A NEW ORLEANS TRIBUNE EDITORIAL
When Republican presidential Donald Trump nominee made his disconcertingly awkward appeal presumably to Black voters last month with the rhetorical “What do you have to lose?”, he was clobbered by Black political pundits and Black folk in general for what was seen by many as a disingenuous pitch not even directed toward Black people at all but really designed to soften his image amongst White voters turned off by his racist rhetoric and the type of supporters he has garnered as a result.
We paid him little mind, of course. We considered the source. There was no way Donald Trump is concerned about or plans to work in the best interest of Black folk in America—no matter what Diamond and Silk say in their completely crazed and slightly amusing pro-Trump vocalizations that come off like a hip-hop cypher gone really, really bad. We heed the words of the late poet, author and activist Maya Angelou. Donald Trump has shown us exactly who he is—and we believe him.
But, here at The New Orleans Tribune, the question echoed in our minds.
“Wait a second… what do we have to lose?”
Sure, his stats were debatable and his intent can and must be fully called into question. For instance, we are still trying to figure out where he unearthed his Black youth unemployment rate statistic of 58 percent. Actually, the unemployment rate for Black youth (ages 16-19) in August 2016 was 27.6 percent—less than half of the arbitrary number Trump appeared to pull out of thin air.
While his Black youth unemployment stat was all wrong, here is an immutable fact: the unemployment rate for White youth during the same time period, at 13.6 percent, is less than half of the rate of Black youth unemployment—indicating once again that Black folk experience detrimental and unfavorable conditions in America in a disproportionate fashion when compared to just about everybody else and especially when paralleled to White folks.
So, uh…what do we have to lose?
If you are an avid Tribune reader, you know we love stats. And unlike Donald, we get them right. Just consider this information as detailed by the most recent State of Black America report:
With few exceptions, the Black unemployment rate has consistently remained about twice the white rate across time and at every level of education.
Compared to 40 years ago, the income gap has remained basically unchanged (now at 60 percent), and the homeownership rate gap has actually grown six percentage points (now at 59 percent).
The foreclosure crisis has left Black homeownership rates at approximately the same point they were in 1976, while the White homeownership rate is now five percentage points higher.
So…again…what do we have to lose?
Look, don’t get the wrong idea about this editorial. You haven’t once read anywhere on this page where we say Donald Trump is the answer. He is not. But what unnerved us by the arguments that many critics made against Trump’s inquiry was that they focused on convincing themselves and others that things aren’t so bad for Black America, with counter arguments went a little something like this:
“All of our schools aren’t bad.” “We’re not all poor.” “Many Black Americans are living comfortable middle-class lives.” “Black folks are business owners.” “Black women are the most educated group in America.” So on, so forth and what have you. And they stamped their counterarguments to Trump’s reasoning with a resounding “Donald Trump doesn’t know squat about Black America.”
And while that is quite true, it seemed to us that many of those that challenged his fake plea for Black votes know little more than the Donald does. You see, the natural instinct was to attack Trump’s question and underlying argument, which essentially was that Black America has been and is getting shortchanged.
But we contend that there was nothing wrong with his question. It wasn’t out-of-hand or not worth considering. It was a real question, a valid one that we ought to be asking ourselves every time we consider candidates for public office. That question ought to pop into our heads so that every time we expect our elected officials to serve our needs, we demand their attention with an “or else” attitude. In fact, the only problem with Donald Trump’s question was his megalomaniacal notion that he is the solution. Of course, he is not. And there is where Black America missed a great opportunity to flip Trump’s stump speech on its head and serve notice to political leadership at all levels and to everybody—Black or White, presumed friend or foe—jockeying for our votes.
The long answer to Trump’s loaded question is as paradoxical—everything and nothing at once. On one hand, we have everything to lose if Trump is elected in November. He most assuredly is not the solution. On the other hand, we have absolutely nothing to lose by forcing the hand of elected leadership to specifically and unmistakably create policy that unapologetically addresses the issues and problems that deeply impact Blacks in America at rates that are historically and widely disparate as a result of systemic racism, inequitable policy and unfair laws. And that’s what we better get to doing. Trump is not the guy, true. But he is right; we better start acting like we don’t have a thing to lose.
Really, think about it. What will happen if we keep bringing attention to the unfair criminal justice system that has decimated Black communities through mass incarceration largely as a result of an unfair criminal justice policy? Blacks, who comprise 12 percent of the population and 13 percent of drug users, constitute 35 percent of all arrests for drug possession, 55 percent of all convictions on drug charges and 74 percent of all those sentenced to prison for possession. Six percent of all Black men are currently serving time in prison or jail compared to two percent of all White men. Approximately 34 percent of all Black men are ex-offenders compared to 12 percent of White men. More than 1.46 million Black men out of a total voting population of 10.4 million have lost their right to vote because of felony convictions. Black women are incarcerated at a rate three times that of White women. So, what do we really have to lose by calling out the Clintons for their role in setting this catastrophe in motion and holding theirs and other leaders’ feet to the fire to make needed change? Do we really think things could get exponentially worse than they are now?
What do we have to lose?
Are we concerned that holding elected leaders accountable for forcing big business to understand the big picture when it comes to a living wage and pay equity issues and then passing laws that actually make difference? Between 2007 and 2012, Black women doubled their share of workers earning minimum wage or less. The poverty rate for African-American women is 28.6 percent—more than 2.5 times the poverty rate of White, non-Hispanic. And the highest poverty rate in America (roughly 46 percent) is still for Black families with children which are headed by Black women. So what is at stake, really, if we simply make it clear to our elected leaders that their job is to serve our communities most in need of their attention? BLACK CHILDREN HAVE THE HIGHEST RATE OF POVERTY IN AMERICA! And it absolutely does impact their educational opportunities, their options of higher education, their future earnings and just about everything else in their lives! Are we afraid it will get worse?
Is that we tread softly and accept crumbs from those who are supposed to be serving us.
Look, everyone is courting the Black vote—Republicans, Libertarians, even the Democrats who have behaved as if they have Black voters in their back pockets for 50 years stepped up their game this year by placing Black women in very high profile posts at the convention and in the party, itself. And a few new recent hires at the RNC make it clear that the Republican Party is pursuing the Black vote, with a keen focus on young Black collegians and Black entrepreneurs.
And that’s really nothing new. Everyone chases the Black vote—kind of like a seducer out for a one night stand who only then conveniently calls his or her lover every four years or so. So while “What Do You Have to Lose?” is not the sexiest pick up line; and while we shouldn’t go home with that guy who said it, it is one upon which we all ought to reflect.