Photo by AFGE
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination has to win critical support from black voters for him to have a chance. He is not trying hard enough.
Sanders has so far ignored African-Americans to focus on economic populism. He believes that the answer to all problems, racial or otherwise, is to address issues of corporate power and to grapple with wealth and income inequality.
His campaign has therefore overlooked racial inequities. At his campaign launch, on his website, and in other public statements, he simply does not address subjects, even economic ones, that are a priority to black voters.
His support from the black community, as with others, will be contingent on three areas of the campaign: hiring, campaign language, and, most important, policy proposals. So far, he has little to show in any of these areas.
The #blacklivesmatter movement from coast to coast has sounded the alarm regarding police misconduct. But this concern does not fit into Sanders’ political agenda.
This movement has also brought to light broader economic, political and social injustices that exist, as well. But activists point out that African-Americans most often confront economic insecurity in ways very different from their white counterparts. From subprime loans to predatory lending schemes to racial wage gaps to lack of retirement funds, economic practices and official policies have a disproportionate racial impact on blacks.
Persistent racial disparities remain. The unemployment rate for blacks has been twice as large as for whites over the last five decades. Nearly 40 percent of black workers are low-wage earners, as compared with 25 percent of whites, according to a recent report by the Discount Foundation and Neighborhood Funders Group.
Sanders issued a 12-point economic program last year that does not mention these glaring racial gaps. This will not go unnoticed.
Neither will Hillary Clinton’s effort to get out front on these issues. Wasting no time in solidifying her base with black voters, Clinton has spoken out forcefully on criminal justice and voting rights. While Sanders probably agrees with her on the importance of these matters, his silence is deafening. He has to find a way to merge his economic message with an explicit effort to address racial inequities.
Avoiding these topics is especially notable in a nation whose demographics are rapidly becoming racially and ethnically diverse. Sanders’ home state of Vermont, which is approximately 95 percent white, is an outlier.
Sanders should address these issues, not just to court the black vote, but because they are urgent concerns for the entire nation.