Thursday, February 11, 2016

Black Voters and Bernie Sanders

Charles Blow, angry over what he sees as condescending "don't you see your own interests" talk from Bernie Sanders supporters, reaches for an old essay by James Baldwin to explain why black voters are not enthralled by Bernie's grand vision:
Of all Americans, Negroes distrust politicians most, or, more accurately, they have been best trained to expect nothing from them; more than other Americans, they are always aware of the enormous gap between election promises and their daily lives. It is true that the promises excite them, but this is not because they are taken as proof of good intentions. They are the proof of something more concrete than intentions: that the Negro situation is not static, that changes have occurred, and are occurring and will occur — this, in spite of the daily, dead-end monotony. It is this daily, dead-end monotony, though, as well as the wise desire not to be betrayed by too much hoping, which causes them to look on politicians with such an extraordinarily disenchanted eye.

This fatalistic indifference is something that drives the optimistic American liberal quite mad; he is prone, in his more exasperated moments, to refer to Negroes as political children, an appellation not entirely just. Negro liberals, being consulted, assure us that this is something that will disappear with “education,” a vast, all-purpose term, conjuring up visions of sunlit housing projects, stacks of copybooks and a race of well-soaped, dark-skinned people who never slur their R’s. Actually, this is not so much political irresponsibility as the product of experience, experience which no amount of education can quite efface.
This is, of course, only a particular if particularly powerful expression of a deep truth about the human condition. As I have written here many times about many subjects, there is much evidence that resigning yourself to your lot – or accentuating the positive, or looking on the sunny side or however you want to put it – can lead to greater happiness than getting angry and fighting for change. On the other hand, that resignation can in political terms be a powerful force against changes that might really happen. African Americans indeed have along history of false promises from white politicians, and (as Blow also complains) of being used as symbolic pawns in electoral struggles. (Reagan with welfare queens, Bill Clinton with Sister Souljah, etc.) Since many people (e.g., me) have trouble believing that Sanders could deliver on any of what he promises, it is hardly surprising that many black voters are also skeptical.

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