Ghet·to – a part of a city, especially a slum area, occupied by a minority group or groups
Sen. Bernie Sanders may have torpedoed his chances of rallying undecided Black voters around his candidacy for the White House.
Sanders, the socialist from Vermont, is under fire this week for using the word “ghetto” in a reference to African-American families.
It was a self-inflicted political dagger to the heart of his campaign — and angry reaction was swift.
Even the mothers of Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis — two young men killed in high-profile shootings — have stepped up to criticize Sanders.
“Sen. Sanders is wrong to suggest that the concept of the ghetto is inextricably connected to Black America, just as he was wrong to yet again defend his NRA-backed position on guns,” Sybrina Fulton, mother of Trayvon Martin, said in a statement on Tuesday.
Here’s what happened: During the recent CNN debate in Flint, Michigan, about what “racial blind spots” he had, Sanders said this: “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.”
Black folks took to social media immediately to condemn Sanders, saying the implication incorrectly suggests that only African-Americans live in poverty. Statistics show, in fact, that many more whites live below the poverty line, particularly in rural areas of the country.
“We need a president who understands Black families don’t all live in ghettos — and who has a plan to end the racial violence that too often plagues families like mine,” Fulton said.
Sanders made an ill-advised comment while he was honestly trying to explain the mindset of some whites about Blacks. But in trying to explain white attitudes about Blacks, he inadvertently, and ironically, made the point about his own racial blind spots.
A year ago, this may have been be a blip on the screen, but in the thick of a heated presidential campaign, for some, it’s now a firestorm.
On Monday, Sanders sought to clarify his earlier remarks, hoping to put the controversy behind him. But I believe Sanders made the situation worse.
“What I meant to say is when you talk about ghetto, traditionally what you are talking about is African-American communities,” Sanders told reporters in Detroit.
When you’re in a hole, Bernie, stop digging.
In addition to the “ghetto” controversy, Sanders has more problems: The NRA defended Sanders’ position that gun manufacturers should receive special immunity protections from lawsuits when their guns kill Americans.
“Combating gun violence is a top priority for my family and countless families across this nation,” Lucia McBath, mother of Jordan Davis, said in a statement. “That’s why it’s so disappointing to see the NRA defending Senator Sanders on guns. Families need to be able to hold gun manufacturers and dealers accountable when their weapons kill our children. We need a president who will fight for that – not someone who toes the NRA line.”
Sanders’ troubles comes at a critical time in the presidential election. Hillary Clinton, the Democratic frontrunner, has rallied thousands of African-American voters around her candidacy. She has received endorsements from all segments of the African-American community including influential ministers, politicians, educators – and Fulton and McBath.
Sanders is still hoping to make inroads with the Black community. He even met with Rev. Al Sharpton in Harlem last month. Sanders already has an uphill climb to rally Black voters and his “ghetto” comments and his position on gun manufactures will only make his trek to securing the Democratic nomination for president even more difficult.
Although he won Michigan last night, Sanders is still well behind Clinton, who picked up more delegates with a win in Mississippi on the strength of her Black support.
For Sanders, this mess he created is probably a teachable moment, one that will force the 74-year-old senator from Vermont (perhaps the whitest state in the nation) to choose his words more carefully when discussing race.
What do you think?