Black Libertarians Matter - Libertarianism & the Black Experience
Updated: May 13, 2021
No group of American citizens has faced more direct opposition from their Government throughout American history than the Black community.
It's a war on two fronts.
The first is known well. It features Slavery, Lynching, Jim Crow, Tuskegee, Redlining, the War on Drugs, Stop and Frisk, Voter Suppression, Police Brutality and on, and on, and on. It's the story of government wreaking havoc in the lives of Black people in very overt ways.
The second is less obvious, but to Black people stuck in its grasp it is still incredibly damaging. It's federal programs extended beyond their intended purpose that undermine family structure, community centers, culture, and individuals.
When I became a Libertarian one of the things that was most striking to me was how familiar the trenches felt. To a degree Libertarians were fighting oddly familiar battles, just for entirely different reasons.
THE MYTHICAL BLACK LIBERTARIAN
It would be a logical conclusion to draw that Black Americans would gravitate towards a political party that, at its core, is built on the principles of individual liberty and freedom from oppression brought on by the "state."
It just so happens that these are the central tenants of the Libertarian Party, which is why the majority of Black Americans are registered Libertarians... right?
In reality a Black Libertarian is more akin to a mythical creature, often spoken of but rarely if ever seen. I'm speaking facetiously here, we exist, we're just severely under-represented in the party when you take into account that the issues most directly effecting Black people run parallel with the issues Libertarians most often discuss.
We're the party that fundamentally and most fervently resists law enforcement overreach, decries the militarization of policing, fights tooth and nail to end the war on drugs, and advocates for reforms in both our criminal justice and welfare systems... yet we can't find a message that resonates with the Black community?
I'd like to start to change that.
In this piece I'm going to outline how the current two major parties in America have failed this community, why the Libertarian party has been off in its messaging to Black voters, and why anyone should care.
WE HAVE TO TALK ABOUT CRIMINAL JUSTICE...AGAIN
Unfortunately the best starting point for this discussion is Criminal Justice. The Black community cares about things outside this topic, but for the purpose of illustrating my point there is no better subject matter.
If you sit and talk with Black people about their experience with the criminal justice system in this country you get the impression of a people under siege. We've all heard this topic examined ad nauseam, but I promise you this probably isn't headed where you think it is.
If you're a Black man in America you've got a significantly better chance of seeing the inside of a jail cell in your lifetime. Far more than any other race.
These three columns represent individual data points, but looking at them next to each other serves an illustrative purpose.
If you're Black you're almost twice as likely to go to jail at lease once in your lifetime as the next closest group, Hispanic. You're seven times more likely than a White person.
If Black people are wildly overrepresented in the prison system the natural next question is, why?
The generally accepted answer in polite society is, "Poverty & Education."
Let's examine that. If you add basic stats on Poverty & Education to the mix, does that explain it?...
Ok, I can kind of see what people are getting at. The Black community technically ranks worst on our chart in poverty rate and HS graduation rate... but not by enough to justify the much more significant gap in chance at imprisonment.
As compared to the next closest group (Hispanic) jail remains a clear outlier. The gap in Poverty Rate is +3%, HS Grad Rate -2% while Jail sits at +13%.
It's pretty obvious here that Poverty and Education don't tell the whole story.
If that's not it, then what is? What stat tracks along with this unexplained gap that you can draw a direct correlation to?
A WAR ON TWO FRONTS - DEMOCRACTS VS. BLACK CITIZENS
I would listen in good faith to arguments on whether or not correlation equals causation in what I'm about to present, but to date I haven't heard a compelling counter.
Before I go any further I'd like to point out that Black Americans only account for ~22% of all food stamp recipients, and 85% of the Black community doesn't receive any Government financial assistance. The caricature of the Black "welfare queen" being the norm is garbage you were fed by politicians in the 80s and 90s to get you to vote a certain way.
However it is a significant enough portion of the Black community to effect the culture of the community at large.
If you're Black you are more likely to have a close friend or relative that is in a position of need, someone who does participate in Government assistance programs. It's not predominately how people live in the Black community, but it's enough to have become culturally acceptable, more so than with other groups.
I'll explore why in more detail here shortly, but for now just understand this trend started out as a means of survival.
These programs were created in good faith and with the best of intentions. Most were created to address very real problems coming out of the Great Depression in the 1930s... but they were created without the foresight as to what the potential side effects may be.
The more a community relies on government assistance, the less likely they are to value traditional sources for stability like marriage and community centers like the church.
I'm aware that sounds antiquated, but stay with me, there is historical precedent for this concept.
During the Great Migration, as Black people fled the terrorism of the Jim Crow south, there wasn't a government social safety net waiting to catch them wherever they landed. It was the community that caught them.
The Black Church was vital to survival during that period of time. It adapted to the influx of Black refugees from the south by feeding them, implementing job training programs, facilitating career placement services, providing housing assistance, and the list goes on.
Families leaned into each other because there was nobody else coming to save them, all they had was each other.
Don't misinterpret what I'm saying here, this was not some sort of golden age for Black people. It was hell in the South, and when they reached the North it was simply a slightly less dangerous version of hell.
But...the marriage rate at that time for Black women was higher than that of any other race in America. Don't let that statistic pass you by, that is a different universe from what we see today.
Why? You made the marriage work because you had to, and in turn it made you stronger together. A husband and wife had to lean into each other to make it through.
It was a harsh reality, and I'm not saying this is the model reality we should be striving for, but this is a key dynamic to understand when examining the difference we see between the structure of the Black community then vs. now.
What's now commonly known as Welfare was created in 1935. It didn't have an immediate, dramatic effect on marriage rate. Let me state that again, the creation of welfare didn't, on it's own, immediately impact marital rates in any significant manner.
That was until around the 1970s.
A WAR ON TWO FRONTS - REPUBLICANS VS. BLACK CITIZENS
"We knew we couldn't make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities."
- John Ehrlichman, Nixon's 1968 Domestic Policy Adviser
The "War on Drugs" was started as a voter suppression tactic. It was specifically designed to disrupt the communities that didn't vote for Richard Nixon. It worked better than Nixon could have ever dreamed, and kicked off a string of both Republican and Democratic Presidents who campaigned heavily as being "tough on crime."
In the early 1970s there were roughly 90 people incarcerated per 100k. By 2010 there were around 500 incarcerated per 100k.
The massive influx of men into prison primarily came from the Black community.
Policing and the Criminal Justice System striped men, leaders, fathers out of Black neighborhoods at a rate surpassing critical mass. The stated political aim was to directly disrupt Black communities, and it worked with brutal efficiency.
As Black fathers were removed by force from their communities you start to see a significant rise in people participating in Government assistance programs to fill that void. In the subsequent ~20 years from that 1968 Nixon Campaign as the "War on Drugs" decimated the Black community, participation in government assistance programs quadrupled.
Understand the contrast here. During the Great Migration, before the advent of welfare, Black people, in order to survive, leaned into family and community. During the "War on Drugs" that family unit was specifically targeted and broken up, forcing Black mothers to instead turn to newly created government assistance programs for their survival.
That's where the culture shifted.
The role of the provider, once filled by Black men, is replaced by government aid for a significant enough portion of the community that it starts to become normalized. Black men become less necessary than their white contemporaries, and by extension Black marriage becomes less important.
TEAMWORK CRUSHES THE DREAMWORK
If you want to know why the lifetime incarceration rate is so much higher in the Black community look no further than the 33% figure for Black children living in a household with married parents, a 24% drop from the next closest group.
You want to know how we got there? Republican and Democratic policies working unwittingly in tandem to create a perfect storm that both physically strips Black men from their communities and simultaneously devalues their role within that community.
Black Americans have been forced into a corner due to criminal justice policy, and in an effort to survive reliance on government assistance became part of the accepted norm. The byproduct as outlined has been the erosion of the Black family unit, and the community at large, devastating generations of Black children.
This is the missing piece that turns Black boys into productive Black men. This is what keeps the next Black generation out of jail: Fathers.
I feel the need to emphasize here, I'm not talking in absolutes, I'm talking in trends. There are Black fathers, step fathers, uncles, grandfathers present and leading. The roster is simply more depleted in the Black community than it is in other groups, and the effects are self evident.
I'm also not covering all angles, there is a great deal more that goes into a higher percentage of Black men being incarcerated in their lifetime, especially as it relates to over policing and sentencing disparities.
However, I do think this is a significant piece the iceberg under the surface, and you can draw a direct line from both Republican and Democratic policies to get us to where we are today.
LIBERTARIANISM AS AN ALTERNATIVE
There is another way.
This is/was not a forgone conclusion. This isn't the reality that we must accept. There have been alternatives vetted and proven in American history.
After Juneteeth some Black Americans did find pockets across the country where they enjoyed some level of freedom from absolute oppression.
The most notable being Oklahoma in the early part of the 20th century.
Oklahoma was a unique circumstance after the civil war. Whereas in the deep south white farmers never relinquished any land to former slaves as was promised, some Black slaves of Indian tribes in Oklahoma did receive land once freed.
Additionally when parts of central Oklahoma were labeled "Unassigned Land" by the US government, members of the Black community participated in the subsequent "Land Run" to stake for themselves a place to call home.
The Black community became big enough, and influential enough, that there was even a brief period of time when a group tried to officially make Oklahoma the first "Black State." It was an effort meant to announce to the rest of the Black community that we'd found a safe place to grow.
Greenwood, a town north of Tulsa, Oklahoma, became the new cultural and financial center. It was dubbed "Black Wall Street." It was the closest thing to Wakanda we've ever gotten here in America.
Black Wall Street emerged because for the first time in American history there was a place on the map where Black people were left relatively alone, and notably prior to the advent of a social safety net.
It was not easy, there were hardships, but nothing like the hopelessly suffocating Jim Crow South or Redlined North. Instead the hardships faced were relatively limited to the regular hardships one can expect to face during the course of a life.
The Black community reacted to these normal human hardships the same way people have reacting across the scope of human history, by leaning into family and community, and that's where they found their strength. Family and community is the engine that drove Black excellence.
In fact the Black community was so successful, and this challenged the status quo so much, that it freaked enough white people out for them to burn it all down (literally) in the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921.
Black Wall Street never recovered. They burned Wakanda to the ground exactly 100 years ago this year.
...but that's the blueprint. Don't miss that, history has provided us a blueprint.
Allowance for "healthy hardship" without an over-extended social safety net + the absence of suffocating oppression = a focus on community and family with space to breathe resulting in Black excellence.
If you think about that for a minute you'll realize it's a Libertarian blueprint.
The Democrats can't deliver it because their policy is to keep adding to the social safety net that undermines the value of families and community. The Republicans can't deliver that because their policy is to add to the pressure of oppression with targeted laws and fear mongering.
It's only the Libertarian party that both wants to remove government interference with the liberty of American citizens, while also allowing for those "healthy hardships" that have driven human beings throughout the course of history towards success.
So...if Libertarians hold the blueprints that will build a stronger Black community, why aren't there more Black Libertarians?
A SHOE DOESN'T BELONG ON YOUR HEAD
Libertarianism is elegant in its simplicity.
Libertarians believe all Americans should be free to live their lives and pursue their interests as they see fit as long as they do no harm to another.
It is the most clearly stated, and fundamentally sound founding principle of any American political party.
Just look at us...
(Image courtesy of the National Review, www.nationalreview.com)
I personally love the weird...why be boring when you can be weird. I've had more interesting philosophical, ideological and political discussions with Libertarians vs. members of any other party because the nature of a Libertarian is that we don't just go along to get along.
Libertarians are here because we've decided to step out of the norm to do the work and develop our own opinions. The nature of a person willing to do that is that they're going to be a bit of an outsider most of the time.
The oddity is something you get used to with time, it's not insurmountable, and honestly I'd never want it to change. It does come with some pitfalls though...
The Libertarian party in its current form is best described as a hobbyist group, complete with its own lore and trivia, with an infinite number of gatekeepers excitedly awaiting the moment they can utter the most popular phrase in the Libertarian party, "you're not a real Libertarian."
It seems in a room full of Libertarians a "Real Libertarian" is kind of like the Highlander, there can only be one!
It can be jarring to a newcomer, and creates significant barriers to entry.
That applies to people of all races, colors and creeds. Regardless of who you are, stepping into the Libertarian Party can be a bit difficult.
There is an additional layer if you're a person of color. That being historically the Party has been comprised of a majority white men. There is nothing inherently wrong with that, I am not saying that simply because there's a higher concentration of white men that is a bad thing.
It does create an additional degree of difficulty for people of color because intrinsically it's more difficult to find others within the party that focus on your concerns with the same level passion.
To summarize this problem, the ideals of the Libertarian Party line up almost perfectly with the end goals of communities of color, but the culture of the Libertarian Party is... very hard to get past.
Libertarian philosophy provides a beautiful blueprint for the redemption of the Black community, but its messaging is in the hands of those who seemingly could care less, and are far more interested in arguing over some fringe topic or conspiracy theory.
The Libertarian spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.
THE ODD COUPLE
Libertarians, you should want to change this piece. Not only because it's morally the right thing to do, but also strategically it's just the right move. You want to start winning, let the all-star player that's sitting on your bench get in the game. Run the offense through them.
The Libertarian Party has languished in relative obscurity since it's official launch in 1971.
The Black community is the most active voting group that exists in America. Whole infrastructures have been built to prevent Black Americans from voting, and we still come through. We are a catalytic voting community, with a consistent and proven track record of changing the game.
Stacy Abrams had an election for governor of Georgia taken from her in 2018... her response was to flip the whole damn state in the 2020 Presidential election for her party. She put in the work, the community put in the work.
Black people march. Black people knock on doors till their shoes wear through. Black people vote. Black people are a political force of nature.
Black people are sick of driving Democrats into victory lane and then watching nothing change year after year, cycle after cycle because the Democrats don't have the right principles, or conviction, to get the job done.
The Libertarian party has never had the spark needed to win, it's sitting right in front of you. Wake up.
To the Black Community. From the outside looking in it's hard to see anything but a sea of white men, and traditionally that's been bad news for us. There are nasty factions within the Libertarian party, but the foundations of the party are sound.
There is no group of people in America that fights more fervently, more tactically, against abusive and unconstitutional Police practices than Libertarians. They are true believers when they talk about wanting to implement major changes to our criminal justice system, that doesn't change with the wind. Libertarians are not just going to tell you what you want to hear to get your vote, they believe what they say or they wouldn't be here.
There is no Political philosophy that aligns with the needs of the Black community more directly than Libertarianism.
Libertarians, you want to phase out the war on drugs on principle, you believe people should be allowed to do what they'd like with their own body as long as they don't harm anyone else. Black community, you want to phase out the war on drugs because it's been used as a blunt instrument against the community for generations.
That is one of many examples where the two communities share a common enemy.
The Black community calls it oppression, the Libertarian community calls it tyranny, they're two sides of the same coin. Unifying the two communities gives us a real shot at breaking the system.
Libertarians, start listening to communities of color. Sit down, see them, talk to them, understand their perspective, find a message that can be delivered within the culture of the people you're speaking to.
Black community members, register Libertarian. There will be instances while the Libertarian party continues to grow where you'll have to vote for a Republican or Democrat in a general election because there isn't a viable Libertarian in a race, but you can do that while being registered Libertarian. In some places you can even still participate in Democratic and Republican primaries.
Registering Libertarian and running Libertarian candidates will provide a voice that we've never had in modern politics, a voice that speaks directly to the issues that plague us, a voice based in principles proven to foster Black excellence.
Don't simply read this and move on. Share this article, reach out and speak to someone about it and the ideas found within. Don't just go, do.