At a time where "Black Lives Matter," "Black Twitter" and "Unapologetically Black" are refreshingly now commonplace, it should have not shocked me when a girlfriend of mine literally didn't flinch when she said "I only voted for Obama 'cause he's Black. Now what?" The statement came after I told her to change the channel so we could catch the final Democratic debate of the year. Sure, I knew it wasn't going to be as entertaining as the Republican theatrics displayed earlier the same week. But fearing I'd miss a tweetable moment in real time, I felt obligated to be engaged even if it was the weekend before Christmas. "Tasha, you need to watch this. One of these people could be our next President." Whatever was in that fridge was clearly ten times more exciting because she didn't even look my way for a good fifteen seconds. "Besides," I said "I know you didn't just vote for Obama because he was Black." Tasha whipped her hed so fast and said "What! I'm not ashamed to admit that. I think that's why a lot of people came out."
While in our friendship, I am clearly the political junkie, Tasha is far from lost when it comes to the importance of voting or even some of the issues that are highly contested in the political boxing rings. But on that Saturday, it was clear that in that Harlem apartment, there were two distinct worlds. There's was mine, struggling to analyze how any of our Commander-In-Chief options will reduce mass incarceration, seriously question what happened to Sandra Bland, and address the increasing violence towards LGBTQ people of color. Then there's Tasha's world, that would rather go to brunch than watch late night pundits. While fully aware that an election is underway, many who were engaged in '08 and '12 are not actively or purposely engaging in any 2016 dialogue--at least not for now. And when I asked her why she was so disconnected after being so excited the last two elections, she challenged me with one simple question: "how are they gonna connect with people like me? And I mean connect...for real for real."
While he was not the first Black candidate to run for the coveted title of Leader of the Free World, nor did he run on a "Black Agenda" platform, Obama being Black WAS a big deal for many people. This is true especially for those eligible voters of color that never felt courted by traditional politicians; many of whom have no problem saying they voted for him because he was Black. Why? Well much of it could just be he connected "for real, for real." Obama connected with the poor authentically, raised in similar conditions many working poor families can relate to today. He connected with women authentically, influenced by powerful figures in his life, including his mother who succumbed to cancer due to no health coverage. He connected with young people authentically, and tapped into their culture and ideas in both his campaign execution and policy creation. And he was the underdog, facing the momentous hurdle of establishment and money, which many of us face everyday. So when I hear "I voted for Obama because he was Black," I hear more than an identification based on race. I hear a unique connection to those who used to just get talked around, above, about, or at. And after elections, not consulted at all. And as a bonus, Obama made every donor--even if you just gave five dollars--feel like they were part of the Billionaires Club. Indeed, Obama made us feel like he needed us to win, and we--in turn--felt like we equally needed him.
But it appears much of what made many excited is soon to be a distant memory. So how does one answer Tasha's question: "Now What?" What is it that's going to make communities of color engage early in 2016, and remain engaged beyond? Having studied this for some time, I am clear that for some candidates, this may not be a priority. For others, the non-engagement of certain segments fo society is precisely what needs to happen for them to secure a victory. But as I fight my inner-skeptic and hope that someone out there gives a damn, let me offer the following starter kit:
• Elevate our DAILY concerns: Communicate how one's ballot can impact one's life. Literally. For example, I was telling Tasha that low voter turnout has contributed to negative consequences for Black women in the reproductive rights space, resulting in the shutting down of all but one abortion clinic in states like Mississippi. Yet when we talk about "War on Women," are these Black women included in that conversation? Make it so! Perk our ears up with the issues that matter to us--not because we are Black. Because we are American. Which leads to my next point.
• Don't ignore our REALITY: In the midst of a movement centered on the preservation and prioritization of Black lives, many Black people, understandably, do not believe that the political space can contribute towards our liberation. Even as more videos of unarmed victims fatally gunned down goes viral, where is the national plan? Can you imagine how horrible it feels to not only experience a different America, but to have America look at your pain and be indifferent? Candidates have to go beyond admission of a problem. Candidates need to move out of the "safe zone" of the path of "least resistance" and instead take more risks and speak to those that live in-between the cracks of hope and reality every day.
• ASK TASHA, ENGAGE TASHA, STAY WITH TASHA: There is still room to creatively meet us where we're at. Include the South and urban cities in your "Heartland of America" tours and backdrops. Ask us what a safety plan would look like. Tell us how you're going to prioritize our black girls in public schools. And don't shy away from a little debate now and again. Shorter: Do more than check the "diversity" box.
Black people don't necessarily need to see a leading Black contender in 2016. They need true connection beyond the Nae-Nae dance and random visits to our barbershops. They need real proposals that connect to their real, every day, inequitable, Black, concerns. It could very well be the difference between whether Tasha shows up to the pools on Super Tuesday.
Ifeoma Ike is an attorney, writer, and self-declared "cautious optimist." She is the co-creator of BlackandBrownPeopleVote (@BlackBrownVote), a civic engagement and participation project. She can be followed at @IfyWorks.