In early February 2016, presidential hopeful, Senator Bernie Sanders spoke out publicly about sexism in the ranks of his more “enthusiastic” supporters. As a Black man, I saw this was a missed opportunity to address the racism allegations just as openly. He has spoken out against racism among the faithful and the campaign issued a memo on the subject. While these were good steps to take, it did not come across strong enough. Senator Sanders could and should have done this in a broader, more powerful way. As a Team Hillary defector, I know both sides’ fans have problematic elements. On the Hillary Clinton side, it is a scathing condescension that permeates any interaction with Hillary skeptics. More detail on that in another article.
Rod Morrow hosts The Black Guy Who Tips podcast with his incredible wife, Karen Morrow. #TBGWT is a hilarious, informative podcast that is unapologetically Black. In 2015, he got into a much-publicized spat with Bernie’s more abrasive fans. He created the hashtag #BernieSoBlack. The result was as funny as it was devastating to the relationship between the Sanders campaign, Black Twitter and the Black community as a whole. Rod was kind enough to answer some questions for me. Before we get there, I would like to be clear about my position.
Full Disclosure: I am feeling the Bern. I know Senator Sanders is imperfect and surely not anyone’s savior. He is simply a much better option than Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for me, the future of my family and the nation. Bernie is already shifting the Overton Window to the Left. That could continue from the Oval Office, and this realignment is sorely needed.
In any event, the Bernie fans in question have become not-so-affectionately known as the Bernie Bros. It is important to note that the Bros are not part of the campaign and do not reflect the views of the candidate. They began as a small, vocal segment of the White, male vanguard of the #FeelTheBern movement. Best known for their insensitivity and tenacity. A dangerous combination for any organization seeking votes. Some have said it’s overblown & has become a silencing tactic. There is truth in both of these views. But, the Bros do exist. I credited this phenomenon to the overlap between Bernie’s views and the positions of the frat boys of American politics- Libertarians.
Having been on both sides for this divide, I have dealt with the Bros & Hillary’s [insert snarky title]. As an older man, I came late to the twitter party (shame face). I dove in with both feet in mid-2015. I was approached by a few Bernie Bros on Twitter and Facebook. At that time, I was shaking my Hillary-is-inevitable pom poms pretty hard. You couldn’t tell me shit. I just blocked or ignored them. As a long time a political junkie, I was no stranger to your favorite Socialist Jew from Brooklyn. I knew he was a political brawler that fights the hard fights and could not be bought or silenced. He was better on the economy, he became better on police brutality, and his platform on race is solid. His bold stances are strategic. He knows nothing goes through Congress unchanged. You have to fight for every inch. He is starting bigger so that the eventual compromise is closer to his goal. I’m a proud Progressive, and it didn’t take long for me to move over.
The Bernie Bros did not help this transition. They were adamant that Bernie’s Civil Rights works, while great & appreciated, should be enough for Black people to jump aboard the Bernie Train- silently. This was troubling. Politics is and always will be about “what you have done for me lately” and “what will you do for me tomorrow.” The Bernie Bros were telling Black people that this did not apply to us. Whether it was intended or not, this is how it came across. Any pushback would cause them to double down and things devolved from there.
Personally, I blocked them and looked at the records/platforms of the candidates and made a choice. Many are still engaged in an extended back-and-forth. Much of it seems more venting about “form over substance” as opposed to discussing issues. Many hold the position that being anti-Bernie has nothing to do with Hillary. The race for the Democratic Party nomination is binary- Hillary or Bernie. A hit to one has a positive impact on the other.
Now you know where I am coming from. Naturally, Rod and I will not see eye-to-eye on this issue. That is fine. People can disagree. Below you will see the questions and responses unedited for your edification & reading pleasure.
Michael Graham: When did the Bern Bros (BB) start coming at you? (ie: summer 2015, fall 2015, etc)
Rod Morrow: When the hashtag #BernieSoBlack took off on Twitter. It was a joke about how his fans badger black people with Bernie’s credentials for blackness (such as marching with MLK) as a response to any critique on Bernie’s current uncomfortableness discussing racism in America.
MG: What was their main argument?
RM: Their main argument was that if Bernie marched with MLK once in the 1960’s, then it was unreasonable to question his racial track record in 2015.
MG: What was your impression of that argument?
RM: It was rude, condescending and dismissive. The idea that black people don’t know what is best for us is patently ridiculous. Black people are the most loyal voting block of the Democratic party, and if we have concerns about being shot in the streets by police then the candidate courting our votes should be concerned as well.
MG: What was your rebuttal to their position?
RM: Much of their argument just delved into “You don’t know what’s best for you” or “What about Hillary” and both of there are really easy to rebut.
A. I do know what’s best for my vote and the issues that affect me the most.
B. This isn’t about Hillary. This is about making any candidate courting the black vote earn it.
MG: Do you think your prominence/platform made you a target?
RM: Only slightly. I’ve watched ANY person of color who’s had an issue with Bernie be attacked. The same with women. He has an issue among his fans and their online presence. They simply aren’t used to the idea that black people won’t just “fall in line.”
MG: What is the goal of your public push back?
RM: I made a joke. That’s what’s been so amazing about all of this. I have no goal. I have no organization. I don’t encourage other people to do anything. The obsession with controlling every single black vote among Bernie’s fans is out of control. They need to accept that not everyone is tied up in their mostly white male revolution or feeling the Bern. And that’s okay. I’ve seen white people calling John Lewis as sell out for not supporting Bernie Sanders. A sellout? That’s how entitled some of these folks can be. It’s not all his fans, but many of them are tone deaf at best and outright racist at worst.
MG: Do you think your pushback is having the intended impact?
RM: I never had an intended impact. It was just a joke that took off. I do think Sanders has made attempts to address race since the hashtag took off, but he’s still mostly milquetoast on the issues of racism today.
MG: Do you think the Sanders campaign missed an opportunity when they chose to so publically address BB sexism instead of racism?
RM: Yes. And at this point, I believe it’s purposeful. He’s heard the critique. He has no interest in addressing it. He will always pivot towards the economy because he thinks that the economic issues are unifying, and the racial issues are “divisive.”
MG: On policy, what do you think of Senator Sanders positions?
RM: They sound unrealistic and far-fetched to me. They are also completely dismissive of the work President Obama has done in the past eight years, which makes me skeptical of Bernie’s platform. He’s extremely left but in his extreme leftness I find him to lack pragmatism. How he could accuse Obama of misleading voters while ignoring the opposition Obama faced and then run on an even more idealistic platform is unrealistic to me.
MG: Do you have any policy suggestions for the Sanders campaign?
RM: No. This man is a lifelong politician. He’s been able to frame his story as the “outsider running for president” and that’s all by design. But at the end of the day I don’t trust him to have black people’s best interests in mind the next time a black person is killed if he’s in office. Neither candidate gives me that feeling and I don’t expect Bernie to magically “get it” after this many months pivoting to the economy.
MG: Do you have any political or messaging suggestions?
RM: Stop pivoting to the economy and stop harassing people who disagree with you online if you’re a Bernie Sanders fan. Just admit he can improve and walk away.
MG: Any additional comments, questions or suggestions…
MG: Also, if you have any tweets/threads we could use for this story, please feel free to share.
RM: I honestly blocked most of the people saying Bernie stuff to me nonstop. I’m sure someone has a Storify or article somewhere.
I would like to thank Rod again for this interview. The Progressive Army has asked him to come on the Benjamin Dixon Show to discuss the whole thing. Hopefully, he will make time.