Democratic debate at Tyler Perry's could miss the mark with black voters

 Democratic debate at Tyler Perry's could miss the mark with black voters
© Getty Images

The Democratic debate next week is making history by holding it in Tyler Perry's production studio in Atlanta. This is the first time an African American forum is being used to host a presidential debate. 

I love Tyler Perry. For many years, I’ve attended his plays and watched his movies. If you've ever seen one of his plays on stage or watched his films in the theater, you sense his appeal to many in the African American community. 

The community I'm talking about are every day hardworking folks. The fact that the debate is being held at his studio is something every day black folks are talking about. We're proud. This is a big step in recognizing race issues as it pertains to politics.


But it's not enough. It's not enough for several reasons.

First, I love the moderators are all female, but there's only one black woman on the panel. We need to be represented more equally. 

Second, the location doesn't necessarily mean that the questions or answers are going to speak to us. In the last debate, for instance, the moderators asked the candidates who they were friends with who did not share their views. The answers ranged from Former Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainMartha McSally fundraises off 'liberal hack' remark to CNN reporter Meghan McCain blasts NY Times: 'Everyone already knows how much you despise' conservative women GOP senator calls CNN reporter a 'liberal hack' when asked about Parnas materials MORE (R-Ariz.), Former Gov. Chris Christie (R-N.J.), Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulGOP threatens to weaponize impeachment witnesses amid standoff Paul predicts no Republicans will vote to convict Trump Graham on impeachment trial: 'End this crap as quickly as possible' MORE (R-Ky.) to others preferring no response. This has no bearing on my community.

So, what do every day black people want to hear about from our Democratic candidates? We want to make sure our jobs are secure and pay good wages. We want to make sure we can send our kids to college. We want to make sure we have affordable, accessible and quality healthcare for our families. We want affordable housing. We want to make sure we don’t bury our sons and daughters due to police shootings. 

The quality of healthcare and its accessibility and affordability is a concern among African Americans. Black mothers are 3 to 4 times more likely to die from childbirth or complications shortly thereafter than white mothers. Black babies are twice as likely to die as infants than white babies. The World Health Organization (WHO) states the odds of black women surviving childbirth compares to countries with significant poverty.


And the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CRED) recommends that the U.S. address and provide solutions to this disparity. Georgia holds the highest maternal death rates in the U.S. As an African American woman, I want to hear candidates address these issues.

African Americans want a strong economy with better paying jobs. Our economy affects African Americans in a disparate manner. Black women earn 63 cents for every dollar earned by a white man. According to data analyzed from the U.S. Census Reports, African American women need to work 598 days to earn what a white man earns in 365 days for the same fulltime job. Since social security earnings are based on lifetime earnings, black women have significantly less money at retirement. African American women need strong pay equity legislation. This differential, in part, causes the race wealth disparity.

In terms of race wealth disparity, white college graduates have 7 times the wealth of black college graduates. For every white college graduate, the net wealth is $171,000 versus $17,000 for African Americans. I look forward to hearing proposed policies to address the race wealth gap.

Owning a home is part of the American dream. Affordable housing is almost non-existent in many major cities where gentrification has uprooted long standing black residents. I see homeless black folks every day, some sleeping across from the White House.

Even Tyler Perry was once homeless. I want to see candidates address proposals to assist African Americans who are booted out of their homes in cities like Washington, D.C. due to skyrocket rents and high home sales prices. How will the candidates’ housing and urban development policies address homelessness and gentrification issues?

But the debate moderators must use this historical opportunity to question the candidates on substantive issues affecting African Americans. If moderators can ask a friendship question, then truly they can ask questions affecting black lives.

Debbie Hines is a former Maryland assistant attorney general and Baltimore prosecutor.