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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

“This Is What Erasure Looks Like”: We Are Witness To The Vandalism Of African-American Memory

“This,” says Roni Dean-Burren, “is what erasure looks like.”

She’s talking about something you might otherwise have thought innocuous: a page from World Geography, a high school textbook. A few days ago, you see, Dean-Burren, a former teacher and a doctoral candidate at the University of Houston, was texted a caption from that book by her son Coby, who is 15. It said that the Atlantic slave trade “brought millions of workers from Africa to the southern United States to work on agricultural plantations.” This was in a section called “Patterns of Immigration.”

She says the words jumped out at her. After all, a “worker,” is usually someone who gets paid to do a job. An immigrant is usually someone who chooses to come to a new country. Neither of which describes the millions of kidnapping victims who cleared America’s fields and endured its depravities in lives of unending bondage that afforded them no more rights under the law than a dog or a chair.

As the Trail of Tears was not a nature walk and the Normandy invasion not a day at the beach, black people were neither workers nor immigrants, but slaves. Dean-Burren, who is black, took to social media to explain that. You can guess what happened next. The story went viral, and the embarrassed publisher, McGraw-Hill Education, scrambled to apologize and fix the mess.

That’s all well and good. But let no one think this was incidental or accidental. No, there is purpose here. There is intent. In recent years, we’ve seen Arizona outlaw ethnic studies, Texas teach that slavery was a “side issue” to the Civil War, a Colorado school board require a “positive” spin on American history, and Glenn Beck claim the mantle of the Civil Rights Movement.

We are witness to the vandalism of African-American memory, to acts of radical revision and wholesale theft that strike at the core of black identity. Once your past is gone, who are you? What anchor holds you? So Dean-Burren’s word strikes a powerful chord: This is, indeed, erasure — like a blackboard wiped clean, all the inconvenient pain, sting and challenge of African-American history, gone.

It is, she says, “the saddest thought ever” that her grandchildren might not know Nat Turner’s rebellion or Frederick Douglass’ harsh condemnation of slavery. “The fact that they may not know what it was like for women to get the right to vote, the fact that they may not know that millions of Native Americans were slaughtered at the hands of ‘Pilgrims’ and explorers … I think it says a lot about our society.”

Nor is she persuaded by the argument that teaching the uglier aspects of American history would make students hate their country. She calls that “a crock of poo.” And it is. America’s ugliness defines its beauty as silence defines sound and sorrow defines joy.

“We tell our children that all the time: ‘The reason you’re standing here today … and you have what you have and you can go to the schools you want to go to, and you can say out loud, ‘I want to be an Alvin Ailey dancer …’ or ‘I want to go to Stanford,’ … is that you come from survivors. You come from people who said, ‘I’m going to stick it out. I’m going to make it. I’m going to keep pushing.’ If we don’t know the ugly, I don’t know how you can really love the pretty.”

To put it another way: Black History Matters. So let us be alarmed at attempts to rewrite that history for the moral convenience of others or to preserve what James Baldwin and Ta-Nehisi Coates have described as the fiction of white American “innocence” where crimes of race are concerned. They keep trying to make it less painful, says Dean-Burren, like putting a document through a Xerox machine and making it lighter, lighter and lighter still.

“And then, when you look up, there’s nothing on the page.”

 

By: Leonard Pitts, Jr., Columnist for The Miami Herald; The National Memo, October 12, 2015

October 13, 2015 Posted by | African Americans, American History, Slavery | , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

   

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