We're witnessing the dissolution of a decades-old cultural mandate that says, "Black people MUST vote Democratic."
The latest example: Republican Michael Bloomberg came from 12 points back in the polls to win New York's hotly contested mayoral race. The billionaire businessman appeared as the best choice to rebuild the city and add kick to a post-Sept. 11 economy that is rushing headlong into recession. The budget deficit is expected to exceed $6 billion next year.
Along the way, Bloomberg corralled better than 25 percent of the black vote - more than twice the national average and the highest margin ever for a Republican mayor running in New York.
This is instructive, as it speaks to generational shifts in public opinion that are altering the social, economic, cultural and political landscape of black America.
A brief recap: In 1996, The Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies reported that while more than 60 percent of American blacks think of themselves as either conservative or moderate, only 8.7 percent identify themselves as Republican. The major implication: Even though the Republican Party supports issues that mesh with American black voting patterns, a large number of American blacks simply do not identify on a personal level with the Republican Party.
In short, the Joint Center Study reinforced what everyone already knew to be true: Blacks in this country had signed a blind loyalty oath to the Democratic Party.
Sadly, the blind obedience to the Democratic Party makes American blacks the easiest segment for both parties to take for granted.
With a significant number of American blacks supporting Bloomberg, however, we see evidence that a new generation of minorities - many of whom are better educated and more pro-business - is breaking from traditional voting patterns.
Bloomberg's election marks the clearest salvo, in the most public forum, that the first generation of well-to-do black Americans feel they have political options. That is, if presented with a candidate that supports the issues they care about most - racism, violence, personal integrity and increasing economic options - they will vote in their best interests.
That's a big change since, for the past four decades, most blacks would be damned if they were going to vote Republican - whether it suited their best interest or not.
As a restless generation of black citizens is breaking from traditional voting patterns, the Republican Party has undergone seismic shifts as well. No longer a party of just white, rural and suburban candidates, President Bush has fueled a national push to increase the Republican Party's presence in black-American communities that had - even a decade ago - remained largely unfamiliar turf.
Along the way, the party has made great strides in opening up forums to better explain their positions and to engage in a genuine give and take with the American black community.
Bottom line: By voting for Bloomberg at a nearly 30 percent clip, American blacks took great strides toward ensuring that they are no longer the easiest group for both parties to take for granted.
Happily, this can only enhance their voice in our representative democracy.