With the United States being right in the middle of election season, observing debates, scrutinizing media appearances and feeling the pressure of picking “the right one” in a field of 20+ Democratic candidates, the persistent question of where to draw the line for discernment has become a favorite issue to argue on social media.
Somehow, the idea that assessing a candidate’s platform and being vocal about what works and what does not has come to equal being divided and vulnerable to the opposition. In all fairness, this idea comes from the belief that those who supported Bernie Sanders in 2016 chose to vote for Trump, a third-party candidate or stay home altogether, and if they had stayed with the party line and voted for Hillary Clinton, we would not have this current administration. While there is a lot of truth to that, there is also something else at play here: The fear of effectively addressing racism and oppression in this country.
Many of us who are white and on the Left tend to be very vocal about confronting racism until we are faced with the fear of losing something we consider to be more important. We want to look for the candidate who has the best chance to win, but if they have some racist skeletons in their closet, our instinct is to ignore or rationalize that if we consider them to be more electable. We often give them a pass under the guise that “there is no perfect candidate.” While this may seem to be perfectly logical reasoning by those of us who are white, we do not have the historical context or the actual lived experience of having our needs, values, and lives so consistently set aside for “the benefit of us all” in fact, “us all” seldom includes people of color.
Our biases can be so strong, in fact, that when our favorite candidate is questioned, we believe they are being so much more unfairly scrutinized than all of the others. In the same way that Trump supporters believed from day one that he and Melania were the targets of more hate than any other President and First Lady in history—I guess they did not consider what was thrown at the Obamas to be hate—Marianne Williamson supporters feel the same about her: that no other candidate is having to answer as much for their stance and history on the issues of Black America. Have her supporters not been paying attention to the constant questioning of Kamala Harris’s record as a prosecutor or the backlash Joe Biden continues to receive for things he has said and done? It is our inherent need to be “right” and to protect ourselves that leave us unable to see a situation from a neutral space. It is our instinct of self-preservation that prompts us to flippantly dismiss those who do not look like us…and so early in the presidential race, at that.
There is often the argument that bringing up race causes divisiveness, and that there are times when we should not do that. I would offer that when we shut down race conversations, that is the true divisiveness—in doing so, we are literally cutting people out of the conversation. It is quite hypocritical to claim to stand for equality and then tell a marginalized group of people that they need to shut up about the things that affect them most directly. Some may argue, but I believe that it is a conscious choice on some level to put our (white) needs first, and it simply does not work.
As we move forward through the primaries, let’s force ourselves to open up our minds, hearts, and ears to begin listening and hearing from everyone. We can’t have an America that is of the people, by the people, and for the people if we exploit our people.
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