A Black problem in liberal Democrat rhetoric refers to a white Democratic party candidate's inability to relate to African American voters. Two examples from the 2016 presidential election and 2020 presidential election illustrate:
- 2016: John Podesta spoke of Hillary Rodham Clinton's "Eric Garner problem." Garner was a black man killed in police custody while in a choke hold in 2014. Podesta wrote, "we know we have an Eric Garner problem," getting Blacks to vote for Hillary Clinton in light of her Superpredator comments to "bring them to heal."
- 2020: Mayor Pete Buttigieg was criticized by David Axelrod, Marcia Fudge, Politico, The Daily Beast and others for having a "black problem." Buttigieg attempted a "Sister Souljah moment" when he left off the 2020 campaign trail to deal with a police shooting in his hometown, telling an emotional crowd of Black Lives Matter activists, "I'm not asking for your vote." A Sister Souljah moment in liberal parlance is defined as
- "a key moment when the candidate takes what at least appears to be a bold stand against certain extremes in their party" and as "a calculated denunciation of an extremist position or special interest group." Such an act of repudiation is designed to signal to centrist voters that the politician is not beholden to traditional, and sometimes unpopular, interest groups associated with the party."
The origins of the Democratic party's "black problem" can be traced back to Lyndon Johnson and the 1957 and 1964 Civil Rights Acts.
Republican Attorney General Herbert Brownell originally proposed the Civil Rights Act of 1957. Democrat Majority Leader Lyndon Johnson had Judiciary chairman segregationist Sen. James Eastland drastically water-down the House version, removing stringent voting protection clauses. Eastland was a close friend of 2020 Democratic early frontrunner Joe Biden.The bill passed 285-126 in the House with Republicans providing the majority of votes 167–19 and Democrats 118–107. It then passed 72-18 in the Senate, with Republicans again supplying the majority of votes, 43–0 and Democrats voting 29–18. Sen. John F. Kennedy of Massachusetts, who later ran for president, voted against it. It was the first federal civil rights legislation passed by the United States Congress since the Republicans passed the Civil Rights Act of 1875. Johnson told Sen. Richard Russell,
"These Negroes, they're getting pretty uppity these days and that's a problem for us since they've got something now they never had before, the political pull to back up their uppityness. Now we've got to do something about this, we've got to give them a little something, just enough to quiet them down, not enough to make a difference. For if we don't move at all, then their allies will line up against us and there'll be no way of stopping them, we'll lose the filibuster and there'll be no way of putting a brake on all sorts of wild legislation. It'll be Reconstruction all over again."The Democrats reversal on civil rights culminated with Johnson signing the bi-partisan Civil Rights Act of 1964, which he called "the N*gg*r Bill." In lobbying fellow Democrats, Johnson said,
"I'll have them n*gg*rs voting Democratic for two hundred years."Democrats tried to block passage by filibustering for 75 hours, including a 14-hour and 13-minute speech by the Exalted Cyclops, Sen. Robert Byrd, who later became Senate Democrat Leader in the Reagan era. The law was intended to block Republican gains in the South followed by buying off Blacks with Great Society welfare and affirmative action programs. According to LBJ biographer Robert Caro, Johnson told his chauffeur:
"Let me tell you one thing, n*gg*r. As long as you are black, and you’re gonna be black till the day you die, no one’s gonna call you by your g*dd*mn name. So no matter what you are called, n*gg*r, you just let it roll off your back like water, and you’ll make it. Just pretend you’re a g*dd*mn piece of furniture."
- Vennochi, Joan (September 16, 2007). Sister Souljah moments. The Boston Globe.
- Caro, Robert, Master of the Senate: The Years of Lyndon Johnson, Chapter 39
- HR 6127. CIVIL RIGHTS ACT OF 1957. PASSED. YEA SUPPORTS PRESIDENT'S POSITION. https://www.govtrack.us/congress/votes/85-1957/h42
- HR. 6127. CIVIL RIGHTS ACT OF 1957. PASSED. https://www.govtrack.us/congress/votes/85-1957/s75
- Said to Senator Richard Russell, Jr. (D-GA) regarding the Civil Rights Act of 1957. As quoted in Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream (1977), by Doris Kearns Goodwin, New York: New American Library, p. 155.
- Said to two governors regarding the Civil Rights Act of 1964, according to then-Air Force One steward Robert MacMillan as quoted in Inside the White House (1996), by Ronald Kessler, New York: Simon and Schuster, p. 33.
- Sen. Theodore Bilbo, whom Byrd swore his Klan oath to, said in 1949 on Meet the Press, "Once a Ku Klux, always a Ku Klux."