Dear Candidates, During Election Season Here Is What Black People Want: Meaningful Engagementby Alicia Garza, founder of the Black Lives Matter Global Network, is the head of the Black Futures Lab. May 31, 2019
We long for the same things as everyone else, and yet few campaigns treat us as if our experiences matter.
During election season, I always cringe when I see candidates eating fried chicken next to a bottle of hot sauce in Harlem or taking staged photos with black leaders. These shallow symbolic gestures are not a substitute for meaningful engagement with black voters. And candidates should know that we see right through them.
Candidates and their campaigns are comfortable talking at black people, but few want to talk to us. This limits our ability to influence their decisions and policies. And it’s a bad strategy at a time when black people, black women in particular, form the base of the Democratic Party, are its most loyal voters and mobilize other people to go to the polls.
That’s why, in 2018, I started the Black Census Project, the results of which we are releasing on Tuesday. More than 31,000 black people from all 50 states participated in what we believe is the largest independent survey of black people ever conducted in the United States.
My organization and our partners trained more than 100 black organizers and worked with some 30 grass-roots organizations. We invested more than half a million dollars so that they could reach black people, who are often sidelined in traditional surveys and mainstream politics.
We set out to prove that black people are not a monolith— we are diverse and have a range of experiences. We talked with black people who live in cities and in rural areas; black people who were born in the United States and who migrated here; black people who identify as lesbian, gay and bisexual; black people who are transgender and gender-nonconforming; black people who are liberal and conservative; and black people who are currently and formerly incarcerated.
Question: “How much do you think politicians care about the following groups?” Ranked by most to least positive overall by percentage of respondents.
Source: Black Census Project; figures do not add up to 100 percent because about nine percent did not respond to each item listed here.
We predicted that there would be different responses among black people of various ages, locations and family structures, and there were. Not everyone is affected the same way by the issues we all face. The need for adequate health care, for example, takes on greater urgency among black people in Alabama, where Republican lawmakers are blocking Medicaid expansion.
But what surprised us the most was how few candidates treat us as if our differences and experiences matter. Here is what we found:
- The most common response among people who were politically engaged was that no politician or pollster has ever asked them what their lives were like. Fifty-two percent of respondents said that politicians do not care about black people, and one in three said they care only a little.
- Yet this doesn’t stifle our participation in politics.Nearly three in four respondents said they voted in the 2016 presidential election, and 40 percent reported helping to register voters, giving people a ride to the polls, donating money to a candidate or handing out campaign materials. Six in 10 women surveyed reported being electorally engaged. These responses debunk the myth that black communities don’t show up to vote — we do and we bring other people with us.
- Black communities, particularly black women, will be instrumental in deciding the next president. Nearly 60 percent of respondents were women, and nearly half lived in the South.
- We want the things that everybody deserves. Ninety percent of respondents, for example, say that it is a major problem that their wages are too low to support a family, and that figure jumps to 97 percent among those who are electorally engaged.
The most important issues for respondents were also the most important issues facing the rest of the country — low wages, lack of quality health care, substandard housing, rising college costs and different sets of rules for the wealthy and the poor. Of course, a majority of Americans face these difficulties. But black communities experience them more acutely