I woke up this morning to once again see Shaun King trending, and my immediate reaction was, “What the hell did he do this time?” Justified or not, this is the nature of his relationship with the Twitter-verse and virtually all of social media — and he must be held accountable for it.
Now, before my brethren on the left get all tight in the collar, just hear me out:
Shaun responded to a tweet from Brian Schatz, a Hawaii senator, asking if he supported Medicare-For-All. The only problem is, Schatz co-sponsored the bill (albeit, when politically convenient). Additionally, King’s tweet was deemed widely inappropriate as Schatz was in the process of highlighting the amount of preventable deaths from the coronavirus epidemic. And, of course, the flood gates opened.
While there has been a massive number of character attacks on King, there has also been some pushback against it from his supporters. However, that small presence is exactly the problem. It displays the overwhelming force of negativity and hostility that King’s platform incites during some of the most crucial moments in our political discourse. Do I believe he, or anyone else, should acquiesce for the purpose of appeasing others? Absolutely not. I do, however, believe that he needs to figure out why he tends to bring out so much unified anger across the political spectrum against him. His fundraising history might be a good place to start.
Black people have remained political capital in the United States, for as long as this country has existed. We have been used for the benefit of the American empire with little to no regard for the systemic dehumanization and terrorism we regularly face at the hands of our government and society. The only thing that has changed to date is the racist political party to which we swear our collective allegiance. This is why Sen. Bernie Sanders is so important.
Bernie Sanders in many ways represents the ‘antidote’ to the disease of crony capitalism and greed that infests our political landscape and government. Sure, he’s not perfect, but he clearly embodies the first step Americans need to take towards a more equitable and sustainable system of government. That is very important for Black Americans, especially, as we remain the most disenfranchised group in the United States. There have been many debates within the African American community about Bernie, with much expressed skepticism for his intentions, particularly regarding his positions on reparations for American descendants of slaves. However, one cannot argue that the overwhelming majority of Sanders’s policies yield a wealth of benefit for Black Americans, even disproportionately so.
This is why Shaun King is an issue.
As a civil rights activist, and co-founder of Real Justice PAC, Shaun King has used his social media platforms to promote social justice causes, including the Black Lives Matter movement. He also identifies as an African American, which has caused a great deal of stir, not only in the African American community, but amongst white liberals and conservatives who accuse King of being a white man masquerading as a black person, similar to Rachel Dolezal, who pretended to be a Black woman while leading a chapter of the NAACP. He has been accused of being a “scam artist” who “pimps Black pain” and uses racial politics for his own personal financial gain. Over the past five years, King has faced an onslaught of attacks from former colleagues, organizations and social media users, accusing him of stealing money from fundraising campaigns he set up for alleged victims of racial injustice, and other social causes. Needless, to say, his responses to those allegations have sometimes been, let’s say, a tad ‘problematic.’
Shaun has often been accused of ‘taking over’ the conversation about Black folks’ issues while ignoring the Black community’s oftentimes most outspoken members — Black women. He has been caught in a litany of scandals, from falsely accusing a white Texas State Trooper of raping Sherita Dixon-Cole, a black woman, to wrongfully implicating Robert Cantrell in the drive-by shooting murder of Jazmine Barnes in Houston. After authorities said the man was not connected to the crime, King later deleted the tweet, but not before the man had received numerous death threats on social media. King has also been accused of recklessness in his organizing by exploiting Black trauma under the label of ‘activism,’ while having disproportionately heavy-handed responses to Black activists when questioned about his methods and fundraising activities for more clarity.
These recurring issues with King create a quagmire for the Sanders campaign, which utilizes King as one of its surrogates. Allowing someone as equivocal (and polarizing) as Shaun King to speak on behalf of the most trusted politician in America during a presidential campaign is a terrible decision, and Sanders’s campaign advisors should know better. In fact, Shaun King’s presence in the Sanders campaign speaks to the larger (and already visible) disconnect Bernie has with Black people. Don’t get me wrong, here; Black people love Bernie Sanders-especially the youth. However, there is a tone deafness on race (particularly, regarding Black issues) in the Sanders campaign that they have, thus far, been unable to surmount. The mainstream media sees it, and regularly capitalizes on it.
At this point, Shaun King’s platform does more harm than good for his political allies. I think it’s time for him to say goodbye to the Sanders campaign, and they should thank him for his service. While Shaun’s efforts are admirable, they are also overshadowed by his personal scandals and conflict. That makes him a serious liability to a presidential campaign. The optics of untrustworthiness that Shaun brings (especially with Black folks) yields a residual effect, which spills over to the Sanders campaign. I believe Shaun knows this would be the right thing to do, and If he truly wants to help Bernie win and bring the change we need to America, he should recuse himself, without being asked. Sometimes, even the right message can become toxic when it is coming from the wrong person.
I have followed Shaun for years, and I appreciate the many good things he has done in the pursuit of justice. He has elevated the fight for racial equality for Black people in many ways during that time. However, his fervor to ‘prove himself’ often yields an opposite effect. The main criticism I hear of Shaun is that he doesn’t listen to the people he is fighting for. Perhaps, our brother can consider that possibility and take a step back from the front line and play a more supportive role directly in the communities most affected by our white supremacist system. There is a very real separation between the activist community and the organizer community — one that often leaves the people on the ground completely left out. Maybe it’s time for a real conversation between them; because, after all the spats, protests and trending topics, we can all agree on one thing — change takes place from the bottom up.
Shaun King has an uncanny knack for pissing people off, especially Black people. It would serve him well to find out why. The jury’s still out on Shaun, but I think he still has a chance to learn from his mistakes. So, the real question is whether he is humble enough to see the error of his ways — or is he too arrogant to grow? Whether he is white or black should not matter, if his intentions are pure. I’m still willing to give him a chance to prove it. Are you?