The Democrats Are Ignoring Black Men. It's a Disaster for 2024 | Opinion

Democrats have historically done a great job of reaching out to underrepresented groups. They've rightly given voice to LGBTQ communities and elected record numbers of women to congressional office in 2018, many of them women of color. We saw a wave of Black women mayors and prosecutors across the country, which many saw as Democrats recognizing the debt they owed Black women, especially after they played a pivotal part in the election of Doug Jones, who in 2017 became the first Democratic Senator from ruby red Alabama in 25 years.

Black women have been the most loyal and reliable voting bloc for the party, and they deserved that recognition. But the second most loyal Democratic voting bloc—Black men—has not gotten the same kind of recognition, and the party's penchant for ignoring Black men is leading to a remarkable attrition in recent years.

The Democratic Party has been slow to recognize that the percentage of Black men voting for them in presidential elections had been falling since reaching an apex in 2008. Many Black male voters were enamored with then-Senator Barack Obama. He represented the best of us. He looked, walked, and talked like us. His wife looked like our sisters, mothers, and wives. His children looked like our children. He was enthusiastically endorsed by everyone from our local pastor to our favorite trap rapper.

Tough economic times pushed a few Black men away from President Obama during his reelection campaign in 2012. The Democratic Party then moved on to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in 2016, who didn't specifically message to Black men; the opposite, her opponents reminded us that she had called Black men and boys "superpredators" in the 1990s. This history armed Republicans with a powerful counter-point to Trump's racial insensitivity, and the fact that Clinton's campaign didn't intensify efforts to attract African American male voters left some feeling disregarded and taken for granted.

While Joe Biden was able to pull out a victory, exit polls showed that President Trump got up to 18 percent of Black male voters, a staggering number for a president cast by many as the apotheosis of a new white supremacy.

Black voters

But attrition to the Republicans is only one piece of the puzzle. A New York Times-Siena poll showed that Black voters have been getting more pessimistic about the American political system and its ability to fix our nation's problems. Apathy among Black voters is just as problematic for Democrats as them voting for Republicans.

Why such alienation from the Democratic Party that once got so many of their votes? Some Black men feel they are spoken about by Democrats, rather than spoken to. George Floyd and other African American men who died at the hands of law enforcement became rallying cries for the political Left, but we saw very few Black male Democrats playing major roles in the political discourse surrounding the issue.

To his credit, President Biden has a more diverse cabinet than any of his predecessors, including his former boss, President Obama. But he only has two Black men in his cabinet, and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan has been nearly absent from public view, despite the enormous gains around climate change. There has been little by way of messaging about how climate action and other Biden political wins help Black men and communities.

Through all the diversity and messaging, Black men still feel largely invisible.

Some Democratic candidates are finally reading the room. Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams and candidate for the U.S. Senate out of Florida, Rep. Val Demings, both have targeted Black men directly in recent ads. Abrams invoked her father and Deming talks about her brothers.

If Vice President Harris is to be Joe Biden's successor in 2024 or 2028, she needs to think now about how she will be able to connect with Black men. The closest men to her, her husband and stepson, are white, and there are questions about her relationship with her father, so the Demings/Abrams playbook may be difficult.

What Harris needs is to cultivate relationships and build a specific message and policy prescriptions for Black male voters. She will need their overwhelming support and turnout if she does not want to suffer Secretary Clinton's fate.

African American men see themselves on the suffering end of disparities in health outcomes, education, and criminal justice, yet the Democratic Party has not messaged directly to them. Democrats cannot merely depend upon the racial hostility of Republicans to garner Black male turnout. They cannot afford to lose any more Black male voters to electoral apathy or the GOP. Black men want to be seen and spoken to. We want policies in place that will help us, our families, and our communities.

Dr. Jason Nichols is an award winning senior lecturer in the African American Studies Department at the University of Maryland College Park and was the longtime editor-in-chief of Words Beats & Life: The Global Journal of Hip-Hop Culture. He cohosts the "Vince and Jason Save the Nation" podcast.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.