A couple up front disclaimers:
First, I try my very best not to whitesplain. I doubt I’m perfect in that endeavor, but my point here is to ask questions, not to answer them. I have benefitted from white privilege and have precious few black friends, none of whom are among my “closest” friends (you know, as in “I’m not racist, some of my closest friends…”). I have neither the knowledge base, nor the experience, nor the perspective to answer questions on this subject.
Second, I recognize that blacks are not monolithic, such that they should be expected to think, act, or vote in unison. As a demographic group, however, I hope it’s fair to say that black Americans have different priorities than do Americans at large, such that it’s logical to expect their collective vote to be different from other demographic groups.
Subject to those disclaimers, consider the power Black America collectively holds in the Democratic nominating process. It’s sort of the opposite of the 2008 nomination process. In 2008, Black America overwhelmingly favored Obama. The swing votes in 2008 were in the hands of White and Latino voters.
This time, it’s the other way around.
White Democrats on balance favor Sanders, but not overwhelmingly so. Latinos have a slight preference for Clinton, but not enough to make a difference, and the gap between Clinton and Sanders among Latinos is closing.
Which means that Black Americans, collectively, have the power to determine the nominee. The polls show that very clearly. And, given the outsized weight that Southern states have in the process because of Super Tuesday and the relatively large percentage of Black voters in the Democratic electorate in those states, that power is even greater than it otherwise would be. If Black decisively favor either candidate, that candidate becomes the nominee. It doesn’t need to be 100%, or anywhere close. A two-thirds / one-third gap would make the difference.
As of now, through my white eyes, there seem to be two competing schools of thought as to how that power should be wielded. Current polls show Black voters overwhelmingly favoring Clinton. But the group that I see as the Black intelligentsia in America, Cornel West, Michelle Alexander, and TaNehisi Coates, among others, seems to lean decisively towards Sanders. I actually would include Killer Mike in that group. He may be known as an entertainer, but he’s also whip smart. America could do a lot worse than having Killer Mike as President himself.
How would this situation have been handled if it arose in ’60’s? I have to believe that MLK and other Black leaders would have been having conversations as to how best to capitalize on the opportunity.
Is that happening now? Are discussions on this subject taking place among those with true influence?
Or is the reality more along the lines of what Cornel West depicts here?
“The battle now raging in Black America over the Clinton-Sanders election is principally a battle between a declining neoliberal black political and chattering class still on the decaying Clinton bandwagon (and gravy train!),” West writes, “and an emerging populism among black poor, working and middle class people fed up with the Clinton establishment in the Democratic Party.”
[Source: Raw Story]
Can Black America afford the battle West says is taking place? Put another way, if I’m correct that this is Black America’s moment, can Black America afford to squander it?
If West is right, can anything be done to change that dynamic? Time is of course running short. Or has Black America changed over the last 50 years to the point where collective action is no longer possible?
Consider John Lewis. Lewis is a giant and always will be. But when I read his remarks surrounding his endorsement of Clinton, I felt the same sort of sadness I felt when I saw Willie Mays fall down chasing a fly ball in the 1973 World Series. Put aside whether he endorsed the right candidate. The question is whether he used his still tremendous influence to get the best result for Black Americans at large. For example, did he consider saying to Hillary “look, I’m ready to endorse you, but first you need to make the following statements and campaign pledges”? Did he work with others outside of his narrow group of peers in the Congressional Black Caucus, to strategize on how get the most bang for the buck? Did he sit down with Keith Ellison, his House colleague, and try to sort things out? Or did he not recognize that if he went one way and Ellison went the other their collective power was greatly diminished?
Are the degrees of unity in Black America, on the one hand, and Black American leadership, on the other, consistent? Or is leadership more divided, as a group, than Black America at large?
This really isn’t about Sanders vs. Clinton. The reality here is that Sanders or Clinton, if elected and if given the wiggle room, will make decisions and agree to compromises that perpetuate structural racism in America and work to the detriment of Blacks at large. There is an opportunity here for Black America to use the power it now wields to minimize that wiggle room, to put the next President in a box so that he/she must do the right thing. Are steps being taken to achieve that result? I sure hope so.