What are Black Issues?

During this election cycle, it is not uncommon to hear charges levied against the Democratic Party for taking black voters and their issues for granted.

We recently witnessed as Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, before a largely white audience, offered a description of communities as a bastion of failing schools, high unemployment and abject poverty that dwell in war zones. In summation he appealed for their votes by asking: "What do have to lose?"

If one takes Trump's description of the "black community" as accurate, data shows that 72.6 percent would not qualify. But Trump is not the only one guilty of painting the African-American community with a large, erroneous brush. Even those who claim to stand on the vanguard for African Americans are not immune from engaging in sophomoric portrayals.

I agree that large numbers of African Americans consistently voting for the Democrats is unhealthy for our democratic form of government, but they do not do so blindly. For more than 50 years, the Republican Party has made it clear that seeking white working-class voters was a higher priority than reaching out to black Americans who would ostensibly support a platform of lower taxes, smaller government and cultivating small business.

But what are exactly are "black issues?" What are the biological and sociological concerns unique to 12.1 percent of the American population whose descendants came from Africa by way of a forced migration policy?

We accept the notion of black issues without giving it much definition in the public discourse. This term has been dominated in recent years by the Black Lives Matter movement. Those who have taken the time to read their website know they offer a 14-point platform.

Though known primarily for opposition to police violence against African-American males, they have outlined a more thorough agenda. But does this alone define so-called black issues?

Too often, the civil rights movement is seen exclusively as a black issue. This cursory perspective is understandable, given that the majority of its participants were indeed black. But to do so marginalizes this majestic effort.

The basis for the movement was the 14th Amendment, which guarantees equal protection under the law. With constitutional undergirding, is this not an American issue? Didn't the movement make America better?

Certainly reducing crime in certain black communities is a high priority, along with improving public education and addressing mass incarcerations, especially for nonviolent offenders.

Some of the high-profile police shootings of black victims also warrants our attention. But this issue, in many respects, has been truncated into a one-size-fits-all definition that serves only to work against the legitimate efforts of the cause.

The peculiar history of black Americans includes being the moral index for the nation. That does not suggest that black Americans have been any more moral than other Americans, but it is indeed a legacy that has influenced greatly the nation's moral compass.

While many "black issues" are presented as singularly focused, often times the underlining issue possesses universal appeal.

Consistent with the contemporary public discourse is to refer to black issues as if everyone embraces a similar working definition. However, the aforementioned issues are not just of race; they are also of class.

As much as America has been hamstrung by its original sin of race, it has done so in order to ignore the larger issues of class. Since its inception, American grappled with race as it has conveniently muddied the waters on class.

Historically, American workers have been exploited based on class, while using race to seductively create an antagonistic relationship among those who should have been natural allies.

When candidates talk about "working class Americans," is that not presumed to be code for appealing directly to white voters? But a study by the Center for Economic and Policy Research finds that more than half of all Hispanics and African American identify themselves as working class.

The consistent omission of class into the discourse subverts the quest for authentic change.

Lest we forget, class was where Martin Luther King had focused at the time of his assassination. He had come to the realization that the same economic forces there were oppressing poor Negroes were doing likewise to poor whites.

King understood then what we have seemingly forgotten today: Discussions of race without including class will keep the nation in a constant state of arrested development.

Rev. Byron Williams is a writer and the host of the NPR-affiliated "The Public Morality"