Why has Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders failed to seal the deal with most African-American voters?
The rejection of Sanders by the Democratic Party’s most loyal constituency has been profoundly frustrating for supporters of the Vermont Senator–to the point where some Bernie backers have attempted to blame the press for Sanders’s woes vis-a-vis the black community.
Yet mainstream media entities are not responsible for Sanders being scorned by African-American voters. In all likelihood, most African-American voters reject Sanders because they reject the tenets of democratic socialism, preferring a more effectively regulated capitalism as a solution to the country’s woes. Sanders’s call for a “political revolution” is one most African-American voters do not hear. They don’t want to overthrow the current system; they just want more fairness in the current system.
Former Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele may have said a number of clownish things during his tenure as GOP (figure)head, but there is one accurate thing he said five years before he was selected for the RNC gig:
What truly defines the civil rights challenge today isn’t whether you can get a seat at the lunch counter, it’s whether you can own that lunch counter to create legacy wealth for your children.
It is this ethos–the creed of the African-American striver–that fuels black opposition to democratic socialism. Most black voters would agree with Sanders that the system is rigged; they’d specifically point out that the system has been rigged against African-Americans since 1619. Yet most African-Americans do not wish for the system to be destroyed: they wish for the system to be un-rigged, to be made fair, to be made whole.
Earlier this year, I wrote about the racism that plagues the historic Boston Latin School, and the shame such racism represents. Yet the students who have raised awareness about the culture of callousness towards children of color at Boston Latin aren’t calling for the school to be shut down. They’re calling for reform and change–the sort of reform and change that will ensure that Boston Latin lives up to its promise of excellence and equity. What those students want for Boston Latin, most African-Americans want for America.
Most African-Americans believe in capitalism, and praise those who have overcome the obstacles of racism to succeed in a capitalist system. They do not believe that capitalism and racism are inextricably linked; they believe it is possible to reduce bias without having to shift towards democratic socialism. In other words, Sanders’s core message–his linking of racism and other social “-isms” to capitalism–is one most African-American voters have zero affinity for.
The African-American community is not anti-corporate or anti-capitalist; if African-Americans shared Sanders’s views of our economic system, then Richard Parsons, Kenneth Chenault, Oprah Winfrey and other black one-percenters would be as reviled by African-Americans as Clarence Thomas and Condoleezza Rice are. Because the African-American community is not anti-corporate or anti-capitalist, Democratic politicians viewed by progressives as being too friendly to economic elites (such as New Jersey Senator Cory Booker and, yes, Hillary Clinton) are also not reviled by African-Americans.
Yes, there is an argument that African-Americans have suffered the most from capitalism’s flaws and excesses, and that these voters should be first in line to support a shift to democratic socialism. (To the extent that there is a connection between capitalism’s flaws and the climate crisis, one can argue that African-Americans, uniquely imperiled by human-caused climate change, should back Sanders for his perceived superiority to Clinton on climate). However, most African-American voters do not oppose capitalism, and thus do not support a “political revolution” against it.