Democrats cannot advocate for policies that specifically benefit people of color. Black people have long accepted this as truth — doing so would alienate white voters and ruin a very fragile Democratic coalition. We now know that is not entirely true, as Democrats demanded that action on DACA must be included in any budget deal last week. I truly support protecting immigrant families and yet I am offended that the Party will not prioritize explicitly black issues in the way it stood for DACA. That is why today I am leaving the Democratic Party.
Imagine trying to fill your bucket with rainwater as your neighbor is given a water hose. This is the life of a black voter. In lieu of targeted policies “universal” solutions, like healthcare, are lifted up as the ultimate promise from Democrats. We have learned to accept generic policy solutions and the necessary distance the Party must keep from us in order to retain white voters. Martin O’Malley and other Democratic Presidential candidates struggled to simply utter the words “Black Lives Matter” during the last election. It hurts but we have simply concluded that to avoid a greater evil it is necessary to forego specific racial demands. We now see that the Party is capable of pushing the legislative priorities of communities of color, so long as that color is not black.
Black voters have never demanded much from the Democratic Party. We never seriously asked the Party to consider reparations. We never imagined that Democrats would force a government shutdown if Congress did not address the fact that black owned businesses receive less than 2 percent of federal government contracting dollars. We never dreamed that Democratic leadership would insist on federal legislation to address police accountability before allowing the business of government to proceed. For generations we have been content to accept symbols and gestures which indicated the Party had our interests at heart. In exchange we give our loyalty and that loyalty has often delivered elections for Democrats.
In 1960 black voters delivered the White House to John Kennedy because of a simple gesture. Kennedy was no champion of civil rights but shortly before the election he made a phone call to Coretta Scott King. Dr. King was imprisoned and Kennedy made the brief call to offer his support. That call resulted in 250,000 blacks voting for Kennedy in Illinois, a state he won by a mere 9,000 votes. In South Carolina Kennedy won by 10,000 votes because 40,000 black voters pushed him over the top. Indeed, nationwide Kennedy edged Nixon by a mere 118,574 votes out of the 68,370,000 ballots cast. You’re welcome, Kennedy.
Kennedy was not the first to understand the power of symbols. Franklin Roosevelt’s administration failed to produce any specific civil rights legislation and black workers were largely excluded from New Deal programs. Even so black people felt a kinship to FDR because his administration featured prominent blacks like Mary McLeod Bethune in his so called “Black Cabinet.” Later on Bill Clinton would tap into this power when he appeared on the Arsenio Hall Show. After Obama’s first term many blacks in the barbershop had become disillusioned with the idea that the first black President could deliver substantive wins for black communities. For some, Obama’s rendition of Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together” was enough to communicate that he still thought of us.
For so long we have accepted symbols and gestures. We did so because we truly believed our best hope was generic policy solutions, made possible by a coalition with white liberals. We were resigned to the idea that those white liberals were comfortable so long as people of color were not targeted with policy solutions. We have delivered election after election for Democratic candidates — like Doug Jones — who dare not spend one cent of political capital on issues that are clearly black in nature. DACA, however, has opened our eyes. The Democrats were willing to make specific demands for immigrants but for black voters who vote them in office, the symbols will have to do.
It must be acknowledged that the Democrats don’t truly have strong convictions around immigration. Indeed, under Obama immigrants were deported at record levels. This latest stand on DACA was simply part of a larger Trump backlash. Even so, it is telling that while the Party needs black voters to win seats in 2018 they were unwilling to highlight an issue that directly impacts us. Noted.
It must also be said that like most Americans, black people are not monolithic. Some in LA just might support Trump’s border wall while others are personally devastated at the thought of immigrant families being torn apart. What is consistent, however, is that none of us first think to rid the country of immigrants when we wake in the morning. To the degree we are hurt by this latest DACA stance, it is simply because we wish to be loved as clearly and unashamedly by the Party we have been so loyal to. This simply has not been our experience.
I cannot continue to support a Democratic Party that refuses to clearly stand for black people in the way it was willing to make a public and targeted stance for immigrants. As we move toward the 2018 midterms I cannot, in good faith, continue to call myself a Democrat when cycle after cycle they ignore their ultimate and most loyal swing voters. In the past I and many others honestly believed the Party stayed clear of “black issues” in an effort to maintain a coalition with white voters who simply could not stomach championing the causes of a minority group. Now I know that the Party and many of its white supporters simply cannot stand for its black brothers and sisters to eat at the same table. Knowing this I gladly choose to step away.