Activist and scholar Nyle Fort asked, “Can black millennials afford the consequences of dancing with the ‘party of our parents?’” Increasingly, young black folks are rejecting the notion that their votes should automatically be given to the Democratic Party. Young black people are tired of being “captured” by a party that fails to be responsive to continuous state violence against Black people.
There exists the idea of “electoral capture,” which defines the state of those that essentially have no choice but to remain in one political party. Those that are electorally captured are not sought out as potential voters for the opposing party. Consequently, their votes are considered as given by the party leadership that realizes that short of abstention, those that are electorally captured have no viable alternatives. Since the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965 in America, black people’s votes have been captured and often taken for granted by the Democratic Party. It’s well known that the majority of black Americans identify with and vote with the Democratic Party. However, in the face of the 2016 presidential election, young black Americans are challenging the norm of guaranteeing their votes to Democratic candidates.
The Black Lives Matter movement has played a central role in igniting consciousness amongst black millennials. Rising political consciousness has prompted young black folks to examine the persistent political structures that maintain a system that is unresponsive to the needs and demands of black people. A rise in consciousness and political mistrust go hand-in-hand. Young black folks have demanded that their concerns be heard and acknowledged by the Democratic presidential candidates. Forms of political participation outside of voting are increasingly motivating young black people.
A survey conducted by the Black Youth Project in 2012 found that young black people exhibit the highest rates of political participation when it came to attending political meetings, displaying buttons and signs, donating money and volunteering on campaigns.
Additionally, black youth believe that the largest amount of political change comes from the actions of ordinary people and community organizations as opposed to the nation’s institutions and political elites. Despite growing skepticism and political mistrust amongst young black people, they have still exhibited the highest levels of political participation.
Young black Americans are a key voting bloc in the Democratic Party. In the 2012 presidential election, amongst voters ages 18-24, young black people had the highest level of turnout at 45.9 percent as compared to white voters at 41.4 percent and Latino voters at 26.7 percent. However, Black youth are becoming increasingly disillusioned with the political system.
The Democratic Party might risk foregoing the votes of this central voting bloc if they continue to ignore the demands of young black voters. Young black people are looking for a presidential candidate that is seriously committed to ending white supremacy in this country. They want someone who will acknowledge their role within the white supremacist structure and actively work to dismantle it. Last month, writer and activist Jacqui Germain stated, “There is political power in the presidency, certainly, but given what our country was founded on, what it needs to function, what it perpetuates and how it perpetuates it — there’s no president who can embody or bring forth the kind of change necessary.” Undoubtedly, this normative ideal that the president has the capacity to completely eradicate the white supremacist structure is flawed. However, it’s more than reasonable for voters to want a candidate that acknowledges its existence and challenges its perpetuation.
This election season, democratic candidates are being forced to do something that they haven’t had to do in more than half a century — actively pay attention to the needs of black voters. The political interests of black people have been neglected and black millennials refuse to fall victim to the ongoing cycle of electoral capture. Black millennials are certainly becoming more politically active at the local level. If Democratic presidential candidates continue to take the votes of these young black people for granted, black millennials might stay home in the 2016 presidential election.
Chaya Crowder is a first-year PhD student in the Politics Department at Princeton University. She received her BA and MA in Political Science from Columbia University. Chaya is a John Kluge Scholar at Columbia University. Last year she worked as a Social Justice Research Fellow at the Center for Popular Democracy in Brooklyn, NY. Through this fellowship Chaya created an original survey and conducted surveys and interviews with over 250 Zara employees in New York City. This resulted in the publication of her report “Stitched with Prejudice: Zara USA’s Corporate Culture of Favoritism.” As an undergraduate student, under the guidance for Professor Fred Harris and Professor Ted Shaw Chaya published her first piece of academic research. Chaya’s research project was entitled The Legal Reinterpretation of Affirmative Action and The Redefinition of What It Means To Be Black In The Ivy League: A Study of Black Student Perceptions of Affirmative Action and it was published in University of Washington’s Undergraduate Law Review. Chaya currently serves on the executive board of the Black Graduate Student Caucus and Princeton University. At Princeton, Chaya studies race, ethnicity and inequality in politics. Chaya’s academic interests are fueled by a desire to explore causes surrounding the challenges facing contemporary Black Americans and to better understand the multiple, unique ways that African Americans respond to these challenges. Chaya Crowder is a 2015 recipient of the American Political Science Association Minority Fellowship. Follow her on Instagram @chayacrowder