Black votes matter!
So, too, do the black lives many politicians pander to in order to get them.
However, exploiting cultural markers—like Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump did by reading a scripted text in a black church or like Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton did by giving a shoutout on an AM urban radio show stating she, too, always carries hot sauce around with her—not only infuriates most African Americans, it also insults the political intelligence both politicians obviously think we don’t have.
The stereotyped black church stands front and center for many white politicians looking to woo, if not win, our votes. The perception that all a white politician needs to do is merely show up the Sunday before the Tuesday we cast our ballots is not only a hackneyed campaign strategy in 2016, it’s also a clear indication that this politician has nary a clue nor a sincere concern for the parishioners he stands before.
When Trump spoke at a megachurch in Detroit with native son Ben Carson in tow, it provided good optics for a brash candidate whose pitch to us a week before at a predominately white rally was remarkably unfiltered and unapologetic.
“You live in your poverty, your schools are no good, you have no jobs, 58 percent of your youth is unemployed,” Trump said. “What the hell do you have to lose?”
While Clinton’s more measured steps toward the African-American community don’t paint us as an urban blighted monolith, her past actions—the creation of the 1996 “superpredator” myth to depict black youths caught up in her spouse’s crime bill that precipitated mass incarceration, and is still felt today—makes her appeal, especially to African-American millennials, dead on arrival.
“What am I supposed to do if I don’t like him and I don’t trust her?” a millennial black woman in Ohio asked. “Choose between being stabbed and being shot? No way!”
Adding insult to injury when it comes to African Americans’ troubled relationship with this country’s penal system, Clinton acknowledges the too frequent and discriminatory use of the death penalty, but she doesn’t want it abolished.
“I think there are certain egregious cases that still deserve the consideration of the death penalty, but I’d like to see those be very limited and rare,” Clinton said.
Clinton, a former attorney, knows that many poor people spend countless years in jail for a crime they did not commit because of ineffective counseling and poor legal representation. And the presumption that African Americans and Latinos are more culpable of a crime because of the color of their skin makes her campaign pitch to Black Lives Matter activists—where prison reform is a key tenet of their platform—ring hollow.
Since the passing of the 1964 Civil Rights Voting Act there have been ongoing tactics to suppress minority voting, such as changing polling locations, changing polling hours or eliminating early voting days, reducing the number of polling places, packing majority-minority districts, dividing minority districts, and the notorious voter ID laws that disproportionately disenfranchise minority voters. North Carolina’s Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals just recently overturned the requirement to show photo ID because it was instated “with racially discriminatory intent.”
These ongoing tactics, along with candidates like both Trump and Clinton, who pop up in perceived and stereotypical black spaces, will catch a few of us swimming upstream. But they would do enormously better pitching a consistent campaign message that’s heard at every one of their pit stops, rather than giving African-American voters a wink with a tepid appearance at a black church or “sistah” shoutout about toting hot sauce.
This article was first published on the WGBH website on September 7, 2016 http://news.wgbh.org/2016/09/07/politics-government/trump-and-clinton-swimming-upstream-black-votes