders' first instinct - and when it comes to politicians, their first instinct in responding to adversity is the best window into their true colors - was to mock the people of color who form the backbone of the Democratic party. After a 50-point loss in the South Carolina primary, Bernie mused that he lost big in the "deep south," insinuating that black voters in southern states were unimportant, since the Democratic nominee could not expect to win states in the deep south.

That went down like a lead balloon.

Throughout the 2016 campaign, Bernie then tried out different responses to his disastrous inability to connect to communities of color, alternately discounting non-white voters who happened to be over 40 (or 30, whatever arbitrary cut-off point gave Sanders the most claim on the youth vote at any given point in time), or who happened to be women, etc. None of that, however, allowed him to prevent Hillary Clinton from winning 70% of the black vote and big margins among other non-white Democratic voters as well.

In short, white Democratic primary voters voted for Bernie Sanders by a small margin, but Clinton destroyed him among non-white voters.

It appears Bernie Sanders' campaign is determined not to make the same mistake twice, at least - and as I will make the case below, only - when it comes to optics. Sanders made a point of hiring a non-white campaign manager, and top white guys who'd become synonymous with the campaign in 2016, including then-campaign manager Jeff Weaver, are nowhere to be found.

He quickly rolled out the endorsements of Jill Stein backer Nina Turner, an African American woman and California Congressman Ro Khanna, an Indo-American man as top surrogates and national campaign co-chairs (Khanna, as it turns out, might be gunning for the VP spot on a possible Bernie ticket). He even got some precious press time for Khanna's endorsement, which the media said means Bernie Sanders is the first candidate in the race for the Democratic nomination to get a Congressional endorsement outside his home state. The absurdity of the claim was hilarious, however, considering that Sanders' home state, Vermont, has just one seat in the House, and as such, the pool of home-state Congressional endorsements is pretty limited.

Then came this weekend and two big roll-out rallies. Sanders held the rallies in Brooklyn and Chicago. That he was born in Brooklyn and went to college at University of Chicago, allowed Bernie Sanders to claim "roots" in these places, despite the fact that he'd abandoned these diverse urban population centers for rural, ultra-white Vermont more than 50 years ago. Bernie filled the stage with as many people of color as he could, and his media water-carriers posted close-frame, curated photos and videos in an attempt to make the rallies - and by extension, Sanders' appeal - appear diverse. In reality, both crowds were overwhelmingly male (younger male) and largely white, which represented neither place's demographics, let alone the demographics of Democrats in those places.

What we have observed, during this carefully choreographed campaign launch, is a master's class in tokenism and optics.

But Bernie Sanders' defenders aren't so sure that will be enough. So they have taken the next illogical step: portraying Bernie Sanders as a civil rights hero who marched with Dr. King (although the purported photographic evidence of it has been debunked), got arrested, and "chained himself to black women."

Bernie stan is strictly forbidden from discussing Bernie Sanders' present-day admiration for dictators, his votes from the last decade to grant special immunity to gun manufacturers from product liability, his pro-NRA votes of the 1990s, his pro-Soviet musings or a underwear-signing party during his honeymoon to Russia of the 1980s, his rape-fantasy writings from the 1970s, or his bum deadbeat dad status around the same time.

The orders from the motherland are, however, that thou shalt talk up what Bernie did in the early 1960s, and add as much padding and color as you can for good effect. Front and center to Bernie Sanders' fake hero status is footage of a young Sanders being carefully carried away by police officers at a school segregation protest. The officers do not seem to be subjecting the young Sanders to any harsh treatment, Sanders does not appear to be in pain, and if he was being arrested, he wasn't in cuffs.

I do not think it an overstatement to say that Sanders is essentially being coddled away by the police. Following his removal from the scene, Bernie Sanders was fined $25 for resisting arrest. That's about $207 in today's dollars.

Contrast that with what black protesters - and black people - had to endure. Here's just one horrifying photo:

This is not even to mention that black protesters did not get to avoid jail time by paying a small fine.

I should note here that non-black people of color who protested also earned themselves battlescars. Here is one Asian American man's interaction with police during that time.

In fact, Bernie's coddling by the police and the slap-on-the-wrist fine are a much better case study in white privilege during the Civil Rights era than qualifiers for hero status.

All of this is say nothing of the fact that soon after these protests, Bernie Sanders settled in snow-white Vermont, far away from urban riots, and indeed, far away from people of color.

It is patently offensive for Bernie Sanders' campaign or for his supporters - or for anyone - to claim that Bernie Sanders was a civil rights hero because he participated in some sit-ins and got coddled away by police at some protest. Doing so denigrates black Americans who were beaten, killed, and jailed fighting for civil rights. Doing so erases the true horror of police brutality of the Civil Rights era by making it look like the VIP treatment Bernie Sanders got was standard operating procedure. Doing so creates the impression that people of color who protested had the privilege of moving away and sequestering themselves in the comfort of tuning it all out once the protests were over.

Many, many white people were essential to the Civil Rights movement, and many were leaders. They used their privilege to shield others, to document, photograph, and videotape protests and police brutality, and to give voice to the movement. White allies were leaders and heroes of the civil rights movement. Bernie Sanders just wasn't one of them.

And it is offensive, racist, and blindingly white to claim that he was.

Like what you read? Leave a Tip. 

💰 Fund the Fight