Nowhere does the question “What’s the next step?” carry more significance than in black America. Safe to say that most black voters feel like Tom Cruise in Edge of Tomorrow, repeatedly slain by aliens on a violent beachhead one day and repeatedly waking up the next in a dopey haze of “Did that just happen?”
Many are still grieving the fact that their first black president will be replaced by a quick-buck billionaire who founded his political reputation on baseless, racist Birther fiction. That’s a hard pill to swallow as the consequences of a Donald Trump presidency roll in fast like the dark clouds before a tornado.
But one unnoticed outcome of this election emerged from the haze: Black people have very, very little political skin in this new game. In fact, while we went to bat strong for every other voting bloc’s cause, no one went fully to bat for ours. We were out there strong for Latinos against building an immigration wall, strong for Muslims (many South Asian) against an immigration ban and doubly strong for outraged white women who seemed united against a serial sex predator in the White House.
Yet, in the end, black voters were the only demographic group that voted overwhelmingly against Trump—88 percent for Clinton—while everyone else gave themselves electoral leverage to work with: Twenty-nine percent of Latinos, 29 percent of Asians and a whopping 53 percent of white women voted for Trump. Even a plurality of white millennial voters, 48 percent, went with Trump.
We … got … played. And given the gravity of the situation, emotional protest politics won’t be near enough. Not saying you should normalize your views of the next president, forgive and forget, or even take a “deep breath” (as Oprah, taken out of context, was unfairly criticized for suggesting). But black America must—now more than ever—get extra creative about how it skillfully navigates the uncertain and rather treacherous political territory ahead.
The world’s not ending. We’re not all going to die (even though President Barack Obama is now spending extra time with Sunkist getting him up to speed on everything). However, perhaps there is a multilayered approach to help us identify political and institutional opportunities for empowerment, which is much more impactful than crafting clever fits on social media. Here are several ways to go about that:
More Black Political Playbook, Please
Since last Tuesday, there have been no official indications that black members of Congress, black state legislators or black mayors, collectively, had a formal blueprint laid out. Official Twitter feeds for the Congressional Black Caucus, the National Black Caucus of State Legislators and the African American Mayors Association were strangely mum on the subject. No official press statements were even released by any of these leading umbrella organizations representing black elected officials.
Former Colorado Senate President and Obama administration appointee Peter Groff agrees that black political leaders should have immediately issued public guidance on next steps.
“It gives them a marker, puts them in the national conversation and spotlight, and gets people talking,” Groff explains to The Root. “True, these organizations should be more policy-centered and steer away from the politics. But their members and their constituents need direction.”
We should probably stop waiting for the next President Obama or other perceived political messiah and work with what we’ve got: nearly 10,000 black elected officials throughout the nation on the state, local and county levels, including boards of education, judges and sheriffs. The challenge: putting them all on the same big mission page.
Accumulating and expanding political power locally and regionally where black communities are heavily concentrated could be an effective form of unified political protection—if done right. It’s a bottom-up approach that also looks to mold fresh, new political talent from the ashes.
As soon-to-be NBCSL Chair and state Rep. Greg Porter (D-Ind.) tells The Root, “We’ll need to make sure we’re relevant and that we do what it takes to stay relevant.”
Porter is not alone in that assessment. “We have to be careful about throwing the baby out with the bathwater,” adds Groff. “So now, even when D.C. is chugging along, black state, county and local elected officials are more efficient, as well as more impactful and immediate.”