For most of my schooling, I was treated as somewhat of a golden child. As an advanced placement student in a majority Black district, where most of the other Black kids weren’t surpassing their white peers scholastically like I was, the fact that I seemed destined to follow in the footsteps of my ivy-league older siblings did not go unnoticed by the approving adults in my life.
Not only did my “achievements” translate materially in the form of scholarship money, I received an enviable range of post-graduate opportunities, as well as positions of authority offered to me while still in school. I was also told flat-out many times and in various ways how different I was from the average Black student. It was never an insult. The average Black student was not someone to desire being in community with, apparently. My differences were always pointed out as if not being like them other niggas was the biggest compliment I could ever receive.
I ate this special snowflake status up for a long time. I noticed how what I said was considered more sound, logical and legitimate, even if it was the exact same bullshit other Black folks said, and I figured it must be because I was more sound, logical and legitimate.
Some thorough draggings and many forced self-reflections later, I now realize this ideology to be its own form of bullshit. White bullshit. Whiteness privileges voices that can speak its language, and the way I scored on their standardized tests and how I learned to form arguments in “proper essay form” were proof of my mastery. And if I could master what white people said was difficult, well, I must be a smart nigga.
My smart nigga status lends itself to an odd predicament when I don’t do things that smart niggas (read: Black people who have assimilated into white society) are supposed to do–like vote. Generally speaking, not voting, particularly in Black communities, is chalked up to a lack of understanding political systems, widespread ignorance, or just plain stupidity.
But when I tell people I did not vote in 2016 (and probably will not vote in a national election ever again), I often get a very different response. I find that most people listen to my reasoning, even if they disagree. They acknowledge that I have thought my reasons out (I have, extensively). They may even eventually note that they understand my conclusion. But they almost always do so while insisting my reasons are more sound, logical and legitimate than any other nigga’s reasons for not voting.
White bullshit seems inescapable. It is constantly telling all of us that Black people as a whole are stupid, illogical beings that don’t know what’s best for them, with a spotlight shown on a talented but limited few who are supposed to exemplify a better way to be Black than what is common.
It does this in order to legitimize the anti-Blackness that has been the foundational staple of this country since it’s inception. If we know that a large portion of Black people do not vote (and that portion is often overblown), blaming the political violence that befalls them on this one ignorant decision puts their own blood on their own hands. So, it’s really no wonder that this narrative around voting and ignorance is so widely espoused.
But part of seeing whiteness for the bullshit that it is should be re-thinking what we’ve learned about Black behavior and logic. If Black people aren’t stupid, illogical beings, the many Black folks who do shit like not vote, even those who can’t or won’t articulate why in a 1,000 word Black Youth Project article (and, let’s be real, who is really giving those who haven’t achieved the aforementioned “mastery” of language the opportunity to?) must do it for a reason.
Perhaps they can’t vote because of the policies in place both Democratic and Republican lawmakers have enacted that prevent felons and the imprisoned, who are disproportionately Black (again due to both parties’ actions), from doing so. Maybe they are tired of playing this Democrat/Republican chess game, knowing Black bodies have always been the pawns. They probably know that scientific truths like the fact that Black folks’ increased support of legislation makes it less likely to pass means this system isn’t designed to help us.
Maybe “the average Black person” understands who is already harmed the most, and knows that even if the rest of us feel some effects of “progress,” those harmed the most will not see substantial alleviation with a new face on the same empire. I would like to believe that Black community is naturally oriented toward the margins of the margins, like we are all supposed to be after adopting an intersectional framework. Perhaps if their work isn’t helping those people at those margins, the average Black person won’t find it worth their focus.
Or perhaps they know any truly informed electoral decision would take time and energy to research, and would prefer to spend that time and energy simply surviving. Or maybe they know there are other ways of enacting social change, and know that the same people who claim to want change by voting are often the ones who impede those other ways as soon as they turn uncomfortable.
Or, on the most basic level, they know that vote pushers think they are stupid. And why would someone who believes you are stupid have your best interest in heart?
All the way up until November, I considered voting. I was not a fan of Clinton, but I believed that it was my responsibility to play a role in picking the lesser of two evils when finally faced with no other choice. But the more time I spent around vote pushers, and the more I was subject to their violent rhetoric and inability to consider the people I care about as sentient, logical beings who are capable of more than being told what to do, the more I understood that the project they were so invested in was not mine.
When I decided to refuse to believe Black people are stupid, my whole life changed. I realized that I was like them other niggas, and my having certain skills didn’t mean they had none. In fact, my academic skills are so often used to devalue their own that we haven’t gotten anywhere near harnessing them both together for a mass movement in a way that would be necessary for real Black liberation.
Understanding that Black people–even the not formally educated ones–aren’t stupid is, I believe, the first step in getting out from under this bullshit of white violence.
When you recognize that Black people do what they do for a reason, suffer for a reason, respond to suffering in the ways that they do for reasons, you are more likely to pinpoint the real problem: anti-Blackness. You are more likely to know why the Black unheard riot. Why the Black alcoholic drinks. Why the Black thief steals.
You are more likely to know that suturing a wound does not stop it from being inflicted. And you are more likely to ensure it is never inflicted again, by any means necessary.