As an African American Democrat, I share the core values of my political party. That is why I am a Democrat. Like me, most African American Democrats do not want to see the mass deportation of undocumented citizens and families broken up. That said, we would be completely within our right to give the side eye to political leaders who are falling over themselves to get on the ‘sanctuary state’ PR bandwagon.
When thousands of Blacks left Los Angeles County as a part of the Black flight into San Bernardino County and other far away cities in search of more affordable housing and better schools for their children there was no campaign urging us to stay. In fact some would argue cities paved the way to the freeway leading out of city limits. It is not lost on us that no one introduced legislation to help reverse the journey of our grandparents and great-grandparents from the west back to the South. When the number of Blacks in California dipped below 10 percent there were no emergency meetings to confer on how cities could better meet the needs of their Black residents and provide sanctuary to those living in areas rife with gentrification and displacement to keep them from leaving.
Living in California—in particular, Los Angeles County—there is no shortage of “sanctuary cities” with political leaders offering their residents promises of safety from arrest, detention and deportation based on solely on their citizenship status.
Most African Americans publicly abhor President Donald Trump and the Republican Party, but privately agree with Trump’s assertion that “illegal immigration” has harmed the Black community economically. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that at the end of 2016, 7.8 percent of African-Americans were unemployed compared to that of 5.9 percent of Hispanics, 4.3 percent of whites and 2.6 percent of Asians.
With Blacks making up a disproportionate number of low-skilled workers, they find themselves more likely than any other group to be competing with undocumented workers for work in the construction, service and hospitality industries—areas where Blacks have traditionally been able to find work.
I know it’s politically incorrect to point this out but that doesn’t make it any less true. And knowing this, when push came to shove, African Americans still weren’t willing to let the possible security of their own economic welfare take precedence over everything else that’s wrong with Trump and the Republican Party. In other words, even though Trump told us that we have no jobs, horrible education and no safety or security, we did not buy into his ‘New Deal for Black America’ or the idea that in order for us to succeed others had to leave the country. No, that is what disaffected white voters did last November—not my people.
But what have we gotten from the Democratic Party after decades of loyalty besides knowing that ethically we are on the right side of history? What has our silence and ‘go along to get along’ attitude gotten us? The Democratic Party expects (and usually receives) our blind allegiance election after election but what is really our return on investment as African Americans?
Too often when it comes to the Democratic Party as a whole, we hand pick our battles based on which way the wind of popularity is blowing on an issue. It’s no secret that African Americans have been both the conscience and backbone of the Democratic Party seemingly ever since President Lyndon B. Johnson signed into law the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and today we are just taken for granted right along with our issues.
I’m not sure which is worse: the Democrats’ continued assumption of the Black vote or most members of the Republican Party refusing to acknowledge the passage of the 15th Amendment granting Blacks the right to vote.
When Democrats fight for a higher minimum wage, paid sick leave, childcare, paid family and medical leave it means nothing if you can’t get the job to begin with. Now is that all the fault of undocumented workers—absolutely not. But when you factor in a job market that demands more and more bilingual employees, employers who want to hire cheap labor, a workforce with generations of Blacks who are not prepared to meet the demands of 21st century employers, a lack of real educational opportunities as well as the highly exploitable position of the undocumented you have a recipe for disaster.
Instead of ignoring or talking around the issues that plague both Black and Brown people, Democrats need to sit down and talk through them as a party and figure out how we can all come up—together.
Rebuilding the Democratic Party to meet the needs of everyone and not just some means acknowledging and addressing the unequal economic impact that exploiting the undocumented has had on African Americans in the workforce—and not just the impact on the undocumented worker. It also means being honest about the situation and not simply labeling those who dare to talk about it as racist. It is not racist to want to figure out how all workers—both Black, Brown and otherwise—can work together to further everyone’s cause. On the other hand, acting like what is happening to Blacks is not happening and hushing the voices of those who try to talk about it could be considered as such.
African Americans know what it means to fight human and civil rights and probably better than most—hence the constant replication of our tactics from the 60s Civil Rights Movement by various groups in the fight for theirs. In 2017, the Democratic Party stands at a crossroads. We win elections by bringing people together and working together—not by taking each other’s support and votes for granted. As a Party we can do better. Our core values demand it and the future success of the Democratic Party under President Tump requires it.