Hooray! The Associated Press reported that America’s Blacks voted at a higher rate than Whites in 2012 for the first time in history. Was it because there was a Black man running for president, or because threats of voter suppression? Was it a combination of the two? Or did White America vote in fewer numbers because they felt, like many Blacks have felt for years, that neither candidate represented them and their views?
Whatever the reason, 1.7 million more African Americans voted for Obama in 2012 than in 2008. That raises another question: Do we understand what role we play in American politics?
When I was a young girl, I asked my mom if we were Democrats or Republicans. She told me we were Democrats. I asked ‘why,’ thinking I was going to get an explanation with so much substance that I could rush to school and educate my classmates. Her reply was simple and direct: “Because we are Black.”
Until then, I had thought the political process was one in which I could choose my affiliation based on my personal beliefs. However, it seemed my political fate was already determined. As I ventured out into the world, what my mom said seemed to resonate among most Black Americans. People really don’t ask African Americans if they are Republican or Democrats unless they are the stereotypical Black conservative who goes out of his or her way to walk, talk, dress and act differently from the rest of Black America. As conservative darling Ann Coulter put it: “Our Blacks are so much better than their Blacks.”
Our Blacks? This is not slavery and Coulter is not my slave master.
For most of my life, I went to the polls and voted a straight Democratic ticket, never learning about the candidates and the political process. It wasn’t until a Black Republican entered my life and challenged my reasons for being a Democrat did I begin to see the process clearly. He made me think, if all Black people are Democrats, what happens when Republicans or any other party wins? Do we expect those who won without our support to vote for legislation that resonates with the Black plight? We make it easy for Republicans and even Democrats to run game on us by not participating or only choosing to be Democrats.
On the other hand, should we vote for Republicans simply because they are not Democrats? According to the last NAACP Legislative Report Card, every Republican in Congress earned an ‘F’ when voting on issues deemed important to us. Not even a ‘D’ in the whole bunch.
We must hold Democrats (including the ones who vote like Republicans) accountable. Black Americans want better for our communities, but just don’t know how to get better from either Democrats or Republicans.
We know most politicians, Black, White or Brown, come to our community and say what they need to say to get elected. In Malcolm X’s acclaimed speech of 1964, ‘The Ballot or the Bullet’” he says we should control the politics and the politicians in our own community through Black Nationalism. He says: “We must understand the politics of our community and we must know what politics is supposed to produce. We must know what part politics play in our lives. And until we become politically mature we will always be mislead, lead astray, or deceived or maneuvered into supporting someone politically who doesn’t have the good of our community at heart.”
We underestimate our political power. Thanks largely to Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, Blacks voted solidly Republican until Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal. Even as late as 1960, Republicans were receiving 30% of the Black vote.
Blacks left the GOP in droves after Barry Goldwater’s right-wing presidential defeat in 1964 and the Party’s adoption of a ‘Southern Strategy’—concentrating on White voters at the expense of Blacks.
Many worry what will happen now that Obama’s name will never appear on another presidential ballot. But Hip Hop can play a unique role in keeping our issues on the front burner.
Rev. Jackson, Sr. put it best when he said: “We never lost a battle that we fought, but if we don’t fight we can’t win.”
Most of us who don’t vote are certain not to win. Our non-vote is also a vote—a vote for the opposition.
As political season begins and petitions begin circulating, don’t suck your teeth and walk away. Demand that these candidates that are asking you if they can have a job representing your community have a plan for fixing problems and a vision for the future.
(Jineea Butler, founder of the Social Services of Hip Hop and the Hip Hop Union, can be reached at <firstname.lastname@example.org> or Tweet her at <@flygirlladyjay>).