Why We have a Black President, and Black Voter Participation, But No Political Power

malcolm blackpowerIt disturbs me that nearly two decades into the 21st century, so many of us believe that having a Black president, or thousands of Black elected officials, translates to actual Black political power. This article will briefly address that misunderstanding.

Famous figures like Karl Marx, Michel Foucault, Ho Chi Minh, Marcus Garvey and Malcolm X theorized on about political power. Their thoughts are all a matter of public record via speeches, books and websites, which I encourage everyone to explore. I define as “The ability to meet objectives, secure goods, services, and support for one’s group/constituents, and to protect and advance group interests regardless of opposition.”

This power I write of is not innate; The group must develop, organize, and express it effectively. In one sense, it derives from effectively organizing group economic strength, and developing a group consciousness of pride, assertiveness, solidarity and shared interests/agendas (racial, ethnic, religious, ideological, geographic, gender, etc).

This self-empowerment component however, will not by itself create genuine or lasting political power. Building strong, independent bases of power is essential, but not sufficient. The question becomes, “How does this empowered group stop competing or opposing groups from sabotaging its agenda, harming its citizens, destroying its thriving business districts, and institutions or passing legislation to limit its freedom?”

This brings us to the more defensive component of political power… a component I might add, that Black people generally do not exercise. In addition to developing the ability to independently sustain, express, and effectively organize itself, the group must have the capacity to help or threaten the finances, influence, image, property, safety, and self-interests of the ruling elite or other groups. This has obvious implications concerning propaganda/media, armed defense, lobbying, and other things that don’t need further elaboration (watch “The Godfather” part I and II for a better understanding).

When we examine the question of power within these parameters, we quickly realize that the presence of Black elected officials doesn’t measure up. At last count, there are approximately 10,500 such people. This number includes The President, United States Senator and Representatives, mayors, governors, state senators, city council members, district attorneys, and countless other positions. We should also note that Black voter participation in the United States has increased since years past. In 2012 for example Blacks voted at a higher rate than whites in national elections. That year, 1.7 million new Black voters emerged to lift Barack Obama to a second presidential term.

When we consider this fact along with an estimated Black purchasing power of $1.1 trillion, and the highest number of Black college graduates in our history, we should see a set of positive outcomes with respect to the protection of our civil liberties, at minimum. Instead, we find ourselves still championing traditional routes to empowerment that rarely pay dividends for Black people collectively.

If our politicians are in the pocket of corporations, are bought off by lobbying groups representing another group’s agenda, or don’t see themselves as beholden to and advocates for Black people, they are not truly OUR politicians.If we have no agreed upon agenda, no lobbying groups to persuade politicians to support it, and no organized power behind it, we have no political power, just the semblance of such.

If we had actual rather than symbolic political power, we wouldn’t need to assert that our lives matter, or remain victims of unbridled police violence….Unfortunately, the (very bad) joke is still on us….


Agyei Tyehimba is an educator, activist and author from Harlem, N.Y. Agyei is a former NYC public schoolteacher, co-founder of KAPPA Middle School 215 in the Bronx, NY, and co-author of the Essence Bestselling book, Game Over: The Rise and Transformation of a Harlem Hustler, published in 2007 by Simon & Schuster. In 2013, he wrote The Blueprint: A BSU Handbook, teaching Black student activists how to organize and protest. In April of 2014, he released Truth for our Youth: A Self-Empowerment Book for Teens. Agyei has appeared on C-SpanNY1 News, and most recently on the A&E documentary, The Mayor of Harlem: Alberto ‘Alpo’ Martinez.” 

Agyei earned his Bachelor’s Degree in sociology from Syracuse University, his Master’s Degree in Africana Studies from Cornell University, and his Master’s Degree in Afro-American Studies from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

If you are interested in bringing Agyei to speak or provide consultation for your organization, please contact him at truself143@gmail.com.

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