This column was originally published on May 2, 2017
There is a problem on the left, seen from Madison to Washington D.C. It’s not a new problem, but one that will be deadly to the Democrats now and in the future if it’s not grabbed a hold of. This, of course, is racism of the white left.
More specifically, the Bernie Sanders left, or as some have dubbed the “alt-left” has shown to be far more tolerant of white supremacy and Nazism on the right than they are of any Democratic or leftist to the left of them. Especially people of color, and this manifests itself in different ways.
There is a repeating claim that there is a need to abandon “identity politics” and instead embrace “working class white men.” To note, this is interesting as it seems it’s only identity politics when it involves people of color and women, but not identity politics when it comes to white men.
This can be seen on multiple fronts: There are purity tests when it comes to connections to Wall Street, but little else. One doesn’t need to fully embrace criminal justice reform or specific economic initiatives geared towards building generational wealth for communities of color to now be “Progressive.” And one doesn’t need to be pro-choice to be worthy of endorsement by Berniecrats.
It almost feels that there is more criticism of Democrats coming out of the far left than there is of the White House having actual Nazis. That isn’t to say that there shouldn’t be criticism of Democrats: I have written plenty about how the party needs to embrace its base of voters of color and embrace a culturally diverse and inclusive populist economic message; this is something that the Berniecrats seem to also reject. Centering whiteness is a common thread of Berniecrats and the white nationalists on the right.
Trashing Obama is not going to help win the south, keep note Sen. Elizabeth Warren. You cannot make Obama the face of the 1 percent and expect to win over black voters. That’s just real. That doesn’t mean there isn’t very real criticism of Obama – there is much to be critical about. But making him the face of politicians backed by Wall Street isn’t the optics you want if you plan on winning. Especially with racially coded speech in saying he sold out the “working class.” Without realizing Democrats have sold out people of color for ages, and it is known they don’t include people of color when talking about the working class.
That’s not to say that there isn’t valid criticism of President Obama. The optics of the speech were deaf, but he’s never presented himself as something other than a capitalist. Many of these very same people overlooked his war crimes.
They went from defending Ann Coulter’s right to speak at Berkeley, to decapitating Obama for a speaking fee. But let’s ignore the fact he has no right to have a booked venue at Berkeley, and without people protesting her. They’ll argue for the right for people to argue against reason, humanity, and call for violence against people of color. Many having stayed silent with Colin Kaepernick, who hands out custom-made suits outside a NYC parole office, while he is being blackballed from the NFL. This silence is all one needs to hear.
This is just part of a larger problem of continued marginalization and holding people of color to different standards. Sanders dismissed the largely diverse south in saying southern primaries “distort reality.” This doesn’t stop with Sanders and it’s not to give Hillary Clinton a pass, she had her own sorts of problems when it came to voters of color.
Madison and Dane County are part of this problem. During this past spring’s school board race, two so-called “equally qualified” candidates were running for school board. Both were labeled as progressive, yet Madison, the city with some of the largest racial disparities in the nation at every level, chose the white woman candidate over the Black woman because “reasons.”
Ali Muldrow was criticized for not sending her children, who are children of color, to the Madison school district. This is preposterous. If one recognizes how terrible MMSD is for students of color why would a mother in their right mind, with the ability to not have her children who are of color go to schools there?
In talking with Ali, she said that while Kate Toews ran a strong campaign and credits her, there were definitely “some racialized components of some of the supporters of Towes. Not proactively correcting false information and a willingness to capitalize on false information.” Many of this city’s leaders of color endorsed Muldrow, and those leaders of color were attacked by many throughout the city. Attempting to delegitimize those endorsements and Muldrow in the process. And there was behind-the-scenes pushback against Muldrow being endorsed by the only other people of color on the school board. Wanda Smith, who ran for Fitchburg City Council also faced racism within the city’s limits. There were rumors being spread she was a felon, feeding into white fears of black Americans.
Not all the time, but many times, when liberal and progressive areas, that are largely white, have a chance to push in a different direction, they don’t. It’s hard to understand how someone who has worked with kids, understands kids, this city, and the school district was seen as not the better candidate to address the horrid racial disparities within the city of Madison.
“The reality is that the left must face its own racism, just as much as we target the right and its embracement of fascism. The left won’t win if it endorses its own type of bigotry, as it’ll lose the very people it needs to win. White supremacy, neoliberal, fascist, or Berniecrat style – it cannot be acceptable.”
Many might take this as saying they’re racist, I may counter with racial disparities don’t exist without racism. People will support equity and diversity intellectually, but fail when it comes to action. Fail to step back in their roles as leaders or possible leaders and hand those reigns over to people of color.
Some might argue “well they have to be qualified.” Which is racially coded on so many levels. Many times the person of color is just as qualified, but that is never the qualifier for a white person running for office, look at President Trump. It is generally assumed that a white person running for office is qualified to do so on some level. But investigate those in office, in both parties, at every level, and you’ll find unqualified white folks throughout.
Then you have Sanders, and many others, talking about how they “don’t think Trump voters are racist.” Yet they ignore all the data out there indicating that racism is what pushes his supporters. Not an economic message, not because they feel they’ve been left behind by corporate Democrats, but fear of diversity. They feel left behind by Democrats because they see Democrats as the party of diversity.
There is one way out of it, a way myself and many others have been preaching and that is to fully embrace the color of this nation, to uphold and uplift the very ideals they claim to stand form. This must not be done through ideological purity tests any longer, but through the upliftment of ideals, of public spaces, of elevating people of color. To be the antithesis of Trump. Not merely on paper but in action. This must mean the full embrace of people of color.
The left’s hypocrisy does not go unnoticed by people of color. The first black president can not build generational wealth for himself or family, but the death of black people must have a space to be argued for? Sanders can ignore the south, and decide that people of color and other voters in the south don’t really count? He can go on talking about “ideological purity” in criticism of Obama, and then talks about the need to not have a purity test when campaigning for a Democrat that is not pro-choice?
Many defended all these stances Bernie took, and many on the left took the very same stances. Those that want to abandon “identity politics” to better appeal to the identity of the “white working class male.” This will lead to continued losses. There is no evidence that this stance will actually make a dent in that the hold Trump has on the majority of white America. Especially white working class America. They rejected Bernie’s platform, and other candidates that took a similar approach. And the colorblind approach alienated people of color.
See, racism transcends economics and economic systems, the far left, and socialist nations still have deep seeded racism in them. The racism in Nordic states as well as the rise of fascism in Socialist Democracies shows us this.
Is capitalism an oppressive system that is propped up in the United States by racism? Yes. But getting rid of it won’t get rid of the racism in the world or in this nation. The beast of white supremacy and racism has taken upon a life of its own that goes beyond the economic system it helped prop up.
When Jacobin posts an article that basically argues that France should elect a Nazi over Macron, because Macron is a centrist, there is a problem. Yes, neo-liberalism doesn’t help, and furthers the class divide, but that doesn’t mean one should go soft on the rise of Fascism because they claim they want to reverse course on neo-liberal trade policies.
The reality is that the left must face its own racism, just as much as we target the right and its embracement of fascism. The left won’t win if it endorses its own type of bigotry, as it’ll lose the very people it needs to win. White supremacy, neoliberal, fascist, or Berniecrat style – it cannot be acceptable.