It’s a simple equation that becomes more and more urgent by the day: Black women notoriously hold it down in elections, but if Joe Biden is going to emerge triumphant in November, he’s gonna need Black men to show up and show out at the polls—the same way we did for Barak Obama in 2008 and 2012, and didn’t for Hilary Clinton in 2016.
A great place to start would be to stop saying ridiculous ass shit about Black folks almost every time he opens his mouth, but another ploy would be to recruit a handful of prominent Black men to engage in weekly roundtable discussions that focus on issues that impact us directly.
Enter Shop Talk, which debuts on Thursday and seeks to do exactly that, with contributions from familiar names like political commentator Bakari Sellers; music mogul Jermaine Dupri; actor and host Terrence J; campaign co-chair Cedric Richmond; Wisconsin Lieutenant Governor Mandela Barnes and AllHipHop.com CEO Chuck Creekmur.
Hosted by Gaulien “Gee” Smith, a small business owner in Wisconsin, Shop Talk aspires to “bring likeminds together to stand up for the issues they care about the most,” according to a press release provided to The Root. As one of the new Biden-Harris programs specifically created for Black men, each conversation will be anchored by the challenges that impact a specific state. And on the heels of the police shooting of Jacob Blake on Sunday, it comes as no surprise that Wisconsin will be the first state up to bat.
In an exclusive interview with The Root, Sellers and Dupri explained their involvement with Shop Talk and how important it is for Black men to become more politically engaged.
“I’m lending my voice to something that needs it,” Dupri said. “This is by far one of the most important, attention-grabbing elections that I’ve ever seen since I’ve been alive. I’m just trying to do my part.”
As one of several entertainers participating, Dupri’s value lies in what he describes as a “non-political” perspective—especially coming from a region as Black and prosperous as Atlanta.
“All Black people should pay attention to life in Atlanta. I’ve been telling you this for the longest,” he said. “I notice the difference in my city and I notice the way that Black people are treated. When people bring up issues about racism and different things, my perspective is a lot different.”
There’s also the issue of accountability. Can a platform that’s an extension of Biden’s own campaign be entrusted to hold his feet to the fire?
“If people on his campaign [are behind] this, I’m 100 percent sure that he’s going to hear about this depending upon how loud we are,” Dupri said. “But we’ve got to make sure that we’re loud enough that not just Biden hears about this, but Donald Trump hears about it and is like, ‘Damn. Wait a minute. I shouldn’t do this.’ We can’t shuck and jive with this election. We’ve got to be blunt, man.”
Dupri also pointed to the NBA’s recent strike in response to the police shooting of Jacob Blake as an example of what he feels is wrong in the Black community.
“We saw the back and forth between other basketball players telling them prior to going to the bubble, ‘Y’all don’t need to be doing this. Y’all are taking the focus off of what’s happening.’ I feel like that’s a problem we have in the Black community. We got to make decisions and stick to the decisions [that have] made at the top of the game as opposed to waiting until we see something happen to somebody then start doing it. We as Black people have to start paying attention to what’s going on and really be effective.”
Dupri also made it clear that while he believes that Biden deserves the Black vote, he also insisted that Biden and Harris both have much to answer and atone for.
“I feel like Biden and Kamala have a couple of things that are ground swelling that they have to speak to before they get all the votes,” he said. “They have to address it even if they don’t want to.”
Sellers expressed his own excitement to participate in Shop Talk and represent a key demographic in the upcoming election.
“I believe truly that Black male voters are central in this election, almost even swing voters,” he said. “For far too long, Democrats haven’t listened to Black male voters. I’m actually looking forward to listening to a lot of the complaints, criticisms, problems, suggestions and optimism of Black men not just in Wisconsin, but around the country.”
He hopes to inject his prior experience as an elected official into the conversation and, much like Dupri, believes Biden is deserving of our vote.
“I wholeheartedly believe Joe Biden deserves our vote, and I think that every day Joe Biden has to continue to earn that vote,” Sellers said. “With his equity plan, with his Black agenda, with having Kamala Harris as V.P. and you know you’re getting a Supreme Court justice. Those things are important.”
And should intersectional topics arise on Shop Talk, Sellers believes that the panel is capable of addressing those issues adequately.
“Black men have the ability to be intersectional,” he said. “At the end of the day, this is about supporting Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. We’re gonna have a real conversation about that. And you know, this is wild to say, but my number one political issue is African-American female mortality.
“My wife almost died when she gave birth to my two children and I can’t imagine living in this world without her. But I also know that Black women are three-to-four times more likely to die during childbirth than white women. That’s my number one issue. I plan on bringing my full self, including these issues, to the conversation.”
Shop Talk premieres Thursday night. For more information on how to watch or participate in this virtual event, visit their website here.