In My Words: Working-class white voters aren’t the only group that needs media coverage
Naeemah Clark, associate professor of communications, writes in this column for the Elon University Writers Syndicate that the media has ignored the concerns of other voting blocs in their recent political coverage.
This column distributed by the Elon University Writers Syndicate was published in the Durham Herald-Sun and the Greensboro News & Record. Views expressed in this column are the author's own and not necessarily those of Elon University.
By Naeemah Clark
When I drove to the church that is my polling place in November, a half a dozen representatives of the mayoral and city council candidates waited to swarm me as I got out of my car.
“Hello there. I’m Candidate X. I’d appreciate your vote!”
“Would you like some sticky notes with the name of a candidate that you’ve never heard of emblazoned on the top?”
Golly, it was annoying, but I get it. I was one of the few voters who showed up at the polling place on that cold, rainy November day. In fact, fewer than 9,000 votes were cast out of a possible 61,000 in my county on that day. The candidates and their surrogates wanted to do what they could do to get my support.
For 30 seconds, I was the focus of every candidate’s attention, which was a bit surprising. Admittedly, I’m not a terribly difficult voter to figure out. I’m a 40-something African-American woman with a university parking pass hanging from the rearview mirror of my fuel-efficient crossover vehicle.
As the media has been pointing out lately, black women are a steady, reliable vote for Democratic candidates.
In the 2016 presidential election, 90 percent of black women were with Hillary; only 41percent of white women were. In the Virginia governor’s race, 91percent of black women voted for Democrat Ralph Northam; merely 35 percent of white males also aided in Northam’s victory. Finally, more than 98 percent of the black women who voted in Alabama’s special election for the U.S. Senate supported Democrat Doug Jones.
After these elections, a few political pundits announced that the Democrats should credit black women for keeping the party’s hopes alive. A recent Newsweek article said that black women voted in order to “save America.”
And while I’m not one to eschew praise, it needs to be said that we’re not voting for these candidates as a favor to the party. We are voting for the candidates that best speak to our interests. As much as the Democratic Party takes us for granted, we know that, in the end, our families, health, and futures are at least in the peripheral view of the Dems.
The notion that the votes of black women are saving America dismisses the reality that black women care about issues that are unique to our life circumstances.
It is well known that women earn 83 cents to every dollar a man earns. What is less known is the black and Latina women earn 63 cents to that same dollar. Black mothers have become prominent advocates against police violence in communities of color. African-American women have disproportionately higher rates of HIV/AIDS, yet the Trump Administration has done away with a long-standing government initiative studying the disease.
When the media credits black women with saving America when, in actuality, we’re just trying to save ourselves, the media is glossing over the many issues that are relevant to this consistent voting block.
Conversely, the media has done numerous deep dives into the working-class voters across America.
J.D. Vance’s best-selling analysis of his Appalachian family, “Hillbilly Elegy,” became the Rosetta Stone that journalists turned to when analyzing the priorities of this demographic.
Big city journalists write about their weeklong road trips to the middle of America where they had conversations at diners, bars and chain stores to find out that working class voters have faith in the current administration and say coal jobs are coming back to America, even though they are skeptical.
Of course, these journalists are really only visiting working-class white folks. Millions of people of color are in the working class and nary a journalist has devoted column space or screen time to their stories.
If they did, there would be an understanding that there are different needs in communities of color. For example, not all people of color are poor. And there would be an acknowledgement that working-class voters of color have reasons for not voting.
Maybe the stories would mirror the social media pages of my family members where apathy is rampant. They don’t go to the polls because they believe the odds are stacked so high against them that it makes no difference who sits in the Oval Office. They believe there is no one to vote for because all of the candidates are poisonous.
Perhaps if the media gave a bit of sunlight to this group of voters, they would see that their concerns are worthy of public discourse.
The silencing of the stories of black women and working-class people of color by journalists is systematically erasing the unique concerns of these large groups and, in turn, allows candidates to do the same.