What will it finally take for Black people to accept the fact that we have no real political clout? A little influence, yes, but no power. If our voting bloc were as strong as we like to think, the Republicans would not ignore us and the Democrats would not take us for granted. If we had real political power, both Mitt Romney and Barack Obama would have accepted the invitation by the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA), NAACP, American Urban Radio Network, MSNBC-TV, and the Grio, to a debate at Lincoln University on Oct. 9. But both candidates declined.
Yet, Romney did more than a half-hour and Obama did an hour on the Spanish-language TV network, Univision, both answering questions specifically related to Hispanics. Jewish people always get their audience with the candidates, and the gay groups never fail to get their face-time with the president – Romney won't have anything to do with them – but Black folks never get the same positive response when it comes to being included in such events. Ever wonder why?
It is so obvious that Black folks are the last to be included, if not omitted altogether, in political discourse when it comes to debates, press conferences, and private meetings, that is, unless you are Jay-Z and his friends who are willing to bring $40K to the table – $50K if you want to hang with Romney.
Not that we learn anything new from political debates, as scripted as they have become. But it would be nice to have the candidates discuss specific Black issues every now and then. It would be great to see several, not just one, Black reporter asking both candidates questions relevant to Black people. You know, the way the Hispanic and Jewish people do.
So what does all of this mean? Is it that Blacks are willing to accept symbolism and platitudes over substance and pragmatism? Does it mean that we are willing to do the opposite of what MLK decried when he wrote th e book, Why We Can't Wait? King opposed the gradualist approach to the work in which he was engaged, noting that Black people had been waiting for 300 years and could ill-afford to continue to keep waiting.
What King called the "fierce urgency of now" was his response to the waiting game being promoted by some of his critics during the early 1960s, but as Howard University's African American Resource Center Director, E. Ethelbert Miller, shared on NPR: "How long is now"? Miller reminded us that King's "I Have a Dream" speech was based on an economic premise, i.e. debt, a bounced check, and the "economic condition and problems in America." How true.
After all the speeches, the activism, and the deaths that took place in the 1960s, many Black folks are still saying, "Let's wait a bit longer." Many are oblivious to our lack of substantive political recognition and inclusion. They would rather stand on the outside and chant slogans instead of kicking in the door and insisting their voices be heard and their issues be addressed.
It is a sad situation, but that's exactly what we deserve for going with the "wait" model.
Historian Carter G. Woodson wrote, "The Negro should endeavor to be a figure in politics, not a tool for the politicians. This higher role can be played not by parking all of the votes of a race on one side of the fence as both blacks and whites have done in the South, but by independent action." He went on to write, "Any people who would vote the same way for three generations without thereby obtaining results ought to be ignored and disenfranchised."
Malcolm X characterized the same principle in more colorful words. He said, "Any time you throw your weight behind a political party that controls two thirds of the government, and that party can't keep the promise that it made to you during election time, and you are dumb enough to walk around continuing to identify yourself with that party, you're not only a chump, but you're a traitor to your race."
So, as for being politically taken for granted and ignored , Black people must first realize our condition and then acknowledge it, no matter how much it hurts, and then we must act in accordance with the reality – the truth – of the situation.
And, as E. Ethelbert Miller suggested, we must understand the economic issues at hand and those inherent in MLK's speeches and his subsequent initiatives, as he called for economic responses to economic problems. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. also said, "The emergency we now face is economic, and it is a desperate and worsening situation." He was talking about "silver" rights, not civil rights.
Not only can we not afford to wait, we can no longer afford, as if we ever could, to be ignored and taken for granted.
Jim Clingman, founder of the Greater Cincinnati African American Chamber of Commerce, is the nation's most prolific writer on economic empowerment for Black people.