It’s so very simple to distill the coming election as between President Donald Trump, who is stoking the racial divides in this country, and Joe Biden, who is trying to appeal to voters of color.

But the whole truth is way more interesting. More than half of Black people in America live in the portion of the country that is also home to the most reliably pro-Trump voters.

That includes Oklahoma, which the Census classifies as part of the South. It is so reliably red that CNN didn’t conduct exit polls there in 2016. Trump won every single county in the state. Trump plans to ignore the advice of public health professionals and hold a rally Saturday night in Tulsa, Oklahoma — the first since the coronavirus pandemic.

His rally is a stick in the eye not only of people concerned about coronavirus, but also to Oklahoma’s Black community. There were protests in Tulsa to support George Floyd as well as two teenage boys arrested for jaywalking earlier this month. The city’s Black history is deep; part of the city was regarded as Black Wall Street because of its prosperity, until a race massacre 99 years ago. CNN’s Abby Phillip and Kate Sullivan wrote an excellent story about the generations of damage caused by that massacre and how it echoes today.

That episode happened at just about the time large portions of the Black community were moving North for opportunity — a decades-long Great Migration. Now, many Black Americans are moving back to the South in a reverse of that Great Migration.

CNN talked to two experts to learn some more about the growing power of Southern Black voters:

Here’s what they had to say on some key points.

Why would Blacks return to the South?

Gillespie: We have to remember that for African-Americans, despite the negative history of slavery and segregation, the South is home. And the truth was we didn’t have segregation in the North, but we certainly had de facto segregation.

So the idea of sort of the North or the West being a kind of Shangri-La that was free of problems is also not true either. They had their own racial hierarchies that weren’t as strictly enforced by law, but they still were there.

The rise of Black majority cities

Perry: There are actually more Black majority cities now than there’s ever been. And over the last 20 years that number has increased by about 100.

Some of that is because of White flight. Some of that is because Black people are specifically moving into areas in which there’s some cultural cohesion.

Nevertheless, Blacks are gaining more power in local communities and and in some respects they always have. It may not have extended to state or federal elections. That’s changing…

People are moving to the South because they they want cultural cohesion. They want lower cost of living. They’re pursuing job opportunities that sometimes drying up, up North. They’re saying, ‘come back home,’ so to speak.

More Blacks are moving to the suburbs

Perry: Through all of those transitions, most Blacks have lived in the South and what’s interesting is, in terms of politics, Blacks always been a powerful force in the cities in the South.

It’s just that now you’re starting to see more Blacks move into the suburbs, particularly in places like Georgia, and and it’s confusing the heck out of the parties because once, Republicans knew if they invested into the suburbs, it was going to Whites, but now when you look at Georgia, Blacks are throughout the suburbs, particularly on the outskirts of of Atlanta. The same is true in a lot of places.

In many cases because of middle-class folks moving to the suburbs or low-income folks sort of entering suburbs, we are more diffuse than most people think.

How will Black voters gain power in the South?

Gillespie: When Barry Goldwater came out in opposition to the Civil Rights Act, that was the signal to the Democratic segregationists that the Republican Party might actually be more of a home for them…

You have the vast majority of White voters, over a 50-year period, changing their party identification and voting behavior to the Republican Party, it turned African-Americans, the largest minority in the South, into a permanent minority position. Because even though they make up about a third of the population in states like Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana, if all the Blacks vote Democratic and all the Whites of vote Republican or close to it — I don’t want to over-generalize here, but two-thirds is always going to beat a third.

There’s two ways for the Democratic Party to become more competitive in the South. One could be if more Whites vote Democratic. The other is if the minority population grows. Even though Latinos and Asian Americans are not as Democratic as Blacks, they are actually very Democratic in terms of their party ID, and those populations are growing in the South at a pretty fast rate even though the numbers are still small right now.

What the Democrats are seeing is the potential to put together a multi-racial coalition of people of color. And so as a state becomes majority-minority, if the vast majority of those people of color are voting Democratic, then Democrats are betting on it being a matter of time before you start to see the states becoming very competitive electorally both for statewide races and then also in presidential races.

Can Republicans appeal to voters of color in the South?

Gillespie: The events of the decade so far have pushed people of color into the Democratic category.

As long as the Democrats maintain a perceptual advantage on issues related to race — whether we’re talking about policing, whether we’re talking about income inequality, whether we’re talking about immigration, whether we’re talking about health care — these are things that would give people of color a very rational reason to continue to support the Democratic Party even if they disagree with the Democratic Party on some issues or complain about outreach and other kinds of things.

So it’s more about turnout than it is about persuasion, because that perceptual disadvantage is real and has been fully enforced by the behavior of Republican officials. Not just an recent years but in the last 20 years, in the last 10 years, in the last five years, and last week or yesterday when President Trump tried to take credit for putting Juneteenth on the map.

That is the disconnect that is making it really difficult for the Republican Party to reach out to people of color because these mistakes keep on happening and in the minds of many people, they’re not mistakes. They’re intentional. It’s evidence of a callous disregard for the concerns and lived experiences of so many people in the United States.

Are Democrats doing enough to keep Black voter support?

Gillespie: It is axiomatic that African Americans are going to vote about 90% Democratic in the presidential election, give or take a couple of percentage points.

That being said, there are growing calls within the activist community — and the scholarly community has discussed this for a generation at this point — that African Americans deserve to receive policy attention in exchange for their votes. That their vote shouldn’t be taken for granted. That Democratic politicians, lawmakers and other policy makers should be responsive to the concerns of African-Americans as a result of their loyalty.

We can see how some of those attitudes undergirded Jesse Jackson’s campaigns for president in the 1980s, and we have certainly seen in in this particular moment Black Lives Matter activists pushing to make sure that African American issues of concern at the top of the Democratic agenda and not just an afterthought.

They want to see more responsiveness and they are less satisfied with the kind of response that Joe Biden made to Charlamagne Tha God when he made the unfortunate “Being Black” comments.

What Biden was suggesting in that moment was that he had a long track record of supporting Black issues and he didn’t have to kind of quantify or name what his stance on issues was because you know him and therefore you should trust him, you should certainly trust him in comparison to Donald Trump.

But what Charlamagne was actually pushing for was for him to make some serious commitments and to understand that Democratic candidates have to court African-American voters the same way that they would court other voters.

The importance of Black women candidates

Perry: I have a chapter on this in my book, it’s called “For the sake of America, elect a Black woman president.

In that chapter I highlight how Black women are winning municipal, state rep and congressional seats in non-majority Black districts. So a London Breed, an Ayanna Pressley, a Lucy McBath, other Black women are winning in majority White places because they they can cross over in ways that White men, Black men and White women can’t.

What policy proposals would best help address inequality?

Perry: One is, we need some type of housing policy that enables low income renters to be able to purchase homes in areas that they can afford.

I do a lot of work on housing evaluation, where I essentially control for education, crime, walkability, all those fancy metrics, and me and my colleagues found that homes in Black neighborhoods are devalued by 23%, translating to about $48,000 less than the equivalent White home in equivalent social conditions. And cumulatively, that’s about $156 billion in lost equity.

That $156 billion is the amount used to send your kids to college, to start a business, it’s used by municipalities to fund education, infrastructure, policing … it could have funded more than eight million four-year degrees based on the average cost of a public four-year institution.

It would have funded more than four million businesses, based on the average startup amounts that Black people used to start a business.

If Democrats can find policy similar to New Deal policy, where we allow low-interest loans, folks would be able refinance property and create new communities. If that can be done that’s a big win because housing policies — it’s so interconnected to so many other policy you would make a significant dent in the wealth gap.

Former US Vice President Joe Biden speaks during the First State Democratic Dinner in Dover, Delaware, on March 16, 2019. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP) (Photo by SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images)
Former US Vice President Joe Biden speaks during the First State Democratic Dinner in Dover, Delaware, on March 16, 2019. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP) (Photo by SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images)

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