According to an article published in The Root, the entirety of why “some” black and brown people can’t trust Bernie Sanders can be summarized in one quote.
The quote that Anne Branigin, author of “Why Some Black and Brown People Can’t Trust Bernie Sanders,” finds to be problematic comes from an interview that Sanders had with Seth Meyers, which was then used in an article for The Daily Beast.
During the interview, Meyers asked Sanders whether or not the left should focus on the ballot box instead of pursuing false hopes that Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian collusion in the presidential election could signify the end of Donald Trump’s presidency.
Here Branigin quotes Sanders’ 42-second response to Meyer’s question about the political focus of the left:
“Yes. I mean, I think we’ve got to work in two ways.” Sanders answered. “Number one, we have got to take on Trump’s attacks against the environment, against women, against Latinos and blacks and people in the gay community, we’ve got to fight back every day on those issues. But equally important, or more important: We have got to focus on bread-and-butter issues that mean so much to ordinary Americans.”
Sanders went on to say those “ordinary Americans” are “not staying up every day worrying about Russia’s interference in our election.” Instead, he said, “They’re wondering how they’re going to send their kids to college” or “how they’re going to be able to pay the rent” or “whether they can afford health care.”
Branigin argues that Sanders is excluding women, Latinos, black people and the LGBTQ community from his definition of “ordinary Americans.”
Branigin claims, “The framing is strange—Sanders juxtaposes ‘ordinary Americans’ against women, Latinx and black people and the LGBTQ community as if they were different groups. He also frames those ‘ordinary Americans’ and their issues as ‘equally … or more important’ than that of the marginalized communities he lists before.”
She goes on to say, “Black and Latinx families are losing wealth, not gaining it. The Trump administration’s attacks on environmental regulations can also compound the damage suffered by marginalized communities, which are disproportionately affected by global warming and environmental disasters.”
Branigin’s type of criticism toward Bernie Sanders is not unique. During the Democratic Primary Race, Senator John Lewis implied Bernie Sanders was not involved in the civil rights movement, perhaps as a way to discourage black voters from casting a ballot in favor of Sanders. He later admitted that he “misspoke.”
Lewis and Branigin hinged their critique of Sanders on the fact that communities of color do not trust the American government, and they both used that skepticism to draw criticism toward Sanders that is rooted in race and social justice. They also misrepresent Sanders’ words and record.
The fact is that Bernie Sanders was not excluding marginalized communities from “ordinary Americans.” The accusation of exclusion or racism is in the biased interpretation of the quote—not the quote itself. Sanders was parsing issues that impact underprivileged communities in order to acknowledge that their issues are different and require specific solutions.
Ignoring the dearth of speeches, interviews, and transcripts of Bernie Sanders talking about systemic oppression, Branigin claimed: “This line of reasoning from Sanders isn’t atypical.”
Bernie has long history as a civil rights activist
Bernie Sanders has a well-documented history of civil rights activism. However, according to Branigin, the man who was arrested fighting for civil rights, who vociferously opposed “tough on crime” narratives in the 1990s that played a role in the mass incarceration of African Americans, has demonstrated in a 42-second clip why some black and brown people can’t trust him.
Branigin’s criticism neglects to mention that in the same interview Bernie Sanders criticizes Republicans for making it harder for poor people and people of color to vote.
Branigin’s article fails to mention that in 1992 Bernie Sanders called to bring Americans together, “When they divide us together, then the rich will get richer.” Sanders says in the clip. “When we all stand together, black and white and demand decent health for senior citizens… white or black, and our children, white or black or Hispanic, that is when we will win.”
In the same speech, he also criticized Willie Horton ads that attempted to elicit white fear of crimes committed by African Americans.
Branigin also left out a speech in which Sanders called the bill the 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act a “punishment bill,” and went on to say he had a “problem with a president and a Congress that wants to get tough on crime while millions of people go hungry and children sleep outside on the streets.” He ended his opposition to the bill by saying, “let’s not keep putting poor people into jail and disproportionately punishing blacks”
Her article also neglects that Sanders has been a supporter of women’s rights and advocated for the Violence Against Women Act.
There is also this well-known image of Sanders’ 1963 arrest during a civil rights rally:
Bernie Sanders is not an infallible human being; no one is. However, Branigin judges whether or not Sanders is a racist based on a quote, a sound bite, and ignores a lifetime of actions, votes, and decisions that reveal a man who is unequivocally dedicated to advancing equality. This kind of knee-jerk reasoning is exactly why the left is so fractured.