#BernieSoBlack: Why Bernie Sanders's advice to black youth reeks of white privilege

By now, everyone has probably seen this clip. This past weekend, the Democratic candidates for spoke at a criminal justice forum at Benedict College in Columbia, South Carolina. The forum was originally sponsored by a group that gave Donald Trump an award, and Sen. Kamala Harris took sharp issue with it, refusing to participate in a forum sponsored by any group that normalizes and gives a platform to a white nationalist president. Harris agreed to return after the group was removed.

When the forum - formally dubbed the Second Step Presidential Justice Forum - did take place over two days, all the top-tier white candidates, including Vice President Biden, Sen. Warren, and Bernie Sanders, were asked by students attending the forum what advice they would give to young people the next time they were stopped by a police officer, were those young people their son or daughter.

Joe Biden's response was frank. "Well, if you were my daughter," said Biden,"  you’d be a Caucasian girl and you wouldn’t be pulled over." The audience broke out in applause at this response not simply because it was humorous but it acknowledged Biden's own whiteness and white privilege. It acknowledged that as part of that privilege, Biden's children would be exempt from that experience. And it succinctly demonstrated institutionalized racism, which he called out by name as well. After that, Biden went on to explain his criminal justice reform plan.

Elizabeth Warren's response fell along the same lines. Like Biden, she also acknowledged her and her children's white privilege. She said that it's not a conversation she has ever had to have with her children because they are not at risk from police. She went further to emphasize that it was not the fault of the black youth targeted but of the system of discrimination. She completed her answer with appealing to the young man asking the question to help her change the system so that it's no longer a conversation parents of black children have to have in future generations.

Then there was Bernie. Well, actualaasly Bernie spoke before both Biden and Warren, but you get my gist.

Bernie Sanders, like Karu Daniels said at The Root, has all the answers. Bernie, who knows all and feels all and is the champion of all the downtrodden and the forgotten, advised the young black man asking the question that he should "politely" ask the officer for their name and be "respectful" (umm, I think the real word Bernie was searching for was 'deferential') in order to avoid getting "shot in the back of the head."

Welp. He then goes on to tell the student to try to make sure the police officer's camera is on...

I am a person of color, but I am not black, let alone black youth. But anyone (well, anyone not so enamored by Bernie that he can do no wrong) can see the immediate problems: First, Bernie Sanders refuses to acknowledge his own white privilege. I am not sure whether that is because he thinks himself exempt from it or he believes his whiteness is not a factor in how he is choosing to advise black youth. I'm not sure which is worse.

But if he doesn't realize how deep his white privilege is, he proves his participation in it by advising that the student get the officer's name and making sure the police officer's camera is on. Imagine you've been pulled over for driving while black. You're worried what the officer will do. You're worried about putting your hands in your pocket even to get your wallet, lest the officer "think" you got a weapon. You're worried about whether they will find some excuse to search your car and put you in cuffs and take you to jail because of a bag of flour in your trunk they "suspect" is cocaine. Is the first thing going through your head, "Oh, I wonder who this guy is? Let me get ID!"?

"Respect" what they are doing, though, Bernie advises. Because otherwise, you might get shot in the back of the head. That is another way of saying that black people are getting killed by police because they don't show enough respect for law enforcement. That it's their fault.

Even if Bernie's advice weren't so offensive, the focus on what black individuals can do to avoid being further mistreated by police also misses the mark on the need to address systemic, institutionalized racism.

Look, people who are not black or have never raised a black child have no idea what it's like to raise a black child in America. They don't know how to have these conversations.

That's okay. That's not their fault. Acknowledge that. Listen. Ask how you can help. No one will fault you for not knowing. In fact, it's much better to simply say you don't know how to have that personal conversation (but that you are willing to listen and focus on reform).

If we want to talk about respect, that would be respectful.

Like what you read? Keep us going.