On Thursday, BET hosted an intimate one-day event “focused exclusively on driving African American voters to the polls by harnessing the power of media, entertainment, and technology sectors” called the META:2020 conference. Essentially, it served as a collective of action-driven goals intentionally held during the weekend of the NAACP Image Awards, with more programming to come leading up to the November 2020 election.
As a media partner of the event, The Root was on the ground to join in the action. Jamal Simmons, cofounder and CEO of CRVIII Inc. and host and contributor for The Hill, moderated the “Black Men at the Polls” panel with rapper Tip “T.I.” Harris and former Tallahassee Mayor and 2018 Florida gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum.
Whether we’re discussing voter suppression, incarceration rates or the racial dynamics of marijuana legalization, the disillusion in voting is certainly present in the black community, and for valid reasons. And though this event was non-partisan, it was difficult not to focus on the Democratic party, specifically, for this conversation because, as T.I. noted, the Republican party “already chose who they chose.”
We’ve had discussions about black women being the “backbone” of the African American community and essentially, of America, particularly as it pertains to swaying the vote in a more progressive direction. While constructing exit poll data following the 2016 election, it was noticeable that while only 4 percent of black women voted for Trump, 13 percent of Trump voters were black men, which led to some intra-community criticism, as well.
Overall, do black men feel as if they’re being left out when it comes to their specific significance in the voting tally?
“I remember doing a post about the role that black women played in returning Democrats to power in 2018 and also in the 2016 election,” Gillum recalled. “Black women were the most reliable demographic for Hillary Clinton. But second to that, were black men. [While we were] elevating black women, some brothers were like, “Yeah, but we were right behind.”
“Maybe it’s because so many of us have been murdered, disenfranchised, became disengaged and essentially been emasculated by the agenda of the government, on both parties,” T.I. added. “If you look at the war on drugs and then you look at the incentivisation of black women getting black men out of their homes so they can receive Section 8 and welfare, that’s why they’ve [felt] forgotten. There is an attempt or an agenda to remove us out of the picture.”
That disengagement has certainly reflected in declining voting numbers throughout the years.
“In 2008, 95 percent of African American men voted for Barack Obama. In 2012, 87 percent of African American men voted for Obama,” Simmons noted. “In 2016, 82 percent of African-American men voted for Hillary Clinton. So that number is trending in a different direction. That means there might be some fertile ground for another candidate to make a case against the Democrats.”
Simmons also noted Trump’s “concerted effort” to appeal to black men, citing his support of A$AP Rocky, granting clemency to Alice Marie Johnson and passing the First Step Act in 2019, which supports the early release of prisoners.
“He passed a watered-down version of the law that was constructed under [the] Obama [administration],” Gillum jumped in, referring to the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010.
Additionally, T.I. called shenanigans on the sincerity of Trump’s actions, exclaiming, “You’re not supposed to let us see the trick!”
“It’s kind of like a ‘hand quicker than the eye’ kind of movement that has taken place here, and I think it’s insulting to our intelligence and I don’t think that it will motivate us to go with him,” T.I. said. “It’s just whether or not anyone else can motivate us enough to go against him.”
Thus, Simmons asked, “Can a white politician do what Barack Obama did?” T.I. believes Bernie Sanders can (and Tip absolutely cannot rock with Michael Bloomberg, by the way).
“I think that [Sanders] is the complete antithesis to what his opposition is,” the rapper noted. “You need equal opposite energy to convey what he’ll be facing—what we’ll all be facing in November….And I think Mr. Gillum as a running mate would be a shoe-in.”
“Black voters, I would say, are among the most sophisticated voters that exist,” Gillum said. “And the reason why is because [since] forever, we have never been able to just choose the person who we like the most. We have always had to go through the calculation of who will white people vote for. It’s a very difficult thing. We carry that burden. No other group has to do that.”