Why We Can’t Wait…musings on Bernie, his stans and BLM

(Note: The headline is not a typo, as several readers have assumed since it was first published. The word “stan” in its simplest term is an extreme fan. Or, as Google will tell you: “A stan is an avid fan and supporter of a celebrity, franchise, or group, often a rock/pop musician. The object of the stan’s affection is often called their fave.” Or, as the online Urban Dictionary will tell you: “Based on the central character in the Eminem song of the same name, a “stan” is an overzealous maniacal fan for any celebrity or athlete.“)…and now, on with the post
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“I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Council-er or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can’t agree with your methods of direct action;” who paternalistically feels he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by the myth of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a “more convenient season.” ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

I have long held the belief that one of the largest barriers to meaningful discussions on racial matters in the United States is the uncomfortable reality that, by and large, whites and Blacks live highly segregated lives. This de facto segregation, however, is not a two-way street; Black people usually must interact with white people because the majority of power and institutions are governed and controlled by whites. In Black communities, it is not unusual, as we saw in Ferguson, Missouri, that despite an overwhelmingly Black community, the people in control were primarily white. However white people can live, work and love in spaces and rarely if ever encounter a real live Black person. Living in Maine, I have had the first-hand experience in my 13 years in this state of being the first Black person that many people have actually known. This is not an uncommon situation outside urban areas, the South or the coasts. There are not insignificant numbers of white people who have little if any real interaction with Black people. The even dirtier secret is that even in more racially diverse places, oftentimes the communications and connections between people of different races is rarely beyond the superficial.

These silos of whiteness as I like to call them, while seemingly innocuous to those who find themselves ensconced in the silo, are often highly problematic as this country experiences a real demographic shift at a time when anti-Black sentiment is at an all-time high.

If nothing else, the recent brush-up between presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, his followers and the Black Lives Matters movement shows just how troublesome the silo of whiteness is when it is unable to recognize the humanity of a people under duress because of a lack of manners.

While the GOP is overflowing in wanna-be presidents, the other side is not. Which makes the Socialist senator from Vermont, Bernie Sanders, a stand-out candidate because unlike the establishment favorite Hillary Rodham Clinton, Bernie speaks for the little person in us all. Which is probably why Bernie is awash in energy as many people are looking for a candidate who might be able to truly shift this economic nightmare that threatens us all. Bernie also cares about the other issues that matter such as climate change. Bernie is a liberal progressive’s dreamboat. However despite Bernie’s platform and past history as someone who in his youth took a stand against segregation and racism, Bernie wasn’t saying much on matters of race in a day and age where the fragility of Black life is on display for all. Until members of the Black Lives Matter movement started disrupting his rallies.

I am not going to rehash the Black Lives Matter disruptions and Bernie’s eventual inclusion of a platform that does speak to matters of racial justice. What I am going to speak to is the reaction of Bernie’s supporters to Black Lives Matters tactics which, for anyone who is familiar with social justice work, should be familiar. In a nutshell, Bernie was and is the most accessible candidate and the one most likely to “hear” the movement and make changes in his own work, unlike Hillary Clinton or any member of the GOP. Even an old Socialist seems to have recognized the strategy and is adjusting his message accordingly.

However, after the most recent disruption in Seattle which turned ugly, it is clear that many white liberal progressives are not nearly the ally to Black folks that they think themselves to be. In fact, unless one is intentional in unpacking their own whiteness and white privilege, the sad reality is that many progressives are simply steeped in a paternalistic, colorblind fantasy that does not take into consideration real-life Black people and when confronted with real Black people who are in real pain, they can’t cope with it and they slide into their white supremacist mindset often without even realizing it.

For many of Bernie’s white supporters, they don’t want their candidate’s chances ruined which, while admirable, threatens to completely invalidate any understanding of just how serious the state violence that is currently being inflicted upon the Black community really is, while they simply fret that their candidate will get labeled a racist by Black activists. In attempting to link economic justice with racial equity, the Sanders campaign and its followers also paint the Black community with a broad brush that is rather offensive and insulting in that it assumes that the vast majority of Blacks are impoverished and maybe even uneducated when the reality is far more complicated than that especially in a day when Black women are one of the most better educated groups in the country (there is also an inherent assumption, quite naive, that economic equity will largely eliminate systemic racism).

The troubles that confront Black America are complex in part because of this country’s unwillingness to publicly acknowledge and address just how harmful our racial past really was and how the effects are still playing out in 2015. Black Americans have been under siege and harmed for hundreds of years. Slavery ended in the 1800s but its replacement, Jim Crow, was alive and well into the 1960s. When we step back and realize that many who were born and raised under Jim Crow are still alive and understand the impact of that legacy upon younger generations of Black Americans, we see a puzzle that requires more than good-paying jobs and dash- or body-cams. It also becomes a lot clearer, if one can get past their own emotions, why today’s generation of young Black activists are not feeling like they can wait.

In many ways, the hard-won gains of the Civil Rights era are being rolled back…under the watch of our first Black president (token). Black life is viewed as disposable and denial of Black humanity is the norm.  The Black Lives Matter movement is rooted in the idea that Black Lives not only matter but that they have value and a place in a country that our ancestors helped to build without compensation. Black Lives Matter is not just a slogan but a public declaration of Black love for ourselves and when we love, we do what we need to for those who we love. There are many white-identified allies who are struggling with the “brazenness” of BLM and wondering if BLM is doing too much or pushing too hard. Yet when we look at the words of Martin Luther King (including the ones that began this post), we see that we have been here before.  In fact, Dr. King penned an entire book explaining why we can’t wait. It seems that the young people of Black Lives Matter are following in the rich tradition of King and others who understood that fighting for one’s humanity and freedom is never convenient, neither for themselves nor for those who don’t experience their oppression. To create true change involves disrupting the current systems that seek to oppress, and true allies and accomplices understand that to create equity means a willingness to give up something for the good of all. Anything less is empty words and more of the same.
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  1. August 14, 2015
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  3. July 1, 2016
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