by Brian Muhammad and Nisa Islam Muhammad
The country is just days away from what some argue is the most divisive presidential election in history. With the U.S. national election underway on November 3 to choose who will lead America the next four years, no matter which way the pendulum swings, the question looms, if Black people will be in the same relative position, considering the unresolved fight for freedom, justice and equality after being under the foot of oppression for 465 years?
However, what is clear is when the election is over, whether incumbent President Donald Trump or former Vice President Joseph Biden emerge victorious, the Black community needs to be able to ensure their demands are met.
“We know that this next presidency is a one-term presidency. Right? Biden has already said that,” explained Ian Rowe, a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, where he focuses on education and upward mobility, family formation, and adoption.
He spoke at a recent Brookings Institute event on how Black voters will influence the 2020 election. “In my old life, I was at MTV, running our Choose or Lose campaign back in 2008. I remember a quote that Barack Obama said on Super Tuesday,” said Mr. Rowe.
“He said, ‘Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.’ I’ve always found that empowering because no group of people can be totally free if you place your destiny in the hands of others, especially if you think it was the others who are holding you down in the first place,” he added.
The 2020 race comes amid an unprecedented and deadly Covid-19 pandemic; a fallen economy; brazen racism; ever increasing malice threatening civil war; and Blacks being politically coerced to vote for Mr. Biden out of fear of reelection of Mr. Trump. It is the same playbook, but a different year where Black folks are being wooed and relatively sidelined at the same time. It is DeJa’Vu once again.
“Here we are now at the time of one of the most fateful elections in the history of America. … And here is ‘little negro’ in the middle, watching them go back and forth,” said the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan of the Nation of Islam during an October 2016 address on the heels of the 2016 presidential election between Mr. Trump and Hillary Clinton, former secretary of state under Mr. Obama, U.S. senator and first lady.
Although Minister Farrakhan gave the remarks prior to the 2016 elections, they are just as truthful now. He, like his teacher, the Most Honorable Elijah Muhammad, warned Black folks concerning the national elections and the political process. As the contest culminates on “election day” it remains a competition of White power at a time of Divine Judgment and reckoning for the empire called America.
“This election is one of the most serious in the history of American government, because either party that seeks the office of presidency is faced with the problem of saving the lives of the people of America,” The Hon. Elijah Muhammad said in his pivotal book “The Fall of America” in an article called, “The National Election.”
Mr. Muhammad wrote, the Black vote is strong and powerful, only when and where the White man can use it to get in office over his White opponent.
“After the election and the victory, there are very few favors that come from his office to the Black voters who helped and aided him,” said Mr. Muhammad. Both Mr. Muhammad and Minister Farrakhan advanced an agenda for Black self-determination because as long as the Blacks are a dependent people the White office holder feels no obligation to respond to Blacks under such an equation.
This non-reciprocal arrangement has defined the Black political condition vis-à-vis the White power structure in America. Now, there is an attitude that permeates the Black community that has made it sacrilegious for Blacks to think outside the status quo of the Democratic party box or politics which historically wielded them little to nothing.
Rethinking our approach
Political analyst Ajamu Baraka, national organizer for the Black Alliance for Peace, told The Final Call there must be a total rethink and change in our approach. He described a capitalist driven system in total decline that must change.
“We’re going to have to figure out what kind of changes need to take place and build our political program around that,” said Mr. Baraka. “The first thing that we should reconsider is the dependent relationship that Black folks have to the Democratic party,” said Mr. Baraka.
He said while Blacks struggled for democratic and human rights in America, “we were advised that we needed to remain independent.” The idea was to support candidates, policies and positions that were beneficial to Black people.
“But that independence was lost by the 1970s as more of these Black Democrats were able to assume positions in various urban environments and in the process … gave up the independent Black vote,” he explained.
“So, today we don’t even articulate anything that resembles a set of demands that we can identify as a Black agenda,” argued Mr. Baraka. “Now, basically its mobilizing against whatever White person the Democrats say is evil and we should be opposed to,” he added.
Black political pundits have peddled a “fear of the bogeyman” message with the expectation that getting rid of Mr. Trump is sufficient for unquestioned loyalty to the Democratic ticket of Mr. Biden and his running mate Senator Kamala Harris. To do anything different is treated as a blasphemous act.
Recently business mogul and entertainer Ice Cube came under heavy criticism and was vilified and demonized for discussions that took place with the Trump administration about Ice Cube’s 13 item: “Contract With Black America” that was released in July and proposes policy initiatives to benefit Black people in areas that include justice and economics.
Ice Cube recently called on Blacks to be politically independent and strategic with engaging the electoral process. “Black progress is a bipartisan issue,” Ice Cube tweeted October 15. “When we created the Contract With Black America we expected to talk to both sides of the [sic] isle. Talking truth to power is part of the process.”
Salim Adofo, D.C. Ward 8 Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner, sees the historical “Do for Self” examples of the Honorable Marcus Garvey, the Honorable Elijah Muhammad and Min. Farrakhan as paths to follow today.
“The message is ‘Do For Self,’ and continue to build our own institutions because that gives us leverage when it’s time to negotiate with the system. The stronger we can build outside of the community, the more leverage we have inside of the community,” he said.
“We can also look at current legislation that is still on the table regardless of who’s going
to be in office and get people to start advocating around that. We need to also push and create legislation that we want to see on the agenda as well. That’s going to happen. No matter who is in office,” added Mr. Adofo.
The soul of America
For others, engaging the electoral process and addressing Black interests is nuanced and about a wider question about the soul of America. “It’s the choice between a neofascist gangster and a neoliberal disaster, and a disaster is better than a gangster,” Harvard professor and author Dr. Cornel West told The Final Call. “But we have to tell the truth about both,” and for Blacks, “we got to be true to the best of our tradition, which is one of self-respect and self-determination,” he added.
“This is a fight between overt racism and covert racism,” political analyst and talk show host Maze Jackson told The Final Call. “This election is an example of just how well programmed Black people have been since slavery. The fact that we are turning on each other over our own self-interest shows that we are at an all-time political low,” he said.
“We came over here in chains and Black people have fought racism since from beginning to the end and at this point we have to ask ourselves, ‘what’s in it for the Black people?,’ and I would say, at this point, no one has answered that question,” added Mr. Jackson.
“Self-determination should be the focus of Black people regardless to who wins the national election,” he continued. “We have to start talking about economic policies that are going to break generational curses and build generational wealth, talk about reclaiming our educational system and stop sending our children to the enemy to be educated. We’ve got to renew our spiritual values and reconnect to God. We’ve got to realign our political interest away from individuals and personalities and back to our self-interest.”
Mr. Jackson spoke in support of Ice Cube who has been a strong advocate against racism, poverty and police brutality and who has also created jobs and advocated for entrepreneurism. “Ice Cube is not a political person, but he reflects the opinions of so many Black folks who haven’t seen real benefit that they’ve gotten out of voting,” he said. “It’s crazy for us to tear each other apart over two White folks that have a demonstrated record of not caring about us.”
Dr. West said he is “not endorsing Biden” but “voting for Biden” as an “antifascist vote” against Mr. Trump. However, Dr. West said despite electoral seasons, Blacks need to fight for reparations and Black institutions of integrity producing prosperity.
“As citizens we need to call for a redistribution of wealth downward from Wall Street to Main Street,” he said. As a matter of truth and justice, he explained, “reparations” and “redistribution” must be pursued. When asked, can politics solve the problems of Black life, Dr. West said, no. “You have to talk about economics,” he said, adding that “politics is one dimension” of the solution, however Blacks must have access to money and wealth.
Kamm Howard, national co-chair of N’COBRA (National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America), told The Final Call that the upcoming elections are extremely important to the reparations conversation. However, he does not see any hope for a reparations bill being passed unless the Democrats win. Currently, H.R. 40 (Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African-Americans Act) has 160 votes in the House of Representatives and needs less than 60 more to get it passed to the Senate, explained Mr. Howard. However, if the Democrats flip the Senate, win the presidency, and maintain control of the House, there is no guarantee the bill will pass.
“Electoral politics is our way to engage in reform of this government. The ultimate purpose is to be self-determined which requires a whole other strategy, but until we can do that, we have to take advantage of the tools we have at our disposal and one of them is the vote,” said Mr. Howard.
At presstime over 60 million Americans had already cast early ballots despite long lines reported in some parts of the country, and some reports of voter intimidation in other areas. There were reports that voters in Tennessee and Georgia were told by poll workers to remove their “Black Lives Matter” shirts before voting. And in Miami, a police officer is facing discipline for wearing a Trump 2020 mask at an early voting site.
Chryl Laird, assistant professor of government at Bowdoin College, spoke to these concerns at the Brookings event. She told the audience that voters “really need to lean heavily into the local social networks and the things going on, on the ground because when you have basically eradication of a lot of the Voting Rights Act with the pre-clearances (process of seeking U.S. Department of Justice approval for all changes related to voting), this makes it very susceptible for these suppressive tactics to be effective.”
“It’s going to lead to people maybe being confused about Election Day or people viewing efforts to make polling places very inaccessible,” she said. “I think what’s great for the Black community and great in a sad way is that we have been here before. It is not as if there isn’t an apparatus in place. I think again, the pandemic presents a bigger challenge here. Typically, the churches and the Black institutions and the Black spaces that would be very important for serving as the thing that would help to deal with the mobilization problem, that would help to get people more excited with participating within the election, is lacking a lot,” she said.
But the question remains if the current established U.S. political system which has been entrenched since the inception of the country is the end all be all for Black folks regardless of how actively engaged we are in the voting process.
“We need to do the one thing that we have been incredibly reluctant to do which is realize that our plight and or circumstance lies outside of the two-party system. We can’t rely on, or depend on, or expect Joe Biden if he wins to do anything for us. We obviously have seen that Donald Trump and the Republicans are not going to give us anything. We have to create systems to put pressure on the parties,” Dr. Wilmer Leon, political scientist and political pundit told The Final Call.
“That will force them to respect our demands. We have the vote to sway the election but there’s no power that is generated from that process. There’s no power behind the vote because there’s no substantive legislation or action. That comes from what we do that is beneficial to us.”
An unapologetically Black agenda
“Unless Black people have an unapologetically Black agenda … we will not make substantive progress in this social-economic and political system dominated by White supremacy,” noted Abdul Haleem Muhammad, Southwestern Regional Representative of the Nation of Islam based in Houston.
Student Minister Haleem Muhammad pointed to the Muslim Program, a platform published weekly on the back page of The Final Call Newspaper that covers areas of freedom, justice, equality, and self-determination.
The Houston-based student minister who has a Ph.D. in urban planning said that Mr. Trump and Mr. Biden do not see Black people as a priority.
He noted after watching both presidential debates, that “Africa, the Caribbean, or any of the African Diaspora” was not discussed in the foreign policy segment. “If the one billion people on the Motherland … the millions in the Caribbean and Central and South America are not considered, how then can we expect any kind of equitable treatment?” he asked.
Both Mr. Biden and Mr. Trump rolled out their respective “plans” for Black America but with seemingly little fanfare in promoting it to Black communities. “Lift Every Voice: The Biden Plan for Black America” and Mr. Trump’s “Platinum Plan” have not made many waves.
Abdul Haleem Muhammad said, what Black folks have been missing is the solution advanced by God—which is separation.
“Anything short of that will not give us full and complete satisfaction,” he said. “We must have the power to govern our own affairs; define ourselves; supply our own needs; educate ourselves; and do trade and commerce with the nations of the earth,” he argued.
For Blacks, the relationship with the political process has been defined by symbolism with no substance. An example is the heyday of electing Barack Obama, the first Black president whose administration danced around Black issues except the occasional condescending chide, still maintained a 90 percent and higher popularity rate among Blacks.
Mr. Biden was Mr. Obama’s right-hand as vice-president, so with the unquestioned support for his candidacy, the question remains, where have Black people benefitted from their loyalty? Some may say the loyalty was misplaced because it was based on the emotion of symbolism and no substance to address the economic and social needs of Blacks. Furthermore, in the political emotionalism, Blacks are “vote shamed” as a tactic to continue the relationship. It can be recalled in the 2016 presidential race between Mr. Trump and Hillary Clinton, Mr. Obama told Black voters, a failure to vote for Ms. Clinton was a disrespect of his legacy.
“I would consider it a personal insult—an insult to my legacy—if this community lets down its guard,” Mr. Obama said in 2016.
Earlier this year, Mr. Biden seemingly taking a page from the same playbook during an interview with radio host Charlamagne tha God, pulled the Black loyalty card against Black people. “If you have a problem figuring out whether you’re for me or Trump, then you ain’t Black,” Mr. Biden said, later pulling the words back. However, the statement reveals the cavalier attitude politically toward Black voters who do not demand reciprocity.
For Blacks, single party loyalty is a tactical error and what is needed is a third political force, says Zaki Baruti, president-general of the Universal African People’s Organization (UAPO) and a past candidate for Missouri governor. “We don’t need to be tied down to any particular political party,” stated Mr. Baruti.
People have to make an objective assessment of the conditions that the masses of Black people live under in areas controlled by the Democratic party. Mr. Baruti said, the assessment must question has the housing stock gone up; has employment increased; has police violence ceased? “Of course, the answer … is not,” he said.
“As long as we are in the confines of America and that we pay taxes; that as part of our overall strategy for empowering ourselves …we do need to vote,” said Mr. Baruti. “But our vote needs to be that of wisdom and our vote need to be around various principles,” he said.
Abdul Arif Muhammad, attorney and general counsel for the Nation of Islam, ran for Congress in 1990. “The Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan told us during the 2016 elections, ‘If Satan casts out Satan, how can his kingdom stand?’ We are in the era of the unraveling of a great nation. That’s where we are today. Black people have to decide to vote in terms of their self-interests. Each person has to decide what their self-interests are and who is more likely to affect the change needed in their lives,” he said.
“The local level elections for city council, aldermen, state legislature, mayors and congressmen can directly impact your daily lives. These are important elections. Cast your vote wisely for those who can directly affect your life.” (Toure Muhammad and Final Call staff contributed to this report.)