Since the disruption of Bernie Sanders’ Seattle campaign event by members of the Black Lives Matter network, some have pondered why anyone who advocates for the affirmation of Black lives would not support Bernie Sanders. Though Black Lives Matter network cofounder Patrisse Cullors has made the network’s stance on political endorsements exceedingly clear, brows are furrowed when Black activists firmly say “no thanks” to overtures by Bernie Sanders and the Democratic National Committee. What people must realize is that this stance is not personal. This is a confrontation with a political system that has contributed to the visible (incarceration) and physical elimination of Black people in the US. Though Bernie Sanders has created an admirable set of policies for racial justice, it is not enough to assuage the precarious racial climate in this country.
On June 24, 2015, a New York Times article stated that “Black voters have shown little interest” in Sanders. Many unfulfilled promises have been made to Black people from presidential candidates (and other elected officials). The demands are greater now. The fact that Bernie Sanders has released a set of policies for racial justice does not excite me as it does some. What about the policies and initiatives set forth by Black political figures that have been disregarded? What became of Rep. Jesse Jackson’s Constitutional Voting Rights amendment proposed in March 2005, suggesting that all Americans 18 years of age or older be allowed to vote, and that the vote could not be denied or abridged? This initiative would have a direct impact on Black lives when, according to The Sentencing Project, one in every 13 African-Americans are unable to vote due to felony convictions. Former Attorney General Eric Holder recommended a series of significant criminal legal system reforms that have gone mute. One of those recommendations was to make it easier for the federal government to bring charges and carry out convictions in civil rights cases, including incidents in which police officers use excessive force against citizens.
If anything, I think that the fervor regarding Sanders’ policies on racial justice is yet another illustration of white privilege. How easily people will wrap around white liberals who claim to have an “agenda” for remediating anti-Black racism. How resistant individuals are to Black political figures who have put forth similar initiatives. When groups campaigning for Bernie Sanders speak about his set of policies on racial justice as a medium for alliance and solidarity with Black Lives Matter activists, I see something completely different. I see white privilege manifest. I see another example of Black lives not mattering. I feel an unintentional slap in the face. And what solidarity? Solidarity cannot be obtained if one party holds nearly all of the political, social and economic power and is not willing to concede it. What risks are willing to be taken? What privileges surrendered? Will Bernie Sanders or his campaign organizations support Black lives even as BLM activists refuse to endorse him? Will they proclaim Black life as activists continue to disrupt the political process and critique promises made to Black people? That is a trial of solidarity.
Bernie Sanders can’t make Black lives matter. A shift in the social paradigm about the fabrication of racial endowments will affirm Black life. A revolutionary alteration to a racist social system and its accompanying institutions can assert the value of Black life. This struggle isn’t about individual people or particular moments in time. This movement is about the universal recognition of the humanity of Black people. This is not a civil rights movement. This is a humanity movement. It’s time for the US to come to terms with the oppression of Black people. It’s time for an obliteration of “politics as usual,” and for unprecedented actions to take place that boldly assert the value of Black life.