Bernie and “Minorities

Posted on August 7, 2015 by

Do we still use the term “minorities” when referring to African-Americans, Latinos, Asian-Americans, etc. or is that reference only appropriate when we speak, for example, of a city or a state that is “majority minority?”

I’m not sure but I did sense something awkward and out-of-place last month when Bernie Sanders spoke about “minorities” to the Urban League. I wondered if this has anything to do with the fact that 95 percent of the residents of his home state are white. Clearly, Sanders is brilliant at communicating with the poorest Vermonters but is less comfortable talking in racial terms.

His economic class-based rhetoric doesn’t quite square with race-based identity issues such as Black Lives Matter. His speeches emphasize his belief that elites exploit racial divisions as a way to divide and distract us.

Vermont has the lowest percentage of people of color of any state. That fact can be embarrassing for those in the state who align politically with progressive American notions of inclusion and diversity.

But there’s no hypocrisy here. Economics and geography drive the demographics of this tiny, rural, landlocked state.

Vermont’s egalitarian tradition and community-based political culture have enabled the state’s democratic impulse, creating the space for Bernie Sanders.

My reasons for leaving Vermont for L.A. in the early 80s were circumstantial and complicated. I moved to and settled into a region that’s remarkably expansive, and I’ve been impressed by the progress – however incremental – made by Southern California’s diverse communities and organized interests.

Vermont – in its way – has made substantial progress, too and Sanders deserves credit. He’s part of a very sophisticated activist network up and down the state which plays a decisive role in local and state politics and government. Vermont may be small and white but it is not parochial.

Sanders, an ex-New Yorker who spends lots of time in D.C., understands the pernicious nature of racism. He just needs more practice talking about it. 

Comments (4)


  1. A good place to begin the practice of talking about racism in the United States is to recognize that the only minority in this country are white. White people should therefore, be referred to as minorities. What we used to call minorities, African-Americans, Latinos, Asian-Americans, and native Americans, when viewed together as a whole, are a majority of the population in this country. They are truly and more accurately racially and nationally oppressed by a white minority. Just tell it like it is and there shouldn’t be a problem. If Bernie is honest and reveals what we already know, that white people oppress national peoples racially and nationally to keep them from becoming wholly American, and that this is the reason for all of the abuse by police, and activity of the Ku Klux Klan, the nationally and racially oppressed would not only vote for him, they would respect him for telling the truth. He has to stop using capitalist terminology to communicate his message.

  2. In 1979, i was living in Chicago in Obama’s neighborhood Hyde Park, an interracial University of Chicago enclave amid the vast Black Sea of the Southside. The Whites lived in single-family homes, the Blacks lived in apartment houses. I lived in a 36-unit apt house of which 34 units were occupied by Blacks, when a Chicago Sun-Times headline read: Blacks and Latinos Now a Majority

  3. John Connolly says:

    It strikes me that folks (including the mildly red-baiting media pundits) who dismiss and disdain Sanders’ un-nerving (to them) impact in this presidential election, are quite often people who haven’t bothered to actually go to a Sanders’ event or listen to an entire Sanders’ speech.

    He has always forthrightly addressed issues of race as well as gender and class in every speech I’ve heard him deliver … in person and via video and voice.
    He does this not only by presenting an inclusive working-class perspective, but also through the lens of the fundamental injustice of slavery, then Jim Crow terrorism, then institutionalized racism north and south, forced on African-Americans in the United States over a 400-year legacy of cruelty and shame unworthy of a democratic republic.

    It is also crucial to admit into the conversation that the Working Class in the United States is now substantially made up of People of Color and Language — unionized, non-union and Fight-for-$15-ers all. So when Sanders speaks “narrowly” on class issues he is in fact speaking in the direct interest of America’s People of Color, as well as the “traditional” class of white workers.

    It would be better perhaps if Bernie could handle occasional heckling and demonstrative interruptions of a speech or two, particularly by Black Lives Matter activists, with the same elan of President Obama … whose empathetic yet decisive skill in this regard exists in only one in ten-thousand. I would like to hear a discussion with these activists on why they consider it important to intervene in Sanders’ events, and whether they intend to do so with all of the various candidates.
    And perhaps, given the truly monstrous rate of cop-murder on video against Black people over the last couple of years, Bernie should have seen such demonstrations coming.
    He did seem a little bewildered at the first such intervention at the NetRoots Conference a few weeks back (aided and abetted by a truly lame moderator who mumbled, babbled and shamefully let Bernie twist in the wind). But despite what the hysterical anti-Red Liberal & Hilaryite media mongers (led by the non-stop-blabbermouth Chris “Malaprop” Matthews) insinuate about Sanders’ supposed “weakness on race” (they insinuate because they have no actual proof), Bernie Sanders is immeasurably better on issues of race than any other candidate in this election.

    Indeed too, Sanders’ perspective on immigration is more nuanced and fact-based than any other candidate. He thoroughly supports a path to citizenship for the 11,000,000 undocumented people in the US and his understanding of the abuse of H-1 work visas for high-skilled tech workers and some others by corporate management is notable, and may be the hook on which his neo-Lib opponents hang their attacks on him.
    H-1 visa holders are generally educated and eager-to-work people, many from Asian countries, and are often brought in by big companies to displace American workers in existing jobs — often the incumbent workers must train the people who are going to replace them as was the case for some 500 workers at the Walt Disney Companies’ theme park tech and communication headquarters. Among the many cruel aspects of the joke played on both the American and immigrant workers here was that the H-1 visa immigrants were employed at far lower wages than their US predecessors, as “at-will” independent contractors with no labor rights, and were abruptly replaced by newer cheaper High-Tech H-1 immigrants before long. (When this scandal was exposed a few months ago, Disney backtracked and rehired many of the original workers).
    These same practices are rife throughout the High-Tech and Digital industries.
    In the Entertainment & Broadcast Industry Univision, Telemundo and other large employers of Spanish-language talent in news and entertainment employ many H-1 visa immigrants as on-air talent, and do not hesitate to threaten these workers’ immigration status against them any time they attempt to unionize.
    The AFL-CIO’s Department for Professional Employees has done extensive study on these practices which both wreck middle-class jobs for Americans and ruthlessly exploit H-1 visa hopefuls.

    Bernie Sanders speaks to all of these issues and many other important aspects of racial discrimination — and certainly regarding cop-killings of unarmed Black People — that no other candidate hardly even mentions.

    So my conclusion is that the mainstream media hacks and the core neo-Liberal leadership of the Democratic Party is either furious or terrified that Sanders has the gall to run in their Presidential Primary in the first place. Not only has Bernie interfered with the stately march toward coronation widely predicted for Ms Clinton, but he has also raised inconvenient issues of class and race and power in depth that to the Dem mindset simply clutter up the serene landscape viewed by the Liberal Billionaires Club of the good-hearted class exploitation they regard as their natural right. In fact, they expect to be thanked for their miserly largess, economy-wrecking and their mildly green positions, even while they finance the Uber-ing of the US economy from wage-labor and union rights into the “Gig” economy (since the laughably transparent “sharing economy” nomenclature will no longer fly) of destitute and indebted “Independent Contractors”.

    It must also of course be galling to contemplate the bizarre self-inflicted wounds and unforced errors that Ms Clinton’s political-class-acquired noblisse-oblige and the resulting unthinking arrogance has perpetrated on her own campaign, but that ‘s a discussion for another day.

    In a world where Donald Trump is taken seriously (thanks to the manufactured social addiction to idiotic voyeur-entertainment and wanna-be-a-billionaire-lust) it is grimly tiresome and embittering to have to endure dismissive slander heaped upon an actual Tribune of the People like Bernie Sanders.
    He is not perfect — he’s hung around with too many Democrats for too long for that to be the case. But he towers above all other candidates morally, in policy and with a truth-tellers’ spiritual fire.

    Bernie’s NOT the sort of Socialist that Liberal Dems can like: Sanders is making an impact, drawing the biggest crowds and millions in small donations, and scaring the Liberal “sophisticates” in the process.

    When you listen to them, and their neo-Con cousins on CSPAN, the only Socialists they ever like, are like Norman Thomas … the ones who never won anything.

  4. John Connolly says:

    Just returned from LA Sports Arena where Bernie Sanders spoke to 27,000 of his closest friends.

    Significant majority of Millennials; good number of Latino folks and young African Americans.

    Sanders hit every refreshing note of progressive policy and hope to rafter-shuddering cheers.

    Introduced by Sara Silverman with eloquent opening remarks from Labor, Green, Immigrant Rights, and Black Lives Matter speakers.

    My wife and I were gratified to be invited down a little early for a sitdown with the Senator with about 10 of us Artists & Cultural Workers (Chaired by John Densmore of The Doors) and a couple of staff.

    Bernie asked us for help in refining message, solidifying support among young people and people of color, broadening outreach to the working class sectors who seem to regularly vote against their own interests, and organizing our 1.6 million co-supporters into an effective 50-state campaign.

    This is a good guy, and a hell of a campaigner.
    Big Night for LA.

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