Zoe Samudzi

Rather than berate black people for their lack of enthusiasm for Bernie Sanders, perhaps you should ask us why.

Why am I tired of Bernie Sanders?

Because of the white fragility continually employed to insulate him from black criticism. 

Because of the tone-policing of black disruption and the condescending "you should be grateful for all he's (read: white liberals have) done for you.” 

Because his supporters patronizingly prescribe political opinion rather than respectfully engaging black dissent. 

Black people owe white "allies" absolutely nothing. We don't owe you for being slightly less oppressive than Republicans - not even if you actively support black communities. Basic human decency, i.e. working towards the dismantling of racism and other marginalizing structures, is not something for which any person should expect acclaim or praise. If Bernie Sanders is the terrific democratic socialist and populist he claims to be, then why does he have such a difficult time engaging black community politics with and without interruption? Only after repeated protest and interruption did he publish his platform for racial justice (please tell me again that these protests are unsuccessful). It is easy to have economic populist politics in Vermont, a state that's approximately 95% white and 1.2% black, and a state that maintains a historical legacy for supporting the countercultural social politics of the hippies who flocked to the state in the 1960s and 70s. But if Bernie Sanders becomes president, he will be responsible for governing not just Vermont and his legion of supporters, but also for overseeing the prison industrial complex and racist mass incarceration, segregatory housing policies, and all types of racialized institutional discrimination that permeates every level of government.

Sanders supporters have asked why black people have not interrupted Hillary Clinton or any other politician “who deserves it.” It’s probably because many black folks have long dismissed Hillary Clinton's liberal racism and her repeated iterations of "all lives matter" and her fixation on police body cams as a technocratic quick fix for reforming the white supremacist criminal justice system. “Why haven't black people interrupted the GOP?” they also ask, to which I can’t even begin to respond. 

Bernie Sanders is a self-styled democratic socialist whose political analysis (until relatively recently) completely fails to engage the racism inherent to the economic inequality and wealth disparities and capitalistic greed he's so passionate about. That is why he's interrupted: the populist posturing (often by his politically vapid white supporters) clashes with his repeatedly demonstrated inability to address the issues at the forefront of many black minds. Bernie Sanders is interrupted in the hopes of greater engagement moving forward, because the development of a firm stance on racial issues in Sanders’s campaign will inarguably shape Hillary Clinton’s, forcing her and other Democratic candidates to begin to address structural racism and thus shifting the nature of political discussion on the American Left.

I care about the economy, unfair wages and financial regulation, growing inequality, and the shrinking middle class. But it is critically important to me that I have panic attacks when Oakland Police Department squad cars drive by; it is critically important that unarmed black folks – people who look just like me – are getting gunned down in the street and that the system is never indicted; it is critically important that my basic human need for safety is met.

Perhaps the biggest articulation problem of white liberals, one that I fundamentally disagree with, is the division of physical violence between state and extremist violence (and of course, Bernie Sanders does this on his website). Groups like the Ku Klux Klan and individuals like Dylann Roof are not extremists: terrorists yes, but not extremists. There is a massive epistemological gap in seeing racist violence as a product of extremism when it is merely another manifestation of the ideology that has underpinned the United States since the founding of the colonies. Failing to see this generally absolves white liberals from their own complicity in the maintenance of racial structures. Rather than isolating and attributing violence to these extremist "white supremacists," we need to discuss structural white supremacy, because it is a political system of which all white people are beneficiaries and in which all white people actively participate whether they consider themselves to be racist or not. The difference between discussing white supremacists and white supremacy may seem semantic, but it demonstrates white folks' willingness to take personal responsibility for their own role in these racial structures. 

A full understanding of the effects of racialized discrimination is impossible unless white folks take responsibility for their participation in white supremacy as individuals. Sanders says “we must put an end to discriminatory laws" with regards to voter disenfranchisement. He also wants to "ban for-profit prisons." Both of these platforms link racial capitalism to institutional racism to state violence to individually perpetrated white supremacy, but he fails to explicitly name this link. He supports diversifying police forces and implementing body cameras as solutions to police brutality, neither of which are adequate ways of addressing racist police violence because racial diversity does not actually displace racist ideologies, and the seemingly unending video stream of unarmed black people murdered by the police has not galvanized institutional reform. His failure to bridge the interpersonal-social to the structural-institutional is a massive problem, but this is not just a Bernie Sanders problem: this is a white liberal and progressive problem. 

Rather than berate black people for their lack of enthusiasm for Bernie Sanders, perhaps you should ask us why. Black America has existed in a state of emergency for centuries now. We are gunned down in the streets without weapons, armed only with the “threat” of our blackness. We are subjected to interpersonal aggressions, structural discrimination, and the economic violence of racial capitalism, and forced to consider whether our next interaction with the police is the last we’ll ever have. 

So you’ll have to forgive the sense of urgency in our insistence that Democrats pay more attention to ever-present white supremacy. Don’t get me wrong, the integration of racial justice into Bernie Sander’s electoral platform seems a step in the right direction, but I grow weary of the relegation of black issues to mere political talking points trotted out during election season (after repeated black demand and disruption) and ignored otherwise. As a black woman, I am tired of being tasked with choosing the lesser evil: between the (generally white) Democrat who takes black constituents’ lack of options for granted, the slightly less bad white Democrat who is politically astute enough to respond, or an entire party that has made it explicitly clear that they could not care less about black people. I deserve better. America’s black communities deserve better.

Zoe Samudzi is presently research coordinator at UC San Francisco after receiving a masters degree Health, Community, and Development at the London School of Economics. She is interested in deconstructing gender and racial hegemonies, specifically as they pertain to marginalized communities' interactions with structural whiteness. She tweets at @ztsamudzi.