Why This Person of Color Supports Bernie Sanders
Back in the 1960’s there was a civil rights movement in this country. The movement sought to give full voting rights to black people, integrate schools and housing, end Jim Crow segregationist laws, expand judicial justice for people of color, and provide more economic opportunity.
The movement was massive and its result was equally unprecedented. But those goals were only partially met. Or they were replaced with systems even more difficult to root out.
Black people got the Voting Rights Act only for it to be constantly under threat. The project of school integration has been virtually left abandoned, leaving people of color with substandard education.
Instead of moving into integrated mixed income housing, people of color were stuffed into cramped prisons. Impoverished black people still live in the ghettos built to house and isolate them.
Unemployment is prevalent and there are very little opportunities for economic mobility for the poor and disenfranchised. And unarmed people of color are being gunned down in the streets, victims of a criminal justice system trained to be suspicious of black and brown bodies, instead of investigate the economic causes of crime.
Black struggle has always been linked with economics. When this country was building itself off of slave labor that correlation was easily apparent. Now, the correlation is murkier.
We know that black people should not be discriminated against for housing, but we find that black people often cannot afford moving into whiter wealthier communities.
We know that black people should not be discriminated against for jobs, but we find that many black people have very little occupational opportunities.
Impoverished communities are filled with chain stores erected by large corporations that only offer low-level service jobs. They feed off of the desperation of the poor and marginalized, offering products and services so cheaply that the poor have no choice but to spend their money at these chains, where it will never return to their community. Local stores cannot compete and so they die.
Our country is built on the myth of upward mobility, but yet we see people of color stuck in a cycle of generational poverty.
These people cannot afford decent health care.Cannot afford medication for their illnesses. Cannot go to the dentist to get their teeth fixed. Cannot afford to be co-payers on their children’s school loans. They have credit so bad that they are deemed a risk and charged exorbitant interest rates. They cannot afford decent food, decent schools or decent houses. They cannot afford the American Dream.
They are a part of a desperation economy, beaten down, left out, and searching for a way out where there are only locked doors.
When I think of race, I also think of economics. Where prejudice cannot be used outright to discriminate against people of color, economics can be the perfect tool. It is harder to see and our culture is conditioned to think of poverty as normal, a result of personal failings. Our myths tell us that poverty can be overcome individually, so we forget to look at systems.
It makes me a little bitter when I am confronted with otherwise liberal attitudes on race but a dismissal of this economic component. It isn’t enough to believe that people of color are worth being treated as human beings. It isn’t enough to believe people of color are worth not having their sons and daughters shot down in the streets.
What black and brown people need is economic access.We need living wages and access to higher education. We need universal health care. We need an end to the war on drugs and mass incarceration. We need occupational opportunities instead of prisons.
Some people place race above class. Our political establishment does this. They talk of equality while supporting systems that maintain economic inequality.
I see race and class as sides of the same coin. No matter which side the coin lands, people of color lose either way.
Some people say that people of color cannot afford to bet on a candidate like Bernie Sanders. I say we cannot afford not to. These problems will not be fixed through business as usual. I want a candidate that prioritizes economic struggle because I think it is what we need to make this country truly equal.
During the Civil Rights Movement, Martin Luther King Jr became increasingly aware of the need for economic reform. He said:
“You can’t talk about solving the economic problem of the Negro without talking about billions of dollars. You can’t talk about ending the slums without first saying profit must be taken out of slums. You’re really tampering and getting on dangerous ground because you are messing with folk then. You are messing with captains of industry. Now this means that we are treading in difficult water, because it really means that we are saying that something is wrong with capitalism. There must be a better distribution of wealth, and maybe America must move toward a democratic socialism.”
He was assassinated before he could truly address this problem. In this sense, the work is unfinished. We cannot talk about racial rights without economic rights. We cannot talk about an end to racial oppression without an end to an economic system that values some and not others.
I support Sanders not because he is perfect. I support him because he speaks to this spirit. He speaks to the dream unfinished. I think it is still a dream worth fighting for. And I want, with my whole heart, to see it done.
Here is our opportunity.