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- Dr. Umar Johnson’s political awareness is either merely surface level and ignorant of the policy differences between America’s two main parties, or he doesn’t care about policy enough and has already made his mind up regarding the importance of the Black vote.
- By telling Black people not to vote — that there’s no one to vote for — further disenfranchises the Black voter, throws salt in the wounds of those that fought and died for our right to vote, and at the end of the day contradicts the idea of a political revolution.
- To get to the socio-economic and political revolution we’ve dreamed about, we have to take on the actual policies and laws that govern our society, and that can only come from electing representatives that address those problematic policies.
By Daniel Rogers, Senior Writer
The doctor is ultimately wrong on this one, but I don’t blame him. One of the most prominent and controversial thought leaders in the African-American community, Dr. Umar Johnson, was recently on the very popular morning show The Breakfast Club. A frequent guest of the show, Dr. Johnson has spoken vehemently about the Black experience in America, that as controversial as they may be, resonates with a large portion of Blacks in America.
Although I may not subscribe to much of what the author and Pan-Africanist says, I have no doubt he genuinely cares about the wellbeing of our community. It is, however, his stance on politics, in particular, that was fascinating, if not very concerning.
The interview immediately started on Black politicians in the Democratic Party and the 2020 presidential political race. Dr. Johnson said, “There are some Black politicians who do some very good things. My concern with Black, elected officials, though, are most of them are married to the Democratic Party, as is the Black community as a whole, and that’s a problem. Because the Democratic Party is a White, racist institution, and it is just as racist as the Republican Party.” That in itself is a claim worth refuting, but he continues. “So I’m at a point in my life where I don’t vote for Black politicians unless they are independent candidates. Because only when you are an independent candidate, will you be an independent thinker. And if you’re not an independent thinker, I can’t give you my vote.”
“So you haven’t voted in a long time, then,” Charlamagne says.
“Absolutely,” says Dr. Johnson.
While he relays the sentiment of many Americans, fed up with a political system that does less for the majority that needs doing, and more for those who have enough going for them as it is: What he ignores is that the basis of every fundamental right we have in this country came from a vote.
Much of what Dr. Johnson espouses is the empowerment of Black people through a self-realized economic revolution that looks within our own community and to wealthy Black America to put their dollar back into the community, which sounds reasonable enough. We all know the dollar doesn’t circulate in our community the way it does for other ethnicities.
A study from Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University found that less than 3% of our $1 trillion in buying power ever actually makes it back to our community.
Though wealth distribution is a hot debate now, we’ve always felt the heavy burden of wealth inequality and know exactly what it means to inherit a debt rather than an estate.
The Dr.’s got a good point in that it’s not enough to just vote down the party line. Many of the democrats are beholden to the same pharmaceutical, insurance, defense, fossil fuel lobbyists as their republican counterparts.
Frequently, it seems the only time they can pass a bipartisan bill is when large donors and corporations are in favor of it, even when the majority of Americans are not. I’ll admit there may be a large portion of the electorate that is less informed and will make a decision based on name recognition over policy, as is the case for every sector of the electorate.
Leading in the polls among African-Americans is Joe Biden: one of the more moderate and destructive candidates, considering his track record on criminal justice reform and policing. It’s clear that Biden is riding the curtails of an Obama presidency and the name recognition of a former Vice President.
I can see how such a large sector of the Black electorate has been so defeated by the disenfranchisement of their vote and voice, that they’ve lost faith in the system to present an uncorrupted elected official to represent our interests, and I won’t blame them for being disenfranchised, just like I can’t blame Dr. Johnson. He, too, has felt defeated to do his own research.
On the other hand, to pretend Black people, are a monolith, who don’t know what or whom they are voting for, is at the least condescending and plainly insulting; moreover, it ignores the abhorrent behavior of the Republican Party as well as the political division between the progressive minority wing and the establishment wing of a fractured Democratic Party.
Furthermore, to tell your fellow Black Americans not to use, what for some, is the only right they have that can directly impact the positive change we want to see for our community, is blasphemous to those that fought and died for that right.
How do we improve the black condition, and move the knob on racial disparities, if we don’t participate in the only mechanism that, by law, regulates said condition?
Dr. Johnson continued, “There [are] 5 major problems that affect Black America: mass incarceration, misinformation, gentrification, access to wealth, and police incarceration — my question for Senator Booker as it would have been for Senator Harris, but of course she dropped out. Now, what plan do you have? Not promise! America has got to get out of this thing; I don’t want no damn promises…If he ain’t got a plan for any of those 5, I can’t vote for you. And guess what? 99% of Black politicians don’t have a plan for any of those five. Because those 5 things are the backbone of White supremacy. It’s the backbone of political and economic disenfranchisement of Black folks. If you deal with any of those five, you are weakening the fiber of White supremacy’s control over Black existence.”
Charlamagne then asked, “I was gone ask you who’s one of your top choices out of the presidential candi…”
Before Charlamagne could finish the word candidates, Dr. Johnson immediately responded, “Nobody! Bernie Sanders doesn’t have a solution for Black people.”
This is the statement that is most telling that Dr. Johnson’s political awareness is either merely surface level, and he is ignorant of the policy differences between the two parties, or he doesn’t care about policy, and he’s already made his mind up.
Out of all the presidential candidates, Bernie Sanders has the most extensive criminal justice reform proposal that seeks to end for-profit greed in our criminal justice system, decriminalizing addiction, making cannabis legal, change how we police our communities and abolishing three-strike laws and mandatory minimums.
Even if you believe the systemic racism that thrives in the Republican Party exists just as deeply in the Democratic Party, there is one party that will at least advocate — even if not truly committed — for the expansion of rights, security, infrastructure, and social justice for the most disenfranchised population. At the same time, the other party tells us everything is fine, and the economy is great while they do everything they can to cut the safety net programs like social security and Medicaid.
Although somehow extending tax cuts for the rich always seems to be a bipartisan coalescence between the establishment politicians on both sides of the aisle, it is the progressive wing of the Democratic Party that is fighting for policies aimed at directly improving conditions for low income and working-class Americans.
I’ll concede that the establishment wing of the Democratic Party doesn’t seem to stand for much. But clearly, of presidential candidates, Bernie Sanders has the track record and political voice that is more representative of a disenfranchised community than any other candidate.
Senator Sanders has single-handedly moved the Overton window of establishment ‘politics as usual’ by addressing the policies our community has been desperate to hear debated in the national spotlight for decades. Policies that directly address the 5 major issues that Dr. Johnson lists in his purity test — as well as inspiring a whole new wing of prominent, progressive organizations like Our Revolution and Justice Democrats, established to fight against the neoliberal, corporate agenda, and promote leaders and politicians like Nina Turner, Ro Khana, “the squad” (AOC, Rashida Tlaib, Ayanna Pressley, Ilhan Omar,) to name a few.
These are politicians that also vote for ending the corruption in how campaigns are financed, higher wages, free college, Medicare for all, ending the endless wars, policing and criminal justice reform, and decreasing disparities in wealth inequality.
To ignore the glaring differences between the policies of a Bernie Sanders and some of the party’s progressive counterparts, compared to that of a Donald Trump or even a moderate/establishment Democrats like Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg, or Amy Klobuchar is demonstratively false and monumentally misleading to those that are less informed.
By telling Black people not to vote — that there’s no one to vote for — further disenfranchises the Black voter, throws salt in the wounds of those that fought and died for our right to vote, and at the end of the day contradicts the idea of a political revolution.
There’s long been a debate about whether or not the Democratic Party is deserving of the Black vote. But also keep in mind only 59% of the Black vote showed up in 2016, as opposed to 66.6% 4 years prior. Now I’m not saying that 7% of Black people is the reason we have Trump, and quite frankly, I’m not sure the difference 2 million voters would have in an election, essentially decided by the electoral college, by 80,000 votes in 3 swing states.
If it tells us anything, it’s less a testament to the “protest vote” and more to the point that Black people are tired of being given the false choice of a Republican candidate or Republican light candidate in a neoliberal, corporate, Democratic strategy that screams compromised values. To get to the socio-economic and political revolution we’ve dreamed about, we have to take on the actual policies and laws that govern our society, and that can only come from electing representatives that address those problematic policies.
Our political system has been stacked against Black people since the origination of its founding document stating, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal,” at the exact same moment it is enslaving an entire race of people and negotiating their worth as property. We’ve been fighting a steep uphill battle ever since.
And while it’s easy to express the sentiment Black people have felt in this country for 300 years, with so few voices making it through the fray, it’s irresponsible for Dr. Johnson to suggest we give up the little political power we have because the deck is stacked against us.
The protest vote has its place.
That doesn’t mean we give up our only mechanism to affect the law as it stands because the political system is so good at disenfranchising a group of people. It’s great to encourage and support Black-owned businesses where you can. Of course, the Black donor class should be spending its philanthropy dollars in HBCU’s and Black businesses.
Even if you don’t believe in the system, there is a new group of energized, populist candidates that speak to us and for us; and they will need our vigilance and support to fight for the progressive policies that will create the drastic changes we are looking for in this country.
Don’t give up on your power.
Do your research.
Find the organizations and candidates that fight for you.
Daniel Rogers is committed to objectivity and fact-based reporting that speak truth to power, holds our representatives and public officials accountable, and bring awareness of a corrupt and broken system in need of repair. Daniel’s biggest influence is his aunt, Joyce Ann Rogers, who was an honoree and award recipient of multiple human rights organizations for her activism in the Tulsa community and a leading member of the NAACP. When not contributing to the Black Wall Street Times, Daniel is a freelance audio engineer and co-founder of The Lab Recordings est. 2010. Daniel is an Oklahoma native who graduated from Booker T. Washington High School and a strong believer that one must be the change they want to see in the world.