Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) drew criticism Thursday after saying many white voters in the South who felt “uncomfortable” voting for black candidates for the first time were “not necessarily racist.”
The comment came in an interview with The Daily Beast published Thursday, in which the senator discussed the difficulties faced by black gubernatorial candidates Andrew Gillum in Florida and Stacey Abrams in Georgia.
“I think you know 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,” Sanders told the outlet. “I think next time around, by the way, it will be a lot easier for them to do that.”
“Many would define not supporting someone based solely on race as racist,” PBS correspondent Yamiche Alcindor noted.
HuffPost asked Sanders’ office to clarify whether he believes it’s inherently racist for a white voter to oppose a candidate because that candidate is black. A spokesman for the senator pointed HuffPost to Sanders’ larger condemnation of racist rhetoric employed by President Donald Trump, Florida gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis and Georgia gubernatorial candidate Brian Kemp during their campaigns.
Kemp, who resigned Thursday as Georgia’s secretary of state even though the governor’s race may head to a runoff, was accused of holding back over 53,000 voter-registration applications ― nearly 7 in 10 of which were from black residents ― over minor errors.
DeSantis, who has been mired in racist scandals, refused to return campaign contributions from a donor who referred to former President Barack Obama as a “Muslim n****r” in a tweet.
“They used racist rhetoric to divide people and advance agendas that would harm the majority of Americans,” Sanders said in a statement on Twitter later Thursday. “We’ve got to continue doing everything that we can to fight all forms of racism.”
Despite making efforts to reach out to black voters ― both during the 2016 presidential election and more recently as he weighs a run in 2020 ― Sanders has also tried to avoid “identity politics” as part of his message.
“My goal is to bring forth a progressive agenda that speaks to the needs of working people, whether they are black, white or Latino, and get people involved in the political process in a way we have not seen in a very long time,” he told The Associated Press in April.