Every Democratic presidential hopeful wants my vote.
As an African American woman, I’m part of the powerful voting bloc that DNC chair Tom Perez calls the “backbone” of the party.
However, they’ll need to earn my vote.
During the New Hampshire Democratic debate before that state’s primary election, the subject of race and racism was front and center, and there were no winners. Instead, the debate highlighted the work all the white candidates need to do to win over black voters.
“Whether it’s the Republican party or the Democratic Party they need to understand from here on out the black vote isn’t free,” wrote one Marcus Wilkins, in the comment section of the New York Times, after watching the debate.
In July 2018, DNC Chair Perez issued an apology statement to black voters. “I am sorry,” Perez stated. “We took too many people for granted … and African Americans—our most loyal constituency—we all too frequently took for granted. That is a shame on us, folks, and for that, I apologize. And for that, I say, it will never happen again!”
I, like so many African Americans, was hoping for a fresh start.
In sharing his thoughts about the lack of people of color in the race, House Majority Whip James Clyburn said the following on C-Span on the night of the Granite State primary: “I wanted Cory [Booker] and Kamala [Harris] to remain on that stage. It is always difficult for candidates of color to raise the kind of money other candidates raise. We have to take that into account. We ought not make all our decisions based upon the deepest pockets. I do not believe that it is fair to candidates of color, black and brown, to make decisions based solely on money. We bring so much else to the ticket.”
Black voters make up approximately two-thirds of South Carolina’s Democratic voters. Its primary is Feb 29.
Although most African Americans are Democrats today, our disaffection from the GOP only led us to FDR’s Democratic party after Republicans reneged on their formerly strong civil rights plank. It’s a cautionary tale for Democrats. As CNN analyst Van Jones said after Trump’s recent State of the Union address: “He knows he’s got to give a lot of red meat to his base. Religious liberty, abortion, etc. … At the same time … what he was saying to African Americans can be effective. You may not like it, but he mentioned HBCUs. Black colleges have been struggling for a long time, a bunch of them have gone under. He threw a lifeline to them in real life in his budget.”
Of course, the Republican Party is no friend to black folks either. Trump is trying to get just enough of our votes to win reelection. The production of his address may have won over a few black voters, as his “Black Votes for Trump” initiative has spent money making inroads into black communities. But Trump needs only 14% of the black vote to win; in 2016, he received 8% of the total black vote, more than Republican presidential hopefuls John McCain and Mitt Romney received. This time around, the Trump team sees untapped possibilities, especially with the 2018 passage of the First Step Act, a prison reform bill that aims to revise the federal prison system and some federal mandatory minimum sentencing laws.
In August 2016, then-presidential candidate Trump told a crowd at a rally that the Democrats take black voters for granted. In stumping for black votes in Michigan, he asked black voters, “What do you have to lose by trying something new, like Trump? … What the hell do you have to lose?”
There are a lot of possible answers, including this line spoken by Rev. Al Sharpton at the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston: “The Republican Party was the party of Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. It is true that Mr. Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, after which there was a commitment to give 40 acres and a mule … We didn’t get the mule. So we decided we’d ride this donkey as far as it would take us.”
The Democratic Party must do more than simply court African American voters. The party must address our issues too.
Rev. Irene Monroe can be heard on the podcast and standing Boston Public Radio segment ALL REV’D UP on WGBH (89.7 FM). Monroe’s syndicated religion columns appear and the Boston voice for Detour’s African American Heritage Trail. She is a s a Visiting Researcher in the Religion and Conflict Transformation Program at Boston University School of Theology.