Elizabeth Warren’s Inability to Discuss Race and Black People is a Big Problem
When asked simple questions about race and black people, the senator didn’t seem to have any answers and in one instance, became outright hostile that such a question was asked.
As the new democratic presidential front runner, Elizabeth Warren seems to have a tough time answering any questions that deal with race without becoming flustered or angry.
Over the last week, she’s had several opportunities to answer very simple, and I’d argue softball questions that all had a racial component, and she fumbled each question badly each time.
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For someone who isn’t doing as well with Black America as she needs too to have them vote for her in the numbers she will need if she expects to win the nomination, let alone the general; you’d think she’d be prepared for race-specific questions when they (inevitably) arise.
She is not.
And it showed.
The Amy Goodman Interview
The first incident involved an interview with Amy Goodman at the Environmental Justice Presidential forum:
When asked a very simple, and very common question, about the order the states happen in the presidential primary, with two very white, very small states going first followed by South Carolina with its large African-American population, Elizabeth Warren became visibly upset and claimed she was just “…a player in the game on this one.”
She ends the interview by getting up quickly and giving Goodman a dismissive “yeah” as she shakes her hand before leaving the stage.
What’s shocking about all of this is how quickly she lost her cool over a question that’s asked every presidential election.
Iowa and New Hampshire are two very white states that hold outsized value over the primary process because they are are the first states to vote and can really make or break a candidate’s campaign.
It is not unfair to ask why two very white states hold so much power in a primary for a party that needs to over-index with black and brown voters to have a shot at winning the White House.
How Warren wasn’t prepared to answer such a simple question and viewed it as talking badly about Iowa, and New Hampshire is beyond me and speaks poorly about her preparation when the interview isn’t a prepared one where she knows what the questions are beforehand.
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The Voting While Black Interview
Elizabeth Warren had the opportunity to discuss prominent black leaders and any who may have helped shape how she sees the world and politics when she was a guest on Rashad Robison’s Voting While Black podcast.
On the show she was asked the following question:
“Who are the black people, the black leaders, the folks who have contributed to your understanding of politics, of advocacy, of why you’re here sitting with me right now, and why you’re out in the world right now championing the causes you’re championing?”
Warren didn’t seem to have an answer to the question before bringing up the now deceased Elijah Cummings (he hadn’t passed yet at the time the interview was recorded) and a lesson she learned from him “a long time ago” about fighting from the heart and fighting for the things you believe in.
She couldn’t answer a simple question about the black people who may have influenced her to be a more progressive politician without bringing up a colleague and he was her only answer.
Considering that Elizabeth Warren probably had very few dealings with Elijah Cummings before becoming a Senator in 2013, I don’t think it is too much of a stretch to say Warren hasn’t spent any time reading or learning anything about black leaders, politicians, or activists.
This is a question Bill Clinton could answer in his sleep, and he was one of the worst presidents for Black America in modern history.
Heck, even Hillary Clinton could have answered this question by rattling off a few names of prominent black activists that were popular enough and inoffensive enough to answer the question with offending anyone.
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The Angela Rye Interview
Warren was given another opportunity to show that she knows any black people when she took the stage for an interview at North Carolina’s A&T University with Angela Rye.
Once again, she was given a pretty softball question, this time about the three black people she’d like to have in her cabinet if she were to win the election.
And yet again, Warren seemed incapable of answering the question.
She hedged her bets, claimed she didn’t want to name other politicians because they were running for president and might not want to hear their names as a cabinet member and continued to try to get out of answering the question, but Rye persisted, and after coming up with Deval Patrick, former Governor of Massachutssess she settled on this answer:
“And I’m trying to think [because] I’m trying to stay outside the current Washington part, where’s the best place to go for cabinet members?” Warren waffled.
“It’s to have people who are in the fight. People like Melody Barnes, my friend of more than 20 years, who has been in this fight from the very beginning, who under President Obama … was domestic policy advisor. Someone like Melody, who may not be as well known to this crowd, but who is out there fighting everyday for money for higher education, money for public schools, so that would be somebody I’d love to have in a cabinet.”
You’re running at a time when issues such as diversity and inclusion are at its highest, and you can’t name three, just three prominent black people you might consider having in your cabinet?
While these types of questions are pandering, they are common, and smart politicians have answers at the ready for when they come up.
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The fact that Elizabeth Warren couldn’t name three prominent black people suggests she knows so few black people and only seems to interact with them as it pertains to work that one could expect her cabinet to be as white as Donald Trump’s, just filled with more white women instead of white men.
That’s diversity and inclusion for you, I guess.
Elizabeth Warren has a black people problem.
While some October polls showed she managed to improve her standings with African-American voters, as the primary continues and she gets more of the media spotlight, gaffes like the ones above become more of an issue.
She has to be able to speak to, and about the African-American community in real substantive ways if she expects them to come out and vote for her in the numbers she’s going to need to win, not just the primary but the general election if she manages to become the nominee.
Warren may believe because Black Americans overwhelmingly vote Democratic, they will just come out and vote for her for no other reason than to get rid of Donald Trump.
She can think that, but she should have a conversation with Hillary Clinton and ask how that strategy worked for her, particularly with midwestern black people who are very different from southern black people and who live in states that matter a great deal in the general election, even if they don’t matter as much in the primary.
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With the exception of the over 50 set, many African-Americans aren’t willing to vote for a candidate just because they have a ‘D’ by their name.
And a woman who can’t even name three prominent black people she’d like to add to her cabinet doesn’t strike me as one who has much of a plan to help the Democratic Party’s most loyal constituency in a time when the community is in free fall.
Elizabeth Warren has worked herself to front runner status by proclaiming she has a plan for that. Well, now it time she has a plan for how she expects to secure the black vote, or all her good plans will be implemented by someone else as she takes on a cabinet position in their presidency.