GLEN BROOKE, ILLINOIS — We asked Susan Williamson, a lifelong self-described Democrat, to give us her feelings about the Democratic debate hosted by CNN over the weekend. Williamson said she was “quite pleased” with the majority of what she saw and heard, but was “shocked and alarmed” when Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), as part of his answer to a question about racial blind spots he might have, used a word Williamson said “is totally racist” even though she admitted later, she didn’t know its word had origins other than to describe American citizens of any racial group.
When asked by moderator Don Lemon to address any “racial blind spots,” Sanders had this to say as part of his answer, as reported by The Huffington Post:
“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.” (source)
Ms. Williamson said when she heard the word “ghetto” come out of Sanders’ mouth she was “completely incensed” and that “these kinds of words have no place in a Democratic Party debate.”
“How dare Senator Sanders use such a term,” Williamson demanded, “without knowing what it means?”
We then sent Ms. Williamson a copy of the Merriam-Webster dictionary with the entry for “ghetto” highlighted. What follows is the definition from that dictionary:
Full Definition of ghetto
plural ghettos also ghettoes
1: a quarter of a city in which Jews were formerly required to live
2: a quarter of a city in which members of a minority group live especially because of social, legal, or economic pressure
3a: an isolated group <a geriatric ghetto>b: a situation that resembles a ghetto especially in conferring inferior status or limiting opportunity <the pink-collar ghetto> (source)
While it has been widely reported that Sanders’ own parents escaped the Holocaust, they actually immigrated to the U.S. in 1921, however it is well-documented that the Senator’s paternal family lost many members to Hitler’s Final Solution. Our reporter asked Ms. Williamson if learning that the word had a meaning with context that would resonate very deeply with Sanders changed her opinion of him using it.
“Well, I mean, sure if you want to get technical him using that word doesn’t have to mean that he’s out of touch,” Williamson said, “and since he grew up extremely poor, maybe his own parents used that word to describe where they lived. But I don’t know, the media is telling me to think something about this, and I always trust them. It’s not like they ever blow stuff out of proportion or cut out context for time or to advance a narrative, right?”
Despite his use of the word, Williamson says she still believes Sanders would “make a good president if the pre-annointed one doesn’t work out.” Ms. Williamson told us that while she “admires” the fact that Sanders was once arrested in Chicago protesting segregation, that Hillary Clinton also “has said some good things about race relations” and “she seems to be feel kinda-sorta bad for that whole mass incarceration thing she helped push,” and Ms. Clinton is Williamson’s first choice.
“I just prefer someone who can pretend to care about many issues, instead of someone who has devoted his entire life to those issues,” Williamson said, “because that’s how you get stuff done, judging by the last twenty years.”