Political Exclusion: The Democratic Debate Ignored Issues Pertinent to Black People—Why Do We Let Them Off the Hook?

Bernie Sanders, Martin O'Malley, Hillary Rodham Clinton, Lincoln ChafeeBy: James Clingman

The Democratic debate was nothing short of embarrassing, insulting, and dismissive of Black people. While the men did not wear the traditional red and blue ties, thank God, the two and a half hour rhetorical exercise was an in-your-face thumbing of the nose at Black voters. How much more proof do we need to make us understand that we are totally excluded from the political process? Are we ignored and dismissed because we don’t vote in primaries, or do we not vote in primaries because we are ignored?

The Republican debate was an inside game of name-calling, accusations, and innuendo with no mention of Black folks. The Dems stage show deferred to Black people only once, and that was in an obligatory and patronizing way.

Why are we so accepting of such displays of indifference and condescension from politicians? Other groups were mentioned and supported in their causes, but Black folks were reduced to one issue—a negative one at that—and given such short shrift that if you turned away for a second or two you would have missed it.

The Black-guy-in-residence at CNN, Don Lemon, was in charge of Facebook questions, only two of the hundreds posed were even included in the debate, and his first choice was the ridiculous question: “Do Black lives matter ‘or’ do all lives matter?” I guess that was Lemon’s way of getting our issue on the table, huh? Aside from the question lacking any substance or even making any sense, the candidates did not even know how to answer it.

Our inclusion in the Democratic debate was reduced to a one minute discussion on whether our lives matter. What were they supposed to say, “No, they don’t matter?” And because the question was framed as a choice between Black lives and all lives, it devalued Black people even more. Do candidates really need to answer that question, Mr. Lemon? Will the question of whether our lives matter or not be reflective of the role Black folks will play in the upcoming election? If so, the candidates on both sides will love that.

It is so frustrating to see Black people continue to be treated like a bunch of children who only get a pat on their heads, a pacifier in their mouths, and then be relegated to the back of the room by disingenuous politicians. Black commentators on “Views Shows” hardly ever discuss Black-specific issues, unless they are crime-related. Candidates have debates and never mention Black people, except to cite a few statistics on poverty and crime, the only things it seems we are noted for in their minds. They never offer their support of our specific issues, the way they do when it comes to women, Jewish, and LGBT issues. We get what we accept though, right?

The impact of millions of union members and their lobbyists, along with other groups like the NRA, causes candidates to genuflect and kowtow to their desires. Of course their campaign contributions are a great incentive. Black folks have opted for 501(c)3 organizations that cannot give money or endorse candidates the way unions can. Our largest organization, the NAACP, cannot lobby or endorse particular candidates. Although we know the NAACP is an adjunct surreptitious component of the Democrat party and gets significant funding from unions, which are also overwhelmingly Democrat, that organization has little or no influence in the Democrat party. Isn’t that obvious? Just look at the lack of deference given by the Dems toward Black people.

CNN’s Wolf Blitzer asked NAACP President, Cornell Brooks, about the Democrat debate. Brooks’ assessment of the debate, vis-à-vis Black issues, was similar to mine. But when asked what he would have liked the candidates to discuss he said, “Voting Rights.” I rest my case.

During the debate, unions and the NRA were mentioned, but the NAACP was not. Candidates seek the endorsements from associations because of the number of members they have and the contributions they make. What would make us think that our millions of votes alone, especially since we give virtually all of them to the Dems, will bring about any acknowledgement or reciprocity, much less any power in the public policy inner circle? Where are our lobbyists and our Super Pac? Although we now vote as a bloc in favor of the Dems, our voting bloc must be independent, leveraged, and never taken for granted.

As I said before, Black voters give all of our quid but get no quo in return. We have allowed our political interests to be reduced to a protracted fight for voting rights and one silly question: “Do Black lives matter?” Politicians merely need to say “I support your right to vote” and “Yes, Black lives do matter,” and they are off the hook for any other deliverable. We give so much but settle for so little.

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