It would seem that Senator Bernie Sanders, the self-professed "Social Democrat," has a "Black problem." But not in a bad way. And it's not just about his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton who has the Black vote all but sown up. It's that the African-American population in the United States is not "feeling the Bern." African-American voters just don't know Senator Sanders. And the reasons for not "feeling the Bern" are many and varied but all of the challenges, obstacles, and hurdles that present to make it difficult for the progressive Left senator from Vermont to get Black support in the 2016 United States presidential election, can be boiled, distilled, and rendered down to one thing and one thing only: institutionalized white racism.
While white politicians routinely ignore the crippling effects of white racism and white privilege on America's political and socio-economic systems, playing ostrich and burying heads in the sand does nothing to shred to pieces the reality of today's American society. True, as Black people we've come a very long way from slavery and segregation. That way was paved with rivers of blood, mountains of sweat and a many, many tears. Today, in this presidential election cycle Blacks continue to "feeling the pain," of racial discrimination, high and pervasive unemployment, poor health outcomes, economic uncertainty, and a system that still treats them as "third class citizens."
That's the reality. Forgive me if I, as many Blacks are now doing, taking a look at the record of the senator from Vermont -- one of the whitest places in America -- and his history of supporting and or articulating Black issues and causes. And for me a brief arrest during the Civil Rights protests of 1965 is not enough to convince me that the good senator, well-meaning thought he is, has a history of and has been a staunch and reliable supporter of Black causes. That's the first issue/problem that Senator Sanders has with garnering Black support: where were you when Black people were being brutalized, stigmatized and ostracized at the hands of the white supremacist power structure?
So pardon my bluntness senator: I know that you are a good and decent man and you've put on the national agenda issues that hitherto been given little credence and importance. Issues like hiking the minimum wage, housing equality, income inequality, and, yes, racism and its effects on the Black community. You've also articulated your anger against police brutality and the killing of unarmed Black males by white cops. All that is well and good.
But are you a "Johnny Come Lately?" You have not gone on record against a system that gives more benefits to the poorest whites than the richest Blacks. You have not spoken out against the fact that very simple everyday Black encounters with white cops can, and often do, turn deadly. Remember Tamir Rice? Shot for playing in a park with his sister by a white cop that "mistook" a 12-year old child for a "threatening Black man." I would have liked to hear you, Senator Sanders, rail against institutionalized racism and discrimination a bit more and not simply as a response to now trolling for the Black vote.
Moreover, I cannot agree with Senator Sanders that all of these problems that confront the Black community each and every day are rooted solely in America's class structure. That lets white, institutionalized racism off the hook. You see, the very notion of class is a social construct is based on any number indicators. Money, prestige and upward mobility can lift a poor Black individual from the ranks of the working poor to that of the middle and upper middle class. But that does not protect him or her from being viewed as a threat by a white cop, stopped and questioned because he's "Driving While Black," or being followed around in a department store in Manhattan by a white employee fearful that he or she is there to steal something.
That's the cancer of white racism in the United States; it permeates EVERYTHING -- consciously and unconsciously. Thing is that Blacks of EVERY SOCIO-ECONOMIC CLASS are not immune from the ravages of this pervasive and endemic system of white privilege, no matter that many are uncomfortable to speak or address it. America, especially white America, still suffers from the Peter Pan Syndrome and until "we grow up" and confront the demons of our past, racism and white supremacy will endure, putrid, alive and well. Black people, even those well-to-do ones, will still be red lined and discriminated against by banks that feel they will "degrade the neighborhood" as evidenced by America's most liberal of cities, New York City, where the public schools system is the most segregated in the nation and where people are bundled into some 53 "unique neighborhoods."
Senator Sanders needs to earn Black confidence and trust by speaking out against the unjust system that holds, to borrow from Emperor Haile Selassie, "one race superior and the other inferior." A system that allows poor whites to live in better neighborhoods, have access to better paying jobs and more resources than poor Blacks. In a word, until Senator Sanders understands and fully comes to terms with the legacy and realities of white racism and its impact on Black and Brown peoples, the Black vote will elude him at every turn no matter what he does and says.
You see, ALL white candidates can and will promise to help Blacks and speak eloquently, forcibly and loudly about changing things. But unless this is backed up with real concrete, demonstrative actions then Blacks, as a manner of speaking, will "trust the devil that they know," and I'll not be so presumptuous as to call Hillary Rodham Clinton the devil.
Moreover, without a thorough understanding of Black struggles, Black issues and Black history how can a senator from one of America's whitest states ever hope to help Black folks or articulate and speak intelligently about their struggles? We ask too much of Good Ole Bernie.
So what, in a nutshell, does he have to do?
Well, for starters he has to understand why Black people and voters support Hillary Clinton. Granted, President Bill Clinton passed some draconian laws that negatively impacted the Black community. But OVERALL his tenure as president was the LAST one that saw Black standard of living and life actually improve. It was Bill Clinton who helped to solidify Black allegiance and loyalty to the Democratic Party as a "place for Blacks to go" because of the Republican Party's racism and policies that run counter to Black aspirations. It is a problem that the Republican Party has even today as it continues to be perceived as a "whites only" party built on white supremacism and racism. Bernie has to understand this.
Bernie also has to understand that while Black people are instinctively progressive on most social and economic issues that do not make them so when it comes to other things. Take religion for example, Blacks are without a doubt the most religious community in the Unites States even though the mainstream media often peddles the fallacy that its "white Christians and so-called Evangelicals." They've even equated the "Evangelical vote" with Texas Senator Ted Cruz. But the fact is that a recent survey found that "70 percent of Black people -- church goers and non-church goers" said they read the Bible compared to 44 percent of whites.
The Black Church has historically been a bastion of Black activism and politics and a champion of civil and human rights. Some of the most important leaders of the past century came out of the Black Church. So in essence Blacks are more socially conservative because of the influence of the church and religion in their daily lives. It is the Black Church and Christianity that give the Black Liberation Struggle its moral character and so impacts the modus operandi of Black political activism today. Bernie has to pay more visits to the Black Church across the United States if he's ever going to win or, at least, be competitive with Hillary Clinton for the Black vote.
Finally, Senator Sanders has to understand that not because he's progressive and speaks to Black issues and concerns that the Black community will drop its historical relations and follow him. Blacks are supporting Hillary Clinton in part because she's embraced the Obama Agenda and Blacks love our first Black President, not simply because he's Black, but because of the sheer power of his example and symbolism for young Black boys and girls. They now know that they too can one day become President of the United States. And Hillary Clinton is getting the benefit of the situation and support for her candidacy because of her husband, former President Bill Clinton, who despite what anyone says, improved the quality of the lives of the Black poor and Middle Class during his presidency. In essence and reality, Hillary is not a "just come lately" to the Black community -- we know her.
All of this is not to cast aspersions on the candidacy of Senator Bernie Sanders. He's a vital part of the national democratic conversation. He's a decent, honest and well-meaning individual and trustworthy to boot. I will put it this way: Hillary Rodham Clinton is the best and most experienced candidate for president within the nuances and realities of the American Political Establishment system. Bernie Sanders is the outsider candidate, not fettered by the trappings and baggage of the Establishment. But in a contest where the establishment sets the rules, it's very difficult to overcome an old battle-tested hand like Hillary Clinton.