On Friday, Senator and presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders, stopped by the Patrick Henry High School gym in Minneapolis, MN to speak at the “A Community Forum on Black America” panel. Invited by Neighborhoods Organizing for Change (NOC), Sanders was introduced by Congressman Keith Ellison, one of the two House of Representative members to endorse him.
The stage was set for a frank and conscious discussion about how his presidency would address issues facing Black America. Unfortunately, it fell flat.
“We have some serious problems facing our country and together, we [can] better get around to the business of solving them,” he starts off by saying. “In the last thirty years there has been a massive distribution of wealth in America. Problem is, it’s gone in the wrong direction. It’s gone from the pockets of working people to the top 1/10 of 1 percent.”
And while Sanders continued to talk about unequal economic distribution, systemic racism, unfair incarceration and education inequality– he neglected to call out the group that’s suffered the most from political and socio-economic policies.
To be clear, again: Black folks.
“I know you’re scared to say ‘black,’ I know you’re scared to say ‘reparations,’” said Felicia Perry, a local entrepreneur and artist on the stage addressed Sanders. “Can’t you please specifically talk about black people?”
“I said ‘black’ 50 times. That’s the 51st time,” he quipped. “It’s not just black. It’s Latino. In some rural areas, it is white.”
As reported by Politico, questions from a panel and the crowd drilled down on felon voting rights — which Sanders said he strongly supported restoring — but turned to environmental racism and reparations for slavery, with demands for more exact answers about actions the candidate for the Democratic nomination would take if he was elected president. The tension quickly rose over his 40-minute appearance, with moderator Anthony Newby repeatedly calling for “specific redress.”
A consistent issue with all the presidential candidates is addressing issues for people of color, specifically African-Americans who are the most disadvantage in many facets, despite having (literally) built this country.
“Between the World and Me” writer Ta-Nehisi Coates dressed Sanders indirect approach to Black Americans and the argument for reparation in a recent Op-Ed for The Atlantic. “This is the ‘class first’ approach, originating in the myth that racism and socialism are necessarily incompatible.”
“But raising the minimum wage doesn’t really address the fact that black men without criminal records have about the same shot at low-wage work as white men with them; nor can making college free address the wage gap between black and white graduates..”
Adding, “Sanders’s anti-racist moderation points to a candidate who is not merely against reparations, but one who doesn’t actually understand the argument.”
Sanders words have been consistent, but the problem with that consistency is that it’s starting to feel like pandering when there are real and uncomfortable issues to address.
Are any of the other candidates doing it better? No, but ignoring the elephant in the room and thinking it will appease “everyone” could just be his downfall.
Watch the full video here.