Ever since September, when Herman Cain said African-Americans were “brainwashed” not to consider conservative views, I have thought seriously about my own views and biases as an African-American man in college and how they have evolved up to this point in my life. Cain is right — not necessarily about policy, but about the misinformation the political process sends to young African-American voters.
In a heated aldermanic campaign a month ago, students registering voters wanted me to register just so I could vote for a particular candidate. Call it politics, but that did not sit well with me. I often see my African-American friends complacently falling into the same trap when considering who to vote for. They want to avoid the stigma of going against the grain, so they vote for a candidate “just because.”
In a time when both the current president of the United States and the leading candidate for the Republican presidential nomination are African-American men, ingrained electoral biases need a checkup. In 2008, 95 percent of African-Americans voted for Barack Obama. In 2010, 14 percent of African Americans voted Republican. The GOP fielded 30 African-American candidates around the country in the 2010 midterm elections.
The tides are also changing among other perceived racial voting blocs. Due to increased efforts to get younger people out to vote, a wider variety of perspectives are coming to a voter booth near you. For example, current polls show that more Latino voters, who have tended to favor conservative-minded candidates, are trending towards the Democratic Party, and Jewish voters are starting to drift towards conservative Republican views.
The point Cain made correctly was that open-mindedness is essential to decision-making, but he ignored half the argument: There are African-Americans who think the Republican Party does not represent their political ideals, and that is okay.
I am not advocating for any political ideology; I only want young African-Americans to be able to have constructive conversations about politics. Young African-Americans should not be ashamed or have to hide or face unfair stigmatization for holding unexpected views, because our political views evolve as the political spectrum constantly shifts.
Young African-Americans should embrace, not vilify, today’s broad spectrum of political thought. It is up to our generation to start constructive conversation on issues that matter to us — without divisive vitriol. Young African-Americans should not feel pigeonholed into voting for a candidate just because they are expected to align with a certain demographic.
This kind of viewpoint puts young African-Americans voters at a major disadvantage because it defeats the purpose of the voting rights that so many people sacrificed their lives to obtain. Crafty politicians can lead us to vote against our interests. Instead, we should make candidates work for our vote.
Young African-American voters often don’t realize that political parties evolve constantly, so only individual issues should matter in any election. If the right to vote had been available at the time of Abraham Lincoln, the Republican Party would have been the party of choice for many African-Americans. Former Alabama Governor George C. Wallace, who blasted the famous words, “Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever,” at his inauguration speech in the ’60s, was a Democrat. Now as in the past, our political spectrum is in flux. Nothing stays the same forever.
2008 was a breakthrough year: a majority of United States voters cast their ballots for an African-American candidate. 2012 may also go into the history books as the year when many African-American voters registered in order to consider doing just the opposite.
African-Americans are as diverse in thought and action as any other race of people. Young African-American voters need to have an open mind. They must listen to the candidates and their stances and consider those ideas in light of their individual beliefs. We must allow ourselves the chance to have our respective voices heard unadulterated.