How can people of color be represented in the political process?

How can people of color be adequately represented when all elected officials are white? Photo from Dajuan Gay.

We continue to dismiss the racial disparities in political participation that persist election cycle after cycle. As a die-hard Democrat, I never really thought about the racial imbalances within our party until recently. (I grew up with an African American President). A photo of seven white candidates running on the state and local level in District 30A has been in circulation on Facebook and it bothered me. Not because the candidates are all white. After all, I have worked with several of the candidates. It bothered me because they didn’t understand the communities that so many of their constituents reside in. Representation is the act of speaking or acting on behalf of someone or the state of being represented. So, understand that when I ask for representation I’m not asking that all candidates look exactly like me but that they understand and represent the interest of my community. We cannot achieve a healthy democracy for all when the voices of communities of color are shut out of our political process. Strong candidates would educate themselves on these issues so that when asked to step into a role of leadership they change the course of lives. I asked most of the candidates a simple question: “What is your plan for the African American community”? Most directed me to their webpages. I appreciate the outlines for the environment, healthcare, and education, truly. But candidates must understand that most of us African Americans live in almost a completely different world than the D30 we preach about. Our world is often without access to the Bay we’ve pledged to protect; or it has us attending the worst schools in the district that we’ve promised to change for years. Although our issues may be the same, the solutions are completely different. I, unlike former President Barack Obama, have a hard time believing that a rising tide lifts all boats.

Do I blame the issues that have plagued our communities for generations on the politicians of today? No. However, as individuals running for public office, they have the responsibility to prevent these policies from further affecting their constituency. The lack of basic services in so many black neighborhoods (absence of parks for kids to play in or police routinely walking the beat, building code and structural failures in communities) have all helped create a cycle of violence and neglect that continues to create problems today. The fight for equality starts within our school system, a system that continues to mirror the criminal justice system, punishing African American students at higher rates in the classroom. The inferior education these students receive, then and now, explains the pervasive achievement gaps between today’s black and white students. The “unemployability” among black men who’ve had past interactions with law enforcement is destroying the hopes of economic advancement for their families. The stagnated progress of economic development in African American communities, in general, has stretched out for far too long.

Race must be embedded in how we process ideas for our District. It is not the only dimension, but it is a critical dimension that we must confront and acknowledge. I look forward to the General Election on November 7th, 2018 and I urge my neighbors to vote for the candidates who serve your best interest.

The author is on the Arundel Patriot board.  This article has also been published in Eyes on Annapolis.
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