Except for in the minds of math denialists, the democratic primary battle is over. Hillary Clinton will be the nominee, and supporters of Bernie Sanders, and Bernie Sanders himself, will decide whether they support her in the upcoming general election contest against Donald Trump.
This primary battle has been fascinating for a number of reasons. What stands out for me is the degree to which demographic patterns of voter support have been consistent. Demographic based projections such as those employed by Benchmark Politics have proven more accurate than any polls or polls based analysis concerning the results of primaries and caucuses. With few exceptions, Clinton has won states with higher levels of nonwhite voters, particularly African Americans, and Sanders has won states that are overwhelmingly white.
The 2008 democratic primaries also followed some demographic patterns. President Obama certainly benefited from high black population states; in fact, his Super Tuesday victories in the South sealed the nomination for him. But Obama also won states like Colorado, Montana, Utah, and Idaho, and lost New York, California, Pennsylvania and Ohio. So with no black candidate in the race, surprisingly the 2016 contest is more racially polarized in terms whom voters support than the 2008 contest was. But in any event it is justifiable to say that Sanders support is largely white male and Clinton has been buoyed by people of color. It doesn’t “erase” any of the women or people of color who support Sanders to state that numerical and statistical fact. It is a valid generalization supported by empirical evidence.
And this occurs underneath a Sanders campaign that has elevated the social discourse about income equality. People who would have rarely used the words oligarch or establishment a year ago now use them quite frequently in social media postings. And whether or not you support Bernie Sanders has become a litmus test for whether or not you get the real story behind economic inequality or whether you are just another establishment supporting stooge.
This ends up resulting in the amusing proposition that white men are the backbone of the political revolution against income inequality and are carrying this out by supporting the candidacy of a white man, and all these people of color who haven’t Felt the Bern just don’t get it. Amusing, because I think most white left progressives have a huge blind spot when it comes to the reality of race and inequality.
America isn’t Russia or any European country; American income inequality is specifically rooted in American racism. It isn’t something that will resolve itself once you address income inequality. It is part and parcel and has to be addressed before there is any hope of a “political revolution” against inequality.
In a 2014 interview Bernie Sanders stated that working class whites were the largest voting bloc, and therefore if they could be brought into the liberal fold, you would have your political revolution. The problem with this is it skips over the reason they are not in the fold in the first place…their own racism. Working class whites abandoned the democratic party because of the Civil Rights Act and the infamous “southern strategy”. Working class whites opposed attempts at “socialized medicine” that would have integrated southern hospitals.
And exactly what “fold” are you bringing them into? Right now, particularly within the context of democratic party politics, that fold is anchored by African American women voters, and anyone planning on launching his political revolution from the base of the democratic party really should have known that. You cannot bring working class whites into a fold of black women and other minorities without confronting the racism of working class whites. The racial resentment of many working class whites is strong enough that they’d rather see no one with things like free college than to see black people benefit from such a thing.
Sanders and other white progressives have long been challenged on this by people of color, but as Sikivu Hutchinson noted, Sanders and his ilk have longed disdained any inter-sectional analysis on race and income inequality. Sanders isn’t immune to these kind of racial blind spots because he participated in protests against housing discrimination in the 1960s. The more I talk to people of color and women who have long been involved in liberal politics, the more they confirm that white male left progressives can exhibit as much racial arrogance and misogyny as their conservative counterparts.
This blind spot, not being able to see these things because they don’t have to, is why I find it highly unlikely that white male left progressives are going to be the ones who identify and anoint the messianic figure in American politics who will lead the revolution against inequality. And if I had to wager, I wouldn’t put my money on said messianic figure being a privileged white male from the Northeast. I’d put my money on a black woman from the south or a Latina from the Southwest, someone who on an ontological and inter-sectional level understands the various power paradigms that contribute to unfairness in this country and can competently speak to and address all of them, and not just get fixated on one.