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Bernie Sanders: White People Don't Know What It's Like To Live In The 'Ghetto'

The Huffington Post The Huffington Post 7/03/2016 Amanda Terkel
ATHENA IMAGE © Scott Olson via Getty Images ATHENA IMAGE

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said white people don't understand what it's like to be poor and live in the ghetto, in response to a question about the candidates' racial blind spots. 

Sanders told a moving story about how, as a newly elected congressman in Washington, D.C., about 20 years ago, he was shocked to learn that a fellow congressman, who was black, avoided taking cabs because it was humiliating when drivers would go past him because of his race.

He also said he was humbled when a young woman active in the Black Lives Matter movement came up and told him that he simply doesn't understand what police do in many black communities on a regular basis, beyond the shootings that tend to get more attention. 

"You don't understand the degree to which we are terrorized. ... I'm just talking about everyday activities where police officers are bullying people," Sanders recounted the woman telling him. 

"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."

Sanders' answer immediately generated some criticism -- and confusion -- on social media for the implication that the "ghetto" is exclusively where black people live -- or that all black people understand what it's like to live in a low-income area. 

Sanders has struggled to make inroads with the black community, which has overwhelmingly supported his opponent, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. 

Clinton has been pressed on her 1996 speech in which she characterized at-risk youth as "super predators" and said, "We have to bring them to heel."

"In that speech, I was talking about the impact violent crime and vicious drug cartels were having on communities across the country and the particular danger they posed to children and families," she said in a recent statement. "Looking back, I shouldn't have used those words, and I wouldn't use them today."

In response to the question about racial blind spots Sunday night, Clinton acknowledged that as a white person in America, she knows she has never had some of the experiences many people in the audience have had.

"I think it's incumbent upon me -- and what I have been trying to talk about during this campaign -- is to urge white people to think about what it is like to have the talk with your kids, scared that your sons or daughters even could get in trouble for no good reason whatsoever, like Sandra Bland, and end up dead in a jail in Texas," she said.

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