Democrats and Republicans Must Do More to Engage African Americans
By Jeffrey L. Boney, (NNPA Newswire Political Analyst)
When it comes to politics in this country, there is one thing that seems to be a constant—the Black vote is important and always tends to make a difference.
Although Blacks make up roughly 13 percent of the overall population in the United States, Black voters remain a powerful voting block that can change the trajectory of any election.
Now, it is no secret that Black people overwhelmingly vote for Democratic candidates in nearly every national election, with identical results being shown in local and state elections.
Even in elections where a race is considered to be nonpartisan, such as for a Mayor or City Council seat, Black people have historically voted for the candidates that have self-identified or campaigned as a Democrat.
While this has been the norm for decades, Black people have been on the receiving end of neglect and disparate treatment by candidates who win with the overwhelming support of the Black vote.
It is an interesting phenomenon to watch, as Black people are strategically sought after and courted for their vote, with the hope of securing their collective support for specific candidates or certain issues. Black people are typically courted with the same archaic methods to get them registered and to the polls, while providing limited resources for voter outreach and education.
On the surface, African Americans are marketed to as if their sacred vote means so much, but historically that often changes once their vote is cast.
The way African American voters are treated, it is as if they have become a political piñata.
You know what a “piñata is right?
According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, a “piñata” is “a decorated container filled with candies, fruits, and gifts that is hung up at parties or celebrations and hit with a stick by blindfolded persons until it is broken and the things inside it fall out.”
As it relates to voting, African Americans are often treated like the treats on the inside of a piñata. They don’t care how they get Black votes, they just want that vote no matter how Blacks are treated or handled. Blacks are consistently pounded and beat over the head with political messages during campaign season until they give up their precious and valuable vote. Then once that piñata is finally opened, or in this case when the Black votes are finally cast, Black voters are either forgotten or vilified depending on the outcome of the race.
The routine is simple. When the results don’t go the way those who courted the Black vote wanted it to go, they blame the Blacks for the results. However, when the outcome is favorable to those who courted the Black vote, they celebrate the results, reap the benefits and then essentially ignore those same loyal, African American voters after the election is over.
Because Black voters overwhelmingly vote for Democratic candidates, it would make sense for the Democratic Party to avoid treating Blacks like piñatas and taking them for granted.
At a recent plenary session at the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) Annual Convention in Detroit, Democratic National Committee Chair Tom Perez emphatically stated that the Democratic Party had become notorious for taking African Americans for granted.
“Shame on us for taking African Americans for granted,” said Perez. “We can’t allow that to happen again and we won’t allow that to happen again under my watch. We can’t criticize Black voters for not showing up, because it’s not on them. It’s on the Democratic Party to show up and put our money where our mouth is to better organize in the African American community.”
History shows us that beginning with the Civil War era and through the early part of the 20th century, Blacks voted heavily Republican. One key factor for that was the decision for Republican President Abraham Lincoln to push for and pass the Emancipation Proclamation.
After the passage of the Emancipation Proclamation, the Ku Klux Klan began to terrorize Blacks with threats of violence to discourage them from voting, while strongly putting a fear in Blacks to avoid supporting Republican candidates, unless they wanted to be lynched. The Democratic Party, at that time, did not solicit Blacks to be a part of their party, primarily because the majority of the members of their party were White, segregationist politicians who governed Southern states.
Many Blacks who lived in the South were prevented from participating in the political process. It wasn’t until 1924 that Blacks were even permitted to attend Democratic conventions in any official capacity.
That changed in 1948, when Harry Truman received roughly 77 percent of the Black vote. It was at the point that many Blacks began to self-identify as Democrats. However, not all Black people were ready to switch so fast. It took a few more years for Blacks to shift to the Democratic Party in the way they have today.
In 1956, Republican Dwight D. Eisenhower got 39 percent of the Black vote and four years later Republican Richard Nixon got 32 percent of the Black vote in 1960. However, once President Lyndon B. Johnson championed the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964, while his Republican opponent Senator Barry Goldwater openly opposed it, the almost full migration to the Democratic Party by African Americans had begun. Johnson received 94 percent of the Black vote that year.
The following year President Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965 into law and ever since, no Republican presidential candidate has gotten more than 15 percent of the Black vote.
African Americans are more than just a vote. Blacks have sacrificed and contributed mightily to the betterment of our nation, and to our state and local governments. No political party should ever treat the Black community and Black voters like political piñatas. Black people need to receive the same type of support and political respect as all other groups of people in this country. If African Americans aren’t respected and are continuously treated like political piñatas, then they might just become galvanized to the point where they either switch political parties or create their own—whatever it takes to avoid becoming a proverbial political piñata.
This upcoming midterm election in November, along with the events leading up to it, will be telling and will show how much effort the Democratic Party has done to engage their loyal voting bloc – Black voters.
The National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA), which represents over 200 Black-owned media companies across the U.S., has been focused on encouraging 5 million Blacks to register to vote and go to the polls before the midterm elections in 2018. The NNPA is calling on the Democratic Party, the Republican Party and all of their affiliates to invest in voter outreach utilizing Black newspapers across the country and to join the NNPA’s efforts to get Blacks registered and to the polls in November.