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.
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.