How the Democratic Party Takes Black Voters for Granted
The party needs minority voters to win national elections. But the solutions they're offering are nowhere near enough.
College students on the NAACP's 'Vote Hard' bus tour in 2008. Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images
So far, the 2016 election cycle has been the angriest in recent memory, with vitriol and disillusionment coming from every end of the political spectrum, boiling over on cable news, social media, and in the comments section of every news site. Divisions in the electorate have deepened, splitting voters between those unhappy with the country's perceived shift away from traditional—and mostly unequal—norms, and those who think America hasn't been quick enough to embrace new realities of equality and inclusion.
You don't have to look any further than a Donald Trump campaign rally to see that the political animus between these two groups has fueled a growing amount of racial strife. And things only seem poised to get uglier as the presidential race drags on.
Of course, America has a long history of racial division, reflected in the sad and alarming recurrence of dog-whistle politics used to appeal to the lowest instincts of voters. From George Wallace's 1962 election as governor of Alabama—in which he swore to "never be outniggered again,"—and George H. W. Bush's infamous "Willie Horton" ad in the 1988 presidential race, to this year's "Make America White Again" congressional ad campaign and Donald Trump's xenophobic rages against Muslims and Mexicans, racial hatred has long been a staple of right-wing politics in America, creating scapegoats for a misinformed and dissatisfied segment of the white electorate.
For decades, this conservative disdain toward all things not white, male, and rich has spilled into Republican policy positions, manifesting itself in voter-registration laws, resistance to minimum-wage hikes and healthcare reform, the expansion of the prison-industrial complex, and opposition to affirmative action, among other things.
So it should come as a surprise to exactly no one that the overwhelming majority of black Americans who vote do vote for Democrats. In presidential elections dating back to at least the 1970s, the GOP has struggled—and often failed—to break double-digits among black voters. And according to the latest Quinnipiac University survey, a full 91 percent of black voters back Hillary Clinton in 2016, compared to just 1 percent who support Trump.
While the Republican Party's alienation of minority voters is disturbing in its own right, it has also had the unfortunate side effect of allowing the Democratic Party to take black votes for granted. Standing virtually unopposed as the perceived political party of inclusion and acceptance, Democrats have cast themselves as the only antidote to right-wing hate-mongering. What they don't mention, of course, is that it was Democrats who helped bring about cruel and crushing welfare reform, the deregulation of the telecommunications and banking industries, and tough-on-crime policies like the 1994 Violent Crime Control Act that more than doubled the federal prison population.
Even as the party increasingly relies on minority voters to win national elections, Democrats have still failed to take meaningful steps on the pressing, life-or-death issues facing those voters—issues like structural economic inequality, gun violence, the mass incarceration of young black men, and police terrorism in minority communities.
Under President Barack Obama—viewed, perhaps mistakenly, by some African Americans as the "Great Black Hope"— conditions continue to worsen in many black communities. Recent studies show that nearly 28 percent of black now Americans live in poverty, compared to just under 10 percent of whites, and black children are almost four times as likely as white children to live below the poverty line. Blacks are also twice as likely as whites to be unemployed, and the median income for black households is less than 60 percent of what it is for white households, according to US Census data. And on a number of other policy fronts, including deportation policies, bank regulation, and mass surveillance, the Obama administration has fallen short of expectations.
So, yeah, to many of us, both the Obama administration and the Democratic Party have failed colossally when it comes to dealing with Americans of color. Yet every election cycle, we are told that the "stakes are too high" to not get onboard with the Democratic Party, regardless of whether the party meets our political needs. Many black voters—indeed, many voters—often feel pressured to vote for the lesser of two evils. Rarely are we completely satisfied with our political choices, but we've become resigned to this false choice. And so real progress is never made.
For voters of color, the consequences of this are particularly profound, resulting in a national dialogue that rarely reflects the issues that concern us. For many, the desire to keep the "greater evil" out of public office isn't a good enough reason to engage in a democratic process that seems rigged, designed to maintain the illusion of choice while protecting the status quo.
To say that voters of color are once again faced with a less-than-desirable choice for president in 2016 is perhaps an understatement. I, for one, still remember Hillary's reference to black youth as "super predators," the racist undertones of her 2008 race against Obama, and her cozy relationship with the private-prison lobbyists bundling donations for her presidential campaign. Faced with the toxicity of Trump and his party, it's perhaps tempting to dismiss this record; indeed, Clinton's potent support among black voters suggests many already have. But that is exactly the problem.
Pointing out these Democratic shortcomings hardly amounts to an argument for the GOP; it simply illustrates that there are far more similarities between the two parties than we should be comfortable with. And granted, the Obama administration has made some strides when it comes to civil rights. But while it's OK to applaud the achievements of the first black president, it's also OK to lament the fact that those same achievements—and other so-called solutions provided by Democrats—are nowhere near enough.
Paris is a hip-hop artist and activist from the Bay Area. He's owned several businesses that never went bankrupt. Follow him on Twitter.