CHARLENEM | National Correspondent | @sischarlene

The “beat Trump” battle cry in U.S. presidential elections and a crowded field have led to Democratic presidential hopefuls courting Blacks with proposals on “never before” issues, including reparations.

But are Democrats offering enough to earn the Black vote?

Even as Democratic candidates are discussing slavery, reparations and other key issues, what Blacks actually get concerns Maze Jackson, popular morning host of WVON-AM 1690 FM talk radio in Chicago.


“I feel that the Democratic Party for years has had the ability to take advantage of our community by saying that the Republicans are all racists, and then they don’t have to deliver anything for us,” Mr. Jackson told The Final Call.

His regular refrain, whether local, state or national elections? “What’s in it for the Black people?”

The worst places where Blacks live generally are Democratic strongholds, Mr. Jackson argued.  

“I’m going to be honest with you. I don’t think that any of them are effectively speaking to the Black community. I think they are dancing around. I think they got a bunch of buzz words, so right now reparations is the new sexy thing to talk about or social justice,” he continued. “But I don’t think that anyone has really honed in on a message, a platform, or an agenda. We hear them talking about platitudes, and we hear them saying big words that they have heard us talking about us … but there is a slow roll Black awakening that is happening across the country.”  

A poll of 5,000 registered voters across the country compiled by Politico and Morning Consult, reported the week ending Aug. 18, put former vice president Joe Biden ahead in the race with 31 percent of voters. Bernie Sanders of Vermont was second at 20 percent, and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts third at 15 percent. California Senator Kamala Harris was fourth with nine percent.  

A CNN poll reported Aug. 23 logged virtually the same result except support for Sen. Harris had fallen to five percent from 17 percent in a June poll.

“Frankly, among conscious Black people, it’s going to be difficult to make a selection because we’ve reached a point in the nation’s history and in the fulfillment of scripture where Allah is creating a greater degree of dissatisfaction than ever before,” stated Student Minister Dr. Ava Muhammad, national spokesperson for the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan of the Nation of Islam.

“And that dissatisfaction is with a system based on a doctrine of White supremacy and over a period of time that has a result of making individuals who represent that system look less and less attractive,” said Dr. Muhammad, who is also an attorney and radio talk show host.  

“And so even though you have, for example, two Black candidates–two Black senators, Kamala Harris of California and Cory Booker of New Jersey–after the disappointment with what we were able to achieve during the Obama administration, I sense a bit of weariness with our people,” said Dr. Muhammad.

Candidates offer proposals for change

And, it was not former vice-president Biden nor Sen. Sanders, but Sen. Harris, Sen. Cory Booker, and Marianne Williamson, who have offered specific proposals to appeal to Black voters. Sen. Booker and Ms. Williamson, who was first to support reparations for Blacks, are at the low end of polling results.  

In her Reparations Plan, Ms. Williamson, an author, lecturer and activist, proposes a $200 billion to $500 billion payment made over a 20-year period to a Reparations Council. The 30 to 50 member council comprised of Black leaders–descendants of slaves–in academics, culture and politics would determine how the money would be disbursed. The only stipulation would be that the money be used for economic and educational renewal.

“The main power of a reparations plan is that it carries moral weight that goes beyond mere economic restitution. This is because it implies an inherent  mea culpa—the acknowledgement on the part of one people of a wrong that has been done, a debt that is owed, and a willingness to pay it,” stated Ms. Williamson on her website.  

“Reparations are not ‘financial assistance;’ they are payment of a debt that has never been paid. They thus pave the way for an emotional and psychological healing between blacks and whites much needed in the United States,” Ms. Williamson continued.

Sen. Booker crafted a reparations bill that has gained 12 cosponsors in the Senate, including presidential candidates Harris and Warren.

In April, Sen. Booker introduced S.1083 as the Senate companion to H.R.40, introduced Jan. 3 in the U.S. House of Representatives by Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas.)  

The bill would establish a commission to study the impact of slavery and continuing discrimination against Blacks and make recommendations on reparation proposals for the descendants of slaves.  

Sen. Sanders has said he would sign the reparations study bill into law if it passed Congress but has not endorsed reparations. Sen. Biden has not yet given a definitive response on where he stands, but some feel the former vice president’s comments about reparations in 1975 are telling.

“I do not buy the concept, popular in the ‘60s, which said, ‘We have suppressed the Black man for 300 years and the White man is now far ahead in the race for everything our society offers. In order to even the score, we must now give the Black man a head start, or even hold the White man back, to even the race.’ I don’t buy that,” he said then.

“I don’t feel responsible for the sins of my father and grandfather. I feel responsible for what the situation is today, for the sins of my own generation. And I’ll be damned if I feel responsible to pay for what happened 300 years ago,” he went on.

“As the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan says, as long as we live with White people, we will live under them, and that is proving true over and over. For example, it’s happening with the current campaign in that we are tending to follow the issues that are framed by and significant to White America that are not necessarily impactful on our reality,” said Dr. Muhammad.

She cited the economy as one example, and saying it is measured not on Black reality but by whether Caucasian people are experiencing healthy financial conditions, while Wall Street and the stock market are nearly closed to Black involvement.

Dr. Muhammad believes the Democratic nomination will probably go to Sen. Biden because White people, and White liberals, are framing the 2020 presidential campaign around who can defeat President Trump. He is not reflective of the image, the policies and laws and practices they want to present or follow, she said.  

“People are talking about Elizabeth Warren, but the United States is as sexist as it is racist. This country will not put a woman in leadership. They’re not going to do it,” argued Dr. Muhammad.

Sen. Warren promises to reduce mass incarceration through comprehensive criminal justice reform. She advocates reducing homelessness and housing insecurity, decriminalizing mental health crises, and investing in diversion programs for substance abuse sufferers.  

She proposes reducing mass incarceration by repealing the 1994 crime bill that put many Black men in prison. It exacerbated incarceration rates in the U.S. by punishing people more severely for minor infractions and limiting discretion in charging and sentencing. Sen. Biden helped to write the bill, signed by then President Bill Clinton.

Part of the Warren plan includes breaking the school to prison pipeline by rescinding President Trump’s executive order allowing school districts access to military grade weapons, and funding the Office of Civil Rights of the Department of Education so it can investigate school districts with dramatic disparities in school disciplinary actions.  

Sen. Harris’s Black agenda includes reducing the opportunity gap. She proposes investing in HBCUs, minority serving institutions and Black entrepreneurs.  

A $10 billion infrastructure grant program would support higher learning institutions to build STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) classrooms, labs, and other facilities. A $50 billion fund at the Department of Education would help build up STEM education by paying for undergraduate and graduate scholarships, fellowships and internships for students, among other things.

Sen. Harris’s plan includes $2.5 billion to support HBCU programs to produce Black teachers.  

For Black entrepreneurs, Sen. Harris proposes a $12 billion government grant and technical support program to help launch minority businesses.

Under her plan, the U.S. Department of Commerce Minority Business Development Agency would distribute the funds to a nationwide network of business development centers.    

She also proposes a student loan debt forgiveness program for Pell Grant recipients who start businesses that operate for three years in disadvantaged communities. Participants could have up to  $20,000 of debt forgiven  and defer student loans, interest-free, during the three-year period.

By creating a $100 billion U.S. Housing and Urban Development (HUD) program, Sen. Harris hopes to close the racial homeownership gap. The program would provide up to $25,000 in down payment assistance and closing costs for at least four million families or individuals living in federally-supported or renting housing in historically red-lined communities.

“What’s always in an electoral campaign is a choice between which candidates are going to best advance the interest of African Americans. And the way that sort of breaks out is there are broad policy questions, which effect African Americans, the vast majority of whom are middle class and working class and even poor,” said Dr. Ron Daniels, director of the Institute of the Black World 21st Century.

Blacks are similarly always looking for comprehensive policy agendas from candidates similar to what Sen. Warren has quite correctly released for Native Americans, he said.

Dr. Daniels said the 2020 campaign is refreshing as Democratic candidates have been more specific on Black issues, in particular around reparations.  

“The reparations issue, because of the longstanding work of many organizations for decades and generations in the Black community, and particularly the work of (former Congressman) John Conyers around H.R. 40, it has surged to the forefront in a way that frankly we would not have believed!” he said.

Mr. Conyers introduced H.R. 40, “The Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African-Americans Act,” in 1989, and every year thereafter until he retired in 2017.

Democratic candidate Mayor Pete Buttigieg has proposed “The Douglass Plan,” named in honor of abolitionist Frederick Douglass, calling it a comprehensive investment in the empowerment of Black America.

Mayor Buttigieg’s plan aims to free Blacks from discrimination based on race, starting with providing access to health care and education not based on race, genders, zip codes or jobs.

He wants to designate and fund Health Equity Zones to address health disparities facing Blacks.   The plan would address underrepresentation of Blacks in the health workforce by training current workers to combat bias, especially racial bias when treating patients.

He calls for reducing incarceration at state and federal levels by 50 percent, doubling funding for federal grants for states that commit to criminal justice reform; eliminating incarceration for drug possession on the federal level, as well as reducing sentences for other drug offenses, applied retroactively, and legalizing marijuana and expunging past convictions.  

His plan would also strengthen access to credit, and injecting capital into the Black community.

The Douglass Plan is misnamed in a sense, said Dr. Daniels, but nonetheless, he feels it was a good faith effort in some ways to say the Democratic Party need not wait for reparations.  

H.R. 40 now has 114 cosponsors, more than ever before, and Dr. Daniels credited progress to the work of frontline organizations, such as the National African American Reparations Commission, of which he serves as convener; and particularly the work of N’Cobra, the National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America.

“It is getting ready to be marked up, which means it’s headed to the floor … It will pass! H.R. 40 is going to pass the House of Representatives under the leadership of Sheila Jackson Lee. This is unprecedented, that you have this kind of focus on an issue which would otherwise be considered ‘controversial,’ ” said Dr. Daniels.

“We always knew that for (reparations) to take place, it had to be a national conversation. It had to be mainstream. We had to get it out of the nationalist circles and out of just the talk among Black institutions and organizations, and the Black public. It had to get into mainstream America for it to become a reality,” said Kamm Howard, an N’Cobra national co-chair.

N’Cobra is happy Sen. Booker introduced the Senate companion bill to H.R. 40. He feels Ms. Williamson has the most detailed plan to address Black issues, followed by Mayor Buttigieg.

Although the Buttigieg plan says reparations, it reads as a class bill or poverty piece with an emphasis on people of African descent, but N’Cobra likes the thought and research put into it, said Mr. Howard.

Whether candidates Booker, Williamson or Buttigieg can beat Mr. Trump is questionable, but N’Cobra’s focus is not so much on the presidential elections, but on congressional legislation like H.R. 40, which could be voted on before 2020 elections, said Mr. Howard.

Which way for Black voters?

“This is the first time since 1992, when Clinton was elected, that the Black vote is literally up for grabs,” said Dr. Ray Winbush, a professor at Morgan State University. He said it’s too early to tell who may get the Black vote, but the two Black candidates, Senators Harris and Booker, are not resonating as much as people thought they would with the Black community.

“Black folk, when they vote, are very pragmatic. They want to see who can win, and there still remains the deep perception that another Black candidate just simply can’t win coming so close to Obama’s election,” said Dr. Winbush.

Others are less concerned about the presidential candidates and their promises and more concerned about Black consciousness and Black action. “We don’t need to worry about who is the president or what Congress has in the budget,” said Ron Busby, of the U.S. Black Chambers, Inc. “Of the 2.6 million Black businesses, 2.5 are not mom and pop but just mom or pop with no employees. There are two million unemployed African Americans but there are also 2.6 million African American businesses. So you know, what needs to happen, we need to spend some more money with Black businesses.”

“If we just spend an additional seven percent, if we could just get that spending to 10 percent, we’d be mandated in this country to hire one million new people, not even only Black but just people in general. There would be a million new jobs. And if we can just keep those dollars in our community, those jobs can be people that look like you and I,” he said.

“The candidates that have stepped out front have not shown that they have a strong base of support in the community, Kamala Harris or Cory Booker or Bernie Sanders. It feels like we’re hearing the same thing. America is more sexist than racist. I don’t see America electing a female president at this time,” commented Salim Adofo, national secretary of the National Black United Front.

Who can beat President Trump and do the least amount of damage to Black people? That’s not the right discussion or choice, according to Mr. Adofo.  

“I think that picking the lesser of two evils for Black people in America is still not the best option. I think the best option for Black people in America is still to do for self,” he argued.

“In terms of the electoral politics what that looks like for us is building stronger institutions outside of the system so that when we engage with the system we have greater leverage to have the system move in the direction we need it to go,” said the Washington, D.C.-based activist.

“Everyone wants to lock down the Black votes because they know we’re not going anywhere,” said Omowale Clay of the New York-based December 12 Movement. “On the questions of the White vote there’s the view that White voters can be separated from Trump. Candidates won’t do or say anything to jeopardize White voters. We had our Black president. The presidency is just a managerial position anyway.

“Our goal is self-determination,” Mr. Clay said. “It speaks to the work the Nation of Islam and other groups are doing. Anything we get is what we are owed from this electoral process. Separation and self-determination is what we need to pursue.”

(Nisa Islam Muhammad contributed to this report.)