OK, in the ’90s, the Clintons backed some bad things. But they backed some good things. Whatever. The ’90s aren’t what matters. The future is. With the election less than two months away, there still remains plenty of cause for concern regarding the black vote and Hillary Clinton. Clinton and the Democrats inevitably were going to win the lion’s share of the black vote, but that has never been enough. Clinton needs to win a share of the black vote similar to Barack Obama’s to ensure that the Democrats retain the White House. And black voters need to flex their electoral might to show that 2008 and 2012 were not flukes buoyed by America’s first black president. Presently, neither seem foregone conclusions, and the majority of the uncertainty resides with young black voters.
A recent report by The New York Times describes the frustrations of many young black voters in two vital swing states—Ohio and Florida—regarding this election, and their bewildering reluctance to support Clinton.
“He’s a racist, and she is a liar, so really what’s the difference in choosing both or choosing neither,” said a young black woman from Ohio, who participated in the Times’ focus group.
“She was part of the whole problem that started sending blacks to jail,” said a young black man in the focus group.
Additionally, only 70 percent of African Americans under 35 in Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia plan on voting for Clinton—8 percent plan on voting for Trump, and 18 percent are undecided or backing another candidate. In 2012, Obama won 92 percent of black voters under 45 nationally.
As a young black voter myself I’ve heard countless reasons why black millennials may not want to vote for Clinton this year. While each argument may consist of some valid points, on average they display a myopic naïveté that undermines the progress they intend to forge and projects some of the less desirable narratives attributed to millennials.
I’ve spoken to older African Americans too, and many remain perplexed by the willful disenfranchisement expressed by this younger generation. Also, this generation’s fixation on the Clintons of the 1990s—with an emphasis on their faults and not their successes—instead of the Clintons of today remains baffling to the older generation.
African Americans do not condone Hillary’s “super predators” comment from 1996; nor do they embrace Bill’s tough on crime policies, which were an extension of the policing measures of the two previous presidential administrations. Yet America was far less racially progressive in the 1990s than it is today.
And besides, the Clintons’ policies on racial questions didn’t begin and end with crime. They actively sought the black vote, welcomed the opinions of African Americans, and hired African Americans for administration and cabinet positions at rates that were previously unheard of. He defended and saved affirmative action at a moment when it was on death row. It’s disingenuous of people to forget all these good things.
Additionally, older African Americans remember how Bill Clinton won traditionally Republican states such as Georgia, Arkansas, Louisiana, Tennessee, and Kentucky on his way to the White House in 1992. The Clintons dismantled Richard Nixon’s Southern Strategy, which hinged on stoking the racial animus of white Americans to win Southern states and secure the presidency for Republicans. That’s a big part of why the GOP became hell bent on destroying the Clintons.
And while they failed at that, they succeeded at defeating Al Gore, his chosen successor, and facilitating racial divisions. The parallels between unprecedented Republican attacks on Bill Clinton’s and Obama’s presidencies due to their ability to create radical electoral shifts by engaging and enfranchising African Americans should be obvious for anyone who reexamines the 1990s.
Yet irrationally, some young black voters have instead chosen to fixate on the mistakes of the Clintons, and parrot the disparaging conservative rhetoric of the 1990s regarding them. And in doing so, black millennials may be contributing to creating another improbable window for a divisive Republican candidate to claim the presidency.
In addition to a bizarre mis-recollection of the 1990s, these black millennials also exude a desire for perfection and a reluctance to settling. Since neither candidate is perfect in their eyes, they say they are now forced to chosen between the lesser of two evils, and they argue that there is an inherent injustice in being forced into this situation. Plenty of young white millennials who supported Bernie Sanders expressed similar sentiments.
But this amounts to willful disenfranchisement. Willfully disengaging or voting for a third party candidate who more closely embodies their idea of perfection seems an adequate recourse for some young black voters instead of settling for one of the two major candidates. Yet the collective impact of this action will only result in stunting the progress black millennials hope to achieve.
The increased weight of black voices in American society does not stem from a national, progressive moral epiphany or even the presence of the Obamas in the White House. Our louder voice exists now because African Americans voted at unprecedented rates for two consecutive presidential elections, and our enhanced electoral voice forced America to listen to us. In 2012, 66 percent of eligible African American voters voted, surpassing the percentage of white voters—for the first time in history—by 2 percent. In 2008, 65 percent voted.
The young black voters who remain reluctant to vote for Clinton assume that our societal influence has become the new norm. They have remained focused on striving to improve American society and simultaneously oblivious to the profound threat posed by a Trump presidency for African Americans and other minorities. This is a privileged perspective that older African Americans struggle to comprehend.
For American society, this election is about sustaining the social progress and racial equity forged during Obama’s presidency. Trump offers only social regression. Young black voters will play a pivotal role in deciding the next president, and their misguided inclination to support apathy or willful disenfranchisement when confronted with a resurgent white nationalist movement and enflamed racial divisions may be one of the most tragic realities of this entire election.
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