In episode 9 of “A Year Long Conversation” we dissect the divisions in the progressive movement between age, gender, and particularly race. Because there’s a weird phenomenon out there: young, white progressives who have had relatively good lives seem to think that even black leaders are now part of “The Machine.” They seem to view themselves as more progressively pure than groups who have the most to gain from progressive politics.
We’ve seen this in white progressives’ (cough, Bernie, cough) belief that they could somehow be better for black rights than the first Democratically elected racial minority-President in the history of the world. We’ve seen it in the accusations that the Congressional Black Caucus and particularly veteran Congressman and Civil Rights legend John Lewis are “sell-outs” for backing Hillary. We’ve also seen it at an Occupy Wall Street rally in Atlanta that refused to let Congressman Lewis speak solely because, you know, he’s “The Man.”
There are those that will say this is the ultimate form of progress that a Civil Rights legend could go from Selma to “Sell-Out” and that the black movement is viewed as a full part of the mainstream, but I’m not sure I would see it that way. To me, the idea that any black leaders who have power and real political influence are just another cog in The Establishment is naively wrong at best. At worst, it’s morphing modern progressivism to ignore the voices it supposedly wants to help and think it knows best how to solve other communities problems with solutions that may not have any real affect on how they live.
Bernie says that fixing economic equality will help racial inequality. But Hillary correctly points out that without racial equality the money will never see black people in the form of promotions, hirings, scholarships, bank loans, getting into the private school, housing loans, etc. Bernie fans often wonder “How could you not support the guy pushing FDR’s policies?” Perhaps unaware that The New Deal did almost nothing to solve segregation, and black people in the South could not even vote for FDR.
I’ve seen an awful lot of “How can black people possibly vote for Hillary?” think pieces. Yet some of these same fans were at a forum on “How to Talk to Black Women” because they had spent so little time talking to black women, and they now had to learn solely so they could advertise their candidate. That’s accidentally revealing of just how much time they’ve really spent thinking about black issues, and how serious they really are about it when an election’s not happening. And Bernie himself has said Hillary is just sucking up to Obama to get black votes. [Not kidding, he really did.]
Perhaps forgetting that the Clintons have cultivated relationships with black leaders for 25 years, while black leaders in Vermont have said they were “invisible” to Bernie, and he never lifted a finger to help with their issues. Also perhaps forgetting that Hillary was Obama’s Secretary of State and she’s been supportive of him a lot longer than this campaign has been going on.
And yet I am sure that when this article is posted, I’ll receive roughly the same tired responses from white progressives: “Hillary supported Bill Clinton doing [such and such awful thing for black people].” “Barack Obama hasn’t done anything to help black people.” “Bernie marched with Martin Luther King Jr.” Which Bernie himself brings up at every turn, unintentionally showing that–for him–The Civil Rights struggle stopped 50 years ago, and he hasn’t done much for it sense then. I have also seen too many white arguments for Bernie’s electability that boil down to “Hey, we elected a black guy in 2008” as if that is the height of ridiculousness, and any white guy would be easier. [Also forgetting Barack was the most charismastic politician in my lifetime when America was first introduced to him.]
In this new reality we have to wonder if a Senator from a state that is 94% white honestly believes he would be better for black people than the first democratically-elected black president of any majority non-black country. And if he and his fans don’t have roughly the same “my purer ideology can trump corrupted black leaders” mentality. This could even be part of why they’re drawn to him.