Has the Congressional Black Caucus Lost its Way?
By Askia Muhammad
An amazing session during the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s Annual Legislative Conference last week featured Stacey Abrams, Andrew Gillum and Ben Jealous. The trio are all Democratic nominees for governor of their respective states — Georgia, Florida, Maryland.
There was glee and excitement, and the nominees lived up to their billing. One or all of them, just could be elected governors. There have been modern, post-Reconstruction Black governors before; most recently Deval Patrick in Massachusetts, and of course Doug Wilder in Virginia. But there’s never been three nominees at the same time, when hyped-up Black voter interest may mean a surge of Black voters, an oddity in a midterm election year.
The good news is that we may see new Black political advances reflected on the highest levels, like we’ve never seen before. There will be two new members in seats now held by Whites, and there will be two new Muslim members, a Palestinian woman replacing The Dean, Rep. John Conyers in Michigan, and a Somali-descended woman replacing Rep. Keith Ellison in Minnesota. Those non-African-American women may or may not join the CBC.
There are three Black Republicans in Congress. Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina declined membership in the CBC, while Rep. Mia Love of Utah and Will Hurd of Texas are listed as members. That knowledge, along with 99 cents, will get you a small coffee at a fast-food joint. For the most part, the CBC is a feckless organ in a rubber-stamp institution.
The bad news is that lately, the growth in the numbers of Black representatives has meant little in terms of the conditions of most of their constituents. This year is the CBCF’s 48th Annual Legislative Conference, and there are 46 CBC members — including two senators — yet there seems to be more news today and every day about rappers with tattooed faces and saggy pants, or with big bosoms and filthy mouths, than about the good works of Blacks in Congress. Is there any?
Since the arrival of President Donald Trump and Republican control of both the House and the Senate, the CBC seems to have lost its moral compass. It boasts of being the “conscience of the Congress,” and yet they only speak out on issues they are permitted by the liberal-orthodoxy-police to speak out about.
Classic case in point: in Boston, the CBC voted to and campaigned for a liberal White incumbent, against Ayanna Pressley, a progressive Black woman who won the nomination and will be elected, because there’s no Republican on the ballot. Sadly, her first lessons will be: “be quiet and toe the line,” “forget that your colleagues supported your opponent,” “you may now join the club.”
What’s left for us is the glee of seeing more and more Black faces in high places, like on TV, or at the Oscars. More CBC faces with their stylized gimmicks, like sequined cowboy hats. Yay!
Classic case in point: In order for us to be able to cheer an Andrew Gillum victory as the first Black governor of Florida, we have to overlook and say nothing about his abandonment of an important concept in the Black cosmology: reparations.
Although the notion of reparations for 400-plus years of slavery, lynching and Jim Crow segregation of millions of Black people has gotten no further officially than the retiring Conyers’ reintroduction of his H.R. 40 — a resolution to authorize a study of the effects of slavery and the possible relief for its victims that reparations payments might provide to the descendants of those enslaved persons — every year since 1989, the concept has become a major denial point for Gillum.
So I’m left with the dilemma of keeping my distaste for a Black candidate who denies supporting “reparations for my people” (as I heard him say at the CBC session) quiet, so as to not discourage Black support for a candidate, who out of the box denies support for an important Black issue; so that I don’t inflame White Florida voters who would vote against him if he seems to be too “pro-Black.” Ha! What we don’t want to recognize is that Andrew Gillum’s skin has already rendered him too “pro-Black,” even though by his actions he tries to deny his Blackness. They will never forget!
Funny thing, the new CBC way of thinking seems to be aimed at reviving the “Obama Coalition” of massive Black turnout along with some liberal Whites, rather than trying to reproduce the Jesse Jackson-led “Rainbow Coalition,” which was a grass-roots force aimed at more than simple electoral victories. Today, we seem to be silencing the moral, social justice issues, in order to advance Black candidates to higher and higher offices.
With the exception of the Obama presidential races, when Black folks felt they had something worth voting for and therefore turned out in droves, the Black electorate has never been motivated. The reality is that half the eligible don’t even register. Half the registered don’t vote. There is your victory margin Black politicians: motivate the unmotivated to support what you’re offering them. Therein is your victory margin.
But the CBC plays politics the old, conventional way, and will remain in that sunken place where the members are too afraid of old “Mr. Backlash” to stand up for their people.