So you’re white and you marched with Dr. King. You supported the civil rights movement in some way. You joined the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, or you got arrested at a sit-in, or you attended a demonstration. Maybe one late night at a bar, you loudly proclaimed that Dr. King was your homey.
So fucking what?
Isn’t that what liberals were supposed to be doing? You worked toward equality at a time when every decent person was working for equality.
Maybe you walked a couple miles and learned the words to “We Shall Overcome.” Whoopty-freakin’-do! What else would you have been doing at the time? Supporting Jim Crow and segregation? Do you feel entitled to a clap on the back and a “Good show, old chap!” simply because when a bunch of white people were being assholes, you chose not to be one?
Sorry, but you don’t get a cookie for not being an asshole.
As a white liberal of adult age in the 1960s, you were politically required to do these things, right? And if the answer is yes—and we all know that it is—why the hell are you tossing Bernie Sanders’ record of doing them in Black people’s faces in order to shut down conversations about structural racism, police brutality, and the #BlackLivesMatter movement? Aside from a few sound bites here and there, Bernie Sanders doesn’t yet know how to speak to Black people about these issues.
I say “yet” because there’s still time for him to get it together. That’s the beauty of primary season. This is the time when voters expect candidates to address their concerns. And right now, the primary concern of many Black voters is police violence in Black communities. And thus far, as demonstrated by his reaction at Netroots Nation last weekend to a group of #BlackLivesMatter activists—led by two Black women, Tia Oso and Patrisse Cullors—who stood up in a conference of supposed progressive allies and demanded that Bernie Sanders (and Martin O’Malley) provide substantive answers about what he would do about the epidemic of police violence in the Black community, Bernie Sanders is ill-equipped to speak substantively on these issues.
Bernie Sanders marched with Dr. King in the 1960s, but in 2015, he marched off stage after mumbling something about fighting for civil rights for 50 years, and ignored the Black women who were standing right in front of him, asking him to speak to their concerns.
Not only was Sanders’ response woefully inadequate—although he appears to have learned something as evidenced by his tweets and the fact that he said Sandra Bland’s name at a rally in Dallas on Sunday—but the reactions from many of his supporters, particularly his white supporters, have ranged from annoying to obnoxious to downright racist.
Progressives are complaining that the protesters were disrespectful and rude. They’re whining that interrupting a speech isn’t an “invitation for solidarity.”
I’ve seen some white folks complaining that they no longer feel safe at Netroots because—you know—unruly Black women. The horror! Still others don’t think the protest “looks good.” (Because as we all know, change comes when you politely ask for it, not when you disrupt and demand it, which, by the way, is what Dr. King did. White people tend to forget that Dr. King was a disruptor when they are using him as a Pokémon to shut Black people up.)
Rather than support these brave Black women activists in what is quite literally a fight for the lives of Black people, there you are in all your pearl-clutching glory talking about how disrespectful the activists were, and how it’s such a shame that the uppity Black people were being so rude to an obvious ally, and how the #BlackLivesMatter movement is so disorganized and is protesting the wrong things at the wrong time in front of the wrong people.
“Why are you alienating allies?”
“Don’t you know how much Bernie cares for you?”
“What’s wrong with you people?”
“Hillary would be worse!”
“What are you going to do, vote for Donald Trump?”
“Why won’t you ever be satisfied?”
“You’re doing it all wrong!”
“You’re going to make us quit caring about Black lives if you don’t shape up and act the way we want you to.”
Most Black voters want the answer to one question: What is Sanders’ plan to address the police brutality crisis in the Black community?
And the answer to that question is never: “Bernie marched with Dr. King.”
Yet that seems to be the answer given by many of Sanders’ supporters on social media.
It’s absurd, not only because it’s merely the flip side of the “I have a Black friend” coin, but also because proclaiming that Sanders marched with Dr. King is functionally useless information.
It’s what we lawyers like to call non-responsive.
All it tells me is that Bernie Sanders was an adult sentient white liberal in the 1960s who had the time, money, and wherewithal to do the right thing—to join one of the many civil rights marches during that time period, along with scores of other adult sentient white liberals, and Black people who were literally fighting for their own lives.
But there you are, the enthusiastic Bernie Sanders supporter, throwing his 50-year-old civil rights record in the face of any Black person who dares suggest that Sanders ought to get it together when it comes to talking about race, while insulting our intelligence in the process.
You’re gleefully tweeting us photos of news clippings about a young Bernie Sanders getting arrested in 1962.
You’re tone-deaf while tweeting us Sanders’ record with the NAACP—97 percent, doncha know!—as if the NAACP and the leaders of the #BlackLivesMatter movement haven’t been clashing for months now.
You’re demanding the social justice bona fides of Black activists: This person seems to think that Bernie Sanders is doing more than I am. (Yo, I’m a Black woman living in this country. Bernie Sanders is NEVER going to be doing more than I am.) This person thinks that Bernie Sanders is Blacker than actual Black people.
You’re literally suggesting to Black people, who by simply remaining alive day after day are engaging in a revolutionary act, that an old white dude from Vermont, where the population is 94 percent white, is doing more for Black people than actual Black people are.
And when Black people—as we often do—resort to humor to deal with the endless racist crap that is constantly thrown our way—you crank up the obnoxious to 11.
For the past several days, Sanders supporters have been calling Black people on Twitter “stupid” or “retarded.” Or they’re suggesting that Roderick Morrow—who created the #BernieSoBlack hashtag to mock the very Sanders supporters who are seemingly trolling Twitter for the sole purpose of attacking any Black person who doesn’t have a neck tattoo that reads “Feel the Bern”—is a Koch-paid troll or a shill for Clinton.
Bernie Sanders can easily recover from this weekend.
Some of his supporters, however? I don’t know who told you that harassing Black folks into voting for Sanders is a solid electoral strategy, but here’s a big fat spoiler alert: It isn’t, and you are alienating support for him.
You cannot threaten Black people into voting for your candidate. Not anymore. The crisis in our community is too critical. “Vote for Sanders or else” is not going to work during this election season, because “or else” is already happening. Hundreds of Black people are dying at the hands of the police in states governed both by Democrats and Republicans. Police brutality is not a partisan issue, and the more you try to make it one, the more you’re going to find stalwart resistance from Black people. We are simply not willing to roll over and do what we’re told. We need answers. We demand answers. We are entitled to answers. And you need, as Elon James White succinctly put it, to #EarnThisDamnVoteOrLose.