Bankole: Blacks need new voices to challenge liberals

Bankole Thompson

Boston Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley raised eyebrows when she suggested at a recent Netroots Nation conference that Democrats don’t need “any more black faces that don’t want to be a black voice.” 

Rep.-elect Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., listens during a news conference with members of the Progressive Caucus in Washington, Nov. 12, 2018.

She also urged the gathering of liberal activists that “this is the time to shake that table.”

I couldn’t agree more with Pressley. 

Her comments are not only profound because of their deeper implications on the longstanding and hypocritical relationship between blacks and white liberals, but also they needed to be said at a time when Democrats are trying hard to court the black vote for the 2020 presidential election. 

Pressley represents a new group of courageous black legislators who, in the words of the Mississippi civil rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer, are “sick and tired of being sick and tired.”

Pressley challenges the wrongs in the Democratic Party that have gone without rebuke or reprimand for far too long. As she remarked recently, she didn’t come to Congress to engage in “palace intrigue,” but rather to fight for the people in her district struggling to survive. Pressley’s presence in Congress is uncomfortable for powerful white liberals in Washington, D.C., and their donors, who are not used to being openly challenged by black lawmakers.

But if that is what it will take to get Democrats to stop singing “kumbaya” whenever it comes to solving black issues and start working hard to address the levels of poverty and inequality that have defined many black cities across the nation, then we need more people like Pressley.

Consider two major legislative measures in recent history were passed under liberal icon Bill Clinton: the 1994 crime bill, which relegated countless black men to the penal system; and the 1996 welfare reform bills, which devastated the black community, especially the lives of single black women.

These measures were a moral disaster because they increased difficulties for poor black families as a new wave of mass incarceration of black men began to take place, and states started to implement their own welfare reform programs that included punitive measures that adversely impacted single black households.

Clinton, who to this day remains a darling of the old black political establishment, whose members are always ready to roll out the red carpet for him in Detroit, later tried to apologize for the destructive omnibus bill when Hillary Clinton was running for president.

“I signed a bill that made the problem worse. And I want to admit it,” the former president told the NAACP national convention in Philadelphia in 2015. Coming two decades after many black lives were decimated in the process, the apology remains a glaring example of how liberals have pushed proposals in the past that have held black progress hostage.

That is also why this presidential election offers us an opportunity to demand from the Democratic candidates some real answers to the challenges facing urban communities. The Detroit debate next Tuesday and Wednesday should press for some serious solutions to the myriad problems facing black America, including Detroit, which leads the nation on poverty among big cities.

We can’t just expect the Congressional Black Caucus to do it, because sometimes instead of speaking truth to power the caucus has often served as a cover for white liberals, backing them up on their indefensible positions.

In fact, the CBC Political Action Committee endorsed former Rep. Michael Capuano, a white liberal over Pressley in 2018, when she was running for Congress while serving on the Boston City Council. 

The black community’s failure to make progress is rooted in the deep-seated and rotten alliance that exists between influential white liberals and their counterparts in the black community.