White Privilege on the Left

Common Dreams posted this yesterday and also put it in their Facebook page:

A Thought for Sanders: Maybe He Should Join the Democratic Party?

It’s a thoughtful article. While I don’t agree with everything in it, the basic idea is a good one. The caption on the Facebook post was, “Okay… have at it, folks.” That means Common Dreams knew their (mostly white) readership would have a field day whining about the article. Sure enough, well… the most popular comment was the following:

THIS kind of thing is why the  progressive movement has been stalled for more than a generation. It is why the Republican Party has been able to run over us for more than 40 years. it is why most states are being run by Republicans, even though they are awful. And it’s been going on for a generation; this is not a new thing with Bernie Sanders.

The problem, of course, is white privilege. How could it be anything but? White liberals only make up about 10 percent of all progressives, if that, and they willing  gave up their role as the Democratic Party’s “base” back in 1968, when they decided to picket the Democratic Convention and not the Republican Convention.  White liberals are not a reliable voting bloc for Democrats and haven’t been for some time, so what else could their constant references to being the “Democratic Party’s base” be, except white privilege, writ large?

How could anyone who doesn’t feel entitled believe the solution to the progressive movement’s problems is demanding that the 90 percent of progressives who are Democrats come over to them and join them? Why would anyone expect that, except that they obviously think that being white gives them some special knowledge; knowledge the “others” in the Democratic Party don’t have because, well… what? Because they’re not white?

The Democratic Party’s base is made up of People of Color, Latinos, most LGBTQ folks, most women and recent immigrants, meaning first or second generation. Unions overwhelmingly support Democrats, as well. What do white liberals who irrationally support Bernie Sanders (and before him, Ralph Nader, Ted Kennedy, John Anderson, et al – like I said, this goes back a long way) know that the above groups don’t?

If you are white and you firmly believe “The Democrats” have left you behind, the rational reaction is to ask why, not to demand that everyone follow you, no matter how wrong you are. If you have certain positions on issues, the way you build support is to get your message out. However, you also have to be prepared for the fact that not everyone will agree with you. of course, if you’re selling a message, you have to take it to your target audience.

Standing outside the Democratic Party and demanding that they accept your whiteness as gospel literally cannot work. If you want to move the Party to the left, you have to join it. You have to get inside and attend meetings and vote in better officials. Political parties are organic; they reflect the people inside who actually participate in the process of deciding what the party stands for. To believe that the tens of millions of voters who habitually vote Democratic will just adopt a “progressive” stance because they want you to join them is just plain insane. It’s a function of you own ego, and it’s not at all rational. The fact that you love your stance on issues and think everyone should feel that way is a function of your ego and nothing more.

Let’s be clear:

  • White liberals do not know more about being a person of color than people of color do;
  • White liberals don’t know more about the poor than the poor do;
  • White liberals don’t know more about healthcare than families who have to depend on it every day of their lives;
  • White liberals don’t know more about what it’s like to be gay and trans than gay and trans people do.

And one more thing, my fellow white liberals… and this is important…

You have to compromise.

I know… you’ve been taught that compromising is a “sell-out,” but everything in life is a compromise, especially in politics. Believing that there is one solution for every problem and that you have it, is not a sign of “principle.” In fact, it’s the opposite. Daily, I have to remind some white liberal or another that the issue with healthcare is universal access that doesn’t cost a family everything, NOT “single payer.” When California chose to re-think the “single payer” route, it wasn’t a “betrayal,” it was an acknowledgement that it will take a lot of time and effort and a veritable shitload of money. And being the only state to do so will make a lot of things very hard to do.

The comment above is a function of pure ego. leave the egomania to the right; it has no place on the left at all. We all have to work together. of course, what makes more sense is for the 10 percent of progressives on the far left to work with the other 90 percent because there is no way the other 90 percent are going to flock to the 10 percent en masse. That’s just absurd.


Also published on Medium.


White Privilege on the Left — 8 Comments

  1. I still don’t know what a progressive is, but liberals LISTEN respectfully, we learn we engage and then we debate. Hilary went on a listenig tour, Hilary is a liberal.

  2. Thanks, Milt, your topic is important and your analysis is correct. My pet peeve for some years has been the way these people yammer about The Party Base, believing themselves to be that base when in fact that base is the women and POC and the impoverished and the highly educated professionals – all of whom they actively despise.

    • The article they posted wasn’t bad. It was the comments that were the real problem. That unicorn mentality kills me.

  3. I like this except for one point – don’t encourage them to join the party and elect new leaders. They are doing that now and causing havoc and even suing in at least one state, because they take the same attitude you so aptly describe when they get inside the Party. They apply their purity test and rail against Dem candidates who don’t meet every checkoff. They need a leader(s) to calmly train/teach them the facts and the rules – reality.

      • Purity and third party politics in the Bay Area of CA have excluded POC unless they bow down to Bern. It is hostile to anything anyone does outside of their circle. It’s that bigoted mindset – all politics, nothing about people – that keeps them small EVEN in the Bay Area.