Election 2016

Some Hillary Supporters Are Playing a Racial Smear Game Against Bernie

There is a toxic push of the "Bernie so White" narrative.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock.com/ Joseph Sohm

Nothing this primary season in the Democratic presidential race will come close to the sheer lunacy of behavior transpiring in a Republican Party on the verge of self-implosion. But unfortunately, in the non-Trump dominated side of the U.S. political world there also has been some alarming behavior on the left that can’t be ignored. And while Hillary Clinton has received the usual share of sexist and misogynistic comments, it has been Bernie Sanders and, in particular, his supporters who have endured a lot of ridiculous things.

The constant drumbeat of “Bernie’s plans aren’t realistic,” “Bernie’s plans aren’t passable” and the “BernieBro” have reached their own level of online fame. Although all three of those have their own major flaws, a discussion has been made extensively about them that has created sustained negatives around the septuagenarian candidate and his fans.

One key aspect that has been bubbling for a while now, spun off from the BernieBro label and not discussed like it needs to be, is the opponents or most acerbic critics of Sanders, intentionally or unintentionally, implying that his supporters have no noticeable racial diversity or that his campaign doesn’t appeal to minority voters.

What’s so troubling about this enduring narrative is the disturbing insistence on completely ignoring or aggressively dismissing any of Bernie’s minority supporters who aren’t famous. It’s a focused and determined echo on painting Sanders as truly representing only young or old white liberals, and that Sanders and his backers are unable to acknowledge or express white systemic privilege. And in either their strong support for Clinton or their unwillingness to fully analyze Sanders fairly or comprehensively on race, one of this election’s deleterious aspects on the left can no longer be dismissed.

The toxicity of the “Bernie is white and for whites only” drive has become even more glaring over the last month, with cleverly crafted smears at Sanders hitting exactly the sustained narrative they wanted to hit and fueled by Clinton’s legacy domination of the black vote.

The Congressional Black Caucus PAC's expected public endorsement of the former secretary of state was guaranteed more headlines when civil rights icon and Georgia House Representative John Lewis provided himself, whether he meant it or not, as a useful foil in creating more negative news for Sanders on race. Lewis’s “I never saw him” quote in response to being asked if he knew of the Vermont senator during the Civil Rights era elevated the narrative, from online and in general, that Sanders not only is unfamiliar in black circles, but he also could be viewed as a possible race fraud. It was the ideal moment for Hillary supporters and anti-Bernie critics on the left to be in uncontrolled glee over a figure like Lewis, intentionally or unintentionally, humiliating Sanders.

If that display was predictable but gross enough, Lewis’ comments (he later backtracked on his statement to say that he wasn’t disparaging Sanders and that he literally just meant that he didn’t see him or know about him that day or in that period) and the CBC’s stern rejection of Sanders in favor of Hillary looked classy compared to the shameful tag-team reaction of actress America Ferrera and Hispanic labor icon Dolores Huerta to Sanders and his supporters at the Nevada caucus.

In representing Hillary, both Ferrera and Huerta couldn’t have manufactured a better way to again place Sanders and his white supporters in that odious bind of being unable to properly handle any issues of race. When Ferrera tweeted that Huerta was heckled with “English Only” chants by Bernie voters not pleased with her voluntary translations into Spanish, which was followed by Huerta making a rare appearance herself on Twitter to confirm the incident, it looked like the perfect sign to paint some of Bernie’s white supporters as racist and continue the narrative that everything about his campaign was a race disaster.

Except it was either a lie, or an embarrassing, alarming version devoid of any of the facts that came from video evidence.

Actress and Sanders supporter Susan Sarandon was able to lead the chorus against a story that Sanders’ online supporters were visibly alarmed by, only to be made incredulous by all the recorded video of the incident showing nothing of what Ferrera and Huerta strongly claimed. Surely someone, whether Ferrera or anyone else, would have gotten their phones out to clearly show unruly Sanders supporters saying “English only” to a historic farm labor figure like Huerta, especially on a pivotal election day, right? But the videos showed that Sanders supporters were asking for equal fairness and actually yelled the word “Neutral” so that Huerta, a Clinton ally, would be fair to both sides.

But the narrative of Sanders and his supporters failing on race again (and continuing that narrative by solely thinking about his majority white supporters and not his minority supporters) had already gotten out. Think Progress and BuzzFeed were among many spreading Ferrera and Huerta’s claims as being prominent without issuing strong updates to categorically dismiss their original headlines. And despite those videos showing that there was nothing confirming Ferrera and Huerta’s accusations, there was no apology whatsoever from either woman. Ferrera didn’t respond to Sarandon kindly challenging her shoddy story as the star went on a Twitter silence for hours before reappearing to live tweet about her new NBC show airing its latest episode. Huerta reverted to her normal sparse activity on Twitter, not tweeting for almost a week after her direct attack on Sanders before re-tweeting a President Obama Supreme Court vacancy tweet. Neither Ferrera or Huerta have since addressed that event, acting like it never existed.

It’s already bad enough when fellow congressional colleagues and high-profile supporters of your more established opponent use hideous tricks to paint you negativity. Prominent South Carolina Rep. James Clyburn’s smearing of Sanders (after he decided against staying neutral for his state’s primary and backed Clinton to help her massive landslide in the state get even larger) for his “free” college plan by wildly claiming that it would hurt private black HBCUs (it would not) was another clever politician-driven race attack on the democratic socialist.

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