Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders might not like Donald Trump, but he was acting a whole lot like the president on Tuesday. The presumed 2020 presidential candidate inexplicably decided to kick off the new year with a misguided tweet likely intended to shore up support among Black voters but instead appeared to have backfired in the worst way.
Sanders, who apparently refuses to abandon the same political rhetoric that resulted in a failed bid for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination, used his Twitter fingers to stick to his same old script by continuing to condemn “the greed of Wall Street, the drug companies, the fossil fuel industry, the NRA, the military-industrial-complex and other special interests.”
The talking points in the tweet were both familiar and legitimate, but it was Sanders’ unfortunate use of Frederick Douglass‘ name in those 280 characters that had many people on social media up in arms and screaming that the 77-year-old senator was culturally appropriating someone whose celebrated legacy decidedly has nothing to do with any of those topics.
CNN pundit and former South Carolina state legislator Bakari Sellers was among the first to publicly call out Sanders for the clear flub and pointed out the similarities between the senator’s probable future presidential bid and his previous one.
Sellers, previously accused by Sanders’ spokesperson of creating “racial division,” was far from alone in his opinion.
As History.com reminds folks who need a primer on Douglass, he “was an escaped slave who became a prominent activist, author and public speaker. He became a leader in the abolitionist movement, which sought to end the practice of slavery, before and during the Civil War. After that conflict and the Emancipation Proclamation of 1862, he continued to push for equality and human rights until his death in 1895.”
In other words, Sanders used Douglass’ name and words completely out of context by failing to mention anything having to do with race in America, a problem that has continued to divide America in the more than a century since the historical figure died.
The fact that Sanders didn’t connect those obvious dots that most grade school students are taught seemingly served as a reminder of the senator’s propensity for blowing racist dog whistles. It was also reminiscent of when Trump said last year during Black History Month that Douglass had “done an amazing job” and was being recognized “more and more.” The Trump administration had previously misspelled Douglass’ last name in a press release, further showing its disdain for a historical figure revered by many Black folks.
It wasn’t too long afterward when Sanders used the 50th anniversary of the death of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to take some pot shots at former President Barack Obama.
“The business model, if you like, of the Democratic Party for the last 15 years or so has been a failure. People sometimes don’t see that because there was a charismatic individual named Barack Obama,” Sanders said to attendees in Jackson, Mississippi, back in April.
To “dismiss with utter arrogance and lack of self-awareness the first African African president is just the height and epitome of arrogance and lack of self-awareness,” Sanders added.
Sanders’ cavalier words for Black people didn’t stop there.
Referencing the gubernatorial campaigns of Stacey Abrams and Andrew Gillum in Georgia and Florida, respectively, Sanders also said just two short months ago that “there are a lot of white folks out there who are not necessarily racist who felt uncomfortable for the first time in their lives about whether or not they wanted to vote for an African-American.”
Many people also saw that comment as being apologetic for racist behavior.
None of the above was missed by shrewd Twitter users who sounded off their disapproval for Sanders, his latest fateful words and quite possibly (probably?) his expected presidential bid.
Keep Frederick Douglass’s name outta your mouth pic.twitter.com/GeDoWvaswn— Shashana 🇺🇸 (@Shashana80sKid) January 1, 2019
Frederick Douglass's struggle out of slavery included beating the man who owned him and escaping to become an abolitionist who directly fought for racial justice. I'd at least talk about the racism if I used Douglass's name, but that's just me. https://t.co/tj6EuJDU6e— Terrell Jermaine Starr (@Russian_Starr) January 2, 2019
Frederick Douglass would probably have some other issues that he would feel are more important.— Brian O'Neill (@NYC__Native) January 2, 2019
Then you'd accuse him of fostering 'identity politics.'
If Frederick Douglass were alive today, he wouldn't have been invited to your Sanders Institute conclave, just like Kiah Morris wasn't.— Defund The Squad 💛🐝 (@Here4Not) January 2, 2019
Stop using black people as a shield when you don't care about them.https://t.co/DblJMU3rao
You talk but take no effective action. You quote Douglass, speaking about the human condition & human rights and twist it to be about capitalism. You actively cause division. You are NOT what this country needs.— 30-50 feral cats🐈⬛ (@_coconono_) January 2, 2019
Please do not use a quote by Frederick Douglass to frame your same old same old.— colleen (@cowboyangels) January 2, 2019
Wow, way to completely misappropriate Frederick Douglass for your own agenda. Which of your three houses did you tweet this from? Please do us all a favor and just retire from public life. We are so tired of hearing from you. Thanks!— Tad Hopp (@taderpillar) January 2, 2019
I get what you're saying but if you're going to invoke Fredrick Douglass you should mention racial injustices in your list of items that need to be addressed since the man literally devoted his life to that and 150 years after his death we're still dealing with it.— will (@willishl) January 2, 2019
This guy is pathetic ☝️— Spinoza (@azon1ps) January 2, 2019
No mention of racism while channeling Douglass?
If there's one thing Fredrick Douglass is known for, it's the NRA and Wall Street...— Jason Elias (@Zebop) January 2, 2019
Come on, man..........
uses douglass to talk about wall street. smdh. meanwhile he wants free college for the wealthy, while schools in mostly minority neighborhoods are substandard.— Bob ...Shadoobie ... Berry (@monsoon2112) January 2, 2019
Sorry Frederick Douglass was referring to slave owner Democrats like you— Daj J (@OceanNBeaches) January 2, 2019
So, you're going to quote Frederick Douglass, and list a number of injustices...without a mention of racial justice.— Veleda_k (@veleda_k) January 2, 2019
What about racism? Frederick Douglass had a problem with racism.— mark (@mlnga) January 2, 2019
Bernie Sanders hijacking Frederick Douglass without one syllable about oh.. race? justice reform? civil rights? voting rights? this is old white guy tone deaf appropriation with bells on— bb 💬 (@beebigelow) January 2, 2019
Bernie Sanders is explaining Frederick Douglass to us without even mentioning racism or civil rights.— Where is Rihanna’s album? (@speedyredhawk) January 2, 2019
Thank you, next. https://t.co/40JqycD9jW
That’s not what Frederick Douglass was talking about.— Sandy Bury - Get trump Out Now! 😷🌵🌴 (@bury_sandra) January 2, 2019
A Frederick Douglass quote to stir the emotions of Black Americans yet make no mention to civil rights and injustices affecting African Americans— Juju (@juju_bad) January 1, 2019
You mention Frederick Douglass but said nothing about civil rights. You're a fraud, see if you get the black vote...nah!!!! #BlackWomenAintHavingIt— Black Dem Savage ⚖ (@Ldy_Shay) January 1, 2019