What's "out of context" about the Sanders "When you're white ..." quote?

Per Snopes “A quote from Bernie Sanders about institutional racism was taken out of context by both pro-Sanders and anti-Sanders groups”.

I certainly agree that the pro-Sanders people twisted the statement, in pretending that it was a statement made to him by a woman, and not a statement by him about white people.

But I don’t see the lack of context in the anti-Sanders presentation. He seems to be clearly giving this as a blind spot that a white person would have, in the inability to even understand the concept of poverty. What other interpretation is there?

[FTR, I have no doubt Sanders is well aware there is plenty of poverty among white people. But he has faced criticism of being ill-attuned to African-American issues, and ISTM that he was overcompensating and pandering here. But he said what he said. It’s not out of context.]

It isn’t being taken out of context, but I don’t think he intended to say what he said. He had a brainfart.

OK, it sounds like a small stumble in extemporaneous speaking. It happens. Sanders, of course, has been both white and poor at the same time.

He pulled a Biden, it happens.

Not quite a Biden-style gaffe, more Sanders’ usual trouble talking about issues that aren’t a priority for him. We saw it with immigration last night too. Vox criticized Sanders for not being familiar with his own platform on immigration, which just screams “Delegated to staffers”. And if he wasn’t ready to talk about immigration at a Univision debate, when will he ever be? Same goes for Sanders and race. he may not be a one issue candidate, but he definitely only cares about one issue.

He managed to simultaneously piss off two different groups of hero who he’s already having a difficult time attracting.

  1. Whites who have grown up poor and/or lived in the ghetto.

  2. Blacks who didn’t do either and don’t like white people who equate that with being black.

I do think it’s an indication that Sanders still doesn’t completely get it. The problems black people face in America aren’t the same problems that poor people face. Yes, many people are poor and black and they get both sets of problems. But the problems black people face go beyond being poor and living in a ghetto.

Look at the first example Sanders gave. The guy was a United States congressman. So it’s safe to assume he was not poor and didn’t live in a ghetto. But he was black and he couldn’t get a cab to stop for him because of that.

Sanders’ programs have been addressed to helping poor people. But Sanders has to realize that even if he completely solved the problems of poverty, black people would still have problems.

OK, so it sounds like no one agrees with Snopes here.

The passing cabbies didn’t know that he was a US congressman who didn’t live in a ghetto.

The broader point is that if black poverty were eliminated, then black crime rates would probably also go down by a lot, and to the extent that some discrimination against blacks is based on fear of crime, that would diminish too.

This is not to agree with Sanders about this or anything. But I do think sometimes there’s some rational basis for discrimination, and trying to attribute everything to bigotry and hatred and fighting it on that basis is not necessarily the most effective way to go about it.

Violent crime has been dropping for at least the last ten years or so. It doesn’t seem to have made people any less afraid.

I don’t know that what you’re saying is true altogether, but even if it is, what counts is mostly the difference between black and white crime rates, not the absolute numbers.

Violent crime rates have been on a fairly impressive downswing since the early 1990s. But the vast majority of people polled about such things will tell you they’ve been going up. It takes a very long time for perception to catch up with reality.

It’s not a matter of being out of context. He fucked up. And I say that as Bernie supporter. He needs to do better going forward.

It is out of context. But I agree that he made a mistake.

I doubt if this is true (unless you’re referring to recent years, when there has been a bit of an uptick). Do you have a source for this claim?

What’s the proper context?

Here you go - and with the corresponding statistic on perception, too! Here is the full context (;)) if you want to read about it.

The proper context is the full paragraph. In context, he actually seems to be attributing the assertion about whites not being able to be poor to Clinton (though presumably that was not his intent).

OK, that’s valid. (FTR, the Gallup graph is misleading, is using the same scale to measure an absolute number against a (perception of) change in number, but the basic point withstands this.)


Neither the question nor the response mentioned Clinton. It was directed at each candidate, about racial blind spots that they might have.

Perhaps I’ve misunderstood you here.

I assume “the secretary” he is referring to is Clinton. Though “attributing” is the wrong word.

No doubt. (I missed that - sorry.)

Right. He is clearly speaking on behalf of himself, though mentioning as an aside that what he’s saying is similar to what Clinton said.

So the context remains correct. He said white people don’t know what it’s like to be poor.

What’s worse is that the implication is that if you’re black, you know what it’s like to live in a Ghetto. Most blacks don’t know what that’s like from first hand experience.

It’s one of those things that probably wouldn’t attract much notice if it didn’t seem to reinforce an existing narrative. I doubt it will do him much actual harm, but it certainly doesn’t help him in the last few weeks he has to rebrand himself to black voters before the clock runs out.