Racism Is Why I Didn’t Vote for Bernie Sanders

U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont speaking at a town meeting at the Phoenix Convention Center in Phoenix, Arizona.

Bernie Sanders endorsed Hillary Clinton for President, and I have mixed feelings about it. I haven’t been partial to anyone this election cycle, so my current political leanings can best be described as #GirlIGuessImWithHer. However, the events of the past week have me thinking more than usual about the insidious ways that racism plays out in our interactions. On an individual level, racism often has deadly consequences and I can’t help but apply that condition to our current presidential race. More specifically, I have a confession:

Racism is the reason I didn’t vote for Bernie Sanders.

One of the consequences of oppression is that it creates multiple realities. In one reality, traffic stops are mere annoyances. In one reality, swimming is not a matter for the police. In one reality, BB guns are harmless children’s toys. In one reality, teenagers buy candy and iced tea unaccosted. In one reality, playing Pokémon Go is a harmless pastime. That is not everyone’s reality.

Furthermore, oppressed people are very aware of both the existence of those different realities and when they intersect. For example, #YesAllWomen was a hashtag that highlighted the fact that while not all men perpetrate gendered violence or harassment, all women have stories of being accosted or harassed due to their gender. Both stories are true simultaneously. They are concurrent realities with vastly different consequences.

I didn’t vote for Sanders because his campaign operated in a reality in which I didn’t feel safe.

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Sanders’ idealism and zeal are admirable. I promise I’m not so jaded as to have not been moved by his passion. I agree that there are some serious flaws with our country, particularly its economic structure, that need to be addressed radically and systematically. I understood his vision while also feeling distant from it. And I was not the only one.

I fear well-meaning white folks.

Sanders preached radical change and youth empowerment. He challenged Wall Street and corporations, supporting the reduction of student death. And, yes, he even engaged positively with both the Civil Rights and Black Lives Matter movements. He has done good work, and that is precisely why his insistence that he knew what was best for all of us gave me anxiety.

In the words of Jessie-Lane Metz:

I feel this anxiety, not because I don’t know my material (I do, in every fibre of my proud Black being), nor because I’m worried about people who may deny racism and its ongoing negative impacts on Black men; men who are my friends, my family members, members of my community, and maybe one day, my child. Nope. I’m prepared for all of that. My worries are different. I’m worried about well-meaning white folks, who in their effort to lead a social justice conversation as my allies, make missteps that continue to reinforce oppression in racialized communities, and do a disservice to mainstream feminist social justice work, which should surely be intersectional as fuck by now.

I fear well-meaning white folks.

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Sanders’ campaign operated with benevolent indifference for the concerns of Black people in that he was unable to manifest the radical change he pushed. This is the pinnacle of well-meaning white folk: he never answered the question of how he will take care of the disenfranchised when he dismantles the franchise.

Additionally, his campaign’s failure to properly and directly address the vitriol spouted in his name through the “Bernie Bros” showed me that his campaign was willing to accept a certain amount of collateral damage (racism, sexism…) in the name of radical change. There is nothing radical about allowing women and POC to suffer in service of your message or the “greater good.”

It also seems that the Sanders campaign was simply paying lip service in its outreach to Black voters, according to Terrell Jermaine Starr:

Bernie Sanders lost the Democratic primary in large part because he failed to win the hearts of black progressives.

It didn’t have to be that way. But his campaign never explained how black people fit into his vision of a radically changed America. And, according to a series of Fusion interviews with former staff members, campaign leadership didn’t really see the point in trying.

Those former staffers described a campaign that failed to give its black outreach teams the resources they needed, that never figured out how to connect to black audiences, and that marginalized black media.

It appears that Sanders’ campaign was also willing to concede the Black vote because they didn’t believe they needed it. It is difficult to believe in someone who is only fighting for your cause if they feel they can succeed. Anti-oppression work is not work you do just to win. It’s work you do because it’s the right thing to do. If you’re fighting oppression because it is convenient, you are not fighting oppression.

History has taught me to be wary of white men making empty promises.

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How is Hillary Clinton better?

For centuries, white men have made revolutionary promises that morph into quiet compromises in the face of white supremacy. Sanders is not the first to do this nor will be be the last. However, I could not buy a version of radicalism that turned meek in the face of an issue that grows more urgent daily. Sanders’ rejection of reparations showed me he was willing to be radical in service of everyone but me. As a result, he did not get my vote.

I realize the obvious rebuttal is: but how is Hillary Clinton better?

She’s not, really. At least, not according to ISideWith.com. My political leanings are demonstrated below:

A breakdown of the Presidential candidates and how much I agree with them. I'm reconsidering my views on that 10%.
I’m reconsidering my views on whatever that 10% is.

If — all other things being equal — my choices are between a panderer and a prophet, I will choose the panderer every time. The panderer wants what they want enough to listen to my concerns. The prophet is too concerned about the future to assess the possibility of damage in the present. Idealism in the face of oppression and racism can be deadly.

Racism has shown me that I can’t ignore a violent present for a possible future. Racism is the reason I didn’t vote for Bernie Sanders.