We’ve seen this playbook before.
President Donald Trump talked about criminal justice reform during the Super Bowl and in the State of the Union.
He started with a commercial during the Super Bowl about Alice Johnson, a Black woman convicted of a non-violent offense whose sentence he commuted. (I heard about the commercial. I didn’t watch the game, but that’s another column.)
He also talked about how the economy has created opportunities for ex-offenders to work.
I’ve noted my concerns about Black labor force participation, but Black unemployment did reach record lows during his administration. He mentioned Black youth unemployment, as well as Black poverty rates, declining to record lows. It’s not the whole truth, but technically he’s not lying — this time.
Tim Scott was recognized for his work on Opportunity Zones, a program that ostensibly makes it easier for investors in New York to put breweries and hot yoga shops in Black neighborhoods.
He gave a young lady a scholarship to leave one of those underperforming public schools that exist across the country.
He even brought out a Tuskegee airmen to recognize at the State of the Union.
He wrapped himself with Black people.
Most commentators noted that the rhetorical engagement with the Black community during the State of the Union speech was really about suburban white women who don’t want to feel bad about voting for a racist. They should still feel bad about that reality.
But the more interesting question is what will 45’s Black vote look like in the upcoming presidential election?
Will the Black community give 45 credit for the record-low unemployment rate in our community? They shouldn’t. Most of the decline happened under the Obama administration and has more to do with Federal Reserve policy than anything the incumbent president has done.
The jury is still out on Opportunity Zones, which has the real potential to devastate our communities.
Criminal justice reform matters, but there has been a bipartisan consensus on this for some time.
I don’t expect Black women to vote for 45. I am a little concerned about Black men, though.
In 2016, 98% of Black women voted for Hillary Clinton. They did their job. While I hated doing it, I ended up voting for Clinton as well, in part because she was clearly more qualified than her competitor. Nevertheless, 14% of Black men still voted for 45. Black men gave Mitt Romney 11% of the Black vote with President Obama on the ballot.
I suspect Black women will continue to do their best to save the republic. Black men will need to do better.
But the Democrats will need to present a real candidate who will excite our community. I’m not going to just vote Democrat because I’m scared of 45. The irony is we have some reasons not to be scared.
What I am hearing…
The Marion County Democratic Party will host its annual pre-primary convention, or “slating,” this weekend — one of the few, if not the only, counties in the state that still does this. Down ballot the more interesting races won’t actually even be addressed at the party level. The most significant races for our community are the school board races, which are nonpartisan.
You will recall the following from a previous article where I ranked the township schools by their achievement gaps for Black third through eighth graders on the ILEARN test:
• Washington Township: 48.2%
• Lawrence Township: 38.1%
• Pike Township: 37.6%
• Speedway Schools: 29.4%
• Perry Township: 27.3%
• Indianapolis Public Schools: 25.2%
• Franklin Township Community School Corporation: 24.0%
• Warren Township: 22.7%
• Wayne Township: 11.8%
• Beech Grove Schools: 9.7%
• Decatur: 4.9%
The reality of these rankings is that the disparities don’t just stop on a state standardized test. It goes on through AP exams, as well as SAT and ACT scores, and we should also look at school discipline disparities.
But nearly 86% of Black students graduate, and Black folks end up with an unemployment rate in Marion County that is nearly always double digits and a median income that is more than $30,000 less than white Marion County residents.
What is happening in our schools has some impact on our economic position in the community.
Every township in the county is having a school board election. It isn’t any easy job, and in fact, if I have my way, it will become more challenging.
School boards across the county must reject the notion that they are going to solve racial achievement gaps with education consultants and increased instructional time.
Something is fundamentally wrong with how we are preparing Black and Latinx children for the future in this city. The failure is happening at home, in our neighborhoods, and yes, in the classroom, too.
Candidates for school boards should have public-facing equity plans that call for broad community engagement from parents, teachers, student, business, nonprofit and city leaders.
Let’s stop pretending like this isn’t a problem that the entire city needs to engage on.
Marshawn Wolley is a lecturer, commentator, business owner and civic entrepreneur. Contact him at email@example.com.