The date was November 4th, 2008. My mother ran into my room, threw open the door, and grabbed me from my bed. With my eyes half closed, and brain sound asleep, she sat me down on the couch and turned me towards the TV. The “Breaking News” banner flashed across the screen as an older white man announced that a man by the name of Barack Obama would be the first black president of the United States. With tears in her eyes, my mother turned towards me and said: “I wanted you to witness history. I wanted you to see that even as a black man, your vote and your voice are important.” I took those words to heart and truly believed the words that my mother told me. And every day since then, America has been trying to prove her wrong.
Throughout history, blacks have been limited in their political involvement by a variety of actors. Limitations made specifically for disenfranchising blacks, like the Poll Tax and the Grandfather Clause, and organizations, like the Ku Klux Klan, have worked to prevent African-Americans from voting. Since the passing of legislation during the Civil Rights Era, voting inequality has no longer been viewed as a major issue for the African-American community. However, if recent events ― like the disregard for disproportionately black votes in the 2000 election ― indicate anything, it is that political marginalization is still an important problem facing the black community. It is time to recognize that political marginalization is not a symptom of racial inequality, but rather, the disease itself.
All of this begs the question: How do we decrease the political marginalization that African-Americans face in this country? There are three major steps that the black community can begin taking in order to decrease marginalization. First, there needs to be a shift in the demographics of political representation. In order to reduce the political marginalization of blacks, and thus work to reduce inequality amongst the races, the first step must be to elect more black representatives to positions of political power.
According to the US Census Bureau’s 2015 estimates, 13.3% of the American population identifies as black. However, only 3% of US senators identify as black.
First, there needs to be a shift in the demographics of political representation. In order to reduce the political marginalization of blacks, and thus work to reduce inequality amongst the races, the first step must be to elect more black representatives to positions of political power. According to the US Census Bureau’s 2015 estimates, 13.3% of the American population identifies as black. However, only 3% of US senators identify as black. These disparities exist throughout the American political sphere. In order to shift this demographical discrepancy, black Americans must show the upcoming generations that careers in politics are not only possible, but necessary. By pointing to individuals of major political success, like Barack Obama and Congressman John Lewis, African-Americans must instill visions of political prosperity in black youth.
Next, voting procedures must be reformed on a national scale. In Article 2, Section 1, Clause 4 of the United States constitution, the power to determine the time and day on which to hold elections is given to Congress. When America was a predominantly agrarian society, Congress determined that since November is the end of fall harvest and the month with the best weather, it would be the most convenient month for a majority of the nation to be able to vote. Additionally, the first Tuesday after the first Monday was chosen in order to accommodate merchants that had to balance books on the first day of the month. However, this rationale for determining the Election Day is not only outdated, but also antithetical to the premise that it was made to protect. Working class Americans, most of which will be made up of minorities by 2032, are disproportionately disadvantaged by having voting take place on a weekday. Many minorities, including many black Americans, are not able to leave work in order to vote. On top of this, many of these working class Americans are not able to vote after work due to the inability to find childcare. These factors make Tuesdays an inopportune day for many black Americans. By moving the Election Day to a more accessible day, such as Saturdays, more African-Americans will be able to access polling locations, and have their voices heard, thus reducing the marginalization of the black body.
Finally, in order to decrease black political marginalization, black America needs to commit to values of civic engagement in all age groups. In past years, groups like the NAACP have been the driving force of civic engagement for African-Americans. In order to move towards a more politically efficient status, black America needs to come together yet again to commit to improving our communities. By encouraging civic engagement throughout the community, members of black America will feel more connected to those around them, and the collective fate of the community. By involving black Americans in their direct communities, local elections will become more important to black community members, and encourage those running for office to consider the black voice and black experience. Through this process of widespread civic engagement, black Americans will become a politically important demographic for both parties, and become more centralized in traditional politics.
By increasing black representation in politics, reforming voting procedures, and promoting civic engagement across the black community, black Americans will have the long-sought platform through which to promote racial equality. Organizations like #BlackLivesMatter have aimed to decrease inequality through protests and other demonstrations. However, these movements can only go so far. The only way to instill racial equality in America is to move black Americans from the margins of politics to the center of it. Only through this can we truly hope to find the racial equality that black America yearns for. Through this centering of black America in the political sphere, long-term solutions to systematic oppression, like police brutality, and mass incarceration, can finally be achieved. In 2008, my mother turned towards me and said: “I wanted you to witness history. I wanted you to see that even as a black man, your vote and your voice are important.” I took those words to heart and truly believed the words that my mother told me. And I will spend the rest of my life trying to prove her right.