One of the great lessons learned from the historic Obama White House years is that politics don’t always provide clear definitions of allies and interests. Elected black officials nationwide are often forced into the unenviable position of having to choose between these two things, in order to balance their careers in civic service and their commitments to those who elect them to office.
Many handle the burden with great integrity, and as an HBCU community, we should always be looking for ways to support them in pursuit of more equitable governance. But as we increase our advocacy, we must also be willing to offer our support for increased accountability and feedback on key initiatives involving our schools.
The Congressional Black Caucus’ recently released policy briefing “We Have a Lot to Lose,” outlines a vision for improvement in education, workforce development, healthcare, social justice and voting equity, and contrasts many of the policy points developed by the Trump Administration. The briefing offers workable solutions to persistent problems in black communities nationwide, with increasingly bad outcomes.
But in playing off of President Trump’s infamous policy slogan on development for Black America, it amplifies the pointed view of the White House as an extension of Trump’s rhetoric driven presidential campaign, rather than taking a nuanced view of the Trump Administration’s potential to build upon some key promises and some possible fixes for which we’ve waited over the course of generations, and especially over the last eight years under the Obama Administration.
The CBC is the legislative watchtower for Black American interests, and we understand that it will carry the party line on longstanding Democratic approaches to the threats against life and liberty for black people in these United States. But the contentiousness with which it is approaching the Trump Administration may not be the best strategy on a number of fronts.
Much of the briefing offers a historic treatment of African American inequity and its ties to federal policy making of the lackthereof. But what is missing from its pages are the opportunities present in black communities, through organizations like HBCUs, to generate jobs, wealth, and social independence for community members – if they receive increased and sustained support from the federal government.
Universities create small business, commercial and residential real estate growth. They are among the largest employers in any town, city or state. They are points of civic pride and hubs of economic stability. In HBCU communities, all of these outcomes benefit predominantly black neighborhoods. These are the kinds of things which can and should be communicated to the Trump Administration, at least moreso than the historical and moral lessons on why black folks deserve a hand up and not a handout.
For now, the CBC’s initial briefing and many of its public communications draw a line in the sand between Black America and the Republican-controlled executive and legislative branches of government, which leaves all of us little room for negotiating any good deals with a president obsessed the art of the same, and driven to make negative examples out of those who don’t play by his politically unorthodox rules.
It also offers an imbalanced narrative that conservative politics and policies are the singular most dangerous threat to HBCUs and black people. HBCUs in blue states have suffered just as the majority of our campuses in red states; and very rarely do we hold liberal policymakers and influencers to the same account we do for conservatives.
Maybe that’s just part of towing the party line, or maybe that is a focus on the political long-game; but in any instance, it is not a fair or representative presentation of how Black America can best find political remedies for its ills. We are outnumbered and outgunned in the possible outcomes created by picking fights with the Trump Administration. And at the same time, we may be underserving the power we do hold in the halls of Congress.
The CBC PAC should be the most financially endowed PAC in the nation, but it is underfunded and marginalized to an extent that it creates a huge deficit in the influence that African-Americans should have on the direction of the Democratic Party. Take for example this excerpt from ‘Brown is the New White:
“Over those two cycles (2010 and 2012), Democrats awarded $514 million in contracts to political consultants. Of that half- billion-plus dollars, nearly all of it (97 percent) went to White consultants and businesses (and 83 percent to White men). The report was updated to include 2014 spending, and the results were not much better. Of the $193 million spent by the Democratic Party in the 2014 cycle on consulting firms, 97.9 percent of contracts went to White consultants. This means the vast majority of all Democratic Party spending—and, by extension, the strategizing, planning, and execution—was and still is carried out by White men in a party where 46 percent of its voters are people of color.
We understand the risk associated with bipartisan cooperation and the pressure to meet constituents’ expectations. But for African Americans and HBCUs, it is critical for the Congressional Black Caucus and organizations like the Thurgood Marshall College Fund and the United Negro College Fund to work together in ensuring that the HBCU agenda is clearly defined for voters and lawmakers, and is understood as a central theme to be addressed honestly by all candidates and elected officials.
Unquestioned allegiance to the Democratic party has cultural and financial advantages in some respects. But in the funding lines and votes which matter most, they have not pushed HBCUs to the position they rightfully deserve; regular support and funding as the essential element of economic and political mobility for black communities nationwide.
We support our lawmakers, but we must make sure that we are working together so that our collective interests can move from ‘Amen Corner’ rhetoric to solid political reform on both sides of the aisle.