Bernie Sanders Has a Black Woman Problem, and That's Going to Prove Impossible to Get Beyond

Photo: Sergio Flores (Getty Images)

I left something at my mother’s house. And the girl I was with needed to pee.

That’s how it started. I forget what it was now, but it must’ve been something important because I drove there to get it in the middle of the night with her in the car. I was in college then, and I imagine it was something for school. When we pulled up to my mom’s house, I told the girl that I was just going to run in and grab whatever it was that I needed, and tried to hop out the car fast. But she told me she needed to pee. I started sweating.

I was about to bring a white girl into my mother’s house.

My mother doesn’t play this. My mother who wore an afro in the ’60s protesting for civil rights. She often recalled being a child and going for tea with her mother and being looked over like trash.

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I was in college. The girl was Italian, which to my mother is just fancy white. Formal white. Church hat white. Winter white.

I told the girl to come on, and into the house we went. I figured my mother would be sleep and we could sneak in and sneak out. I walked into the house and my mother was sitting at the kitchen table in her robe and bonnet watching something on Lifetime. Always Lifetime. The girl came in behind me and mother didn’t flinch. I introduced them and said she needed to use the bathroom and ran off to find whatever it was I was looking for. I remember moving faster when I heard the girl washing her hands. She walked out of the bathroom and I heard my mother say, “He’s only dating you because he hates me.”

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I don’t remember my mother looking up from the TV. I don’t remember finding what I was looking for. I remember the girl crying and I remember leaving, because I remember the sound the front door made when it closed.

That girl didn’t stand a chance. No matter how much I might’ve liked her or how open I believed myself to be, I wasn’t crossing my mother.

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If my mother didn’t like her, she didn’t stand a chance.

Bernie Sanders has a black woman problem.

During an appearance Wednesday at a presidential candidates’ forum sponsored by She the People, a group that looks to push more women of color to the polls, Sanders was booed, heckled and looked a lot like he’d just bought a white women into his pro-black mother’s house, The Washington Post reports.

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Sanders gave canned answers and struggled to win over the crowd of informed women, who have not only proven to be the backbone of the Democratic Party but have also proven to continuously show up and show out.

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During one of the more polarizing moments, host Aimee Allison asked Sanders what he would do to fight white supremacist violence. Instead of approaching the question head on, Sanders decided to dive into his usual “I marched with Dr. King” speech, which is becoming Sanders’ standard “some of my best friends are black” response.

“I know I date myself a little bit here, but I actually was at the March on Washington with Dr. [Martin Luther] King back in 1963,” Sanders began, and the women in the crowd began groaning, one person even shouted “We know!”

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“And,—” Sanders tried to continue, but the crowd was still jeering when Sanders, a full-fledged white man no matter how leftist he believes himself to be, wagged his finger at a room full of women of color. I couldn’t see the crowd, but I’m assuming that loud noise I heard from the clip was the collective snatching of earrings being taken off simultaneously as hair was pulled back from their faces.

Sometimes, it pays to know when to leave. It’s OK to only remember the noise that the door makes when it closes.

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Because those women are also god-fearing, Sanders continued,“as somebody who actively supported Jesse Jackson’s campaign, as one of the few white elected officials to do so in ’88, I have dedicated my life to the fight against racism, and sexism, and discrimination of all forms.”

Bernie just pulled Jesse Jackson out of his old teacher’s blazer and again, the room full of women of color who are more informed than Sanders gives them credit for, erupted into groans.

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The Washington Post suggests that Sanders may have come to the forum at a disadvantage since many black women supported Hillary Clinton in 2016—Clinton won the black vote in 2016 with 89 percent to then-candidate Donald Trump’s 8 percent—but that’s bullshit and a part of the shortsightedness that continues to play black women voters short. It assumes that black women are a monolithic voting block, when they are, in fact, informed. And let’s face it, Sanders came to the forum without substantial answers to questions that black women care about.

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Sanders embarrassed himself.

From the Post:

The reception reflected Sanders’s struggle to win support from minority voters, a problem that dogged his 2016 primary campaign against Hillary Clinton. Sanders has taken steps since to improve his outreach, including meeting with black leaders and talking more frequently about the difficulties facing minorities, but Wednesday’s event suggested the senator still faces challenges.

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This exchange between Sanders and co-host Joy Reid is quite telling:

Separately, co-host Joy Reid asked Sanders how he would win over Hillary Clinton voters, including black women in particular. In response, Sanders trashed Trump as “the most dangerous president” in modern history, and generally called for unity among Democrats as well as “social justice, racial justice, and environmental justice.”

That response immediately drew more hecklers, as Reid pressed, “Yeah, and for black women specifically?”

“I’m sorry?” Sanders asked, as the jeers became louder. “For black women specifically,” Reid reiterated.

Sanders responded: “Black women will be an integral part of what our campaign, and what our administration is about. Okay? And that means —”

The audience erupted with heckling for a few seconds, as Sanders tossed his arm up in the air in dismay and muttered, “Okay.”

“Were you finished with your —,” Allison asked when the crowd quieted.

“Yeah,” Sanders replied.

Sanders was one of eight Democratic presidential hopefuls who appeared at the She the People forum, and the others came with ideas, plans and solutions.

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Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) stated clearly that a woman would be his running mate. Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas) endorsed the Equal Rights Amendment. Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), who has faced criticism from some liberals who think she was too tough as San Francisco’s district attorney and California’s attorney general, promised to pardon low-level drug offenders if she wins the White House.

Sanders came into a room full of women of color who he already knew were major supporters of his 2016 female opponent with no answers, and much like me on that night at my mother’s house, he should have known better.

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About the author

Stephen A. Crockett Jr.

Senior Editor @ The Root, boxes outside my weight class, when they go low, you go lower.