Why Are You Being So Mean To Bernie?

Bernie Sanders and Black Lives Matter activists

So, it seems that a couple of protesters claiming to be part of Black Lives Matter had the nerve to disrupt another Bernie Sanders campaign event. Saturday, in that progressive bastion of Seattle, two women made their way on stage and took the microphone away from Sanders to address the crowd, calling for 4 1/2 minutes of silence in honor of the 4 1/2 hours that Michael Brown’s body lay on a Ferguson street last year and not letting Sanders speak. Liberals are not happy.

So, what has gotten progressive panties in such a bunch? Not Marissa  Johnson’s and Mara Jacqueline Willaford’s attempt to exercise a little agency on behalf of their community, that’s cool. It’s the fact that they were…, impolite. No, really, that’s what people are saying. The response of many progressives hasn’t exactly been polite either and it reveals that we may not be the champions of racial justice we like to think we are.

So, what are those “not good” things that are brought to the surface? Well, lets see, there’s a certain cluelessness that rears its head every time a progressive’s commitment to racial justice is questioned. Then, there’s a plantation mentality undercurrent in the liberal backlash. And, lastly, there’s the fact that our reaction is one we rip conservatives for whenever they do the same thing.

So, let’s tackle these items one at a time:

  1. There’s a certain cluelessness that rears its head every time a progressive’s commitment to racial justice is questioned. I’ve seen several people respond to the protest by pointing out that Bernie “walked with Dr. King.” Yeah, here’s the thing: that was 50 years ago and if anyone has the right to say “Fine, but what have you done for me lately?”, it’s African-Americans. Despite the fact that we have twice elected a black man to the presidency (proof of a post-racial society, right?), African-Americans are incarcerated almost 6 times as much as whites and all too many young black men are dying in police custody. So, yeah, while progressives might have a better record than conservatives when it comes to racial justice, it’s still not good. And, just so you know, getting butthurt when someone points that out isn’t helpful.
  2. There’s an undercurrent of plantation mentality in the liberal backlash. When I say “a plantation mentality“, I’m not talking about the standard version that conservatives use to demonize minorities, I’m talking about the sense of entitlement that makes progressives think that black folks should just be quiet and let the (white) people who know what’s best for all of us handle things. This mindset shows up in several different ways, but perhaps the best example comes from an American News X article where the author says, “BLM (Black Lives Matter) needs to sit down and take the time to read about Bernie’s track record of fighting for civil rights, and addressing institutional economic racism.” Why, that’s not condescending at all.
  3. There’s the fact that our reaction is one we rip conservatives for whenever they do the same thing. This item is, quite possibly, the most damning one of all. From Trayvon Martin to Michael Brown to Freddie Gray, every time a young, black man dies at the hands of white people, evidence of their less-than-savory past is waved around by conservatives to show that, basically, they got what was coming to them. We’re doing something similar to Marissa Johnson. Within hours of the Sanders protest, a thread popped up on a Democratic Underground message forum sharing a Facebook post of Johnson’s in which she admits to having a Sarah Palin button on her backpack in high school and another where she says, “GOP shoulda groomed me right then…now they gotta see me on the other side *shrugs*”. Somehow, this seems to constitute “documentation” of Johnson’s status as a Republican operative. Now, I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t want people using things I thought 10 years ago to characterize my current beliefs, much less what I thought in high school. And, the second statement says the GOP lost its chance to recruit years ago, not that she’s allied with them now. I can’t help but think that if Johnson had interrupted one of the other candidates (especially a Republican), these two articles would be praised in liberal circles, not used as evidence of her disloyalty to the cause. At it’s heart, this is a smear campaign and we (rightly) give conservatives grief whenever they use this tactic. So, why is okay for us to employ it here?

Look, the bottom line is that African-Americans have been beating their heads against the wall for years when it comes to racial justice. If, in their frustration at not being heard, they’re a little less than polite, that’s understandable. But, maybe we liberals/progressives need to do a little self-examination to figure out why we get so upset us when that frustration comes our way. Don’t expect to like the answer, though.