Some People of Color Bernie Sanders Fans Would Do Well to Listen To

Dear Bernie Sanders Fan Who is Outraged! Offended! by the Black Women Who Interrupted Him:

You’ve been all over my Facebook timeline with a wide variety of claims. As a fellow white person, I must beg you: please stop defending Bernie for a few minutes and listen to what people of color are saying. Look, I’ve even gone to the trouble of collecting a bunch of convenient links for you. And it’s important you listen up, because you know who’s going to make Bernie lose the Democratic nomination?


Yes, you.

Okay, Bernie might fail to shut up and listen himself, and torpedo his own chances, but if all of you band together to make him understand he’d best be listening or else, we won’t have to worry about that. He’ll incorporate racial justice and excellent ideas on how to achieve it into his already awesome platform, he’ll make it a centerpoint of his campaign, and we’ll all be absolutely golden. (Look! He’s already started!)

But you’re the ones who will ensure he loses, if you keep trying to shush people whose lives depend on making this old white man understand what they need from him. You’re the ones who will sow division and disharmony in the ranks. I’ll tell you a secret about people of color I’ve learned by listening to them: They don’t need us, children. We have failed them time and time and time again. We need them to win. So I’ll appeal to that need to see another Democrat in office (a need I very much share), if I can’t appeal to your innate sense of justice and your progressive wish for the downtrodden to no longer be down and trodden: if you fail to listen to these voices that are telling you and your favorite candidate exactly what they need, you are the reason Bernie Sanders will lose.

It’s within your power to ensure we all become one big, happy progressive family.

So let’s lend an ear, shall we?* Even when – especially when – people are speaking in anger, let’s listen. Let’s listen like Seattle for Bernie Sanders’s admin did, right here.

Ijeoma Oluo:

UPDATE: Sanders just released a plan for racial justice today. The next day after this disruption y’all say doesn’t work.

Y’all I am mad.

I’m so fucking mad. For the billionth time today I’ve seen white people try to tell black people to quiet down, to stop disrupting. I’m listening to White Seattle shake their heads and lament at how black people are just “hurting their own cause” by disrupting Bernie Sanders’ event. “Can’t they see he’s their best bet?”

Fuck all of that. Every single bit.

Dominique Hazzard:

MORE STRATEGIC: Interrupting a Bernie Sanders speech after months of critiquing his colorblindness and him ignoring black organizers. Why? Bernie Sanders already is (or at least thinks himself to be) on your side, but isn’t up to snuff. Bernie Sanders is going feel the pressure, and you will likely get results. Bernie Sanders might get embarrassed. Bernie Sanders might huddle with his aides afterwards and say “shit what do we need to do to get this right?” Bernie Sanders might release a Racial Justice platform the next day. He might hire some black people to his campaign. He might start reaching out to black organizers and listen to their voices. He might learn some shit. By golly, he might even take his new knowledge back to the Senate with him.


We will not be made small. We will not conform to the rules of the political status quo. We will not pander for the approval of white liberalism, or wrap our cries of pain in candy for easier swallowing. We will not settle for almost, or “best that we’ve got,” or freedom for some black people. None of those strategies have worked in the past. We know because we are still dying.

We want liberation. And I believe that we will win.

Tomarra Wagoner:

White culture is…telling black people how we should protest, who we should protest, when we should protest & where we should protest.

Alicia Garza:

Every one of these candidates is going to be pushed. Every. Last. One.

It’s August people. There’s still more than a year left.

No we did not and will not demand that those sisters apologize. That petition is not from us.

Yes there is a fake BLM page running rampant, but we gonna take care of that. And if you know who’s running that fake page, I suggest, humbly, that you ask them to stop.

So I need people to chill. Stop with all this frantic speculation and madness.

Kaveh Mousavi:

I would just like to remind people in a friendly and polite way that if you disagree with causing disorder to advance civil rights causes, you really shouldn’t invoke Martin Luther King. That dude’s whole shtick was causing disorder and civil disobedience.

Image shows Martin Luther King Jr. looking sternly toward the camera. Beside him is a quote from one of his speeches: "The Negro has not gained a single right in America without persistent pressure and agitation. However lamentable it may seem, the Negro is now convinced that white America will never admit to him equal rights unless it is coerced into doing it."

Jamil Smith:

I’m not against criticizing activist tactics, but the idea that #BlackLivesMatter protesters are hurting their cause by challenging candidates, even those considered allies, is based in the notion that the burden of making change is on them. It isn’t. Too many Sanders supporters appear to be caught up in their feelings when a protester rubs them the wrong way. They ask, why are the protesters so rude, or annoying, or targeting the “wrong guy”?

In response, I ask simply: Since when are protest tactics designed to make the people whom they are targeting feel more comfortable and less annoyed? And since when is Sanders, or Carson, or any candidate exempt from being pushed? Just since Friday, we’ve passed the anniversary of Michael Brown’s death, having seen both another young man killed by a cop and more violence in Ferguson. Yet we still have black conservatives like Carson letting the world believe that black activists trying to fix this are the true racial problem, and some white liberals telling them to ask for help more politely.

Isobel Debrujah:

Dear Bernie,

Can I call you Bernie? I’m going to. Simple truth: We DO. NOT. NEED. YOU. You need us and you are throwing away Black votes with both hands. Get your shit together.

Robin Hayes:

Several people are puzzled as to why Black Lives Matter protesters disrupted Bernie Sanders, who is a favorite candidate of many black citizens. The protesters have since been criticized, many claiming that Bernie was not the candidate to go after, for he has not done anything against black citizens. However, Bernie is not a victim here. Even though Sanders has mentioned race issues, he had not addressed them well enough before Saturday’s rally. When his campaign site first launched several months ago, race issues were not a main focus despite rising racial tensions in our country. He had not provided any true structural plans as to how he would dismantle the mass incarceration of black citizens, police brutality against black men and women, nor any other forms of racial inequality.

Heina Dadaboy:

As if protest is limited to only the worst of the worst, and we are not allowed to speak up and out where it would be most effective. As if it’s a problem that we focus on speaking up and out with people open to our ideas rather than completely unwilling to hear us, rather than good strategy for progress. As if Dear Muslima were a well-reasoned argument instead of an informal fallacy. As if Republicans consider changing your perspective based on new-to-you data to be anything but suspicious slipperiness. As if the actions taken were ineffective.

“Liberal” is not a get-out-of-everything-free card. If anything, it should mean you are, by definition, more open to changing your standpoints in light of new information, engaging in the so-called “flip-flopping” so reviled by conservatives.

Pramila Jayapal:

I had not yet endorsed Bernie Sanders (and still have not), although I was incredibly excited about his candidacy. One of the primary reasons is because I wanted to know more about his stands on race and racism. I asked the campaign for some time to discuss this with him, and he did very graciously make some time for me to have a short conversation with him. What I got from the conversation is that he knows he comes from a very white state and he’s a 70+ year old white guy. He knows that running for President, he must now speak to voters who are very different from those in his state. He IS deeply committed to equality on all counts but his primary lens for all of his work—and a HUGELY necessary and not-often-enough-acknowledged lens—is economic. He is a truth-teller on economic issues in a way that no other candidate is. He gets the connection between large corporations, elections, and income inequality. He does understand the problems of the criminal justice system and I fully believe he will work to change that if elected. But the deeper comfort with talking about race and racism is harder. As Mayor of Burlington, early on, he endorsed Jesse Jackson for President and Jackson went on to win the state. He was active in the civil rights movement. But more than that, he is someone who has fought for so many of the threads that connect our movements. He has to learn to talk about racism in that way, to connect his ideas on education, economics, incarceration, and race. As I said when I had the honor of introducing him at his evening rally, he is in a unique position to do so. And we are in a unique moment where we crave that leadership in a presidential campaign.

Authentic April:

I recognize that discussing race relations makes a lot of people uncomfortable. Guess what? We want you to be uncomfortable. Change doesn’t take place inside our comfort zone. No more silence, no more victim blaming, no more excuses. It has to end now! We are here and we have to correct these wrongs for our future. We are in the thick of a fight our parents and grandparents have already won, or so we had hoped. We can’t allow future generations to inherit this conflict.
Open your eyes, your heart and your mind. All lives are not under attack. All lives are not being slaughtered simply because of their complexion. We have to unite and work together. We need to demand equality and end police brutality! Why? #BlackLivesMatter

Clearing up some myths: Black Lives Matter did not demand an apology from the Seattle activists, nor create a petition demanding one. Marissa Jenae Johnson and Mara Jaquiline are not right-wing shills. Marissa in particular has been around for quite some time. And you’d better hope you’ve got spotless liberal credentials going back to your birth if you want to claim her having supported Palin in high school has anything to do with her argument. And don’t give me shit about “radical Christian!” or “Tea Partier!” That had absolute zero to do with what she was up on that stage saying. That is a classic ad hominem, and we are supposed to be better than that. Not that she’s either one, mind.

So that is a lot of listening. I know it’s not easy. I know it’s all too easy to fall back into wounded mutterings of “Not all white people!” and “I’m not a white supremacist!” But I beg you to resist the urge. If you give a single shit about black lives, you will listen to the black voices when they tell you how white people as a whole are failing them, and how we can do better.

Image is a blue poster with the British crown on top. Caption says Keep calm and educate yourself.

*And please, please, do not innundate their timelines and comments sections with whiny white liberal self defense. We are listening, not talking, right now. And believe me, they’ve already heard what you’ve got to say: they’ve heard it from a flood of indignant pale folk. It’s okay for you to sit this one out.


Comment policy for this post: No white whining. I’ve listened to it all on Facebook. If you’re feeling all defensive, if the urge rises to talk about your black friend, if you feel a gallant need to gallop to St. Bernie’s rescue, or anything similar, take it elsewhere. Confine yourself to concrete steps you can take to help Bernie get so good on racial as well as economic justice that defeating both Hilary and the jackass the Cons field becomes far easier than taking candy from a baby. Because damn, can babies ever hold on when they really want to…

Some People of Color Bernie Sanders Fans Would Do Well to Listen To

12 thoughts on “Some People of Color Bernie Sanders Fans Would Do Well to Listen To

  1. rq

    See, this is why I love you. Absolutely, totally ♥ you.
    As a fellow white person, I add my voice to those white people telling other white people to just shut up already.
    I read it recently, and I’m surprised I hadn’t read it sooner – it is not black people’s work to dismantle white supremacy. You cannot ask the oppressed to dismantle a system within which they have little to no power. No, it is white people’s work to actually tackle white supremacy.
    It’s not black people who have a hard time seeing themselves as equal, it’s white people.
    It’s not black people who create systems that disadvantage them, it’s white people.
    I read somewhere too that civil rights weren’t needed to reassure black people that they were people, too – they already knew that – but to finally, loudly, clearly and firmly tell white people that they better goddamned well start at least treating black people as people, finally.
    This is what we, white people, must remember: we must listen to the black voices that are telling us where we, as white people, have done them wrong, and where we can work to fix things, because it’s not up to them, it’s up to us and to other white folk like Bernie Sanders, to do away with this particular injustice.
    It’ll be uncomfortable and annoying for a while, probably, but it’s a good cause, and I guarantee that we all will be better off in the end.

    * Note: I say this as a non-USAmerican – though I’m born Canadian, thus also within a system of racism, though one far less obviously violent.

  2. 2

    Fantastic post. I’m getting seriously fed up with the number of people whining on my own Facebook timeline in exactly the way you’ve described. This is a wonderful way to start an argument back, thank you.

  3. 3

    Thank you for putting this together. So many people at places I thought would understand have turned into whitesplaining idiots. I suppose I should have expected it, yet it still came as a shock.

  4. 4

    Excellent post. While Sanders is my candidate, his campaign needs to address these issues, post haste. I’ve been thinking of volunteering for the campaign. If I do, I’ll have to see more movement on the issues of racism.

  5. 5

    Thank you for this concise, link-heavy, signal boosting post that I can link back to when needed. The Palin supporter! dialogue is especially maddening, because even if that were so, so fucking what? That someone has supported a particular candidate in their past means that no words, no experiences, no position they hold on their own marginalization is valid? Nothing they say about systemic racism can ever be taken seriously, even when it’s the exact same thing countless others are already saying, repeatedly, loudly, insistently? Jesus fucking hell.

  6. 8

    Whoops didn’t see the TWiB interview embedded in one of your links. Feel free to delete my comment or leave just the part about Marissa’s awesomeness. And thx for being on this stuff.

  7. rq

    What the FUNDAMENTAL CHRISTIAN!!!! people also miss is the difference of the church’s role (historically and presently) in the black community, as opposed to the white community. Not that this necessarily makes religion true, but often black churches were the only available black-only spaces where black people didn’t have to worry about white people imposing themselves, so it’s still an important support-type foundation for many people.

    Also, when Bree Newsome went up for the confederate flag, she came down reciting the bible. Should we take away her civil rights hero bonafides for that?
    No. I think people are just looking for excuses to not listen to people who desperately need to be heard.

  8. 12

    I have to admit that when I first saw the BLM protesters interrupting Bernie, I had the same critical kneejerk response. But they convinced me. A year ago, I was (mostly) clueless. I’m so happy that these folks (and many more) are loudly, unashamedly! pushing back HARD. We are on the really slow slope of the exponential curve, but a year ago, there was no real social awareness of the problems that POC face. It was an undercurrent that would pop up and be easily forgotten. Well, no more. We are seeing the denial crumble because these protesters will not compromise on lives, the evidence is unrelenting, and if the only argument is one of politeness and “tone”, well, that is a losing position. I am so excited to see the challenge to ALL the presidential candidates! And, as person of pink color, I will support this change in any way I can. The exponential curve has had long slow miniscule growth, and is starting to ramp up. I think the 2016 race will be in the history books as the era of civil rights of BLM. This movement is a gift to the entire world.

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