During Jim Crow blacks could eat from white establishments, provided we went around back to collect our plates. So it was during this year’s presidential election. Clinton had some points in her platform that might appeal to black voters–aid to HBCU’s and some moderate criminal-justice reforms–but I only know that because I went around back to gather the information. She occasionally said things in front of black audiences to indicate she was sort of on our side but I can’t think of one pro-black message she was strongly identified with throughout her campaign. What I can tell you is that Donald Trump was for banning Muslims and deporting Mexicans. No backdoor approach there, just an open love letter to his white base. The Democratic Party, by and large, just can’t love us to that degree publicly and that, more than Russia, sunk Hillary’s campaign. Democrats cannot win without 90 percent of the black vote. No other group can make that claim. Democrats can win without 90 percent of whites, Hispanics and Asians but not blacks. They need us, not the reverse.
Much like Jim Crow restaurant owners who wanted black dollars without getting too close to black people, Democrats have opted to court black voters without openly aligning with us. Clinton had endless opportunities to openly align herself with the struggles of black people but declined. When the FBI continued to antagonize her she had an easy opportunity to connect with black voters. She should have reminded us of the FBI’s racist foundations–from assassinating black leaders to harassing Dr. King— which reverberate to the present. She should have promised that once elected, she would clean house to ensure justice for all. She did not. She continued to send us around back; “go to HillaryClinton.com for more” was her go-to line. Trump did no so such thing. He inspired his base while Clinton tried to keep a safe distance from hers and we are tired of going around back to get a plate while you collect our dollar…I mean, vote. That is what depressed the black vote this cycle.
Russia did not cost Clinton the election, nor did white people suddenly rise up to redeem the Confederacy. Whites were actually a smaller percentage of the electorate this cycle than in 2012. Turnout was down in critical states Clinton lost–like Ohio and Wisconsin–and especially in urban centers where black voters live. National exit polls suggest Clinton managed to secure only 88% of the black vote compared to Obama’s 93% in 2012. She lost Wisconsin by 27,000 votes. In 2012 Obama outperformed Clinton in Milwaukee County alone by 43,000 votes. Hillary lost Michigan by 11,000 votes. In 2012 Obama outperformed Clinton in Wayne alone by 77,000 votes. These counties have strong black populations (Detroit is in Wayne County) and could have easily swung their states for Clinton. To be clear, Obama was a unique candidate and the opportunity to elect the first black president had an energizing effect on black voters but even John Kerry turned out 82,000 more voters in Wayne County than Hillary Clinton. Clinton simply refused to openly side with black voters to the degree Trump did with white voters and as such, blacks did not feel they had a true ally.
Russia did not influence a mass of whites to put Trump over the top and yet some in the media continue to perpetuate the myth that Democrats must become more in tune with the white working class. It is a desirable narrative because it would mean Democrats should devote more resources to white voters, rather than admit that it fails to cater to its loyal black base. That failure made black voters apathetic. “I’m With Her” turned into “I Guess I’m With Her” because no one–especially black voters–could easily articulate what Clinton stood for. She clothed her positions in ambiguous political jargon when talking to black voters rather than boldly stating where she stood. She could recite a few stats on the number of black men incarcerated but could not tell us how much she hated the system of racism which created that reality. Clinton tried to quietly push a few “black concerns” inside of our churches, telling a Charlotte church crowd that her worries “were not the same as black grandmothers.” Yet she had no pro-black convictions to trumpet the countless other times she had a mic. Conversely, Trump did not simply talk “immigration reform,” he screamed daily about his his desire to deport as many immigrants as he could, called them rapists and never backed down. Trump chose a side.
Even with numbers to indicate her ineptitude at turning out voters, especially in urban centers, some are still more comfortable saying Democrats should focus more on the white working class and Russian interference. Why? As a nation we simply aren’t comfortable loving black folks in public. We feel that to be pro-black means anti-white. Politicians–even on the left–feel that siding with black people is too risky. We are a racist society and as such we can stomach Trump being pro-white but we cannot fathom anyone winning national office being pro-black. To make black concerns mainstream would do damage to the notion of of white supremacy, thus we’d rather ignore the numbers and say that the Democratic Party must further prioritize the needs of white people–a declining voting bloc–and send us around back.
The question is will the Democratic Party learn from this cycle and love us publicly? Will we keep talking about Russia or pretend blacks only came out for Obama? This notion must also be retired. The percentage of eligible black voters that turned out jumped from 48 percent in 1996 to 61 percent in 2004–before Obama. Further, black women are the most active voters in the country. So now the Democratic Party sits at a crossroads and must choose a side. Black voters have the power to put you in office or not. The Party can spend four years chasing Trump voters or come on home and show us love–in public.