This past June (2015) Killer Mike of rap duo Run the Jewels endorsed Bernie Sanders for President. He did this, as he stated, because of Senator Sander’s position to continue the fight for minority voting rights. Killer Mike’s endorsement signaled a major cultural setback for Hillary Clinton’s presidential aspirations. After all former Secretary Clinton has enjoyed huge support within the black and minority communities, except when, with blacks leading the charge, abandoned her for candidate Barack Obama. The very fact that Senator Obama was the blackest and smartest man in the room made it a fait de compli that he would garner over 90% of the black vote. Yet, during this election cycle Clinton’s black support has returned. Ironically, Clinton’s “black credentials” are suspect and she has little credible evidence or a voting record to show her actions helped rather than hindered black life. Senator Sanders, a self-proclaimed socialist worked for decades to uplift black, brown and poor folk and marched with Dr. Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., something no other Presidential candidate can claim. His “black credentials” are authentic. However, he might have a much harder time selling his candidacy to African Americans. This is what black folks in the south used to call a conundrum.
According to a recent Gallup Poll, Clinton received a 71% favorable ratting among nonwhite women. I presume that all facets of the non-white female community wholeheartedly feel an affinity and sisterhood with the former Secretary. Given the ubiquity of gender discrimination this is understandable. But her approval rating among non-white men plummets to just 59%. This is what black folks in the North call ironic. Why is this? What is it about Hillary Clinton that black and minority men seem less likely to support? Is it her gender? My suspicion is that many black men don’t see her as an authentic expression of their worldview. A view marked by the constant necessity to be on guard against societies unsettled relationship toward them. What is particularly interesting about Killer Mike’s endorsement is its veritable validation of Bernie Sanders’ cultural “street cred” which is just another way of saying “cool black M.C. supports my candidacy for President. Who you got?”
It remains to be seen whether any other black “cool guy or girl” celebrity will rush to embrace Sanders. What I do believe is that this election will test the mainstream Democratic National Committee’s narrative of why it controls the black vote. Here is what I mean. Prior to the election of Democrat Franklin Roosevelt as the nation’s 32nd President of the United States in 1930 blacks were predominately members of the Republican Party and in varying degrees also belonged to leftist radical political parties in the United States like- the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA)–If your unaware Bernie Sanders is a self proclaimed democratic socialist (Cornell West is an Honorary National Chairman of the DSA). The Republican Party that emerged from the ashes of the Whig Party in 1854 was formed by radical activists who clamored for the destruction of slavery. After the Civil War newly elected Congressional Black Republicans pushed for Native American, women, and Asian rights. They sought to ensure voting rights were protected and sought to establish free education for all citizens. These very same ideas are those that candidate Sanders has supported all of his political life.
Many African Americans including NACCP co-founder and intellectual W.E.B. Dubois, singer-actor Paul Robeson, economist Abram Harris, Jr. writer Richard Wright, Jamaican American poet Claude McKay, the entire African Blood Brotherhood, members of the Black Panther Party including Angela Davis were all committed socialists. Socialists were always at the forefront of defending and supporting African American civil rights even against extreme white supremacy in the South and in major northern cities. It was socialists not Democrats nor Republicans that defended The Scottsboro Boys, falsely accused of raping two white women in 1931 Alabama. The Boys were defended and supported for years by the International Labor Defense (ILD), a socialist legal advocacy organization.
If candidate Sanders struggles with the black vote it will be with the middle of black America. The middle has always been slow to change course even in the face of injustice (the Black Middle class supported segregationist Woodrow Wilson). However, I believe Killer Mike’s constituency: black men, will be more likely to support Sanders but the real work ahead is with black women. This will require an earnest effort to remind large segments of the black population of the depth and breadth of the black radical tradition. The Sander’s campaign should remind black women that the first African American woman to run for President of the United States was socialist Charlene Mitchell who ran in 1968 (four years before Shirley Chisolm) and Angela Davis who ran for Vice President of the Untied States during the Reagan years. Both were committed to socialist ideals.
A 2015 Reason Rupp poll asked Americans to rate their favorability towards capitalism, socialism, a free market economy and a government managed economy. Socialism received a 36% favorable rating compared to capitalism (55%), and free markets (69%). It’s clear that Americans favor a free and fair market economy over capitalism. Most likely it’s because many Americans have witnessed first hand the destructive force of capitalism. This should give the Sanders campaign a glimmer of hope and provide the necessary data that suggests favorability ratings of American capitalism are low and that socialism can get a hearing from many open minded Americans, particularly black women who are effected in more personal ways by our gender biased capitalist-free market economy. Black women understand from real economic experience there is nothing free about an American free market or fair in a capitalist one either.
African American’s historical legacy of working as socialists and within various socialist political organizations should give every black political consultant and voter pause to reconsider, rethink and re-prioritize our ties to traditional candidates and to a greater point re-evaluate our almost blind political allegiances. Bernie Sanders appeal to the black community is not an aberration and neither is Killer Mike’s support. It’s mainstream black political thought. Bernie Sanders’ campaign represents a return to or at least a shift back toward our political roots. The question is whether Bernie Sanders, who I believe more fully represents the non-racial aspects of black life, can inspire young black voters, in particular black middle class women to care enough to come to the polls in 2016. Killer Mike’s endorsement is a start but more work has to be done.