In many recent Democratic primary elections, particularly in the South, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has dominated Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders in terms of the African-American vote. For example, exit polls in states such as Alabama, Georgia, and Mississippi show Clinton winning 80 to 90 percent of the black vote. This is a fact that comes as a shock to many Sanders supporters, who claim that his policies and history as a member of the Civil Rights Movement serve as the African-American community’s best chance at combating the inequalities the community faces in American society.
What these supporters are failing to realize is their own internalized, racist misconceptions about the African-American community. White liberals and black liberals are not one in the same.
Black Democrats tend to be on the more conservative end of the spectrum, so it makes sense that the more moderate Clinton tends to win over the black vote.
A racist undertone is unveiled when certain sectors of the Left mischaracterize the black electorate as blindly radical, following whatever the most extreme position happens to be at the time.
In addition, I have noticed that many Sanders supporters claim that the African-American community is simply uninformed about Sanders and his ideas. This is just silly. An uninformed electorate does not explain 80 to 90 percent of a group of people making the “wrong” decision. The black community does not need to be condescendingly lectured about what candidate has their best interests in mind.
I would like to dispel the myth that Bernie Sanders is the perfect candidate for the African-American community. While his background in the Civil Rights Movement is inspiring and worthy of praise, he is not without his flaws.
“When you’re white, you don’t know what it’s like to be living in a ghetto,” Sanders said during a Democratic presidential debate in Flint, Michigan. “You don’t know what it’s like to be poor. You don’t know what it’s like to be hassled when you walk down the street, or you get dragged out of a car.”
While this statement seems very progressive on the surface, it is problematic in some ways.
African-Americans do have the highest poverty rate (27.4 percent) among racial and ethnic groups in the U.S.. However, to categorize the black experience as one that is found only in America’s ghettos is misguided.
As often is the case with Sanders’ rhetoric, he focuses primarily on the poor black individual in our society. However, around three out of every four African-Americans do not live in poverty. The challenges and experiences they encounter may be wildly different from the African-American to whom Sanders tends to pander.
If Sanders wants to sway a significant portion of the black electorate to his side, he needs to be more broad in his language surrounding race issues in America.
A July 2015 study out of Stanford reveals that among white and black families with similar incomes, white families tend to live in better neighborhoods; those with high quality day care, parks and public transportation.
This same study shows that the average middle class black family tends to live in a poorer neighborhood than the typical lower class white family. What this shows is that while the poor African-American community faces some of the sharpest inequalities in our society, inequality does not disappear with upward mobility.
This brings up another point. Policies that enable upward social mobility are not always colorblind. For example, parts of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal, which we’re often taught was universally beneficial to the American people, disenfranchised black workers. The Social Security Act of 1935 excluded farm workers and maids, which were professions that mainly blacks held. Whether or not this was intentional on the part of the lawmakers, we can’t truly say.
No candidate has addressed black issues beyond those mainly encountered by the black lower class. I believe that if Sanders is true in his claim that he is the most liberal and progressive candidate in the field, then he should begin to address issues faced by other sectors of the black community as well.
We need to talk about why the black middle class is fundamentally different than the white middle class. We need to talk about why we read so little black literature and accurate black history in our public schools. We need to talk about why so many public officials, not just Sanders, are able to characterize the black community as being only in the ghetto.