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In last night’s Democratic debate, we entered the “I care about Black people” part of the presidential campaign.
To be fair, the Democratic candidates this cycle have been, generally speaking, unusually chatty on race and the complex issues affecting voters of color; some with a good deal of fluency and passion, others being held to account. Difficult conversations about race? Oh, they’ve been having them! Regardless of the candidate you support (or how uncomfortable the debates make you) being able to watch powerful people sort things out about race and equity in public is some sort of progress.
Even in an all-white field. Disappointing, but not surprising.
But last night, we entered a new era.
Out of the gate, Mother Emanuel Baptist Church was evoked, the candidates played a “was stop-and-frisk racist?” game, and promised to invest $50 million in historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs). By hour two, we were talking about the scourge of private prisons, heard a call for reparations, and an idea for Black and brown people to run marijuana businesses. We wrapped the evening with an out-of-the-blue promise to put a Black woman on the Supreme Court, some scripture, and the obligatory Martin Luther King, Jr. quote.
Oh, and Nelson Mandela.
South Carolina, thank you for being you.
The first contest with a diverse voter population is scheduled for this weekend in South Carolina, and with Super Tuesday around the corner, a multi-cultural America will start shaping the race in greater numbers. The horse race is about to get much horsier.
But Black voters, seen as indispensable for a Democratic win, do not think with one mind. It’s hard to know what combination of applied empathy, cultural fluency, historic affinity, and “common sense” solutions will sway them to pledge their hearts to a candidate and brave the ugly headwinds brewing at the polls.
BET has a good
You can find more background on the issues raised (or not raised) in the debate below.
What about climate change? Climate change was not discussed last night, and that’s a problem. “It’s a straightforward statement of fact that climate change is among the biggest imminent threats to humankind—and Black communities such as those in South Carolina are going to take a disproportionate hit,” says Julia Craven in Slate. In this piece, she asked the candidates to share their climate change proposals while speaking specifically to Black rural voters, the people who will be in the crosshairs of the climate disruption that’s on the near horizon. It’s a subtle but important test, Cliff Albright, a co-founder of Black Voters Matter, tells her: “The language used and how the issue is perceived is different within Black rural communities.” Eight campaigns responded.
Stop-and-frisk isn’t really over in New York City The NYPD has been overseen by a federal monitor since 2013, who has been tasked with supervising the reform of NYPD practices specifically related to stop-and-frisk: Policies, training, supervision, auditing, and handling of complaints and discipline of officers. It’s not going well, evidently. While the number of stops has declined, it may be that the police aren’t documenting all of them. The racial disparity of stops has not improved, and the NYPD's policies and behaviors have yet to be deemed in compliance with the Constitution. Bonus: For a smart take on why white folks don’t quite get how stop-and-frisk was and is so deeply problematic, The Daily Show’s Trevor Noah has got you covered.
Weed or cannabis? Felon or millionaire? USA Today digs into the issue of who gets rewarded for the same entrepreneurial behavior; the Black person who sells marijuana in the informal economy and gets a life sentence, or the white one who makes millions in the newly legal marketplace and gets magazine covers. Ferrell Scott is serving a life sentence for something that is now legal in an increasing number of states, an issue made more complex by a history of racial disparity for marijuana-related offenses in policing and sentencing. (The disparity has been particularly jarring in NYC, data here.) The war on drugs (and related racial panic) also led to the rise of private prisons. Presidential candidate Tom Steyer got called out for a previous investment in the Corrections Corporation of America, more about that here.
Let’s talk about voter intimidation The Guardian has an excellent review of the current ways that voter suppression is happening: in-person “voter intimidation, criminalizing of voter registration drives, disguised poll taxes, attempts to maintain extreme partisan gerrymandered districts, draconian and flawed voter roll purges, squashing access to voting on college campuses, widespread purchase of hackable voting machines,” and newly appointed local judges prepared to play along. This year is also the first since 1982 that the RNC will be allowed to physically monitor the polls, they’d lost the ability to do after a lawsuit claiming they’d intimidated Black voters in a gubernatorial election in New Jersey. Former Georgia governor hopeful Stacey Abrams is spearheading a grassroots voter rights advocacy movement in her home state, and she’s not alone.
How to close the racial wealth gap It’s not by boosting Black homeownership or entrepreneurship, says this analysis from CityLab (which is now owned by Bloomberg LP, by the way.) This is the basis of a plan from Michael Bloomberg (similar economic solutions are also favored by other candidates), that aims to close the worsening racial wealth gap, even among workers. But new studies suggest that these schemes will not work. One examines the "racial appreciation gap" that undervalues comparable homes in Black neighborhoods as compared to white ones, another one examines how customer perceptions, like positive Yelp reviews, benefit only white-owned businesses. “In fact, the businesses located in majority-black neighborhoods with the highest Yelp ratings actually saw less revenue growth between 2016 and 2019 than poorly reviewed businesses located in predominantly white neighborhoods.”
Black, Native American, and Alaska Native women are three times as likely to die of pregnancy-related causes than white women This is from a report published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) last spring, that became part of then-candidate Kamala Harris’s talking points. The disparity is getting worse and is largely preventable. Some 60% of all pregnancy-related deaths could be prevented with better health care, communication and support, access to stable housing and transportation, the researchers found. “We have the means to identify and close gaps in the care they receive," said Dr. Anne Schuchat, principal deputy director of the CDC. Not all deaths are preventable but "we can and should do more."
New York Times
Why do people love the Confederate flag? When Donna Ladd, a journalist based in Jackson, Miss., asked why people still love their Confederate flag despite its history, the answers were mostly what you’d expect. But the history itself is at issue. White resentment from the Civil War and Reconstruction persists in Mississippi; along with a high number of casualties, the state went from being the richest from slavery to one of the poorest. But a revised version of Civil War events underlies their efforts to “preserve their history,” and Ladd is admirably armed with facts that dispute the idea that the South seceded over state’s rights and not slavery. But the wounds still seem fresh. “People like me…it’s in our blood. We know about our family, their sacrifices,” says Larry McCluney, Jr., a national officer in the Sons of Confederate Veterans. “Slavery was an issue, but not the cause.”
“What shall I tell my children who are black /Of what it means to be a captive in this dark skin / What shall I tell my dear one, fruit of my womb, / Of how beautiful they are when everywhere they turn / They are faced with abhorrence of everything that is black. / Villains are black with black hearts. / A black cow gives no milk. A black hen lays no eggs. / Bad news comes bordered in black, black is evil / And evil is black and devils' food is black…
What shall I tell my dear ones raised in a white world / A place where white has been made to represent / All that is good and pure and fine and decent. / Where clouds are white, and dolls, and heaven / Surely is a white, white place with angels / Robed in white, and cotton candy and ice cream / and milk and ruffled Sunday dresses / And dream houses and long sleek cadillacs / And angel's food is white…all, all…white...?”
—Margaret Burroughs, "What Shall I Tell My Children Who Are Black (Reflections of an African-American Mother)," 1963.