Throughout every presidency since the heist of our country from indigenous peoples, the black American experience has been exceptional in its discomfort. And no chief executive of this great nation has, in earnest, developed a unique plan to remedy that discomfort. That’s why, for many black communities, election season can feel like a superficial courting by the presidential candidates to win the “black vote”.
Presidential elections and the voter experience have long been fraught for black people. From racist poll taxes to made-up literacy tests to the egregious rollback of voting rights over the past 50 years, American democracy has at times felt like a weird and failed social experiment.
In my role as the co-founder of the Black Lives Matter National Network , I’m not in the business of endorsing presidential candidates. Yet like their political colleagues before them, the main 2016 presidential hopefuls have no real record in meaningfully addressing the long-standing economic, political, and social disenfranchisement of black communities.
It feels like the Republican party has already conceded black support to the Democrats . Meanwhile, as they’ve hit the campaign trail, Democrats are posturing for the “black vote” and not explicitly saying what they will do once they’re in office to remedy systemic American racism.
Both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have refused to commit to restorative reparations for slavery , instead making jobs the focus of their offer to black communities. Yes, jobs are great, and if a house burns to the ground, you don’t restore it by hanging pictures and plants, you rebuild first. However, Clinton’s championing of legislation like the 1994 crime bill and the way she dehumanised black children by calling them “ super-predators ” have had lasting and devastating impacts on black families. Furthermore, from her support of punitive welfare reform legislation to mass incarceration to the “war on drugs”, Clinton has a long history of promulgating anti-black legislation.
Sanders has been the most outspoken on Black Lives Matter, but like Clinton he has failed to make an explicit commitment to our issues if elected. And that is what we are asking for: a promise from the potential presidents-elect that black communities will be a priority for them once they are in the White House, not only on the campaign trail.
Across the aisle, Ted Cruz supports and promotes what has become one of the most racist and dangerous laws for black people: Stand-your-ground . He told Florida residents Sybrina Fulton and Lucia McBath, mothers of Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis , that the law used as a defence by the murderers of their dead children was beneficial to black people. Donald Trump refers to the Black Lives movement as “trouble” . He is delusional about “the blacks” , as he calls us, and aside from a single meeting with black clergy has done little in the way of meaningful black voter engagement.
Overall, the presidential electoral process and experience is moot for most black people, save for the impact of supreme court appointees regressing on legislation that often affects us disproportionately.
The Black Lives Matter National Network and the movement at large are sophisticated. We’re not easily won over by talking points and campaign trail pledges. We want to see meaningful collaboration and a genuine transformation of American democracy. Racism has its boot squarely wedged on the neck of black communities, and we don’t want to be told that hard work and responsibility are the answer.
We want Clinton, Sanders, Trump, Cruz and others to not only express that they know Black Lives Matter, but to invest resources and develop a clear and time-bound plan on how they will advance the political, economic and social power of black people. It’s 2016 and long overdue for our communities to be a priority for the Oval Office.
While I don’t invest my political will in the presidential electoral process, I have not relinquished my political power. Black Lives Matter is redefining political education and civic engagement. We are committed to mobilising black communities to end state-sanctioned violence against black people – I strongly encourage any 2016 hopeful to join us.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media 2016