Commentary: Are Black Folks Becoming Political Orphans?
Special to Informer | , Dr. Boyce Watkins | 2/6/2012, 11:43 a.m.
Right now, in the Black community, there are at least two types of people: those who are suffering and those who are not. The suffering group consists of the poor, unemployed, and those who live under the thumb of the criminal justice system. The rest of us have jobs, food to eat and are not impacted directly by mass incarceration. If you're in the second group, it's difficult to find fault with the Obama Administration, for a Black president grants the symbolic comfort that comes along with the "Mama I Made It" syndrome that justifies the trade-offs many of us make for the sake of economic and social progress in a White supremacist society. Being the first Black president is the granddaddy of all "proud mama" moments, so there are millions willing to forgive nearly any short-coming of the Obama White House to maintain access to the throne.
For those who care about the poor, there is almost no redemption when the president barely mentions poverty in his speeches. For the unemployed, it's hard to imagine how your life will get better by supporting an administration that helped white folks find jobs while letting the Black numbers reach levels approaching those of the Great Depression. For those suffering with the effects of mass incarceration, it's hard to get excited about a president who has not directly confronted the debilitating effects of the drug war, which has destroyed millions of families and an entire generation of children. All of these issues indicate a state of emergency in the Black community; but thus far, we've only given White Americans the right to express dissatisfaction with their condition.
The implicit African American slogan for the Democratic Party is "You should just stop complaining, because the Republicans are even worse than we are." The threat of political punishment is clearly enough to secure the Black vote without doing a thing. But at the same time, the Black political orphans of America do have a choice. WEB Dubois, when faced with few quality political options 50 years ago, simply said that he refused to vote at all. Rather than behaving like a teenage girl who shares her body with the first man who buys her a cheeseburger, Dubois advocated for the idea that we save our votes for politicians who have truly worked to earn them.
After a mass holdout from conscientious Black voters, perhaps the Democrats will then strive to honestly earn the Black vote instead of simply telling us that they are not as horrible as the Republicans. It should not be taboo to request that Black voters have enough self-respect to demand that all politicians give priority to the issues that lead to our suffering. There are no victims, just volunteers, and we don't have to be political orphans forever.
Dr. Boyce Watkins is a Professor at Syracuse University.