In his 1957 speech entitled, “Give Us The Ballot,” Martin Luther King, Jr. did not advocate for the right to vote simply because he wanted to see more black people in office. No, not at all. He wanted more than that – he wanted to be able to choose men “of good will” who would “do justly and love mercy.” He wanted to be able to select men and women based on their character, and who exhibited “strong, moral, and courageous leadership.”
Even after 60 years, it’s timeless advice that still rings true today.
And yet, the voters in Shreveport will still spend most of this glorious new year talking about the skin color of their mayoral candidates in their upcoming election this fall. They’ll talk about why this color candidate or that color candidate can’t win, shouldn’t win, and ought not even try.
Before considering the content of a candidate’s character, or deciding which candidate is best suited to lead our city, most Shreveporters will look first to the color of the candidate’s skin, instead. Although this may not be shocking to you, it’s just not right.
I mean, you’ve overheard the conversations about how a white candidate cannot possibly be elected Mayor of Shreveport. It’s the “city’s demographics,” they say, and about how black candidates will be universally supported by the lion’s share of black voters anyway. Whomever is mayor, according to these folks, won’t need much support from white voters, at all, to get elected into office.
But is it just me? Isn’t it immoral to disqualify a candidate based on the color of their skin? I mean, it’s 2018, for goodness’ sake. Instead of finding common ground, learning from one another and coming together, we’re still dividing ourselves in the most uncivilized, elementary, and ignorant way – by our skin color.
In essence, we’re discouraging candidates, however qualified they may be, from running for Mayor – based simply on the color of their skin. Aren’t there countless, real reasons that ought to disqualify candidates, instead? Like are they decisive or wishy-washy? Do they get the right things done, or do they just make a lot of noise? Do they follow-thru on their commitments, or is it just all hot air?
But if all you need to know is only skin deep, why bother talking about any of this?
Why ask if a candidate has the attention span or the dogged determination needed to concentrate on the details (and not just the “big picture”) of the large-scale changes needed so desperately in city government?
Why bother to find out if the candidates are persistent enough to see those changes through to completion, even in the face of great opposition? Are they transparent in their dealings? Are they capable of gaining a detailed understanding of their elected position, and how it works? Will they act prudently for the long-term needs of our citizens, or will they choose short-term popularity, instead?
If all you see is the color of my skin, none of that really matters to you.
And while that is not to say most black Americans think alike – they have voted alike, historically. For example, blacks have backed Democrat candidates almost 90% of the time since 1980. And this is why most folks, from the coffee shop to the barbershop, say white candidates for mayor simply “need not apply.”
There’s a University of Chicago professor, Michael Dawson, who thinks he understands why, though. In his book, Behind the Mule: Race and Class in African-American Politics, he calls it “black utility heuristic” and it’s basically how, when you belong to a group, you often feel your individual prospects for success are ultimately tied to the success of your group.
This is referred to as “linked fate” and you can see this principle at work in your family, your company, your church, etc. Linked fate is also one of the reasons why 2 out 3 black Americans, according to a Pew Research Survey, see their black community as a single group (or a monolithic voting bloc), even though political views among blacks are as diverse as any other group.
While we’re all in this together, how can we be sure we’re choosing men “of good will” (in the words of Martin Luther King, Jr.), if we’re sorting them first by race?