Huffpost Politics

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Charles D. Ellison Headshot

Open Letter to the Black Electorate: Every Egg in the Same Basket, fam?

Posted: Updated:

There is a familiar tune that comes up every competitive election cycle: if Democrats are - at that moment - in charge or hold a majority in a particular legislative setting (let's say Congress), the African American political establishment with its accompanying Black body politic grows very nervous.

Thinking on the mood during this past Congressional Black Caucus Annual Legislative Conference, way too many folks were twitching uneasy over the possibility that Republicans could be marching back into the majority this November.

We have seen this play out countless times, particularly over the past two decades.

In 1994 when the Republicans 'Contract with America' blasted Democrats out of a 40-year House majority, Black Members of Congress appeared stupefied: "what now?" The typical rants and empty activism from various corners of the mainstream Black political spectrum continued into the 2000 Presidential election - followed by another six years of groaning and floating along in near political paralysis. The year 2004 saw the election of another lone Black Senator from Illinois. And, finally, 2006 saw the return of a Democratic majority and the gleeful faces of Congressional Black Caucus Members capturing the third top leadership post and a basket full of powerful House Committee Chairs.

A constant pattern or theme that emerges from the yo-yo flow of typical political change is how mainstream Black political moods appear to shift according to the fortunes and misfortunes of Democratic Party 'benefactors.' This is problematic. While, on one hand, we should acknowledge the extent of deep and sometimes productive ties between Black politicos and the Democratic leadership - especially since that party seems willing to offer a comfortable nesting place for Black political maturation - it is somewhat distressing that African Americans are not forming similar ties with Republicans.

This won't be the typical diatribe about Democrats taking Black voters for granted or Black politicians in bed with "progressives" or "liberal firebrands." Nor will we banter on about the history of African Americans in the Republican Party before, during and after the Civil War. While all that's important to some degree, that's not really the point here. The real question remains: how smart is it, really, to have all your political eggs in one basket? On a practical level, it's easy to see the basket simply tipping over - with cracked and smashed eggs falling to the floor in a soupy puddle of yolk.

As the November midterms approach and a Republican takeover seems imminent, CBC Members are bracing for the impact of yet another round of sessions where they can publicly grumble about a "hostile" GOP ignoring or outright attacking "the Black agenda." Some of this is actually politics. It's a rhetorical bait and switch that plays well in newspapers and, occasionally, fires up a disenchanted constituency or garners reaction from otherwise uncaring White Republicans who may act like bigots, but loathe being called such.

But, much of it is genuine fear of the uncertainty of Republican majorities. At some point, that has to change. Are we arguing for a mass exodus of African Americans to the Republican Party? Hardly - it's whatever floats your boat. But, may we're just saying folks shouldn't treat their voter registrations like contracts with mystical entities. It's nothing wrong with switching it up a bit according to the issues that concern you most and the candidates that impress you heavy.

It is critical that we begin making distinctions between our personal political ideologies and the parties we choose to join. You should not sell your soul to a party. Just because you're liberal doesn't make you a Democrat; and just because you're conservative doesn't make you a bona fide Republican. The fact that the majority of Americans are misled into believing that speaks volumes to the lack of responsible national discourse on civics in this country. And it also shows that we, as African Americans, are not practicing a shrewd and necessary brand of calculated politics.

Placing all our chips into the Democratic column might offer immediate and short-lived gratification at the voting booth, especially if you vote for the candidate you like. Yet, it can present long-term headaches when you are clueless as to what's happening on the other side - and do little to nothing, beyond complaining, to change it. Because the majority of African American voters are reliably registered Democrats, there is really nothing the GOP owes that demographic. They made this very evident in the disturbing lack of Black faces in their recently released "Pledge to America" photo collage. Ultimately, Black voters - a group the mainstream Black political establishment should be very straight up with - should consider that parties are, by virtue of their existence and definition, political tools. They are not there to shape policy or have any real impact on shaping lives - they are there to promote their interpretation of specific agendas while maligning the other side. They are the machines individuals use to get elected.

If African Americans can navigate and control certain aspects of the Democratic Party, then it's very possible that they can do the same in the Republican Party. The only thing holding Black voters back from realizing the equalized distribution of their political chips in both parties is that one party makes them feel uncomfortable. And for good reason considering that party's active onslaught against many issues deemed in our best interests. Still, this is not about brand names or what's popular at the moment; this is about shaping serious public policy.

Here's a thought: maybe it's not so much the party that's doing that, but the people who control it. What if Black politicos, one day, decided to do exactly what the Tea Party and various movements on the conservative right are doing at this very moment? It's a simple formula of raising the right amount of cash and controlling the right, decisive bloc of voters that offers the answer to political party control. Many of the same strategic principles used by Black elected officials and activists throughout the Democratic Party could be applied to the GOP.

Leveraging political power in both political parties should be considered a viable and winning strategy for Black community interests. It's not far fetched. And, it's not impossible to imagine a Republican Party controlled or manipulated by Black interests; while simultaneously happening on the Democratic side. In the meantime, folks from both sides should set aside party differences and discuss common goals. At that stage, we could reach a point where we're ready for any political development that hits us - because we'll have friends on both sides of the partisan aisle.


(originally published in