In the past decade or so this question has gained momentum in the black community, and, depending who you ask, the answers will vary wildly, but will always be expressed with great passion. My father will call any black person who doesnt vote Democrat a fool and to him its a very simple matter of good vs. evil, rich vs. poor, racism vs. equality. But for a younger generation of college educated, industrious blacks the question, to quote Eddie Murphy, quoting Janet Jackson is, What have you done for me lately? And lately that hasnt been much.
Historically, blacks were primarily Republican supporters, because of the great emancipator Abraham Lincoln. This began to shift with the reign of FDR, who supported various social programs (The New Deal) that benefited poor blacks. These programs fractured the Democratic Party along the Mason-Dixon, and finally broke completely when LBJ signed the Civil Rights act of 1964. At that point, the majority of southern Democrats (Dixiecrats) who were strict segregationists fled to the Republican Party, leaving the black vote behind.
Up to LBJ, the main goal of blacks was equality under the law. After that though, black goals became much more unclear, especially after MLKs death. Since then, blacks have lacked a certain clarity of vision, that clarion call for organization and a focused political message. Likewise, there is an inertia that drags black leadership back into the past.
If you dont believe me, look at these three major African-American groups and check out their goals. The Congressional Black Caucus says their focus is, Leadership, Education, Public Health, and Economic Development. The NAACPs mission is, to ensure the political, educational, social, and economic equality of rights of all persons and to eliminate racial hatred and racial discrimination. And Al Sharptons National Action Network provides for, extensive voter education awareness and the national platform revolves around activism against racial profiling, police brutality, womens issues, economic reform, public education, international affairs, including abolishing slavery in Africa, job awareness, AIDS awareness, and more. Guess if you cant pick one then you choose them all.
Now just looking at these goals side by side one cant help but notice that they seem vague and gravitate towards the pre-civil rights agenda: equality and anti-discrimination. Likewise the Democratic Partys rhetoric seems in lock step in these sentiments. Just take a look at the African-American section of the Democratic Party website and youll notice that two of their top headlines center around discrimination:
That last headline should be filed under, No shit.
Its these goals that many young black entrepreneurs find dated and, to varying degrees, obsolete, at least within the racial context. Yes they understand, as Kanye says, racism still alive, they just concealing it, but they also understand that with the advent of Civil Rights Act, these inequalities have been redrawn under the lines of education and economics. Its not about materialism but its about justice as dictated by wealth, and the key word is opportunity: opportunity not based on a racial standard, but on merit.
Not only that, but young blacks are also frustrated by what we see as our leadership and the Democrats substituting rhetoric for results. Take for instance the case of Bill Clinton. Described by Toni Morrison as our first black president, Clintons support of blacks was questionable. Without a doubt, his passage of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act targeted poor blacks and weakened their already dubious economic status by cutting off government aid, while his Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act created more prisons and added fifty new federal offenses to the books including gang membership. I wouldnt exactly call such policies the work of a friend of the black community.
This is why, in the George W. Bush era, the GOP has made strides in seducing the black vote. Weve seen people of color promoted to positions of power, and, to be fair, these people have been some of the more competent officers in this inept squad of idiots. Furthermore, the GOP has run several blacks in high profile elections last year such as Michael Steele, and all the while Bush and company has been slick in not addressing their appointees racial backgrounds. The whole thing is quite alluring.
But lets be practical. Lets escape our historical and racial context, and study the present. Yes, Bill Clinton wasnt our first black president, and it was foolish to make that assumption. And maybe Ill go so far as to question the racism of the Republican Party, but does any of that make up for the fact that under Bush we faced perhaps three of the greatest screw ups of any presidential administration ever? Weve seen tax cuts that have lead to the greatest division of wealth in this country since the 1930s, were stuck in a war based on lies and misinformation, and Katrina (nuff said). Also the top candidate for the GOP in the 08 election is Rudy Giuliani, a man who instituted and ingrained racial profiling standards within the NYPD. The question now isnt, Do blacks owe the Democrats their vote? but Does anyone (other than the super wealthy) owe the Republicans their vote? And the answer to the latter is a resounding No!
In the short term it would seem that the political destinies of blacks and the Democrats remain connected, but in the long term that relationship is in doubt, as we demand a greater part in the political process. No longer will we tolerate idle rhetoric about racism and discrimination; we demand specific policies committing real resources to education and health care that will allow blacks to compete in the marketplace. But more importantly, Democratic leaders will have to understand that were not going to accept our token roles anymore. Like any other constituency in America we have to demand results of our leaders. It happened in New York, with the tenure of Republican Mike Bloomberg, and should the GOP actually nominate anyone of his style (and competency) for President the Democrats may find themselves wondering where all their black friends went.
The Wolf runs a blog on political matters at www.wordofthepeople.blogspot.com. His first novel, The Intellectual Prostitute, will be dropping this Fall