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“Stop Bernie-Splaining To Black Voters”: A Not-So-Subtle, Not-So-Innocuous Savior Syndrome And Paternalistic Patronage

Now that Iowa and New Hampshire are vanishing in the rearview mirror, the Democratic contests shift more West and South — beginning with Nevada and South Carolina, states that have significantly more Hispanic or black voters, respectively, who at this point disproportionately favor Hillary Clinton to Bernie Sanders.

This support for Clinton, particular among African-American voters, is for some perplexing and for others irritating.

I cannot tell you the number of people who have commented to me on social media that they don’t understand this support. “Don’t black folks understand that Bernie best represents their interests?” the argument generally goes. But from there, it can lead to a comparison between Sanders and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.; to an assertion that Sanders is the Barack Obama that we really wanted and needed; to an exasperated “black people are voting against their interests” stance.

If only black people knew more, understood better, where the candidates stood — now and over their lifetimes — they would make a better choice, the right choice. The level of condescension in these comments is staggering.

Sanders is a solid candidate and his integrity and earnestness are admirable, but that can get lost in the noise of advocacy.

Tucked among all this Bernie-splaining by some supporters, it appears to me, is a not-so-subtle, not-so-innocuous savior syndrome and paternalistic patronage that I find so grossly offensive that it boggles the mind that such language should emanate from the mouths — or keyboards — of supposed progressives.

But then I am reminded that the idea that black folks are infantile and must be told what to do and what to think is not confined by ideological barriers. The ideological difference is that one side prefers punishment and the other pity, and neither is a thing in which most black folks delight.

It is not so much that black voters love Clinton and loathe Sanders. Indeed, in The Nation magazine, the estimable Michelle Alexander makes a strong case in an essay titled “Why Hillary Clinton Doesn’t Deserve the Black Vote.” For many there isn’t much passion for either candidate. Instead, black folks are trying to keep their feet planted in reality and choose from among politicians who have historically promised much and delivered little. It is often a choice between the devil you know and the one you don’t, or more precisely, among the friend who betrays you, the stranger who entices you and the enemy who seeks to destroy you.

It is not black folks who need to come to a new understanding, but those whose privileged gaze prevents them from seeing that black thought and consciousness is informed by a bitter history, a mountain of disappointment and an ocean of tears.

There is a passage by James Baldwin in his essay “Journey to Atlanta” that I believe explains some of the apprehension about Sanders’s grand plans in a way that I could never equal, and although it is long, I’m going to quote it here in full.

Of all Americans, Negroes distrust politicians most, or, more accurately, they have been best trained to expect nothing from them; more than other Americans, they are always aware of the enormous gap between election promises and their daily lives. It is true that the promises excite them, but this is not because they are taken as proof of good intentions. They are the proof of something more concrete than intentions: that the Negro situation is not static, that changes have occurred, and are occurring and will occur — this, in spite of the daily, dead-end monotony. It is this daily, dead-end monotony, though, as well as the wise desire not to be betrayed by too much hoping, which causes them to look on politicians with such an extraordinarily disenchanted eye.

This fatalistic indifference is something that drives the optimistic American liberal quite mad; he is prone, in his more exasperated moments, to refer to Negroes as political children, an appellation not entirely just. Negro liberals, being consulted, assure us that this is something that will disappear with “education,” a vast, all-purpose term, conjuring up visions of sunlit housing projects, stacks of copybooks and a race of well-soaped, dark-skinned people who never slur their R’s. Actually, this is not so much political irresponsibility as the product of experience, experience which no amount of education can quite efface.

Baldwin continues:

“Our people” have functioned in this country for nearly a century as political weapons, the trump card up the enemies’ sleeve; anything promised Negroes at election time is also a threat leveled at the opposition; in the struggle for mastery the Negro is the pawn.

Even black folks who don’t explicitly articulate this intuitively understand it.

History and experience have burned into the black American psyche a sort of functional pragmatism that will be hard to erase. It is a coping mechanism, a survival mechanism, and its existence doesn’t depend on others’ understanding or approval.

However, that pragmatism could work against the idealism of a candidate like Sanders.

Black folks don’t want to be “betrayed by too much hoping,” and Sanders’s proposals, as good as they sound, can also sound too good to be true. There is a whiff of fancifulness.

For instance, Sanders says that his agenda will require a Congress-flipping political revolution of like-minded voters, but so far, that revolution has yet to materialize. Just as in Iowa, in New Hampshire there were more voters — or caucusgoers — making choices in the Republican contest than in the Democratic one. That, so far, sounds more like a Republican revolution. If that trend holds for the rest of the primary season and into the general election, not only would Democrats not be likely pick up congressional seats, they could lose more of them.

That’s a stubborn fact emerging — a reality — and it is one that all voters, including black ones, shouldn’t be simply told to discount.

This is not to say that Clinton or Sanders is the better choice for Democrats this season, but simply that the way some of Sanders’s supporters have talked down to black voters does him a disservice, and makes clear their insensitivity to the cultural and experiential political knowledge that has accrued to the black electorate.

 

By: Charles M. Blow, Op-Ed Columnist, Opinion Pages, The New York Times, February 10, 2016

February 14, 2016 - Posted by | African Americans, Bernie Sanders, Black Voters, Hillary Clinton | , , , , ,

1 Comment »

  1. Charles Blow: I have been a fan of yours for years and always felt you were “fair”in what you wrote. However, this article disappoints me in that you suggested that Bernie supporters were not treating African Americans right. You give Bernie no credit for fighting for Civil Rights all his life. You didn’t mention that in Seattle at a Bernie Sanders speech, before it even started, two BLM women took the stage and the microphone from the man who was introducing Sanders.and started their own BLM speech. What did Sanders do? He quietly left the stage and let them give their speech. I wonder if Hillary Clinton would have done that! You said nothing about Clinton’s campaign admitting their “firewall” in South Carolina was made up of African American votes! You think that is the way to treat the African American community? Sanders has gone to every African American’s group he has been invited to and answered their questions. As one African American attendee at one of these “forums” said, Hillary had never gone to any of them. He said he and others he know are going to vote for Sanders because they do believe he will continue to work for their cause. Yes, African Americans don’t need “condescension” by anyone and they don’t need anyone to tell them they are being treated as such! The gentleman didn’t feel “mistreated” by Sanders or his supporters! I’m sorry you feel the need to be “condescending” to Sanders supporters by telling them how to treat African Americans as if they should be treated any differently than white people. Have you ever lived the life many African Americans have lived through election after election with no change in sight for them? They are not alone! Many white people have lived that same life as well. Don’t suppose they are no longer hopeful for change. You are saying they have given up! That is real “condescension”! I am sad you chose to follow your editor and endorse Hillary but you have no right to do it at the expense of Bernie Sanders and his supporters, black and white!

    Like

    Comment by lrfalstad | February 15, 2016 | Reply


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