By Tobi Dada
November’s US election will be the closest in history. The tight race between Democrat party leader Joe Biden and current Republican President Donald Trump has made obtaining the Black vote a crucial part of Biden’s campaign. As a result, many senior black figures within the Democratic Party have called for African Americans to turn out for Biden, as they’d done for Obama. Despite this, many within the black community are not convinced that Biden can bring the much-needed change to them. So in this election, potentially the most powerful thing African American voters can do is not vote.
African American reverence for the Democrat Party has made the ‘black vote’ politically irrelevant.
Since 1970, the percentage of African Americans that have voted for the Democrats has never fallen below 82%. This is higher than any other ethnic group. The black community’s total allegiance to the Democratic Party has a double whammy effect.
Firstly, because over 80% of African Americans will always vote Democrat, Republican Presidential candidates view the black vote as unattainable and therefore not worth pursuing. The effort required for a Republican to obtain a small fraction of the African American vote is so massive, sensible campaign strategists would advise focusing on other minority groups. Consequently, Republican candidates can double down on policies, namely drug enforcement, that disproportionately hurt the African American community with minimal consequences.
The second effect is that the reverence that African Americans have for the Democrats means that the Democratic Party does not have to work hard to get the Black vote. All that the party needs to do to get the black vote is to offer an emotional argument, as opposed to creating stable plans to help the black community.
Take Obama’s two election campaigns. During his campaign and time in office, Obama proposed and introduced policy programmes that helped minority groups such as the LGBTQ+ community. These policies include the Hate Crimes Prevention Act, the Repealing of the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell law, and the ending of the defence of Marriage Act which defined marriage as only between a man and woman. Indeed, these policies are progressive and help groups often neglected in American. However, a serious question needs to be asked. Throughout Obama’s 8 years in office, he proposed or introduced a insignificant amount of policies that solely helped the black community. Despite this shortfalling, Obama was able to get 95% of the black vote in 2008 and 93% of the black vote in 2012. He was able to do this by appealing to black people’s emotions. The United States had never elected a Black President before, so by offering them the opportunity to put a black man in charge, the black community took it without asking any questions.
Today, Democrats are attempting to do the same thing again. Instead of offering concrete proposals like a plan to stop police brutality, Biden is offering the same emotional argument Obama did. By selecting Kamala Harris as his running mate, he is allowing Black America to elect the first African American women into the white house.
History has shown us that there is a positive correlation between economic power and political power. The wealthier a group in society is the more political rights and freedoms they will enjoy. Take, for example, the industrial revolution. Pre-industrial revolution, political rights such as voting were reserved to wealthy white aristocrats who owned large sums of land. It wasn’t until the industrial revolution created an affluent middle class of property and business owners that the franchise was extended to include them. Furthermore, the contribution of working-class men in WWI and women in WW2 lead to a further expansion of the franchise to have everyone. Simply, political power and freedoms are only realised when a particular group in society becomes economically valuable.
Therefore, it is no surprise that white men have the most political power when you consider the fact that white Americans enjoy 6.7 times more wealth than their black American counterparts. Thus, instead of the African American, hoping that a politician will save them, they should focus their efforts on generational wealth and improving the wealth of the black community.
Getting rid of Trump is not an achievement for Black America.
The economic and social problems that African Americans have would still exist regardless of who was in the white house. If Hilary Clinton had won the 2016 election George Floyd and Breonna Taylor would still have been wrongfully killed by law enforcement. Hence, it is immature to think that getting rid of Trump because of his openly racist comments and replacing him with somebody else will change anything.
An abstention will send a more vital message.
Given all the reasons mentioned above, the most powerful thing Black people can do in this election is not to vote at all. The impact that black abstention from the political process will have will send a massive message to both parties. Republicans will see it as an opportunity to secure a new voting base and will attempt to create a policy programme for African Americans. The Democrat party will also have to change. Once the black community shows them emotional arguments will not get them to the ballot box, the Democrats will have no choice but to offer a tangible policy programme to help African Americans.
The solution to inequalities and oppression experienced by black people in the United States is to stop voting for Democrat and Republican politicians until they start offering concrete solutions. The best way to force these two parties into providing more to the black community is to form a political union, in which the black community elects leaders. These elected leaders will then meet with both parties and offer the black vote to the candidates that provide the most to the black community.
Tobi Dada is a final year Computer Science student at the University of Surrey.