“Shut up and vote!” was how black men perceived the Democratic message to them during the 2020 election. In building the election as a referendum on Trump’s presidency, the black political class constructed a binary choice for black America: vote Democrat or as uncle Joe would say, “you ain’t black.”
As polling experts mulled over the opinion data, black men noticeably stood out as an unenthusiastic voting bloc. Many black men felt compelled to raise questions about the efficacy of the Biden-Harris ticket, given their track record enacting draconian criminal justice policies in their previous political lives.
For 40 years, Joe Biden made “tough on crime” a central theme in his legislative career, harking as far back as the 1980s when he partnered with southern segregationist Senator Strom Thurmond to author the 1984 Crime Control Act, the 1986 Drug Abuse Act and then later during the Clinton years the 1994 Omnibus Crime. Only to be slightly undone, Kamala Harris, as San Francisco’s DA and California’s top cop, enacted similarly impactful policies that incarcerated poor working-class parents for juvenile truancy violations; that extended the release times of prisoners to fight California’s wildfires, and a refusal to endorse legislation to decriminalize marijuana law that locked up multiple generations of black men.
Black men’s unwillingness to conveniently fall in line with the “shut up and vote” dictate eventually caught the ire of the black democratic establishment, prompting them to swiftly initiate targeted campaigns to increase black male voter turnout. However, instead of excepting black male skepticism as a legitimate concern, the black political class sought to discredit their voices by turning them into caricatures through bought ads ran on various media platforms. These ads assigned black male political interest to rap battles on basketball courts, scripted barbershop conversations and nakedly clad strip club dancers. Yeah, that’s right. Strippers.
Consequently, black men were outraged, as well as disheartened by the infantile representations that reduced their political concerns to recreational escapades. Many perceived the ads as an attempt to re-enforce long-held stereotypes often conveyed by white racist in America.
Democratic efforts to silence black male dissent were joined by a least likely foe — black women. In their enthusiasm to experience the symbolism of a US vice-presidential candidate, the black female political class waged war against black men by weaponizing gender to thwart any dissenting opinions. Black men who dared to critique the Biden-Harris campaign were conveniently labeled as a sexist or misogynist. From black senior-level campaign surrogates to university academics to opinion writers, there was a vitriol pointed at black men that was meant to minimize their perspectives.
Take Simon Sanders, for example, a senior Biden campaign official and CNN contributor. When a Miami Times op-ed piece written by once-famed rapper and now youth football commissioner Luther Campbell was published challenging Kamala’s criminal justice record, Sanders took to social media to ask, “Why do black men keep popping up with their unsolicited opinions about Kamala Harris?” Luke replied in turn: “I just attacked her policies, not her personally.” Popular YouTube talk show host Tim Black chimed in to declare: “Black men can speak Symone. I know you’d rather we didn’t unless it supports your opinions. Speech is available to us all, not just MSNBC contributors like you who weaponize gender.”
But Sanders was not alone. These issues were further amplified when a network of black women later joined in to condemn actor and activist Ice Cube after he introduced his Contract with Black America plan, an economic roadmap developed with a range of scholars and community leaders. Despite extending an invitation to both political parties for review, only the Trump team reached out with interest to meet with Cube. The Biden campaign reportedly deferred until after the election. This set off a firestorm of criticism by black Democrats, leading to a castigation that sought to paint the former rapper as a sellout, race trader, and even Trump supporter.
Further, these women framed Cube’s political efforts as a gender-driven betrayal and began to outwardly convey generalizations about black men as desired emulators of white male patriarchy. Uninterrupted’s controversial opinion writer Jemele Hill blasted out a tweet, “I have increasingly found that many black men just want better access to patriarchy. They don’t actually want it dismantled.” This was followed up by black feminist professor Brittany Cooper making a huge declaration, “F**k Ice Cube” and later suggested that black women withhold sex from black men.
For those black men who decided to vote for Trump, the wrath of the black political class got even more pugnacious, as a litmus test was applied to authenticate their black identity and race loyalty. Even with mathematics statistically ensuring that a small percentage of black men would likely vote for any republican candidate, black political leaders like longtime Congresswomen Maxine Waters still found it necessary to offer up a vengeance threat to any black man who pulled the lever for Trump. In an interview with the Joe Madison Show, Waters stated, “Any of them [black men] showing their face, I will never ever forgive them for undermining the possibility to help their own people” She then added, “if they’re not listening to our voices, they have a price to pay for years to come.”
The reality is that black men will hold their noses and vote overwhelming Democrat in this election, as they have for the pass forty years. Despite efforts to characterize black men as a “knuckle draggers” filled with toxic masculinity, they have been the most loyal male progressive voting bloc in America — election after election. In the 2016, Hillary Clinton received 81 percent of the Black male vote compared to 65 percent of Hispanic men and 32 percent of white men, according Pew Research. Notwithstanding, in the post-election analysis, black men were quickly blamed for low turnout in urban centers located in battleground states, while the data clearly showed that Clinton had lost suburbs that Obama won.
The 2020 election cycle may have revealed a ‘canary in a coal mine’ for the next stage of black American politics. There appears to be a political awakening among Black men, signaling that they no longer see themselves in a Democratic party that summarily omits their concerns, disrespect them with public shaming and embraces an identity politics that designates them as part of a white male sexist patriarchy. They are beginning to see themselves as free independent thinkers and self-agents not bound by the status quo politics that map itself into black culture.
This election may or may not be determined by black male voter turnout. Either way, both parties should recon with the idea that the future of black male vote will not be determined with a bunch of rap battle ads. There are serious issues on the table that matter to them. Besides police and criminal justice reinvention, they look to small business and entrepreneurial opportunities; more school choices, such as charter and vouchers and family court reform.
Lets see what emerges.