When the 10 Democrats vying for their party’s presidential nomination take the debate stage Wednesday night, they will be without one key voice who has arguably been the loudest when it comes to saying full-throatedly how much Black lives matter. And with such a heavy emphasis on winning the coveted support of Black voters, the silence from Julián Castro’s absence on the stage at Tyler Perry’s new sprawling studios in Atlanta could be deafening when it comes time for the other candidates to debate issues that are most important to African Americans.
Early indicators point to former Vice President Joe Biden being a favorite among Black voters. But according to Angela Rye, who invited Castro to be featured on an episode of her podcast that she recorded in Atlanta Tuesday night, the former secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) who served faithfully under President Barack Obama has more than proven himself to be the “chief racial justice advocate” among all the candidates.
That would include Senators Cory Booker of New Jersey and Kamala Harris of California as well as late entrant former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, all three of whom are Black. Other candidates, including the frontrunners Senators Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts along with Biden have each experienced several missteps when trying to appeal to Black voters, which has seemingly lent an additional layer of authenticity to Castro’s rhetoric.
Castro joined Rye the night before the debate at the historic Paschal’s Restaurant, a soul food staple in Atlanta that has described itself as “the ‘meeting place’” for such notable names in the civil rights movement like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Maynard Jackson, the city’s first Black mayor.
The former mayor of San Antonio has made a name for himself on the campaign trail as one of the most outspoken candidates when it comes to championing rights for Black people, a trend that continued Tuesday night and would have undoubtedly extended to the debate stage if he had qualified to participate.
He told Rye how influential he’s been to his fellow candidates on a number of progressive topics, including issues that are important to Black America.
“I’ve shaped a lot of the debate already, whether it’s been on housing, on police reform on immigration,” he said. “I’ve already moved a lot of the candidates & shaped that debate and I’m going to keep doing it.”
Castro went on to reiterate his support Tuesday night for reparations, reinforcing his stance on the divisive topic about which he said in June that “our country will never truly heal until we address the original sin of slavery.”
He also addressed the egregious voter suppression that factored so heavily in Georgia’s gubernatorial election that prevented Stacey Abrams from becoming the nation’s first Black woman governor last year.
Those sentiments fell right in line with the talking points Castro has championed during his presidential campaign. He was the lone candidate on the first debate stage who made it a point to recite the names of Black people killed by police violence. Castro took it a few steps further during the fourth debate when he made an impassioned plea for people to recognize the police violence that killed Atatiana Jefferson, the 28-year-old Black woman who was shot in her own home by a now-fired cop in Forth Worth, Texas, in October. Again, in that instance, Castro was the only candidate on the debate stage to broach the topic of Jefferson’s death, which had taken place just days before the debate was held.
Aside from confronting police violence head-on, Castro has also made it a point to bring attention to what he says is an unfair primaries schedule that doesn’t accurately reflect the growing diversity of the Democratic Party.
“I actually do believe that we do need to change the order of the states,” an interview on MSNBC earlier this month. “Demographically, it’s not reflective of the U.S. as a whole, certainly not reflective of the Democratic Party, and I believe other states should have their chance.”
He noted that because Iowa and New Hampshire are the first and second states where primaries are held, they tend to have an impact on how the rest of the primaries turn out. This could be a problem considering these states are majority White, a stark contrast to Black women who are credited with being the devoted backbone of the Democratic Party.
Of course, other candidates have also made their cases to Black voters, but a lot of it comes off as standard political pandering. (See Michael Bloomberg’s “apology” in a Black church for championing a harmful and unconstitutional Stop and Frisk policy that continues to plague Black and brown New Yorkers.) Because of (or in spite of) Castro’s longshot candidacy, his social commentary about Black people in American could come off as a bit more sincere than his opponents’.
Either way, that voice will be absent from the debate stage Wednesday. But if his conversation with Rye was any indication, that voice will not be silenced.