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Squires: Vote, but remember government should serve our interests, not run our lives

Op-ed
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Luther Campbell (aka “Uncle Luke”) recently started an important debate on the importance of voting when he asked the following question on Twitter:

“Give me five reasons why Black people should Vote in the next election. Give me five BLACK promises that has [sic] been fulfilled by politicians in the last election. MAYOR & PRESIDENT”

The former leader of the rap group 2 Live Crew received responses from several prominent public figures. Joy Reid listed access to abortion and voting rights among her reasons. Ana Navarro, a co-host on "The View," listed the names of the ten people shot and killed in the recent Buffalo mass shooting as her reasons. Jemele Hill responded to Luke’s tweet by asking how not voting would help black people.

Voting is one of the most important rights that comes with citizenship. The fight for equal citizenship for African-Americans was the result of over 300 years of political engagement and social agitation. Subsequent generations owe a debt of gratitude to those who risked life and limb to ensure black people could have legal access to every aspect of political and social life in this country.

They used the political process to achieve equal protection under the law. Black politicians, pundits, and intellectuals today talk about voting in life-and-death terms because they think social and economic progress can also be delivered through the ballot box.

Unlike them, I don’t believe the most intractable issues facing black people today can be fixed through electoral politics. At best, politicians can create policies and programs that provide access to opportunity and promote social mobility.

The growth of government in size and scope over the past 60 years has unfortunately been accompanied by a contraction in every other part of our culture. Americans of all backgrounds now look to the government to solve every problem, from drug addiction to obesity. That worldview takes responsibility away from families, religious institutions, nonprofit organizations, and the private sector.

An overemphasis on politics is often a convenient distraction from addressing important changes in culture. Regardless of race and ethnicity, family formation and the ordering of marriage before children has more to do with norms, values, and priorities than the size of child tax credits or the new interest rate. Every policy discussion today can ultimately be traced back to the state of the American family.

School choice is good public policy because it places education decisions in the hands of parents, but having more options is not the same as improving achievement. Successful students need good schools run by competent and caring teachers and administrators, parents who instill a love of learning and set high standards, and a sense of agency over their own education. Voting can have a direct impact on the schoolhouse, but it has little effect on whether I read to the children in my house.

The same goes for young men who turn city streets into shooting ranges. Children learn the boundaries of acceptable behavior in their homes, not the voting booth. Politicians can advocate for policies that punish criminals to protect law-abiding citizens, but they are not responsible for teaching children that carjacking strangers – or shooting innocent people in a grocery store – is wrong.

Politics matter, but so does culture.

The irony is that Luke is one of the most significant figures in turning rap music from a genre that reported on the gritty realities of urban life to one that celebrated the excesses of the high life. What started as a raw form of journalism was transformed into the neatly packaged promotion of hedonism.

The influence of media on culture is only questioned when it comes to hip-hop. The same black people who argue that "The Birth of a Nation," blackface, and minstrel shows from over 100 years ago still have significant effects on the self- and external perception of black people also argue that the images and lyrics Luke, Snoop Dogg, and their peers created have none.

No one would say the same if white artists in any genre constantly talked about killing black men and made videos with scantily clad black women twerking and simulating sex acts. Representation can’t matter only when it comes to children seeing black doctors, lawyers, and vice presidents. It is impossible to dismiss the impact of hip-hop culture on black boys and girls if we actually believe children emulate financially successful and culturally influential people with whom they identify.

I am not blaming hip-hop for the problems in black America. I am saying that rewarding the cultural norms promoted by hip-hop – particularly violence among men and the degradation of women – promotes those same norms to the people who most readily identify with artists. This is the difference between listening to music as art and consuming it as a lifestyle.

Why would a boy ever think of getting married and raising a family if he’s constantly being told women are for sexual conquest, not holy matrimony?

This is an important question that speaks to the current dynamic between Democrats and heterosexual black men. The left is clear about its intentions and priorities. Democrats, including the black elites who appear frequently on CNN and MSNBC, fight hard for abortion and gender ideology in classrooms because their two most important constituency groups are women and the LGBTQIA+ voters.

They see straight white men as the epitome of power and privilege and straight black men are not far behind. They frequently remind the nation that black women "saved democracy” in 2020, even though over 80% of black men also voted for the current president. Black pundits, professors, and activists are the ones saying that the nuclear family is obsolete, fathers are overrated, and the government – not men – is responsible for protecting and providing for women and children.

Black men must decide whether we want to be big or small when it comes to our roles in our homes and communities. Like all Americans, we should remember that we vote because we want politicians to serve our interests, not because we need heroes to save our lives.

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