Although light years ahead of his Democratic counterparts, Bernie Sanders will ultimately become a better candidate because of the Black Lives Matter takeover of the microphone and stage in Seattle. --Gyasi Ross, Blackfeet Nation/Suquamish Nation Territories
"Although light years ahead of his Democratic counterparts, Bernie Sanders will ultimately become a better candidate because of the Black Lives Matter takeover of the microphone and stage in Seattle." —Gyasi Ross, Blackfeet Nation/Suquamish Nation Territories Charles Peterson

When the young activists from Black Lives Matter took over the stage and microphone from Bernie Sanders, I was inexplicably on stage. The way I got there was when we saw something going down, my good friend and amazing organizer KL Shannon and I jumped on stage simply to try to keep some semblance of order. Yeah, I was that big-ass Native dude on stage. A Forrest Gump moment, a Kramer moment—damn, I wasn’t trying to be there. But it was not a coincidence. KL and I understood that, whether we agreed with the young ladies’ actions or not, there were two brown-skinned females on stage and a crowd of angry white folks, and history tells us that it’s not unreasonable to expect the worst in these situations.

Horrible things have happened historically to brown-skinned people in these situations. We had an obligation to protect these sisters from any of that. We also had an obligation to protect the integrity of the situation.

Personally, I could understand why the crowd was angry—folks have tried to paint the largely white crowd’s displeasure as the result of white supremacy or intolerance. I don’t think so. I think it was simply disappointment at a bait and switch—if someone goes to a show to see Prince and instead Jeffrey Osborne comes out, they’re going to be disappointed. No disrespect to Jeffrey—he’s cool. But he’s no Prince.

Bernie was Prince on Saturday in Seattle, and so folks were rightfully disappointed.

I was disappointed, too—I wanted to see Bernie. I plan to vote for him for president, I think he’s a damn sight better than any of the other candidates. I think that he’s by far, the best candidate for Native people and for black folks (and for civil rights, in general). Moreover, he’s always been on the right side of history and I think the BLM beefs with him are misplaced. Yet, I also understand that in the grand scheme of things this was simply one small drop of discomfort in an ocean of white supremacist comfort. These small moments are the smallest, tiniest micro-adjustments to white male hegemony, and as dope as he is, that hegemony also includes Bernie Sanders.

I respect him. I will work for him. I like him. But he still benefits from white privilege and thus deserves to feel uncomfortable from time to time. When he undoubtedly was on the front lines marching for civil rights, he was still less vulnerable to attack from police officers than the black and brown marchers. He still needs to talk and think about race if he wants us to vote for him—hell, my folks, Native people have to think about it all the time. Black folks have to think about it all the time.

Why shouldn’t he? He’s asking for our vote, after all.

Why shouldn’t the folks in the crowd have to talk about race—they consider themselves “progressives” or “liberals,” right? If they truly wish to be an effective ally, then they should WANT to feel the discomfort that we feel when we’re constantly confronted with questions of race. They should EARNESTLY DESIRE to feel the awkwardness of explaining to our children why our kids have different outcomes than white kids when they interact with law enforcement.

Honestly, I wasn’t crazy about the disrespect for an elder when I saw the young women yelling at Bernie Sanders. But in the big picture, that’s light—to disavow a human rights movement because of a moment of disrespect? Therefore, I doubt the sincerity of the so-called white allies who said (and I heard), “Black Lives Matter just lost a supporter!” Oh really? You stopped supporting basic human rights and equal treatment because of two individuals’ actions? Damn. Okay—to hell with all black folks because you disagree with two.

That’s too convenient. If folks truly want to be allies then they’re going to have to get cool with uncomfortable-ass conversations.

Talking about genocide is uncomfortable. Talking about slavery is uncomfortable. Talking about why three out of five Native women are the victims of sexual assault, largely by non-Native males, is uncomfortable. Talking about Jim Crow laws is uncomfortable. Talking about why Native and Black people end up dead at the end of police gun more often than any other ethnicities is uncomfortable.

But it has to be talked about. We have to talk about it.

Yes, even Bernie has to talk about it.

Let me tell you a quick story: when I was about 25, my father and I had our first real “grown-up” conversation. He asked me when I planned to have kids. I told him, “I don’t know. I’m kinda waiting for the right time.” He told me that there was no “right time”—that having a kid is always going to be disruptive, jarring and inconvenient. He told me that if I waited “for the right time,” I would never have a child. Five years later, I had my son and although I was prepared financially for the most part, I found out that he was telling the truth.

White folks don’t ever want to talk about race. Ever. It will ALWAYS be jarring, it will ALWAYS be disruptive and it will ALWAYS be inconvenient. Yet, we have to do it.

I’m thankful for these two young ladies for jarring us into a conversation about race even if not at the “right time”—history shows us that if we wait for the “right time” (“right time” = “when white people are ready”), it will never happen. Talking about race is not convenient. Thank you to all Black Lives Matters organizers for forcing this conversation. Thank you, Bernie, for being wise enough to listen.


#BlackLivesMatter #Bernie2016 #DearNativeYouth #NativeVote

Gyasi Ross is a member of the Blackfeet Nation and Suqauamish Nation Territories. Follow him on Twitter @BigIndianGyasi and on Instagram @BigIndianGyasi.