Why Do Blacks Not Feel The Bern?

Pope Francis Cartoon
In this Cartoon, the Pope is riding with “The Bern.” See Top right for cartoon credits

Why do Blacks not feel “The Bern,” a twitter connection from my hometown of Macon, Georgia tweeted me the other day?

“Why are Blacks supporting the HRC Machine,” he tweeted. “I don’t get it. Can you explain? Is it the Jewish thing or the not electable argument?”

“Bernie is preaching the spirit of the Gospel and blacks are missing his message, ” I responded with a promise to give more thought into this political anomaly.

I’m often asked in private conversation what I think about a variety of things. People throughout the world whom I have never met, nor likely will meet, will connect with me on social media when they are looking for truthful answers without a spin on one side of an issue or the other.

I am not quite sure why I have come to have such respect among the people I meet on social media, or a few people who know me in real life, who have a similar admiration for my ability to give them a rounded answer. The twitter referenced here is a man whose hand I have shaken in the flesh, and  with whom I have attempted to solve one or two of the world’s problems over a good meal and beverage or two. Although it should not matter, my friend is white, a Sanders supporter and wonders why the Sanders message is not resonating with Black folks.

Many of my Black friends have asked a similiar question.  The difference is my Black friends couch this question this way: “Do you think Sanders can get the Black vote?” Imagine a black person asking what other blacks will do with a vote that is in that black person’s hand.

I have never given a definitive answer to their questions. I usually say, “I don’t know,” which is the truth; but I have left these conversations puzzled in my own mind over this conundrum of contemporary American politics and determined to gain some clarity of thought on this issue.

As I ponder the reasons Blacks are not feeling “The Bern,” Harriet Tubman keeps coming to the forefront of my mind.

After the conclusion of the Civil War, Mrs. Tubman once said, ” I could have freed more slaves, if more people knew they were slaves.”

This statement is shared in a perfunctory manner on social media. Oftentimes, Blacks sharing it and reading it think how sad that more Blacks enslaved in that day did not realize that they were not free. Who needs a “Black Moses,” as Tubman was called, when you know with a degree of certainty how to navigate your way around the plantation?

As Malcolm X would point out a hundred years after Tubman’s exploits on the “Underground Railroad,” in his analysis of the “House Negro and the Field Negro:”

“Where  can you find a better house than this? Where can you find better food than this? Where can you find a better master than this?”

Black folks share these quotes of Tubman and Malcolm, especially in February during Black History Month, without taking into account that these words have application to the situation of Black Americans today.

On the campaign trail, Secretary Hillary Clinton in essence says to Black folks:

Hey don’t worry about anything. I’ll be the first white lady in the big White House, that your ancestors built and I’ll take care of you. I apologize for calling young Black men ‘serious predators’ and for encouraging congress to pass tough sentencing guidelines that have taken Black men out of the community and placed them in prison for most of their lives, if they were lucky to survive after 30 or 40 years. I apologize for supporting the expansion of private prisons which has led to more Black men being behind bars than those attending college. You know, it’s a tough world, and I have had to make the tough decisions. We were all scared of those Black men and had to do something about them. You don’t need to go anywhere else, stay right here with me. Where can you find a better Whitehouse than this? Where can you find  better food on your table than what Bill and I can provide for you? Where can you find better caretakers than Bill and I?

As Harriet Tubman found out, the “House Negroes” had a compelling argument for staying on the plantation; this is no less true for Clinton’s sales pitch to descendants of enslaved Africans. Many feel more comfortable with the reality they know rather than in venturing out to seek an alternative to the status quo.

This gets me to that spirit thing and that Jewish thing.

Bernie Sanders is a Jew. You would hardly know it because he does not make his cultural and religious upbringing a litmus test for seeking votes, unlike Clinton who oftens mentions that if elected, she would be the first woman president. A powerful Clinton supporter, Madelyn Albright, said there is a special place reserved in Hades for women who do not vote for Hillary Clinton, because she is a women.

If elected Bernie Sanders will become the first Jew elected president. However, he is not running on his Jewishness, but on ideas conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that All Americans should share in the wealth and prosperity of this bountiful land.

What is confusing about Sanders lack of support among Black folks is that the Black community is still largely a very religious community. Sanders platform comes straight out of the “Sermon on the Mount,” that was preached by an itinerant Jewish Rabbi.

Sanders believes that it is not okay that only ninety percent of Americans have health insurance. Many of those in the ten percent category without health insurance are Black Americans who live in southern states controlled by Republican governors and legislatures. These southern states chose not to expand their state run medicaid programs to insure their citizens. “The Bern” believes that the government should provide health insurance to all Americans.

Sanders believes that it is shameful that the unemployment rate among Black folks is at least fifty percent. He wants to create a jobs program to repair the country’s infrastructure that will eliminate unemployment in the Black community.  The crux of Sanders work program is to raise the minimum wage to $15.00 an hour.

This will directly benefit the working “Black poor,” who will have sufficient income to take care of their families. Most sociologist agree that the absence of jobs in a community creates a pathway to crime for young people in those communities.

This measure will have enormous impact in improving the quality of life in the Black community and in eliminating the rising rate of crime and drive by shootings.

The centerpiece of the Sanders platform, and probably the thing that does not resonate with Black folk is his notion that the rich should be taxed more to provide for health insurance for all Americans and college tuition  for all Americans, including Black people, who qualify for college.

In short, Sanders’ platform is the specifics “of the things hoped for” in the Obama campaign of 2008.

Which brings me to the electability argument.

Black folks lack the faith “of the evidence of things not seen” in order to give birth to a reality that ultimately will empower their community.  Since, it is not apparent that Sanders can take on the giant corporations and win, like it was not apparent that the shepherd boy David could defeat Goliath, Black folks are skeptical about joining the Sanders political revolution.

When the dust clears in Philadelphia this summer, I will break bread with my friend in Macon, and, perhaps lament, that Bernie Sanders could have moved Black folks off the plantation, if only more of them knew they were still on the plantation.


Why are Blks supporting the HRC machine. I don’t get it. Can U explain? Is it the Jewish thing or the not electable argument

Harold Michael Harvey is an American novelist and essayist, the author of Paper puzzle and Justice in the Round. He can be contacted at haroldmichaelharvey.com.


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Published by Michael

Harold Michael Harvey is a Past President of The Gate City Bar Association and is the recipient of the Association’s R. E. Thomas Civil Rights Award. He is the author of Paper Puzzle and Justice in the Round: Essays on the American Jury System, and a two-time winner of Allvoices’ Political Pundit Prize. His work has appeared in Facing South, The Atlanta Business Journal, The Southern Christian Leadership Conference Magazine, Southern Changes Magazine, Black Colleges Nines, and Medium.

45 replies on “Why Do Blacks Not Feel The Bern?”

  1. This left me in tears and can I suggest a different ending to this ? I see myself holding up a cup of cheer with tears rolling down my cheeks in my city of brotherly love because we have a President Sanders that will continue the fight President Obama started and perhaps together they will fulfill the dreams we all dream of dignity and respect #Bernie2016

      1. He is commuting sentences at the federal level. He sent DoD to investigate Police brutality in localities. He had the F box removed off federal job applications which ask about convictions. These are not going to cure all that ails disenfranchised Black citizens. The Office of the Presidency does not have legislative power. He admits that he should have communicated more, should have fought more by voicing displeasure with the opposition more frequently, and should have realized sooner that the opposition had NO intentions of working with him. Of course he did not do enough, but NO president can ever do enough with a legislative, executive and judicial 3 tonged government. People also have to vote, speak out and not vote as a block. What are we doing to ensure our interests are being addressed?

  2. There are some really smart and articulate black leaders supporting Bernie (for example Ta Nehishi Coates, Nina Turner, Erica Garner, Ben Jealous, Cornell West, Killer Mike, to name a few). Why aren’t these voices making a difference with the African American community?

  3. Thank you for providing this insight. I do support Bernie but as a white guy, I just don’t feel it my place to say what the best interests are for a group of which I am not a part. I appreciate hearing voices like yours because I am happy to think that his message is resonating.

    1. Sanders messaging is moving throughout my community. I am not sure if he has enough time for it to sink in large enough numbers to make a difference.

      This for reading this commentary.

  4. When will there be in this country a moment when we are all seen as equal, as children playing together with one another, no matter the color of their skin. When all have the same opportunity, financially, may be a great first step. When we step away and reject the beliefs that have kept us trapped, I imagine, may help. Thank you, Michael,
    this article is just what I needed to read, this afternoon.

  5. Thank you for this. As a White Southerner, it has been challenging to have these conversations with my friends of color without sounding like I’m Whitesplaining. I appreciate your insight so much.

    1. Thank you for reading this piece. Never stop talking to your friends of color about this issue and other artificial issues that tend to divide us along color lines.

  6. Bernie needs to stick to his message and not cow tow to the any group. He doesn’t have to spout his past record on civil rights! Just let the chips fall where they may! The worst thing he could do is compromise his message in order to he politically correct. By in large the majority of Americans respect politicians who are honest, forward-looking, and stick to beliefs and values. Once you try and be a man for all seasons then you might as pack your bags and go home! For this and many other reasons I have the upmost respect and strongly support Bernie “tell it like it is” Sanders!

  7. I think African Americans are so cynical that many have given up and do not pay attention and just vote based on name recognition. This is understandable because the system has failed them and many promises were broken and the real sad thing is Rep Clyburn is against Bernie’s free public college plan because it would enable many African Americans to have a choice of going to a public college instead of an all black college. Obviously he is in bed with these colleges like Hillary is in bed with so many special interests. Bernie does not have a ton of money and he can’t be bought. please wake up and vote Bernie, a vote for Bernie is a vote for yourself.

    1. I am a product of a Black university. While my university is a private institution, like many of the other ones, that are public, it receives state support. So there is a fallacy that Sanders plan will only benefit public colleges. The more we peel back the onion, the more we know.

  8. I’m Bernie supporter, and I found this “explanation”‘to be quite condescending. It took me a minute, after much research, to become a supporter. Before then, I certainly was no “slave who didn’t know she was free”…. I didn’t know Bernie, except for him switching from Independent to Dem, and snippets on CNN here and there, over the years. Early in his campaign, and sometimes still, he seems to push the belief that economic equality will be a catch-all, and lives Black Americans will somehow just fall in order. When I talk to my friends, who are either undecided, or Hilary supporters, they usually say they don’t know enough about him. And the constan comparisons to Donald Trump don’t help.

    It’s not as simplistic as you would have folks believe. And Black people are not as simple-minded as your “explanation” seems to depict.

    Without my own research, I certainly would be supporting the frontrunner. Diatribes like these make it harder for me and other like me to win support for Bernie Sanders.

  9. You are treating the black community as if it is a monolith of thought…all the same. People are individuals and are driven by a lot of different very valid motivators. You should respect that and not act like because all blacks don’t think as you do that they are not smart enough to know what is best for them.

  10. Michael, love; read your comments, or opinions. I remember you saying to me that I liked Hillary because she was a woman. I immediately said that wasn’t it……..

    However “I asked you why Sanders?”
    You are as consistent as the sun rising
    in the East with your views my friend.

    You really give me something to think about that evening and shared it with my husband.

    Bernie has some great ideas, but so does
    Trump,the idiot. However Blacks are not running out to vote for him.

    Please, Bernie isn’t being compared to the idiot. Just my left right analogy.

    I agree, Faith can change the world.

    However, I m going with Hillary?

    One of Bernie’s Platform, Tuition.
    The USA is such a “capitalistic county” and ain’t no way in the USA that the rich want continue to be “The Rich.”

    There’s greed in all countries. Nevertheless
    American take the cake.

    I am going with the lesser of the evils. Plus
    Hilliary comes with Bill. The country was in the Black when Bill was president.

    I love ready your articles and have much respect for you views and educational information on serious topics.

    1. I am struck by your “Lesser of two evils” comment. What is evil or sinister about the program that Sanders has outlined for the country?

      You will note this commentary does not suggest that women are voting for Clinton because she is a woman. It does say that Clinton and her supporters are asking people to vote for her because she is a woman.

      Also, your reasoning process that causes you to conclude that you are voting Clinton proves my thesis that Black people are voting for a system they feel more comfortable navigating, because they lack the faith to believe it is possible to get money out of politics.

      As always, thank you for your comment.

  11. It is so interesting to see all the different points of view. I am sure there are plenty more. Rather refreshing and educational. Would it not be a blessing to be able to talk about these views without all the hate. Though we are all mad about our own situations and experiences. If we could all find just 1 thing that can be agreed on and work from that point on. But, I am afraid that under the climate that we are all in now, our “leaders” want allow each other to even do that 1 small thing to start a dialog.

    “One small chisel, One small hammer, can tear down a wall”

    1. Having respectful and educational conversations is not up to the leaders, it is up to each of us individually. Yes we can tear down the walls that separate us with dialogue. Any old song we would sing in Vacation Bible School comes to mind: “The more we get together, the happier we’ll be. For your friends are mind friends and my friends are your friends. The more we get together the happier we’ll be.”

  12. Are you publishing this article on the various Facebook pages that can reach African-American voters? Many of the Super Tuesday states plus South Carolina this Saturday.

  13. As a white southern male born in the 50’s who was partially raised my a Blk housekeeper who had to care more about me that her own children, I have a lot of soul searching to do and have been doing for years. First thing I had to do was own it, admit it, apologies made but not looking for apologies excepted. Move forward with my own biases, and not try to “fix” it. Just let my children know the truth and guess what, it worked for them. They don’t see color, sexual orientation. As my daddy used to say, “some folks just have to die”. There is light at the end of the tunnel. But if things don’t change soon. It will be a train.

    1. You, my friend, have done the healthy thing. An internal spiritual cleanse is good for us all. The world is a better place because of your parenting. I always admired your daddy and your uncle Gene. Give my regards to your uncle. Additionally, your closing statement “But if things don’t change soon. It will be a train.” I reach a similar conclusion in my new book Justice in the Round. If you have not read it, I recommend it to you. It is available on Amazon as an eBook download for $2.99 until the end of the month.

  14. If things don’t change soon fiscally we are all doomed. Why is there no candidate whobis socially liberal but fiscally responsible. And why do we talk as if it is ok to simply talk avout a “black vote”? We are individuals with individual thoughts and ideas. Why should we all vote the same way? We did it with Obama and our unemployment rate only got higher. It scares me to hear people talk about “the black vote”. If you dobit enough one day there will be a “white vote” and it will be a white vote out for vengeance on all they gave away through the years. When we stop talking about votes as if they come in blocks of racial segregation we may start healing. The longer we focus on race the longer the suffering will continue. Please, as an African American, I ask you to keep me out of “the black vote” conversation. My children have different goals and likes than other children and in the end I vote for what I think will leave my children in a better America for them. Obama would have never been elected without the white vote but we refuse to see these things and only focus on negativity instead of the positive America the MLK visioned where a black man could be elected president.

    1. Kevin, you brought yourself into this conversation. Secondly, there has always been a white block vote, an Irish block vote, etc., and in this presidential election cycle there is an important woman block vote. These are all realities of political life and social life.

  15. Very thought provoking and interesting piece. Thank you for writing it. As a white man, obviously I cannot pretend to understand some of the dynamics covered in your article. But I feel like I am better for reading it.

  16. I think the answer may be as simple as Bernie’s lack of name recognition in the black community. Hillary is well known and Bernie is not. As the campaign progresses, the black community will learn more about him and he’ll gain more support.

    1. You may very well be right. However, in the age of the internet, there is ample material readily available for anyone to have gotten very familiar with Sanders long before now. I believe the reasons Blacks pretend not to know much about Sanders is a case of selective knowing.

  17. Very interesting and informative article,Michael. I became a Sanders supporter early on from various posts about him on Facebook which prompted me to do further research. I often hear other people say that Sanders, because he plans to do so much, and the costs of doing those things will be so great, that he will get nothing done. Then Ms. Clinton proposes to do a lot of the same things, except for maybe not going quite as far, but will be almost as costly. So why do we think that she can get things done that Mr. Sanders can’t. With the present make-up on ‘the hill’ there will be no love lost for HRC. She will every bit as much difficulty getting her policies through as President Obama has, and Bernie Sanders would, should he become president. The key for us is understanding that a president can’t do it alone, no more than Michael Jordan, as good as he was, could win an NBA championship alone. He needed help! A president, no matter who he or she may be, needs help. That is why I stress voting EVERY TIME a U.S. representative or U.S. senator in your state is up for reelection. Some of us tend to lose interest in voting after we vote for president. Bernie Sanders has a lot of good ideas for this nation. We just need to research and learn what they are and how they will benefit us.

    1. Thanks for reading this commentary. I often hear people say there is no enough known about Sanders. However, in the age of the internet, there is a whole lot of information about Sanders and his views. A Sanders presidency will bring with it the hatred that a Clinton or Obama brings to the table. I actually think that Sanders can get a lot done. That being said, you make a good point about the down ballot. The problem is that the DNC spent the last four years trying to clear a non-contested pathway for Clinton that it did not spend sufficient time in candidate recruitment and raising funds for down ballot candidates. Either there needs to be new leadership in that organization or progressives need to organize their own party and began to contest these statewide and national elections.

  18. Hurdles:
    Many African Americans like Bill and Hillary is accepted, by proxy.
    Hillary (of the Chicago Rodhams) is seen as more of a southerner, due to Bills Arkansas roots.
    Many women would like to see a female president and break the last , of two glass ceilings.
    Hillary has had a long relationship with the Black community, and time= valued.
    Hillary has an infrastructure and organization , not her first time around.
    Hillary is already known and accepted, as such, given a pass as some in the African American community are not aware, don’t care or even turn a deaf ear, to any derogatory information about her and close ties to the MICC, Wall Street bankers , in particular.
    Bernie is less known.
    He is characterized as too ‘pie in the sky’ or unrealistic.
    He tends to talk in broad generalities about racism , police state, low opportunity.
    Hillary adds racism against African Americans, police abuse of power against African Americans, jobs for Black people
    Bernie does not openly embrace Christianity, and how can that be trusted, right? Even if the message sounds moral….. he may be a closet heathen to the faithful….
    Bernie is a northeasterner, from a ‘white’ state, no less (he doesn’t understand our plight).
    Bernie is painted as someone who can’t get things done, too left of center. Although ANY bill needs a majority..
    The Clinton campaign has been shrewd to embrace Obama-ism, so any disagreement with her is somehow and attack on the work (and disrespect to) President Obama. If Bernie says he wants health care for all people, he didn’t specify his focus on poor black people and she cleverly says, ‘you are trying to dismantle Obamacare, I will not sit by and let you destroy the programs that African Americans need and ruin all the hard work President Obama has put in to improve our system.’ example of twisting his message……

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