What do Donald Trump, #alllivesmatter proponents and the notion of “the black vote” all have in common? They all need to go.
For years, Democrats and Republicans alike have pandered to certain demographics, may they be religious sects, ethnic groups or specific socio-economic classes. On the other hand, “natural polarization” between individuals is most prevalent in racial groups as reported by the Washington Post: “while almost all of the most Republican groups are white, almost all the most Democratic groups are African Americans.”
With these unavoidable skews comes a politician’s intrinsic desire to appeal to atypical demographics for which their policies otherwise would not relate to or favor. This practice of pandering, where individuals cater to the wants of unique demographics, has for a long time been the quick-fix savior for the relatively homogenous Republican Party.
With a 2016 electorate that will prove to be arguably the most diverse and hence, if history is to truly set a precedent, evolved to favor the Democrats, the vicious fight of pandering is to be expected. Consequently, the tailoring of personal narratives and policy nuances has unfortunately become the norm for politicians, however destructive and inherently backwards these transgressions may be.
There is a point to be made about the effectiveness of pandering. In 2008, Hillary Clinton was a favorite because of her husband’s political legacy that drew women of color to polls at unprecedented levels. In 2012, “black women voted at a higher rate than any other group—across gender, race and ethnicity.” Gaining “their vote” in 2016 could push her above Bernie Sanders in South Carolina, where African-Americans play a notable role in the primaries.
While the statistics may be true, the sequential generalizations are mischaracterizations of black women and other minority groups. When the New York Times reported that Clinton’s campaign on criminal justice reform was simply a ploy to “consolidate support among the African-American communities,” it undermined her ability to recognize this nonpartisan issue, as well as the black voters who no not support her solely because of her strong embrace of President Obama’s record.
To act upon these trends to an extent that censors differences on issues concerning the economy, climate change, health care, data security, education and more is to act in derogation. Although, in attempts to gain the “black vote,” candidates may lump these issues into a parochial platform meant to appeal to all blacks, they are simply building on their trivialized views of black people.
Perhaps based on socio-economic analysis, candidates can frame their platforms to garner a large amount of their votes, just like how Sanders earns brownie points for flaunting his involvement in the civil rights movement of the 1960s. However, the all-encompassing generalization on the desires and wants of black people undersells the various desires and expectations we hold for our nation’s leaders.
Willingness to defend the rights of African-Americans should rightfully be the top characteristic of the politician who gains sizable support from black voters. That said, there is a range of beliefs that vary between black individuals—a scope of intelligence that the words “black vote” neglects, undermines and disrespects.
GOP candidates have accused Democrats of pandering for “the black vote,” sometimes suggesting that “it” may be bought with “free stuff.” Unlike Newt Gingrich’s insinuation that the entire black population favors food stamps over paychecks, Rick Santorum’s assertion that black people live off of someone else’s money and Mitt Romney’s belief that monetary gifts got Obama the “black vote,” black people are capable of making their own vindicated decisions. (On a side note, stop Bernie-Splaining to black voters).
A core issue at hand is the mentality that views individuals with multiple defining characteristics as uniform actors in political fields. There is a debate to be had on accountability for such attempts and the labeling of pandering made by politicians and the sensationalist news outlets that seek to polarize and generalize for the sake of crass viewers. Regardless, the overriding simplification of black political actors is problematic.
It is time the “black vote” be eradicated from contemporary discourse on identity politics and diversity. The crude reality is that individuals, even minorities, are capable of making rational decisions even if just in their own minds. Even when a certain demographic has traditionally held strong to a particular political leaning, less-favored politicians should steer away from inauthenticity and instead seek to cultivate a bona fide understanding of the various and complex demographics they seek to represent.
Regardless of whether or not political figures, media outlets and individuals themselves can come to wholesome realizations of the intricacies of every group of people, “the black vote” and other generalizations detract from meaningful campaigns on genuine platforms.
Black voters are shaping up to become one of the most influential voting populations in the upcoming elections. While voting, we ask the fundamental question: which candidate is better for us? And though a candidate’s stance on the right to live for around one-sixth of the U.S. population is one way to gain our support, that does not mean to say that our vote can be bought by the mere acknowledgment of the presence of police brutality, globalization and deindustrialization on persons of color.
To return to my first statement, the notion of “the black vote” needs to be swapped for a more nuanced understanding of the basic human rights, racial, economic and gender equality that all individuals can recognize. Politicians operating campaigns on the premise of a few broad or culturally misguided principles that wondrously attracts all black people need to be pressured to acknowledge and act contrarily.
As black people continue to fight for civil liberties against oppressive institutions, the added misguided and undermining lingo is very much unappreciated.
Sabriyya Pate is a Trinity freshman. Her column runs on alternate Thursdays.
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Sabriyya Pate is a Trinity junior. Her column runs on alternate Mondays.