In an interview with the Daily Beast published today, Sen. Bernie Sanders said something very fucking stupid (emphasis added):
“I think you know there are a lot of white folks out there who are not necessarily racist who felt uncomfortable for the first time in their lives about whether or not they wanted to vote for an African-American,” Sanders told The Daily Beast, referencing the close contests involving Andrew Gillum in Florida and Stacey Abrams in Georgia. “I think next time around by the way it will be a lot easier for them to do that.”
This is flat wrong and pretty damn offensive. White people who do not want to vote for a candidate because that candidate is black are racist. There’s no other way to explain that. It’s true, surely, that there are white voters who might otherwise have voted for the Democrat if the candidates were white. But why go out of your way to reassure those voters that their reasoning wasn’t racist?
Other remarks Sanders made about Gillum—who conceded the insanely close gubernatorial race against Republican Ron DeSantis Tuesday but seems to be rolling that back as the results hurtle toward a likely recount—in the interview were better:
“I think he’s a fantastic politician in the best sense of the word,” Sanders said of Gillum. “He stuck to his guns in terms of a progressive agenda. I think he ran a great campaign. And he had to take on some of the most blatant and ugly racism that we have seen in many many years. And yet he came within a whisker of winning.”
Yes. Good. More like that. Less of the other thing.
Sanders has clearly made something of an effort on race since his 2016 presidential run, when he was prone to gaffes. His website’s section on racial issues is fairly impressive, detailing the myriad types of violence that the state wages on people of color. There doesn’t need to be a conflict between his class-driven critique of America and talking about race, or proposing policies that will specifically address the needs of people of color as well as broader inequality.
But it’s easy to undo all of that work with comments that sound a lot like they’re excusing racism. If Sanders doesn’t think it’s racist for white voters not to vote for Gillum or Abrams because they’re black, he needs some education pretty damn quick—whether he runs in 2020 or not. You cannot be a standard bearer for the Democratic Party in 2018 and say stuff like that, and you certainly can’t believe stuff like that.
Update, 1:55 p.m. ET: Sanders has posted a statement clarifying his remarks to Twitter: