It didn’t take the Washington Post long to change the headline on an article regarding this weekend's Democratic primary contests: “Why did Bernie Sanders dominate Saturday? Caucuses in whiter states.”
Hawaii, where Sanders won in a landslide, is only 27-percent white. Unfortunately, that’s inconvenient for a persistent media narrative describing the median Bernie voter as an entitled 21-year old white guy tethered to Reddit and mansplaining the revolution on social media.
Over the weekend, after CNN called the caucus states "largely white and rural," Bernie supporters of color decided that they were tired of the perplexing disavowal of their existence and flooded Twitter with acid humor, joking that the media must not be paying attention to them because backing Sanders actually turned them white.
“It’s incredibly frustrating,” said the black writer who says he created the hashtag, Leslie Lee III, in an interview with a pro-Sanders veterans group. “It’s not hard to find people of color who support Bernie Sanders and his platform of economic justice, and it’s certainly easy to find people of color critical of Hillary Clinton’s long history of destructive politics towards POC in both the US and abroad.”
“When I went to bed, I knew it would be trending in the morning because so many people have experienced this,” Lee tweeted. “We're sick of it.”
At least one critic has accused Lee of being white. Very, very ironic. But utterly predictable.
Certainly, Sanders is not getting the share of non-white votes he would like, and the multi-racial working class coalition necessary to put him over the top doesn’t seem to be in place. Sanders has struggled mightily with black voters, particularly older ones in the South. But he has improved his performance significantly elsewhere, and especially among young people of color. He appears to have edged Clinton out amongst Latinos in Illinois and scored a victory in heavily Arab-American Dearborn. Sanders is now polling at 60-percent amongst non-white voters under 35, and 54-percent amongst black voters in that cohort, according to Reuters.
As Carl Beijer notes, this zombie narrative has become rather surreal. “What percentage of black voters have to support a candidate before liberals decide that s/he can make a legitimate claim to representing them?”
It all started, of course, with the Bernie Bro. It’s hard to believe that it’s been just six months since the Atlantic’s Robinson Meyer coined the term, reducing the democratic socialists’ fans to white and relatively affluent men who are “aware of NPR podcasts and jangly bearded bands.”
Of course, there are certainly assholes who support Bernie Sanders, and many no doubt let their hateful feelings be known through their computers. (Like, who is this guy?) As Liza Featherstone, editor of "False Choices: The Faux Feminism of Hillary Rodham Clinton," put it, “It would be surprising if Bernie Sanders had no knuckle-draggingly sexist followers given the prevalence of alienated and misogynist men on the internet.”
The critical point is that these knuckle-draggers are a small number of random people on the internet. The people making these charges about Sanders supporters, day after day, have huge megaphones funded by paychecks from major media organizations, and they are smearing rank-and-file everyday voters en masse as pathologically horrible people. It’s a fucking genre. And when actual people of color or women emerge and dare speak their mind, it’s awkward. Why have a substantive debate with Liza Featherstone if you can just accuse her husband, Doug Henwood, of being a sexist instead?
"I am noticing that we are not even getting attacked or even disagreed with, even now that many members of the media have copies of False Choices," says Featherstone.
Yet some of you will no doubt tweet this story accompanied by some variant on the devastating putdown "says some white guy."
In February, it was the New Yorker’s Alexandra Schwartz chiding millennials, ostensibly “so attuned to staleness in all things cultural,” for letting Sanders “get away with” anti-bank “political rhetoric that would have seemed old even in 2012.” It’s the Washington Post’s Janell Ross who, supplying little in the way of evidence and for unclear reasons writing in the first person plural, accused Sanders and his supporters of “a pattern…of racial cluelessness, an infantilizing and almost colonial kind of condescension about policy…and sometimes completely open displays of various forms of outright bigotry.”
Again, and I know detractors will ignore this sentence: abusive or sexist or racist attacks online or in real life are horrendous, should be condemned and, if actually threatening, potentially reported to law enforcement. But to consistently generalize that an unclear number of trolls, many of whom may actually be Republicans, are somehow representative of average Sanders supporters is irresponsible.
It's consummate tech dad Clay Shirky tweeting that support for Sanders conveys the message that “Black votes don't matter”—whoops but he did that in response to a tweet by former NAACP President Ben Jealous. Or Joan Walsh drawing an equivalency between Sanders’ economic populist appeal to white working-class voters and Clinton’s frankly racist one in 2008. Or Gloria Steinem explaining that young women supported Sanders because “the boys are with Bernie.” Then there's the Atlantic’s Yoni Appelbaum’s assertion that a black scholar who had a principled disagreement with Ta-Nehisi Coates (who plans on voting for Sanders but criticized his lack of support for reparations) was “Marxplaining.”
It’s Charles Blow accusing white people of “Bernie-Splaining to black voters” without citing a single instance of said -splaining; the public figures taking black voters to task are black intellectuals like Michelle Alexander and Eddie Glaude, the latter calling the South Carolina vote the result of “assault on the black radical tradition.” Beyond identitarian bluster, the main difference between black Clinton and Sanders writers and thinkers is that the latter are leftists. There are plenty of policy-based reasons why Blow, who tweeted "If you are advocating for an 80% percent top marginal tax rate, you can unfollow me now," wouldn't support someone as far left Sanders. But the BernieBro narrative is all about not responding to Clinton critics of color by pretending they don’t exist.
Since these people are journalists, it behooves them to actually speak to Sanders supporters beyond the ones talking shit to them on Twitter before making general claims about their character. There is no equivalent smear effort from the tiny pro-Bernie commentariat. The much, much smaller number of people with writing jobs who like Sanders don’t attack or insult everyday Clinton voters. We criticize Clinton.
This is intersectionality repurposed and distorted as anti-left politics, the upshot of a truly cynical propaganda effort in favor of one of the most cynical Democratic politicians alive. This is gaslighting, too: a coterie of very-prominent people creating a false reality about the nature of Bernie Sanders supporters by drawing inflammatory generalizations from a small number of assholes on Twitter who happen to support Bernie Sanders. It’s time to put the BernieBro narrative to bed. It’s mean spirited. It’s slanderous. And it renders a large number of real human beings who believe in political revolution invisible.