Thursday, Jan. 31, 2008

‘Black vote’ must not be taken for granted

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As the voters of Prince George’s County anxiously await the Feb. 12 primary, the debate over which presidential candidate is deserving of or entitled to the ‘‘black vote” still rages on; yet, this debate is not an entirely novel phenomenon to the county. I entreat the experienced voter who may have forgotten or the recently registered voter who had been politically comatose to recall the 2006 senatorial campaign during which black voters were asked whether black Republican Michael Steele or white Democrat Benjamin Cardin was the heir apparent to the black vote. In the end, voters attested it was party allegiance rather than race that handed Cardin the victory and tacitly acknowledged he was the optimum choice to address issues significant to black Prince Georgians.

Once again, the county is a staging ground for the ‘‘black vote,” this time with presidential contenders Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. More so than in 2006, the county’s black electorate is split. However, black voters must realize the ‘‘black vote” is a campaign phrase with no real muscle; the real power is derived from constructive participation during the election and post-election period that will inevitably propel the community into a new, dynamic phase.

As a young black voter, what I find most disheartening is the lack of political awareness of the present generation of black voters, as well as the source of their newly found political consciousness. A generation ago, the black voter was awakened by a litany of inequalities including voting rights and economic disparities. By contrast, the political motivation of this present generation is an amorphous and discursive need to participate, devoid of history and reluctant to commit.

Last year, when Sen. Obama spoke at Prince George’s Community College, he neglected to identify the greatest civil rights challenge affecting the black generation he so passionately inspires. Likewise, Sen. Clinton’s nebulosity to articulate how she would address issues pertinent to the black community has been disappointing. The hegira of these two candidates competing for the ‘‘black vote” from the discussion of race relations in the 21st century is impolitic; but even more baffling is this generation’s attraction to their belles-lettres rhetoric; they mistakenly find value in tone rather than content.

I beseech my generation of black voters to recognize that the two candidates jockeying the hardest for their vote have been nothing more than a disappointment, for both candidates pusillanimously whispered about the unacceptable response and aftermath that befell the victims of Hurricane Katrina and have remained ignominiously silent about the misappropriation of justice relating to the Jena 6 incident – two significant events that should have politically awakened this generation.

The county’s young black voter must make no candidate the sovereign pontiff of the black vote. The candidate most deserving of the black vote is the candidate who has the courage to address the resurgent calamities affecting the black community in general and this present generation in particular, and is attuned to the nation’s political undercurrents by which they can offer a practical index of hope.

Ronald E. Williams II, Bladensburg