Considering the network hosting Thursday’s first-of–the-season presidential debate, we can expect a lot of conservative red meat thrown around in Cleveland, Ohio. Even so, African Americans should pay close attention to the event and what the Republican candidates (at least 10 of the 17 announced candidates) are saying about issues important to the community.
That said, I would eat my hat if any of the following questions actually crossed the lips of the moderators. These are all pointed questions that speak to the heart of challenges—some most recently, some historically, some both—that have impacted African Americans.
1. Did the grand juries get it right in the Michael Brown and Eric Garner cases?
Not a week goes by that we don’t hear of some social injustice in a community involving law enforcement and an African American. It is an issue that thankfully continues to command attention in this heightened moment of concern, but sorrowfully only highlights conduct that was surely committed to the shadows in the past.
During this period of #BlackLivesMatter, and #EnoughisEnough, do Republicans have concerns –and answers – for building a more equitable civil justice system in America?
2. Removing the Confederate flag from the South Carolina state capitol grounds was a tremendous symbolic move by the leadership of that state, acknowledging the flag as a racist, hurtful symbol that inspires hate. What other symbolic and systemic actions can we take to speak to the issue of race in America?
Ultimately the answers here require acknowledging people of color as just that – people – who share the same inalienable rights as the current majority in America. So, no more “Sistah Souljah” moments from politicians. No more so called “truth telling.” African Americans know what needs to be done to repair and reform our communities. However that by no means lets political candidates or members of majority society off the hook from addressing the chronic societal ills that contribute to the disease of racism in America.
3. Black unemployment has been chronically high long before the presidency of Barack Obama (or George W. Bush or Bill Clinton for that matter). What can be done to extend real economic opportunities to this community?
Frederick Douglass was able to escape the bonds of slavery by literally writing his own passage to freedom – not only for himself, but for other slaves as well. The analogy stands true for African Americans today. Knowledge is power and the passage to freedom. However, we need to get our education policies at the primary, secondary and collegiate levels right not for the few, but for the many. With education comes enlightenment and an awareness of the possible. After that, it is up to you.
4. What more can we do to directly address poverty in America?
Part of the answer is in the previous response concerning education, but that is more about self-empowerment. What more can we do as a society? This question may actually have a traditional conservative solution. Leave the issue of poverty to our locally elected social engineers – the mayors of our great cities who operate within shoe string budgets, close-combat politics, and other ever growing challenges. The poor reside in towns large and small, and leaders in those communities should address their needs, however, this doesn’t let the federal government off the hook for partially funding those solutions.
5. Once you and the Republican Congress get rid of Obamacare, what are your plans to replace it that will achieve the goals of expanding coverage and reducing costs?
Now you may say, “There’s no way they won’t dig on Obamacare,” and of course you’re right. Remember, fedoras become fine cuisine for me if the exact question is asked. While we may be able to have a drinking game based on the number of times the candidates say Obamacare (and Planned Parenthood, and “the states should decide”) there is no way we get the second half of the question. We have waited for nearly seven years, so don’t be surprised if we have to wait even longer.
That’s my take on the questions we should be listening for but won’t hear at the launch of the fall reality TV season for the Republican Party. African Americans, as well as other people of color, should watch with interest, compare and contrast to the other party, and make up their own minds. So put the kids to bed, grab your favorite snacks, and prepare for what should be a very entertaining evening.