I was recently invited by Reverend Al Sharpton to be on a panel during his National Action Network (NAN) convention. Sharpton was gracious in his introduction, calling me an outstanding Republican and while I appreciated the invitation, his kinds words, and the opportunity to dialogue with other African Americans about politics, policy and the black vote. I could not help, but bring up an unrelenting and troubling fact and that is the 90 percent support that African Americans consistently give to Democrats.
It is in my view, illogical for us to continue to support one party overwhelmingly as if we’re a monolithic group because we are not. My critique of this voting pattern is that we as a community have not reaped the gains that necessitate this level of blind loyalty to the Democratic party. The question that I ask to Democrats and to the black community is, are we better off? I am reminded of the song by Janet Jackson that asks, “what have you done for me lately?” It’s a simple line, but one that African American voters should ask the Democratic party.
There was once a time where African Americans identified and voted for Republicans. In fact, prior to the end of the 1940s African Americans voted primarily Republican and though some identified as Democrats, being black and a republican was a cultural norm. And this is for many reasons — the first is due to Abraham Lincoln and the second is due to the overwhelming number of African Americans elected to local, state, and federal offices for the first time as Republicans. However, this trend would not last forever.
Harry Truman laid the foundation for what would realign African American support for Republicans to Democrats, and it would forever change the political landscape as we know it. Truman made direct appeals to garner the black vote by doing several things: appealing to Congress for new civil rights measures, which as Philip Bump noted included, “voter protections, a federal ban on lynching and bolstering existing civil rights laws.” These measures marked an increase in the number of African Americans identifying as Democrats. The second causation of this great migration to the Democratic party and arguably what sealed the deal was the historic passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and Lyndon B. Johnson’s great society programs, which many African American at the time believed were a necessity due to racial inequalities.
However, after 50 years of the war on poverty and roughly 7 trillion dollars into combating poverty, there hasn’t been great improvements in the condition of African Americans. As Shermichael Singleton notes in The Hill, “while the number of children living in poverty declined to 20 percent, or 14.7 million in 2013, for black children, the number remained a staggering 38 percent. Making them four times as likely as white children to be living in poverty according to a Pew Research Center analysis of Census Bureau data.” Nearly half of our children are still born into poverty. The black family has been all, but decimated and though the economy has improved for some, African Americans remain the worst impacted. Black unemployment rates remain the highest of any group at 9.0 percent as of March 2016 with the average median income of a black household being $34,598 compared to $58,270 of the average white household; this is not what I call progress.
A mere glance at any city from Chicago to Baltimore reveals communities in shambles. Failing school systems, joblessness that would make any economist squinch along with the thought of opportunity being merely a shadow on a wall. This is the current state of the African American community, yet we continue to support the Democratic party without critique.
Now let me be clear, the Republican party has not done a stellar job. In fact, they have largely ignored, until recently, outreach to the African American community. Impart because of the belief that it would be a waste of time since a majority of black voters identify with the Democratic party. Along with various members of the party making comments that are perceived as negative or anti-black by many African Americans have largely ignored the party. However, we must demand that both political parties compete for our vote, and we do that by not allowing one party to have a monopoly on our vote.
While at the National Action Network convention, I noted that Americans aren’t enamored with anyone in the establishment on the Republican or Democratic side. And that is evident by the rise of Bernie Sanders on the left and Donald Trump on the right. Democrats often do and as they did at the convention, show up when they need the black vote, but disappear after we vote for them in swarms.
As Michelle Alexander notes, “Bill Clinton mastered the art of sending mixed cultural messages, appealing to African Americans by belting out “Lift Every Voice and Sing” in black churches while at the same time signaling to poor and working-class whites that he was willing to be tougher on black communities than Republicans had been.” And like her husband, I warned those in attendance of the NAN convention not to allow Hillary to walk into the convention and state that everything is okay, and we say okay and lineup rank and file to support and vote for her because the reality is that everything is not okay.
Former President Bill Clinton’s support and advocacy of NAFTA was disastrous for the black community. With manufacturing jobs in the hundreds and thousands going overseas for cheaper labor and fewer taxes. As Michelle Alexander reminds us, “Unemployment rates among young black men had quadrupled as the rate of industrial employment plummeted. Crime rates spiked in inner-city communities that had been dependent on factory jobs, while hopelessness and despair swept neighborhoods that had once been solidly working-class.” There is no difference between Hillary Clinton and her husband because like him she supported and still does support the same measures. So I must beg the question: why would African American voters support someone who supports policies that are counterintuitive to the advancement of black and poor people?
Politicians will often say whatever they need to say to get elected and Democrats have counted on this for far too long and African American voters have continued to fall for this lame rhetoric time and time again. We must make both political parties work to receive the support of the black community and if they are unwilling then we must consider the other party and other candidates.
As Black Lives Matter co-founder, Patrisse Cullors said in a piece she penned for The Washington Post, Democrats have, “milked the Black vote while creating policies that completely decimate Black communities.” It’s time that we awaken and become smarter about our vote.