Many of us have seen Keli on TV where she speaks with wit and smarts as she did this morning on Reliable Sources – and is not afraid to take on folks like Pat Buchanan and not back down. Party Crashing shows that Keli is also willing to take on some of the most timely issues of race, class and politics and educate us all on significant changes in our political landscape.
Since the Civil Rights era, we’ve simply assumed that black voters would consistently line up and vote Democratic each election. And that support has been essential to party wins over the years. But times have changed Keli warns us – and if we want to work for change in the future, we better listen carefully.
Keli’s book draws on research she worked on with Suffolk University Political Research Center surveying young black voters as well as a great selection of interviews with everyone from Colin Powell to Russell Simmons but even more importantly with people across the range of the Hip Hop Generation.
Her findings point to an important political trends in the Hip Hop Generation – let’s look at a few:
Younger black Americans are less partisan than their parents. 35% of survy participants 18-24 identified themselves as independents and 41% said they were registered Democrats but identified themselves as “politically Independent.”
32% of black Americans ages 18-45 do not believe “that the Democratic Party works as hard to earn the support of Black voters as it does to earn the suport of other groups of voters.”
Keli identifies two broad groups within black voters in this age group – Hip Hop voters and Huxtable voters. She does a remarkable job of describing the impact of both Hip Hop and of the Cosby show on this generation and the political attitudes found in each – summed up very well as:
The problem for Democrats is that hip-hop voters don’t trust them (or any other politicians), and Huxtable voters don’t feel beholden to them.
And she goes on to point out that:
Unless the party begins to alter its message to reach these groups, it will lose both, from the party and possibly from the political process altogether.
One thing I really enjoyed about Party Crashing is that Keli understands that respecting individual stories are as important as the valuable statistics she’s uncovered in her research. And the voices she brings us are important ones for us to hear – and pay attention to.
For example, in her discussion of the concept of “Black Leaders” she points out the fact that no one asks who the “White Leaders” are and then describes the move in the Hip Hop generation away from reliance on Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton to support for Oprah and Obama, but the comment that really hit me came from
Erica, a twenty-six-year-old Alabama native, calls the idea of a singular black leader outdated and says that while she is grateful to leaders from the past, from Marcus Garvey to Martin Luther King, Jr., she believes that “to really do what we need to do as a community, everybody’s going to have to take that individual responsibility.”
In the chapter The Great Cosby Debate, Keli takes on the issue that most political analysts shy away from, class. As she points out:
Today there is no longer such a thing as a universal black American experience. For this reason, there is no longer a single black political agenda. Can anyone really argue that Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods inhabit the same America that African immigrant Amadou Diallo lived in when New York police officers fired forty-one shots at him, simply because they all happen to e black. Fifty years ago the answer would have been an unequivocal yes.
This shift from universal experience to class experience is a central factor in the shift in political allegiance Keli describes. And this shift has been missed by most in the political class who rely on old school assumptions of support rather than engaging with the individuals and issues which matter most to black voters.
As another voice from Party Crashing, “Charizma, a black woman in her twenties” says:
I’m a registered independent. I’m an independent thinker. I don’t want anyone counting on my vote. I think you should work for it.
As a white woman who grew up during the Civil Rights era but has had the privilege of raising an Hip Hop generation Asian daughter, I found myself nodding throughout the book. From the reminders of the power of Grandmaster Flash’s The Message to the analysis of the new political generation embodied in Barack Obama’s run for the White House, I was fascinated by Party Crashing. And I keep thinking that there is an important correlation between the political work we do as “netroots” and the movement towards a more responsive politics which Goff describes as the needed next step if the Democratic party is going to regain the support of the Hip Hop Generation. Reading her book is just a first step in the work we all need to do to build the future.
You can hear Keli speak about these issues in an interview at the Center for American Progress and you can order a copy through our FDL Amazon link. Her book is a must-read for everyone who wants to build a politics of change.