My ancestors died for voting rights. My vote was purchased in blood and thus it is valuable. But it won’t really count next Tuesday. My vote only matters if I have identified the issues important to my community, pressed candidates to take a stance on those issues and feel confident that someone on the ballot will fight for them. None of those conditions will exist next Tuesday. No, the prospect of a third Clinton term is not at all equal to the lunacy of a Donald Trump presidency but let’s not be delusional and think that the concerns of black communities will be front and center. Sadly, we as black people must shoulder some of that blame.
It is no secret that black communities have not recovered from the recession on par with our white counterparts. Even so, in fiscal year 2015 the federal government awarded close to $440 billion in contracts to private companies and only 1.8% went to Black-owned firms (see Federal Procurement Data System). The National Black Chamber of Commerce will gladly tell you that under George W. Bush the numbers were actually better. Has either candidate put forth a plan to address this? Has either candidate given specific policy solutions to grow existing Black businesses or create new ones? No. But we have not raised the issue aggressively enough as a collective and thus there was no need to respond. How much will the Black vote actually impact this issue Tuesday? Not much.
Growing those businesses means jobs and they are needed. Chicago has already recorded over 600 homicides this year–more than New York and Los Angeles combined. Overwhelmingly, that violence is driven by a drug policy which often leaves competing factions to handle disputes through violence. The individuals who participate only sign up for these “working conditions” because other options are not more readily available. In places like Baltimore, Chicago and East St. Louis, Il, the health of black businesses is literally a matter of life and death. Candidates are willing to talk about “gun control” when approaching the subject of violence in poor communities but nothing stops a bullet like a job (and as a side note, gun control has historically been a nice way to talk about disarming black people). Black voters will not even have the option to directly address these issues on Tuesday. But have we insisted on it? Hardly. Clinton’s criminal justice platform is miles better than Trump’s, in fairness, but that isn’t very hard to do, either.
We need action that hits our pockets and public policy should make sure our efforts toward economic empowerment are rewarded. Black women are enrolled in college at a higher percentage by race and gender than any other group. Even so, the pay gap they face upon entering the workforce is startling. Black women took home 63% of what their white male counterparts did in 2015. A large part of the problem is that Black women tend to be overrepresented in low-paying occupations. To remedy this, Black women are taking charge and staring their own businesses. Indeed, Black women are starting businesses at much higher rates than entrepreneurs of all other groups. Still, they struggle to access capital and investment on par with others. When entrepreneurs can’t secure capital and investment, their businesses fail. The success of Black women in business directly impacts the overall health of Black communities but the issue has not been spoken to, nor have we demanded that it be. Good luck with that on Tuesday.
Black America will have a very different outcome under a Clinton administration versus a Trump one. I don’t mean to suggest that there is no difference or that we should abstain from voting. My point is simply that the core of our issues and remedies to our day to day concerns are not even under consideration Tuesday; partially because the country sees “Black” concerns as separate from national ones and partially because we have not joined our voices collectively to push our true priorities in the political debate. Vote on Tuesday but do so with an awareness of what is not on the ballot and what we should place there next go-round.