black liberals who go out of their way to protect the establishment are a special kind of vicious

June 14, 2017

In March, when Donna Brazile finally admitted to using her former position as a CNN commentator to relay questions ahead of debates to Hillary Clinton during the Democratic primary (for months she had referred to these actions as “alleged”), she highlighted a particular kind of impediment to Black liberation that often goes overlooked but is especially insidious.

Though whether or not her Democratic opponents would have been much better for Black communities is certainly debatable, what was clear is that Hillary Clinton represented the concentration of power in the party––a career politician who played the game, waited her turn, and more or less always toed the party line. Sanders may not have been much better, but he did threaten to shake up the Democratic Party, a party that is not built to serve Black communities even though Black voters have consistently supported it when faced with no other option but the overtly racist, regressive party of President Trump. Rarely, however, have we ever received anything in return.

By Hari Ziyad*, AFROPUNK Writer

There are certainly good arguments for the Democratic Party being the “lesser of two evils” when juxtaposed only with Republicans, and it is understandable that many Black people find prominent places within the party because of this. What is less excusable is the way many of these Black liberals learn to prioritize the party over their people, and would rather protect the establishment than support any movement that might threaten it enough to create a better alternative for Black communities.

Take MSNBC’s Joy Reid, who may not have gone the lengths of Brazile to undermine those pushing the party to the left, but she certainly had no love for Sanders and Co. and was very vocal about it, likening them to a “college friend who stays at your place for weeks, pays $0, eats your food & trashes your aesthetic.”

Like Brazile, Reid’s comments point to her being a Democratic insider, in a metaphorical college house with Democrats. Sanders’ supporters have responded to these statements with predictable, thinly veiled anti-Black vitriol (calling it a “tirade,” invoking the angry Black woman), but the implications of Reid’s statements are far bigger than the Vermont Senator and his white supporters. Given that the most drastic pushes to the left are needed and proposed by Black radicals, and this metaphorical homelessness best represents the stateless status of Black and Indigenous people in America, Reid’s tweet could also apply to radical Black and Brown leftists, even those of us who did not support the Vermont Senator.

Here, Reid shames us for even daring to push for something better, implying that we should be grateful that Democrats even let us in to their home in the first place, regardless of the treatment we continue to receive once inside. What she fails to mention is the fact that just because she is inside doesn’t mean all the rest of us are, and though her fate might be tied to the party with which she shares this college house, for many Black poor folks especially, any free future requires the dismantling of the house entirely. And we know what Audre Lorde said about the master’s tools. This is why Reid is able to argue for solutions that only further obscure the underlying problems, like “compassionate capitalism” and ignore the inherent violence of oppressive systems:

This is also why establishment-approved Black politicians like rising star Cory Booker are able to build a career that looks progressive on the surface but is propped up by anti-Black histories, such as supporting Betsy DeVos’s nonprofit education advocacy organization as a champion of civil rights and promoting the dismantling of public education through a support of charter schools and legitimizing Zionism.

Brazile, Reid and Booker all represent a class of Black liberal elites whose fortunes are more tied up with the Democratic party than with their people. It is a special kind of viciousness because these are people with whom other Black folks are forced into community by virtue of their Blackness, and so we expect our needs to be as much a concern for them as theirs are to us. But because whiteness awards even Black folks for the distance they are able to create from Black communities, a seat at the table often requires those who “get on,” so-to-speak, to distance themselves from the rest of us as a show of gratitude for their place, or they are threatened with losing what they achieved.

Political differences aside, what should be clear is that Black people pushing for more space to imagine better futures is absolutely necessary, and that space cannot be made within the confines of the two-party system as established. Ignoring the question of whether or not liberalism and the Democratic party are necessary evils in the short term, what is more necessary in any term is ensuring Black life matters, because every day we are faced with what should be an unbearable reality: that it doesn’t. This requires a political affiliation with Black people above party, and the constant support of those who risk their own lives and careers to challenge establishment structures, even if you yourself cannot undertake that work.

*Hari Ziyad is a New York based storyteller and writer for AFROPUNK. They are also the editor-in-chief of RaceBaitR, deputy editor of Black Youth Project, and assistant editor of Vinyl Poetry & Prose. You can follow them on Twitter @hariziyad.