During Sunday night’s Democratic presidential debate in Flint, Michigan, CNN moderator Don Lemon stirred the pot a little by asking Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders to name their own personal “racial blindspot,” and on Monday morning’s edition of CNN’s New Day, Clinton campaign spokesperson Karen Finney slammed Bernie Sanders’ response to that question.
Finney complained about Sanders’ overall “disrespectful” tone, and singled out his response to the blindspot question as “troubling” and “disturbing”:
I thought it was at times a little bit disrespectful, and there were times where it seemed, it felt a little bit desperate. Both the tone and sort of the nature of the attacks, and frankly some of his answers I found a little bit troubling. For example, when talking about, you know, racial blind spots and suggesting about “Well, white people don’t understand black people because they don’t live in ghettoes,” I found that very disturbing.
Finney is isolating part of Sanders’ response, in which he said “when you’re white, you don’t know what it’s like to be living in a ghetto. You don’t know what it’s like to be poor. You don’t know what it’s like to be hassled when you walk down the street or you get dragged out of a car.”
That wasn’t the only part of Sanders’ answer that was a little bit off, though. He also told a story about a black congressman who didn’t bother trying to get a taxi because taxis don’t stop for black passengers. In describing the incident, though, Sanders explained that the congressman didn’t take cabs because “he was humiliated by the fact that cabdrivers would go past him because he was black.”
I’ve heard a lot of emotions attributed to that particular experience, and others like it, but “humiliated” isn’t one of them.
Ironically, though, Sanders’ responses came the closest to actually responding to the question, even if unintentionally. Lemon was pretty clear in explaining what he meant by “racial blindspot,” and he even explained it twice because Hillary initially blew off the question to answer some other question, and yet both candidates gave answers that were not about racial blindspots at all.
A racial blindspot isn’t something you don’t know about being black. That’s not a spot, that’s your whole life. A blindspot is an area of insufficient understanding that you need to work on. You can’t work on getting jacked up by the cops or followed around a department store when you’re white, but you can work on trying to understand it, for example.
Both candidates missed a great opportunity to address their own blindspots, which for Hillary, might have meant explaining how she maybe has had to work on understanding how black people feel when they hear the word “Superpredator” (which even came up during the debate) or how they felt when, in 2008, she talked about “hard-working Americans, white Americans”:
See, that’s a blind spot, as is Bernie’s still-fairly-recent (November) assessment of “demographic stuff” and the white vote:
Both candidates have made a great effort to court black voters with ambitious policies, but they have also each demonstrated a weakness when it comes to listening to criticism from black activists. That’s unfortunate, because their raft of policy ideas only mean something if black voters can trust that once President Sanders or President Clinton takes office, they will still be listening.
This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.