Black Voters Still Taken for Granted

As the first serious black candidate for the presidency, the entire nation scrutinizes Obama’s every move. No one knew how he would approach his candidacy; many whites feared that he would approach running as “The Stereotypical Black Candidate,” while many blacks, including Jesse Jackson, hoped he would be a candidate to seriously take on black issues. He is clearly not running on this ticket, in fact his recent comments strongly point to this fact. The Economist’s recent article entitled Of race and the race,” had this to say about Obama’s unique stance:

Mr. Obama, though, is in a lucky position regarding black voters. Their early skepticism has given way to massive support. He is in the enviable position of being able to lob the occasional criticism at black pathologies to win white votes. Sensing this, and thus his own declining ability to wield grievance to win concessions, Mr. Jackson had some reason to be annoyed.

Obama is downplaying his blackness while simultaneously using his advantage as a black man to criticize using the white racial frame, thus gain votes from white Americans, particularly conservatives. Unfortunately, this Democratic attitude of knowing inherently that the black vote is guaranteed to be blue allows candidates to toss aside black issues. The same article from The Economist goes on to suggest this reason for Obama’s apathetic attitude towards black voters:

Blacks, for their part, tend to be inconveniently located either in deep-south states that Mr Obama cannot win, or in places that he is already likely to take. In any case, a few critical comments are unlikely to stop their backing him. Mr Jackson should not be surprised to see Mr Obama courting swing groups that he needs.

All the energy that Obama would put towards black voters if their vote for him was not inherent has been going toward the largest minority in the United States: Latinos. The Economist article says this:

If black communal influence has waned, it seems that of Latinos is rising. Both candidates wooed them this week with speeches to LULAC (a Latino equivalent to the NAACP). Over the weekend both will speak to a more strident group, La Raza. Latinos are now America’s largest minority. George Bush courted them, with pidgin Spanish, a promised focus on Latin America, and reforms that would offer many illegal immigrants a path to become legal. He won more of their votes than the typical Republican. But immigration reform failed, Mr Bush neglected Latin America and the Republicans’ anti-immigration stance, which sometimes carries a whiff of racism, are all driving Latinos to Mr. Obama.

The consequence of Obama’s push to gain white and Latino votes is his taking the black vote for granted.  It is hard to say whether this is intentional or not, but either way it is interesting that in vying for one voting demographic, another is necessarily slighted. Not surprising when one looks at the historical data of unmet campaign promises geared towards gaining black votes. The Economist’s article gives this example:

Republicans promised freed slaves “40 acres and a mule” after the civil war, but they failed to deliver, so blacks decided to “ride this donkey”–the Democratic symbol–“as far as it would take us”. With the introduction of civil-rights legislation in the 1960s black voters swung behind the Democrats in earnest. But some complain that Democrats now take their votes without delivering, or even that white Democrats take advantage of the all-but-guaranteed black support.

Since blacks were granted the right to vote, their vote has been taken for granted.

~ Amanda & Hannah

Amanda and Hannah are advanced undergraduate students at Texas A&M University doing a major research project on the numerous racial aspects of the current U.S. presidential campaign–with a special focus on the unique reality and impacts of having the first Black candidate for a major political party in the campaign. They will be guest blogging with us on their research findings over the next few months. ~ Joe