Economic and Racial Justice Must Go Hand-In-Hand

There has been another flare up in the never-ending hellscape that is Bernie vs. Hillary Twitter. The fight du jour revolves around an article by Ryan Cooper for The WeekWhy leftists don’t trust Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, and Deval Patrick.

In the article, Cooper lists some key positions each of the aforementioned politicians have taken that have ruffled the feathers of the left. In Harris’ case, it’s her refusal “to prosecute Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin’s old company OneWest for numerous instances of almost certain illegal foreclosure.” For Booker, it’s his “ties to Wall Street.” And Patrick’s role as managing director for Bain Capital is what invites Cooper’s ire.

Cooper then attempts to head off a likely criticism of these critiques: the politicians in question are all people of color. Cooper writes:

If the center wants to win over a suspicious left, they can start by clearly explaining their policy orientation, particularly in areas where they might have fallen short by the supposed standards of the modern Democratic Party — which all three of the above candidates have done in various ways. If they want to deepen divisions, they can use cynical accusations of bigotry to try to beat back any leftist challenger.

This wasn’t sufficient for prominent racial justice activist Samuel Sinyangwe, who tweeted:

Sinyangwe followed up with an explanation of his criticism, including his interaction with Bernie Sanders and what he felt was insufficient attention paid specifically to the role race plays in economic inequality:

All of this attracted the attention of heavy hitters on Bernie Twitter, including The Intercept journalist Glenn Greenwald:

(Greenwald was likely drawn to this tweet because it was retweeted by CAP president Neera Tanden, with whom he is strangely obsessed, but that’s a story for a different time.)

Another journalist at The Intercept, Lee Fang, piled on. And here’s where things get really nasty:

Understandably, Sinyangwe didn’t take the comparison to a far-right white supremacist well. Sinyangwe, whose work has primarily focused on ending police militarization and brutality against people of color, clearly shares nothing with the man who cheers violence against minorities. But Fang stuck to this line of reasoning in his follow-up tweets as well:

“Your race determines your social values in society.” Of the many unfair accusations Fang lobbed against Sinyangwe, this one in particular revealed a more sinister element of Fang’s core values; and it’s representative of a broader issue that those of us on the left must deal with.

I don’t know whether race informed the criticism of Harris, Booker or Patrick. But dogpiling on a black activist—one who has consistently stood up against the very policies and practices criticized in the article—is not the appropriate response.

I personally believe that the leftist policies of folks like Bernie Sanders are vitally important if the United States ever hopes to achieve some semblance of equality. But should those policies intentionally and fervently dismiss the experiences and voices of people of color, then the goal will be missed.

The democratic socialist left readily states that powerful capitalist groups and individuals have sustained and ingrained an unacceptable culture of inequality in this country. That those same groups have solidified that inequality by systematically suppressing people of color—from slavery to the shortcomings of progressive programs such as the New Deal—is a fundamental truth that must inform leftist policies going forward.

Which is what people like Sinyangwe are asking. His critique of Bernie Sanders was not a general complaint about his policies; it was a demand that Sanders’ policies also address specifically the ways that people of color disproportionately suffer at the hands of capitalism. Similarly, his defense of Harris, Booker and Patrick was not a call for less corporate oversight or tighter connections with Wall Street, but rather that the left acknowledge its history of reserving its harshest criticisms for minority politicians. Both of these ideals can and should be cohesive with the broader economic goals of the far left. Erasing these critiques that are, yes, acknowledgements of the role race plays in this conversation is counterproductive to building on the momentum of democratic socialism.

This weekend, thousands of socialists are gathering in Chicago for the 2017 Democratic Socialists of America convention. These fervent activists are doing important work to bring down the neoliberal infrastructure that promotes inequality in this country. But already some people have noted the blatant whiteness of the convention.

Some, such as Greenwald and Fang, might say that acknowledging the lack of diversity at the conference is a cowardly attempt to discredit the work of these leftists. Or worse, they might call it an attempt to silence the voices of the people of color who are in attendance. But if the DSA wants to be the voice of the American working class, it must acknowledge that its current delegation is not representative of the diversity that makes up its supposed constituency.

For a stronger democratic socialist movement, the left must ensure that the decision makers accurately reflect the people for whom the decisions are being made. Otherwise a movement hell-bent on dismantling inequality in America could end up reinforcing that which it most despises.

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