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What is the importance of the Congressional Black Caucus?

By Harry C. Alford

Beyond the Rhetoric

“The Congressional Black Caucus is a racial political organization made up of the African-American members of the United States Congress.  Although they claim race and party affiliation are not official requirements for membership, no white person has been allowed to join and most of them are Democrats.  Its chair is Representative Cedric Richmond of Louisiana,” according to Wikipedia.

The above seems rather bland and vague.  But that probably makes it accurate.  The Congressional Black Caucus was formed because of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.  Congress started to be populated by newly elected Black congresspersons.  The original body consisted of 13 founding members.  Today, there are 45 members, but Black elected congresspersons don’t automatically belong to the body.  Some Republicans do not wish to join or don’t feel welcomed.  Basically, it is a Democratic organization siding with the Democratic Party platform regardless of how that impacts the Black community – positively or negatively.

For example, when the Clinton Administration decided to crack down hard on crime it implemented programs that would result in longer sentences for Blacks.  The Congressional Black Caucus, at the time, supported this.  The racial disparities in sentencing and convictions that went on for the last couple of decades were approved by the CBC.  How could that be?  It is simple, the Congressional Black Caucus is basically an arm of the liberal and progressive side of the democratic party.  Allow me to show you some examples of just how ironic things can become.

Back in the 1980’s there was an up and coming group known as the Black Manufacturers Association.  Congressman Parren J. Mitchell, one of the founding members of the CBC, thought it would be great to formally introduce them to members of the CBC and start a positive, pro-active relationship.  To Parren’s surprise the group was met with Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm shouting, “I don’t give a damn about businesses.  All I am concerned with is jobs!”  Then Congresswoman Cardiss Collins chimed in and said, “Besides that, you all are a bunch of Republicans!” The meeting went down- hill from there.  Their ignorance did not do much to help form an alliance based on Black empowerment regardless of political party.  That has been pretty much of the winding and sometimes, circular story of the Congressional Black Caucus in terms of Black economic empowerment, quality of life, health, and education.

Teachers unions over the decades have brought our local Black schools to the abyss.  Reading levels, math skills, technology and quality education in predominantly Black communities are worse than paltry because of poor management and union protectionism.  Union tenure protectionism has supported this state of poor education.  Innovative and progressive teaching techniques that come from charter schools are fought by the Democratic Party and, thus, are not supported by the Congressional Black Caucus.  Isn’t that ironic?

When Black construction workers in the South moved to northern states and started applying their superior craftsmanship to available construction projects they became discriminated against by unions with the Davis-Bacon Act and organized white only union halls.  Unions and the Democratic Party became strong allies to the detriment of these Black construction workers.  Only 2% of Black construction companies today are union. Yet, the Congressional Black Caucus publicly supports these unions not the Black contractors who are blocked from joining them.  Ironic indeed!

Currently, our taxation system is not fair to small businesses.  Most Black businesses are small.  However, during this discussion about tax reform there are members of the Congressional Black Caucus who are fighting this reform that would benefit fledging Black small business owners who are the main catalyst for Black job growth.  So ironic!

High incarceration rates, poor education, poverty, poor health management and so on – just what is the Congressional Black Caucus about?  Is it an arm of the progressive side of the Democratic Party?  If so, it would be of no benefit to Black American citizens.  What if it changed its charter, if there is a charter.  What if it would devote itself to independence from either political party and concentrated on the issues of health, law, economics, and education for Black communities? It seems like that would be a productive and beneficial position to take.  However, as noble as that is, no political party could truly exist under those tenets.  Politics is ebb and flow – full of compromise and betrayal.  It is about power without regret. Could the name, Congressional Black Caucus, be a misnomer or oxymoron?

Perhaps there could be two beneficial Black congressional organizations.  One representing the Republican side and another representing the Democratic side.  To say that there is one body representing the philosophy of both sides just doesn’t seem doable.  Does it?

Mr. Alford is the Co-Founder, President/CEO of the National Black Chamber of Commerce ®.  Website:  Email:  [email protected]. Follow the conversation @NationalBCC.

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