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The statement: "When You're White You Don't Know What It's Like To Be Poor".

Why are so many people getting mad at Bernie Sanders for this? I thought America was finally ready to move on from its racist past. Why do so many white Americans have problems with acknowledging their white privilege?

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    This is an OK question, but the last two sentences should be omitted as it makes it more of a rant than a question.
    – user1530
    Mar 7, 2016 at 18:59
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    Concurrence with @blip; starting a conversation by attacking the people that don't agree with you rarely goes well. Mar 7, 2016 at 19:20
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    It's worth noting that not only does this statement preclude the possibility of poor white people, it precludes the possibility of wealthy non-white people. Lastly, it precludes the possibility of someone to knowing or understanding something without directly experiencing it themselves at this moment in time.
    – NPSF3000
    May 30, 2017 at 18:14
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    @PoloHoleSet No it's like saying that person from the Democratic Republic of Congo must implicitly know what it's like to be poor, and that a person from the US cannot know what it is like to be poor. At the very least DNC and US have drastically different governments, aid programs and standards of living, but even then having a low income does not imply poverty without adjusting for factors like COL and cultural attitudes. It doesn't really matter how you want to spin it. Judging someones experiences and/or understanding by color of skin is racism 101.
    – NPSF3000
    Jun 6, 2017 at 19:20
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    @NPSF3000 - I don't see the words "all," "every" or "none" anywhere in there. It's pretty obviously a broad, general statement. To claim that it's making very fine-tuned exacting scientific-precision representations is more than a little bit of a straw man. For the most part, it's a very true statement. This is 100% about judging someone's experiences based on their experiences. In a society where racism is alive and well, that will often map to the color of their skin. That you seem to feel otherwise only illustrates the broader point being made about obliviousness to the realities. Jun 6, 2017 at 19:26

5 Answers 5

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The controversy is mainly focused on the validity of his statement when it comes to whites and blacks in poverty, not necessarily racism.

There are actually far more poor whites in the U.S. than poor blacks.

These are the statistics on Americans living in poverty from 2014, the most recent data from the Census Bureau:

  • Whites (Non-Hispanic): 19.7 million
  • Hispanics: 13.1 million
  • Blacks: 10.8 million
  • Asians: 2.1 million

BUT: the share of blacks in poverty (26.2%) is much higher than the share of whites (10.1%). That was probably what Bernie Sanders meant in his statement.

But the controversy was that there are certainly many whites who know what it's like to be poor.

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    @blip The context doesn't change the meaning. While it is true that Mr. Sanders was talking about the difficulties faced by blacks in America, he still included "what it's like to be poor" in a list of things white people don't know. The other items in the list aren't the question here. But the statement that whites don't know what it is like to be poor is demonstrably false. If I said "Dogs, cats, mice, Irishmen, hamsters and bears walk on all fours and can't learn to read", the context that I was correct on 4 of the things I said wouldn't excuse my claim about Irishmen.
    – Readin
    Dec 18, 2016 at 8:10
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    @blip The context didn't make this any better. Sanders should've said "when you're wealthy" rather than "when you're white". By saying it as he did, he turned it from a humanitarian expression of concern for those suffering from poverty to a racially charged falsehood.
    – Nat
    May 28, 2017 at 18:37
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    @blip Actually I read the articles and the surrounding speech. You might disagree with people who find Sanders's comments to be tone-deaf, but you can't honestly claim that people who watched the speech in-context to be ignoring the context that they saw. At most, you can disagree with their conclusions. It'd probably help if you explained your position to people rather than just tell them that they're wrong; even if we disagree with how you see it, at least that's communication, ya know?
    – Nat
    May 28, 2017 at 22:45
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    @blip I think that you're willfully disregarding the objectionable content that others are seeing. We get the good part about what Sanders was trying to say; just, he also revealed something quite ugly in his choice of words too. We see the good in what he said; do you see the bad in it?
    – Nat
    May 28, 2017 at 22:56
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    @Nat: Even "when you're wealthy" excludes those of us who were once poor, but are now wealthy - or at least prosperous. The real cause of controversy is that Sanders has let his ideology blind him to reality.
    – jamesqf
    May 29, 2017 at 17:47
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At the heart of it, it is an inaccurate statement that presupposes all white people are wealthy. This ignores the multitude of white individuals that are poor.

According to The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, there are more white people beneath the poverty line than black people beneath the poverty line.
19,796,700 > 10,145,200

In its full context:

"When you're white, you don't know what it's like to be living in a ghetto," Sanders concluded. "You don't know what it's like to be poor. You don't know what it's like to be hassled when you walk down the street or you get dragged out of a car. And I believe that as a nation in the year 2016, we must be firm in making it clear, we will end institutional racism and reform a broken criminal justice system."

The response is very absolutist, a collection of statements that negate any misfortune suffered by white individuals. At the foundation, it is an endorsement of the mythic 'white privilege argument."

There are white people that live in the ghetto. There are poor white people. There are white people that are routinely hassled by the police.

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. Mar 7, 2016 at 20:55
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    I don't see how white privilege is 'mythic'. I am white myself and though I live below the poverty line, I do not have to deal with many of the social issues specifically associated with skin colour. I have lived in a very high crime, very 'ghetto' area several times, and I have experienced many forms of discrimination, but I would not presuppose to understand the particular and unique experience of those who happen to be born with darker skin. May 8, 2016 at 11:32
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    This answer, while factual, only scratches the surface of the latent racism and out and out subversive and destructive identity politics that liberals trade in.
    – user9790
    Dec 17, 2016 at 17:43
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    @KDog The intention of the quote is not of concern with the question, just the controversy about quote. Establish your narrative elsewhere. Dec 17, 2016 at 17:45
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    @DrunkCynic The intention is part of the reason the quote is controversial. It goes beyond the stupidity of the factual points. The Democrats' platform or position is that certain groups should always be favored over other groups, no matter the circumstances or facts on the ground.
    – user9790
    Dec 17, 2016 at 17:50
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It's controversial for the same reason that nearly every Facebook political meme is controversial: It takes a quote out of context and implies that there was a much different meaning than what was intended.

The snippet that is being quoted on Facebook is meant to imply that Bernie Sanders doesn't believe white people can be poor.

However, if you listen to the entire quote, he's clearly talking very specifically about poor black urban youth.

Yes, white people can certainly be poor, and grow up in neighborhoods if not called ghettos, certainly akin to them. But white people don't typically have to deal with the entire list of issues that Bernie Sanders pointed out...namely the constant harassment one has to deal with due to skin color.

It's controversial because people like to react to things sans context

To be fair, this is how politics often works...taking quotes out of context and paint the opponent in a much different light than was intended by the full quote.

If I were running for office I might say "I don't like children being left behind by society" but you can bet there's be a Facebook Meme of me quoted as saying "I don't like children" :)

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    The statement doesn't include any qualifiers, such as 'typically,' existing as an absolute blanket statement. Mar 7, 2016 at 19:07
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    @DrunkCynic which part do you feel needs the 'typically' qualifier? Also, notice that it does use that qualifier.
    – user1530
    Mar 7, 2016 at 19:24
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    Yes, your Answer applies a qualifier to his statements, yet no where in his comment did he qualify the statements he was making. He claims, absolutely, that white people don't know what it is like to live in the ghetto, be poor, or be hassled by the police. Mar 7, 2016 at 19:37
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    @DrunkCynic Oh! Well, that's part of the whole context thing. It's an arbitrary (and often purposeful) assumption that people that don't add qualifiers to every statement don't believe that they are applicable. Political statements, much like advertising, PR, and the like often skip the qualifiers to simply make their message more direct.
    – user1530
    Mar 7, 2016 at 19:38
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    The recent example is how "black lives matter" has been distorted by groups who have attempted to imply that the statement really is "only black lives matter". In fact, in this case, they are adding a qualifier that wasn't there. This is, for the most part, just part of how political spin works. It's part of the sport.
    – user1530
    Mar 7, 2016 at 19:39
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That is a single sentence from a broader statement taken out of context.

The context Bernie was speaking about was being black. There are intersections between being black and poor that are different than being white and poor. A white kid, a black kid, and a Hispanic kid all growing up on the west side of Detroit will have very similar life experiences, but the perception of those experiences will be different because each kid is viewing their experiences through their own, racial, lens. A poor white kid from Detroit crossing into Dearborn to buy groceries with foodstamps may receive different reactions in the checkout line than the poor black kid.

Maybe the other people in the checkout line would be black and someone would tell a joke about even white folks being poor and on foodstamps as a critique of the larger economy. That comment will affect the white kid differently than another comment from a white crowd in the checkout line if it was the black kid buying groceries. The white kid may feel socially alienated because the comment he heard implies that white kids shouldn't be poor. The black kid would feel differently if the comment he heard reaffirmed a nasty stereotype of his racial group.

Bernie Sanders did not say white people could not be poor. Nothing from the context Bernie was speaking from suggests that he was alluding that white people can't be poor. If other people are saying that Bernie said "White people can't be poor", the other person is adding that into what Bernie said.

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    While this is a good explanation of what Sanders meant, it doesn't address the question, which is "Why is it controversial?".
    – Bobson
    Mar 7, 2016 at 23:57
  • @Bobson the answer is in the first sentence.
    – user1530
    Mar 7, 2016 at 23:58
  • @blip - If so, then the other three paragraphs are irrelevant fluff and the answer itself is a duplicate of yours. I don't disagree with that statement - it was very much taken out of context. I just think that this particular answer is not relevant to the question.
    – Bobson
    Mar 8, 2016 at 0:06
  • @Bobson that's fair.
    – user1530
    Mar 8, 2016 at 0:09
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Sanders probably spends his entire life in a bubble and is projecting himself.

Roughly speaking, half of the US military are poor whites. They are intelligent and conscientious in terms of job performance. And, from a bystander's point of view, what strikes you the most is the undeniable fact that these beings are sentient - or, in layman's term, they are warm blooded full men - they walk around with the kind of natural warmth one seldom witnesses in "polite society."

They are extremely dumb due to the lack shrewdness, and extremely credulous to such extent that everyone is preprogrammed with a set of moral codes that are inimical to their own well-being. In other words, they are poor because they are all masochists.

America is a country where one is free to screw himself. Evolution favours the psychopathic trait; poor whites are doomed for the lack of it.

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