Let’s be clear, when Bernie Sanders refers to the “working class,” he really means the “white working class.” It is not an all-inclusive term. Sanders’ supporters were and are primarily white. And while, of course, there were some people of color who supported his candidacy, their concerns did not fuel his message. He admitted last year in an interview with CBS that he came “from the white working class, and I am deeply humiliated that the Democratic Party can’t talk to the people where I came from.”

When asked about whether he would have won the 2016 election in Hillary Clinton’s place, he responded by saying, “She should have won this election by 10 percentage points.”

“The question is why is it that millions of white working class people who voted for Obama turned their backs on the Democratic Party,” said Sanders.

This is the same man who has never understood that racial justice isn’t just about economic equality. Leveling the economic playing field by providing more avenues to a higher education and retraining workers left out of the technology boom or creating a single-payer health care system is not going to change the white privilege that American society was built upon. Bernie did not win the hearts of Black voters. Hillary Clinton did.

Donald Trump has put a white nationalist and a neo-Nazi in the White House and his voters don’t have any problem with that. These are the same voters who Bernie believes the Democrats have ignored at their own peril.

I couldn’t disagree more.

As a Democrat, I have no desire to reach out to people who voted for a man who has made his racist and sexist intentions clear. And Sanders’ accusation that Democrats have ignored the working class or that they just represent elite liberals who live on the coasts is utter nonsense.

When Democrats support union workers, when they vote to extend unemployment insurance, when they propose paid sick leave and maternity leave, when they vote to raise the minimum wage or when they voted to support Obamacare, and when they consistently support a woman’s right to choose, it isn’t with elite liberals in mind.

It is with working class Americans in mind — all of them — not just the white ones, and not just the men.

Clinton supported retraining for coal workers. Her platform included free tuition and improvement to the Affordable Care Act. Women’s issues from equal pay to access to health care were front and center in her campaign. She listened to the parents across the country struggling with kids who were addicted to opioids and had a policy crafted to address it. She also addressed our institutional racism and pointed out white people’s role in perpetuating it.

It is my contention that her support of Black people and their support of her cost her votes. Too many white people don’t understand their privilege. They don’t get that even working class whites are privileged. Neither does Bernie Sanders.

White Americans responded to Trump’s rhetoric that it’s time to make America great again, which is code for “make America white again.” His voters bought into that. White Americans’ concern for people of color who have long suffered in a society that functions and works against them didn’t exist in this last election.

For some, their conscience was assuaged because they had voted for a Black man and that was “proof” that they weren’t racist.

I would like to know what Sanders means when he says Democrats have to learn how to talk to the white working class? Does it mean we have to educate people that Obamacare and the Affordable Care Act are the same programs with a different name? Many of them believed they were two different things.

Does it mean that when they say the voted for Obama and then voted for Trump that we should explain that what each of these men believes in and stands for is diametrically opposite?

Do we have to show them the pain of women who have been sexually assaulted to help them to understand that to knowingly vote for a man who has been accused of assault, many times, is not voting in support of women?

Do we have to hold their hands and explain that a businessman who is known for not paying his bills, for screwing the little guy and who has gone bankrupt many times is not the kind of “businessman” that you want anywhere near the White House?

Do we have to remind them that Trump was the original birther, that he sought to discredit our first Black president with an unrelenting viciousness?

And where are the facts in all of this? Trump’s tweets and lies were well known before he was elected. His gross behavior towards women and Mexicans was no secret. These white working class people voted for him.

I have no intention of trying to reach out to these voters, nor do I want the Democratic Party to do so. Should they take the time to educate themselves, to read and think about all that is at stake and to shed their narrow privileged view of the world then I, and many others, will happily engage in a conversation. Until then, let them enjoy Trump.

Mr. Sanders, I am white and I care deeply for all people, but I know better than to suggest that the answer to the Democrats “problem” is to fine-tune its reach to the white working class. Even those who struggle and have lost jobs are still better off than their Black counterparts, and for the foreseeable future, they always will be. Your privilege shows when you think that accommodating the needs of white working class voters is a key strategy in strengthening the Democratic Party. The next time one of them gets shot with their hands up while not in possession of a weapon — then, maybe we can talk.

– Jan Harrison

25 COMMENTS

  1. So we shouldn’t listen to what he says and does? I guess it was just a fluke that he lost the Black vote by 75%? I guess we just aren’t smart enough to understand dismissive behavior.

    • Where in god’s name do you get that he won the black vote by 75%? What kind of fiction are you guys peddling here? If he’d won that much of the black vote he’d have won the south – which he lost by a landslide.

  2. No, but it’s safe to say he didn’t reach people of color by AT LEAST as much as Hillary and the DNC didn’t reach the white working class voter. Minorities, women, LGBTQ, and those who understand these are real people, not pawns, are the base of the DNC, standing up year after year. By blowing them off (as Bernie has SAID), his actions say they are not as important as the disillusioned white worker.

    That’s a good way to end up with a percentage of the vote less than Trump or Hillary, as indeed, he did.

  3. Sanders was one of the New Leftovers who ran away from and couldn’t deal with the rising women’s movement. He ran away from the diversity of New York City to set up as a big fish in small (white) pond Vermont. For decades he’s managed to avoid the challenges that have contributed to broadening the understanding of many of us whitefolk, menfolk, and otherwise-privileged folk. During the 2016 campaign I was struck by how the guy never seems to stop talking. (He has this in common with the guy who got elected.) It’s hard to learn from others if you never shut up. Nearly everyone I know who came in contact with Hillary Clinton was struck by how willing and able she was to listen. She has this in common with the late Robert Kennedy: he listened, and he was changed. This is how those of us who come into the game with privilege learn and grow and change. One of the many problems with this “Unity Tour” was that it was mostly about talking, not enough about listening.

    • A comment from a true Sanders supporter. Can’t be bothered to address a single item, research, examine……nothing. How long have you been involved in politics – 5 minutes?

  4. typical Sanders supporters. Can’t be bothered to do anything but ignore that his candidate has flaws that need to be addressed. You can’t be bothered to examine, research, respond with clarity…..nothing. You bring nothing.
    How long have you been involved in politics – 5 minutes?

  5. thanks for this article. It says so much that I have been thinking and feeling since the primaries last year. After years of serving Vermont in Congress and the Senate for some unknown reason, Senator Sanders took it into his head to run against President Obama in the 2012 primaries and then changed his mind because it would have been a slaughter. Then he decided to trick the DNC into supporting his campaign for President in 2016. And guess what happened? We got the liar in Chief in office! And now he wants to tour the country telling Democrats what we did WRONG? Go home. Senator. Sit down, go back to passing bills to establish Vermont post offices. And take your bots and their Republican troll handlers with you.

  6. To quote: “I have no intention of trying to reach out to these voters, nor do I want the Democratic Party to do so. Should they take the time to educate themselves, to read and think about all that is at stake and to shed their narrow privileged view of the world then I, and many others, will happily engage in a conversation. Until then, let them enjoy Trump.” That’s pretty short-sighted and elitist. Trump voters are likely to remain in their denial for generations if no one engages them. To say, “I’m woke, I’m just gonna sit over here until those jerks wake themselves,” sounds almost as self-righteous and harmful as the things that Trump voters say.

    • You think? Plenty of us have managed to start working our way out of our various denials without being courted by a major political party. We did not do it by surrounding ourselves with people who shared our own sexist, racist, etc., views. And at some point many of us learned that trying to engage people who aren’t willing to be engaged is exhausting and usually unsuccessful. People of color are under no obligation to engage or educate white people. Women are under no obligation to engage or educate men. And so on. I’m grateful to everyone whose had the patience to struggle with me over the years on these and other issues, but they were under no obligation to do so. I’m willing to “engage” with anyone who’s willing to engage with me, but I’m not willing to soft-pedal my commitment to understanding and undermining white privilege, male privilege, and all the rest of it.

      • Really?
        >People of color are under no obligation to engage or educate white people.

        Look, if you want to be a lazy piece of crap and sit on your hands waiting for the revolution to come thats fine, but don’t disparage people who are actually reaching out to voters you need to win. It is a numerical reality that you need white people to win an election, writing off 60-70% of the population is insane. Its exactly this dismissive attitude and failure to engage with the other side that got el cheeto into the white house to begin with.

        With regards to Bernie, I’m not necessarily the biggest fan but all of these Clintonista articles attempting to paint him as racist just for being ‘white’ are pathetic. How would you like it if we had endless articles upon articles about how the reason dem primary voters chose Hillary was not because they liked her better, but because it was all an ‘excuse’ for thinly veiled antisemitism (Bernie is Jewish), and those voters hopped onto el cheeto’s “alt right” train right after?

        Bernie never played that identity politics card (which makes me respect him more not less) as opposed to Clinton’s ‘I have a vagina, vote for me’ rhetoric which she was forced to use as her being a woman was literally the only thing not establishment about her.

        You identity politics people don’t understand that no one gives a crap if Hillary breaks the glass ceiling when most of us are crawling on the floor. All of this ‘white privilege’ stuff doesn’t help dispelling racism at all, it just gives an excuse for fiscally conservative dems/liberals to shut down anyone opposed to their right wing economic platform, the author of this piece is a prime example of an elitist right wing liberal who likes to say nice things about minorities at polite dinner parties but is afraid Bernie will tax their kids trust fund and they might have to skip a vacation in the Hamptons.

        Meanwhile they don’t give a crap about the working class of any color, they have a disdain for the working class and want to find a socially acceptable way to look down their nose at them and enact policies which benefit their wealthy class while crapping on the poor. The only difference is they can’t crap on poor brown people in public because that would be racist, so they use the rhetoric of anti racism as a socially acceptable way to crap on poor white by calling them racist hicks.

  7. To say “Bernie Sanders didn’t capture the hearts of black voters. Clinton did.” Isn’t just a really bold thing for a white man to say, it’s statistically false. Minority turnout was really bad for this election, especially among Black people that Clinton took for granted. They can hardly be blamed looking at Clinton’s history and empty pandering.

    This is a really desperate effort to put the “r” word on Sanders so you can completely write off his platform, which you completely
    misrepresent as somehow geared towards white people when he simply pointed out, with perfect accuracy, that if you don’t approach the rural white parts of your base then you aren’t going to have a winning coalition and then you can’t do jack for any of your voters, like she is now.

    Clinton Completely overestimated her strength in Pennsylvania, neglected Michigan until the last second, and never even went to Wisconsin. It cost her all three. The DNC lost on the strength of the exact brand of arrogance in this article, and white democrats’ insistence that she was loved by minorities that wouldn’t have voted for Sanders isn’t just false, it’s racist.

  8. Or perhaps, the left should admit that it has lost support because they’re no longer relatable to sane Americans with a shred of common sense. The left has become much more extreme quite rapidly. The social justice left (like the people who run this website) and the “democratic socialists” have gained support. They recognized this, and they pushed things a little further and further, hoping that America would become more left with them.
    But it didn’t work, America got sick of their sh#t. Just look at the title of this article. Any American who has the faintest understanding of liberty and equality knows that the job should go to the best and most qualified individual, regardless of skin color. Equality of opportunity is the only thing that matters. Equality of outcome means nothing.
    MAGA!

  9. Like many Democrats, Ms Harrison, you seem to blame Mr. Sanders for Hillary Clinton’s own failings in 2016, chief among them her decision to proceed as her husband did in the general elections of 92 and 96, high-hand the Democratic base and run as a centrist amenable to business friendly public policy. This approach simply wasn’t going to fly in 2016, and it is not going to fly in 2020. This electorate–millennials especially–expect the Democratic Party to pursue progressive economic policy, and with the vehemence it did in the 30’s and 40’s. It simply won’t embrace a leader like Hillary Clinton, or one who would proceed as Mr Obama did, promising ‘hope and change’ and not delivering such where it counts, i.e. In terms of economic policy. (Not only did Obama fail to deliver economic reform in his two terms of office; he didn’t even try to advance it–a lack of effort prefigured by his ‘Citi-friendly’choice of an economic team in 2009.) It won’t embrace corporatist Democrats.

    As for the favors you would seem to have us believe the Democrats have done the working and middle classes over the past three decades… Pull your head out of your a$$, Ms. Harrison. NAFTA, the Omnibus Crime Bill, welfare reform, deregulation of the financial sector (for instance, with the repeal of Glass-Steagall signed by Bill Clinton)… All of this was the fruit of Democrat initiatives. The Republican’s LOVED it, but that’s what they have always been about: empowering capital over labor, empowering the wealthy to to govern the masses. It will be remembered, just before the Lewinsky scandal put President Clinton on the defensive, he was about to sign onto the ‘grand bargain’ with Newt Gingrich and Erskin Bowles, an act that would have effectively kneecapped two of the Democratic Party’s crowning achievements: Social Security and Medicare.

    Sputiamo su THAT Democratic Party–and you, Ms. Harrison, if that’s the kind of party you espouse–and move on to something better, which may or may not bear its name.

  10. And the kicker is that this clueless, brain dead, feminist, is actually white! LOL!

    Look, we get it: you’re an upper middle class, white girl, who despises working class men.

    In short: you’re a classist.

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