More On What We Have Learned

For 45* years now, I have been in white movements and organizations, both political and religious, that have been very anxious because black people took no interest in them. I have favored, in succession, most dead-end strategies to change that fact, and repeated every excuse and rationalization ever offered for their failure.

My experience is not special; almost every white progressive has had the same experiences over and over again. (45 years of experience or 1 year 45 times?) We have assumed a natural alliance between the movements for black liberation and the movements for progressive reform, but it's an assumption, a possibility, but not a fact.

It pains me no end to see Unitarian Universalist leaders enthusiastically endorse Bernie Sanders as he makes the same assumptions that we should know from our own experience are fatal to the cause.

Increasing the political power of working class and middle class people will not bring about an end to systemic racism. Almost every great social reform from the New Deal on has helped working class white people more than African Americans, and often increased the wealth gap between them, as a result. Its painful to see race-neutral reforms be proposed without recognition of that history.

It is not true that curtailing the political power of the billionaires will empower African Americans. Systemic racism has a powerful constituency among white people of all classes. Its painful to see that ignored, or discounted.

It is not true that the character and personal history of a leader will determine the character of those the leader leads, anymore than a fired-up UU anti-racist minister will determine how a particular congregation acts. Its painful to see that ignored.

We know that white movements (and churches) rarely become multiracial by attraction, no matter how shiny they are. Building a cross-racial entity takes very deliberate and race-conscious efforts at building new leadership structures. It is painful to see UU's seem to forget this, and assume that large numbers of black voters will be attracted to Bernie down the road because of his anti-billionaire rhetoric.

Frankly, it is painful to see UU's who support a Sanders campaign that doesn't seen to understand intersectionality at all. The gap between black voters and the Sanders campaign is not because black voters don't understand class politics in the USA; it is because the Sanders campaign doesn't understand the politics of race in the USA.

I am not saying that Clinton is superior to Sanders about these progressive illusions. But I take seriously that it seems that African American voters are more inclined to support her than Sanders. They know their interests and options better than I do.

Now, I am told by some people that I trust, that the Sanders campaign might well overcome these problems. After all, Obama started out as a candidate with a base most in the white progressive movements, and then attracted the enthusiastic support of African American voters. Of course, Obama is black himself. There may also be a generational split among African American voters as there has been among whites Democrats. Time will tell; the great thing about the future is that it has happened yet.

*I am not counting from birth, but from when I graduated from college.


  1. One of the first things that made me question my support for Bernie was that the most effective young UU activists I know, a young gay Latino man, is a passionate Bernie supporter. So we're most of my most feminist friends. I like Bernie and have given him money but Race and gender issues don't seem to be well understood by him although I think he cares. Too many of his supporters are actively misogynist and condescending to POC.

  2. I meant to say (above) that Kurt is a Hillary supporter as are most of my feminist friends. I see almost no conversation about feminist issues or race issues by Bernie supporters.


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