Last winter during a focus group in Grand Rapids, Michigan, a Black man who rarely votes told me he was tired of hearing sound bites of what people think he wants to hear because he's Black. He said he wants to see specific proposals and measurable results.
These comments underscored the concern many Democrats had about whether Black folks would show up to vote in larger numbers in 2020 than they did in 2016, and whether Black men in particular would support President Donald Trump and the Republicans who enable him.
Then the pandemic hit, and the impact of the virus in the Black community justifiably became a huge cause for concern. And then George Floyd was killed and a national discussion about systemic injustice and police brutality ensued. Now, as we approach Election Day, the question remains, will Black Americans turn out to vote this year?
As a Black pollster specializing in research in underserved communities, I often hear sentiments like, Why should Black people vote? Politicians don't care about people who look like me. And why should we vote for the Democrats? They take our votes for granted.
These feelings aren't necessarily wrong. Yet in this moment, with two starkly contrasting national paths in front of us, it is critical that every eligible American vote.
Black voters make a real difference
In 2016, Trump would not have won had Black voters been more motivated to vote. In Michigan, where Trump won by 11,000 votes, there were almost 393,000 eligible Black voters who stayed home (277,000 in Detroit alone). If the Black community turns out this year, we could hold the key to turning a number of red and purple states solidly blue.
For example, in 2016, Trump won Florida by a mere 113,000 votes while more than 1 million Black voters across the Sunshine State chose not to vote (379,000 in Miami). In Georgia, where Trump won by just 211,000 votes, 530,000 Black voters in Atlanta and 898,000 eligible Black voters statewide did not participate.
If your friends and family need persuading, remind them how the pandemic cast into sharp relief how this president and the nation more broadly think about Black people. Trump is an unabashed sympathizer of white supremacy. It is clear that he doesn’t see Black people. He doesn’t see our struggle, he doesn’t see our pain, he doesn’t see us dying.
In many ways, the nation too has not been seeing Black America for some time — not when we’re sick, unemployed, or when we are assaulted by one of the institutional hallmarks of America, the judicial system and law enforcement. How many times have we heard, “We need to have a serious national discussion about race?” Yet, the status quo remains.
After Rodney King and the Los Angeles riots, Hurricane Katrina, Trayvon Martin, Ferguson, Missouri, and now, after Floyd was killed by police in the middle of the street while a neighborhood watched, it appears the country is finally ready to have this conversation.
Black America must seize this moment. It is more than just our prerogative to vote; it is our obligation.
Just ask Joe Biden. The main reason he is the Democratic Party’s nominee is because Black voters in South Carolina (and throughout the South) decided it would be so. Black support is a large part of the reason Biden picked Sen. Kamala Harris of California as his running mate. The Black community has Biden’s attention — much more than it has ever had or will have Trump’s.
Black America must grasp the moment and unite behind Biden’s campaign now so we can end the mass incarceration of Black people, institute real police reforms, secure greater access to capital, and mandate greater pay equity between Blacks and whites. Moreover, we must insist that voting protections in the Civil Rights Act of 1964 be made permanent so our right to vote will no longer be subject to political whims.
'40 acres and a mule'
Beyond the presidential race, Black voters have the power this year to elect Black senators in some of the most unlikely places. We have the very real opportunity to elect Jaime Harrison in South Carolina, Raphael Warnock in Georgia and Mike Espy in Mississippi. We also have the opportunity to prevent John James, a Black Republican in Michigan who is shamelessly on the Trump train, from being elected to the Senate.
When it comes to systemic racism, ultimately, economics drives most forms of discrimination. If more Black Americans had the ability to create wealth and had access to other Black people with wealth and capital, the systemic denial of economic opportunity would — more often than not — be organically restrained. Just by the nature of the demographics of the country, if Black Americans are uninhibited from achieving greater prosperity, all of America will be more prosperous.
At their cores, that was what the 15th Amendment and the Civil Rights Act were about — affirming that Black Americans were entitled to all the rights and privileges that go along with being an American. In 2020, the responsibility of being a Black American requires that you vote for something larger than yourself, to support your brothers and sisters who are fighting shoulder to shoulder for equality.
This year, the mood and the moment have aligned in a way not seen in at least three generations. Let's make this our "40 acres and a mule" moment, when we demand that America correct the long list of injustices that linger after 400 years of systemic oppression. Don't let this window close without our voices being heard. Another one might not open again during our lifetimes.
Mario A. Brossard is a vice president at Global Strategy Group in Washington, D.C., where his research practice is focused on understanding attitudes and behavior in communities of color.
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Racial reckoning: Black voters must seize this moment and elect Biden