Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Bernie & Black Lives Matter

Let me begin with five statements...

1. I'm white.  I grew up a recipient of white privilege and continue to benefit from a system that gives preference to my race (and gender).

2. I am an ally.  I grew up in the 60's in an integrated section of the city of Pittsburgh.  Since my childhood I have been aware of the different way that my black friends and acquaintances lived and the struggles they faced - struggles that I did not face.  I watched as they tried to navigate a system set up to disenfranchise them at every step while I waltzed through without a thought.  I have been an ally - sometimes better than others - throughout my life and I think I understand the issues as well as any white man can.  I know that not all white progressives are as sensitive to those issues as they need to be.

3. Through my life I have seen issues of race change.  Some of those changes have been for the better, others have not.  Despite the fact that we have a black president, we have a long way to go before the system of racism is dismantled.  Ignoring the problems or conflating them with other problems does not help.  Black Lives Matter is an important cause and a slogan that I embrace. 

4. I have no right to speak for black folk.  Heck, I have no right to speak for other white folk.  Still, as a white person who has benefited from racism,  I have a responsibility to speak out on issues of race.

5. I've been deeply troubled and saddened about the discussions following the Black Lives Matter protest at the Bernie Sanders rally in Seattle.  For all of the reasons above, I've hesitated to say anything and yet feel compelled to do so.

I've read black commentators say that they have been attacked by white progressives after that protest, that without the protest, Bernie would not have taken the stand he took one day after the protest, and that as a result, they would not vote for Bernie.

Perhaps it is not my place to formulate strategy for the Black Lives Matter folk...   I would argue that while black folk and other folk of color are clearly the victims of racism, that change will come much more quickly if significant numbers of white folk are entirely on board.  Make no mistake, slow change means more dead black folk.  If saving lives is the goal, then flailing around in frustration may not be the wisest strategy.  Keeping the issue visible and building coalitions are good strategies.  This protest achieved one end... but may have been counter-productive for the other.

It is a central question - whether Bernie would have made the strong statement he made about Black Lives Matter without the protest.  Perhaps he was taking the issue too lightly and was conflating it with some of the other societal problems he was addressing.  Maybe his platform didn't address the urgency felt by many black folk who see a system that does not value their lives as highly as those of white folk.  Still, I think a serious sit down might have enlightened him and moved the issue forward without angering and possibly disenfranchising folk who arrived to hear Bernie speak about other important issues that are serious issues for black folk as well as white ones. 

Of all of the candidates currently running, I believe that Bernie Sanders is the one who would most advance the issues that are important to black folk, including moving us forward in dismantling a system that has been in place far too long.  Strengthening the coalition that could get him elected would be a smart strategic move on behalf of those for whom the Black Lives Matter campaign is their primary concern.

What is done is done...  In any case, I'm glad that Bernie has embraced the cause in a more direct way and I hope that is a significant step in building that coalition.  I'm glad that Hillary has met in private with some of the leaders of the movement and hopefully she too will make a strong statement.  And we've heard from the Donald... as expected, he has dismissed the issue and likely solidified the position of black folk in the Democratic column.   I hope the Sanders campaign moves forward to find more people of color for leadership in their campaign and becomes more sensitive to the specific issues faced by people of color.   I hope the Black Lives Matter folk continue to build alliances and coalitions.

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