While I’d love to sit and argue about Black political viability in California, and discuss who’s running for what office in the aftermath of immigration and redistricting, but with the effects of California’s Great Black Migration I wouldn’t want to get ahead of myself.
Instead, these days I find it much more important to ask Blacks if they’re planning to stay. It just seems that that’s the elephant in the room. And if they plan to stay, do they plan to vote even when there’s not a Black man running for president?
As of today there are about 2.3 million Blacks in California. That’s 5.8 percent, which is still the largest population of Blacks in the western U.S., and the fifth highest Black population in the United States.
With Whites, high-propensity voters come in a variety of ages. But with African Americans, the diehard voters could be six feet under over the next couple of decades, which means that we need to develop and nurture a new-found appreciation for voting quick, fast, and in a hurry among Blacks who are not in prison, ages 18-45.
When I worked in the State Assembly there was a whopping nine Black lawmakers in elected positions, an all-time high. You could even say that the California Legislative Black Caucus was a force to be reckoned with.
However, today that number has dwindled significantly. We’re down to six–four in the Assembly and two in the Senate–and it’s projected that that number will dip even lower with the realization that no legislative district in California has an African American majority.
But to be fair, the handwriting was on the wall long ago.
When the Inland Empire lost its status as the Promise Land for African Americans, and we started leaving in droves for a better life in the Deep South, of all places, I knew we had a political crisis of gigantic proportions on our hands.
The issue became even clearer when the latest U.S. Census confirmed a steady decline in the number of Blacks in California. We’re now down to less than 6 percent of the state’s population, or as I like to say, six legislators for 6 percent of the population.”
Many thought that maps drawn by the state’s first-ever redistricting commission would save traditionally held Black seats in the Legislature and Congress, and maybe in the short term it will. The thinking is, as it has been for years, that Black voters mean Black people in office. But it ain’t necessarily so, especially when Black voters are saying to hell with California and being replaced by Latinos who may or may not vote, and when they do likely won’t feel the same level of commitment to African American elected officials that their Black counterparts did.
While most policy wonks like to argue for or against the newly drawn maps when it comes to African Americans, very few actually address the real crisis lurking around the corner–Blacks’ unwillingness to do two things: 1) stay in the state, and, 2) vote in every election be it local, state, or national, regardless of who’s on the ballot.
We can no longer depend on senior voters to get us through election after election.
Simply put, that’s just short-term thinking–no pun intended–for the current crop of Black elected officials to ensure their re-election. Long-term thinking realizes that senior voters can’t live forever and the generations that are replacing them simply don’t value voting the way their parents and grandparents do. If you think GOTV (Get Out the Vote) efforts among Black voters are challenging now, just wait 10 years.
The bottom line is that they can draw all the Black voter-friendly districts they want, but if Blacks continue the mass exodus to the South, there won’t be enough of us left to vote anyone into office, and the ones that are left won’t have the same adoration for the political process as their forebears.
California’s Black leaders and politicians, both present and hopeful, need to be fixated on how to solve the problem of getting us to stay in the state, and then getting us to vote, because both are inextricably tied to our political viability. After we solve that crisis, then we can talk about who’s running for what office.
A former press secretary in California State Assembly and U.S. House of Representatives, Jasmyne A. Cannick writes about the intersection of race, sex, politics, and pop culture from an unapologetically Black point of view. Online at www.jasmynecannick.com.