Like many African Americans, I am a lifelong Democrat. But today, as we approach the all-important midterm elections, I have a nagging question for my party: Why should black folks vote Democrat?
It is a serious question — one that deserves more than the knee-jerk response that Democrats don't publicly refer to us using racist rhetoric. That's not good enough. Nor is it good enough for Democrats to decry the effects of systemic racism without lifting a finger to change it.
At a time when racists are emboldened by a president who was endorsed by the Ku Klux Klan, black Americans face real danger. So while we'll be glad to see former President Barack Obama campaigning for the party in Philadelphia this week, we'd rather see Democrats produce the kinds of tangible legislative wins — like the Voting Rights Act and the Civil Rights Act — we haven't seen since the Lyndon Johnson administration.
In short, if Democrats can't produce real change for black people, it's time for us to start looking at other alternatives in the voting booth. To prevent that, the party must take action on the following fronts.
For a party that sees blacks as a key voting bloc, Democrats have not done enough to protect black voting rights. That must change, and that change begins with the black youth who drive pop culture. Democrats should employ young blacks to formulate strategies to reach their peers. The Russians who meddled in the 2016 presidential election understood that. That's why they used online campaigns to convince frustrated young blacks that voting was a waste of time.
If the Democratic Party is to convince black youth that voting matters, the party has to show some fight. Hire lawyers who will challenge every voter suppression effort put forth by the other side — from voter ID and voter purges to closing polling places in black communities. Use social media to push protest in any state where the vote is challenged. Then, when all those things are put in place, join us in the streets. We don't trust you when you won't put your bodies on the line.
I've grown increasingly frustrated watching Democrats pat themselves on the back for running to airports to challenge Donald Trump's travel ban. That's because I've never seen Democrats run en masse to the scene when police have killed an unarmed black person. I've seldom seen Democrats firmly denounce the violence that's visited upon black folks by those whose salaries we pay. I've seldom seen Democrats do much to make clear that they don't support brutality in our communities.
We need mayors to fire police chiefs who won't get rid of rogue officers. We need senators out in these streets when cops kill our babies. We need legislators writing bills that promote greater transparency in police shootings. We need special prosecutors appointed when the police are too cozy with the district attorney. We need local governments to stop approving police contracts that allow cops to kill us and get their jobs back — with pay. We need Democrats to decide that keeping black votes is worth protecting black lives.
If Democrats want blacks to continue voting for them, the party must address the fact that for every $100 in white family wealth, black families have just $5.04. Just because slavery and Jim Crow no longer officially exist — though the criminal justice system is a reasonable facsimile of both — does not mean we can ignore discrimination in hiring, lending, and housing. And in many cases, Democrats perpetuate some of this discrimination.
In Philadelphia, for instance, the city mandates that large-scale city-funded construction go to union labor. The city knows that skilled building trade unions are overwhelmingly white and male because of discriminatory membership policies, but those unions are a part of the Democratic base. In Philadelphia and other cities like it, Democratic mayors must open up city-funded construction to nonunion labor. That would create more high-paying jobs for African Americans, and help black families to begin closing the wealth gap.
In Philadelphia, Mayor Kenney ran on a promise to end Stop and Frisk — a policing tactic that has been shown to be discriminatory. He changed his tune when he got into office. But that kind of bait and switch is not limited to Kenney and Philadelphia. Democrats do it all the time.
If Democrats expect to keep black voters in the fold, we need people like Gov. Wolf to do whatever is necessary to fix the disparities that gave Pennsylvania the largest funding gap between rich and poor school districts of any state in the country.
We need Democrats in Congress to get out of their offices and into the streets. We need Democrats to show that they're with us at a time when we're under attack.
Otherwise, we must ask once again: Why should we vote Democrat?