Why Are Young Black Americans So Apathetic About Electoral Politics?

Why Are Young Black Americans So Apathetic About Electoral Politics?

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It’s an election year and I, as a young Black American, just can’t be bothered. Now before you get all sanctimonious on me, I’m going to vote this year. While I have no faith in the national races, I understand the importance of voting in my local and state-level elections. It’s hard to have much faith in American governance when the issues that directly affect me aren’t being acknowledged, the candidates are so old I’d be deeply concerned if either of them got behind the wheel of a car, and the politicians who actually want to enact change are undercut at every turn.


The Issues That Affect Me Aren’t Being Acknowledged

I don’t know any millennial or Gen Z’er who isn’t stressed about money. Now, money problems are nothing new, but the nature of ours is quite different than in years past. For reference, I’m 31. When I started college, the country was still recovering from the recession. When I was applying for entry-level jobs at the time, I was often competing with folks who had years of experience and were just looking for any kind of work to generate income. 

Fast forward almost 15 years later, and I’m getting a pronounced sense of deja vu. Layoffs have plagued sector after sector. Every time I go on LinkedIn I see yet another one of my friends or mutuals posting about being let go from their jobs. Just recently, Microsoft laid off 1,900 people in their gaming division. This is especially bad for Black Americans, as layoffs disproportionally affect Black folks in fields we’re already underrepresented in. I’m aware of how bad the current job market is, as I myself was a victim of a layoff in 2022. Myself and many of the folks I worked with have continually struggled to find gainful employment in the time since. These mass layoffs have resulted in a flooded job market, so the upward mobility I was actively seeking has stalled out due to competing with people who have substantially more experience. 

I went from working one good-paying job to three jobs that barely make ends meet, and I know I’m not alone in this. While “polywork” has become a buzzy label, it’s a reflection of a job market that refuses to meet the needs of workers and a government too caught up in culture war nonsense to do the actual work of governance. While data shows unemployment is at a historic low, that doesn’t necessarily mean those jobs are paying well. If you’re lucky enough to have a good-paying job (which let’s be real, usually means you’re over the age of 40), you’re probably doing alright. For everyone else, it’s a much different story.

For those younger than me entering the workforce or looking to get an education, it’s even bleaker. Tuition continually gets more and more expensive, even as those degrees don’t translate to higher-paying jobs. So, Gen Z is entering a hyper-competitive landscape for jobs that aren’t even going to pay them enough to cover their basic expenses.

The reality of this landscape only adds to the annoyance of older generations telling us how entitled we are, when the consensus among Gen Z and Millenials is that we want the work we put in to at least cover the basics. No one is asking for a mansion, a Tesla, or any insane luxuries. Young folks just want jobs that pay the rent, put food on the table, and take care of the basics. That was the agreed-upon social contract, no? If you’re putting in 40 hours or more every week, and you’re still struggling, that’s not a sign of laziness or entitlement. That’s a sign of systemic failure. 

The government can do something about this. We’ve seen it regularly. When the daddy’s money CEOs of mega-corporations need a bailout, the American government is right there to sign a check. When hard-working American citizens are being crushed by the systems that run this country? Well, suddenly it gets real quiet. 

If politicians aren’t going to use their power to actively improve the lives of the Black American people, then why are they entitled to our vote?


All Talk, No Action 

I love pro wrestling, I think it’s genuinely one of the coolest forms of storytelling. I don’t think that America should resemble it, though. Sadly, our political climate has become one driven by rhetoric, name-calling, and pandering. Donald Trump’s rise was largely fueled by pandering. Racist, vitriolic pandering, but pandering nonetheless. When Trump and the Republican party had control of the House, Senate, and Presidency they didn’t do anything for the Rust Belt voters whose vitriol they inflamed. They forgot the forgotten workers.

Fast forward to the Biden presidency and it’s more of the same. Now, in the case of something like student loans, I will give the administration credit. They tried to implement a fix but ultimately were shut down by Republicans who couldn’t bear the idea of things actually improving for a large swath of young voters. Outside of that though, it’s mostly been performative gestures. Yeah, it’s great Ketanji Brown Jackson was elected to the Supreme Court, but that didn’t stop the conservative majority from overturning Roe v. Wade. 


Both parties talk a big game. Republicans flaunt that they’re the party of liberty while shutting down the rights of anyone who looks, loves, or identifies in a way they disagree with. They’re the party of free speech, as long as that speech isn’t “woke,” then it has to be banned.  

Democrats pander to every marginalized group under the sun, but efforts to protect their rights are so slow-rolling. It’s clear that Republicans are willing to play dirty to get their gains, and at this point, I’d take tangible, policy-driven victories over holding the moral high ground. Obi-Wan had the high ground and it didn’t stop the Empire from plunging the Galactic Republic into decades of authoritarian misery. Quite honestly, the last decade of politics has felt like watching the end of Star Wars: The Clone Wars. The bad guys are winning because the supposedly good guys are too caught up in their moral hubris to acknowledge the severity of the threat at hand. 


Is This All There is? 

When I look at the current political climate, I don’t have much hope for the future. We’ve got emerging technologies such as AI and automation threatening jobs and personal security, and the average age of politicians is between 58 and 64. I don’t mean to be ageist, but as we’re dealing with new problems, new technologies, and new ways of thinking, folks dead set on doing business as usual isn’t going to cut it. While I’d love to think that some new blood would help get us to where we need to be, that hope is dashed when I see how the Tennessee State Reps. Justin Pearson and Justin Jones were treated last year. If you don’t remember, they were expelled from the legislature for taking part in a protest against gun violence. They were eventually voted back into their seats, but if this is the old guard’s reaction when young, Black politicians are proactive about solving modern problems, where do we have left to go? 

It gets tiring being told to accept mediocrity, y’all. That empty promises and vitriol from geriatric white men is the best this country can muster. I want a better future for myself and the generation below me. I want a country where you’re free to be whoever you want to be regardless of your race, gender identity, or sexual orientation. I want a country where women can decide what they want to do with their bodies. I want a country where cops can’t just kill unarmed Black folks without consequence. A country where I’m not worried some cowardly white boy is going to enter a church/school/grocery store and start blasting. I want a country where hard work actually pays off. 

If none of that is on the ballot, then it begs the question: what exactly are Black Americans even voting for anymore?

(It’s worth noting that there are many young Black Americans who highly engaged in all forms of politics. This piece specifically speaks from a young Black perspective and doesn’t represent every young person.)


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