While it may appear that the current uproar regarding Trent Lott is somehow about us, our ability to penetrate the national stage is becoming less and less attainable each day. While it may appear that the current uproar regarding Trent Lott is somehow about us, our ability to penetrate the national stage is becoming less and less attainable each day.
Currently, there are no African Americans serving in the United States Senate. In the 216-year history of our nation, only two African Americans have ever served in the Senate. In a recent exchange on the MSNBC talk show, “Hard Ball with Chris Matthews,” the host exclaimed, “This country does not elect African Americans to the U.S. Senate.” ABC News anchor Peter Jennings, that evening’s guest, could only nod in agreement.
It is becoming extremely hard for parents to keep a straight face when stating the age-old adage to their children, “If you work hard and play by the rules, you can grow up to be anything you want in this country.” U.S. senate campaigns in the last election topped $20 million raised for each candidate.
It is equally as difficult for African Americans to get any national television air-time other than being requested to appear on shows airing one complaint or another, or commenting on saving social programs.
After former Vice President Al Gore pulled out of the 2004 presidential election last week, it was interesting to watch the litany of faces the television networks decided to parade across the screen as potential Democratic Party nominees in 2004; John Kerry, John Edwards, Joe Lieberman, and even Tom Daschle, the arguably battered outgoing Senate majority leader and incoming Senate minority leader. The typical sea of all male White faces.
When he announced that he planned on running for the presidential seat in 2004, not a single network flashed the now slimmed down face of longtime civil rights activist the Rev. Al Sharpton (who was also a one time candidate for New York City mayor) across the screen. According to the national news networks, in the year 2002, there are no current African American, Latino American Asian American, or woman seriously contending for the 2004 Democratic Party nomination.
“The first African American to run for president in this country was a women, not a man”, stated Kinshasha Kambui, policy aide to Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak. “Shirley Chisolm was the first African American to run for president.”
Kambui went on to state, “As a people, we don’t share a big enough vision. We have a historical precedent of letting others decide who our leaders are, especially nationally. The Congressional Black Caucus should be putting forth the name of Al Sharpton, or even their own names to run for the senate or president.”
Andrea Jenkins, aide to Eight Ward City Councilperson Robert Lilligren, agrees with Kambui. “I really think we need to look at alternative political systems as well as other political structures. Every Republican is not bad and every Democrat is not good. We have to be critical and look beyond the person who is running to the issues that they stand for. We get caught up in party labels and it’s killing us.”
When asked how to better position African Americans to play a central role on the national stage, both Kambui and Jenkins challenged the current mantel of the Democratic Party.
“We gotta shake up the Democratic Party so they don’t feel automatically comfortable that we’re gonna vote for them”, stated Jenkins.
Kambui echoed those sentiments by saying, “Our leadership tends to go toward stands that are popular. We need to take stands that are right. The truth is, whether we like it or not, Bush doesn’t waffle when he takes a stand.”
The media doesn’t waffle either. Only White male presidential contenders need apply to run for president in 2004. Only White males with the ability to raise over $20 million need apply to run for the U.S. Senate.
Somewhere in the Tre