During the March 7th Democratic debate in Flint, Michigan, Bernie Sanders made an interesting comment:
“When you’re white, you don’t know what it’s like to be living in a ghetto,” Sanders responded. “You don’t know what it’s like to be poor. You don’t know what it’s like to be hassled when you walk down the street or you get dragged out of a car.”
Now, being Jewish, Sanders should as much as anyone be aware of the origins of the word “ghetto”. It is originally an Italian word, used to signify where they segregated the Jews in Venice, Italy. More recently, it was infamously used in World War II, where millions of Jews suffered under Adolf Hitler’s genocidal policies.
But, this is 2016. It is ironic that Sanders would make that statement in Flint, where there is a 40% white population. Yes, Flint is 54% black, but saying things like “You aren’t helping the people of Flint because you are racist against black people” is terribly disingenuous and unfair toward the large poor and working class white population in Flint.
Even me: I’ll give you some personal examples, as a middle aged white person who has lived in the suburbs of Detroit. Growing up, I knew many whites who lived in public housing, waited in lines at food banks, received public assistance, and lived paycheck to paycheck. When I was 17, me and some friends were driving in Detroit, and got pulled over “for being white”. We were told that by the cops themselves. One of the cops even put his pistol to my right temple and threatened to “blow (my) muthafuckin head off”, and physically abused a drunk female friend with us.
Even now, I know many whites in the Detroit area who deal with the same stuff. As a white person, I’ve dealt with gun violence, police harassment, poverty, hunger, and homelessness at points in my life. I am relatively stable now, and consider it due to hard work and a little luck. But many people, of all races, didn’t have the opportunities or initiative that I did.
With that said, I was still a supporter of Sanders in this election. Not because I want free stuff (universally free college tuition will never happen, nor should it happen), but because I believe that some FDR-style democratic socialism is just what the U.S.A. needs. Not in the form of free stuff, but in the form of mass Job Corps that would improve the infrastructure of this country, and in the form of health insurance reform (the ACA means well, but has many faults).
Bernie Sanders is obviously treading water trying to secure the black votes. In doing so, he should be careful not to piss off the silent minority of poor, working-class whites in this country who were his earliest supporters.
UPDATE, March 9 2016: Bernie Sanders ended up winning my home state of Michigan! Interestingly enough (but not surprisingly), Hillary Clinton still got the most democratic votes in Wayne (Detroit) and Genessee (Flint) counties. Although, the Donald Trump train(wreck) seems to keep on rolling, as well. Could we see a Sanders/Trump presidential election? Sanders needs a lot more delegates, but this could provide the momentum his campaign needs. Time will tell.