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

The Next White Flight?

I was speaking with a colleague from Detroit this week, lamenting our position as activist, black, gay men who are also clergy and we realized that we are often in situations where we are asked to choose our allegiance: are we working on/with black issues or LGBT issues? I also recently attended a meeting of local black LGBT leaders where the same question arose: black or LGBT? The way that communities of color and LGBT groups are so disjointed sometimes, leaves someone like me at odds. Too frequently, in black and brown spaces, we are asked to leave our LGBT selves outside, because it is felt that sexuality issues dilute the power of the race conversation, or that LGBT is a “white” issue. Likewise, in predominantly white LGBT spaces, people of color are frequently ghettoized (that is, called upon to speak for our entire race) or entirely left out of the conversation because of access (funding, location, cultural setting, etc.) Case in point, I also attended a presentation by one of our local LGBT politicians (a dynamic young man of color) yet I was the only African American in the audience, although there were a couple of Asian and Latino folks. Questions from the audience were all targeted at youth, marriage equality and local LGBT history; the only question on race was one that furthered the perception of local black communities harboring negative feelings for LGBT issues.

“What happens when the LGBT fight becomes predominantly black and brown?”

There is a disturbing threat on the horizon. As a gay man who cannot ignore the issues of race in the United States, I watch the events of Baltimore over the last few weeks as well as New York, Oakland, Chicago, Ferguson and Sanford over the last few years and I am worried about the very real potential for “LGBT White Flight.”

What happens when the LGBT fight becomes predominantly black and brown? When the Supreme Court rules to make Marriage Equality the law of the land, will the funding from white LGBT donors dry up? Will the white LGBT allies fail to show up at the marches or more importantly at the polls?  Will we see an uptick in the number of LGBT folks who align with conservative fiscal policies that promote their personal wealth over the overal health and welfare of those who are marginalized? Right now, significant LGBT wealth is pouring into the fight for Marriage Equality. Even a cursory glance at major donors and supporters of this effort, shows how LGBT donors and organizations sometimes have significantly less connection to communities of color, and if they do, it is very narrowly focused. Yet organizations who are funding and supporting racial justice work, are much more likely to be public and financial allies of LGBT efforts.  If the commitment is only marginal now, what will the motivation be to make it more equitable in the future?

The face of the Marriage Equality fight is overwhelmingly white. Although there are a handful of plaintiffs who are people of color, and a significant number of children of these families are people of color, the positioning of the benefits to be gained from marriage status (tax benefits, partner, employment benefits, community and social standing) are portrayed on the surface as benefits that are associated with white affluence in our country. Yet, when this one battle is won, the LGBT fight for opportunity will be far from over for people of color. In a recent study from Movement Advancement Project and Center for American Progress ( PAYING AN UNFAIR PRICE: The Financial Penalty for LGBT People of Color in America) the numbers are clear that poverty and lack of opportunity and lack of security plague LGBT people of color more than their white or non-LGBT counterparts:


A 2014 report from the Black Youth Project ( Moving Beyond Marriage: What Young People of Color Think about the LGBT Agenda) has some surprising numbers as well showing how a majority of young people of color think that the LGBT Agenda isn’t aligned with their priorities:

“This report demonstrates that while young people grant strong support to same-sex marriage, young people—especially young people of color—also believe that several other policies should have greater priority in the fight for LGBT equality. For instance, more than 80 percent of Black, white, and Latino youth support policies to guarantee employment rights, while 65 to 70 percent of young people support same-sex marriage….

Our findings also indicate that young people of color are skeptical about whether mainstream LGBT organizations advocate policies that are important for LGBT individuals in communities of color. Young people of color are perhaps uniquely situated to identify what policies are most likely to have the greatest impact on their communities.”

We cannot choose one identity or the other.  We all live at crossroads of identity.  The question is, will the same happy gay and lesbian couples who embrace and celebrate on the steps of the Supreme Court in victory for their ability to marry and share benefits, then be willing to turn around and travel the 29 miles up Interstate 295 to march in the streets of Baltimore to support their black trans* siblings who are targeted and murdered by police (Mya Hall)? Will the major donors to Equality California also fund safe spaces for Cambodian LGBT youth in Long Beach?

We cannot let the LGBT movement turn into a cultural Detroit, Oakland or Cleveland…abandoned by the people who can now afford to disappear into the suburban mainstream.