Bernie Sanders Lost Minnesota Because He Fought For Racial Justice

Drawing By Nathaniel St. Clair

Other than the refreshingly Bernie agnostic Jeffrey St. Clair, I don’t remember a single left commentator admitting that Bernie Sanders really wasn’t doing better in 2020 than he was in 2016. Bernie Sanders had a disappointing week, and this was especially true in Minnesota, where he won handily in 2016. How is it possible that Bernie, despite huge rises in Latino voters, and moderate rises in black voters, has not taken off in 2020?

I look around my pathetic racist state of Minnesota and I have to admit there can only be one explanation: Bernie is losing white voters because he is standing up for people of color. It wasn’t that long ago that Bernie would awkwardly brush off questions of race by looking at disparities in race solely through the lens of class.

Bernie’s obstacles, pointed to by progressives, are many, but they are the same in 2016 as in 2020: corrupt media, billionaire-funded campaign finances, establishment politicians and low voter turnout among young people. The one thing that has changed is Bernie himself.

Just as the Bernie phenomenon, in general, is a product of working people organizing, so too is his expanded focus on racial issues in 2020. Activists of color pressed Bernie, and to his credit, or maybe just to his political ambition, he listened. Bernie has come out more strongly against the military-industrial complex, the prison industrial complex, and the deportation machine.

Bernie’s record is far from perfect on race—whether that be war and peace, criminal justice or immigration. He should be held accountable for his past and future actions, which of course were establishment enough to get him this far.

But Bernie is radical in comparison to the striking racism of his opponents. Amy Klobuchar, Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg and Mike Bloomberg all built their careers largely on the criminalization, policing and incarceration of people of color. Minnesota adores Amy Klobuchar because she protects the white middle class at the expense of the darker underclass. Elizabeth Warren remains superficial and treacherous in her creepy technocratic appeal that only reaches white progressives. In this primary, Bernie Sanders stood alone in his concern for working-class people of color. It is extremely disheartening that Bernie’s white supporters have turned on him.

The left should never celebrate defeat. There should always be an interest in power. But losing racist Minnesota should be a badge on Bernie’s honor. What he is counting on is that what he loses in racist whites, he gains in people of color. This country needs to get on board and get on board quickly. Trump’s racism is not a matter of character, as white supremacist liberals would like you to believe, nor is it a superficial game, as the white left will tell you. Rather, the white supremacy of the Trump administration is used to further cement class rule. America’s white folks, even the progressive ones, still don’t get it.

Nick Pemberton writes and works from Saint Paul, Minnesota. He loves to receive feedback at