When the McCutcheon ruling came down I was sitting in a room with several young African American men and women East Harlem talking about their struggles with employment in a world they said was stacked against them. They constantly talked about race, class, and power—but ultimately believed they couldn’t do much about it. All too often in fact, they shrugged off the notion that they any agency to change the system, with one guy noting, “we’ve just gotten the short end of the stick.”
These folk in East Harlem, however, weren’t outraged by the McCutcheon decision. In fact, most didn’t even know it was happening or if they did they brushed it off as “politics as usual.” Moreover, they didn’t connect the ruling to inequality and their personal struggles to make a living on the minimum wage—and that’s a failure that progressives, black organizations, and media elites need to fix.
Sure, there are racial justice advocates like Demos’ Heather McGhee, Congressman Keith Ellison, the NAACP, and scholar Peniel E. Joseph that have spoken out against the McCutcheon ruling, which will eliminate aggregate spending limits in campaigns, but it doesn’t seem to be translating down to the black community at large. Instead of roaring passion and urgency in communities of color, the fight against money and politics in our political system seems like more of a whimper.
It’s understandable why this is happening: black folk are overwhelmed with so many other problems like unemployment, a failing criminal justice system, and an education system not educating its kids, but it seems compounded by the fact that we’re not making this decision a big story in our own communities. Just look at the news coverage of the decision, particularly black news sites. Outside of the usual cable news show coverage when the story broke, precious few made the connection between the ruling and the potential impact it will have in the black community.
There were some exceptions. This week at the TheRoot had a very solid analysis connecting McCutcheon and last year’s Shelby decision that will make voting efforts harder for African Americans, noting:
If Shelby represents a 'bottom-up' assault against citizenship and democracy, the McCutcheon decision is a 'top-down' consolidation of political power, asserting that the efforts of multi-billionaires and multi-millionaires to illegally influence our political process is a constitutionally protected right.
While we need more pieces like this in all news outlets, it's important that black outlets play a bigger role.
McCutcheon is a big freaking deal, and will give even more political power to white wealthy donors, once again jeopardizing America’s aspirational dream of true democracy and equality. The ruling will practically guarantee that the political voices of African Americans, the poor and other minorities, will be even more muted in a society where money increasingly means power. But I’m afraid that message, and most importantly that rage, hasn’t reached the black community in the way that it needs to in order to ensure that this idea of political equality for all can truly come to fruition.
As Demos’ report Stacked Deck revealed, black and brown folk contribute far less to political campaigns with 90 percent of political donations coming from white neighborhoods in 2012. Only four percent of people in Latino communities and three percent in African Americans donated to political campaigns.
Stacked Deck also found that the affluent have more influence over policy outcomes, and that people in the bottom third of the income distribution—53 percent whom are African American and 45 that are Latino—virtually have no say in the decisions of politicians. But where is the outrage? Where were the masses of black and brown folk rallying against this increase of money in our political system?
I went to one of the many rallies held across the country the day the ruling came down. It was shocking that in New York City, a city with some of the largest minority populations in the country, the number of black and brown faces were few and far between. There was Heather, New York City Public Advocate Leticia James and a few others, but I didn’t see a movement that looked like a reflection of America.
There’s been a debate going on about rage, pessimism, and anger in the black community and this cause is no less worthy of that rage. I understand that the black community has its hands pretty full right now, but McCutcheon and the problem of money in politics, and its connection to race and class should not be a quick story in passing. Rather, it should be a constant feature, a prominent narrative that media outlets, civil rights organizations and community groups need to push every single day as jeopardizing the political voice of black America.