The Current·Road to November

'You get used to being ignored' as a Black voter in the U.S., says St. Louis business owner

Jamila Brantley says nothing changes for her community in St. Louis, Mo., after the votes are cast in the U.S. federal elections. She wants more Black people to get involved in politics to address that.

Jamila Brantley wants more Black people to get involved in politics to create change

Jamila Brantley, right, and her mother Janette. Brantley says she doesn't believe either Donald Trump or Joe Biden 'is looking out for Black people.' (Submitted by Jamila Brantley)

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This story is part of The Current's series Road to November, a virtual trip down the Mississippi River from Minnesota to Louisana, to meet some of the people whose lives will be shaped by the 2020 U.S. presidential election.

Jamila Brantley says she's used to politicians clamouring for the Black community's votes at election time, only for nothing to change once those votes have been cast. 

"We do live in what's supposed to be a democracy where the people are supposed to have the say," said Brantley, who runs C & K Barbecue in St. Louis, Mo. Her father Daryle started their business more than 30 years ago, but died earlier this year.

But when nothing changes, "you get used to the contradiction of what America's supposed to stand for, and what actually is the end result." 

"You get used to racism, you get used to being ignored."

According to the city of St. Louis government website, there were 133,383 votes cast in the 2016 presidential election, which translates to a 53.4 per cent voter turnout. But in white-majority areas that figure was 60.4 per cent, whereas in predominantly Black wards it was 4.3 per cent.

Brantley said there's significant segregation in St. Louis, with Black neighbourhoods concentrated in the north of the city, where "there's not as much economic development."

St. Louis couple aim guns at Black Lives Matter protesters

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A couple in St. Louis, Mo., point firearms at Black Lives Matter protesters outside their home. 0:32

That divide was on display in June, when a white couple stood outside their mansion, pointing guns at passing Black Lives Matter protesters. The couple were indicted this week on charges of felony unlawful use of a weapon.

Despite her weariness with what she called "the tricks and the lies and the politics of trying to get your vote," Brantley wants to see Black people in St. Louis get more involved in politics at a local level, and hold elected officials to account.

"We really need demands on paper, we need lobbyists, and we need candidates that are really concerned about Black people," she said.

"We spend trillions of dollars every year on different things, and without us, America would be really different." 

I'm 42, and this is the first time where it's been an election where I literally don't know what to do.- Jamila Brantley

According to the CBC Presidential Poll Tracker, Republican nominee Donald Trump is leading in Missouri, with 52.2 per cent against Democratic nominee Joe Biden's 45.9 per cent.

In 2016, Trump won the state's 10 electoral college votes with 56.8 per cent of the ballot, a wide stretch ahead of Hillary Clinton's 38.1 per cent. 

But Brantley says she doesn't "believe that either candidate [this year] is looking out for Black people." 

"I'm 42, and this is the first time where it's been an election where I literally don't know what to do."

Engagement needs 'radical and intentional' approach

Justin Idleburg, a racial equity strategist in St. Louis, says people struggling financially often don't have time to get politically organized.

Justin Idleburg is a racial equity strategist in St. Louis. (Submitted by Justin Idleburg)

"You have a majority that are under-resourced, who don't have the type of time to go engage with their under-resourced neighbours," said Idleburg, whose work involves offering advice on reducing racial disparities to governments, charities and other organizations.

"They really don't care who's in office because nothing that either one will do has benefited them — and these are some of the most neediest," he said.

Getting people involved will take a "radical and intentional" approach, he told Galloway.

Idleburg is involved in the Democratic Party's efforts to get people registered to vote, both online and by delivering registration packages to the homes of unregistered voters.

"We've been intentional in going after those people who have been identified as unregistered voters," he said.

He said a lot of marketing around voter registration doesn't speak to the people he works with in poorer communities.

"Everybody does not look like a Black man and a Black woman in a polo shirt and some khakis. You can't put that up at a liquor store and think somebody's going to pay that attention," he said.

"I would put a picture of a person that looks like the people that are there."

Idleburg says he's hopeful that "our elected officials can put pettiness to the side, and help create a change that's going to make a major impact on our children and our elders."

He wants to see improvements in healthcare, education and police reform — but doesn't want to hear promises from politicians.

"If you say you've been listening to us, tell us what that change would look like," he said.

"How can you all use the tools and resources of the federal state, and local resources to help redevelop our neighbourhoods and education?" he asked.

Brantley's father Daryle Brantley started C & K Barbecue in St. Louis. more than 30 years ago, but died earlier this year. (Submitted by Jamila Brantley)

Brantley hopes for more diverse representation, to reflect the communities they serve.

"America is a whole bunch of different kinds of people, with different religions and different belief systems," she said.

"If that's reflected within the offices, I think that would help when it comes to decision-making time."

Written by Padraig Moran. Produced by Joana Draghici and Ben Jamieson, with thanks to Max Wastler for tape collection.

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