I am resuscitating my blog as a space where I can post in more detail than Facebook, and hopefully open the conversation about the problematic ways that race has played out on both sides of this election.
There are too many reasons that Trump won and Hillary Clinton lost to catalogue. Over the last few weeks, I’ve read a lot of articles and Facebook posts stating that if only Sanders had been the nominee, he would have beaten Trump. Further, that the DNC is responsible for this loss, because it chose the weaker candidate. Worse yet, it was only due to inside politics and subterfuge that Sanders had the nomination stolen from him.
Yes, the corruption factor is important, disappointing and needs to be addressed – as do many other factors. But, most importantly we need to grapple with the reality that Clinton won in large part because blacks chose her over Sanders. Common reasons given for why Sanders did not gain black support include that he was blocked by the media, thus, blacks did not know about his candidacy or that blacks simply do not understand that our interests are class based and that race should be sidelined to class.
Several months ago – right after the primary – I posed a simple question on my Facebook page: how would the white left feel about an older white man becoming President without black support? Unfortunately, the answer was clear: race does not matter.
My hope is that we can talk seriously about these fundamentally different understandings. Why do our assessments of the conditions under which we live veer so seriously? Unfortunately, these differences are likely to be magnified and exacerbated under Trump, as it becomes more clear that he is putting his vision for white nationalistic democracy in place.
Disclosure #1: I believe that had Sanders simply been open to discussing race, he would have won the primary and the election. I have no evidence – just gut.
Disclosure #2: I have been a Sanders fan for years, following his television appearances, holding him up as an example of how a real politician talks about corruption and economic reform. I wanted to get on the Bernie bandwagon.
Disclosure #3: I do not believe that the racism problem is only on the right. I believe that white supremacy is alive and well on the left – albeit in a more subtle and palatable form – and that it is why we lost. Many of my recent organizing experiences have led me to the conclusion that until we come to a consensus on the left about the relationship between race and class, the right will always win.
Disclosure #4: Although I am committed to attempting this conversation, I am pessimistic. I believe that white left voters instinctively understand their interests as much as black left voters. It may be that consensus is unattainable.
The moment that Sanders lost me was when he was asked if he would be open to discussion of reparations for blacks and said no. Yes, I know that none of the mainstream candidates support reparations. Yes, I know that reparations are a pipe dream and politically impossible. Yes, I know that Sanders came out with a statement proposing the same old failed social programs to level the playing field and correct historic wrongs. I got all that.
But, I still don’t understand why anyone proposing a revolution would not be open to a simple conversation about correcting a massive injustice that is still in process today. No, I didn’t expect Sanders to know much about African American social conditions. But, I also didn’t expect that he would reject black concerns as peripheral so forcefully.
I also understand that the issue of reparations is a controversial one. Why it’s controversial is actually hard to fathom. And, yes, I do understand that many groups could make a claim for reparations. But, in the specific case of African Americans, I feel a broad scale discussion on how this country can truly move past its history of slavery and more recent history of building a white middle class through government policy of redlining, restrictive covenants etc, and most recent history of the economic hate crime committed against specifically black Americans who as a group lost all economic gains since the end of the Civil Rights movement in the 2007 Housing Crash and Great Recession warrants discussion.
Until we can rectify the results of these wrongs, how can we be a country rooted in anything but them? Without rectification national coherence will continue to be based on a national identity as white.
There are too many horrendous statistics to present here. But with a 70% downward mobility rate, a 50% loss of collective wealth, the black middle class holding fewer economic resources than the white poor at an over 20 to 1 ratio, that at the current pace it will take longer than the entire history of slavery for a black man to earn a wage equal to a white man…and much much more…to say that reparations are not even worthy of discussion seems to indicate a commitment to an underlying belief.
What justifications are there really for the persistence of racialized inequality post civil rights? If we believe that the playing field is even – at least within classes, as Sanders class dominant analysis suggests – then we must also believe that blacks, as a group, have something inherently wrong with them. In this case, how do we understand a 45% downward mobility rate for African Americans born into the middle class into poverty versus 16% for white Americans*? Is it that middle class blacks were inherently not worthy of middle class status? And when we speak about education for the black poor who are we speaking about? African American women are the most educated group in American society – albeit also the lowest paid, most likely to be unemployed, and fasting growing population of self-employed.
If we believe that the playing field is uneven, but that a program of race based policies designed to even the field is not worthy of serious discussion, then either we are holding on to factually false beliefs about African Americans (i.e. they need to be more educated etc…) or we are not truly believers in a society where race is not a dividing line.
Trump’s rise to power shows that many Americans have chosen the latter position. But, Sander’s rise indicates that many on the left either do not have their facts right – possibly due to the illusion of economic progress created by a cultural shift toward multiculturalism – or that they tacitly agree with a more palatable version of racial democracy. Clearing this up is exactly why there needs to be a discussion about how we can ensure that social and cultural progress is represented economically. This is is what the conversation about reparations is fundamentally about. When the majority of black Americans support some form of reparations, it seems obvious why a candidate that won’t even talk about them, would not get our vote.
To be continued…
*70% downward mobility is overall; 45% and 16% downward mobility rates are specifically from middle class to poverty.
Dr. Carol Anderson shared some very important insights about the phenomenon of White Rage on the WBAI Tuesday Morning Show, which I co-host. I highly recommend you listen to our interview and pick up her book.