Middle Ground

By James Caleb Saffo

I’ve always been a bit of an idealist. Much of that bright-eyed optimism has been replaced by a cynicism that only the real world can create, but when it comes to the things that I am passionate about, I still just can’t help myself.

I first tasted passion for the results of a presidential election in 2008, but that was mostly a product of those around me. My parents, grandparents and the adult role models in my life were so excited about the prospects of Barack Obama being elected, that, as a 13-year-old, my enthusiasm was more or less wanting those I loved to witness history than for any personal attainment (very selfless of me, I know).

Barack Obama

While I was thrilled with the joy that President Obama’s election gave those around me, by my freshman year of college my political fervor had cooled when I realized that the color of the man’s skin was just about as different as the proceedings of his terms (which is not to say that President Obama did not accomplish great things in his eight years; he did as much as he did with eight years of incompetent coworkers).

My second brush with political passion came as I began to dread Hillary Clinton’s painless path to the presidency, when I stumbled upon who was then known as the “other” Democratic candidate, Bernie Sanders. I was taken with his now well-publicized history with the Civil Rights Movement, his policies and, maybe most of all, his desire for a departure from the status quo.

That desire, and the desire for a Killer Mike vice presidential nom, hit a roadblock in my home state on March 1, when Sanders suffered a resounding loss to Clinton, drawing only 28.2 percent of the state’s otes to Clinton’s 71.3 percent. Even more debilitating was how poorly Sanders polled among black voters,  more than 81 percent of African American voters selected Clinton. 

I couldn’t believe that, after Sanders had made it a point to target the black community, that black voters would overwhelmingly support the candidate who supported (but admittedly did not vote for) Barry Goldwater when she was our age.

How could this be when Sanders has commanding support among millennials, with some nationwide polls placing his lead among voters under 30 at 58 percent? Well that boils down to one simple fact: old people vote more than young people. A lot more. Which is a problem, but that’s a topic for another article.

bernie2So I turned to my most reliable source of information for answers: my momma. I asked her how Sanders’ message could fall on deaf ears among the very demographic group he was going out of his way to reach. Her answer was short: in essence, Bernie’s message was too good to be true.

It was at this moment that I realized how different my parents’ generation was from my own. I mean, I had recognized it years ago, but my mother’s response spoke volumes. We debated (as fiercely as I could without evoking whoopings of old), and I found myself growing more and more frustrated with her as she ventured closer and closer to, in my mind, defending Hillary Clinton. I squashed the conversation before it got any more heated.

It was only after the conversation ended that I began to ponder why our stances were so different. That’s when I began to think about her and my father’s generation. The bridge generation between two social revolutions, who are now watching their children run toward the same good fight their parents did, albeit in a drastically different context.

As the in-between generation, our parents saw the trials that their parents faced, even if only as children. Bernie Sanders, regardless of your personal opinion of him, is a radical politician. When you grew up watching grim ends for radical black movements, it’s easy to understand why one would prefer the middle ground, even if that ground is the status quo.

bernie3

They were sold a false bid of social goods—so were we. But we don’t have actual memories of “Whites Only” signs and lynch mobs and an actual dangerous Ku Klux Klan to compare to our current experiences. That’s why they view our enthusiasm for political and social revolution as naïveté, while we might view their stance as complacency.

Is their stance reactionary? Perhaps. Know what else is reactionary? A sizeable portion of this country possibly countering the election of a black man as president with an individual who won’t denounce the former grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. When people see something that is, in their mind, scary and unnecessary, their response is often, “Why can’t we go back to the way things were?”

Bernie4

Does this mean that I understand why a black person who is educated on the issues would vote for Hillary Clinton over Bernie Sanders? No. But I’m trying to, and that’s the point. So often in the black community, I’ve seen individuals talking at each other instead of with.

I’ve seen it occur harmlessly, when the women in my family yell for hours on Thanksgiving without anyone hearing the other; I’ve seen it actually divide personal and professional relationships. And I’ve seen it cause a generational gap between this generation and our predecessors.

Maybe if we can unite under seeking to understand, rather than trying to be understood, we could solve a few issues in our community that persist deeper than who will be the next president. But don’t mind me if I sound naïve. That’s just my idealist talking.

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