Maybe Black People Aren't Feeling Bernie Sanders Because We're Tired Of People Saying We Should Be

Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Bernie Sanders's recent "ghetto" gaffe is the latest in a string of race-related misunderstandings and misjudgments experienced by the senator during his presidential campaign. There was the #BlackLivesMatter thing. And the multiple times he — either himself or through his campaign — brought up his presence in the Civil Rights movement, which is starting to feel suspiciously like a man attempting to convince a woman to date him by producing letters he wrote his girlfriend in 7th grade.


Of course, if we (Black Americans) waited for a candidate to be pitch perfect on race, we'd be waiting forever. The American racial morass is so deep and so labyrinthic that it's virtually impossible for any of us (Black Americans included) to do and say the right thing on race every time. And, to his credit, Sanders does seem to be making a sincere effort. Unfortunately for him, the effort seems to be for naught, as the distance between his support from Black voters and Hillary Clinton's seems to get more cavernous by the day.

This — Sanders's standing with Black voters — has spawned myriad incredulous articles, segments, blogs, status messages, tweets, and annoyingly millennial emojis from Sanders supporters; all wondering aloud why Sanders struggles with Blacks when he should be the Black person's BFF.

"Yes, Sanders might not be perfect on race" the piece will assert "but they should realize he's a much better candidate for them than the others."

"He's progressive on crime" another piece might state "and he looks just like Larry David. And Larry David had Wanda Sykes and J.B. Smoove on his show, so you know he loves the Blacks!"

And while I get it — Sanders's political views do seem like they'd be more favorable for Black Americans than the other candidate's — these people are ultimately treating Black voters like we're sick toddlers refusing to take our Bernietussin.

"This will be good for you, Little Jahiem. Trust me. A spoonful of Bernietussin will stop your sniffles."


This bit of parental admonishment is even implied in many of the "Why don't Black people support Sanders?" pieces that don't outright condescend. Because just the act of crafting a piece around that premise implies that Black people should be supporting Sanders, but there's some mysterious reason preventing us from doing so. And not only is this infantilizing, it has the potential to actively turn potential Black voters away. Because White people — and yes, liberal White people too — convincing Black people to do something with "Trust me. It's for your own good" has never really worked out very well for us, historically.

Also, who's to say we (Black voters) aren't looking out for our best interests by supporting Clinton? Maybe Sanders is the best option in a vacuum. But maybe we're a bit more politically shrewd than we're given credit for; a bit more in tune with the idea that, for myriad reasons, Clinton just has a much better chance of beating Donald Trump in the general election than Sanders would. Maybe we're fully aware Clinton doesn't deserve our vote, but we've done the mental calculus necessary to grudgingly accept her as maybe not the best option, but the strongest one. Because maybe supporting someone we don't like who can beat someone we hate is a bit smarter than supporting someone we kinda like who can't. And, well, maybe we're just as turned off by the hipster racism exhibited by many fervent Sanders supporters as we are with the palpable racism from many of Trump's. There are many very valid reasons for Black people not to support Sanders. (Just as there are many not to support Clinton.) Us not knowing whats good for us isn't one of them.


Of course, if you share any of this with that type of fervent Sanders supporter, you'll likely get hit with an avalanche of pie charts, policy papers, and selfies with Killer Mike. "Please, just listen to me" they'll state; conveniently ignoring their refusal to do the same.

Damon Young is the editor-in-chief of VSB, a contributing opinion writer for The New York Times, and the author of What Doesn't Kill You Makes You Blacker (Ecco/HarperCollins)


Jsad TheKing

What drives me crazy is HRC can say racist stuff and support racists policy but black folk still support her….. I mean how much longer does she get our vote based off of Bill's Saxophone performance on Arsenio??