Bernie Sanders’ awkward ‘And I’m white as well’ remark draws mixed — and puzzled — online reactions

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Sen. Bernie Sanders sparked a range of responses on social media after Thursday night's Democratic presidential debate in Los Angeles with a comment he made as a moderator was asking him about recent comments by former President Barack Obama.

“Senator Sanders, you are the oldest candidate onstage … ” Politico magazine’s Tim Alberta began.

"And I’m white as well," the 78-year-old Sanders interjected before Alberta could finish.


"Yes," Sanders said, amid what seemed like an awkward silence at Loyola Marymount University. Alberta then continued with his question.

“How do you respond to what the former president had to say?”

Alberta had asked Sanders to respond to comments Obama made in Singapore earlier in the week.

“Former President Obama said this week when asked who should be running countries that if women were in charge you’d see a significant improvement on just about everything,” Alberta pointed out. “He also said, ‘If you look at the world and look at the problems, it’s usually old people, usually old men not getting out of the way.'”

Sanders responded: “I got a lot of respect for Barack Obama. I think I disagree with him on this one," prompting some audible laughter from the audience. “Maybe a little self-serving, but I do disagree.”

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He then said the U.S. was becoming an "oligarchy" with an economy that serves only the "one percent."

“Here is the issue. The issue is where power resides in America. And it’s not white or black or male or female. We are living in a nation increasingly becoming an oligarchy. We have a handful of billionaires who spend hundreds of millions of dollars buying elections and politicians.

“You have more income and wealth inequality today than at any time since the 1920s. We are the only major country on Earth not to guarantee health care for all people, which is why we need Medicare-for-all. We are facing an existential crisis of climate change…

“The issue is not old or young or male or female,” Sanders continued. “The issue is working people standing up. Taking on the billionaire class. And creating a government and an economy that works for all. Not just the one percent.”

But some critics on social media fired back at Sanders, saying his age, gender and race were all factors that helped him become wealthy.

“But @BernieSanders would like us to believe that being a White male doesn't give him and his ilk any systemic advantages,” one Twitter user wrote.

Others accused Sanders of being a hypocrite — given he criticizes the rich but reportedly owns three homes.

Several pointed to what they described as “awkward silence” and “crickets” in the crowd after Sanders’ “I’m white as well,” quip failed to resonate. But mostly people online seemed unsure what the comment meant. Some asked Sanders to explain what he was trying to say while others had their own interpretations.

“Does this count as "White Supremacy" ???” one user wrote, tagging Sanders and Obama.

Another user asked: “Can you elaborate as to that response?”

“Oof! "And I'm White As Well" is not the bumper sticker Bernie Sanders needs,” a third chimed in.

One user seemed to defend Sanders, saying that being a white man was now considered "political baggage."

"Of course white men have privilege. But in today's environment, it's political baggage as well. It was a question about diversity and on that page, all that goes against Sanders. It was a self deprecating moment," she wrote.

One person applauded the remark, saying Sanders was acknowledging his own “white privilege.”

“Bernie Sanders, so far, is the only white candidate to say this tonight and recognize white privilege. I think that's worth something,” Charlotte Clymer wrote.


Another user said Sanders' remark was "his middle finger to the gender and racial purity test of the left. Basically saying, stop getting (fake) distracted on what gender or race I am and listen to what I have to say."

The debate came a day after a highly contentious vote to impeach President Donald Trump, which showed in dramatic relief how polarized the nation is over his presidency. With the Republican-controlled Senate likely to acquit him, the stakes are high for Democrats to select a challenger who can defeat Trump in November.

The forum highlighted the choice Democrats will have to make between progressive and moderate, older and younger, men and women and the issues that will sway the small but critical segment of voters who will determine the election. The candidates sharply disagreed about the role of money in politics, the value and meaning of experience and the direction of the American health care system

The Associated Press contributed to this report.