A few words on the difficulty of voting while black. As we mark what would have been his 89th birthday, it seems fitting to recall that Martin Luther King spoke to that difficulty in a 1957 speech whose words ring relevant 61 years later. “All types of conniving methods are still being used to prevent Negroes from becoming registered voters,” lamented King. As he saw it, neither political party was blameless. He castigated Democrats for capitulating to the rabid racists of their Southern wing — the so-called “Dixiecrats” — and blasted Republicans for caving in to “rightwing reactionary Northerners.” “Both political parties,” he said, “have betrayed the cause of justice.”
While there are no more Dixiecrats and the rightwing reactionaries to whom the GOP kowtows are more likely to be found in the South and Midwest now than in the North, it is noteworthy that King’s central point remains valid. Neither party covers itself with glory where African Americans are concerned. To the contrary, African-American issues — police reform, job discrimination, mass incarceration — routinely go unaddressed by both.
And here, someone will demand to know how it is, if both parties share blame, black voters remain overwhelmingly loyal to one of them, reliably casting about 90 percent of their presidential ballots for Democrats. But it isn’t that hard to understand.