Members of Harrisburg’s Young Professionals Color at the July 19, 2019 screening of ‘The Lion King’ (Capital-Star photo by Anwar Curtis)
Winning the votes of certain demographic groups is a strong strategy often discussed within political parties.
In spaces where Black and Brown demographics prevail, candidates often create unique or specialized strategies in hopes of securing those votes. But what, if anything, is so different about the “Black vote?” And what is behind the push to secure the vote of what is now seen as one of the strongest blocs in American politics?
Voting fairness and suppression of the Black vote has been historically examined, and the weight of the Black vote in both sacrifice and outcome shows itself in how individuals push to get voters of color to the polls.
Since the passing of the 15th Amendment, candidates have understood that there was more energy and power in the African-American population, now eager to exercise their long-denied right to vote. While not immediately anchored as a political chess move, the Black vote has long been known to be impactful in spaces where a majority of the demographic subscribed to a certain political party.
As time moved on, not much has changed. The power of the Black vote is a quintessential part of American politics. And those who are aware of that push to gather literature, representation, and alignment to black and brown communities in order to clench these votes.
One of the largest areas of skepticism, however, comes from the idea that while political hopefuls acknowledge the power in the Black vote, many come into those situations very tone deaf. Often, they’ll pander, and discuss ‘low “hanging fruit” issues that vaguely gloss over the deeper issues affecting those communities. They do this in the hope of appearing at least somewhat connected to the communities they are attempting to convince of their dedication.
In some spaces, the historical spectacles that have occurred in both the national and local level have been forever etched in our minds. Think of Hillary Clinton’s exclamation that she had “hot sauce in bag,” or Biden’s argument to a talk show host that those who don’t support him “ain’t Black.” Those exist alongside countless other instances where bidding for the Black vote has turned into a theatrical act, rather than an attempt to connect to those communities in a deeper way.
The Black vote, in its power, can shift and shake local, state, and national elections.
And while the argument can be made that African-Americans themselves aren’t fully grasping that concept, we are clear that political candidates are certain of it.
It becomes problematic, however, when political hopefuls don’t fully explain how they plan to implement their plans; or if they fail to exhibit a sense of who the individuals in those communities are; of what unique experiences Black and Brown communities hold — other than those statistics seen in textbooks and television, and how they plan to honor Black voters beyond the poll.
If this is the case, what responsibility, if any, does the political hopeful have in securing Black votes? What should they know before entering spaces they may be largely unfamiliar with? What prep if any is needed beforehand?
Is it divisive to even think about Black voters in such an isolated space? All of those answers depend on how you feel about the weight and impact of the Black vote, its historical struggle to be maintained, and our ongoing dedication to ensure that the vote is honored and acquired by those who understand the Black and Brown agenda.
Political hopefuls have a responsibility to be genuine people, no matter the race of the voter. But in times like these, when many are admittedly ignorant of black and brown disparities and how systemic racism and division has shaped those communities, hopefuls should be at least able to assess themselves.
That isn’t to say they should be caught up on “Black Fun Facts,” but having thoroughly assessed their own implicit bias, instances of prejudice, and how their demographics have played a role in social determinants for disparities experienced in Black and Brown societies.
This, for many, is the critical piece way before literature is printed with minority figures and aligned language. Communities can both sense genuine and sincere candidates and those who attempt to finesse their way through neighborhoods to appear ‘down for the cause’.
In addition to those personal assessments, much of the black vote will come from the lasting impression made in those communities.
This extends itself far beyond participating actively during political seasons and making donations towards causes during election season.
It comes from understanding those neighborhoods, who the leadership is within those spaces, and looking at understanding the dynamics which make each space unique. Candidates who come into spaces they do not necessarily ‘belong’ to must consider the idea that they are guests, and adhering to ‘house rules’ can help them avoid the common mistakes of theatrics, overstepping, and making statements which showcase them as being tone deaf rather than individuals eager to learn within those spaces.
The voters in Black and Brown communities have seen it all and heard it all. Urban spaces are filled with the broken promises of political hopefuls who enter those spaces and engage briefly with pipe dreams and talks to swoon voters in their favor.
It is also filled with ghosts of those same hopefuls who, once elected, are invisible in those streets they once vowed to create greater connections with and return to with resources and aid that would allegedly surpass their competitors.
This leads to an immense amount of mistrust in political hopefuls entering these spaces to secure the black vote.
With this is mind, it is important for this point to be made: Any candidate who enters into Black and Brown spaces should know both who they are and who they plan to serve, far outside of the superficial knowledge needed to audition, but true knowledge of those areas and their disparities and deficits, with a clear and identified plan for change that isn’t wrapped in delusion, but in intentional planning and proposed execution.
Opinion contributor Ana White, of Harrisburg, is the owner of Way With Words Consulting Services, LLC., which specializes in diversity and inclusion professional development training. She also works in mental health services in the Harrisburg area. Her work appears biweekly on the Capital-Star’s Commentary Page.
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