In 2016, despite differences, I supported Bernie Sanders from the jump. This election cycle, it took a minute. I’ve always supported Sanders’ major policy initiatives. However, I remain disappointed in his difficulty in understanding racial oppression as a specific form of human subjugation.
Sanders has a maddening tendency to reduce race to class, to pivot from questions about racial oppression to issues of class exploitation. Unlike him, I see them as intertwined, but distinct.
I particularly find his argument that his universal programs will eliminate African Americans’ need for reparations asinine. Though he regularly cites Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., somehow, Sanders has missed King’s commitment to both universal class-based wealth redistribution and special compensatory initiatives for African Americans.
Yet, in spite of my ongoing philosophical and political disagreements, I gladly find myself solidly back in the Sanders camp.
According to the polls and pundits, as a 60-ish child of black power, supposedly, I am not part of the generation of black folks who support Sanders. Nonetheless, everyone I know in my demographic — except for a few, mainly black women, who support Elizabeth Warren — all back Sanders. This is not a small group of people. But admittedly, this cohort consists of African American political and social movement activists — revolutionary nationalists, womanists/feminists, socialists and radicals whom I have worked with over the last 40 years.
Recently, I was asked to help facilitate a Socialism House Party. Part of the request was to bring an undecided black person open to learning more about socialism. I asked an acquaintance who was not a local movement activist and whose politics I did not know if he had decided whom to vote for yet. The person I asked is in his mid-40s, a member of the hip-hop generation. He swiftly responded, “Bernie, of course.”
Somewhat shocked but intrigued, I decided to broaden my query. No longer recruiting for the discussion, I decided to probe members of my extended family. While a handful of my relatives are solidly middle class, most are “salt of the earth,” hardworking, highly capable, working-class black folk. So I sent a text stating that I was conducting a poll and asked two questions: “Whom are you voting for and why?”
I don’t pretend my little poll is scientific, but because the responses drastically contradict the polls and pundits, I suspect it might harbor important hidden insight into the mind of black working-class voters.
In addition to my text, I called my oldest living relative, my 84-year-old aunt. After pleasantries, I straight up asked her the questions. She replied, “I guess it’s going to be Bernie.” Stunned, I inquired further: “You’re not bothered that he’s a socialist, a democratic socialist?” In a decisive voice, she replied, “No!”
My aunt has never been what you’d call a political person. She votes, is active in church, performs community service, and as the matriarch, checks in on everybody in the family. She’s an inspiration to me, but she’s not political, so I was pleasantly startled by her answer.
I also spoke with a cousin who happened to be at his mother’s. A retired correctional officer, he walked me through his thought process. He said, “I don’t know about that Bloomberg; Biden, there’s something wrong with him; I like Bernie.”
About this time, I started receiving replies to my text. The first response came from a cousin-in-law, married to one of my aunt’s daughters. I know him to be interested in politics and the general state of black folk, history and contemporary conditions, but not an activist. He too was for Sanders, but what captivated me was his reason. He wrote, “His history — namely, he was a staunch supporter of Jesse Jackson in 1984 and recent commentary from the likes of Cornel West.”
A younger brother from my biological father was undecided. My brother, whom I grew up with, responded simply “B Sanders.” He later explained, “And I know he will make better for the less fortunate.” My brother-in-law, a political activist and elected official, replied similarly explaining “Why: He’s for the working class.”
Interestingly, at least a third were undecided, including two of my three sisters. However, most of the undecideds, like my cousin and best friend, “leaned” toward Sanders. Of the millennials, a nephew didn’t respond and one second cousin was undecided, while two others backed Sanders. He was the second choice for a couple of female relatives who supported Elizabeth Warren.
One cousin-in-law, married to another of my aunt’s daughters, supports Joe Biden. He argues Biden brings foreign-policy expertise and the ability to work with Congress and would “keep the good policies President O had in place.” Irate, my brother-in-law immediately replied, “NEVER!”
With the exception of the millennials mentioned in the last paragraph, every participant was over 50, many in their 60s. My survey is not scientific and is extremely small, but it decidedly contradicts the polls and pundits who tell us that the black vote is split along generational lines.
I’d like to see a poll of black people coded for class as well as generation. I suspect a deep well of support for Sanders exists among working- and lower-middle-class black folk. Sanders can dig an even deeper base among black people if he jumps on board the reparations train.