Teen Vogue - February 26, 2020

"Taken together, Biden, Klobuchar, Buttigieg, and Bloomberg represent a four-way race for what many are calling the “moderate” lane of the Democratic primary — in contrast to the “progressive” one where Vermont senator Bernie Sanders and Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren are competing. Sanders has a lot of momentum coming out of the New Hampshire primaries and Iowa and Nevada caucuses and has been performing wellin the latest national polls. And his campaign has been loudly touting the multiracial nature of its coalition, something backed up byhis landslide win in Nevadathat wasdue in part to Latinx voters."

In 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was arrested and taken to a Birmingham, Alabama, jail after leading a peaceful direct-action campaign to protest the treatment of Black Americans in the city. He led the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and their local affiliate, the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights (ACMHR), during several days of nonviolent action to desegregate the city. When King was arrested, he was placed in solitary confinement, where he penned the “Letter From a Birmingham Jail.”

In response to white allies and advocates who were concerned about the peaceful protests in Birmingham, King wrote, “I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice.” King’s concern is a timely reminder that even when white Americans align themselves symbolically with issues facing marginalized people, they frequently fall short of enacting and supporting enduring political change where issues of race are concerned.

Our current-day Democratic Party still suffers from a white moderate problem like the one King identified. Despite beginning with a historically diverse field, the 2020 primary candidates are now relatively monotone both in their melanin levels and their connections to racial minority groups. This is a big problem for a party that has historically relied on people of color as an essential piece of its base while, as 2016 demonstrated, many white voters are willing to put an open racist in the White House.

Former vice president Joe Biden is well known for serving as VP under our first Black president (something he frequently reminds us of) but also for his prominent role during the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings, when he harshly questioned Anita Hill, something he’s since apologized for. In recent years, his gaffes on race — and his history of working with segregationist senators — have led many to question how well suited he is to address the needs of racial minority groups.

Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) has faced increased scrutiny on issues of race because of her office’s handling of the case of Myon Burrell, a teenager whom Klobuchar helped convict for the death of an 11-year-old girl nearly 17 years ago when she was a county attorney in Minnesota. New evidence reportedly uncovered by the Associated Press may show Burrell was innocent, potentially casting her as someone who may have upheld institutional racism that she was in a position to address. (Klobuchar’s campaign has pointed out that a second trial convicting Burrell happened when she was no longer county attorney and said any new evidence should be reviewed.)

Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, continues to struggle in debates when asked about race. Buttigieg’s political career is short but has a surprisingly long history of issues when it comes to race, and he recently made the all too common mistake of wrongly ascribing a postracial ideology to MLK, overlooking MLK’s radical legacy. It’s also worth noting that both Buttigieg and Klobuchar only changed their Martin Luther King, Jr., Day plans in order to attend the commemorations in Columbia, South Carolina, after prominent Black leaders drew attention to their notable absence from the slate of attendees.

These aren’t the only white moderates in the race. Former New York City mayor Mike Bloomberg had been largely looming in the background of the race before he was thoroughly embarrassed onstage at the Nevada Democratic debate by Elizabeth Warren. He was an avid supporter of New York’s calamitous “stop and frisk” policy (which he has now renounced). The policy has resulted in thousands of arrests and searches of mostly Black and Brown people, nearly 90 percent of which were committed against people who were later found innocent, according to the New York ACLU. ...
Read full commentary at Teen Vogue