Just how black is Bernie Sanders?
Black Twitter was calling Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders “black” on Sunday, and it’s not because of his civil rights pedigree. Well, not exactly.
To some politically minded Twitter users, the Bernie Sanders who spoke at Saturday’s Netroots Nation conference in Phoenix did not look like the civil rights rabble rouser that he has claimed to be. When protesters began chanting “say her name,” a reference to black women who have died in police custody, Sanders simply talked over the protesters. When asked to speak about recent events such as the death of Sandra Bland, a young black woman who died in a Texas jail after a traffic stop, he shifted the topic to the economy.
FOR THE RECORD
An earlier version of this post misspelled the first name of Twitter user and podcast host Roderick Morrow as Roderic.
After watching video of the conference, Morrow says, he wrote a few tweets expressing disappointment with Bernie Sanders. Soon, he was getting angry tweets from white Sanders supporters (whom he jokingly calls “Standers” – a play on Sanders’ name and “Stan,” a term for a maniacal fan).
“The Standers were angry that we were criticizing him for shutting down those women,” Morrow said in an interview. “They were telling me things like, ‘He was protesting for civil rights before you were born!’ They were saying I should just be thankful that he is here for us. It was almost like they were scolding me, saying that Bernie Sanders is blacker than me. So, I just took that to the extreme, and made a joke.”
The result was #BernieSoBlack.
Morrow posted a few more #BernieSoBlack tweets before leaving for work. By the time he looked at his phone two hours later, it was a trending topic.
The tweets are alternately funny and biting: Bernie’s so black he convinced Abraham Lincoln to free the slaves. Bernie’s so black he constantly gets pulled over by the police. Bernie’s so black he taught Jay-Z everything he knows.
But the conversation around the hashtag seems to be less about bashing Bernie Sanders, and more about voters' rights to push candidates.
“I don't think someone's history of advocating is something to mock,” Morrow said. “Bernie has been an ally, which I respect. But a lot of people, especially black people, feel that some of his supporters are being dismissive of any critique. Some of his fans that just don't want to hear it.”
Since #BernieSoBlack took off, some opposition has formed. Many tweeters are now using the hashtag to argue that the protesters were disrespectful, and to highlight Sanders’ past accomplishments.
“It’s ironic,” Morrow said of these tweets. “They don’t appreciate that we’re asking Bernie to do better.”
Morrow’s hashtag, dashed off in a few spare moments before a recording session, has had more impact than he expected. At a speech in Dallas on Sunday, mere hours after #BernieSoBlack had started, Sanders was more specific in addressing concerns about police brutality against blacks.
Soon after stepping off stage, Bernie Sanders' official account published a tweet that may have been in reference to the chants of “Say Her Name” that interrupted his speech. It read: “I will #SayHerName. Sandra Bland, Eric Garner, Freddie Gray and too many others.”
Later, the official account published another tweet. This one was identical, except without the #SayHerName hashtag. The original was deleted.
#BernieSoBlack is still trending, and conversations about the proper way to criticize a candidate continue. Bernie Sanders – who for the record, is not actually black – seems to have heard the voice of Black Twitter, but may still be deciding how to address it.
Follow me @dexdigi for more on the intersections of culture, politics, and the Internet.
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