By John “John the CEO” Conley
In a recent Rolling Out Magazine article, the black vote was discussed by Al Sharpton and Tamika Mallory at a National Urban League Conference. It was the usual “souls to the poll” campaign plea where we’re told that “a lot is at stake in this upcoming election” and “all of us must exercise our right to vote.” The exact panel they spoke at was called “Unleashed: The Untapped Power of the Black Vote.” A rather interesting, peculiar title. Sharpton mentioned that we should make politicians answer our questions, but exactly what questions was he referring to? And Mallory explained that we need to move policy with our vote so that our voices are heard. But what policy? That’s pretty much the gist of what they were saying.
But haven’t we heard it all before, to quote that Sunshine Anderson song?
Every 4 years, the same cast of characters comes out to scare us into voting, presumably for only one party, because our ancestors died for the right to vote and we have a lot to lose. Really? Is that all we can do? We just condition ourselves to vote out of defensive fear, instead of having a well planned, comprehensive agenda on multiple fronts that specifically addresses our community’s unique needs?
I’m sure that Sharpton, Mallory, and other leading voices have the best of intentions. However, I would invite them to pause and do a raw, honest assessment of the state of affairs regarding the black vote. In the 2019 Democratic debates this summer, we saw black candidates shy away from slavery reparations and instead speak Spanish to appeal to the Hispanic vote. Nothing necessarily wrong with that except the black agenda remains ignored, to the detriment of those who ignore us. During the same summer, we see members of the Congressional Black Caucus boldly “moving policy” for the Hispanic, LGBTQ and Israeli groups, but gave us a half-assed HR40 “hearing” on reparations with no real substance at all. We already had hearings on reparations. Bring up issues of the constant urban decay in the hood, and our “leaders” look the other way for whatever reason.
Or they pay lip service and nothing really gets done except for gentrification, where a small enclave of affluence within the hood is carved out for others. Brothas and sistas in South Dallas and Oak Cliff (Dallas) know about that. So does our community in South/South Central LA, Washington DC, Oakland, New York, etc.
As I’ve mentioned over the years in a few articles, we’ve voted one party blindly for over 150 years now. It was the Republicans first, from 1865 till 1965. And it’s been the Democrats ever since, as LBJ boldly predicted (in colorful, racially insensitive terms). If you do a genuine assessment of the outcome of that one sided voting strategy, we are still, net worth percentage wise, in the same boat as when the civil war ended. We had some great pockets of successes, despite the racial terrorism, from about the late 1870s till the early 1920s, but the government-sanctioned long arm of Jim Crow slapped the crap out of us in terms of racial terrorism and ethnic cleansing that destroyed or stole our wealth and put us back in the permanent underclass status Uncle Sam intended for us.
That’s not to say a few of us didn’t make something of ourselves, but as a lot of us professional brothas and sistas know, we are usually the only black faces in a predominantly white corporate America. And when it comes to bank loans, it is rare to get loans from a black banker, while at the same time, the government green lights immigrants to get loans to open businesses in our neighborhoods, further sapping our net worth. The deadly combination of the Post Slavery Era plus the long arm of Jim Crow, which includes redlining, the hood-creating federal highway system of the 1950s, and other modern discriminatory practices, has kept too many of us disproportionately in the underclass of the belly of the beast. Many of us more successful ones have to be the ones to support our family and friends who are still caught in the web of Jim Crow, that has not died like many want to believe. That financial support we provide, in turn, decreases our net worth and opportunities to fund our own businesses adequately.
Does this sound like a successful use of the vote to you? If the black leaders in and out of government were a company, would you give this company a good rating on Yelp, seeing how atrocious their 150 years in business have been for us, their customers? Of course not. And yet these same leaders want us to go to the polls yet again with no real policy, no real agenda, and vote for the same failed “company.” It’s time we dissolve this company and start with a new and improved one.
Let’s face it. On paper at least, according to the US Census (and one of our agenda items should be to audit the census to make sure their counting process is accurate), we don’t have the numbers to make the one party strategy work to our advantage. As stated earlier, after 150 years, we’ve reached the point where our political leaders ignore us, focusing only on non black groups. That’s a complete and utter catastrophe. But part of that is our own fault. If we were the majority, then sure, a one party voting strategy would work. But given that we are a strong but smaller group, we have to look to the power of the swing vote strategy.
I’ve written about this since the 1990s. The idea is to have a solid, American black-specific agenda, and negotiate that voting bloc with the “highest bidder.” In other words, what politician can come the closest to what we want, regardless of party or level of government. If we support local candidates, make sure they sign in writing that they will carry out the agenda we want them to, whether they are black or not. We’ve tried them giving us their word for decades, and look where that got us. So now we need tangibles in writing with receipts. If they renege, we take them to court and sue for damages and wasted time. There’s a show on Netflix called “Designated Survivor” where, if the president is killed, a designated person replaces him. We need this approach for when a politician fails us. Have a backup on deck to step in once we replace the weak link.
The last thing is for us to have a bona fide agenda that we brainstorm at the local, state and national level. Nationally, there have been some great discussions around slavery reparations on social media, particularly from the ADOS crowd. I also like the work that Dane Calloway has done when it comes to our true property heritage, for longer than we know, in indigenous America. This is good given that the effects of slavery and black/negro land theft didn’t just end in 1865—and most don’t realize that Reconstruction was actually a failure on the part of the government—but have gripped the black community with the long arm of Jim Crow ever since, with NO financial restitution. Just look at what happened to the Freedman’s Bank, which was supposed to help address some of the financial aspects of the racial and slavery terrorism we endured, only to have “the man” sabotage that, too.
For those who still believe that blacks magically got something after emancipation, please stop relying on your outdated, shallow high school history lessons. Just like the Apostle Paul said, paraphrasing: “when I acted like a child, I did childish things. But when I became a man, I put childish things away.” One of those “childish things” is your high school history lesson that got stamped in your brain. Slavery was only 15 decades ago, so go back and prove to yourself which one of those decades did the government, a white racist mob, or more subtle Big Bank/Big Business cartel NOT loot and burn down a vibrant black community? In what decade did we ever get allowed to excel without being driven off our properties and others coming in to steal?
Besides reparations, there are other agenda items. The whole Prison Industrial Complex needs to be overhauled in a real, tangible way. Not just reducing excessive prison terms for crimes targeting black incarceration, but also the Jim Crow effect of having a felony on our records. From the end of slavery all the way till now, blacks are disproportionately given criminal records that leave us without the vote, without the ability to defend ourselves, with little choices in jobs and business loans, and with horrible choices for housing. Many of us brothas and sistas know family and friends who may have did one small thing as a teen, did the time or paid the fine, yet still have a felony that makes it easy for a racist society to discriminate. This is “stealth Jim Crow.” So our agenda must include greatly limiting the impact of most felonies. If a teen writes a bad check, for instance, and gets caught, any resulting felonies should fully drop off within, say, 6 months, or a year or two after paying their dues. I’ll let the fair minded criminal justice minds among us figure out the best win-win approach to felonies, but you get the point.
Redlining and other forms of banking discrimination are still problems. And yes, corporate America is still too homogeneous when it comes to the disproprotionate black faces in the boardroom, so this has to be on the agenda, no excuses. We have to hold our ground on these issues and not let politicians ignore us anymore. If you have other ideas for a comprehensive agenda, feel free to Contact Us and we’ll be happy to set up a 2020 Black Vote page listing them. Let’s not let the media’s hand picked black leaders scare us into voting only one party anymore. Time to Swing the Vote, not Rock the Vote, for 2020.