Looking for Black Votes

Governor Deval Patrick, 71st Governor of Massachusetts – Official Photograph

The 2020 presidential candidates are all clamoring for the black vote.  Even though Trump basically won the election with virtually no black support (Clinton had 88% of the black vote to Trump’s 8%[1]) Trump recognizes that his below 50% presidency means that he has no insurance policy…particularly with the government actively working against foreign interference, Julian Assange behind bars, Roger Ailes dead and Mark Zuckerberg turning into the anti-Christ.  Trump recently launched his initiative to court black voters in Atlanta where he rolled out his 2020 freakshow and freak-self asking the crowd “What do you prefer…‘Blacks for Trump’ or ‘African-Americans for Trump?’ ”[2]

This is the problem for all of the candidates courting the black vote…not just Trump but the “top tier” Democratic candidates as well.  None of them seems to have any kind of depth of knowledge or experience actually knowing any black people.

I have regularly put the challenge to my congregation “who do you know?”  Another way to put it is, what does your world look like?  My challenge to them and to the candidates is to actually take a close look at their world.  If everyone in your world looks and sounds just like you or is some variation on the same, you are going to have a devilish time connecting on an authentic level with people outside of that bubble.  It is not impossible to connect, but short of getting to know every single person everywhere it takes intention and a little bit of magic; it is the gift of the true politician.  Obama had it as did George W. Bush for all of his failings.  It is a specific blend of authentic interest in people and a really clear understanding of your own world.

This ability to navigate and swim among strangers is something that I had to learn to be successful as a Cruise Director.  As I was transitioning into ministry, I recognized a need for this kind of awareness for religious professionals and communities that were trying and failing to make “multi-cultural” connections.  I developed a series of workshops that ask people to take a personal inventory of their world.  In the workshops I invite an honest conversation about how that world shapes their worldview. But the most important piece is asking participants at the end to commit to putting this self-knowledge into practice.  I ask people to let go of a sense of perfection and show up as their real selves in relationship to people who may present as “strangers.” I ask them, as I ask of myself, to show up vulnerable, humble and true.  This has been an extremely powerful tool in “anti-racism” work within predominantly white settings even though I didn’t develop it just for white audiences.

Although I don’t feel Bloomberg or Patrick should run, it is clear that they recognize the absolute weakness of social skill in the field.  Not weak in terms of policy ideas or knowledge or experience, but weak as real people.

Black voters, like anyone else, can smell a fake and if the way I feel is any example, black voters are also extremely tired of only being courted or asked for input or invited to the party when we are providing the entertainment or bringing the cake.  Scant few of the candidates has a longstanding relationship with black communities and if they do, its been fraught and has not translated into a broader appeal.  I ask those candidates as well, “who do you know?”  How do you show up authentically in Iowa or Missouri or Kansas if you’ve never been engaged with these places and people or if you aren’t willing to show up with a humble and authentic desire for relationship? What does Kamala Harris talk to the immigrant in the meatpacking plant in Minnesota about that isn’t her campaign?  What does Pete Buttigieg say to the black Vietnam veteran in Louisiana that isn’t about his own service?  What does Elizabeth Warren say to the gay minister in Massachusetts that isn’t a soundbyte?

As I look at the field of Democratic candidates and even the field of Republicans (including the gangster-in-chief) I’m not just disappointed, I’m angry that our politics have come to this.  Although I don’t feel Bloomberg or Patrick should run, it is clear that they recognize the absolute weakness of social skill in the field.  Not weak in terms of policy ideas or knowledge or experience, but weak as real people.  This is probably why Joe Biden has hung on this long.  People I know who have known him unanimously declare him to be hopelessly likeable.  He shouldn’t be president now, but he’s a notoriously good guy.  He’s made a career out of it.

Houston, we have a problem…not just because there’s only one candidate that can locate Houston on a map (thank you Julian Castro) but because politics has become calculus.  Andrew Yang is correct to be wearing a “Math” button, but sadly its not the kind of math he means.  The math that is overwhelming our entire political landscape is the math of demographics and economics mixed with the math of donors and political allies.  It is a political system that tragically has always seen black bodies in particular through math and has only once gotten to know, appreciate and fully see us beyond a “market value.”

[1] https://www.realclearpolitics.com/epolls/other/trump_vs_clinton_among_african_americans-6142.html

[2] https://www.newyorker.com/news/dispatch/donald-trump-makes-an-awkward-pitch-to-black-voters-in-atlanta

Leave a Reply