/** headlines: 25.1 **/
** Written 9:28 AM Dec 5, 1996 by newsdesk in cdp:headlines **
/* Written 10:13 AM Nov 14, 1996 by pacificnews in igc:pacnews.storie */
Why young Black men don't vote
By Michael Datcher, Pacific News Service, 14 November 1996
EDITOR'S NOTE: Despite an intense nationwide debate over the likely impact of abolishing affirmative action on African Americans, black voter participation in California continued its decline on Nov. 5, and those least likely to vote were young black males. Interviews with over a dozen young men in Los Angeles' inner city neighborhoods reflect a dangerous nihilism, according to PNS contributing editor Michael Datcher. Datcher is a reporter for the Los Angeles Sentinel.
LOS ANGELES -- The passage of California's anti-affirmative action Proposition 209 has left many of the state's liberal black activists in this city shaking their heads. Despite a nationwide debate over the impact 209 would have on the black community and an intense grassroots effort to get out the vote, most young African Americans -- especially young black men -- simply did not vote.
Interviews with over a dozen young black men in Los Angeles' inner city neighborhoods suggest that many simply don't believe their votes will make a difference. Their attitudes may help explain a continued drop in black voter participation nationwide over the last decade.
"Why should I vote?" asked Robert Cora, 23, wearing blue jeans and a blue shirt, with five braids sprouting from his head. "Everyone knows that this 209 thing is racial. Those white people know what they're doing. If they really want to keep black people down, my one vote can't do a damn thing to stop them.
"Besides, we've been voting for too long anyway. We already tried marching and all that with King. We need to go out and make our own affirmative action. We need to go out and take what we need by force just like white people did."
This "take what we need" approach is increasingly popular among young black men who say they understand that money is power and are willing to do what needs to be done, legally or illegally, to obtain it. Few are interested in trying to take power through traditional political channels, because they are convinced that is not the way power has come in America.
Eric Thompson is 26 and works part time inside the infamous Slauson Swap Meet in South Central Los Angeles.
"I didn't vote. What's affirmative action going to do for me? Whether it passed or not I'm still going to be poor, still going to get hassled by the police. Affirmative action is not going to affect Burger King or MacDonalds. They're going to keep hiring black people because no one wants to take jobs like that."
As for blacks in corporate ranks, Thompson said, "There are only a few -- the ones inside don't care about poor black people. To make it in corporate America you have to forget a part of who you are."
Another South Central resident, Tony Moore, 23, said, "It doesn't make any sense for me to vote. By voting, that's saying that we want to be a part of this system. Why should we want to be part of something that doesn't want us? These white people in California are the same as white people everywhere else.
"They knew this affirmative action thing would create chaos. Brothers can't get a job, can't go to school. It's just going to lead to more black people becoming criminals. More chaos. And when the chaos comes, that's when they're going to come and bring their own kind of order."
The common theme that emerges from these and other interviews is this: a generation of black Americans is coming of age convinced that they have no role to play in the system that governs them. Whereas earlier generations were bent on forcing their way into the system, these young people -- and their numbers are growing -- only want to get as far away from it as possible.
With nihilism at an all-time high, the passage of Prop 209 should serve as a warning signal -- there is a powder keg with a short fuse just under the next overpass.
(11131996) **** END **** (c) COPYRIGHT PNS