I can hear it now: “For the third time in this century, Black voters (‘the hands that picked cotton’) are picking a president of the United States.” Such inanities will ring out from every bastion of Democratic Party hegemony in Black America in celebration of Hillary Clinton’s sprint toward coronation as the Third Black President (her husband having purportedly been the first).
Although the young, white Sandernistas may not grasp it yet, their doomed quest to transform the Democratic Party “from below” has failed to move the voting bloc that makes up the actual “bottom” of the party: the bedrock 25 percent that is Black. In South Carolina, where Clinton ran up a 48-point victory, Blacks were 61 percent of Democratic primary voters on February 27 ‚— a “demographic buzz saw,” as a Washington Post headline put it, with Clinton sweeping all the African-American age cohorts.
Although Bernie Sanders garnered 84 percent of Democrats aged 29 and younger in overwhelmingly white New Hampshire, and beat Clinton by 21 percentage points among voters age 30 to 45, exit polls show in South Carolina show him winning only 43 percent of Black voters 29 and under and losing by a margin of 96 to 3 percent among Black voters age 65 and up.
Entrance-exit polls show Clinton won 76 percent of the Black vote in Nevada. The March 1 contests in Alabama, Georgia, Arkansas, Texas and Tennessee will seal the deal, allowing warped practitioners of Black electoral power politics to claim Hillary owes her nomination to African-Americans.
Statistically, they will be correct. But Bernie Sanders, whose domestic politics is a much closer fit with the historical and current Black world view, is not losing to Hillary because of his positions on the issues, or because Blacks trust in Clinton’s honesty and integrity (huge numbers don’t, in every demographic). It is also no longer the case that most Blacks are unfamiliar with Sanders’ platform. African-Americans are, by some measures, more tuned in to the “news” than whites (although Blacks trust the media less). But they tune Sanders out, because their main purpose for voting in national elections is to keep the white man’s party, the Republicans, out of the White House, and believe Clinton has a better shot. Almost everything else is bullshit.
There is a direct and dialectical relationship between this historical politics of fear and the hegemonic domination of a calcified and infinitely corrupt Black Misleadership Class whose primary loyalty is to the Democratic Party, which for two generations has been their route into the corridors of money and power. They “deliver” that vote to the highest bidders in a party structure that is under the commanding influence of finance capital and its representatives (currently, the many-times-over-bought-and-paid-for Clintons). The mantra is, effectively, “All Power to the Democratic Party!”— brokered, of course, by the Black political class. Paralyzed by fear of the white man’s party, Black voters find a false sense of power in clustering around the perceived “winners” on the Democratic Party menu.
That’s why it makes no decisive difference at the polls when a genuine Black popular icon like my dear friend Cornel West contradicts Atlanta Congressman John “De Lawd” Lewis’ contention that Clinton has “been there” with Black folks over the decades, while shamelessly questioning whether a 20-something Bernie Sanders was actually among the 200,000-strong crowd at the March on Washington in 1963. As Dr. West wrote:
“Clinton has touted the fact that, in 1962, she met King after seeing him speak, an experience she says allowed her to appreciate King’s ‘moral clarity.’ Yet two years later, as a high schooler, Clinton campaigned vigorously for Barry Goldwater — a figure King called ‘morally indefensible’ owing to his staunch opposition to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. And she attended the Republican convention in 1968! Meanwhile, at this same moment in history, Sanders was getting arrested for protesting segregation in Chicago and marching in Washington with none other than King itself. That’s real moral clarity.”
But moral clarity — and coherent thought -— withers amidst the politics of fear. “Black Power” devolves to a shuffling and clustering around the most well-heeled, right-wing Democratic candidate vetted by Wall Street. That candidate’s victory represents an objective defeat for the historical Black political agenda on social justice and peace. Yet, it will be celebrated as a benchmark of Black progress and power (“the hands that picked cotton”), because African-Americans were on the winning side of the contest. Such is the great paradox of Black national electoral politics since the demise of the Black Liberation Movement and the rise of the Black Misleadership Class.
The question of self-determination lies at the heart of the political crisis in Black America. If masses of Blacks at this point in history cannot overcome a mind-twisting fear of the Republican/white man’s party, to vote their own, thoroughly documented leftist politics in national elections, then activists should treat the duopoly process itself like poison. History shows us that the imperative of Black self-determination blooms and thrives in movement politics — the only kind of politics that can circumvent and ultimately overcome the entrenched and morally defective Black Misleadership Class, who are inextricably entwined with the Democratic Party and its rich financiers.
Glen Ford is the executive editor of Black Agenda Report. An earlier version of this article originally appeared at blackagendareport.com.