Monday, June 1, 2020

Will Biden take Black voters for granted?

words by Charles Brooks

Racial controversies are typical to presidential election campaigns -  and the 2020 campaign has proved to be no different. Just days ago presumed Democratic Party nominee Joe Biden created his own racial controversy when he made a remark about the black vote during an interview during an livestreaming broadcast of the popular radio show, The Breakfast Club.

The controversy began with the show’s host Charlamagne Tha God responding in jest to an Biden aide interrupting in attempt to end the interview, “You can’t do that to black media,” where Biden responded by saying: “I do that to white media and black media because my wife has to go on at 6 o’clock.” Charlamagne asks: “Listen, you’ve got to come see us when you come to New York, V.P. Biden. It’s a long way until November. We've got more questions.” Biden responds by saying: "You've got more questions? Well I tell you what, if you have a problem figuring out whether you're for me or Trump, then you ain't black." Charlamagne shoots back, "It don't have nothing to do with Trump. It has to do with the fact, I want something for my community." "Take a look at my record, man!" Biden asserted.  “I extended the Voting Rights Act 25 years. I have a record that is second to none. The NAACP has endorsed me every time I’ve run. Come on, take a look at my record.” 

Although his remarks immediately came under fire, many blacks defended Biden’s remarks as a “mistake” , made in “jest”  or simply dismissed as “a gaffe”. Jim Clyburn (D-SC) remains supportive of Biden, “We sometimes say things we do not really mean, they come out a little bit wrong, and that's what happened here. I think all of us know Joe Biden,” Clyburn said. “I know him, and he knows me. He knows the African American community very well. "I've done a lot of stuff for Joe Biden over the years, and I would not have supported him if I did not think that he was best suited to be the next president of the United States. It's just that simple.” 

But this would have been just that simple if Biden accepted Charlemagne’s invitation to come back for another interview with “sure”, “of course”, or even a “absolutely – have your people call my people and let’s make it happen.”  But he didn’t.  Not until after the testy exchange between himself and Charlamagne. 

During the interview Charlamagne and Biden talked about a number of topics including his possible pick for Vice-President, the notorious crime bill (which he defended and said Hillary Clinton was wrong for doing so), and the coronavirus’ disproportionate impact black communities around the country. He obviously wanted to continue the discussion thus the invitation to come back.   Biden’s initial dismissal of Charlamagne’s request yet remains problematic because as far as Biden was concerned, what was discussed was enough and he saw no need for more questions or dialogue.  

One can easily draw the conclusion that Biden’s comments reflected more than a just mindset that his record is enough to stand on and no more questions from the party’s most loyal group were necessary.  But also a mindset apparently informed by the two options typically available for black Democrats; either vote Democrat or stay home.  Historically voting for the Republican Party has not an option for the typical black voter. Since 1984, the average black share of the vote for the GOP candidate has been 9% - Trump got 8% in 2016.  

Biden’s comment sparked such a heated response because of there’s now a public window to the thinking and sentiment of the Democratic party in general – and Biden in particular towards black voters. Considering the deep support and connection between black voters and the Democratic Party, taking the black vote for granted is indeed a sensitive issue amongst black voters. Emotions run high when there’s the sense that a Democratic presidential candidate running for office doesn’t have to work as hard to get the black vote. 

Days after Biden apologized, he then blamed his remarks on Charlamagne being a “wise guy”.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019


words by Charles Brooks


Photo credit: Charles Edward Miller
You may have noticed in recent months that teachers across the nation have been engaged in the sort of activism that fiercely challenges the status quo with their renewed vision for public education.  The sleeping giant has been awakened in 2018 with 8 what’s officially called “work stoppages” in educational services affecting 379,000 workers.  Teachers drew a line in the sand as a wave of teacher strikes hit Arizona, West Virginia, Oklahoma, Arizona, Kentucky, and Colorado.   The trend continued into 2019 with teachers engaging in various forms of protest activities with walkouts, rallies, and yes, strikes in school districts in Los Angeles, Oakland, Denver, and Virginia.  In fact, Mississippi took action to pre-empt a possible teacher strike with pay-raises for teachers and assistant teachers.   

Photo credit: Emory Maiden
But this recent wave of teacher activism is unprecedented, not only because of the number of educators who went on strike but more importantly, the significance of linking their advocacy for students to racial, environmental and social justice.  Because of the policy positions involved here, there may be subsequent implications to the upcoming 2020 elections that are less than two years away to consider as well.  

Rebecca Tarlau researches education and labor issues and this is what she observed: “In my view as a researcher who deals with issues of education and labor, the current teacher strike wave in the United States is the result of three factors. First is the acceleration of market-based education reforms, including the expansion of charter schools. Second is networks of teacher activists organizing and transforming their unions to focus on broader social issues.  Third is the framing of teacher union action as part of the struggle for racial justice,” Tarlau goes on to say: “These factors have led teacher unions to form alliances with community organizations, enlist students and parents to join the activism, and speak out against efforts to expand charter schools and privatization.”          

As a result, striking educators are crafting demands extending beyond higher pay to include lower class sizes, less testing, more accountability, more support staff and related service providers such as social workers, and psychologists.   "This failure to fully fund our schools, at the levels our students deserve is undeniably a racial justice issue, in a school district that is overwhelmingly students of color,” said Oakland Education Association president, Keith Brown during a press conference.

The strikes also triggered a display of support from fellow labor unions as witnessed with American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) solidarity with striking Denver teachers, the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1277 pledged their support for striking educators in Los Angeles as well as the California Nurses Association and Minnesota Nurses Association National Nurses United – both affiliated with the largest union of registered nurses in the United States donated $30,000.  

In their analysis of the teacher strikes, The Center for American Progress wrote: “The 2018 strikes mainly grew from organic teacher actions explicitly protesting low pay and state disinvestment. In contrast, the 2019 strikes have been organized by local unions that are concerned about issues beyond pay and state funding, including rising health care costs, lack of guidance counselors and social workers in schools, and large class sizes”.   

The emerging teacher activism also included running viable candidates for public office to better position themselves to realize their demands to address critical educational needs as well for social and racial justice.  For instance, out of the 158 current classroom teachers that Education Week confirmed were running for their state legislature, 101 have moved on to the general election. Thirty-seven of those teachers won their primaries, while 59 ran unopposed.   Take for example Jahana Hayes, the 2016 Connecticut and National Teacher of the Year who now represents the 5th District in Connecticut in Congress. 

With so many issues on the table now facing today’s educators, such as quality of education, school funding, privatization, along with racial, environmental and social justice issues, there’s the potential for the makings of a new teacher movement with profound political implications.  For example, with less than two years away from the 2020 elections, 11 states will be holding elections for governor, and nearly all will hold elections for lawmakers in state legislatures according to Ballotpedia.

Considering the number of strikes that have taken place as well as the groundswell of teacher activism, this could possibly be a pivotal moment. Educators across the country, with their renewed sense of purpose, are in position to politically leverage their ability to mobilize thousands and pressure state officials with their socially conscious vision for public education in America. 

Suggested Readings:

PBS has a page with a number of stories/articles on nationwide teacher strikes

Open letter from Oakland Education Association President to the Oakland community that also includes a copy of their Fact-finding Report and their recommendations for settlement as of February 2019. 

This is a link to an lengthy interview with the Chicago Teachers Union President to discuss the issues that led to the teacher strike along with their pursuit of racial and social justice

Tuesday, December 11, 2018


words by Charles Brooks


Photo credit: Onasill ~ Bill - 72m
 When the smoke cleared after the 2018 elections   finally ended – there are still zero black governors. The last African American elected to the governors’ mansion was Deval Patrick in Massachusetts, and that was ten years ago.  The challenge for black candidates for state wide offices like governor is building a campaign that also appeals beyond their local base to white moderate Democrats throughout the state. Nevertheless, the 2018 elections witnessed history in a sense in that not one but three blacks – including one woman - ran as the Democratic Party’s nominee for the Governor’s seat.  Although all three lost their elections, there’s some comfort to be taken from the elections results and exit poll data.  Encouraging signs despite loss

Opposition to the Trump presidency has clearly translated into a more diverse pool of candidates. Since the 2016 election, there’s been such a surge in electoral politics activism – an opposition that has clearly translated into a diverse pool of candidates running in the 2018 elections on all levels of government – local, state and federal offices.

In Maryland, Ben Jealous not only took on a popular incumbent Republican governor but one with millions of cash on hand who managed to find support among Democrats. His progressive campaign garnered endorsements from Barack Obama, Kamala Harris, Bernie Sanders, as well as labor unions such as Service Employees International Union (SEIU), American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees (AFSCME), and the Maryland State Education Association. Jealous campaigned throughout the state of Maryland delivering his progressive message for $15 minimum wage, Medicare-for-all, the legalization and taxation of marijuana and tuition-free college.

Jealous was defeated with 43.5% of over two million votes cast. The reasons for his defeat comes down to the lack of both financial and political support.  For example, a Washington Post poll taken a month before the election revealed 35% of Democrats and 64% of independents support Hogan over Jealous along with 91% of Republicans. In addition there were reports of Jealous’ paltry coffers with less than $400,000 on hand – refusing to take money from large corporations.

In defeat, Jealous was able to list the progressive gains in Maryland since his campaign began with free community college tuition that is now a reality, the removal of Roger Taney’s statue along with defeating the forces of fracking from setting up shop in Maryland.

The gubernatorial races in both Florida and Georgia however draws a sharp contrast when compared to Maryland.  For one, these two states haven’t elected an Democratic Governor in the last 20 years. President Trump managed to win both states in 2016 and endorsed both of the Republican candidates. Furthermore, both Florida and Georgia have stringent restrictions to voting rights with vote suppression measures.  Yet, despite of the odds stacked against both of the black candidates for Governor with considering the racist activities and voter suppression tactics occurring before and during election day, their progressive campaigns apparently resonated – even in Trump country.  They both lost in very close elections that leaves one to think would the results be any different if every vote was indeed counted. For nearly two weeks, there was a flurry of lawsuits to ensure every vote gets counted despite legally mandated deadlines. In the final count, Abrams got 48.8% of the votes cast, losing her race by less than 55, 000 votes while Gillum lost by a razor thin margin of less than 33, 000 with 49.2 % of the vote.

Just as in Maryland, there are signs of encouragement in defeat. For example, along with increased voter turnout, the 2018 elections witnessed elevated civic engagement, and approved ballot measure to restore voting rights to ex-felons.

Exit poll data for Florida and Georgia reveals when compared to the 2014 elections, the 2018 elections indicated jumps in voter turnout that translated into gains from independents, liberals and moderates. With two years remaining before the 2020 elections, only time will tell if the 2018 elections can finally serve as a model for candidates to unapologetically highlight progressive causes minimum wage, voting rights, and reforms to criminal justice, health care and education – knowing these issues are increasingly gaining traction with voters who either resist or embrace the socialist labels.

Suggested Readings:

Wednesday, December 5, 2018


words by Charles Brooks

Photo Credit: Marco Verch
Although the much talked about blue wave managed to sweep in a number of black elected officials during the 2018 election cycle – the nation still has no black governors.

This year’s election cycle saw an unprecedented 3 blacks running for governor; Ben Jealous (Maryland), Stacey Abrams (Georgia) and Andrew Gillum (Florida) each won their respective primaries but lost in the general election.  The race in Maryland was settled on election night with Jealous pulling in 43.5% of the vote with over one million votes, but lost by over 270, 000 votes. The races in Florida and Georgia, however were too close to call on election night forcing Gillum to withdraw his concession while Abrams pointed to the thousands of uncounted votes left on the table and just flatly refused to concede her race.  

Governor-elect Brian Kemp nevertheless declared victory and ironically two days later, resigned as the Georgia’s secretary of state.  The same secretary of state who was repeatedly under fire for deploying voter suppression tactics for years leading right up to the 2018 elections.  The nation watched as the drama unfolded in both Florida and Georgia with accusations of racism, voter suppression tactics, election day shenanigans, reports of long voter lines along with “misplaced” ballots and missed deadlines.  Both campaigns took on what appeared to be herculean efforts to ensure every vote is counted with a flurry of lawsuits.

But after nearly two weeks, Abrams and Gillum officially ended their gubernatorial campaigns.  In conceding the election Gillum asserted, “We wanted to make sure that every single vote, as long as it was a legally cast vote, we wanted those votes to be counted.”

But Abrams, on the other hand, not only refused to concede the race to Kemp but took a step further

with her refusal to acknowledge the legitimacy of Kemp’s win.  When she ended her campaign, Abrams spoke to her supporters and said, "…So let's be clear, this is not a speech of concession, because concession means to acknowledge an action is right, true or proper. As a woman of conscience and faith, I cannot concede that.”  A few days later, she generated more headlines and debate after appearing on CNN’s Sunday’s political talk show, State of the Union. On the show, Abrams remained persistent in her refusal to recognize Kemp as the legitimate governor. Although she acknowledged Kemp receiving the number of votes needed to be declared the “legal” winner according to the elections laws but as Abrams explained: “…but we know that the law does not do what it should and that something legal does not make it right. This is someone who compromised our systems, he’s compromised our Democratic systems.”

When Abrams spoke to her supporters, she announced the launch of a new voting rights organization, Fair Fight Georgia and plans to file a major federal lawsuit against Georgia for gross mismanagement and to protect future elections from unconstitutional actions. Days after appearing on CNN, Fight Fair Action filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia.  The lawsuit points out that Georgia has a history of neglecting its elections infrastructure and suppressing votes – particularly of people of color. “The Secretary of State and State Election Board grossly mismanaged an election that deprived Georgia citizens, and particularly citizens of color, of their fundamental right to vote.” 

The lawsuit describes Georgia’s electoral process as a violation to the Constitution’s 1st, 13th and 14th Amendment as well as Section II of the Voting Rights Act. The lawsuit also discloses a number of allegations with widespread implications from voter suppression tactics designed to disenfranchise voters. The lawsuit cites the mass purging of voter registrations, the closing and relocating polling places, the failure to provide functioning voting machines, provisional and absentee ballots.  Abrams tells her supporters, “…Because these votes are our voices. We are each entitled to our choices…”

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

A Conversation about Black Detroit in Black New York

Black Detroit: A People’s History of Self-Determination
Herb Boyd
Amistad/HarperCollins: 432 pages

A Conversation about Black Detroit in Black New York                            

By Charles Brooks

Herb Boyd recently appeared at the revered City College of New York (CCNY) in Harlem, NY to talk about his latest book, Black Detroit: A People’s History of Self-Determination.  Published in 2017, Mr. Boyd has entered yet another book into the annals of black history with Black Detroit that covers slightly over 300 years - spread over 340 pages and 29 chapters.  A prolific author and journalist, Mr. Boyd has an incredible body of work that includes 25 books in addition to countless news articles published over the years with many news outlets. 

Mr. Boyd was joined by CCNY Professor L’Heureux Lewis-McCoy in a format that deviated from the typical stand and deliver to one that was more conversational and informal. For a little over an hour, their conversation covered a wide range of topics that included the book’s sub-title along with Detroit’s history, black press, music, economy, and radical black politics.

Listening to Mr. Boyd and Professor Lewis-McCoy engage in conversation with each other, you got the sense that Black Detroit was more than just capturing critical moments in time. Clearly, Black Detroit was about the people behind those moments but more importantly, their stories of self-determination.  Mr. Boyd makes note of this during the book’s introduction where he wrote: “Black Detroiters survived enslavement, white mobs, housing and job discrimination, and municipal indifference, and with each endeavor they chipped away at that age-old misery index.”  

Mr. Boyd first spoke about the conversations he had with his mother, Katherine – “a veritable walking historian with an encyclopedia of knowledge about Detroit.”  Utilizing his mother as a tremendous source of information, Mr. Boyd talked about the time they spent reminiscing about important dates, events, places and of course – the people who made Black Detroit what it was and is.  “I found myself going back to the old neighborhood – that’s pretty much what I knew I had to do to write about Black Detroit. To go back to these black neighborhoods and talk to some those individuals,” explained Mr. Boyd. But he also mentioned a connection – a special connection he made with the people that enabled him to write Black Detroit.

In response to questions from Professor Lewis-McCoy, Mr. Boyd went on to drop nuggets and kernels of information throughout the evening.  For instance, the existence of slavery in Detroit as well as the Underground Railroad where Detroit served as the last stop. Mr. Boyd explains: “This was a path that was carved out by individuals who were escaping the atrocities of servitude in this country,” Or when he talked the racial tensions and hostilities that framed the racial riots of 1943 and 1967.

Or how automobile manufacturing was not only the “lifeblood” for Detroit’s economy but for the nation as well. Or when he unveiled that before Detroit was known for making automobiles, Detroit was at one time, the stove-making capital of the world! Or when he talked about not only how the music and Detroit was “inexplicably connected” – but how the music was more than Motown.  Here, Mr. Boyd pointed to the world class musicians who studied and played a wide range of music - rhythm & blues, blues, be-bop and of course, jazz. He explained that folks came to Detroit because of the Renaissance taking place there – similar to the Harlem Renaissance. “It was more than just New York – there was a renaissance happening all over the country in varying degrees.” He pointed out that the Harlem Renaissance was also replicated in cities such as Pittsburgh and Toledo.

The evening of conversation ended with the topic of politics – specifically, black radical politics.  Professor Lewis-McCoy asked Mr. Boyd to talk about what he described as the “uniqueness” of Detroit in this regard.  Consider for a moment the Nation of Islam, Malcolm X, the Republic of New Afrika, the revolutionary formations taking place amongst the black workers in the automobile plants, and Wayne State University (WSU) as a cauldron of black radical politics. “It was such a promising moment where we thought revolution was just around the corner, such a moment of heightened political intensity,” said Mr. Boyd. Describing Wayne State University as a “hotbed of activism”, Mr. Boyd recounted his first class at WSU where he had 125 students.  There in the first row sat members of the Socialist Workers Party, Black Panther Party, Shrine of the Black Madonna, League of Black Revolutionary Workers, and the Revolutionary Communist Party. He amused his audience when he said: “Every political stripe was represented in that classroom – so you can imagine the tricky line I had to walk from an ideological standpoint.”  

Suggested Reading:

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Book Review: Democracy in Black: How Race still enslaves the American Soul

Democracy in Black
Eddie S. Glaude Jr.
Crown: 288 pages

American Democracy, White Supremacy and Racism

By Charles Brooks

Democracy in Black: How Race still enslaves the American Soul, written by Princeton University Professor Eddie S. Glaude has been on the bookshelves for about two years now.  The book was released January 2016 just as President Obama entered his last year in the White House.  In this book Glaude confronts the American democracy project and its contradiction – a contradiction seemingly rooted in the treatment of African Americans versus the American ideals of freedom, justice and equality. Glaude notes the contradiction and writes: “People could talk of freedom and liberty and hold black slaves.” As the subtitle suggests, this is a book unmistakenly about race and white supremacy in America.  

He challenges American democracy by linking this contradiction to white supremacy as the driving force behind what Glaude describes as the value gap, opportunity deserts and racial habits.  Glaude also writes about the concept of disremembering or active forgetting – a critical component to not just widening the value gap but advancing white supremacy. 

Democracy in Black is a clearly written polemic that’s easy to read without the dense academic prose. Glaude attempts to make a case about the far reaching implications of this American contradiction with anecdotes, historical and contemporary examples along with his personal observations and experiences. You will find featured prominently throughout the book, quotes from James Baldwin, Martin Luther King and W.E.B Dubois that Glaude uses to grapple with his thoughts on white supremacy, the value gap, opportunity deserts, and racial habits. 

Glaude takes on a wide range of topics that includes a brief history lesson on the origins of American contradiction. He digs into the implications and dangerousness of white fear, but more specifically white fear of the anticipation or rather, the expectation of black criminality.  He describes the narrowness of today’s black politics and black leadership that includes a searing critique of Reverend Al Sharpton and President Obama. While Glaude is not likely to get any love from Sharpton or Obama fans, he won't receive any from the clergy either when he talks about the death of the black church and their retreat as a progressive institution. He also takes on struggling HBCU’s, revealing his thoughts about President Obama’s apparent dismissive approach. His discussion about race also includes, the public resistance to the deaths of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown, radical activism, and the Great Recession, where he writes “…the very foundations of Black America have cracked under the weight of the economic fallout.” 

There are passages in the book that should trigger passionate debate such as his criticism of President
Obama where he writes, “Obama refuses to engage directly the crisis sweeping black America.” Or when he says Obama was supposed to be more – he was supposed to be different, “He was ideally our black progressive antidote to the conservative policies of the Bush years.” Such provocative statements are certain to draw condemnation from Obama’s supporters who fiercely defend him at all costs. There’s Glaude’s prescription for presidential politics where he advocates for essentially a protest vote where there’s no vote for the presidential candidates or simply left “blank” – hence the “Blankout” strategy. With a hint of naiveté, Glaude reveals his belief in America when he talks about remaking American democracy.  He says a revolution of value is needed to transform the value gap and racial habits, and there are three ways to accomplish this - with changes in how we view government, black people and to what truly matters as Americans.  Yet in this context, Glaude did not include his views around “respectability politics” or provide a more expansive analysis on structural racism.  Although Glaude outlines some meaningful remedies to remake American democracy – there’s this muted dismissal of the realities around those interests or issues that inherently generates opposition. Whether the issue is poverty, minimum wage, healthcare, crime, or even support for the Confederate flag – there will always be a clash of two sides.

Nevertheless, Democracy in Black is definitely worth the time to read as Glaude makes more than a few points throughout the book that argues for a new way of thinking.  The Ferguson protests, the Black Lives Matter movement, and the Forward Together campaign - the politics of disruption are just a few examples that he uses as being informed by taking a more radical approach to transforming American democracy.  Just as important is Glaude’s inclusion of the need to transform the current state of black politics from its limited and narrow state to one that is more expansive in political expression. Like Glaude says – something has to change. 

Suggested Reading:

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Activists charge Mugabe is Right - on land reform & cruel economic sanctions

By Charles Brooks

Just hours before Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe landed in New York City to attend the 72nd United Nations General Assembly, there was a protest demonstration demanding an end to the 16 year old sanctions imposed by the United States. Sanctions were imposed after President Mugabe took a nationalist approach to land reform by taking land from white farm owners and returning them to black farmers.

Over one hundred pro-Mugabe supporters marched through the streets in a protest demonstration led and organized by the December 12th Movement International Secretariat, a non-governmental organization with consultative status with the United Nations’ Economic and Social Council. “President Robert Mugabe and the people of Zimbabwe have consistently fought for political and economic independence,” Spokesman Omowale Clay continues, “control of their land is fundamental. These illegal sanctions infringe on their national sovereignty.”