Why Black Voters Don’t Feel the Bern

Roundup
tags: election 2016, Bernie Sanders



Gil Troy isProfessor of History at McGill University and the author of eleven books, including, most recently, The Age of Clinton: America in the 1990spublished by Thomas Dunne Books of St. Martin's Press. Follow him on Twitter @GilTroy.


When it came to most issues at the Democratic debate in Flint Sunday night, Bernie Sanders was his usual crusty, confident self. But when CNN’s Don Lemon asked a seemingly innocuous question—“What racial blind spot do you have?”—the senator from lily-white Vermont stumbled, reaching for an ancient bromide from his long-ago Brooklyn childhood. "When you're white, you don't know what it's like to be living in a ghetto, you don't know what it's like to be poor," Sanders said. 

Social media erupted. “He knows that all Black people don't live in ghettos, right?” Jonathan Capehart of The Washington Post tweeted. MSNBC’s Joy Reid was also flummoxed. “Of course, many white Americans know exactly what it's like to ‘live in the ghetto.’ Many, including immigrants have, do and did,” she tweeted. “Most African-Americans are not poor. The AA poverty rate is too high, of course, at about 28%, but that's not most or all.”

Hillary Clinton, by contrast, responded to the same question with a detailed account of her lifelong journey in racial awareness, pushing most of the right buttons. She invoked “the talk” that African-American parents need to have with their kids and white parents don’t--“scared that your sons or daughters, even, could get in trouble for no good reason whatsoever like Sandra Bland and end up dead in a jail in Texas." She talked of spending time with Trayvon Martin’s mother, and how it taught her the need “to tear down the barriers of systemic racism that are in the criminal justice system.” She reminisced about her days as a young law student working for her mentor, Marian Wright Edelman, the founder of the Children’s Defense Fund, who had sent her into the Deep South to expose racial discrimination in schools and in jails during the civil rights era.

The different answers somehow encapsulated what has happened so far in this campaign. Clinton has clobbered Sanders in states, mainly in the South, with large African-American populations, propelling her to what may be an insurmountable lead in delegates. Bottom line, Hillary Clinton has street cred on the racial issue that Bernie Sanders lacks.

This outcome has clearly frustrated Sanders. He and his supporters cannot understand how his “democratic socialist” campaign is losing the black vote – and not gaining more traction with his attack on the 1990s, when even the Clintons have repudiated parts of their record in backing a tough-on-crime bill many blame for furthering the epidemic of mass incarceration. ...




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