Monday, February 22, 2016
The Democratic Primary That No One's Winning
When Latina activist and labor leader, Dolores Huerta, posted the tweet above after the Nevada caucus Clinton supporters myself included, quickly--and in retrospect a little too gleefully--made sure that it populated the Facebook feed of every active Democrat we know. When more information surfaced and it turned out that the source of the objection may have been that Huerta is a well-known Clinton supporter, Sanders supporters were quick to accuse Huerta of smear tactics and those of us who re-posted it as partisan puppets, ignoring that the video still clearly showed hissing and booing of the 85-year old civil rights activist and cheering when the uproar led the caucus chair to declare that there would be no Spanish translation provided. (By the way, where was the Nevada Democratic Party? Surely they could have foreseen the need for translation.)
I was incensed when the Sanders campaign led a chant of "we stand together" over Black Lives Matter protests and deeply disappointed by the patronizing tone that Clinton took when meeting with Black Lives Matter leaders. (Put.your.hand.down! I had to stop rewatching the video when I found it to link for you.) Both campaigns' supporters were all too eager to share their opponent looking insensitive and clueless with little discussion of the fact that this is supposedly the best the Democratic party has to offer.
When I write about my support for Hillary Clinton on the basis of descriptive representation inevitably someone (usually a fellow white someone) reminds me that Hillary Clinton is wealthy white woman, as if Bernie Sanders--a 74 year old white man whose initial response to the Black Lives Matter movement was "Leave me alone, I marched with Martin Luther King"--were the love child of Shirley Chisholm and Audre Lorde. Bernie Sanders has been in Congress for 25 years and Hillary Clinton has been on the national stage since she was First Lady. Both have been critiqued for their poor policies toward and lack of understanding of communities of color before, but all of a sudden supporters who had never even heard the word intersectional are behaving as if they are racial justice activists and civil rights scholars.
So my question to myself and my fellow white progressives is why is it that we are only interested in holding our Democratic leaders and our party accountable to communities of color when it helps us score political points? Suddenly the media discovers the concept of the New American Majority and we have slews of articles about who black people should and shouldn't support but way less coverage on what we as a party should be doing to earn that support. Before I get the inevitable blow back of how that's not fair and "I work with this and this disenfranchised community" and "we passed this and this piece of legislation" let me say of course. I try, you try, the media occasionally reports, but not this publicly, not this persistently, not on this scale.
Part of it is because in a general election, we don't have to. When the Republican front-runner demonizes Muslims and calls for a wall to keep out the "drug dealers and rapists" of Mexico the bar for "less racist" is low. But we are the ones who place the bar for acceptable. How do I post this without appearing as if I am asking for my ally-ship cookie? I'm not sure, but after this weekend I felt like it needed to be said as a reminder to as much as from myself. I'm not advocating that people of color and their allies stay home on election day until we as a party do better, that would be pretty antithetical to everything I have ever written and believed. I am advocating that we stop treating racial justice as a special-interest, intermittent issue and hold our leaders to the same standard year-round and for the right reasons, that we are attempting to hold them now.