As we reflect on Black History Month, I am struck by how America is changing, and how African Americans must change with the times, too.
No longer can black politicians in urban areas rely just on catering to the black vote to win. The movement out of inner cities is likely to have an impact on the black political base. Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., for example, represents a district that is 71% white. As more African Americans move to the suburbs, black politicians will have to widen their vision on issues that will win over and lead constituents who are more diverse.
The most extreme evidence of this trend is in Washington, D.C. Who would have thought that Washington, once called “Chocolate City” with a black population as high as 70% in 1970, would dwindle to the point where blacks are now 50%, and dropping. Coalition politics will be the order of the day in newly diversified urban areas, and groups such as the Congressional Black Caucus could see their membership decline as black population disperses.
Nowhere is the importance of coalition building more apparent than in the surge in the Hispanic population. According to the 2010 Census, the Hispanic population now tops 50 million people, outnumbering the 42 million African Americans. Will blacks coalesce with Latinos on issues of mutual concern, or will these two minority populations compete for resources? Already, there is some tension between the two groups on immigration issues because of employment implications. Ultimately, it will be in the interest of both groups to find common ground on issues such as equal access to education, housing, health care and employment.