Sunday, March 13, 2016

#BernieMadeMeWhite: Clinton and the new three-fifths rule

For most of the Democratic primaries, Clinton's campaign has enjoyed the opportunity of dismissing Bernie Sanders supporters as largely white. This was always more of a symptom of name recognition problems than anything, but as Sanders supporters have acknowledged from the beginning, it was also a deficit that he needed to remedy.

As Sanders does so, however, he is beginning to confront Clintonites with an uncomfortable question: at what point do we start taking his significant and growing support among black voters seriously?

Democrats aren't used to thinking about this. Since Republicans can only ever get between 5-10% national support among black Americans it's easy enough to dismiss that as statistically trivial - though even this is a pretty problematic move from an identitarian perspective, which white liberals instantly discover as soon as they try to argue with the rare black Republican. But we don't have to dive into that philosophical argument to notice how it becomes more intuitively suspect to dismiss black voter support for a candidate the higher that support is. Sure, dismiss a candidate who only gets 5% of support among black Americans. But what about 15%? Or 20%? Or 30%?

Because that's about where we are right now:

What percentage of black voters have to support a candidate before liberals decide that s/he can make a legitimate claim to representing them? If we're going by current polls, looks like that number is somewhere around three-fifths. That's what Clinton is getting, and that's the substantive basis for these claims that "Clinton supporters actually ARE...people of color" - as opposed to black Sanders supporters, who haven't reached the crucial 3/5ths threshold where their vote actually counts.

The grim and racist history behind this kind of logic needs little elaboration. Philosophically, I would argue that it's a direct consequence of the problem of identity policing, which requires liberals to make highly subjective (and potentially problematic) judgments about who has claims to the identitarian high ground; but again, we don't have to get into the weeds to notice that there's a problem when white Clinton supporters imply that the ~30% of black voters who support Sanders are not "actually" black.