The Most Important Issue For Democrats Is…Black Power

As progressives and liberals look eagerly toward future elections, they risk being paralyzed by choice. The Republican party has made clear its ideological goals: the maintenance and expansion of white supremacy, and the self-preservation of the Republican party. This represents a commitment to a shrinking — but unfairly electorally significant — subset of Americans, leaving Democrats a surfeit of potent issues to champion. Each mini-essay in this series plays angel’s advocate for a different cause and offers reasons why it must be the priority for the Democratic party. In this essay, the author asserts that

The Most Important Issue For Democrats Is…Black Power

The NFL owner’s group, a collection of mostly white, ancient tax leeches born with full silver flatware sets in their mouths, unveiled their brilliant gambit to cool tensions among their fan base and players on Wednesday: they will ban the peaceful protest of police brutality. This managerial tactic of turning a blind eye to their employee’s problems while caving to the dumbest subsection of their fan base is nothing new for our National Football League, but the overt political nature of this disagreement, coupled with a President who enjoys nothing more than jettisoning the responsibilities of his office to engage in personal grievances, frames the owners’ decision in a much more grotesque light. The Vice President gloated. Right-wing media broke out the dog whistles. As with MS-13, “Islamic terrorism”, or Jeff Bezos, the right has found a way to mask the target of their animus — in this case, those who oppose state-sanctioned violence against black people and black communities — by framing the issue as a ludicrous strawman — in this case, kneeling during the anthem is the means by which Kaepernick and his allies express their hatred for troops and freedom. Kneeling has become a microcosm for the right’s commitment to white supremacy the way all political topics become microcosms for the right’s commitment to white supremacy (when a political ideology is this single-minded, there’s little effort needed to map the specific to the general — it becomes a horrible fractal of policy and attitude). The left has responded with its usual dissertations on patriotism and refutations of logical incoherence. But if it wishes to truly combat issues of racist inequality, it must move the fight from the philosophical arena to the political. More simply, the Democratic party must give more political power to the black community rather than arguing over the reality of its oppression.

There are three avenues by which black political power can be advanced. The first is through universal social welfare programs which, in leveling the playing field, consequently benefit black families that have been economically disenfranchised relative to white ones. The value of a policy like Medicare-for-All, for instance, beyond addressing an endemic need for affordable health insurance, would eliminate America’s racial coverage gap. A jobs guarantee would ameliorate the disproportionate black unemployment rate while also offering a measure of protection against private employers’ hiring bias. Universal Basic Income is the most straightforward example — it would help the black community more precisely because they do not have as much money. Some on the left point to the mass appeal of these programs as cause to center them — their subtle provisions to people of color make them more palatable to the white voters that constitute a supermajority in most states and a plurality in nearly all the rest. Prioritizing these issues, the thinking goes, would grant Democrats an overwhelming working class coalition that would enable further legislation toward racial equality.

Income inequality, however, can not stand as the lone panacea for the oppression of black political power. Any platform that touts itself as progressive must recognize the particular obstacles faced by black citizens and promote actively anti-racist policy to erase said obstacles. Therefore, the protection and advancement of civil rights for black people must also be at the forefront of the Democratic platform, to ensure the enfranchisement for black communities, the ability for black voters to exercise their rights, and a political arena responsive to black voters’ priorities. Liberals are quick to point to the legacy of the Johnson administration: they should instead seek to further those achievements. Felon disenfranchisement has meant a knee-capping of black political clout. Abolish it. A Lochner-esque decision on the Voting Rights Act has revived discriminatory election practices. Congress should reify and reinstate the protections it once set forth. Gerrymandering along racial lines was banned, but the GOP’s political dogma has meant that gerrymandering along party lines produces a strikingly similar effect. That practice must be barred as well. And liberal lawmakers must take a more critical stance toward the injustice perpetrated by law enforcement officers — calling for police demilitarization and more civilian oversight would be a welcome start. Redistributing state education funds would help undo the effects of decades of redlining and segregation. Older pollsters may fret at the viability of these issues, but data is showing that white liberals are increasingly attuned to institutional racism and willing to combat it.

If Democrats truly wish to provide agency to black communities, they must be willing to push further left than even their most strident forebears. A committed anti-racist political party should strive to provide as much money and power to the victims of racism as it can. This may sound radical, but the Republican party has openly worked to do the exact opposite by concentrating wealth and power in the hands of the already wealthy and powerful. Democrats should not feel ashamed or timid about voicing an equal and opposite goal. For years, former Representative John Conyers proposed a study on the possibility of reparations; members of Congress should push loudly for both his commission and the promise of a reparations program. As America comes to its senses about marijuana legalization, liberals must stifle progress until assurances can be made that the job opportunities and profits from legal pot will be directed toward the community most penalized for its criminalization. Allowing felons to vote must become the moderate position, with prison abolition supplanting it on the left.

By striking at the heart of racial inequality, Democrats will be supporting and invigorating a voter bloc that has often turned to them for lack of a better option. Reckoning with a history of white supremacy does not mean countenancing it: it is the first step toward atoning for it.

Yesterday’s essay: The Most Important Issue For Democrats Is…Immigration.