Adequate representation for Black people in the political arena is virtually nonexistent. It’s a facet of the systemic disadvantage that we often have to face: most left-leaning and progressive candidates set our issues on the back-burner. The appropriation and politicization of our issues makes it difficult for us to even be motivated to vote, though it is our civic duty and a right that we are still fighting to hold onto. The truth of the matter is, politically aware black people are in a catch-22 when it comes to political representation. Both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have a lot to learn in the way of race relations and enforcing policy that is beneficial for racial minorities.
Since Black people always face overt racism from conservative politicians, it may seem fortunate for us that the two democratic candidates who are running have both acknowledged the Black Lives Matter movement at some capacity in their platforms. This deduction is problematic for a few reasons. First, people have this outrageous idea that liberal white people cannot be racist, and they use that to silence any critiques people have about Bernie and Hillary’s subpar plans regarding race relations. Second, merely using Black Lives Matter as a political boost, or begrudgingly addressing organizers of the movement because they have caused a ruckus, is not the same as actually caring about Black people and developing policy that will promote our long-term safety and well-being.
For some reason — and that reason is racism — white people think Black people don’t have the intellectual capacity to have nuanced thoughts about candidates and understand what our own needs are. And they think they have to tell us. This paternalistic attitude implies that the bare minimum Hillary and Bernie are doing is enough, and that we don’t deserve more than what they’re willing to do for us. It silences legitimate critiques of the candidates from people who would be most impacted by their policy. This erasure of Black people’s self-concern is no different coming from liberals than it is when it comes from conservatives. It screams, “Take what you can get from white leaders who are willing to do something for you, and be happy with it.” But why should we? Do only poor whites deserve the full benefits of Bernie Sanders’s platform? Should only white women feel victorious with Hillary Clinton as their leader?
To me, the worst part is when “Berniebros” and “Hillary stans” (people who root hardcore for Bernie and Hillary, respectively) try to legitimize each candidate’s mediocrity in the arena of race relations by pandering to Black voters. White liberals love to share Bernie marching with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (every white person’s favorite, non-violent symbol of racial equality) in the Civil Rights Era. Hillary’s social media team — which is composed of Hillary’s millennial interns, I’m sure — loves trying to prove Hillary’s in touch with Black people by making her logo into these horribly generalized and antiquated symbols of Blackness, such as Rosa Parks on the bus, or Kwanzaa. These actions misappropriate issues that Black people have to live with on a daily basis, just for the sake of giving these candidates cool points. What do they need applause for? Superficially including us in their platforms in the name of white comfort?
As a Black woman, I feel particularly frustrated with this presidential election. I feel pressure to support Hillary because she is a woman, and to excuse the fact that she has been complicit in the Prison Industrial Complex via her support of Clinton’s 1994 Violent Crime Control Act, and his 1996 Welfare Reform Act. She has also overseen unethical measures in Haiti that are in direct opposition to her views on reproductive freedom. Yet I’m expected to support her despite her dirty track record on minority human rights. It seems her allegiance to White Feminism is more important than issues that have tremendous influence on Black lives. It wouldn’t be the first time Black women were expected to take a back seat and acquiesce to the needs of white women.
Bernie seems more authentic in terms of his willingness to listen to Black Lives Matter activists and incorporate our needs into his platform, but he’s no stranger to colorblind ideology. He has disavowed Reparations for Black people, claiming that it would be “divisive,” as well as prioritized economic inequality over racial inequality in a way that lacks the nuanced understanding of how the two are irrevocably tied, which undermines issues that are unique to poor Black people. He’s coming closer to acknowledging systemic racism’s role in poverty, but he needs to truly get it in order to make policy that would be beneficial to lower-class Blacks.
If you’re really paying attention, it gets progressively harder to conclusively support one candidate over the other. I’ve heard that if Hillary wins the Democratic primary, people will vote for her as the lesser of two evils, as opposed to the GOP candidate. But is she really less of an evil because she’s covertly racist? What about Bernie? Can he actually be the social justice hero everyone has painted him to be? Only time will tell, I suppose. But for right now, it’s looking like Black women will have to settle for less than we deserve. Once again.