We have come to a familiar crossroads of American politics. Democrats, who cannot win national office without the overwhelming support of Black people, are facing rejection from perpetually aggrieved, poorly educated whites. These whites are poised to vote to defeat Democrats in upcoming elections. In response, a chorus of powerful Democrats have risen up inside the Beltway to tell Democrats that abandoning Black people—the very people who put them in power in the first place—and making performative efforts to win the support of racists, is the only way to stay in power.
And Democrats are, predictably, listening. Black people, our concerns, and our agenda, are always the first ones to be thrown overboard, even when we’re rowing the damn boat.
The issue has been all over the pages of The New York Times in recent days. Ezra Klein wrote an interesting profile of David Shor, a data analyst who became famous by warning Democrats that taking Black people seriously after George Floyd’s murder would lead to whites’ leaving the Democratic Party. He was right, of course, just like I was right in predicting that the initial white sympathy toward those protests would be fleeting and lead to no real change. You don’t need a crystal ball or abacus to predict macro-level white behavior in this country; you just need a competent understanding of what a majority of white people are willing to do to maintain their status.
It turns out that Shor was able to parlay his helpful, data-driven analysis of what white people are really like into “Democratic data guru” status within the Biden administration. I do not personally know a single Black person who was surprised that the Floyd protests and urgent demands for justice were met by a whitelash once a majority of whites (and a not insignificant number of Latinos) remembered that keeping a violent police force with its foot on the neck of Black folks was what they really wanted. Again, I even wrote about it in real time. But Shor said all that stuff while white, so he’s the guru with the ear of the president now.
There have been Democrats making Shor’s argument every election cycle since World War II. Black people are always told that progress toward a fair and just country must be deferred for fear of losing white voters. Shor’s twist on the classic tale is to include non-college-educated Blacks and Latinos as among those potentially willing to bolt the Democratic Party should it actually produce policies that help Black and Latino voters. But even that data point is hardly new or revelatory.
Yes, it turns out that a number of people of color, especially those without a college education, can see the allure of the jackboot authoritarian thuggery offered by modern Republicans. Yes, it turns out that open misogyny and hostility to LGBTQ rights and social acceptance has purchase in communities held together by their church and not their Starbucks. Yes, it turns out that telling current Americans that potential Americans are gobbling up all the resources makes them willing to suborn cruelty against those potential Americans.