Voting isn’t just “harm reduction” for marginalized people who have to face the consequences
Historically, the waves of violence have amplified whenever Black people attempt to make use of their supposed citizenship.
By Brittany Lee Frederick
At a rally in Anaheim, California in September of this year Barack Obama was quoted saying, “If you vote, things will get better, it will be a start.” This echoes the mainstream Democrats insistence upon voting for a Blue Wave to create social change next week. While this article isn’t one of the many that is going to belittle Black folk for how and if they choose to participate in electoral politics, nor minimize the impact policy does have on peoples’ lives, it is necessary to draw attention to the rising tide of violence being levied against all marginalized folks, but particularly Black ones, as we increase participation in electoral politics. Democrats are lying to you by promising voting will fix this mess we are in.
Just this week, the Pittsburgh “Tree of Life” synagogue was attacked by a white supremacist gunman. Just outside of Louisville, Kentucky, two Black people were shot to death by a white man trying to get into a Black church. The so-called MAGA Bomber, Cesar Sayoc, mailed bombs to several prominent Democrats, notably including former president Barack Obama and Representative Maxine Waters. It is no coincidence we are seeing these spikes in violence right before the midterms.
Historically, the waves of violence have amplified whenever Black people attempt to make use of their supposed citizenship. Gun clubs and self-defense language became popularized after the Civil War in response to the “looming threat” of dangerous free Blacks. At gun clubs, white southerners bonded, reminisced about slavery, and shot targets that they likely imagined to be Black people. In the 1960s, Freedom Summer and the marches from Selma to Montgomery were bold efforts made for the right to vote that came at a heavy costs. Not only were homes burned down and people beaten to sustain permanent injury, but upwards of forty people that died during the Civil Rights Movement.
Following the 2016 election, the Southern Poverty Law Center reported an increase in hate crimes directed at Blacks, Latinx people, and Muslims. Number 45 has already promised violence if the Blue Wave prevails. The white supremacist right, regardless of the outcome, will make use of this opportunity to antagonize people of color at the polls, and people of color on the street waiting for an Uber, in grocery stores, on the subway, and wherever else they find us.
Mainstream Democrats are pushing for folks to make plans to get to the polls. Those plans are largely solely based upon transportation and taking the time away from work. They are bemoaning the active voter suppression and gerrymandering that are tipping the scales to the right in very close elections. Especially on social media, and Twitter specifically, mainstream Democrats are encouraging and chastising Black people to vote, to memorize lists of voting rights rules, and to vote for candidates who are obviously racist mainly so that we can protect the white majority that will be the only group safe under Democratic leadership.
Few if any Democrats have encouraged Black and other marginalized people to be careful when heading to the polls, to go with a friend if they can, or have commented in any way on the risks waiting for us. Their silence on these practical problems only betrays the reality that we are not much more than votes for them to ignore as soon as it becomes inconvenient.
None of this takes into account the dangers that await us after the election. Will the Democratic candidates we vote for ultimately support policies that harm us, like the Blue Lives Matter bill that passed earlier this year? How do we decide when the potential wins for social equality outweigh the risks, especially if those risks face those more disenfranchised than us? Human suffering is not math, and people of color who have loved ones behind bars or suffering under the U.S. military abroad know best that there is no easy decision when it comes to electoral politics and voting. And we know many seemingly progressive candidates are quick to ignore the needs of our loved ones due their nationalism and conservatism around the criminal justice system.
To make matters worse, whether or not one chooses to participate in the electoral system, people of color will remain easily identifiable by the white supremacist right, and are going to spend the latter part of 2018 avoiding the danger that comes our way no matter what happens. Meanwhile, enthusiastic white twenty-somethings can put away their picket signs and canvassing shoes until 2020.
I live in Boston, MA, a supposedly Blue city. I get called a ni***r at least once a month. I have been rebuked for entering a white dive bar by accident on two separate occasions and followed out by a middle-aged man once. I have been spat at twice, and once had a still-smoking cigarette butt thrown at me. These have all happened on normal days. The only time I canvassed in Cambridge someone called the cops on me because I was walking up and down the same street looking for a specific house. After the midterms, I’m going to be out on the streets in a friend’s Boston Red Sox cap wearing a pair of Ugg boots to avoid attention until at least January.
White Democrats who are pushing for Black folks to save America from itself have demonstrated our relative unimportance by refusing to help us strategize around safety during participation in electoral politics. If we choose to help them win on November 6th, they will likely continue to ignore our needs. If you’re headed to the polls, or your loved ones are, go with a charged phone, take care, and know you’re following a long line of marginalized citizens who have chosen to show up despite the State’s many attempts to silence our voices. Just do all you can to make sure you’re safe while doing so.
Black Reconstruction W.E.B. DuBois
What Reconstruction Meant Benjamin Baker
“White Won” Jamelle Bouie Slate
Brittany Lee Frederick is a writer and grad student based in Boston, MA. She is interested in Black arts, history, and resistance. Follow her on Twitter at @Britt_LF.