By Dayvon Love
The writer is director of public policy for Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle in Baltimore.
Black people in Maryland, as is the case around the U.S., are a captured electorate of the Democratic Party. The core of the party, which is dominated by an overwhelmingly white donor class (made up of white corporate and political elites and a multiracial gatekeeper class), has benefited more from Black people’s consistent patronage than Black people have benefited from Democratic Party representation.
Given the latent racist agenda of the Republican Party and the lack of electoral viability of other political parties, Black people generally find themselves in a position where they have nowhere to go. The Democratic Party takes advantage of this reality. It does not have to deliver on policy, particularly for working-class Black people, in order to maintain its electoral hegemony of the Black vote. Furthermore, many working class and poor Black people don’t even participate in the electoral process, I would argue, because of how poorly the party delivers material benefits for the masses of Black people.
The Democratic Party voter base in Maryland is largely Black and Brown and has nominated a Black person for governor for a third election cycle in a row. While this is largely symbolic, it says something about supposedly progressive Maryland that Democrats have not been able to elect a Black governor in a state that is 30% Black and 11% Latino.
In light of this challenge, Wes Moore, the 2022 Democratic nominee for governor of Maryland, and his team have a choice to make. He is running in a general election against a Trump-backed Republican, which is unprecedented in Maryland politics.
There are two paths the campaign can take toward the general election. One path is to tack politically toward the right in an attempt to appeal to moderates (Hogan Democrats). This path is an attempt to appeal to a whiter and more suburban base, a base that tends to have less of an appetite for criminal justice reform, investment in Black-led grass-roots organizations, police accountability, and community control of public resources. Additionally, this base tends to have attitudes about Baltimore City (and Prince George’s County, as quiet as that is kept, as evidenced by Del. Mary Ann Lisanti’s use of a racist epithet to talk about it) that are rooted in notions of inherent Black pathology.
Efforts that are perceived to help Black people specifically trigger these deeply held racist attitudes. A study done in 2014 by Rebecca Hetey and Jennifer Eberhardt observed that, “Rather than treating racial disparities as an outcome to be measured, we exposed people to real and extreme racial disparities and observed how this drove their support for harsh criminal-justice policies.”
Additionally, they “examined the relationship between racial disparities in incarceration and people’s acceptance of punitive policies. For decades, social psychologists have demonstrated an association between race and crime (e.g., Allport & Postman, 1947; Correll, Park, Judd, & Wittenbrink, 2002; Duncan, 1976; Eberhardt, Goff, Purdie, & Davies, 2004; Payne, 2001). Not only are Blacks strongly associated with violent crime, but also the more stereotypically Black a person’s physical features are perceived to be, the more that person is perceived as criminal (Eberhardt et al, 2004). Even in death-penalty cases, the perceived Blackness of a defendant is related to sentencing: the more Black, the more “death-worthy.”
The electoral impact of this dynamic is that among a whiter and more suburban base, there are political benefits to co-signing these societal notions of inherent Black pathology and a disadvantage to policies that would seek to truly empower working-class Black people.
The other route that the Maryland Democratic Party can take to the 2022 general election for governor is to invest in going after voters who have been traditionally ignored and taken for granted. There are hundreds of thousands of Black and Brown voters that choose not to participate because they are not offered policies that lead to true empowerment. At best, what we typically get are what I refer to as disaster management policies (I explain this concept more in-depth in “When Baltimore Awakes”), which are mere sustenance, i.e., public benefits, temporary housing support, and child tax credits.
These are not bad policies, but by themselves, they render Black people primarily as recipients of services, as opposed to a people who can practice sovereignty and self-determination. This would certainly trigger notions of inherent Black pathology mentioned earlier that would likely be perceived negatively by the Hogan Democrats’ base of voters. In my estimation, there is no electoral strategy that successfully appeals to both of these constituencies.
The Democratic Party will only deliver on meaningful policy to the masses of Black people to the extent that we have an organized power base inside and outside of it. Wes Moore and his campaign have an opportunity to use the general election to organize a meaningful Black power base within the Maryland Democratic Party that is actually accountable to working-class Black people who are typically taken for granted by the party. We should all pay close attention to which path he, his campaign, and the Maryland Democratic Party take to this general election.