Are millennials leading a charge to a new Black political identity?
There’s a transformation happening in the Black political landscape. But exactly what that shift is, is still up for debate. Most political pundits, both national and local, say there’s a move away from Black’s traditional allegiance to the Democratic Party and towards independent status. However, some beg to differ.
This seeming shift has been the topic of several research studies and op-eds for a few years now. Jessica Byrd, Stacey Abrams’ campaign manager during her 2018 Georgia Governor’s race, said in a Sept. 2020 New York Times op-ed, “The Future of Black Politics,” argues the shift is a move away from political business as usual, i.e. relying solely upon the current two-party system, and towards a focus on process and movement-building.
Keeanga Yamahtta Taylor’s op-ed, “The End of Black Politics,” also in the New York Times (June 2020), asserted a similar position, with both Taylor and Byrd pointing to Blacks Millennial-age and younger, as leading the way.
FROM REPUBLICANS TO DEMOCRATS
“For Black voters, the feeling of being used without being listened to is pronounced,” wrote Byrd, citing a 2019 Black Census Project survey that revealed 52% of respondents believed politicians do not care about Black people. Byrd added that young Blacks of voting age she interviewed were primarily reluctant to vote because they saw their parents and grandparents vote “religiously while receiving little to nothing in return.”
Statistically speaking, those ballot-casting parents and grandparents voted predominantly for Democrats even though Blacks originally showed allegiance to the GOP, known then as the “Party of [Abraham] Lincoln,” in the late 1800s.
“It’s important to note Blacks have not always supported Democrats in mass,” said Dr. Carla Brailey, vice chair of the Texas Democratic Party. “In fact, it was the Republican Party that was eventually formed to oppose slavery and support voting rights for Black people, juxtaposed to the Democratic Party embracing of policies and politics grounded in white supremacy practices.”
Blacks moved in mass to the Democratic Party during the 1930s with President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal. Those who didn’t switch then, certainly moved towards the Democratic Party in the 1960s.
“If you look at the civil rights movement, that was the party in terms of identity for Black Americans,” said Dr. Michael O. Adams, head of TSU’s e-MPA program. “The Democratic Party was pushing for freedom in terms of civil rights and the right to vote.”
Simultaneously, according to theologian/historian Demosthenes Nelson, the Republican Party, led by Barry Goldwater and Richard Nixon, positioned itself unofficially as the “National White People’s Party” and fully opposed civil rights. As a result, the nation witnessed white southern Democrats, nicknamed “Dixiecrats,” moving as a bloc to the Republican Party.
The current shift some see with Black voters moving from identifying as Democrats to Independents is nowhere near as dramatic, but according to Brailey, it is happening.