If you're familiar with track and field, you know that there's a pretty standard rule for any racing event: If you jump the gun, you'll get disqualified.
After two Democratic presidential debates - the first in April in Orangeburg, South Carolina, and the second in Goffstown, New Hampshire this past Sunday - I wondered if African-Americans were already jumping the gun on their political support.
Case in point, Orangeburg is a city made up of 67.5 percent blacks while Goffstown has a mere 0.3 percent. Also of importance, the median household income is $25,000 more in Goffstown than Orangeburg. And Orangeburg's crime rate is some seven times higher than Goffstown's. All that before even getting into the education gap between the two.
But you would think none of this matters when you realize even the poorest blacks in South Carolina support the same frontrunners - Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and John Edwards - as the wealthier, better educated, healthier, safer New Englanders.
What does this say about the African-Americans in Orangeburg - and throughout the country since places like Oakland, California and East St. Louis (both homes to some of the worst crime rates in America) share voting histories with places like Cambridge, Massachusetts (home to Harvard and MIT) and Montgomery County, Maryland (one of America's weathiest counties) - when we vote identically to people who hardly ever share our life experiences?
This is not to say that poor voters and rich voters must be different or Ph.D voters and G.E.D. voters must be separate. This is simply to say just as wealthy and well-educated voters consider the issues such as candidate's positions on taxes, healthcare and foreign policy, the African-American community must take into account these same, and other, important issues.
For the first time in modern history we don't have an incumbent President or Vice President running for the office. If you haven't noticed, both the Democrat and Republican debates have been flooded with ten candidates each thus far.
That said, the African-American voting public has an opportunity to truly weigh in on this coming election by being active and vocal about what it is we want. We may want better schools, as I'm sure those Orangeburg residents would say, or we may want better healthcare as I'm sure everyone would say or we may want less crime as I'm sure Southside Chicago residents would say.
Regardless of what it is 'we' want, it's important to take a step back from tradition...a tradition that says whoever the Democratic frontrunner is - be it Clinton or Obama or Edwards - that's the candidate we support.
Instead, African-Americans must realize the unique nature of the 2008 election. This is an opportunity to sit back and wait for the race to start before we announce the winner.
Because if we try to win too soon, we may get disqualified from the political process altogether.