Once upon a time in the United States of America school districts mandated that students be proficient in “government” or civics classes. In 1970 (the year I entered the first grade) government and civics classes were watered down and replaced “social studies.” The result was predictable: the average IQ of most Americans-particularly African-Americans decreased.
The phenomenal political race of Barack Obama in 2008 resurrected African American interest in the political process, particularly with respect to voter participation In 2008, for example, 95 percent of all African-American registered voters voted; and 60 percent of eligible Black voters cast ballots. Black voters represented 40 percent of new voters, and, despite representing 15 percent of the nation’s total population, made up 25 percent of Democratic Party votes.
African-Americans voted like no other time in American history. The previously high mark for Black voter turnout was in 1964 when 56 percent of African-Americans voted for Lyndon Johnson. African- Americans who turnout to vote make a difference in their daily lives. Yet, despite the breathtaking Black participation in national elections, their understanding of how government functions and the importance of voter participation in all elections (i.e. local, state and national mid-term) is getting worse. It is as though Black people passionately participated in the Obama church service without practicing the principles preached during the week in daily activities.
Judging by recent voter turnout statistics African-Americans seem to not understand that voting in state and local elections may by more important than federal ones. When Blacks do not vote in high numbers in state and local elections bad things can happen. For example, the rise of the Tea Party, in part, is due to the void of Black voters and a narrow view of what “America” is and for whose benefit our nation was formed. For example, the renown political scientist, Dr. Ronald Walters recently cited the work of Dartmouth professor Joseph Bafumi who asserts that many Tea Party members believes the American government spends too many resources on African American issues which lends credence to their erroneous declaration of “we want our country back.”
Notwithstanding the absurdity of their sole claim to “America”, southern Tea Party members vote in high numbers in state and local elections. Southern Blacks tend not to vote in large percentages. Predictably, most southern state office holders are elected by the margin of non-voting Blacks. One way to curb the tide of meager voter turnout by African-Americans in state and local elections is to reinstitute government and civics in educational curricula.
Additionally, political parties, non-governmental organizations, and churches need to raise civic awareness within their ranks. Citizenship begins with civic awareness.
Gary L. Flowers is executive director & CEO of the Black Leadership Forum, Inc.