Democracy Works podcast episode examines black politics then and now

February 24, 2020
Ray Block and Candis Watts Smith with Michel Berkman in the WPSU studios. Block and Smith join Berkman on the Democracy Works podcast this week for a discussion on African American politics.

Ray Block and Candis Watts Smith with Michel Berkman in the WPSU studios. Block and Smith join Berkman on the Democracy Works podcast this week for a discussion on African American politics.

IMAGE: Penn State

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — As the South Carolina primary approaches on Feb. 29, all eyes are seemingly on the African American vote and how the Democratic candidates are going to fare with black voters.

In a special episode of the Democracy Works podcast out Feb. 24, McCourtney Institute for Democracy director Michael Berkman talks with Ray Block and Candis Watts Smith, associate professors of political science and African American studies at Penn State, about the history of black politics and how African American political identity impacts the presidential campaign.

Democracy Works is a collaboration between the McCourtney Institute for Democracy and WPSU. Listen at wpsu.org/democracy or by searching “Democracy Works” in Apple Podcasts, Spotify or any other podcast app.

Block is the author of “Losing Power: African Americans and Racial Polarization in Tennessee Politics,” which examines the relationship between racial polarization, black political influence and multiracial coalitions in Tennessee. He said the origins of the Democratic Party being seen as the party of black voters dates back to the Civil Rights era because the party focused on expanding access to voting rights for African Americans. 

“History might show that the party faces change, but I always go back to this idea that one of the major things that made the Civil Rights movement something that needed to happen was that people who weren't typically getting access to this particular part of politics were pushing forward and successfully finding ways to make those arguments to get into it,” Block said. “One party happened to be more OK with that than the other party.”

Smith is the author of the forthcoming book “Racial Stasis: The Millennial Generation and the Stagnation of Racial Attitudes in American Politics,” which challenges the notion that millennials are a post-racial generation. 

“One thing that we have to keep in mind is that we tend to think that young people are going to usher in a more racially egalitarian society, when we know for a fact that they are raised by people who don't necessarily value those things,” Smith said. “And so, I'm never really sure how we have the expectation that our youngest generations are going to do things that we have not equipped them to do.”

When it comes to choosing a presidential candidate, Smith said African American voters tend to put collective interests over individual ones.

“One of the things I think it's important to highlight that's the same over time is that black folks gravitate to the party that they think is going to be best for the group,” Smith said. “Right now, that’s the Democrats, but if for some reason another party chooses to be the champion of the issues that black folks care about most, we would expect another change.”

Last Updated September 03, 2020