The Black Vote: Purpose & Power

The right to vote is one of the most cherished rights of citizenship and is the basis of most democratic societies. For Blacks, the right to vote was won as the result of human sacrifice and agonizing struggles by our forefathers. Throughout our history, black voters have unwittingly served as political ping pong balls.

Initially, our historical allegiance was to the party of Lincoln, who at that time, pushed important black issues- liberation, voting rights, civil rights- and supported black politicians during the postbellum Reconstruction Period. Years of disappointment and ultimately disenfranchisement by the party prompted a mass migration to the Democratic Party, where the righteous among their ranks fought tirelessly to further our cause of Civil Rights. For over 50 years now, blacks have monolithically voted for the Democratic Party. Some argue that this strong allegiance has done us a disservice because with the black vote secured, democrats haven't had the pressure of earning our votes by effectively addressing our interests.

Votes are rarely symbolic. Ideally, people vote for the candidate or the party they believe will look out for them and make it most possible for them to succeed. The Democratic Party purports to champion Black American issues; however African Americans continue to experience a disproportionate amount of poverty, incarceration, and unemployment under Democratic leadership. In a recent interview with The Daily Beast, Pastor Corey Brooks of New Beginnings Church in Chicago revealed that he is a part of a growing group of African Americans that feel like the Democratic Party has abused their loyalty questioning, “How can our neighborhoods be doing so awful and so bad when we’re so loyal to this party who’s in power?” He concluded it as, “…a matter of them [Democrats] taking complete advantage of our vote.”

Voting is an expression of hope, a belief that our input into the system will yield social dividends. Without hope, people doubt anything they say or do will change the system for the better or for their benefit. Black people have become disillusioned with the political process (albeit for a good reason) and as a whole, have stopped viewing going to the polls as a priority, after decades of their needs being ignored.

Low voter turnout is highest in black poverty stricken areas and politicians have increasingly begun to favor the interest the wealthiest members of society. In 2014, the Pew Research Center found the United States to be more unequal than most of its developed world counterparts with the highest level of income inequality among advanced nations.

Martin Giles of the Princeton University Press believes that economic inequality translates into political inequality stating "politicians are overly responsive to a small affluent group" implying that each process feeds into the other. Policies that are directed toward promoting the interests of the affluent are "likely to further enhance the political influence of this group, and on the flip side, people who are not members of the affluent group may become less engaged with politics, and are considerably less likely to vote".

As we enter into an upcoming presidential election year, it is more imperative than ever that we re-evaluate the purpose and the power of the black vote. Questions to address are: Has our one dimensional allegiance to a single party effectively served the interest of Black Americans? Has simply participating in the process created smarter, empowered individuals who better understand how to make democracy for themselves? Or will Black people continue to lack social and economic justice no matter which party wins their vote?

The United States has become one of the most advanced countries in the world, yet we have the highest levels of inequality for minorities. Opinions aside, one thing has become indisputably clear- Black Americans could significantly benefit if both parties were forced to compete for their votes.

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