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“Dear Bernie Sanders; Black Votes Matter”: In The South, Black Votes Matter — A Lot

African Americans in the South can’t get a break when it comes to voting, as history can’t deny.

After all they’ve endured through slavery, Jim Crow and the fight for civil rights, their voices are still treated dismissively by tone-deaf politicians who would ask for their votes.

If you’re thinking Bernie Sanders, you’re partly right.

This month, having lost massively to Hillary Clinton across the Southeast, Sanders commented that the bevy of early Southern primaries “distorts reality.” In other comments soon thereafter, perhaps covering for what was obviously a lapse in political acumen, he clarified that those early states are the most conservative in the country.

Not really. And not really.

While some segments of the South are undeniably conservative, Dixie is also home to a large and reliably Democratic cohort — African Americans. Many of the most liberal people serving in today’s Congress were elected by Southerners, and especially black Southerners. The reality is that Sanders failed to earn their votes in part by treating the South as a lost cause.

Many took Sanders’s remarks as insinuating that the black vote isn’t all that important. Adding to the insult, actor Tim Robbins, a Sanders surrogate, said that Clinton’s win in South Carolina, where more than half of Democratic voters are African American, was “about as significant” as winning Guam.

Not cool, Mr. Robbins, but you were great in “The Shawshank Redemption.”

The gentleman from Vermont (black population: 1 percent) and the gentleman from Hollywood failed to charm Southern Democratic leaders, who recently responded with a letter condemning Sanders’s remarks. The signatories, including the Democratic Party chairs of South Carolina (an African American), Louisiana, Florida, Georgia and Mississippi, expressed concern that Sanders’s characterization of the South minimized “the importance of the voices of a core constituency for our party.”

The letter writers also pointed out that some of Sanders’s victories have been in states that are more conservative than Southern ones, such as Oklahoma, Utah and Idaho.

That black voters would prefer a familiar candidate such as Clinton over someone whose personal experience among African Americans seems to have been relatively limited, notwithstanding his participation in civil rights demonstrations, is hardly surprising. For decades, the Clintons have worked for issues and protections important to the African American community.

But the Clintons, too, have been dismissive toward black voters when things didn’t go their way. During the 2008 primaries when it was clear that Barack Obama would trounce Hillary Clinton in South Carolina, Bill Clinton remarked that Jesse Jackson also had won the state in 1984 and 1988.

No one needs a translator to get Clinton’s meaning. His next hastily drawn sentence — “Jackson ran a good campaign. And Obama ran a good campaign here” — did little to distract from the implication that Obama would win because he was black.

Not cool, Mr. President.

Hillary Clinton got herself into a hot mess when she asserted that President Lyndon Johnson was responsible for the Civil Rights Act, which many saw as dismissive of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy. She scrambled to explain herself and mitigate the damage, but feelings once hurt are hard to mend.

Then again, time is a miracle worker, and all is apparently forgiven. Clinton is the new black and has been duly rewarded for her loyalty, patience and sportsmanship. She played nice with Obama, crushing her resentment beneath the heel of her sensible shoes and erasing from memory Obama’s condescending “You’re likable enough, Hillary” during a debate.

On the campaign trail, Clinton now tosses rose petals at Obama’s feats, promising to carry on his policies not because she necessarily agrees with them but because it’s politically savvy. For his part, the president has all but endorsed Clinton, returning the favor of her indulgence and her husband’s vigorous support.

The truth is, only Obama could have defeated Clinton for the 2008 nomination, and he probably did win at least partly because he was African American. The country felt it was time for a black president and Obama’s message of hope against a purple-colored backdrop of streamlined unity, baby, was intoxicating. He was a dazzling diamond in the rough world of partisan politics.

Clinton shares none of Obama’s sparkle, but she has more than paid her dues, and African American voters have rewarded her loyalty. For his part, Sanders not only confirmed African Americans’ concerns about his disconnect from their daily lives but also was badly mistaken about the South’s distance from reality.

In the South, black votes matter — a lot — and no one has understood this better than the Clintons.

 

By: Kathleen Parker, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, April 222, 2016

April 25, 2016 Posted by | African Americans, Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton, The South | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Assessing The Threats We Face”: Which Candidate Has Most Accurately Defined Those Threats And Offered A Way Forward

Obviously, Hillary Clinton’s firewall held – at least in South Carolina – where she beat Bernie Sanders by almost 50 points on Saturday. In doing so, she won 86% of the vote from African Americans. But perhaps even more importantly:

Black voters in South Carolina cast 6 in every 10 Democratic primary votes, according to CNN’s exit poll data. That ratio is huge — and sets a record-high in South Carolina black voter participation rate. The previous high was 55 percent, set in 2008, when the first black president was on his way to being elected.

For a while now, the question has been whether or not people of color – particularly African Americas – would turn out for the Democratic candidate in the numbers we saw when Barack Obama was on the ballot. At least in the South Carolina primary, they actually exceeded that benchmark.

That was surprising to some people. But perhaps a quick walk down memory lane explains what happened.

First of all, I’ve already noted how the nomination and election of Barack Obama was greeted with both hope and terror in the hearts of many African Americans. The hope was the culmination of something most thought they wouldn’t see in their lifetimes. Beyond that, the way this President and his family have handled themselves in office has been a great source of pride, while his accomplishments will give him a place of honor in our history. Therefore, in many Black homes he has been adopted as part of the family.

But the terror indicated that those who felt it were very aware of the fact that we had not reached a post-racial America. Almost immediately during the 2008 election Obama was accused by those on the right of “paling around with terrorists,” saw vicious attacks on his pastor and had his citizenship in this country questioned. Once he was elected, we witnessed unprecedented obstruction and disrespect of – not just his policies – but his very personhood. This country’s first African American president consistently faced an opposition that challenged his legitimacy in office.

Meanwhile, the courts and Republican legislators all over the country have been attempting to roll back the voting rights that so many African Americans fought and died for, and they are watching their sons and daughters be killed at the hands of police officers and vigilantes.

We are now witnessing a Republican presidential primary where the candidates are racing to outdo each other in their contempt for people of color. The field is being led by someone who has been embraced by white supremacists and just yesterday refused to disavow the support he is receiving from KKK groups – claiming he needs to do research to understand who they are.

With all of that, is it any surprise that African Americans would assume that this country is facing the threat of a confederate insurgency?

Into that mix comes the Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders, whose campaign is based on the idea that we are living in an oligarchy where both Parties have been captured by the forces of Wall Street. That defines the threat very differently than what many African Americans see and feel right now.

In addition, Sanders has a history of calling President Obama naive and suggesting that he should be primaried in 2012. One of his most prominent surrogates in the African American community once said that the President had a “fear of free black men” and just recently suggested that civil rights heroes like Rep. John Lewis and Jim Clyburn have been bought off by Wall Street.

Compare that to Hillary Clinton, who has embraced President Obama and promised to build on his legacy. Not only that…she recognizes the challenges we face in breaking down the barriers that divide us and keep people marginalized.

Clinton and Sanders have assessed the threats we face very differently. Voters are faced with a choice of which candidate has most accurately defined those threats and offered a way forward. It should come as no surprise to anyone why African Americans are vigorously aligned with Clinton’s vision.

 

By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, February 29, 2016

March 1, 2016 Posted by | African Americans, Bernie Sanders, Democratic Presidential Primaries, Hillary Clinton | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“What Ben Carson Doesn’t Get”: If Obama Wasn’t ‘Black’ Before, He Certainly Is Now

Today’s column is for the benefit of one Dr. Benjamin Solomon Carson.

He shouldn’t need what follows, but obviously does. No other conclusion is possible after his interview with Politico a few days ago.

The subject was Barack Obama and what the Republican presidential contender sees as the inferior quality of the president’s blackness. “He’s an ‘African’ American,” said Carson. “He was, you know, raised white. I mean, like most Americans, I was proud that we broke the color barrier when he was elected, but … he didn’t grow up like I grew up…”

Carson, the son of a struggling single mother who raised him in Detroit, and sometimes relied on food stamps to do so, noted that Obama, by contrast, spent part of his childhood in Indonesia. “So, for him to claim that he identifies with the experience of black Americans, I think, is a bit of a stretch.”

Lord, have mercy.

Let’s not even get into the fact that the man questioning Obama’s racial bona fides once stood before an audience of white conservatives and proclaimed the Affordable Care Act “the worst thing that has happened in this country since slavery.” Let’s deal instead with Carson’s implicit assertion that to be authentically black requires being fatherless and broke, scrabbling for subsistence in the ‘hood.

If a white man said that, we’d call it racist. And guess what? It’s also racist when a black man says it. Not to mention, self-hating and self-limiting. Carson denies the very depth and breadth of African-American life.

By his “logic,” Kobe Bryant, who grew up in Italy, is not black, Shaquille O’Neal, who spent part of his childhood in Germany, is not black, Miles Davis and Natalie Cole, who grew up in affluent households, were not black and Martin Luther King Jr., child of middle-class comfort and an intact family, was not black. According to him, they were all “raised white.”

Here’s what Carson doesn’t get: What we call “race” is not about neighborhood, class or family status. Though the African hostages upon whose backs this country was built shared certain common approaches to music, faith and art, race ultimately isn’t even about culture. Martin Luther King, for instance, was an opera buff; it’s hard to get further from “black” culture than “Lucia di Lammermoor.”

No, race is something Europeans invented as a tool of subjugation. The people who came here from England, France and Spain did not initially see themselves as “white,” after all. They declared themselves white — that is, a superior species of humanity — to justify in their own consciences the evil things they did to the people they took from Africa. Similarly, those Africans knew nothing about “black.” They saw themselves as Fulani, Mende, Mandinkan or Songhay. “Black” was an identity forced upon them with every bite of the lash and rattle of the chains.

In other words, to be black is not to share a common geography, class or family status, but rather, the common experience of being insulted, bullied and oppressed by people who think they are white. Want to know if you’re black? Try to rent a house in Miami. Try to hail a cab in Times Square. Try to win an Oscar in Hollywood. You’ll find out real quick.

And there is something spectacularly absurd in the fact of Barack Obama being criticized as “not black” by a Republican. Think about it: In the unlikely event he somehow managed to live the 47 years before his presidency without being insulted, bullied and oppressed by people who think they are white, Obama has sure made up for it since. Members of Carson’s party have called him “boy,” “uppity” and “ape” and have gone to extraordinary and unprecedented lengths to block him from doing … anything.

So the good doctor can relax. If Obama wasn’t “black” before, he certainly is now.

 

By: Leonard Pitts, Jr., Columnist for The Miami Herald: The National Memo, February 29, 2016

February 29, 2016 Posted by | African Americans, Ben Carson, White Conservatives | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Malign Contempt Since Day 1”: GOP’s Unrelenting Campaign Of Obstructionism And Insult

This was three days before Antonin Scalia died.

President Obama had just spoken before the Illinois General Assembly. Now, he and some old friends, all retired from that body, were being interviewed by the Los Angeles Times. Obama was talking about the legislative gridlock that has marked his terms and how he might have avoided it.

“Maybe I could have done that a little better,” he said.

One of his friends wasn’t having it. “They were afraid of you for a couple of reasons,” said Denny Jacobs. “Number one, you were black.”

Obama parried the suggestion, saying what he always says when asked about race and his presidency. “I have no doubt there are people who voted against me because of race … or didn’t approve of my agenda because of race. I also suspect there are a bunch of people who are excited or voted for me because of the notion of the first African-American president. … Those things cut both ways,” he said.

Jacobs, who is white, was unpersuaded. “That’s what they were afraid of, Mr. President,” he insisted.

Some might say his point was proven after the sudden death of the Supreme Court justice. The body was not yet cold when Republicans threw down the gauntlet. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said that the president should not even nominate a replacement and should leave it instead to his successor. Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley seconded this, saying his panel would not open confirmation hearings, although Politico reported Tuesday that Grassley told Radio Iowa he would not rule them out.

Understand: It’s not uncommon for the opposition party to warn that a nominee better be to its liking. However, to declare before the fact that no person put forth by the president will receive even a hearing is not politics as usual, but rather, a stinging and personal insult without apparent precedent. It is simply impossible to imagine another president being treated with such malign contempt.

But then, GOP contempt for Obama and his authority have been manifest since before Day One. McConnell’s refusal to do his job is just the latest example. On Twitter, a person who tweets as @bravee1 put it like this: “Mitch McConnell just needs to admit that he thinks President Obama was elected to three-fifths of a term.”

It’s a great line, but what is happening here is more subtle than just racism. To be, as McConnell is, a straight, 73-year-old white male in America is to have come of age in a world where people like you and only people like you set the national agenda. One suspects, then, that people like him see in Obama their looming loss of demographic and ideological primacy in a nation that grows more multi-hued and, on many vital social issues, less conservative every day.

Some people can handle that. Others would rather cripple the country, leaving it without a functioning Supreme Court for almost a year, and never mind the will of the people as twice expressed in elections: Barack Obama is our president. He has the right and duty to nominate a new justice.

It’s grating to hear Obama act as if the GOP’s unrelenting campaign of obstructionism and insult were the moral equivalent of some African-American grandmother or young white progressive who were proud to cast their ballots for the first black president. Moreover, his attempt to shoulder blame for the hyper-partisanship of the last seven years suggests a fundamental misreading of the change he represents and the fear it kindles in some of those whose prerogatives that change will upend.

It’s well and good to be even-handed and reflective, but there is a point where that becomes willful obtuseness. Obama is there. “They were afraid of you for a couple of reasons,” said his friend. “Number one, you were black.”

It’s interesting that a white man in his 70s can see this, yet a 54-year-old black man cannot.

 

By: Leonard Pitts, Jr., Columnist for The Miami Herald; The New Republic, February 17, 2016

February 18, 2016 Posted by | African Americans, Congress, GOP Obstructionism, Mitch Mc Connell | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Politics, Power, And Change”: Here’s What You Need To Understand About How Hillary Clinton Views Race

This afternoon, Hillary Clinton will deliver a speech on race in Harlem. There’s a political context here, of course, which is that African American voters are central to both the Feb. 27 South Carolina Democratic primary and the entire campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination.

But when Clinton speaks about race, something important happens: we get a revealing view not just of what she thinks is important, but of how she understands politics, power, and change.

According to guidance distributed by the Clinton campaign, today’s speech is going to cover a lot of policy ground, including criminal justice, education, housing, and economic opportunity. Clinton will also be discussing “systemic racism,” which is a key phrase to keep in mind to understand how she sees race, and how it differs from the way Barack Obama has dealt with racial issues over the past eight years.”

The idea of systemic racism has symbolic weight, but it’s primarily practical. It does speak to the fundamental truth that black people understand and that some whites resist, that racism exists in a thousand places at once, both those we can see and those we overlook. Saying you understand systemic racism is a way of saying that you see the problem as deep, wide, and historically grounded.

But it’s also a way of saying: This is a problem we, and the president him or herself, can actually do something about. If the racism that imposes itself on people’s lives is to be found in systems, then the way you attack it is to change the way those systems operate, through changes in law and policy.

In short — and if you’ll allow me to oversimplify things a bit — when it comes to race, unlike Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton doesn’t care how you feel.

Well of course she cares, but it’s not her primary concern. This is both her weakness and her strength.

Let me start this story in March 2008, when Obama delivered his much-praised speech in Philadelphia on race, after his former pastor Jeremiah Wright became controversial. In the speech you can see the stark difference between Clinton and him, or at least the candidate he was then. While Obama mentions in passing some of the ways racism has been embedded in institutions, most of the speech, and certainly the part people focused on after, was about different people’s perspectives on race. He talked about his white grandparents, noting that even the loving grandmother who largely raised him expressed fear of young black men. He talked about how white people who feel they never benefited from racial privilege can grow resentful of things like affirmative action. He talked about the anger of black people who continue to feel the sting of prejudice.

Like so many of Obama’s speeches in that campaign, it was extraordinarily eloquent and inspiring. It made you feel like no matter who you were, he understood you. Rereading it one can’t help but remember why many Americans went nuts for this guy.

As president, Obama has been extraordinarily cautious talking about racial issues. He obviously understands the way that his political opponents have cultivated racial resentments and used him as the symbol of everything anyone might fear about a time when white privilege is being challenged (regular listeners of conservative talk radio know, for instance, that Obama’s domestic policies are regularly described as “reparations,” wherein white people’s money is being stolen and then showered upon indolent, undeserving minorities). And though you could certainly point to any number of policy initiatives his administration has undertaken that address racial prejudice and its consequences, in his rare public statements on the topic Obama is far more likely to talk about people and their feelings, both black and white, than about the details of policy. It’s clear that he still believes that empathy and understanding are central to bridging the racial divides that his presidency has been unable to improve.

Clinton’s previous remarks on race, on the other hand, are essentially the inverse of Obama’s: some brief mention of values and feelings, quickly giving way to lengthy discussion of policy changes that can be made to address ongoing racial problems. You can see that in a major speech she gave in April about criminal justice reform. Early in the speech she articulated statements of values that link policy with ideas like justice and fairness: “There is something profoundly wrong when African American men are still far more likely to be stopped and searched by police, charged with crimes, and sentenced to longer prison terms than are meted out to their white counterparts.” She then talked about her own work as a young lawyer with the Children’s Defense Fund, but what stands out for me is that her discussion is about power and institutions. “I saw repeatedly how our legal system can be and all too often is stacked against those who have the least power, who are the most vulnerable,” she says, which is a statement about justice but also a way of saying, I understand this system. The speech is heavy with facts and figures, and while there are a few lines about hopes and dreams, it doesn’t address anyone’s feelings about race. Instead, it’s mostly about policy.

Or consider an even more vivid illustration, a fascinating spontaneous discussion she had with some Black Lives Matter activists in August. It may be the single clearest statement you can find illustrating Clinton’s perspective on social and political change as you’ll ever see.

The activists essentially argue to Clinton that symbolism, rhetoric, beliefs, and policy are all intertwined. At one point, Julius Jones says to her, “America’s first drug is free black labor and turning black bodies into profit, and the mass incarceration system mirrors an awful lot like the prison plantation system. It’s a similar thread, right? And until someone takes that message and speaks that truth to white people in this country, so that we can actually take on anti-blackness as a founding problem in this country, I don’t believe that there is going to be a solution.” He also wants to know what’s in Clinton’s heart, and how she feels about the mistakes of the 1990s. “What in you,” he asks, “not your platform, not what you’re supposed to say — like, how do you actually feel that’s different than you did before? Like, what were the mistakes? And how can those mistakes that you made be lessons for all of America for a moment of reflection on how we treat black people in this country?”

Clinton’s response, though she doesn’t put it these terms, is essentially that it’s not about what she feels. Again and again, she comes back to the idea that you need a program, an agenda of specific things government should do:

So, all I’m saying is, your analysis is totally fair. It’s historically fair. It’s psychologically fair. It’s economically fair. But you’re going to have to come together as a movement and say, “Here’s what we want done about it,” because you can get lip service from as many white people as you can pack into Yankee Stadium and a million more like it, who are going to say, “Oh, we get it. We get it. We’re going to be nicer.” Okay? That’s not enough, at least in my book. That’s not how I see politics. So, the consciousness raising, the advocacy, the passion, the youth of your movement is so critical. But now all I’m suggesting is, even for us sinners, find some common ground on agendas that can make a difference right here and now in people’s lives. And that’s what I would love to, you know, have your thoughts about, because that’s what I’m trying to figure out how to do.

Then Clinton and Jones begin talking quicker, and when at one point Jones characterizes her position as being that “what the Black Lives Matter movement needs to do to change white hearts is to come up with a policy change,” Clinton jumps in with this:

No, I’m not talking about — look, I don’t believe you change hearts. I believe you change laws, you change allocation of resources, you change the way systems operate. You’re not going to change every heart. You’re not. But at the end of the day, we can do a whole lot to change some hearts and change some systems and create more opportunities for people who deserve to have them to live up to their own God-given potential, to live safely without fear of violence in their own communities, to have a decent school, to have a decent house, to have a decent future. So, we can do it one of many ways. You know, you can keep the movement going, which you have started, and through it you may actually change some hearts. But if that’s all that happens, we’ll be back here in 10 years having the same conversation.

If I could put her point in terms that are a little more blunt, Clinton is basically saying that symbolism and feelings are all well and good, but they’re really not her concern. What she cares about is institutional power: who it belongs to, how it’s used, and what effects it has. Movement-building and consciousness-raising are not her job. They’re a part of the larger picture and can make her job easier, but her job is to make change within the institutions through which power flows.

You may or may not like this view of what a president does and how a president makes change. You may thirst for someone who can work the levers of power but can also inspire people, make them see things in a new way, offer a transformative vision of the future. But for better or worse, that’s not who Hillary Clinton is.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line Blog, The Washington Post, February 16, 2015

February 17, 2016 Posted by | African Americans, Hillary Clinton, System Racism | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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