The path to victories for white Democrats is clear — share power with the people that can put them in office. This holds true for both state and federal elections.
History has shown that while white candidates make pilgrimages to Black churches each election year like clockwork, they seldom cross the thresholds of those churches at any other time. We also know that white Democratic politicians hire smatterings of Black campaign workers for the sake of optics and to help with corralling Black support and enthusiasm. After their elections, these same politicians assign their Black campaign staffers to mostly ineffectual positions and hire precious few other people of color.
Despite our power to put Democratic candidates into office, Black folks often are no more than pawns on the political chessboard for many white Democrats. Anyone who doubts this needs to ask himself why African-Americans don’t show up in the administrations of newly elected Democrats in the same proportion that we showed up for those Democrats at the polls.
Hillary Clinton was astonishingly tone deaf in her belief that she could muster Black support in a presidential election at the same levels enjoyed by Barack Obama. Claiming to carry hot sauce in her purse (a nod to a popular song by Beyoncé at the time) and doing the “nae nae” on national TV to show she had a bond with a homogeneous Black electorate was insulting to many Black voters. Too many folks remembered her once referring to Black youth as “predators.” Too many people observed her campaign and saw no indication that there would be a significant improvement in the lives of African-Americans under a Clinton presidency.
While Clinton stumbled badly with Black folks (after all, she lost to the horror that was the Trump candidacy), Bernie Sanders fared no better. Sanders’ white campaign workers were breathtakingly tone deaf. The “Bernie Bros” acted as if they only had to say that Bernie marched with Dr. Martin Luther King 50 years earlier in order to gain Black support. Bernie’s campaign operatives in many Southern states ignored the Black political infrastructures that were already in place, thinking that white youth from out of state could parachute in and tell Black folks what to do. Never mind that local Black political activists had been working and managing local campaigns for decades.
It is a sad fact for Black folks that Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders were the best that the Democratic party had to offer us in 2016.
This same old sad song of white Democrats failing to truly embrace inclusiveness continues to hit a sour note with Black voters. This off-key tune has a long history and continues to this day. In November 2017, Democrats in Virginia celebrated the victory of Justin Fairfax, the African-American attorney who won that state’s lieutenant governor’s seat. But the support he received from the Democratic Party during his campaign was shamefully, but typically, meager. Three decades earlier, when L. Douglas Wilder announced that he would run for lieutenant governor of Virginia, top state Democrats, fearful of having a Black candidate on the statewide ticket, met secretly to try to figure out what to do about the “Wilder problem.” Fortunately, they could not stop Wilder. He went on to become lieutenant governor and, four years later, became the state’s first Black governor.
History to the contrary, too many white Democrats refuse to learn that Blacks can win elections. Less than a week after Black voters were hailed for having “saved America” through a record turnout in Alabama to defeat Roy Moore’s bid for the U.S. Senate in December, pundits were advising the Democratic Party that it should reward its Black supporters by shoving them to the back of the political bus yet again. Bill Scher’s Dec. 20 article in POLITICO was typical of this bad advice. He suggested that in 2018, Democrats should run candidates like Doug Jones, who won a narrow victory over Roy Moore but polled lower than Moore among white voters.
Does Scher really believe that because it takes a right-of-center candidate like Doug Jones to get elected in Alabama, Democrats nationwide should shift their politics to the right and make Alabama politics the national standard? Scher may not realize it, but he is advocating that the Democratic Party reward its African-American voters by showing them that their interests, aspirations and lives don’t matter.
We now stand in 2018, another busy election year. It is time to serve notice on the Democratic Party that Black folks no longer will be mere laborers in the field of politics. Any politicians expecting our support must incorporate Black staffers in effective policy-making positions in their campaigns and in their administrations.
More than 100 Black women have announced they will run for office in 2018. We should pay close attention to how their campaigns are supported, or not, by white Democratic Party chairs and higher ups.
It is time to demand that white Democrats support Black Democratic candidates. And it is past time for white elected officials to recognize the efforts of Black voters by bringing us to the tables of governance.
Oscar H. Blayton is a former Marine Corps. combat pilot and human rights activist who practices law in Virginia.