I’ve been collecting my thoughts on the “conflict” between Bernie Sanders and #blacklivesmatter since the Netroots Nation conference. Full discretion: I’ve been interested in Bernie for a few years now. He speaks a lot on progressive and left wing television and radio shows, which I listen to a lot, particularly Thom Hartmann. He also speaks to my heart on a fundamental philosophical level when it comes to democratic socialism. There was talk about his potential to run for president for months (if not years) before he announced his bid, and I have a lot of progressive friends who have been very excited about him. I was excited too. When it comes to financial reform, he has a very different stance and history than Hillary Clinton, and that’s refreshing. Further, and most importantly to me, he is one of the only politicians who has spoken up in support of #saveoakflat. In January, I was involved with passing the Change.org petition about Oak Flat around. We got enough signatures to get an official response from the Administration and that response ultimately boiled down to, “Well, that sucks. Too bad.” So when Bernie stood up in support of the cause, I was ready to throw my support behind him without thinking any further on the issue.
I was not impressed with Bernie’s response to the protesters at Netroots Nation. O’Malley’s was cringe-worthy, but when people are looking for answers to injustices that are occurring right now, getting defensive and citing something you did—which was important, don’t get me wrong—fifty years ago is not helpful and not encouraging. No matter how interested and excited I might get for this particular politician, I have not lost sight of the fact that he is an older straight white man with power (and money). Bernie has many good qualities, and is more forthright and honest than just about any other major politician in the presidential field, but we cannot forget that not only does Bernie benefit from a significant amount of privilege, but he will also suffer from a significant amount of privilege blindness. Personally, I think that Bernie is thoughtful and compassionate enough to listen and learn, but I cannot say the same thing about the white liberals and progressives that support him.
Although the information is not as prevalent in the media, and hence in our collective conscious, Bernie has been, at least since the Netroots Nation conference, been reaching out and listening to try and get a better understanding of the racial injustice in the country and the changes that we are demanding. It is also important to note, here, that it is a big problem to me that he is only recently paying closer attention to current events. Again, I am not discrediting the work he has done in the past, but the current volatile environment is something he is out of touch with, and Clinton is not. This past weekend in Seattle, one of his talks (not his primary rally, as some sources have reported) was met with resistance by #blacklivesmatterseattle protesters. If you desire (and you should) you can go look up information on the protesters as individuals and come to whatever conclusion you like about them. However, I’ve decided not to name them and there’s a good reason for this which I’ll get into below.
What’s important about this exchange, to me, is not the fact that Bernie’s response was to choose not to speak (some will argue that he did not have a choice, but he could have waited, he could have talked with them, there were plenty of options. He is not a man without power and influence), but those that chose to speak on his behalf via social media—the response of his supporters.
The backlash was extreme, vocal, and vitriolic. It stemmed from ignorance, hatred, and racism. I grew up in Los Angeles, and while I would never consider claiming that Southern California was racism-free, when I moved to the Pacific Northwest I was astonished by the differences in how I was treated. I can sometimes pass for white, because my skin-tone is lighter, but in Washington I was rarely recognized as anything but indigenous. My theory is that it is likely that white people in Washington are better practiced at recognizing indigenous people because there is a large concentration of reservations and NDN people here. I digress. The first time I was harassed and called racially charged slurs was in Washington when I was nineteen years old. To this day I cannot recall having ever been harassed for my race while in Southern California, but I still deal with it on a daily basis while living here. My point is that although Washington liberals and progressives are very self-congratulatory on their open-mindedness and social justice attitudes, they fail to realize that the hands that are patting each others backs are all white. They fail to realize how segregated Seattle is (and it is growing more segregated all the time, look up the gentrification of Capitol Hill that’s been making the news lately and think about what kind of effect that has on PoC communities). Seattle is a white progressive paradise. It is not as lovely for brown and black people, particularly because the whites believe that it is a utopia and refuse to address problems, or even admit they are real.
I was not surprised that Bernie’s supporters responded by photoshopping pictures of the protesters to be drinking piss, or “white semen.” I was not surprised when they were called uppity N*****s. I was not surprised when they accused them of biting the hand that feeds them. I was not surprised when they said things like, “This is why I am racist.” Because they are racists. More productively, I’ll say, their culture is rife with racism and they are not interested in addressing it, because they do not believe it exists. This, amongst other reasons, is one of the primary reasons that I believe #blacklivesmatter is targeting Bernie as much as it is. It’s because he, and more importantly, his supporters, keep claiming to be our (as a PoC, I’m not black, I think you know this) allies, but they’re not. They’re hurting us. They’re self-interested and don’t care about us, and by putting on a show of pretending to care about us, they’re only hurting us more. Why should we support you, and why should we support your candidate, when you are the worst kind of racist—the racist who cannot be honest with himself. Conservative racism is a fresh breath of air compared to the cancer that white liberal racists are—we can see conservative racism coming. It’s gross, but we can sometimes even laugh at it’s ridiculousness. White liberal racism is like a secret disease or a snake in your sheets. You think you’re healthy or warm and comfortable and then you’re dead.
Other than Clinton, Bernie is probably the candidate most likely to listen. I remain wary of Clinton’s economic ties to Wall Street. But Bernie—and Bernie supporters—should be celebrating the fact that Bernie is being targeted by the #blacklivesmatter movement because they’re not doing it out of hatred, they’re doing it out of hope. There is hope that Bernie might listen. There is hope that those that claim to be our allies might actually wake the fuck up and be our allies. There’s enough talking the talk going on that we can hope that some of you might also start walking the walk. But that’s the kind of growth that’s going to come with pain. There’s also a risk that people might not change, or even change for the worse. But it’s a risk I’m more than willing to take, because if Bernie can’t listen to and can’t understand us, then I don’t think I really care how great and progressive he is economically. As an NDN buddy of mine said recently in response to some of these complaints, “My people are dying. Go ahead and tell me about your struggles.” I’m not saying that this country doesn’t need economic reform, I’m saying that there are more fundamental injustices that need to be addressed than the economy and I’m not against admitting that if we can’t get to the heart of these, that the destruction of our country is in the stars.
That might sound terrifying to white liberals, but I have a different point of view on what the destruction of your land, people, government and beliefs means.
Finally, I wanted to add that the reason I chose not to focus on the identities of the protesters is because there is a lot of garbage going around attacking them via racist and sexist means, and attacking their character, their personal beliefs, and their affiliations. There are accusations of conspiracy, of working for Clinton or republicans, and just about anything else you can imagine to delegitimize them and their cause and efforts.
I don’t care if they were affiliated with one group or another. I don’t even care if their motivations were different from what they claim. They were two women who were part of a narrative and movement that is much larger than they are as individuals. The attacks on them—whether accurate or not—are being used specifically as attacks on a just movement.
I realize that this piece is, once again, going to be inflammatory, but this time I think it will be even more-so, as the white progressives and liberals who read my blog will possibly feel targeted by this. Here’s the shake: You are being targeted by this. You need to listen. Politics do not trump basic human rights. Bernie Sanders is not more important than the fact that PoCs are dying and white progressives are not helping.
To be honest, at this point, Bernie is approaching the situation with a lot more class than you guys are, so maybe, at the very minimal amount of effort, if you still refuse to listen to us, you can at least listen to your great white saviour.