Bernie Sanders needs black friends. And I am available.
Bernie Sanders, like many of us, means well. Unfortunately, meaning well does not mean much when it comes to talking about race, and, more importantly, racism. Meaning well does not ease the pain of discrimination, nor even begin to fix it — particularly when one blames racial discrimination on the economy* or believes that "ghettos" and "places where a lot of black people live" are one and the same. When you do these things, it gives the impression that not only do you not understand actual black people, what they think, or how they talk, but that you also don’t care enough to educate yourself to do better.
Senator Sanders, I am here to help. I’m even going to call you Bernie, like a true friend would.
See, Bernie, I did not grow up in Vermont (one of the top-three least diverse states in the Union). I grew up in Ohio, so I know what it’s like to be surrounded by the same faces in the same places, hearing the same thoughts you’re thinking, and not often hearing new ones. Though, unlike you, those faces didn’t look like mine: I knew roughly five black people to whom I was not directly related before I got to college. What I’m saying is, you need to make some black friends, Bernie, and not just so you can say “I have some black friends.” You need to make black friends (and they can’t all be Killer Mike, cool as he is), and then you need to spend time actually listening to what they have to say.
If I were your black friend, Bernie, I’d probably tell you that yes, I appreciate that you marched with Dr. Martin Luther King, but I’d like to hear more about what you’re doing now, today, in 2016 — because Martin ain’t Jesus, and Martin ain’t here. You don’t get a pass just because you once grasped his robe.
You can’t ride to victory on a tide of young white college students in mostly-white states and have your followers write off the South. The South is the way it is because people, including liberal Democrats, keep writing it off. Maybe if you could explain the nuts and bolts of how you’ll implement your policies beyond "get organized and go stand outside Mitch McConnell’s office”?
And Bernie, I’d add that even if you do that, black voters are still going to have a lot of questions for you. Like, if you break up the banks, what happens to those home loans and those small business loans and those student loans I’ll be paying back even if I have to write the check from the grave? If you make college free, like it is in Sweden, will students still graduate with debt, like in Sweden?** Black students are more likely than white students to take out loans for college, and those loans are larger, too. And aren't those Nordic countries pretty, uh... homogenous***?
You want a political revolution (outside of Vermont), Senator? Can we all join in? Even the people with no safety net if this revolution goes wrong? Because you keep telling us how much we have to gain, but we are also the people who can least afford to lose. A lot of us don’t have generational wealth, or a way out (we can't all move to Canada, dude). If this "revolution" goes wrong, we'll go down with it.
The way you formulated your plan to support Historically Black Colleges and Universities is a good start. It's a good start because you recognized that black issues are just that — black issues, and they needed to be addressed specifically as such. It's a good start because you talked about it with black people who understand the uniqueness of the challenges that black people face, you listened, and then you acted.
But as your black friend, I'd still like to ask you these questions. Because America isn't Vermont, or Sweden, or Norway. It's 50 states and a lot of problems, and people looking for solutions, not sound bites. Like combining vodka and Gatorade, revolution ends poorly for most people. As your black friend, I'd ask you to do better than that.
* America's lowest unemployment rate ever was reached in May/June of 1953. If I remember correctly, people were still racist then.
** Arguably, Sweden is moving further right. But I digress.
*** I mean white.