Tuesday, January 28, 2020

In Session

According to The Daily Beast, back in the 1970s now-Senator and Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders compared working people to the Black slaves of the past. The site also notes:

[...]Sanders’ previously unreported comparisons between the conditions of Vermont workers and that of enslaved people evoke a different element of his campaign—assertions by critics that he tends to view systemic racism primarily through the lens of economic disenfranchisement.
This is nothing new. But it's also not completely unreasonable. The assessment that when resources are scarce, people turn on one another and scapegoat those different from them, while it may not be correct in many (or even any) cases, isn't obviously broken. So why beat Senator Sanders up for believing it?

Part of the problem is the referencing of "systemic racism." This can be understood as a sort of free-floating racism that's unmoored from any given individual's personal feelings. The fact that Black families have less wealth and tend to be in poorer health than White families, for instance, tends to be the sort of thing that's cited as systemic or institutional racism. But it's worthwhile to note that it's rational to view that phenomenon through the lens of economic disenfranchisement to the degree that the perpetuation of systemic racism can be said to rise from opportunity hoarding, which effectively results in "them that has" receiving still more. In the absence of malice or spite, it doesn't make sense for a person who is secure in the level of opportunity they can access to spend time and energy on simply preventing other people from accessing opportunities. And while it can be argued that disadvantaged people need a disproportionate share of the available opportunities to make up the differences between them and their better-off peers, if opportunities are common enough to be there for the asking and there isn't a specific drive to hold them back, eventually, one would expect that they'll close the gap.

And it's worth noting that Senator Sanders isn't the only person to push the idea that Americans should unite over class, rather than divide themselves over race. It's a fairly common argument. The band Arrested Development makes the point in Give A Man A Fish, and I've heard it repeated several times in the intervening decades.

I'm also uncertain that it actually matters how Senator Sanders views systemic racism. He leans substantially further Left than I do, so I have no plans to vote for him, but his views on racism aren't a factor in that calculation. If Senator Sanders were able to remake the nation into something more to his liking, I have little doubt that many Black people in the country would be much better off than they are now, even if he's incorrect about the nature of systemic racism.

This, however, is simply the nature of campaign season, especially one with so many currently viable candidates running for the Democratic nomination. Seeking to sow Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt about other candidates becomes easier than attempting to increase support for one's own, and so critics are everywhere, and the media picks up their complaints because, well, the internet has a lot of room so there's always space for another story.

No comments: